Those of us who are or have been members of families – that's all of us – realize there is more to family life than making babies and raising babies to become good adults.
There is also the relationship with the world outside the family. What a spiritually and socially impoverished family it would be that closed its doors to any meaningful contact with those outside the family. There is biological in-breeding and then there is social and emotional in-breeding. A family cannot act like a cult and be healthy.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says that it is part of the very nature of the family to reach out. The family is born in love and grows in love. To grow in love means to reach out to others in the community. The family is not a cocoon; it is a basis for solidarity.
The Compendium recommends that families express their solidarity through attention to:
It is worth reflecting on that list. How does my family reach out to one or more of those groups, not just with money, but especially through human contact? How can we do more?
It is those bonds that families form with the marginalized that makes families stronger and that makes society more compassionate. Compassion is not something wheeled out through government programs; it is concrete care and concern shown on an interpersonal level.
In particular, there is the virtue of hospitality. In a recent edition of Catholic New Times (Jan. 15), Edmontonian Kate Quinn recalls how her parents had 12 children but opened their doors wider still. The children were all permitted to "bring friends home for a meal, a sleepover, a party and, for some, a refuge when things were rocky elsewhere." One night, 22 people slept in the house.
Quinn says those connections remain alive today, enriching the lives of all family members. And, no doubt, helping to make our society a little more healthy itself.
Beyond solidarity and hospitality, there is one more thing. The Compendium asks families to "assume responsibility for transforming society" (n. 247).
Families must not only be objects of political action, they must also be subjects. They must advocate for justice – for the rights of children and the unborn, and for the rights of families in need. Families should "bring every situation of distress to the attention of institutions so that, according to their specific competence, they can intervene" (n. 246).
Families sometimes get stereotyped as an inactive lump in society where nothing more exciting than beer and popcorn ever happens. They are bastions of predictability, residing in houses of ticky tacky, with predictable incomes and predictable lifestyles geared to raising predictable kids.
Maybe some people live like that. Their wealth and materialism channel them into unquestioning acceptance of the status quo.
Well, this side of heaven, Christians will never be satisfied with the status quo. Not in their personal lives and not in society.
The Compendium lets us know that the family, rather than being a bulwark of the establishment, ought to be a revitalizing and renewing influence on society. We are called to "assume responsibility for transforming society."