|01-05-2012 - Traces, n. 5
THE WOMB OF EVERY “I”
On May 30th, the 7th World Family Meeting opens in Milan. There will be five days of meeting, catechesis, and witness on the theme “Work and Celebration.” According to estimates, the celebration will bring together at least one million people, and will culminate in the visit of Benedict XVI.
It is a unique occasion for “discovering more deeply the beauty, the goodness, and the truth of the family,” wrote Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, the host of the event. But it is also an occasion for fathoming the origin of this beauty, for taking seriously the true challenge thrown to man and woman, within and beyond the problems that may arise in family life–not only values to be safeguarded, laws to be made, and the many, just battles to be fought to defend the very idea of the family. There is something more radical: the “I.”
“The spouses are two human subjects, an ‘I’ and a ‘you,’ who decide to walk together toward destiny: how they set out in their relationship, how they conceive it, depends on a the image that each of them has of his own life,” said Fr. Julián Carrón, the President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, at a similar meeting in Valencia in 2006. And he cited one of Benedict XVI’s first addresses: “The question of a just relationship between man and woman has its roots in the most profound essence of the human being, and cannot be separated from man’s question about himself: Who am I? What is man?”
This, then, is the question we shall tackle in these pages, with an interview with Cardinal Scola, who has always been particularly concerned with this theme; and the personal stories we have to tell–stories of families, of places in which men and women get to the heart of their vocations, and their relationship with Destiny.
It is the first “school of communion,” and an essential economic subject. In preparation for the Pope’s visit to “his” Milan, Cardinal ANGELO SCOLA introduces us to the theme of the family, proposing a generative point for living together: “An effective love”...
by Davide Perillo
The family is an indisputable “factor of progress,” and “something solid” that “a society which is dissolving needs.” But it is a challenge, too, because “there is no love without promise, no promise without ‘forever,’ and no ‘forever’ unless it is up to the very end, up to and beyond death,” as Cardinal Angelo Scola replied to Aldo Cazzullo who interviewed him in the book La Vita Buona [The Good Life]. Scola, 70, Archbishop of Milan since June 2011 after nine years as Patriarch of Venice, is a pastor of broad experience, a refined theologian and a prolific writer. The World Meeting of Families will take place on his home ground. It is he who will welcome Benedict XVI, a life-long friend, whose visit to Milan is “an extraordinary presence because it is a privileged expression of his ordinary presence (the local Church “would not exist without reference to the figure of Peter,” the Archbishop recalled in his Pastoral Letter to the Diocese). And it will be he who, with the Pontifical Mass of Pentecost, May 27th, will open an event that will, by the nature of things, go against the tide, in a historic moment in which many consider the family “outdated,” almost defunct: historically more fragile, with little support in its day-to-day existence (at least in our countries), and even disputed as to its original nature.
What radical difference is there between the family and other forms of relationships that certain quarters would wish to put on the same level, as if this were something natural?
An anthropologist can help us to understand the nature of this “difference.” Claude Levy-Strauss affirms that, “a socially-approved union between a man and a woman and their children is a phenomenon universally present in each and every kind of society.” This “universal,” described by a scholar who cannot be accused of being partisan toward Catholicism, has a name, and it is that of the family. Today, other forms of life unions exist, but these must be given other names. Precisely because we are actors in a pluralistic society, it is all the more important to return to “things as they are,” and to use precise names to define them. This makes meeting and discussion easier. As citizens, we are all called to give our contribution for a better life in society, to offer proposals for the common good on the basic questions of existence, including the way of living affections and love. Here is rooted the proposal, and I stress the word “proposal,” that Christians make to everyone–marriage, which makes possible a qualitative leap in the love between man and woman and is differentiated from other forms of life-unions in some essential characteristics: the fact that it is a bond between a man and a woman, public, stable, faithful, open to life, and protected by indissolubility.
There is a factor almost taken for granted, since it is so obvious–the family is what supports the economic system. Without this “family factor,” our welfare system would probably have collapsed long ago. It is a kind of connective tissue that shows an extraordinary resilience. Where does it get this strength?
The family is truly an important “economic” subject. It is not just a “group of consumers,” but also a place of the daily satisfaction of the elementary needs of its members. These can count on a wealthy series of self-produced benefits. Every one of us has experienced how many services and actual goods are produced by the work of the components of the family for the welfare of all. These goods are not regulated by the laws of the market, and they don’t end up in a tax declaration, and yet they are effective. Think for example of the forms of social assurance guaranteed by the family. They make up a real “production unit”–care and support of the elderly, the sick, and the disabled and support for those who are unemployed or looking for work. I would like to recall the educative role the family has for the children, who represent the real heritage on which a country can depend for growth. The more one looks at the family, the more one is forced to note how much it is a generator of “human resources,” not so much because it is where the “human race” is reproduced, but because it can and does favor the flourishing of humanity. This is the main reason why policies specifically for the family are needed to support such a decisive resource.
It was striking that Benedict XVI, who comes back to this point so often and is tracing, as it were, a real journey of preparation for the Milan Meeting, dedicated the reflections of the last Way of the Cross to the family: “In the afflictions and in the difficulties, we are not alone; the family is not alone: Jesus is present with His love, He supports it with His grace and gives it the energy to go ahead. And it is to this love of Christ that we must address ourselves...” Why is it that often the energy for tackling problems is sought elsewhere, even in Christian families? Why do we deceive ourselves that the relationship can in some way be enough in itself, only to be disappointed or overwhelmed by the difficulties?
Because instead of looking together at the point from which their life arises, at the sacrament of marriage, many couples get bogged down in the web of contingent difficulties, bent over what disorients and weakens them further. Whereas, they need to look at the origin, at the grace given by the sacrament, at the “yes” they pronounced on the day of marriage. It is crucial to let oneself be accompanied by brothers and sisters in the faith and rediscover that the criterion with which to tackle any family difficulty is objective love. The truth of marriage is given by an effective, not only an affective love, and this love can only be begged from Christ the Spouse of the Church-Spouse, the only One who can truly give the capacity to be the first to love–to love the other every day as if it were the last, and to love to the point of forgiveness.
Why does it seem to have become so difficult to hand on the faith to one’s children? Once, it was almost natural, as if by osmosis.
Rather than talk about easy or difficult, adjectives that would seem to see the transmission of faith as a “technique,” I would prefer to stress another point. There are no plans or strategies that can withstand the flood of questions about meaning that spring up in our young people, in our children, as they are thrust into life. The only reasonable way to follow is that of authentic witness. But we must not see this merely as a personal striving for consistency, necessary though this is, between what I do and what I say, but as a method for knowing reality and communicating the truth. Parents are particularly under observation: although it often seems the opposite, children took at their parents in order to understand to whom they ultimately belong, in what they can “consist,” who can offer them security. The heart of the challenge of education lies in the truth of those involved in it. So it is very important that children can see their parents as part of a people, the Church that travels in history, erect, supported, and even corrected if need be, by the action of the Spirit of the Risen Jesus.
Why has the theme “Work and Celebration” been chosen? What link is there at the root between family affections, work, and rest?
In my view, the theme chosen for this extraordinary meeting is particularly successful because it says how the day-to-day aspects of our life can be enlightened and exalted by the judgment of faith. The title sets the fundamental dimensions of human experience together. The family, the womb in which the “I” is generated and grows, is the irreplaceable “primary society” that holds together and permits the development of the differences that constitute man, the sexual differences between man and woman and the generational differences between children, parents, and grandparents. It is the first, irreplaceable “school of communion” where love is learned as a “work,” free from sentimentalism–the objective and effective love of which we spoke earlier. Work is the ambit in which each one gives account of himself and “collaborates,” with his own abilities and his own efforts, in the creative action of the Father and of the redemptive action of Jesus. We must however take care that the work is not lived in a way separate from the affections, otherwise it is no longer a motor of growth and fulfillment of the person, but source of weakening for the “I” because it can even disintegrate the relationships that constitute it. Here opens up the space for rest and “celebration.” It is in rest that we recover the balance between affections and work, because it makes possible a real regeneration of every component of the family, with benefit for its relationships in the house and outside it. And rest par excellence is celebration: “Let’s celebrate,” said the merciful father, “because my son was dead and has come back to life, he was lost and is found” (Lk 15:21-22). This is the model of true celebration, of the possibility of recovery offered every day by the Risen Christ.