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.