One of the greatest gifts of my life is the fact that I grew up in a healthy and peaceful family. Added to this is the fact that my neighbourhood was unusually close and healthy. My family and neighbourhood connections remain close to this day. Once I moved away from home, it didn't take long to discover that my upbringing was extremely privileged.
It wasn't privileged or sheltered from a lifestyle perspective, but, rather because of the fact that my family and neighbourhood were so normal and about as functional as is possible. I know from experiencing the dynamics in my siblings' families that the values that were instilled in us have been passed on to other generations. Family is the basic social unit in our lives. Thus, its health or lack of health will affect us, usually in permanent ways.
Concern about the state of the family is one of the themes of Pope Francis. The universal prayer intention entrusted to the Apostleship of Prayer for March deals with families in difficulty. He invites us to pray, "That families in need may receive the necessary support and that children may grow up in healthy and peaceful environments."
As the Synod on the Family wrapped up on 24 October 2015, Francis spoke of the ideological and individualistic assaults on the family. He had called the Synod because of the difficulties and uncertainties that challenge and threaten the family. He wanted it to provide hope in the midst of the growing pessimism, the discouragement, and the social, economic and moral crises facing family life throughout the world.
The Synod brought to the fore vast differences in opinions, cultural convictions and expectations. The style of Francis allowed an open and lively exchange of opinions. As he pointed out, some of the interventions were not offered in a well-meaning way. There was much contention and controversy, with most media coverage dealing with the hot-button topics such as homosexuality and the Church's ministry to divorced and remarried Catholics.
The Synod dealt with so much more! The Pope's apostolic exhortation on family life is to be published sometime this month. The archbishop who oversees the Pontifical Council for the Family said that the document "will show that the Church is close to families in all stages of their lives." Given the fact that Pope Francis usually says what he wants to say, and in his unique style, the exhortation will inevitably cause some people to be dissatisfied. His words are not going to eliminate the differences in opinion.
Back to the prayer intention. Where does the support come from? How are we to provide support so that children may grow up in healthy and peaceful environments? Certainly the Church and her practices have an impact. The treatment of the divorced and remarried is an issue for many in our culture. Gays and lesbians who desire to be embraced by the Church will feel a big difference if they are not marginalized.
But the issue goes far beyond the Church. Government policies also have an impact. More affordable childcare would ease the tension in many families. The lives of more and more families are stressed because both parents are working long hours and their children lead overextended lives. Are there ways to reduce the number of cases of domestic abuse?
Schools have a role to play in helping the family. Corporations and businesses could make a difference as well. Better policies about parental leave and benefits would ease the tension in families in need. A higher minimum wage would be a huge help for people who survive from paycheque to paycheque. Praying for the family helps. But that prayer needs to be accompanied by working to influence various levels of government and the corporate world.
About The Author
Philip Shano, SJ. teaches at Regis College, oversees their spiritual direction training, serves as the Provincial's Assistant for the Native Apostolate, and is involved in our social apostolate in the Toronto area.