Saturday, January 12, 2013

Where We Learn to Be Human

Despite all impressions to the contrary, the family is still strong and vibrant today. But there is no denying the crisis that threatens it to its foundations – especially in the western world. It was noticeable that the Synod repeatedly emphasized the significance for the transmission of the faith of the family as the authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint of human existence.

This is something we learn by living it with others and suffering it with others. So it became clear that the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human. The challenges involved are manifold.

First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for?

Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his “I” ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.

Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2012

Reflection – Well, it is time to wade into the field of controversy again. These remarks by the Holy Father before Christmas occasioned a fair amount of heat and not too much light these past weeks. A group has petitioned the White House to name the Roman Catholic Church a ‘hate group’ on the strength of them, and the chattering classes have been… well, chattering away about the Pope and his horrible hateful words.

My take on it is to actually present what the Pope said in full, and talk about it. And this is what I will do for the next few days or so on this blog. I call this method of presentation ‘journalism’, which is an increasingly rare commodity in the world today. So here we see that the Pope upholds the family as the fundamental place where human beings learn to be human beings, by living and suffering with others.

And what does it mean to be a human being? To commit oneself to the task of love and laying down one’s life for others. By entering into commitment, opening oneself up to real risk, to real self-giving where there is no ‘escape clause’, no easy out. To open oneself up to other people and really throw one’s lot in with them.

All of this is essential to the nature of humanity, and to the nature of ‘family.’ And when commitment vanishes as a real aspect of marriage and parenthood—when no fault divorce is the norm, or common law arrangements—then the vital core of our humanity is lost.

Freedom only attains its goal when we use our freedom to freely bind ourselves to the other in love. Freedom is only ‘free’ when it is consummated in this binding in love. One might say, with full Chestertonian paradox, that freedom is perfected by slavery.

It is in the family, with all its human wounds and human imperfections and sufferings, that we learn this basic structure of human life, that we learn that we are made to give ourselves to the other and not take that gift back no matter what. And that is why it is so crucial to defend and uphold the life of the family in the world today.


  1. Father,

    And look at family life in America today. How can a Nation survive like this? So much divorces, fornication, homosexual ''marriage'' being legalized, etc. One hundred years ago this never would have even been imagined. I just don't see how we can keep surviving as a Nation the way we are. Holy Family, pray for us...


    1. We just need to keep praying and do our best to show forth Christ to the world. The rest is up to God.

    2. Just is homesexual marriage akin to divorce and fornication? It seems they are just the opposite.

      I really do not understand why homosexual unions/family are seen as such a big threat to the family. What exactly is the scary thing? What exactly is the threat? Or does it just feel really, really wrong to have an opposite opinion?

    3. Homosexual marriage changes the very definition of what a marriage is. Marriage in a civil sense has been a matter of providing a stable institution whereby the children created in sexual intercourse can be assured of being raised in a stable and assured fashion by the people who created them. Marriage is now about society giving approval to certain forms of affection and erotic attachment.
      Actually, marriage becomes incoherent in the advent of same-sex marriage. Nobody suggests that siblings who are fond of each other be allowed to marry. Bowling partners do not marry, even if they are a really good team and get along well. So it is not about affection, but about sexual union. But why does society need an institution for sexual unions? Once the intrinsic connection of sex and children is irrevocably sundered (as it is not by contraception), then what is the point of marriage as a civil institution. Why should society care who goes to bed with whom?
      Meanwhile, by solemnly declaring that same-sex relationships are exactly the same kind of thing as opposite-sex ones, we have declared that human life and human being is an accidental by-product of sex. The essence of sex is either the pleasure or the affectionate pair bond. The creation of a new human being is an irrelevant afterthought to an orgasm.
      And that is threat homosexual marriage poses to the family, to society, to humanity. You may disagree, but surely you can see that there is more here than reflexive opposition?

    4. Father Denis,

      I read somewere that 2/3 of all US Catholics are single, many with children. Divorce rates in the US have improved- in 2010 only 38 % resulted in divorce after 10 years. The average number of kids in a family is now 2.

      Let's face it - marriage, as you define it, is already in trouble. So, why would you seek marriage?

      Because marriage is a platform from which to love. It says we are family in a way no other word does. It simply allows sam sex couplesto marry the person they love , to establish and protect a family and to make a lifetime commitment in the way that other couples do.

      I do not think that same sex marriage is any more erotic than opposite sex marriage. Is your opposition to the sex people engage in? Surely, you understand that sex just strengthens a mature relationship- it does not define it. Do you think of heterosexual marriage as erotic?

      If the connection between sex and children were "irrevocably sundered" what would happen? Well, maybe what God wanted to have happen...we are all- gay or not...we are all God's children.

      I don't think aowing same sex marriage declares human life as an accidental by product of sex. It think our culture has declred that all already.

      Same sex marriage just takes sex out of the equation. It is a way to focus on marriage and family itself and what that means.

      So ,no I still see your agrument as reflexive opposition.

    5. Sorry to be so long responding - my life has been really hectic lately.
      Well of course marriage is in trouble already. But... ready divorce attacks marriage as a permanent commitment, but couples getting married are not usually planning to get divorced at their wedding. Common-law relationships attack marriage by simulating the life-style withotu the commitment... but a common-law couple can still get married at some point. Contraception attacks marriage by making it infertile... but a contracepting couple can repent and stop contracepting.
      A same-sex couple, by definition, cannot enter into marriage, because nothing they can do together will create a child, and so the a necessary essential reality and purpose of marriage is not and cannot exist in that relationship.
      I realize we have huge disagreement about all of the above that I jsut wrote. Marriage is, of course, erotic - nothing I wrote implies otherwise, nor do I condemn erotic love (how could I, since the Church doesn't!). But erotic love must exist in a larger framework, and that is the call to fruitful self-gift.
      Yes of course my opposition to it is rooted in my opposition to homosexual intercourse! I believe it to be a sin, and the reason it is a sin is that it absolutely and utterly separates the sexual act from the context of pro-creation.
      What do you mean by reflexive opposition, anyhow? Do you think I just think gay sex is 'yucky' and so am opposed to it? Because I have given reason upon reason for my opinions and views, and the Church has given these reasons and more at greater length than is possible in a blog format. I oppose it, and strongly, but how is it 'reflexive'? Surely not just because you disagree with my arguemtns?

  2. Very good article!

    In this world where so many find individualism as their key to life. (we used to call it narcissism - and before that - sin...) this article confronts that attitude well!


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