Last week, Pope Francis spoke to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, whose Plenary Session was held this year under the theme: “The family as relational good: The challenge of love.” During his talk, he spoke about the urgent need to rediscover the joy and beauty of family life.

Despite the many social changes that ‘are altering the living conditions of marriage and families all over the world,’ it is important to recognise that families are not ‘purely human institutions,’ he said. The family is the ‘source and origin of social order . . . the vital cell of a fraternal society . . .’

The supreme importance of the family is something we need to come to terms with once again, the Pope said, because once a civilisation ‘uproots’ the tree of the family, ‘its decline becomes unstoppable.’

The family is almost always at the top of the scale of values of different peoples, because it is inscribed in the very nature of woman and man.’

We need to become a ‘family-friendly’ society once again, Pope Francis urged, something that is possible because ‘society is born and evolves with the family. Not everything is contractual, nor can everything be imposed by command.’ A vital difference the family makes to society is that it humanises it; the family is not ‘based on the axis of convenience or interest, but on that of being.’

Pope Francis also pointed out that the family is the ‘antidote’ to so many problems facing society today:

The family – as we know – is the main antidote to poverty, both material and spiritual, as it is also to the problem of demographic winter or irresponsible motherhood and fatherhood. These two things should be stressed. The demographic winter is a serious matter.’

The future of the family

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli brought our attention back to the family recently in his 2022 Patrick Oration. ‘No one is an island,’ he said, ‘and any social theory that attempts to reconstruct human flourishing separated from its family roots is devoid of goodness.’

The Archbishop pointed out that in the earliest days of the Church, as witnessed by the New Testament, there is scant evidence of the Church being involved in politics or becoming social activists of one kind or another. Instead, the Church was deeply familial.

The Church now is in a place of ‘exile,’ a place of ‘separation and loss and diminution’. But, as for the people of Israel who were scattered and held in exile to foreign powers, there was not an end to hope. In their place of exile, as the prophet Jeremiah states, they were to ‘[b]uild houses, settle down; plant gardens and eat their produce; marry and have sons and daughters…; you must increase there and not decrease” (Jeremiah 29.4-7).’

God’s plan for his people was strangely domestic, strangely personal, and strangely centred upon the family:

Exile was not to be their end, but their beginning. It would involve a (re)turn to their households and to their families, where faith could be nurtured and passed on from old to young, generationally. Growth in exile was not to be measured by rebuilding monuments in public settings, but by attending to the personal in household settings. Here, the seeds of faith could be planted, and the leaven of discipleship might do its work. Among families and in households could the encouragement of a fresh heart be received.’

A “family-friendly” Australia?

With the federal election just around the corner, Peter Rosengren of The Catholic Weekly argues that people are yearning for a “family-friendly” Australia:

Insofar as the family unit is concerned, the recognition of the family’s primacy in relation to the welfare of the nation has the potential to revolutionise Australian political life and culture.’

With the reality of family tax discrimination (placing a higher burden of tax on single-income families), increased financial pressure on Australian families (a key factor in divorce statistics), and home-ownership becoming little more than a distant dream, the need to reorient things and focus once again upon the family is more important than ever. Let’s pray that it can come to pass.