Strengthening Families Part 2
Last week, I introduced you to Katie and Jules van Schaijik who are founders of the “Personalist Project,” a non-profit organization based in West Chester, PA, dedicated to the spread of “Christian personalism.” Personalism is philosophy that focuses attention on the truth about the nature and dignity of persons—a truth directly at stake in the deepest and most difficult problems afflicting our society today.
Katie and her husband recently posted an article in the National Catholic Register entitled, 10 Things That Are Strengthening the Family. She was responding to an article by Father Dwight Longenecker’s who listed the items that are challenges (one could say, threatening) the family. So what are some of the positive, modern “goods” for the contemporary family?
- The Valid and Positive Achievements of Feminism. The establishment of the equal dignity of women in society, law, and culture. The end of a patriarchy that sees women as subordinate to men. Suffrage and the women’s right to vote. Access to higher education. Full participation in public life.
- Natural Family Planning and a much deeper and richer understanding of married love and sexuality. Before John Paul II, there was very little understanding of the unitive meaning of conjugal relations. It was normal for Catholic husbands to think of sex as their right and for wives to think of it as their duty. Humanae Vitae didn’t just condemn artificial contraception, it endorsed family planning. John Paul II’s writings afterward extolled the beauty and greatness of spousal love, and its central place in God’s plan of redemption for the world, a vision that today is a source of help and strength and joy and gratitude to married couples.
- Greater Respect for Children. The growth and spread of Montessori education, The current abhorrence to corporal punishment used to be, even in schools. The affirmation of a child’s fundamental right and need to have his/her individuality affirmed, respected, and encouraged by the adults in her life.
- A Better Appreciation Of/Care for Those With Handicaps and/or Mental Illness. Birth defects, special needs, and mental illness used to be seen as shameful. Now there is a huge amount of social acceptance, care and practical support for those afflicted with these conditions and for their families.
- The Dying-away of Clericalism and the Emergence of the Lay Vocation. The relation between the hierarchy and the laity used to be highly paternalistic. The role of the laity was to “pay, pray and obey.” It’s radically different now. The lay vocation is widely understood to be a path to holiness. There are countless lay theologians and philosophers teaching in Catholic universities and seminaries. The great initiatives that are renewing the Church in our day (pro-life, evangelization, catechesis, education, the arts) are for the most part lay initiatives.
- Social Mobility. The rootlessness that plagues our culture is bad, just as Father Dwight Longenecker says in his article, Ten Things That Are Killing the Family. However, it’s not all bad. Some extended families needed breaking up. Families sometimes need to simply and physically move away from local cultures which are mired in chronic welfare dependence, organized crime, poverty and dysfunctional neighborhoods. The freedom young people have today to decide what to do with their lives and where to center them is basically positive.
- Twelve-Step Programs. Is there a family left in the country that hasn’t been helped, or saved even, through AA and its offshoots? It has justly been called the most successful renewal movement of all time, considering its numbers, global reach, efficacy and duration. And to be familiar with its essence and method is to recognize Pope Francis’ (notably personalist) themes for the New Evangelization as it advances through “attraction, not promotion,” sharing stories, not proselytizing, about fellow sinners helping each other, rather than moral instructors and judging.
- Social Networking. It’s ephemeral, disembodied, unreal, distracting, addictive and depressing, BUT, it’s also great. It allows far-flung families and friends to keep in touch with each other’s lives. It’s a way for like-minded people to find each other, connect with each other, and encourage each other. It is a useful tool for the New Evangelization, compensating to a degree for the problem of geographic dispersion and isolation among the faithful, and making it possible to reach and nurture open hearts and minds the world over.
- Annulments. One of the consequences of a deeper and fuller understanding of the nature of marriage is that, in too many apparent marriages, couples live together in misery, without love, and without the grace of the sacrament. The wider availability of annulments in our day gives them hope of human happiness again.
- The Home-schooling Movement. More and more parents are taking responsibility for their own children’s education. They have resources, support groups and, because of their sheer numbers, very powerful political clout.
All of these good developments spring, I propose, from Karol Wojtyla’s call to freedom and responsibility as a unique, incommunicable, self-determining moral agent, called to love and communion.