Back to virtue
Today's readings: 1 Samuel 1, 20-22. 24-28; 1 John 3, 1-2. 21-24; Luke 2, 41-52.
It is beyond any doubt that talk about the family today cannot re-propose models or cultural forms of the family that are obsolete or merely nostalgic of the past. But perhaps we can afford a broad application of today's Gospel to the family situation in our society.
The Gospel says that Jesus' parents "kept seeking him among relatives and acquaintances" to no avail. They had to turn back to Jerusalem. What is it that we need to go back to in our search for whatever can give meaning to the confused climate concerning the family nowadays?
C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce writes: " I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. Evil can be undone, but it cannot develop into good."
Something needs to be done to halt the current slide of the family. We used to consider the family as the basic cell of society. More than that, it is also the key to a nation's future and identity. The family is too sacred to be a bone of contention for society. In the name of freedom and pluralism, society cannot afford to promote the safeguarding of the so-called civil liberties without calculating the cost.
The starting point for the communitarian diagnosis of the crisis facing post-modern culture is the liberal emphasis on the rights that people demand, particularly when these are not balanced with responsibilities. This is evident in what the family is today undergoing. There is a clear 'parenting deficit' when the rights of the less powerful members of the family are considered.
It is now becoming crystal clear that this is, in the first place, in no way to be considered an issue that concerns doctrine; it is rather an issue that demands a stock-taking exercise of how today we understand pastoral care. The lower percentage of people getting married for the first time, the incidence of cohabitation, the fear of getting married on the part of more people, are all changes that call for a more sensitive pastoral care and determined guidance.
The issue may not necessarily be that what the Churches teach on marriage and the family is outdated. There may be problems with its presentation, but mainly the causes need to be sought at a much deeper level. Jean Vanier writes that the deepest form of love is forgiveness. And from today's readings, it is probably St Paul in the second reading who, most of all, singles out what the problem is all about. We need to go back to virtue.
We are past the time when pastoral care was meant mainly to provide the first-aid station. In our review of pastoral care, we need to bring together healing, sustaining, guiding, reconciling and forming personal and societal strengths. Paul puts the family within the framework of those basic relationships that tie us up together within a family unit.
He speaks of forgiveness as the backbone of all this. What Paul says when he speaks of the right relationship between husband and wife may in our culture be easily dubbed as politically incorrect.
But Paul is in no way against equality between husband and wife, or promoting any form of subordination. That should categorically be seen as alien to the Word of God and to God's way of designing human relationships in society, let alone in the family. Paul is not speaking of family relationships from a sociological point of view. He speaks instead of love, sincere compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Even if we appear to be sliding towards confusion, yet there are footholds on the slippery slope, and we can turn back only if we hold on to them. A poll of American Catholic teenagers asked what their Church was failing to give them that they wanted most. The response from quite a number was: a high and heroic ideal. Let us not be afraid to aim high.