June 24, 2005

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Celebrating our interdependence on July 4th

Coming up to the end of June, many of us might already be making plans for Independence Day. I know that various retailers as well as my neighbors have done so.

I’ve seen signs pointing to stores that seem to pop up overnight like bottle rockets, selling all kinds of fireworks. And I’ve already heard a number of the low-level explosives shot off in nearby backyards.

The independence of our nation that we celebrate on the Fourth of July is a good thing. That freedom from the king of England for which our ancestors fought bravely over 200 years ago points to a fundamental independence of each human person.

Created in the image and likeness of God, each person has an inalienable dignity, which arguably the ideals of our nation’s founders call us to defend in our own day.

But being made in the image of God means that there is something in our humanity that is mysterious. We are not simply independent persons with a profound dignity written into our uniqueness. We are also interdependent creatures whose fulfillment is inextricably tied to being in relationship with others.

Just as Jesus’ life here on earth was made complete when he poured himself out fully out of love for us in his death on the cross, so each one of us who were baptized into Christ will discover the ultimate meaning of our lives only when we give of ourselves in service to others.

And so as July 4 approaches and we prepare to celebrate our independence, it is important for us to honor our interdependence as well.

Healthy family life is defined by interdependence. No one member of a family is any less or more important than any other. Each, from the youngest baby to the oldest parent, contributes to the flourishing of all.

This may seem obviously clear to us when parents provide for all of the material needs of their children. But children play an invaluable role in the sanctification of their parents.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “children…contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents” (2227). It goes on to say that this happens in the grittiness of everyday life. The blessed entrance of children into a home spurs parents to be more generous and to forgive constantly.

“Mutual affection suggests this,” the Catechism says. “The charity of Christ demands it” (2227).

But as vital as interdependence within a family is to the salvation of each of its members, this connectedness extends beyond the bounds of the home to other families as well.

From time to time, parents and children can find it especially difficult to give of themselves to each other. Demands at work might be more intense. Or a particular developmental stage in a child’s life might make life in the home more tedious.

God can bless such families with his grace to overcome these troubles through the example and support given to them by other families who have weathered such problems in the past.

In any case, no matter how much help one family might need from another, every family has something to contribute to the good of another, even those who on the surface appear to be doing well.

Independence Day is often a time when families gather together to enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps this July 4 they could give thanks for the interdependence that each has with the other. †


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