Only a few short weeks ago, Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. We celebrated the quiet strength of Saint Joseph, the head of the family, the faithful devotion of Mary, full of Grace, and the completion of the family in Jesus Christ, the blessed child they raised. The family in the form of husband, wife, and child achieves perfect balance reflecting the Father-Son-Holy Spirit.
Especially during the Feast of the Holy Family, we look at artist depictions of the trio, Joseph on one side, Mary close beside him, Jesus in front of both standing at the center. The three are always looking ahead or the parents are looking down on their Son with Love obvious in their eyes. The three are always standing together in the middle of the artist’s frame. We recognize balance in the artwork. We see balance in this special family.
In our own family photos, we also strive for balance. Family portraits are centered within the frame. Even the worst photographers among us recognize the balance needed to obtain a quality photo and adjusts her camera position to center the group. In so many unconscious ways, we try to model our lives after the Holy Family, recognizing the peace and balance they achieved so effortlessly, but there is one major difference.
In today’s modern family, we seem to think we can achieve balance without the trio of husband, wife, and child. We seem to think it’s okay, and sometimes perhaps inevitable, that around 50% of marriages end in divorce and that a greater and greater number of singles are living together rather than choosing the commitment and work of marriage. We think that children don’t care much whether parents live together or not. We think that because, “everyone is doing it,” our families will be immune to the pain, that the sin of divorce will not reach down through the generations. We think that it is more important for adults to be happy than that our children be happy. We think, “kids are resilient,” and that our being happy will make them happy. We think that children who are raised by one parent have no long term affects and fail to see the burden placed on the abandoned spouse or the children who now have adult responsibilities. We fail to recognize that balance has been removed from The Artist’s design.
We fail to see the God who loves each of us, man, woman, and child, has given us each a role to play, and that that role is specifically designed for the individual. We think we can pick and choose who belongs in our family photos at any given time. Sometimes it is a father, mother, and children, but later it is a step-parent pretending to take the place of the biological parent. Sometimes it is two moms or two dads in same sex unions. Sometimes it is many wives with one husband who is always the center of the family photo. Sometimes it is two adults choosing to deny life preferring their own pursuits to the sacrifice involved in caring for a child.
What has happened to the modern family, and how is it possible that Catholics worldwide recognize in the Holy Family the need for Joseph in the lives of Mary and Jesus but fail to recognize the need for one committed husband to lead today’s modern family? How is it possible that Catholics worldwide recognize in the Holy Family, the important role of Mary in Joseph and Jesus’ life but today we fail to value Motherhood as a true occupation? How is it possible that Catholics worldwide recognize that the Holy Family was not complete until that God-given child was born and still think we have the right to dictate when we will have a child, not through abstinence and chastity, but through birth control and abortion? How is it possible that Catholics worldwide recognize that people are leaving the Catholic Church in droves but blaming it on the Catholic Church’s failure to accept the breakdown of the family rather than on the breakdown of the family itself?
The Synod on the family was an important step in looking at what can be done to strengthen families, but as Matthew James Christoff explained in his piece, The Synod’s Shocking Omissions, greatest emphasis was directed at the divorced and those living together without the Sacrament of marriage. It missed the message needed by those families sitting in the pews, those struggling day to day with temptations and financial pressure and sickness and exhaustion and joblessness and so many other realities of this world. It missed telling men that they are the Joseph of their families, that their roles are vital, that without them in the picture, the balance has been thrown off, that the centering of the camera will never result in as well balanced a photo as the one with them in the frame.
Without a doubt, the divorced and abandoned need more reaching out. The Catholic church has failed and continues to fail this population in many ways, but we also need to do more to prevent this from happening in the first place. We need to address the families in the pews, those Catholics attending Mass but forgetting why, before they become another sad statistic.
Stopping divorce before it happens needs to be taken seriously. Divorce can have eternal consequences. Divorce today is seen as a condition we live with and half heartedly attempt to manage through secular courts without recognizing that it is truly a plague we choose and can prevent, if we choose, through strong faith and unfailing commitment. Without acknowledging how contagious and devastating the disease of divorce truly is, it will continue to spread. Disease management is not a cure and a cure is never as good as prevention. As Catholics we must lead the way in strong, committed marriages. We must reach out to those families flailing in darkness unsure of how to grow or how to continue one more day.
The question must become how do we reach out to those sitting in the pews and to those who identify themselves as Catholic families but who don’t attend Mass or can’t connect to the church? How can we prevent the spread of divorce before it happens so we stem the tide of those leaving the church because it happens?