Holy Family 07The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family.[i]

In last 50 years, the family has undergone profound and dramatic changes in what is now, a post-Christian culture. Family and marriage are being destroyed and deformed.[ii] If the family and the Church – indeed the world – are to survive, we must return to God’s original plan for marriage and family.

In the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer, the family finds not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are.[iii]

God’s plan is for the family to be an “intimate community of life and love.”[iv]

This post will review the state of family life, the need for instruction on living the vocation of marriage and family well, and propose the basis for a family spirituality to assist families in living out their call to be a “little church,”[v] or in the words of Pope St. John Paul II: Ecclesia Domestica, the Domestic Church.[vi]

A Prophetic Voice on Marriage and Family

The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family.[vii]

This prophetic message was issued on December 7, 1965 by Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II document, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). It was a time when traditional values were being questioned and often jettisoned as being “old fashioned.” Divorce was rapidly rising, the number of children born out of wedlock was increasing and traditional family life and moral values were under attack.

Signs of the Times

Marriage and family life are an in even greater crisis today. The traditional family – one man, one woman, married for life – is no longer the norm. Since 1970, the number of Americans living together outside the bond of marriage has increased more than 1000 percent.[viii] Cohabitating couples that eventually marry have a shocking divorce rate of 80 percent; thus dispelling the popular notion that living together prior to marriage helps the couple to know each other better.[ix] In the U.S., it is estimated that the breakup rate of cohabitating couples is five times higher than that of married couples.[x]

Divorce not only separates a couple, it fractures the family as evidenced by the growing number of single-parent homes. Increasingly, children are living only with their mothers. In 1960, less than one in 10 children lived only with their mothers compared to more than one in four today.[xi] At the same time, seven in 10 mothers with children under age 18 are in the labor force, leaving the majority of children home alone surrounded by media that promotes violence, early sexual behavior and drug use.[xii]

Societal Fallout

Children from fragmented families, or families that fail to form, are statistically more likely to: live in poverty, engage in risky behavior, underperform academically, become sexually active early or abuse drugs or alcohol.[xiii]

In the United States, three factors are critical in avoiding poverty: completing high school, marrying before having a child and marrying after the age of 20. Astoundingly, 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor versus eight percent who do.[xiv] The social ills of children living in poverty highlight the devastating effects of family fragmentation:

  • Half of all children will spend all or part of their childhoods in single-parent families,[xv] the greatest factor in the increase of child poverty.[xvi]
  • Single parents with children have a poverty rate of 36.5 percent (6.5 percent for married couples with children).[xvii]
  • Being raised in a married family reduces a child’s probability of living in poverty by 80 percent.[xviii]
  • Paternal absence is the root cause of issues with school attendance, achievement and completion; emotional and behavioral problems; adolescent parenthood; substance abuse; and other risky behaviors.[xix]
  • Children raised in single-parent households are more likely to have health problems, psychological and conduct disorders, poorer relationships with friends, and are more likely to be aggressive and engage in delinquent behavior.[xx]
  • 37 percent of children born out of wedlock and 31 percent of children whose parents were divorced drop out of high school (13 percent of those with married parents).[xxi]
  • Boys growing up without fathers are twice as likely to be arrested for a juvenile crime[xxii] and incarcerated by their early 30s.[xxiii]
  • Children raised without fathers are twice as likely to attempt suicide, suffer from depression, or abuse drugs or alcohol.[xxiv]
  • Children living in a family without a father are more likely to be physically abused; girls are more likely to be sexually active at an early age with 27 percent becoming teen mothers (11 percent with parents who remain married).[xxv]

Next week we will continue this discussion by looking at the universal call to holiness and a proposed family spirituality.

[i] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, §75, November 22, 1982; http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio_en.html (accessed April 1, 2013).

[ii] Ibid., §3.

[iii] Ibid., §17.

[iv] Ibid., §11.

[v] Pope Benedict XVI, Address during a Meeting with Young People and Families of Sicily in Palermo, Italy on Oct. 3, 2010; http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2010/october/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20101003_palermo-giovani_en.html (accessed November 21, 2015).

[vi] Familiaris Consortio, §21.

[vii] Gaudium et Spes, §47.

[viii] David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in American, 2007 (New Brunswick, NJ: The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, 2007) p.19.

[ix] Love Undefiled, http://loveundefiled.blogspot.com/2009/06/study-shows-divorce-rate-of.html (accessed April 1, 2013).

[x] Georgina Binstock and A. Thornton, “Separations, Reconciliations and Living Apart in Cohabiting and Martial Unions,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): p. 432-443.

[xi] Family Facts, The Heritage Foundation, http://familyfacts.org/charts/135/one-in-four-children-lives-in-a-single-parent-home (accessed November 21, 2015).

[xii] Ibid., http://familyfacts.org/charts/190/seven-in-10-mothers-with-children-under-age-18-are-in-the-labor-force (accessed November 21, 2015).

[xiii] Barbara J. Elliott and John L. Stanley, Upstream Philanthropy: Marriage and Family Formation, The Legacy Group, (2011), 6-9.

[xiv] James Q. Wilson, “Why We Don’t Marry,” City Journal, Winter 2002.

[xv] Adam Thomas and Isabel Sawhill, “For Love and Money? The Impact of Family Structure on Family Income” Future of Children, Vol. 15, Nr. 2, (2005), 57.

[xvi] Ibid., 57–74.

[xvii] 2008 U.S. Census.

[xviii] Robert Rector, Heritage Backgrounder 2465.

[xix] American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on the Family, “Family Pediatrics,” Pediatrics 111 Supplement (2003), 1541-53.

[xx] Sara McLanahan and Gary D. Sandefur, “Growing up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps,” (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994) 39-63.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Chris Coughlin and Samuel Vuchinich, “Family Experience in Preadolescence and the Development of Male Delinquency,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58, No. 2 (1996), 491–501.

[xxiii] Cynthia C. Harper and Sara S. McLanahan, “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” Journal of Research on Adolescence, Vol. 14, No. 3 (2004), 369, 387, 389.

[xxiv] Gunilla, Ringback, Weitoft, el al., “Mortality, Severe Morbidity, and Injury in Children Living with Single Parents in Sweden: A Population-Based Study,” (2003), 361.

[xxv] Sara McClanahan and Gary Sandefur, “Growing Up With a Single Parent,” 53.