What does it mean to be a family? What does it mean to be responsible as persons in a family? Well, I suppose it all depends on what we mean by ‘family’ – the concept is so confused in our secular and promiscuous society. What groupings of people living together should be defined as family? Same-sex couples parenting adopted children is now considered normal, there are still people just living together outside the bonds of marriage, as well as members of various communes and cults doing their own thing behind closed doors.
I would imagine that more and more children are becoming confused in dealing with multiple parents. They have to relate now to birth mothers as well as step mothers, along with all of the sets of grandparents, aunties and uncles that come with multiple parents. Birth fathers and step fathers bring similar sets of problems. In many urban areas there are children who desperately need adult males in their lives, in order to figure out what it means to be a responsible, caring human being.
We also have the social engineers who want to keep all discussion of morality out of our schools. They tell us that God, morality and religious values, should be things that children learn about in their own homes. Now, that sounds very nice and reasonable, until you stop and consider that for countless thousands of children, there is no stable home in which an informed mother and father can teach these things. For too many children nowadays, home is simply a place to eat and sleep.
I think society is slowly coming to realise that our problems of increasing divorce, drug addiction, alcoholism, children murdering children, shootings and stabbings in schools, sexual promiscuity, teen suicide, and a total lack of conscience in many teens who are hardened criminals, can be traced back to the collapse of what we once knew as family. The horrific truth is that a high proportion of our children don’t live in what we think of as the traditional family: a married man and woman and their children all living together in one home, under one roof.
There was a time when a man and a woman got married recognizing the truth that they would be seriously involved in a mystery that caused them to share responsibilities with God in fostering the growth of human life. The Catholic Church recognizes that as a Sacrament: The Sacrament of Matrimony. In preparing engaged couples for marriage, priests and catechists present couples with the Church’s vision of what marriage is all about. We try to bring them to the recognition that in marrying they will be seriously involved with God the Creator in fostering the growth of human life.
But what has happened to us as a nation of people here in the UK? What has been the insidious force that has brought us to the disaster we face in the collapse of the traditional family?
Well, there are multiple causes. But one cause in particular stands out above all the others. It’s what Freud called The Pleasure Principle. It’s the notion that when two people marry, they marry for pleasure, and they stay married only for as long as it feels good. Any other notions, ideas such as responsibility, commitment and fostering human growth – all ideas vigorously proposed and supported by the Catholic Church – are deemed to be a denial of our personal freedom, a deprivation of our personal right to pleasure, to feel good, and to have fun, free from any and all other considerations, all of which are viewed as constraints.
The Pleasure Principle has done more to harm marriage than any other one thing that is presently attacking what we know to be the traditional marriage and the traditional family.
Recently, I listened to a piece on the radio, and a group of schoolchildren and experts were discussing how, even in today’s society, girls are still given the message that pleasing their boyfriends is their chief responsibility. If they don’t please their boyfriends, then they can expect to be dumped, cast off as useless, without value.
It’s interesting that our society today, parallels in many ways, the ancient pagan Roman culture. The early list of Roman martyrs includes a score of young women who were martyred for remaining virgins: St. Agatha, St. Lucy, St. Cecilia, and many others were a direct threat to the pagan Roman value system, a value system that insisted that the only reason for the existence of girls is to give men pleasure. The value of a woman was measured in terms of her usefulness to men in observing The Pleasure Principle. When these Christian girls openly declared that their value was more than that, when they openly declared that they were valued in the eyes of God, they were horribly tortured and murdered. And their martyrdom took place in public because they posed a tremendous threat to that pagan social order and to the prevailing pleasure principle.
I’m sure we were all shocked earlier in the year, when the media revealed the hideous crimes perpetrated by adult men and women against children in Rochdale, Birmingham and Manchester. At home and abroad, there are those, even in the 21st century, who still suffer a martyrdom of sorts.
And so, on this Feast of the Holy Family I would suggest that there are some things to talk about around the dinner table today. There are some Christian values at stake in our lives as we live them out in 2017, soon to be 2018. What values are we transmitting to our children as they face the future? The idea of what it means to be a husband and a wife, what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a family, are all tremendously important topics for families, and for society, to discuss. They are not just quaint notions from an antique world, they are principles which are very actively and presently at work shaping the sort of social world in which we struggle to live.
This, it seems to me, is all reason enough for us to consider today just what it means for us to live as a holy family.