A Father Serving Families
New head of U.S. bishops’ office is young dad
After working in offices dealing the Catechism of the Catholic Church and defense of marriage, Andrew Lichtenwalner has been named associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He will become executive director on Jan. 1, when Richard McCord retires from that position.
Lichtenwalner holds a master’s in theology from the University of Dallas and is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He is married for nine years, and he and his wife, Kristen, have a 15-month-old boy.
He spoke with Fathers for Good soon after his appointment.
Fathers for Good: You are heading a department called Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth – that sounds like the whole Church except for the clergy! What are your mission and goals?
Lichtenwalner: I am currently associate director and will be transitioning into the executive director position over the next couple months. I am grateful for Dr. Rick McCord’s many years of service as executive director, and look forward to serving the Committee and a great staff.
The Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth serves as staff to two committees of bishops: the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth (LMFLY) and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
The LMFLY Committee assists the bishops at a national level in advancing the vocation and mission of the lay faithful, of married couples and families, of lay ecclesial ministers, and of young people. Essentially, this means helping get to the heart of what it means to be a baptized and confirmed Catholic, called to holiness and sent to proclaim the Gospel, whether at home, at the workplace, at the parish, or anywhere.
The subcommittee assists the bishops, through catechesis/education and public policy/advocacy, in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the permanent, faithful, and fruitful union of one man and one woman.
Much of the road ahead has been prepared by the bishops’ strategic efforts over the last seven years to promote, preserve, and protect marriage.
The 2009 Pastoral Letter “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan” testifies to the bishops’ work in this area and to their continued commitment to help the Church in the United States become a “marriage-building Church.” The pastoral letter also provides a vision for an integrated pastoral approach that sees strengthening marriage and protecting marriage as a unity. This integrated approach, as the pastoral letter makes clear, involves a renewed appreciation of the human person created as male and female, and therefore a renewed appreciation of marriage as a radically unique communion of persons, where the two become one flesh.
In addition to helping build a strong marriage culture, goals include attending to the unique place of the laity and the family for the transformation of the world, handing on the gift of natural family planning, furthering the study of lay ecclesial ministry and available leadership resources, and helping young people participate fully in the Church’s life and mission.
It sounds like a lot, but the whole Church is engaged in these areas in various ways at both the local and national levels, from the family to the parish, from local dioceses to national organizations and the bishops’ conference. It has to be a team effort.
FFG: What challenges does the family face today in our American culture? How does the Church address these?
Lichtenwalner: The family today in our American culture faces the pervasive challenges of secularism and materialism. We are tempted to push God to the fringes, to privatize him and our faith. Without God, families suffer and lose their identity. We are also tempted by the nonstop progress of technology and the desire for things and more things. The family’s joy of just being together becomes replaced by a perpetually unfulfilled desire for more and more stuff that pushes God and family members to the fringes.
In a particular way — and this comes from my work over the past couple of years — all of us need to recognize the seriousness of the proposal to redefine marriage. The proposal to redefine marriage to include any two adults is a consequence of decades of chipping away at the meaning of marriage, particularly through the widespread acceptance of contraception, the sexual revolution, the rise in divorce, pornography, and cohabitation. What some do not understand is that marriage redefinition is a precipice for our society, for it would redefine the very substratum of marriage out of itself — sexual difference — and take out the last and most fundamental defining element of marriage.
How can better laws be worked for if the very basis for the monogamy, indissolubility, faithfulness, and fruitfulness of marriage (namely, sexual difference) is removed? How can we have programs to strengthen fatherhood if the government essentially sees fathers (and mothers) as replaceable? How will we build a culture of life if the most fundamental institution for the child (marriage and family) is redefined in the law to take no account of a child’s basic right to be known and loved by his/her own mother and father united in marriage?
As Archbishop Joseph Kurtz stated during the November 2010 general meeting of bishops, we are at a “Roe moment” for marriage in this country. If we knew in 1970 what we know now about abortion, what would we have done differently? Likewise, what will we do now for marriage?
It has recently been said that the parish is a “hidden giant” for today’s new evangelization. Likewise, the family, as the domestic church, is that hidden giant as well. The Church, especially through our Holy Father and through the witness of our bishops, continues to offer timely teaching.
But the laity who know and love the faith need to step up as well. We have not received the gifts of the Holy Spirit to remain on the sidelines. We need to pray and make the Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation the fundamental markers of our life. We need to encourage and love our priests and our bishops, and affirm them especially when they take a courageous stand for the truth. Our own families need to become beacons of light to our neighbors and to other families who may be struggling. We need to reach out to our Catholic brothers and sisters who have drifted away from practicing the faith. We need to study the Church’s teachings and make well-informed decisions at the voting booth. What if every parish had a “marriage-building” team? The Church is the whole Church: the ordained, those in consecrated life, and the laity. All of us need to work together. By doing so, we will build each other up and present a more convincing and united witness to the world.
FFG: What about your own family life? What challenges have you faced and how have they formed you as a father and husband?
Lichtenwalner: My wife Kristen is the greatest blessing the Lord has given me. She has been a rock and continues to teach me in so many ways. We were blessed the summer of 2010 with our baby boy Philip. He is a joy! We have experienced issues of infertility and had previously experienced the loss of three little ones (Michael, Gabriel and Hope) through early miscarriages. This has been a great challenge.
Women and men can experience the pain of infertility and miscarriage in different ways, but a husband and a wife need to travel the road together and not close oneself off to the other. A gift to me through this pain has been to see the amazing strength and faith of my wife. I have also learned that my fatherhood is nothing but a sheer gift. I can’t take it for granted.
FFG: What resources do the bishops offer specifically for fathers? How do we engage men, bring them closer to the Church?
Lichtenwalner: Those are great questions. I can’t do justice to them here, but perhaps we can follow up in the months and years ahead. To the first question: what resources specifically for fathers? I would say: everything. What the bishops teach is meant for fathers in a particular way. The word of God in Scripture, the various catechetical resources, the teachings on various issues in the world. Fathers must take up all of these.
Fathers are called to be spiritual leaders in their home and to be a witness to the truth. Fatherhood calls a man out of himself in a way that is different than motherhood. A woman has a natural and intimate link with the child in her womb. The man who is the father has to, in a sense, go out of himself to serve his wife and children. In doing so, he affirms his wife’s motherhood and affirms the gift of his children in a unique way.
When fathers are spiritual leaders, families become what they are meant to be. The courage and strength of a father who has taken up his role to be the spiritual leader of his home makes an immeasurable impact.