There’s an excellent essay by Helen Alvare in the current edition (Jan 2022) of Magnificat, entitled “Who is my Neighbor?” Alvare is a tenured law professor at Antonin Scalia Law School (George Mason University), an advisor to the Vatican and the US Bishops Conference regarding issues of family policy and religious freedom, and the author of many articles and books. Here it is in its entirety:
I have worked for decades in the academy and in the Church on issues touching the family, at the intersection of the Church and state. During those same decades I have married, borne children, miscarried children, counseled adult children about relationships, and shared life in a large extended family. Were I to participate only in my professional world, I might succumb to the temptation of believing the usual accusation: “Why don’t you Catholics stop talking about private, strictly emotional choices and concentrate solely on issues that really matter to people, like poverty or immigration or the environment?” As a wife and mother and little cog in a big family, though, I know better. And it’s not only because Catholics are immersed up to their eyebrows in each of these matters. It’s also because I have come to understand that, like me, the vast majority of people affect other people in society – for good or for ill, deeply, and for their entire lives – by way of family choices more than other choices. By dating in ways that prepare both people for a long and loving marriage. By bringing children into the world to best assure them stable, generous access to both parents. By showing children that the marital “unity of the two” that the world increasingly believes is impossible is possible. These choices reverberate down the generations. So do their opposites. Family life strews “nearest neighbors” on our path and demands we act the Good Samaritan every single day.
As Alvare explains, the family is of paramount concern to Catholics because we know that the family is the original cell of social life. “Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society” (Catechism 2207). It’s in the family that we first learn responsibility to others. It is where we learn that real love always involves personal sacrifice. It’s in the family that we discover that we are part of a larger network of relations in which each member is precious and loved, and that we are not just a group of individuals whose value is based on what we can contribute or what we can do. It is hard to see how a society with a weakening family culture like ours would be more compassionate to the poor and to immigrants, or even better stewards of Creation (of which we humans are a precious part). If we are concerned about the current state of things, our response must be to recommit ourselves to our families, to help families that struggle through our friendship and prayers, and to support public policies that truly support and strengthen families.
If you’re interested in reading more by Helen Alvare, consider Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves. If you’re interested in subscribing to Magnificat, click here.