Over our four-thousand-year history the community of the faithful has come to understand that “marriage is for family, family is for society.”
Great societies are built from within. Social, educational and political institutions do make a difference, to be sure. But marriage and family are the primary and most basic forms of community that form the foundation of every other form of association.
It is unfortunate that we have seen a rise in the politicisation of marriage and family. One commentator in the past year astutely observed that extreme political and social groups desire to take “natural institutions which have social ends and transform them into activist institutions with political ends.”
Human sexuality, with its natural inclination towards intimacy and its orientation towards children and the development of society, continues to be affected by these extreme groups. Sexuality programs in some schools, for instance, are of deep concern.
These radical movements need to be challenged by organised groups of the faithful and people of goodwill. If there is no resistance and if there is not a new, robust defence and promotion of marriage and family, then we will witness further descent into social chaos.
Marriage and family face other challenges, besides. Violence, unfortunately, is one of them. The fact that a woman dies each week in Australia through domestic violence is surely enough incentive to try and make a difference.
Pope John Paul II observed in 1993, that violence was not absent in the life of the Holy Family either, providing a clear motive for them to become “refugees” in Egypt:
Almost immediately after his birth, the gratuitous violence that threatened the life of Jesus fell down on many other families too, provoking the death of the Holy Innocents.
In the face of these and numerous other challenges, we can ask:
How might we respond as we look to 2050?
Is there a paradigm of action, transcending time and culture?
In 1964, Pope Paul VI visited Nazareth and gave what is now considered a perennial address. He referred to the “Home of Nazareth” as the “School of the Gospel.” In this “School” there are three lessons, which could form our paradigm of action: Silence, Family Life, Work.
Silence leads to stillness and the Psalmist delivers the promise of all promises:
Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46).
Just a few minutes of silence each day, giving way to stillness of body, soul, and spirit, and we are promised that we will come to know and love God:
May the silence of Nazareth teach us recollection, inwardness, the disposition to listen to good inspirations and the teachings of true masters.
May it teach us the need for and the value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of personal inner life, of the prayer which God alone sees in secret (Paul VI).
Silence and stillness emerge as a new language, capable of speaking into the hearts of more than a few, surrounded and impeded as we are by the cacophony of noises that deadens and drowns vitality.
Silence and stillness could and should become a building block for a new civilisation founded on marriage and family, but it requires more than a little courage and commitment. Enveloped with a plethora of communication devices, we find it easy – and enjoyable, it must be admitted – to be involved in what is curious, but often superficial
Yet, the promise holds good. If we can become silent and still for just a few minutes a day, we shall come to know and love God, and importantly, too, we shall come to know and love ourselves. Knowledge and love of self is a “bridge” to others – a key to social advancement.
Time with family, too, proves elusive. Yet, faced with the alternative of the pursuit of individual satisfaction without regard for the common good, the fight for time with family is a noble ambition, not beyond reach if we so desire it.
Paul VI speaks of the communion of love in the family, of its simple beauty and its sacred character. Like silence and stillness, however, time with family is not on “automatic pilot.”
In the 1950’s affordable housing was at its best in Australia. But now, in 2019, all of the state capital cities in this country are in the worse thirty cities in the world for housing affordability. Many now struggle to provide one of the most basic necessities of life. Pressure on family life is perhaps unprecedented.
Still, history tells us that each epoch has its own particular challenges, making it difficult to pursue the essentials of human flourishing. It seems always a struggle to “survive and thrive.”
We should take comfort in the knowledge that when people bury their dead, they hardly ever mention the material objects their mothers and fathers provided. Rather, they reflect upon and are grateful for, the interpersonal values and virtues of their forebears. At the end of our days, none of us will ever regret having spent too much time with our children. Imagine the joy of facilitating such a culture.
We work well when we work with the rhythm of God, who worked for six days and rested on the Sabbath. We are stewards of the gifts of God, which are, more often than not, given in embryo form. By working, therefore, we participate intimately in the creative act of God. By resting, we are able to “stop,” “look back” and thus “see” the providential hand of God in our work. Resting is important for physical and psychological health, but equally important for spiritual harmony.
One of the motives for work is remuneration, which is an undeniable truth. But there are a variety of meanings of work and parents are suitably placed, through their example and conversations with their children, to help them come to deeper understandings.
Henry Parkes, Father of the Federation, once said that the “holiest thoughts” and “lofty purposes” emerge during times of work. What a marvellous spiritual vision of work that is. It surely challenges the array of materialistic and hedonistic visions peddled by many of our peers.
The New Year has begun with all its hopes and aspirations. May we make our small contribution to a new culture of marriage and family – the bedrock of civilisation.
Father Anthony Percy