May 5, 2006

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Family: The foundation of our society

The call to family, community and participation in society summarizes the second principle of Catholic social teaching.

The Church has a long and rich tradition in teaching that the family is the central social institution that must be supported and strengthened. A person raised in a strong, healthy family will be able to fully participate in society and seek the common good and well-being of all.

The family, regardless of its make-up, is where we are all formed as human beings. It is where we learn our values, how to love, proper social behavior and how to treat others.

It should be the place where we learn about God. Strong, healthy, well-functioning families build individuals with strong character that then go on to build other strong, healthy, well-functioning social structures—schools, corporations, governments, future families, etc.

One need not be a social scientist to understand that children raised in healthy families are infinitely more likely to avoid those things that lead to life struggles and more likely to embrace a life that leads to a fruitful contribution to our world.

One need only ask the simple question: How would you say family life in the United States compares today to family life just 30 short years ago?

Follow that with another question: In general, how is our society faring in the most important areas in this same time period?

I would suggest that if we look at society from a Catholic values perspective, we would agree that healthy families are more rare, and society in the United States is less civil and peaceful and more violent and unsafe. We can find an intimate connection between the health of family life and the overall health of our community.

The Church would guide us to invest our primary energies into our families, and to set up structures that support and sustain healthy, loving families. Here is where we change society and, indeed, the world for the better.

From the Catholic principle of the call to family, community and participation, the Church also instructs us that we all have the right and the duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable. Poverty denies full participation in the life of the community and impedes the ability to influence decisions impacting one’s life.

I believe that we would have to admit that it is the rich, not the poor, that have the power in our nation and world. Therefore, this social principle would instruct us to provide the poor and the “voiceless” with a place at the table—a voice in the public square to influence life and public policy.

In society, individualism is exalted, but the Church teaches us that our role, and that of the government and other social institutions, is to promote the common good.

As Church, as people of God, we are called at times to be the voice of the poor—and we need to work to empower those with little power to speak up and be counted.

How are we doing?

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries.)


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