Peasant Family in a Cottage Interior – Adriaen van Ostade
One of the lines in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, runs as follows: “the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another”.
I would quite like to quote all of the document – but you can read it yourselves here.
The line I quoted above reminded me of a little of something I was thinking about when I was listening to an evangelical preacher talking about forgiveness. I had been thinking a little bit about ‘the family’ and how, despite all the centuries of ‘advice’ and experiment it has undergone in the West, it remains a mystery. No-one knows anything except, really, one’s own self, one’s own family, and barely even that. Perhaps the family, like love, is impossible to write about.
With regard to forgiveness, it occurred to me that the family is where one first is taught forgiving – and forgetting. (And, naturally, the fine of art of bearing grudges, if things don’t exactly go right…) The family is the place where one does not have to be perfect, where characteristics and foibles, skills and gifts are understood, formed and welcomed. In a family, the individual is seen as part of a whole; each member ‘fits’ together – imperfectly, obviously, but in an offhand manner which itself is kinder than the bleak world outside, where one is required to mimic perfection and strength, where, as Pope Francis says:“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded” – a fate we sometimes willingly bring upon ourselves.
Despite the theoretical frameworks of some forms of sociology, the family is less of a structure than a process. It is, like the glittering pieces seen at the end of a kaleidoscope, rearranging itself constantly, changing over time. The problem is that you can’t publish this in a journal, it will not make you a professor, get you elected or find you a job. This view lends itself only to art, music or poetry – as soon as something is grasped, it disappears.
Reading today (again….) about the economic and sexual exploitation of women, it occurred to me as well that often we lose an important understanding when we separate the category ‘woman’ from everything else; the distinction may sometimes be analytically necessary but does not help much in trying to understand the world we actually live in. For what is a woman (and what is a man?), in the true Catholic mind, except a free human being dependent on other free human beings for the accomplishment of her life?
What am I talking about? I have absolutely no idea:
Realities are more important than ideas
231. There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.
To be continued…..