Family and solidarity
Carl Anderson discusses the breakdown of the family and the importance of solidarity . . .
Speaking of the Christian family in terms of “solidarity” in our day and age may seem obvious. However, to have spoken of the Christian family and solidarity together at an earlier time would have seemed radical and even contradictory. As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once noted, solidarity “comes to us from outside … developed initially among the early socialists by Pierre Leroux … in contraposition to the Christian idea of love, as the new, rational and effective response to social problems.”
Leroux had abandoned Christianity. To compensate, he developed the idea of a new “religion of humanity.” Although many don’t consciously follow his “religion of humanity” as the basis of solidarity, nevertheless solidarity and the unity of the human race is often divorced from God and the Christian idea of love. So it’s important to understand how Pope John Paul II purified the concept of solidarity and advanced it far beyond the limited socialist concept so he could describe it as “undoubtedly a Christian virtue” which “finds its deepest roots in Christian faith.”
If we are called as a society to this purified solidarity, we are called to it even more in our own families. Both John Paul and Benedict XVI have spoken often of the need for love in the family — and of the family as the cornerstone of society. During his Jan. 19, 2006, audience, Benedict said, “From one’s family one opens wide to the larger family of society, to the family of the Church, to the family of the world.”
John Paul said the family is “the school of love,” so it’s little wonder that Benedict has seen the lessons learned in that school as the key to harmony and peace at every level of society. Speaking last year on the World Day of Peace, he said:
“In a healthy family life we experience some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them. For this reason, the family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace.
“It is no wonder, therefore, that violence, if perpetrated in the family, is seen as particularly intolerable,” he continued. “The family is the foundation of society for this reason too: because it enables its members in decisive ways to experience peace. It follows that the human community cannot do without the service provided by the family. Where can young people gradually learn to savor the genuine ‘taste’ of peace better than in the original ‘nest’ which nature prepares for them?”
Solidarity may seem unattractive if it is seen as a reward for behavior rather than as a response to a person. But the answer is to see the truth about the human person that binds us together in a way far stronger than any political or economic ideology.
The truth is this: Although a person can be isolated socially and geographically from other people, no one can survive without others and community. For this reason, radical autonomy cannot exist; nor is it an ideal to aspire to. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “Whenever there is an attempt to free ourselves from this pattern, we are not on our way to divinity, but to dehumanization, to the destruction of being itself through the destruction of the truth.”
When Marcello Pera, the Italian philosopher and politician, lamented that “people no longer believe in ‘ultimate’ foundations,” it was in the context of lamenting Europe’s detachment from its historical and moral Christianity. But this detachment from foundations is part of a more fundamental detachment seen also at the level of the person, especially within the family. Through divorce, abandonment and some uses of fertility technology, parenthood is separated from presence. That is, for many children today being from a parent no longer means being with a parent and thus no longer means having a parent present being for that child.
Likewise, parenthood is separated from marriage, when being with a spouse is separated from the openness of a child being from the couple. The result is what sociologist and historian Carle Zimmerman described as the “atomistic family.”
In John Paul II’s first apostolic journey, he came to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and called us to a new evangelization, beginning by preaching the truth about the human person. In Benedict XVI’s first apostolic journey to the Marian Shrine at Aparecida, he called us to build not only a Continent of Hope throughout our hemisphere but to build a Continent of Love. And now, we await our Holy Father’s next encyclical — Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) — addressing social issues and globalization.
As we focus on the issues we confront in our lives, we should take time to examine not only the condition of our countries and our continents, but also of our families. In her Nobel Prize address, Mother Teresa famously used the refrain “love begins at home.” What kind of foundation for solidarity is there, if it is not present within the family, with the presence of children whose very existence depends on the goodness of others?
Carl Anderson is Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.