The Catholic sphere is rightly occupied with emphasizing the need for two-parent homes and healthy marriages that provide children with the home lives that they have a right to. Yet, we must also acknowledge and confront the reality that an increasing number of children will be denied that.
Almost a quarter of children in the United States live with only one parent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s the world’s highest rate. It’s heart-wrenching; for single-parent homes are connected with higher rates of substance abuse, criminality, suicide, and poverty. If outcome is indicative of oppression, as many claim, then the most oppressive start is single parenthood. Despite this data being well known, almost half of all babies born in the U.S. were born to unmarried women in 2019.
In the case of children raised without two parents, to whom could they be expected to turn to fill the void? Likewise, those who were raised in immoral households—becoming more common in a slipping secular society—must receive moral/spiritual guidance from somewhere. It’s not possible to receive no moral instruction, for there is always moral meaning and evaluation assigned to behavior: by word, by gesture, and—most ominously—by acquiescent silence. Whether from watching friends of the household, listening to the authoritarian guidance of the school system, or tuning in to the entertainment industry for role models, everyone gets moral instruction from somewhere.
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More than ever, the Church is needed to be a voice of reason, good, clarity, and constancy. Its clergy ought to be speaking on the errors of the day because there are people who have never heard the life-giving messages of the Church. They have never heard the arguments in favor of living celibately until marriage, refusing disordered desires, or the concept of self-denial. It’s too easy to assume that these things are known because we know them ourselves.
In the encyclical Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II describes how to those without family the Church becomes family:
For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church—the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate—must be opened even wider.
Indeed, she embraces and guides them. The number who come from broken homes that fail at being families is sadly growing.
An overlooked type of evangelism is demonstrated happiness. It is for the families that are living the faith to be shown as examples. So many people don’t know what to aspire to, for we live in a time where healthy families are not the norm—indeed, many do not know what healthy families look like or whether they are even possible. An overlooked type of evangelism is demonstrated happiness. It is for the families that are living the faith to be shown as examples. So many people don’t know what to aspire to, for we live in a time where healthy families are not the norm.Tweet This
Parish events that are family friendly can help to demonstrate such goods. Without this element, those preaching the truth can merely seem authoritarian rather than loving. People need to be shown that the “rules” of the Church—so often denigrated as arbitrary stipulations of human origin—are, in fact, pathways to a better quality of life. We’re not supposed to live as mere animals, chasing every desire. When we evaluate our actions in accordance with our higher nature, the fruits are good.
Healthy families that have embraced Catholic teaching are happier. After all, they are living for what they were made. A healthy home life is an ideal that more would aim for if they understood that it was an option—that it exists.
There are some who surmise that everyone must know of this life. Such is not true. People know what they have seen and been exposed to. Plenty of individuals are raised in such irreligious and immoral environments as to be ignorant of what such things look like. Intergenerational privation of God and family impose an immeasurable toll upon one’s soul, along with his understanding of the possible. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Sin is unwillingness to trust that what God wants for me is only my deepest happiness.”
The erroneous correlation between license and happiness that is so embedded in the American collective psyche only further imprisons such people. They falsely believe that the freedom to do what is wrong grants them liberty, so they chafe against any rules that might be placed against them. The Church can seem to be an authoritarian or even tyrannical system of rules to someone who is ignorant of why they exist.
Someone raised without caring parents might have never properly understood the correct relationship between rules from authority and the safety/happiness of he who follows them. It’s a tragedy that people are raised without that experience of nurture that should help us to better grasp our relationship with clergy and with God. Yet, the situation is not self-resolving. We confront it by aiding these victims and working to prevent more people from being similarly victimized.
Of course, the two tasks are related. We best prevent more victims by caring for existing ones enough to tell them the truth: that they suffered an injustice as children, that there is no adequate compensation for the parental privation that they endured, and that so much more is possible. It is then that they can make better choices for their own children.
Some of these people can find an evening dinner with a healthy family to be bewildering. The dynamics at work are so unfamiliar to them: healthy Catholic families pray together and give thanks for their gifts—which include each other; children have hobbies and are able to respectfully communicate with adults about their interests; the married couple love each other and know one another such as to be able to complete each other’s sentences; they already know who is going to fulfill each task because they know each other’s strengths and they coordinate accordingly; grandparents relay stories of comical but innocent mishaps of the past. It’s possible, and becoming more common, to come from a background so broken that all of this is alien—but immediately desirable.
There is no quick fix for the broken homes that have become too normal, but the crisis has assuredly increased the obligation of the Church. She needs to be the voice of reason and decency in this time of disorder, pointing people away from the slavery of vice and toward the true liberty and happiness of the Faith. If people are to become better and reject the insistence upon the primal behavior that modernity glorifies, they need to at least know what to aim for. Or, better said, who.