Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Crisis of fatherhood

The current issue of HUMANUM, the freely available online journal of the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, DC (or rather the Institute's Center for Pastoral and Cultural Research) is devoted to the crisis of fatherhood in our culture. It contains articles and book reviews devoted to the literature on this topic. (The following notes are based on the Editorial for the issue.)

The collapse of marriage in the developed world is happening faster than many believed possible. Civil marriages exceed religious ones, and both are in steep decline. In Italy, the heartland of Catholicism, where the largest religious institution on earth might be expected to have some influence, there are only 3.6 marriages a year for every thousand inhabitants, compared to 4.7 for the European Union as a whole – in the wealthy parts of Italy the numbers are even lower. Clearly most couples now do not get married. Single parents, especially single mothers, are commonplace. Given that it is hard enough for a stable, loving couple to bring up a child, or children, the difficulties faced by single parents are formidable.

The recovery of fatherhood is not merely a political and sociological challenge, to be met by strengthening the legislation that keeps families together, deters separation, and insists that a man takes more responsibility for his children (whether he be married or not). What needs to be recovered is a vision, a sense of responsibility, something the philosopher Gabriel Marcel in his book Homo Viator (1951) called a “creative vow.”

The father is more than a biological instrument above all when he is prepared to consecrate himself for a role that transcends the physical. He gives of himself biologically to the mother when the child is conceived; but he gives of himself spiritually when he accepts a continuing and indeed eternal responsibility for the gift that God gives him in return – the gift of the child whom he did not fashion and whose destiny he cannot determine or control.

No longer the primary breadwinner, today’s father is not even necessarily the one who engendered his own child, thanks to the wonders of IVF. Technology, which already in the 1960s severed the connection between sex and reproduction, now promises to separate gender from parenthood entirely. It is hardly surprising that so many fathers are missing from the landscape of the contemporary family.

In the current issue Nicholas J. Healy concludes: "It is tempting to cover the wounds that result from an absent father or from an abusive father by diminishing the significance of fatherhood. But this forgetfulness of origins leads to a greater loneliness and metaphysical confusion. A more promising path is to reflect more deeply on the hidden Fatherhood of God that undergirds and encompasses every human origin no matter how broken."

Here is a wonderful passage from George MacDonald on the theme of fatherhood and its

Friday, 5 April 2013

Peace, Justice... and Education

In order to understand the profound continuity between Pope Francis and his predecessor, it is useful to read Cardinal Ratzinger's 1991/1994 book, A Turning Point for Europe (Ignatius Press), and especially the chapter on "Peace and Justice in Crisis". The crisis of the one, he says, is the crisis of the other. He looks at the various threats to peace, from war between nations to the more complex phenomenon of terrorism, and goes on to the "real question for the survival of the human race", namely the foundations and content of law, and our sense of right and wrong.

Law cannot be entirely created by us: it must transcend us. It rests on truth and being. He goes on: "The task of the Church in this area is, therefore, first and foremost 'education', taking that word in the great sense it had for the Greek philosophers. She must break open the prison of positivism and awaken man's receptivity to the truth, to God, and thus to the power of conscience" (p. 55). (See Beauty in the Word.) But this culminates in "the task of making, not just talking about, peace, in deeds of love. No social service of the state can replace Christian love in both its spontaneous and organized forms.... Through the power of love, the Church must serve the poor, the sick, the lost, the oppressed. She must go into prison, into the suffering of mind and body, as far as the dark way of death" (p. 57).

He talks about forgiveness giving the power to make a new start, and about the fact that the Church cannot "rule" politically, or even subordinate herself to some project for the attainment of worldly peace. She must remain true to her own nature. "Only when she respects her limits is she limitless, and only then can her ministry of love and witness become a call to all men" (p. 59).