Management Team Volunteer, Kieran Hill offers the following reflection on Family.
'The human person is not only sacred but social. We realize our dignity and rights in relationship with others, in community. No community is more central than the family; it needs to be supported and strengthened, not undermined. It is the basic cell of society and the state has an obligation to support the family. What happens in the family is at the basis of a truly human social life'. (Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1999)
This summary statement by the United States Catholic Bishops relating to Family, Community and wider Participation, despite its brevity, contains fundamental principles relevant to human existence which have been distilled from the Gospels and presented within the God-given wisdom acquired within the Church. It is only possible within this short article to make some short but hopefully important observations.
Much has been written about the family from sociological, psychological and social-psychological viewpoints, linking healthy outcomes at personal, family, community and societal levels to positive family relationships and experiences especially where love, caring, respect and dignity of each person are valued. The learning and experiences of growing up in a family stay with us into adult life.
There are many pressures on modern family life in societies which promote individual achievement and competition and where values can both contradict and seriously challenge the relevance and influence of Christian beliefs and practices. What can happen on an individual level can impact what happens at family, community and societal level. The social dimension to family life requires effort to maintain positive social relations. Time taken to communicate, interact and have shared experiences, including those afforded through mealtimes, is time well invested. It is through this social interaction that much is passed on to the next generation and is carried out into the local parishes schools and communities and to society as a whole.
I wish to comment on two key elements that underpin the social dimension from a Catholic Social Teaching viewpoint. Love and faith. Discreet but very much interconnected, these are the elements that influence and are influenced by our social relationships. The writer and contemplative priest Thomas Merton has shared some insights into these two concepts which I suggest is helpful to briefly comment on here.
Merton puts it this way:
Love comes out of God and gathers us to God …So we all become
doors and windows through which God shines back into His own house.*
This is a beautiful image of a connection between God's House and our family home. Both as members and the family as a single identity have 'doors and windows' through which we receive, share and return Love back to God's 'House'.
The root of Christian Love is not the will to love, but the faith that
one is loved...loved by God.**
In other words having faith that God is love and loves us is a source of great strength in family life, especially when times get tough.
Several years ago, my daughter became ill and she required an operation both to treat and to make a diagnosis. This was a very stressful and worrying time for all members of my family, not least my daughter. My faith turned me to pray to God. At that time I would have emphasised the importance of my faith. Looking at the situation again, it was God's love that turned me in the direction of prayer, connecting to whatever faith I had in God's love for me and my family. God's love did shine in through our 'doors and windows' and in the light of a very successful outcome for my daughter, was shared within the family and beyond, and hopefully all returned stronger back to God's House.
Taking time to reflect on love and faith, and how these are experienced and passed on in the social relations of family life can help build a more solid foundation upon which Catholic Social Teaching in this area can be better understood, received and put into practice.
*Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 67, 2007.