Blessed John Paul II is known for being a Pope of the youth, but it is also true that he had a great love for married couples and for families. He addressed families in his Apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio. He wrote in 1981, and as we listen to his voice survey the “landscape” of family life in the world, it is surprising how little has changed in the past 30 years. On the contrary, the struggles and challenges which the Pope identified are even more apparent now than they were in his time. Here are a few quotes to reflect on the situation of family life in modern society.
The family in the world today
– In a particular way the Church addresses the young, who are beginning their journey towards marriage and family life, for the purpose of presenting them with new horizons, helping them to discover the beauty and grandeur of the vocation to love and the service of life.
– At a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the People of God.
– Faced with a society that is running the risk of becoming more and more depersonalized and standardized and therefore inhuman and dehumanizing, with the negative results of many forms of escapism – such as alcoholism, drugs, [e.g. excessive Internet use] – the family possesses and continues still to release formidable energies capable of taking man out of his anonymity, keeping him conscious of his personal dignity, enriching him with deep humanity and actively placing him, in his uniqueness and unrepeatability, within the fabric of society.
– Not infrequently ideas and solutions which are very appealing but which obscure in varying degrees the truth and the dignity of the human person, are offered to the men and women of today, in their sincere and deep search for a response to the important daily problems that affect their married and family life. These views are often supported by the powerful and pervasive organization of the means of social communication, which subtly endanger freedom and the capacity for objective judgment.
– The great task that has to be faced today for the renewal of society is that of recapturing the ultimate meaning of life and its fundamental values. Only an awareness of the primacy of these values enables man to use the immense possibilities given him by science in such a way as to bring about the true advancement of the human person in his or her whole truth, in his or her freedom and dignity.
– [Today] there is a more lively awareness of personal freedom and greater attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in marriage, to promoting the dignity of women, to responsible procreation, to the education of children. There is also an awareness of the need for the development of interfamily relationships, for reciprocal spiritual and material assistance, the rediscovery of the ecclesial mission proper to the family and its responsibility for the building of a more just society.
On the other hand, however, signs are not lacking of a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values: a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality.
– Excessive prosperity and the consumer mentality, paradoxically joined to a certain anguish and uncertainty about the future, deprive married couples of the generosity and courage needed for raising up new human life: thus life is often perceived not as a blessing, but as a danger from which to defend oneself.
– At the root of these negative phenomena there frequently lies a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being.
– This shows that history is not simply a fixed progression towards what is better, but rather…a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict, that is, according to the well-known expression of St. Augustine, a conflict between two loves: the love of God to the point of disregarding self, and the love of self to the point of disregarding God.
It seems that we are under a big propaganda “campaign” against the family. Not that there is an attack on the family directly, but instead there is a clear effort to exalt other forms of love than the love between husband and wife, and other ways of raising children than two parents in the home, until there hardly seems to be any need for a family. Blessed John Paul II noticed that this campaign is only possible because we have lost sight of our fundamental values, and in the confusion and lack of clarity, secondary values can be expanded until they crowd out what matters most. The self and personal freedom, for example, have been inflated so much that there is little room for a permanent commitment to another person, especially one that requires self-sacrifice. The fresh excitement of a new love interest becomes the standard by which relationships are measured, rather than the depth of a romance that has matured over a lifetime. Emphasis on equality and the insistence on “not judging” create a climate in which every form of family life is promoted as equally valid. Finally, fear over the future and the desire for stability and prosperity crowd against the precious value of life and make families reluctant to accept life and commit themselves whole-heartedly to caring for their children.
In the face of this, Blessed John Paul II insists, later in his letter to families, that the fundamental essence of a family is a community of life and love, and recognizing this truth allows us to see that the loving union between a man and a woman is the source from which the family comes; it is the nucleus around which the family is built and grows according to the plan of God. Recognizing and accepting this fundamental truth and keeping it constantly as the main focus is the only way for couples to keep their vocation from being distorted or diverted by secondary concerns.
(next week: marriage as a vocation to love)