Five Reasons Why Before Bethlehem Exists.
Founder Christina Gebel explains why the Church, parishes, and young families need formation and community in our modern world.
1. Pregnancy & Childbirth are almost entirely left out of formation.
Just as we hear about Jesus at the Nativity at Bethlehem but not again until He is found in the temple, there is a ministerial gap for young Catholic families today, during a time that is no less crucial. The Church draws upon the sacrament of Baptism and offers religious education classes for school-aged children or perhaps a vacation bible camp, but what happens in between? New branding and efforts like Before Bethlehem are being born, if you will, to meet families where they are at and encourage the support of parishes and peers in community with one another.
2. Modern Times call for this moment.
As modern times shift (what the Church calls “the signs of the times”), and the Church attempts to respond to the many issues facing families today, notably through the Synod on the Family, led by Pope Francis, the question becomes: Are we, the Church, doing enough to support families in the challenges of today, particularly the call to form their children in the Catholic faith and to be the daily encounter of faith in the home?
Being a family in a modern world has become increasingly challenging. As Pope Francis says, “The family today is despised, maltreated […] What is asked of us is to recognize what is beautiful, true and good - to form a family, to be a family today, as it is essential for the life of this world, for the future of humanity." The issue is clear. Now, it's time to create solutions for this need.
3. The Church calls for this moment.
The Church has a long tradition of valuing the family. Throughout Church history and still today, family plays an important role in the formation of children and the legacy of faith for future generations. Family is, what Pope Francis calls, the "fundamental cell of society" that is "a reflection in the world of God, one and triune." The Pope's comments follow an extensive Catholic tradition, from St. Paul using the words “households of faith” to Vatican II emphasizing that families are “the first and foremost educators of children [in the ways of faith],” stated in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Lumen Gentium, calling the family “the domestic church […]Parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children.” Truly, the Church entrusts a crucial role to Catholic parents.
The family has received a particular and much-needed spotlight in the papacy of Pope Francis, who has called for a focus on the family through the Synod and various documents/speeches. The Church recognizes that families need help raising children in an increasingly challenging world, and the Synod set out to “examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations received from the particular Churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family." The Synod took on many issues. As Cardinal Daniel DiNardo in a National Catholic Reporter interview noted, "If there was one thing that came out of the consistory, [it] was that we have to do more to accompany families, particularly the new ones." He went on to say, "In fact, in first world countries, cardinals will make the statement that we do pretty well in marriage preparation, but then we don't follow them after they're married. Everybody was kind of agreeing with that."
DiNardo recognizes what other Church officials and researchers from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) have recently revealed in its June 2015 report The Catholic Family: 22% of Catholic families attend Mass weekly (dropping to 18% of Catholic families with an infant); 68% of Catholic parents do not have their children enrolled in any type of religious education; 8% enroll their children in Catholic grade schools, 3% in Catholic high schools, 21% have children in some type of parish-based religious education; and only 17% of Catholic parents who pray on their own also pray as a family.
While some might speculate this is due to a lack of family interest in spiritual practices, it may be that families do not feel prepared to take on family faith formation or simply do not know where to start. This is where the lay members of the Church can step in.
4. Health Care is not talking about pregnancy and childbirth as spiritual experiences.
While childbirth is viewed as an enriching experience and not simply a medical event, the spirituality of pregnancy and childbirth are often not discussed. Pregnancy is a unique time in a couple’s life when they are in direct cooperation with God to bring new life into the world, yet it is largely not engaged in health care or in ministry. Anecdotally, women describe childbirth as “the closest I’ve felt to God,” yet bringing a child into the world through childbirth or adoption is lacking a sacramental place in the Church, aside from Baptism. Women want more from their experience of pregnancy and childbirth, and the Church should answer that stirring desire.
5. Young Families need community. The Church is primed to do that.
One issue that modern families are struggling with is the trend of separation from their nuclear family, with families living farther away from grandparents, who in decades past were able to offer hands-on support for childcare and raising children in inter-generational households (only about 10% of grandparents live with a grandchild according to the census). The New York Times has noted the growing trend of grandparents moving to be closer to grandchildren, though not all elders have the financial means or the adequate health to make that move.
This leaves many families looking for support in the communities where they live. The question becomes: Why not find that community in the Church? The parish community, and more widely the Church, has promised to be the home for Catholics wherever they may be, and uniting families looking for support in communities is a natural part of what the Church already seeks to do.
The time is now for programming like Before Bethlehem. Connect with us to learn more about how to bring these needed resources to your local parish community.