Sharing in the mission to build a Culture of Life and Love, something inherently fundamental to each Christian’s life of faith, is a joy and a privilege. It can also easily lead to discouragement when we see what we’re up against, and one can readily identify with the story of David and Goliath. Nonetheless, God is always good and knows exactly when we need those rays of hope to keep us going.
One such ray of hope came in a recent exchange where a young person articulated in everyday terms one of the root causes of what’s wrong in today’s society. This young Catholic woman was working as a nanny caring for a number of small children. She was taken aback at the children’s consistently bad behavior. She had nannied for other families and found that most children in her experience were quite well-behaved, but this bunch was another story entirely. They would be more than a challenge even for Super Nanny. The very capable young woman was searching, with little success, for a way to get across to the children that they need to be nice to each other, when it occurred to her why the children had no motivation to even try to be good. She noted: how do you explain to people that don’t know God that they should be nice to each other because that’s what Jesus would do? Children can understand love, but if there is no connection to the origin of Love, no sense of “mission” or purpose, how can they make sense of the importance of right order for their own good and that of others?
While there could be any number of things causing the misbehavior of the aforementioned nanny’s charges, she recognized a fundamental source of the problem: God was not in the picture in this situation, and the opportunity for the grace of the sacraments to work was lacking. At least when people are guided by the natural moral law, defined by St. Thomas Aquinas as “the rational creature’s conscious participation in the eternal law”, virtue has a chance, as does the discovery of God Himself. Beauty, truth, and goodness point us toward our Creator, but when this is missing, well, you are left with a bunch of outrageously unruly children and one very perplexed nanny.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as “a habitual and firm disposition to do good” (n. 1833). Virtue is cultivated in the family. It should also be reinforced by the structures society has set up and with which we interact, though sadly we don’t see so much of that today. For example, many years ago I knew a wonderful teacher who was very good at building up virtue in her students. This was no easy task, given that she taught seventh graders, but I never forgot her “signature line” that spoke so powerfully. Across the top of the blackboard were the words “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” That had to have had an effect on her students who saw those words in front of them every day. In fact, the teacher always did have a well-ordered classroom and very respectful students.
The family is vital for the good of society. Not only does society need the family for its physical prolongation, but also for its moral strength. But how can society be strengthened when virtue is lacking? In our increasingly secular culture, this eclipse of virtue becomes more evident, and certainly more troubling. Gaudium et spes (n. 36) hits the nail on the head: “For without the Creator, the creature would disappear; when God is forgotten, the creature itself grows unintelligible.” We don’t have to look far to see the calamitous fruits of God being forgotten.
So, we have a mission: to help people come to know and love God. In his reflection on human love in the Divine Plan, known as the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II gives us much inspired wisdom in this regard. One of his central themes here is that at the heart of human existence is the fact that we are made for love. God has placed that desire within each of us. The Holy Father explains that as persons created for communion with others, we only come to discover our true identity as persons made in God’s image and likeness, by giving ourselves to others in love.
In his 1994 Letter to Families (Gratissimam Sane), St. John Paul said, “Experience shows what an important role is played by a family living in accordance with the moral norm, so that the individual born and raised in it will be able to set out without hesitation on the road of the good, which is always written in his heart.” (n. 5). Certainly, as Christians living in an increasingly secular world, we have our work cut out for us. But with much prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be God’s instruments in a hurting world, for we know that nothing is impossible with God.
Let us continue to pray for families and for society, that all may come to know the love of God and live by His commands. My nanny friend’s insight about the need for God in people’s lives was a ray of hope. As long as the next generation is taking this to heart, the future looks bright for the Culture of Life and Love.