My visitor came to talk about doing business with the WCR. But once we finished that chat, he became even more energized by talking about the threats to the family in society.
"Anybody can see," he said, "that if society has lots of pornography and more than half of marriages end in divorce, the family is in trouble. If you have gay marriages, that's going to hurt the family too. And if the family falls apart then society will fall apart too."
"Everybody can see that," he said. "Everybody except the government."
Perhaps government has a tendency to see itself as the centre and foundation of society. It is certainly involved in many aspects of social life, probably more than any institution except the media.
But if government were the rock on which society was founded, it would be a very cold society. The nature of government is to be bureaucratic. And the best government is scrupulously fair in the sense that it treats all people with similar concerns exactly the same. It has, or should have, no regard for persons.
The ideal family, however, has every regard for persons. It is fair too, but in a different way. Mom or Dad meets each child at his or her point of need or interests or desires. The family is not bureaucratic with limited responsibilities and regular shift changes. The responsibilities of family members to each other are unlimited.
Further, the family is not a relationship primarily defined by responsibilities and rights. It is defined by love, mutual self-giving. There is a contract between husband and wife and laws which regulate some rights and responsibilities of spouses. But contracts and laws do not begin to do justice to the ebb and flow of family life.
Pope John Paul II wrote that relations among family members are "inspired and guided by the law of 'free giving.' . . . This free giving takes the form of heartfelt acceptance, encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service and deep solidarity."
The family is the antidote to a depersonalized society. It "possesses and continues to release formidable energies capable of taking man out of his anonymity, keeping him conscious of his personal dignity, enriching him with deep humanity and actively placing him, in his uniqueness and unrepeatability, within the fabric of society" (Familiaris Consortio, 43).
A crucial contribution of the family to society is procreation and the education of the young. But the family's social role goes beyond that. It also includes hospitality and freely-given service, especially to the poor.
More important than what the family contributes is what the family is. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says the family "is born of the intimate communion of life and love founded on the marriage of one man and one woman" (n. 211). The family is of intrinsic value – it is valuable in and of itself.
"The human being is made for love and cannot live without love," the Compendium says (n. 223). The human person is fully unfolded in the community of fidelity and openness to new life and new situations which is the family.
More so than the government, the family is the true foundation of society. It is irreplaceable. Its contribution is not bureaucracy or universal accessibility, but rather the loving touch.
This touch can be found in many places on society, in many relationships. But wherever it appears, it is dependent on the loving touch that was given and is rooted in the family.
In the family, no one is shut out; no one is forgotten. There is human communion. Everyone gives according to his or her abilities; everyone receives according to their needs. Through the elderly, even the gifts and wisdom of previous generations are kept alive.
Ours is a society overly focused on individualism and efficiency. The family symbolizes and embodies a better, fuller way – the way of communion. Communion is what makes society possible.
And because the family is the way of communion, it is the family that is the foundation of society.