CCL has been working diligently with volunteers in the state of Arkansas for over a year in order to prepare for an upcoming mandate in the Diocese of Little Rock for a full course in natural family planning as part of marriage preparation. Earlier this year we held a teacher training seminar in Little Rock, which produced 9 new CCL Teaching Couples.
Today, on the feast of the Korean Martyrs, Bishop Anthony Taylor celebrated a special Mass at Holy Souls Parish in Little Rock to bless the Arkansas Teaching Couples as they begin their NFP ministry. The following is his homily.
Most of us grew up with the impression that to be a Catholic missionary you had to be a priest or a nun. And it is true that historically speaking, that usually has been the case. I remember reading about Maryknoll Missionaries growing up and here in Arkansas we have had two largely missionary orders, the Holy Ghost Fathers (now called the Spiritans) and the Divine Word Fathers for over 100 years.
For that reason it is easy to forget the important role that lay missionaries have played in the life of the Church. And the one place on earth where this is most evident is in Korea. Christianity was first brought there by laypeople in the early 1800s. Quite a few Koreans had become Catholics while living in China, and upon returning to their homeland they began to evangelize their fellow citizens — an effort that was conducted by the laity and entirely under the leadership of the laity. When the first priests arrived in the country secretly a generation later (in 1836), they found flourishing Catholic communities which soon began to encounter hostility. Among the first to be martyred was a layman named Paul Chǒng Hasang (1839) followed 7 years later by the first native-born Korean priest, Andrew Kim Taegǒn. During the ensuing years over 10,000 Christians were killed, many of them Catholics. Paul Chǒng Hasang, Andrew Kim Taegǒn and 101 other Korean martyrs — including many laypeople — were canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1984…hence today’s feast of the Korean martyrs.
And isn’t this an appropriate feast on which to bless our new Couple to Couple League teachers of Natural Family Planning? You are lay missionaries every bit as much as those courageous laypeople who first brought the Good News to Korea, and just like them, you’ve taken on the task of evangelizing your fellow citizens, sharing with them the Gospel of Life. The Couple to Couple League is in a lot of ways a missionary effort, and is not only undertaken by the laity, but also led by the laity.
And like in Korea — though thank God, to a lesser degree — you have had to endure a certain amount of ridicule and even hostility, even in some cases from members of your own family! Though the more usual response is incomprehension and lack of support, even — sad to say — from fellow Catholics. I, like you, have great hope that our new initiative of making Natural Family Planning training a required component of marriage preparation for couples of child-bearing age starting January 1 will change the lives and strengthen the marriages of those who benefit from your efforts as teachers of NFP.
But I also expect that we will encounter a certain amount of resistance on the part of some of those who you and I are called to evangelize with the Gospel of Life. Nothing like the Korean Martyrs had to endure, for sure, but nevertheless we may have to face a few unpleasant moments as the cost of doing God’s work. And so we take great comfort and strength from Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “My mother and my brothers and sisters are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Isn’t it nice to know that you are brothers and sisters of Jesus? And more truly so than any of Jesus’ relatives who do not hear the word of God and act on it? That, on top of the additional blessing you will receive today in this Mass as Couple to Couple League teachers of NFP!