In my last article, “Marriage and Society”, I began reflecting on Scott Hahn’s book, The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing. 2018). Today, I would like to conclude my thoughts from this book.
We live in a society that is becoming more and more focused on the “self.” Here, I would like to repeat a quote I used in my last article, “Liberalism puts the rights and liberties of the individual at the center of the constellation of political values, displacing communal duties and pursuit of the common good. Liberalism therefore conceives of society not as an organic whole with various goods that are proper to that whole, but as a collection of autonomous individuals pursing their own goods” (Hahn, footnote, xvii).
We must consider the individual but the fact is that God did not create us as a bunch of individuals who don’t care about each other. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. We are created to be in community. We don’t all live this in the same way. For example I am an introvert. I very much value my alone time. Yet, that doesn’t mean I want to be alone all the time. I need to spend time with others. There are others who thrive on being with others and don’t like being alone.
Either way we are created to live in some form of community. In God’s plan, family is a big part of this. So is our parish community. Yet, families are not what they used to be. Unfortunately, our parishes are not the source of community life that they used to be. For the Jewish people in the Bible family was a vital part of one’s identity. That’s why both Matthew and Luke include the genealogy of Jesus in their gospels (see Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38, see also Hahn, 53-54, 66-67). Likewise, being part of a parish was (and still can be) an important of one’s identity. However, it is not for most of those who have stopped going to church. Even for some people who go to church, they do not consider their parish an important part of the their identity. They consider faith a private matter.
So, if people no longer find their identity in family or faith, where do many of them turn? Many find their “meaning, purpose, and identity in the state” (Hahn, 34). They expect the state to solve all their problems. The state become central to their identity. The state (i.e. government) is important. However, we must remember that the state does not exist for its own purpose. The state exists in order to serve the people.
The state has replaced the family and the church for many people. Hahn writes, “When marriage – the connective tissue of civil society – disintegrates, the state and the market are the only games in town” (34). It is a sad day when the market (economy) is more important than God and family. However, it happens. In fact, I think the over-importance of economic life contributes to the downfall of families.
Is marriage hard? Yes, it can be. Unfortunately, when it becomes hard, many people don’t try very hard to make it work. Divorce is a reality but we must try. I know not every marriage is successful. That is a topic for another time. Here, I focus on what God intends for marriage. The effort needs to start even before the wedding. When a man and a woman decide to marry, they need to take their decision very seriously, committing themselves to put effort into their marriage. To make a marriage successful, God must be part of the marriage. That’s where the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage comes in. In the Sacrament, the couple invites God to be part of their marriage and gives them grace (see Hahn, 48, 147). Asking God to be part of their marriage, the couple forms not just a contract but a covenant.
Does what has been said about too much importance being placed on the individual instead of the family and faith mean that the needs of the individual aren’t important? No. Hahn writes, “The perfection of the whole both is constituted by and enhances the perfection of the parts. No matter how different they may seem, the proper functioning of the liver is not distinct from the good of the pinky finger” (80). The community needs the individual and the individual needs the community (see also 1 Corinthians 12).
It is unfortunate that the importance of family has been declining. It is also unfortunate that we, as people of faith, have not been a stronger voice for the family. Hahn writes, “Unfortunately, we have spent the better part of the last century trying to assert what makes Catholics and Catholicism acceptable to secular liberals rather than accentuating our distinctiveness” (150). Let us pray we be the voice that God calls us to be.
Family is important. Why? Hahn writes, “There can be no solidarity when the reciprocal duties of family life are optional. How are young people to learn what it means to live in solidarity with their fellow human beings when there is no solidarity within their own families?” (152). A good family teaches us how to care and sacrifice for one another.
We see from the very beginning when God brought Adam and Eve together that marriage is what God intends. Let us pray for all those who live in marriage to have what they need to fulfill what God intends.