Pray with the Pope: August 2019
Let families be ‘schools of growth’
Intention: That families, through their life of prayer and love, may become ever more clearly true “schools of true human growth”.
The survival of family life surely points to the fundamentally communal nature of the human person.
Battered and bruised, the family, as a human institution, has somehow kept going in the face of the assaults upon it, both intellectual and economic.
Marriage, individualism and the economy
The strange idea that I am not really a person through other people, that I am somehow a person through my own unaided, superhuman efforts is the notion spread in recent years by the poisonous philosophy of an extreme individualism. And although, on average, humans have never had it so good than in this time, there is a serious sense of economic insecurity around the commitment of marriage.
Some of this is objective. For example, it has become more and more expensive for young couples to afford housing, and the education of children to a level that can cope with our complex modern world has made large families well-nigh unaffordable. Even a small family will require two salaries. At the same time, globalisation has shattered and scattered the traditional extended family.
The subjective sense that marriage is unaffordable we can confidently place at the door of those who have made of matrimony an industry — those media which portray fairytale weddings which can be had only by taking out a second mortgage, and the wedding planners who tempt couples to do it anyway!
While there may be many young couples today who rightly see their marriages as founded on mutual love, I wonder how many these days give much thought to prayer as something which will keep them loving and help them and their children to grow.
Any serious, life-long commitment is going to require depth if it is to last and to thrive. My guess is that for many Christian couples, especially with small children, finding the time and energy to pray, even in church on Sunday, is a daunting challenge.
Take the Time to Pray
Thomas Merton’s disarmingly simple advice about prayer — ”Take the time” — is all very well for the single religious, but what about young, working parents with small children? They will need help from others to find the time. Grandparents and other members of the extended family, if such a family still exists in one geographical place, can be invaluable.
There also needs to be a spirituality for this stage in life. They will have to strategise continually if they are to find the time and energy for personal and communal prayer. They will have to rely on one another to give each other permission, and time, to be alone with God on a regular basis.
In this tangled complexity, they are in the same boat as any modern Christian, but their situation is surely particularly complex and extraordinarily demanding.
I imagine a young Christian couple trying their best to snatch moments of prayer reading this intention and wondering which celibate male wrote it! It makes family life sound like that of the Holy Family of Nazareth, an impossible ideal.
Again, we need to rally around and assure them that it is precisely in the messiness and stress and strain of young family life that God is at work in them, and through which they and their children can grow.
It seems to me that if they are sincerely doing their best to love and to pray, their state of life is so inherently unselfish and self-sacrificing, that if they persevere, they will come through as greatly matured, much wiser and more compassionate people, and their children will indeed be a blessing to them.