March 27, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Hanging on to the family and its values in today’s world

Cynthia DewesRecently on PBS we watched the series “The Italian-Americans,” which emphasized the great importance that family plays in this group.

Of course, family is important in any ethnic group, but for the Italians it seemed to be more than usual. The family was their mainstay, their support in a society that kept them at the bottom of its social and economic ladder.

Other immigrants, including my Norwegian grandparents, were more eager to assimilate quickly, speaking only English and trying to adapt to American ways. But over time, as the TV series pointed out, the Italians became integrated, like other American immigrants. They’d truly become part of the melting pot which is our country, although it took them almost until the years following World War II to accomplish it.

Still, this “victory” was bittersweet. The Italians missed the tightness of their families’ living, working and worshipping activities. Family members moved away from the largely urban centers they’d occupied for years, and many joined the less grounded, more migratory parts of society. It was good for their status as Americans, but it could be bad in other ways.

“Family” can mean many things. Sometimes, as in The Godfather stereotype, it’s a criminal enterprise. Maybe it’s just a biological collection of relatives who have no other connection than genetic makeup. Or it can be a group of people not related by blood, but by purpose or faith.

We may be a family of moms and dads, kids, grandparents, etc. or a family of believers or a community family.

Ultimately, we all belong to the family of God and of man. But no matter what kind of family we belong to, the results will form a basic society. Whether that society is healthy or not will depend upon those qualities in the families that support it.

We must admit that religious ideas, and Christian ideals in particular, form the basis of the best possible society, simply because they work. It begins with sacramental marriage, i.e. lifelong commitment and the welcoming of new life. And it continues with working for the common good in business, education, government and politics.

Most of our families are not models for stories like “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it to Beaver,” which may be a good thing! But we can admire the values they displayed. In today’s more realistic terms, I’ve come to love the current “Blue Bloods” TV show because it describes a healthy, virtuous but totally modern family.

They are an Irish-American family in New York City who are all involved in law enforcement as cops or prosecutors. They’re Catholic, and they attend Mass and quietly demonstrate their faith in other ways. Every week, there’s a scene of the family’s weekly Sunday dinner together, at which the members exchange criticism, offer advice, encourage each other and discuss moral issues. They always do it with love.

No matter how attractive a selfish culture may seem, it’s ultimately more satisfying to do what is right for all of us. If we sleep around, for example, take no responsibility for our children or experiment with drugs, we fracture society. When we plagiarize or cheat or lie, we put the integrity of our society in peril. One way or another, we’ll be made responsible for our actions.

It seems to me we need to hang on to the verities that work if we want to survive personally or as a group. And Sunday dinner together wouldn’t hurt, either.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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