Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The meaning of "family": UPDATED

I am, unfortunately, not able to find a full text of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's remarks during the lead opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families in the RDS.  I am therefore relying on the reporting of the Irish Times, with the inherent risk that it does not offer a full picture of the Archbishop's address:
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin greeted families in the “variety of their expressions” at the opening prayer service of the World Meeting of Families on Tuesday night.
“There are some who would look at the world meeting as some sort of ideological rally to celebrate a type of family which probably does not exist,” he said, but added that the event was, in fact, much more profound.
“The family is not a remote ideological notion but the place where compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and forgiveness are learned, practised and are spread,” he said.
There seems to be a contrast between Archbishop Martin's reference to families in their "variety of expressions" and the recent  suggestion of Pope Francis that, though there is an analogical use of the term "family", there is also a single and unique usage of the term in the context of human families:
Then today — it hurts to say it — we speak of ‘diversified’ families: different types of family. Yes, it is true that the word ‘family’ is an analogical term, because it refers to the ‘family’ of stars, to ‘families’ of trees, to ‘families’ of animals ... it is an analogical term. But the human family as the image of God, man and woman, is one alone. It is one alone. It may be that a man and a woman are not believers: but if they love each other and become joined in marriage, they are the image and likeness of God, even though they do not believe. It is a mystery: Saint Paul calls it the “great mystery”, the “great sacrament” (cf. Eph 5:32). A true mystery. I like everything you said and the passion with which you said it. And this is how one should speak about the family, with passion.
There is some lack of precision in Pope Francis' words - the term "human family" might have a reference both to the entirety of the human family and to the exact instance of the family formed by the marriage of a man and woman to which he then immediately refers - arising from the unscripted nature of his remarks. I do think, however, that he has opened up a way of talking about the family that can present Catholic teaching in a way that allows the unique understanding of the term "family" to engage successfully with the indiscriminate use of that term by a wider society that seeks to undermine the living of that unique understanding.

UPDATE: Archbishop Eamon Martin was the keynote speaker (replacing Archbishop Wuerl) on the first full day of the pastoral congress. The full text of his talk can be found here: Keynote address of Archbishop Eamon Martin at the Family Arena at the WMOF2018 Pastoral Congress ‘The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world’. As I do regularly, I suggest that you do follow the link and read the whole. The extracts below do not convey the sense of the whole, though the perhaps do rather better than the ITV news website headline: Archbishop tells faithful abuse scandals have damaged trust in church’s teaching.

[But we should credit this ITV report with its prominent citation of these words of Archbishop Martin:
"We must work together with all people of goodwill to encourage the State to support the family, and especially the uniqueness of the faithful and exclusive union between a married man and a woman as a cherished space for the bearing and upbringing of children".]
My extracts below:
We believe that the Church’s proclamation of the family – founded on a circle of faithful loving between a man and a woman which is open to the gift of children who are the fruit of that love – is Good News for society and the world.  There is no getting away, however, from the fact that communicating the family in this way can appear increasingly counter-cultural in many parts of the world, including Ireland.  This has been accelerated to a large extent by the departure in public discourse from the philosophical and anthropological underpinning of marriage and the family in natural law, and by the erosion of social supports for traditional marriage in the form of constitutional guarantee and positive legislation. In presenting God’s plan for marriage and the family which includes God’s plan for the transmission of life itself, the Church sometimes be accused of being exclusive or lacking in compassion. ….
Into this complicated ‘topsy turvy’ world we have the joy and challenge of communicating a clear and positive vision of family and marriage: the Good News that human life is sacred, that each human being comes from God, who created us, male and female; that we are willed by God who loves each and every one of us; that self-giving love and commitment in the marriage of a man and a woman open to life is not only possible, but is a beautiful and fulfilling gift with the power of God’s grace; that chastity is achievable, healthy and good for our young people; that the giving of oneself to another in marriage for life is special, rewarding and a wonderful symbol of Christ’s forgiving, faithful love for his Church. 
We proclaim the Gospel of the Family because we believe in it, and we also believe and firmly hope that, with the help of God, it is attainable.
Of course, it is one thing to have a joyful message to proclaim and propose – it is quite another to find effective ways of communicating this message.  If no one is listening, it is difficult to communicate!  The task of proclaiming the Gospel of the Family in the Church therefore belongs to all of us because it is communicated most effectively from cell to cell, from family to family, witnessing intentionally and courageously, and by lived example, to the Church’s vision.
Together we proclaim the Gospel of the Family because we are convinced that the welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world! Or, as Pope St John Paul II loved to put it: “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live”. ….
…. if we truly believe the Good News that the welfare of the family is decisive to the future of the world, then how can we keep from singing and proclaiming this vital truth? We must work together with all people of goodwill to encourage the State to support the family, and especially the uniqueness of the faithful and exclusive union between a married man and a woman as a cherished space for the bearing and upbringing of children.  In doing this, the State is not only caring for its citizens, but it is also strengthening and nurturing the foundations of society itself.  As Pope Francis has said: ‘The family deserves special attention by those responsible for the common good, because it is the basic unit of society, which brings strong links of union that underpin human coexistence and, with the generation and education of children, ensure the renewal and the future of society.’  
There is a sentence in Archbishop Martin's address which I find more subtle and thought provoking, with its suggestion that it is through our families that we become conscious of a culture:
 Family also links us to a community, a parish, a county, a country, to a history and culture, a language and tradition, our past, present and future.  
It is thought provoking to reflect as to how far a generation that has suffered an undermining of their family experience will also have suffered an undermining of their genuine sense of a culture and its replacement by something of considerably less value.

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