The Infinite of the Intimate: The Vastness of Family & Community Life

Originally at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2015/01/17/infinite-intimate-vastness-family-community/

by Jordan Haddad

“The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world…”
G. K. Chesterton, Heretics

Often times it is easy for us to fall prey to the cult of human progress. By this I mean the way of thinking and being in which we categorize more as better and new as best. This, unfortunately, has become one of the defining dogmas of our age, which has led to the era of the modern nomad, man with no historical, cultural, or religious context of continuity and self-understanding. As a result, man has become lost in the cosmos (to steal a book title of a favorite author of mine) and unable to find his way back home.

In light of this unprecedented historical phenomenon, the Church proposes the often overlooked and under-appreciated Catholic social teaching principle of Participation and the inestimably important community of the family. The CST principle of Participation is the truth that all people within a society have a right and duty to take part in and improve the society in which they live by promoting the common good. Thus, it is not only political “lifers” who should be influencing the direction of the community, but all persons, from the poorest to the richest and from the weakest to the strongest, should be actively engaged in the community.

Secondly, the Church recognizes and advocates for the importance of the family structure. This includes not only the nuclear family (mom, dad, and children) but also the extended family, which has become less and less important with the increase in transportation and job mobility. The greatness of the family lies primarily in its imaging of the Triune God, but we cannot overlook the family as the cradle of humanization. It is within the family, primarily, that children learn the indispensable virtues of patience, understanding, sharing, and love. Within the family structure, generations are tied to together in the common bond of human dignity, love and affection. This bonding of generations together has a value that is hard to exaggerate… but quite frequently overlooked.

Nonetheless, the condition of modern man can be diagnosed with a severe case of wandering, both physical and spiritual. The current and expected migration of children from the family, which takes place earlier and earlier with the often times absent father and mother, reaches a sharp incline when teenagers are scurried away to a college far, far away. College, the mysterious place where anyone can become anything, is a breeding ground for spiritual and psychological aimless wandering and confusion.

Man, we must never forget, does not exist in a vacuum but in the complex reality of history and culture. There is much more to living than simply existing, but the beginnings of a full life and self-understanding can only begin with some context for answering the profound questions at the center of man’s existence — “Who am I?”, “Why do I exist?”, “What is the purpose of my life?” With these questions not only going unanswered (or at least trying to begin to answer them) but unasked, man is left wandering around the face of the earth attempting to find entertainment and activities to preoccupy the existential numbness that often sets in.

There are, perhaps, few more familiar with the teenage rebellion against one’s home town (or home), despised for its lack of excitement, than I. What I have come to learn, however, is that, as Chesterton so eloquently puts it, “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world.” It is only when we have allowed the world to grow small (physically) that it can begin to grow large (spiritually and relationally). Only when we allow the “glamour” of the new to fade away can we then appreciate the incredible reality that we (or this or that person in our lives) exist. It is the most breath-taking realization.

St. Augustine is on point when he writes in his Confessions the truth that has been before us all along:

“People travel to wonder
at the height of the mountains,
at the huge waves of the seas,
at the long course of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars,
and yet they pass by themselves
without wondering. ”

Man, the pinnacle of God’s creation, tends to also be the most despised and marginalized. One need only think back to less than 70 years ago and remember the horrors of the concentration camps, or, better yet, simply walk to the downtown area of the nearest city. Contemporary man’s sympathies are ignited more quickly by the sufferings of an animal (as cherished as they are) than of a human person. It is the loss of the reverence of the miracle that is man (because we have lost reverence for our God) that is the greatest illness of our age. This is primarily why the antidote with which God has set in place, and we need the most, is the family. Contemporary society needs the consistent and secure space for each and every human life in which they are cherished, love, and dignified.

Our family, the foremost of personal and intimate relationships in our lives, is the garden in which love and personal depth grow. From this love of family, our love for our community (the family of families) should grow. It is only when this giving of self to our family and community begins that our true personal and spiritual growth can begin. Thus, the CST principle of Participation and the preeminent place given to the family in the communal life are not simply two options or suggestions among many. Instead, they are the vital prerequisites to becoming the saint that God created each of us to be. Let us not forget that, before Jesus’ three years of ministry, he spent thirty years in the hidden and quiet life of the Holy Family, work, and community in Nazareth.

 

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