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Books blog: Families must work together to stay strong in our society

Newly married couples kneel as Pope Francis celebrates the marriage rite for 20 couples during a Mass in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Sunday (CNS)

The twenty couples from the diocese of Rome who were married by Pope Francis on Sunday will never forget their wedding day, obviously. After all, they got married in St Peter’s, the famous mother church of Catholics from all over the world, and the person marrying them was the actual head of the Church, the Holy Father himself. This is a privilege not granted to many couples. But as their marriages endure and deepen through the years, perhaps the deeper significance of the day will come to mind: that they were married on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross and the Pope’s homily took full account of this.

A huge number of marriages break down these days. The sad thing is that afterwards, a surprising number of the people involved admit that that their marriages could have been saved with more perseverance and they regret not having tried harder to do so. Pope Francis drew attention to the difficulties of married life in his homily on Sunday, saying, “The love of Christ, who has blessed and sanctified the union of husband and wife, is able to sustain their love and to renew it when, humanly speaking, it becomes lost, wounded or worn out. The love of Christ can restore to spouses the joy of journeying together.”

Implicit in the Pope’s words were the families that come from a marriage, which he described as “bricks” for the building of society. “It is impossible to quantify the strength and depths of humanity contained in a family” he stated, demonstrated through the “mutual help, educational support, relationships developing as family members mature, the sharing of joys and difficulties.” All this seems so obvious that it is an enormous pity that governments don’t do more to support married couples and families to stay together, especially as the social cost of broken families is so huge.

I was asked to review an interesting book recently entitled The Turning: why the state of the family matters and what the world can do about it by Richard and Linda Eyre. The Eyres, who live in Utah, are a formidable couple; they have published more than 40 books on raising children and on marriage and family life, as well as raising nine children themselves. They are not Catholic and do not state their own denomination although their outlook, from the quotations in the book, is deeply Judaeo-Christian. The title of their book comes from the prophet Malachi: “Unless we turn our hearts to our families, the whole earth will be cursed.” This has an evangelical fervour to it; the Eyres certainly believe that the natural, traditional family is ordained by God and that we undermine it at our peril.

Having said this, their book can be read profitably by anyone, Christian or not, who believes that traditional families, arising from marriage between a man and a woman, are the best environment in which to raise children. Using many statistics from the US, the Eyres show the social effects that have resulted from neglect of the family and the greatly increased intervention from the state into peoples’ lives that has resulted. The first part of the book discusses the social fallout from the disintegration of the family; the second part, which is the more interesting, discusses what can be done by individual families, who find they are swimming against the tide of modern culture, to remedy their situation.

The Eyres insist that “We must create cultures in our own homes that are stronger than the media, internet, materialism and peer cultures that swirl around us” and have many excellent suggestions for ways to do this, such as engaging in charitable volunteering projects as a family, to encourage unity and generosity among its members. They have undertaken such projects all over the world with their own children. They also include many anecdotes and stories of their own family life in their book, describing the problems they have faced in raising their own children and the creative solutions they found, so that readers will not feel preached at by a successful couple who appear to have all the answers.

The Eyres also say insist that individual families who want to instil values in their children cannot do this alone; they will need to join with other families for mutual help and support. This again is obvious; in this country there are many little Catholic groups which do just that. But the Eyres go further. They believe that all these small groups should combine in a Coalition for Strong Families in order to put pressure on governments, the entertainment industry, big business, banks, the media, schools and churches among other large organisations, to help families flourish in today’s society. In an appendix at the back of the book they even include draft letters to such organisations that could be sent by individuals and family groups in a drive to give more voice and weight to the voiceless mass of couples struggling to do the most important job of all: raising children who are balanced, confident and with strong values.

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