July 3, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

When families are strong, society is strong

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Last week, I wrote about the devastating effects of poverty on families here in the Hoosier State. Quoting the Indiana bishops’ recent pastoral letter, Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana, I wrote, “When families are strong, society is strong. When families are broken and unstable, all human communities suffer. At the same time, we recognize that instability of marriage and family life is intensified by poverty, which can produce an intolerable stress that limits human development.”

The Church’s experience over 2,000 years in many different economic, political and cultural circumstances affirms the importance of the family as the fundamental unit of human society. We believe that healthy families are the indispensable key to healthy communities—at the local, regional, national and international levels. That’s why we repeat emphatically: When families are strong, society is strong!

From this perspective, the Church believes that strengthening family life should be our highest priority. The well-being of children is essential to the health and welfare of society, and the family protects, nurtures and makes possible the growth and development of the youngest members of our society.

In our pastoral letter, we say:

“Strengthening families requires that we support marriage and the ideal of families with two parents who live together and share responsibility for their children. Today, many families are broken, and most struggle under significant stress. All families need our loving support and assistance now, even as we work for a future in which healthy families can thrive.

“Therefore, we propose that a single question guide us in all service and program decisions made by government agencies, private institutions and Church ministries regarding families: Do programs and policies place a primary emphasis on child welfare and enhance—not detract—from strong marriages and family life?”

This is a simple question, but we are not so naïve as to think it’s easy to “place families first” in all economic, political, cultural and religious affairs. In fact, our experience suggests that too often the concerns of children and families are, at best, an afterthought and, at worst, given no consideration at all.

In Poverty at the Crossroads, we bishops “propose that every Catholic diocese, parish, educational institution and health care organization in our state serve as a catalyst for local, grassroots efforts focused on mitigating poverty in its community.”

We believe that the Church should play a leading role in the effort to strengthen family life—for its own sake and as a means to help alleviate poverty. We invite all people of goodwill to join in a collaborative and systematic effort to attend to the needs of Hoosier children and their families.

In order to make sure that our efforts are more than just well-intentioned words, we have proposed that clear, measurable goals be established—and implemented—for all efforts to alleviate poverty by meeting the needs of married couples and families in our state.

We are keenly aware that not all outcomes can be easily measured, but as we write in our pastoral letter, we are convinced that “clearly defined goals will assist us in setting and accomplishing objectives that are ambitious but achievable with the help of God’s grace.”

In future columns, I will call attention to the links between family life, employment, education and health care. But it’s important to state as clearly as possible that the need to strengthen marriage and family life is not simply one issue among many. We believe that this is the first, and most fundamental, priority for the good of individuals and of society as a whole.

As we write in Poverty at the Crossroads:

“Poverty brings intolerable stress on the family’s ability to carry out its mission as the fundamental unit of society. Families are called to be stewards of all God’s gifts, and this requires an environment of stability and peace that can provide each family member with opportunities to exercise his or her responsibilities for the common good. A supportive family environment results in healthier, happier and more hopeful individuals who are more likely to work for the common good and participate in community activities.”

When families are strong, society is strong! We cannot say it too often. Our commitment to nurture, protect and grow families that are physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy is central to the mission of the Church and the well-being of society. If we neglect marriage and family life, we fail in our most fundamental responsibility as stewards of God’s gifts to humanity.

Let’s work to alleviate poverty by building up the family. Let’s work for strong families and a strong society. †

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