Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We don’t know too much about the early life of Jesus, however we celebrate the Holy Family mainly for the purpose of presenting them as a model for all families and reminding us of the importance of family in society.
Recently, this feast has especially become important as we see a decline of individuals forming families and more and more existing families falling apart.
When I was 12 my parents divorced; even though I knew classmates who had divorced parents, it was one of those things I never thought would happen to me. After I recovered from the initial shock, I told myself it was a normal thing. Whenever someone found out my parents were divorced and said, “I’m sorry” I brushed it off, saying it wasn’t really a big deal.
I think this is the mentality most people have today; we don’t think divorce is a good thing, but we don’t see it as a terrible thing either. After all, 50% of marriages end in divorce… how can something so normal be that terrible?
It wasn’t until I got older that I began to understand the ramifications of my parent’s divorce; the long-lasting effect it had left on me. Growing up in an uncomfortable love triangle is painful and stressful; there are serious consequences when something that is meant to last forever… doesn’t.
What really saddens me though, is that couples continue to divorce once, twice or even more often and many don’t bother getting married at all. There are a couple of reasons I think this happens…
- The ‘I’ factor: today we’re told that what we want is more important than anything else; we should follow our dreams and bulldoze anything or anyone that gets in the way. I see millennials forgoing ‘settling down’ to travel, move up the career ladder, get another degree… we want to accomplish and experience; tying ourselves to another person will get in the way of that. Listen, I love to travel as much as the next person, but the idea that we are forgoing all these good things if we get married is a lie. It’s just not true. Planes, jobs, degrees… they will still exist even if we aren’t single. Starting a family is anything but settling down, it’s an adventure that leads to so much growth, especially in love.
- Fear: a lot of us have seen our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, even friends go through a divorce. We see how painful and unpleasant it is and we think, “nope, not for me.” We realize that the risk of saying ‘I do’ comes with the risk of someone saying ‘I don’t anymore.’ It’s scary. That was certainly my initial reaction that I held on to for years after the fact: I wasn’t going to marry because it just didn’t last. I’ve been lucky enough to realize that this isn’t true; I’ve seen couples who not only love each other years and years of being married, but love each other more. Marriage is challenging, as are all good things (ask anyone who has started a successful business or written a best-selling novel) but that is one of the reasons it’s so wonderful: it isn’t easy, it’s incredible.
There are probably a plethora of other reasons for the decline of the family, I won’t go into too many here because I want to touch on the final point: why family matters.
Family is where we learn to love and be loved. Our ability to relate to ourselves, to others and to the world is learned at home. Our attachment types, self-esteem, work ethic… we learn all of this from our parents and siblings. That’s not to say that you can’t unlearn or change; however we are severely affected by the environment in which we grow up. This isn’t just me saying it, psychologists have learned this through repeated studies, especially recently. As a general rule, a healthy and loving home produces a healthy and loving person. When our family is broken or the ties are distant, the effects run deep, especially relationally.
We see that today as young people are scared of getting closed to others, the fear of getting hurt is a huge impediment to true intimacy. Even in popular culture, country singer Rae Lynn hits the nail on the head of what it’s like to grow up in the uncomfortable ‘Love Triangle’ that is divorce for a child.
What the world desperately needs today is “young people full of hope and strength.” This starts at home. In honor of the feast of the Holy Family, I challenge you to help yours. Maybe that’s reaching out to your parents or siblings just to check in, maybe that’s planning a family get-together, or maybe that’s telling your spouse you love them… even if you’re not ‘feeling it’ right at this moment.
Marriage and family are essential to society because it’s essential to our ability to love. It’s up to us to show the world all they have to gain by pursuing and cherishing family life.
“Perfect families do not exist. This must not discourage us. Quite the opposite. Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is ‘forged’ by the concrete situations which each particular family experiences.” Pope Francis
If we don’t learn to love and be loved, there really isn’t much to live for. I hope that our generation is the one to #bringthefamilyback and share in the adventure that is deep communion with others.