The family at Christmas
The birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of humanity, over 2,000 years ago, brought into being the Holy Family, formed also by Jesus' mother, Mary, whose own conception was immaculate - i.e., without original sin - to qualify her to carry, in her womb, the Second Person of the Trinity made Man, and to give birth to Him, and by her husband Joseph, a "just man", the putative father of Jesus.
The Holy Family, like most families, had its fair share of trouble and anxiety. It is rightly held up as a model for all Christian families who today, as never before, need to look up to it. This is because the family today is under unprecedented attack from various quarters.
For centuries, particularly in Christian Europe, the traditional family unit was considered the cornerstone of a stable society, with most parents raising up their children, loving them and being loved in return, facing life's difficulties together, and passing on the values of family love and devotion, work and self-sacrifice, inspired by the example of the Holy Family, from one generation to the next.
But for decades now, and more recently also in traditionally Catholic Malta, the traditional family has been under attack. Marriages are breaking up at a faster rate than ever before, whether because of extramarital relationships, or financial problems, or because of - a phrase often used in divorce proceedings - "irreconcilable differences" between the couple, who would have sworn eternal love and respect only a few years, if not a few months, before.
Inevitably, the victims in all this are the children, who suffer enormously when their parents split up. With marriage separations - basically caused by egoism - becoming more frequent, it is inevitable that the number of disillusioned, psychologically affected children grows. The result is a more cynical attitude towards marriage and its commitment, a tendency to break up at the slightest provocation, with no meaningful attempt at give and take, let alone self-denial.
In certain circumstances, such as when one of the couple turns violent or is repeatedly unfaithful, separation becomes a necessary evil, but the attitude towards marriage and its vows, among a growing number of couples, is one of impatience and a willingness to break up at the least excuse. They do not try to ride out the storm together, or pray to God for guidance. They take as their role models not the Holy Family of Bethlehem, but film stars and rock artists who marry, divorce, remarry and re-divorce with gay (oops, wrong word!) abandon.
To add to the woes of the traditional family coming from a too facile recourse to separation (divorce is not yet legal in Malta, but could well be on the way, given the growing pro-divorce mentality), we now have governments in Europe actually legislating in a way which weakens the traditional family and shakes it to its very foundations.
There is a growing trend, in fact, to give legal recognition to cohabiting couples, even putting them on a par with married couples regarding rights, fiscal regime, etc. This, as Pope Benedict repeated only last Friday, is a threat to traditional marriage, which requires a higher degree of commitment than a simple decision to live together without any ties whatsoever.
Even worse is the decision by some governments, foremost among them "Catholic", Socialist-led Spain, to give homosexual couples, male or female, the right to "marry" and to adopt children! "This tacitly accredits those dismal theories that strip all relevance from the masculinity and femininity of the human being as though it were a purely biological issue," Pope Benedict said.
Fortunately, such aberrations are still firmly rejected by the Maltese. According to a Eurobarometer survey published last Monday, 73 per cent are opposed to gay "marriage", while by an even greater majority, 85 per cent, they are opposed to giving gay couples the right to adopt children. However, on average, Europeans are not as strongly opposed - 44 per cent are in favour of gay marriages, and 32 per cent in favour of adoption by gay couples.
The duty of responsible governments is to strengthen the family and ensure its survival, not weaken it further. Already, the social costs of family breakdowns and of alternative family lifestyles have reached alarming levels. Let us not make the situation worse, but look up, at this time of the year - when we should be celebrating the birth of Christ, rather than an increasingly commercialised "end-of-year festival" - to the Holy Family for guidance and inspiration.