Dear Diary...Houston was the Texas-sized setting for the Catholic Press Association's Conference. There I saw the 90's version of family life and it's not any different than what I see in San Francisco.

Fr. Joe Landi

The Catholic Press Association’s Conference, which promised a dynamic range of speakers and events designed to focus on topics important to the mission of the Church in the next century, offered more than what was on the agenda. The theme was "Catholic Press: Bringing God’s World to Our New Millennium." Jacqueline Srouji, editor of the Texas Catholic Herald, which hosted the conference, invited Catholic journalists "to reflect very seriously on our role in transmitting information with respect to truth, fundamental ethical principals and the dignity of all people". It did that and more.

The advertised housing for the conference was the Doubletree Hotel in Houston’s famous Galleria Shopping Center—a Texas-sized mall with 330 retail stores and restaurants located under one roof. However, our hotel, The Red Lion Doubletree, was not at the Galleria, but "down-the-road-a-piece"—a euphemism Texans use when not sure of the mals (Texan for distance). At the Red Lion, I was assigned a charming room on the third floor overlooking a purring, Texas-sized air conditioning unit and an eight-story parking garage with whose bright lights I shared my room. Where were those wide-open sunset views touted in the Official Guide to Houston? Maybe down-the-road-a-piece.

The Conference’s advertised keynote speakers, Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Avi A. Granot, and Vice-President Al Gore, canceled because of the peace talks in Washington. The advertised trip to NASA and a press briefing with astronauts, including John Glenn, was a Texas-sized snafu. We were directed to the wrong shuttle and missed the press briefing. Most everything else went as planned, including the Mass with Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrated at St. Michael’s Seminary.

Like the rain in Spain, the rain in Texas falls mainly in the plain. Unfortunately, the Gulf Coastal Plain on which Houston sits is covered with buildings and cement freeways choked with smog belching cars--pickups being the vehicle of choice even for office workers. The torrential rain turned freeways into rivers and underpasses into lakes. However, there was a good side to the rains. They cleared the smog-filled sky, which upon arrival looked familiarly like Los Angeles, as does the urban sprawl (rhymes with y’all) that is most of Houston.

After the conference, I remained to attend Sunday Mass at the new 3000 seat, 3 million dollar, Catholic Charismatic Center. Fr. Richard Paulison, who runs the Center, is the Bishop’s Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal for the Houston-Galveston Diocese. The Center is busy every night of the week with that which usually happens in a large parish. About 2000 people turned out Sunday during a blinding rainstorm for their usual 1 hour Mass. It was truly a Texas-sized celebration with video projection of it on two walls giving everyone a close-up view of the Mass, musicians, choir, and homilist. My testimony and the Deacon’s homily were recorded and made available for sale in the bookstore after the Mass.

Houston’s resurgent downtown area and the new wing of the Sisters of Charity’s St. Joseph Hospital were also on my agenda. I went for treatment of a viral infection to quell my erupting sinuses inflamed no doubt by the lack of sleep caused by the purring lion outside my hotel room window and breathing pollen from the Texas-sized weeds that "grow so tall that cattle can rest in their shade". At St. Joseph’s, Sr. Pauline greeted me warmly and smoothed the way through the admissions procedure to a doctor who gave me an injection and a prescription. I was in and out in less than thirty-minutes. The charge, including the injection, was less than the cost of a doctor’s office-visit in San Francisco.

Sr. Pauline in her habit and the relaxed, friendly atmosphere at the Emergency Room, hearkens back to a much less complicated time like that portrayed in the movie Pleasantville. The setting for the movie is 1958. There is a particularly humorous "black and white" scene with the family gathering together around the breakfast table for mom’s hearty 50’s breakfast of high cholesterol, artery-clogging food before going to school--a nostalgic, yet humorous glimpse of a less complicated time. The Technicolor, "Where is my dinner?" sequence where dad returns home and no one is there, is more like life in the 90’s with its two-career households and kids involved in a myriad of before and after school activities. Now families find it hard to even attend Mass together, much less eat together.

If there is fault in the 90’s version of family life, it rests with each family member who put their heartfelt priorities outside, rather than inside, their family relationships. The Catechism teaches that in a family all members exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged setting. Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and a school for human enrichment. There one can learn endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous--even repeated--forgiveness, and above all, divine worship in praying together. (Catechism 1657) Perhaps this idea of a Christian family is what the Southern Baptists hoped would be the outcome of their vote to add an article to their confessional statement requiring wifely submission to their husbands. The claim is that Paul clearly taught that wives ought to "be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord..." (Eph. 5:22).

Some people may look at the Southern Baptists’ idea as "quaint or a step backward" in an attempt to relive an idyllic lifestyle that never existed in the first place except perhaps on TV or in the movies. At least it didn’t exist in my 50’s family life. Yes, we ate meals together, which my mother usually cooked. Moreover, my father did his share of cooking because my mother worked outside the home. At home, she ruled the roost, controlled the family finances, and most importantly to a teenager, decided who used the family car. I can’t picture my father telling my mother to be submissive. However, I can picture what she would have said at the top of her Italian voice at such a suggestion and it is not a pretty picture. While she was in charge, most times they deferred to one another out of their love for one another.

There were a couple of real-life scenes in Texas that spoke volumes about love and respect for one another. The first was a conversation with Colin Hutt, one of the journalists at the Catholic Press Association Conference. A recent college graduate, Colin told me about the arrangement he had with his wife, whom he met while attending college. She was staying at home to raise their child and later would return to college to get her degree and then pursue a career. This was a mutual agreement. It was not a wife being submissive. It was a decision made out of love for one another and their offspring. It was a mutual decision that also meant a life-style devoid of the materialism afforded by a second income, but full of the right stuff that builds a family spiritually.

The second real-life scene occurred at the Bush Intercontinental Airport in a boarding area while waiting on my storm-delayed Continental flight back to San Francisco. I didn’t hear what prompted the wife’s comment but the loudness of it gave everyone within earshot privy to her indignant cow-girlish response: "If you think I’m going to do that, you’ve been standing in the cow s--- too long." I turned in the direction from which the voice came, and was startled to see that the woman who had uttered the four-letter obscenity was a lovely young mother holding a small child.

Obscene language in movies, TV, and daily life has become as common as poor grammar—both having lost their shock value. Yet, obscene words should never be used in conversations between a husband and wife or parent and child. Some things are simply out of place in anyone’s company. Paul said as much when he instructed, "get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind" (Eph. 4:31).

there are some Catholics too that think that the family problems of today sprout from the lack of obedience of wives to their husbands. They too cite Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 5:22, seemingly missing that Paul’s instructions are to husbands and wives. His instructions are to be submissive to one another by loving God and one another. Paul reminds us, "Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10).

To those who want to improve their family situation, I offer a time-tested method. The family that prays together stays together. Spend Sunday together as a family--going to Mass and having a meal together. Get rid of harsh words and the external things that keep the family apart. "Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph. 5:21) Do as Paul suggests, "In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving just as God has forgiven you in Christ." (Eph. 4:32) These directions can make family life a pleasant journey while traveling together down-the-road-a-piece.

Fr. Joe Landi is a Parochial Vicar at St. Cecilia Parish, San Francisco, the Archbishop’s Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal, the editor of the San Francisco Charismatics and Board Chair of the Sierra Point credit Union, South San Francisco, which now serves the South San Francisco Community, parochial schools in San Mateo County, and the Charismatic Renewal. Opinions expressed are his own.

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