Families are the foundation of society —but collateral damage must be treated…
ARCHBISHOP THOMAS WENSKI—
(MiamiArchdiocese) – Incorporating the reflections and insights of his brother bishops given in two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015, Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love, examines the various challenges facing marriage and the family in our world today. At a time when there is much confusion in society about the meaning of marriage, family and human love, the pope, quoting often his predecessors, reaffirms the essential aspects of the Church’s teaching on the matter.
Stable families, he insists, are “the building blocks of a healthy society and a place where children learn to love, respect and interact with others.” Yet, recalling the image of the Church as a “field hospital,” he treats with great sensitivity those who represent the “collateral damage” resulting from societal and cultural changes that have undermined marriage and weakened family bonds.
Like the Good Samaritan who tended to the one who fell among robbers, the Church — he reminds us — must tend mercifully and compassionately to the wounded with the healing balm of Christ’s grace.
According to statistics, less than half of U.S. households today are made up of married couples. For the first time in history, there are more people not married than married. We put in this category those never married, not yet married and not married anymore.
Today young people find it hard to commit to the vocation of being a husband or a wife, a father or a mother. We see this in the number of young people who are reluctant not only to marry in church — but even civilly. Sometimes this is due to harsh economic realities — where lack of job opportunities, affordable housing, etc. make it difficult for young people to marry and start families. Also, sometimes people have uncritically accepted a secularized world view — such as the prevalent hyper-individualism of our culture today — that holds that permanent commitments are impossible or overly burdensome.
The Gospel of Jesus, to use an image taken from St. Paul, is like a double-edged sword — but it cuts not to wound further but to heal: it cuts up reality and separates it, as it were, into two distinct destinies — one of beatitude and one of woe. As Jesus says in his Sermon on the Plain, “Blessed are you…Woe to you. Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours…Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (cf. Luke 6:20-26)
Of course Jesus is not simply talking in sociological terms. One of the reasons we find Scripture so hard to understand is that we are no longer used to “religious language.” By that, I mean a language that asks us about ultimate meanings, a language that leads us into the supernatural. In a secularized world, we do alright with a psychological or sociological way of speaking; the theological and the philosophical is a bit more difficult.
And so it is important to understand that Jesus is not simply canonizing all the poor, the hungry — just as he does not demonize all the rich. He is drawing a distinction that is deeper than just sociological understandings of poverty and riches — it has to do with knowing what we put our trust in, on what sort of foundation we are building the house of our life, whether it is on that which will pass away, or on that which will not pass away.
Either you live by God and for God or you can try to live for yourself and by yourself. That is the fundamental choice of the drama which is human life. To be sure, in this drama, the crisis of marriage and family life in the aftermath of the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s has begotten a “litany of woes.” And without Jesus, all human drama would end in tragedy.
Yet, as Dante’s great poem indicated, mankind’s story is meant to be a Divine Comedy. Dramatic comedy, of course, is not slap stick humor — but it does involve an unexpected reversal of fortune, a turn of events that comes out better: that is, in this case, to take us, despite the “messiness” of our lives, from “woe” to “beatitude.”
And this is Jesus’ invitation — he invites us into the drama of his own life — so that through his cross and resurrection — which does require a dying to self or conversion — we might know the Joy of Love.