Throwing rocks into a still lake on a summer evening is a surprisingly satisfying experience. The perfect sound of kerplunk as the rock breaks through the smooth surface of the water; the concentric circles that ripple outwards, all because of one stone being thrown, are mesmerizing to watch.
“As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live,” Saint John Paul II prophetically said in a homily given in Perth, Australia, on November 30, 1986. Thirty-five years later and these words continue to ring true. But what exactly did St. JPII mean? How could a family impact the entire world?
Let’s go back to the beginning – to Genesis. God creates man and woman in His image, thus establishing the dignity of every human being. But why create Eve? Why not just stop at Adam? God articulates an essential truth prior to his creation of Eve – “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Here it is revealed that humans are social creatures in need of companionship and meaningful relationships. From Adam and Eve the covenant of marriage is established and the fruit of that covenant is children – a family – the basic unit of the social fabric of society itself.
For better, or for worse, the family is that single stone being thrown into a lake. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the family as an “institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it” (2202). In other words, the family must be recognized by societies and governments; all laws should work towards upholding the sanctity of the institution God has established from the beginning of time. When human laws and decisions fail to respect this fundamental truth, the Church and the whole world suffers. But when the dignity of the family is upheld and protected, the ripple effects on the world can be profound – disciples are formed, vocations are born, Saints are raised.
Like St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa seemed to comprehend the importance of holy families and its potential impact on the world. She said, “and so, my prayer for you is that truth will bring prayer in our homes, and from the foot of prayer will be that we believe that in the poor it is Christ. And we will really believe, we will begin to love. And we will love naturally, we will try to do something. First in our own home, next-door neighbor in the country we live, in the whole world” (Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Prize Transcript).
Because the family is the basic cell of society, and because we are called to be in relationship with one another, each Christian has the right and duty to participate in society, be an active member of one’s community, and contribute to the good and well-being of all families. Especially those who are poor and vulnerable.
Call to Family, Community, and Participation
The second theme of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is the Call to Family, Community, and Participation. Throughout Scripture, the duty to love one’s family is emphasized countless times. From Genesis, where we are told to be our brother and sister’s keeper (Genesis 4:8-15), to Exodus when we are given the fifth commandment – to honor one’s mother and father, to the holiness of Noah, Abraham & Sarah, Ruth, this theme is repeated. In the New Testament, these commandments are carried forth, but they are transformed. Your family, your neighbor, does not necessarily mean someone related to you by blood, or who lives next door to you. Instead, we are called higher, to love our brother and sister, to love our neighbor, as Christ loves us. And who is our neighbor? Any human being, because they too are created in the image of God.
If the family is the stone, then the concentric ripples would be local communities, state, nation, and the world. Thus, it is not enough to merely go home and love our families. The love we receive there must be carried forth – to the communities which we are a part of – and in time – to the whole world.
That may seem like a daunting task, so where do we begin?
Answering the Call
- Go home and love your family members. Honor your parents and grandparents, listen to the stories of your siblings, pray together, forgive quickly, be intentional about setting your phone aside and giving them your undivided attention. Peace begins at home.
- Make a list of all the communities you are a part of: your Church, school, clubs, sports, extracurricular, volunteer groups, friends, etc. What role do you play in each of them? Are you an active member? Or are you a bystander? Do you act differently in each setting, wearing a different mask to fit each group? Or are you authentically and truly yourself? Would the members of your communities be surprised to learn that you love Christ? Or do your actions help reveal the love of God? What is one branch of your community you can take a more active role in?
- What are you passionate about? The environment? Healthy and affordable food? Providing housing options for the homeless? Promoting racial justice? Fighting for the unborn? Helping expectant/young mothers? Caring for the sick? Visiting with the elderly? Helping those who do not easily have access to education? Volunteer where your heart is. What organization could join that would allow you to minister to the needs of the vulnerable members of your community at large?
- Inform your conscience, and when the time comes for you to vote, become an informed voter. Do not get swept away with propaganda or jargon. Research, read, ask questions. Recognize that the laws our representatives make directly impact families and communities. There is no perfect leader, but we are called to choose leaders who we believe will work to uphold the dignity and protect the rights of all people.
Photo by Aliko Sunawang on Unsplash