I tend to keep my religion off these pages, at least explicitly. The recent restating of Catholic teaching on the family in Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love; I’m sure the echoes of Alex Comfort must not have been forgotten when the title was chosen), however, does fall, a bit, into the trap of both romanticising and problematising family life. It recognises, it’s true, the big difficulties of families subject to violence, disruption &c, but the “healthy dose of self-criticism” Francis urges really looks at reconciling extremes, not at helping the everyday. It does, however, acknowledge that
“At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.”
The argument in my youth was that a celibate clergy were free precisely to guide and judge at a distance; it’s as if, by asking married lay people their opinions and experiences (however wobbly that process was), Catholic theology has woken up to the weaknesses of this approach. Who, as they say, knew?
So Amoris Laetitia carries a lot of burdens: what in shorthand we might call theologically sound messages need to take into account very explicitly what I keep referring to as the dura et aspera of shopping with children, childcare, telly, finding school uniform… As I write a five-year-old comes in to talk about Narnia and a three-year-old interrupts to tell me she is the pink Powerpuff girl. Nuff said.
This post from last year makes two points about family: that even everyday parenthood is (for many people unexpectedly) very hard work and often unrewarding; that what we could do with – not just within Catholicism – is the guidance (and warning) of those who have tried it and nevertheless want to support young families.
It’s almost as if the injunctions of Paul to Timothy that the presiding elder should be able to manage their (OK, his) family and be the husband of one wife has some wisdom after all; leadership needs to include mentorship, and family is no exception.