In this deeply researched and thought about four-part commentary, Dr Andrew Kania takes you through the difficult territory involved in the increasingly common phenomenon of the breakdown in marital and family relationships. The research he uncovers poses difficult challenges for conservative and liberals alike — and for those charged with the responsibility for providing spiritual and moral guidance in contemporary society. Virtually all families are affected today by the pain unleashed by the breakdown in marriages and other relationships. If we do not experience it first hand we are often called to provide comfort to our children, other family members or friends who find themselves caught up when love goes awry.
TO READ THE CHALLENGING WORDS OF LUKE 14:26
Part I: An essay on parental love, the blindness of love, the search for moral truth and much else besides…
In Meredith Wilson's 1957 theatre production, The Music Man, the central character 'Professor Harold Hill', is a charlatan, a man who has developed a lucrative money-making scheme, convincing parents that the best way by which to instil virtue into their children and turn them away from a possible life of vice, is by keeping them occupied in learning a musical instrument. Yet what the parents who have bought into this scheme do not realize, is that Hill, has even less musical training than the children to whom he is purporting to create a brass band. Hill's sole intention is to sell as many expensive musical instruments as possible, before the scam is discovered for the folly that it is.
While the parents are raising finances to fund his project, Hill stalls for time by convincing the students that the most modern of methods by which to learn how to play a musical instrument, is simply letting the enjoyment flow from within; no specific instruction is necessary — just take a deep breath and play — formal guidelines or teaching is not required.
Hill's true identity is soon discovered. Similar to a medieval account of trial by ordeal, Hill is then led in chains to the city hall, where dutifully awaiting his arrival, equipped with expensive brass instruments, is his fledgling brass band.
Ordered by the parents to make the band play, and with beads of sweat flowing down his forehead, Hill, conductor's baton in his hand, and with eyes closed, asks the band to begin. Hundreds of parents listen and watch, waiting for the sound to commence. Soon the reality of the situation is exposed; the combined cacophony of the band instruments is nothing short of dreadful. Yet to Hill's amazement, the reaction of the parents is far from negative. Beaming with pride that their children are creating a noise that they have never been able to create themselves, the parents are more than satisfied with Hill's 'labours'.
The ears of the parents have evidently been stopped from hearing the awful, inconsonant Truth because of the blinding love they carry for their children. Thus instead of arresting the charlatan for what he really is — the musical cheerfully ends, all characters in the bliss of happy ignorance — that is all characters with the exception of the great deceiver himself, 'Harold Hill'.
The blind-spot in love…
Wilson's parody on the oftentimes myopic nature of parental love points to a syndrome inherent in the nature of interpersonal relationships within families — the danger of a relativisation of reality and Truth.
Whether a family needs no third-party to offer it advice and guidance, is a notion most certainly open to debate, for the love that exists between a parent and child, is, far from disinterested. No one wishes to admit that what is occurring in their particular family is any worse for the development of the human spirit than what is occurring in their neighbour's home. Few parents ever want to admit that their child is a reprobate; we even see at times the parents of serial killers interviewed on television extolling the hidden virtues of their children; and school bullies seem invariably to have solid parental support behind them, despite the number of times they have been suspended or expelled.
Similarly no child who has a deep love for their parent ever wants to admit that their parent is anything less then a hero; we see this each time a school yard fight ensues defending the slighted honour of a mother and father — a parent, who in fact may be many things in this life, with the exception of being honourable. The power of sibling love despite its rivalry, also has a strong tendency toward painting a million vices with a veneer of virtue. Thus seems to be the human condition, within the mechanics of the family dynamic at least; whatever we love, we shower not only in goodness, and Truth, but we also excuse with spoken and unspoken half-truths, by way of our selective vision and selective memory. Are we indeed willing to tell those who are closest to us that they are in fact wrong, on some points of life and living. At what cost are we prepared to sell Truth for peace in the family home? Is unconditional love a euphemism today for moral anarchism, or does the deepest love, come with certain conditions? Such are the questions posed of anyone who partakes of the world's most difficult vocation — parenting.
The family as primary source of virtue within society — the Foundation of Civics and Faith…
In Political and Social Philosophy (Eng. Trans. 1924), Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, extolled, as many before him, the family as the primary source of virtue within society, that engine room for the inculcation of religious awareness within the hearts and minds of the next generation. As part of the text, the editor of this collection of Lacordaire's essays, Rev. D. O'Mahony, referred to the life of François-René Chateaubriand, the founder of French Romantic literature who in his memoirs reflected on the impact that his family had had in his conversion toward God and the Catholic Church:
"On her deathbed my mother charged one of my sisters to recall me to a sense of that religion in which I had been educated, and my sister made known to me her wish. When the letter reached me beyond the water, my sister also had departed this life. Those two voices coming up from the grave, and that death which had now become the interpreter of death, struck me with peculiar force. I became a Christian. I did not yield to any great supernatural light: my conviction came from the heart. I wept, and I believed." (Lacordaire, 1924, p. 19 fn.)
Far more powerful than any sermon he had heard, or any theological classic he may have read, the words spoken to Chateaubriand from beyond the grave, conveyed by his loved ones to him — were so strong as to cause a radical change of heart toward God and the Church. It was the immortal power of the virtue within the spirit of a physically dead mother and sister that kindled within the soul of Chateaubriand a life of faith. In Chateaubriand we see almost a paraphrase of the life of Augustine weeping over the passing of his mother Monica.
Political and Social Philosophy, also includes, Lacordaire's Conference 39, wherein Lacordaire, speaks of the strong bond between a father and his son:
"Fatherhood is as much above love as love is itself above friendship. It would be a complete and spotless love if the return made by the child to the father were the return of the friend to the friend, of the husband to the wife; but such is not the case. When we were children, we were loved more than we loved, and now that we have grown old, we must be content to love children more than it is possible for them to love us in return. We must not complain. Your children follow in your wake, the wake of friendship, the wake of love, ardent paths which do not allow them to requite that hoary passion which we call fatherhood. Man finds in his children the same powerlessness to recompense his love as he himself experienced when a child, and has thus the honour to end in a disinterested love like that of God". (Lacordaire, 1924, p. 23 fn.)
Once again we hear an author speaking of the sacred nexus between child and parent. So inherent to the human condition seems to be this bond, that Christ teaches us in St. Luke's Gospel that even the most reprehensible of people recognize the power of the obligations and connection that exists between a parent and their child; as Christ states: "'What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'" (Luke 11: 11 — 13, RSV)
"The Christian family, as the 'domestic Church', also makes up a natural and fundamental school for formation in the faith: father and mother receive from the Sacrament of Matrimony the grace and the ministry of the Christian education of their children, before whom they bear witness and to whom they transmit both human and religious values. While learning their first words, children learn also the praise of God, whom they feel is near them as a loving and providential Father; while learning the first acts of love, children also learn to open themselves to others, and through the gift of self receive the sense of living as a human being. The daily life itself of a truly Christian family makes up the first 'experience of Church', intended to find confirmation and development in an active and responsible process of the children's introduction into the wider ecclesial community and civil society. The more that Christian spouses and parents grow in the awareness that their 'domestic church'participates in the life and mission of the universal Church, so much the more will their sons and daughters be able to be formed in a 'sense of the Church' and will perceive all the beauty of dedicating their energies to the service of the Kingdom of God." (par. 62)
These exaltations of the importance of the family being said, herein thus lies, the most pivotal point for both the Church and for Society; for if it is by way of the strength of this bond between parent and child, that virtues and Faith are instilled and passed on to the next generation, so tragically, the same avenue can be used for the spreading of vice and the denial of Faith, if the family structure is dysfunctional, or begins to fall apart.
IN PART II
©2007 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania