Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
First comes love
Then comes marriage.
Then comes Susie with a baby carriage!
Do you remember that little jump rope ditty from your childhood? Ah, those were the days, when it was simply expected that girls would meet someone, fall in love, get married – and only then fall into bed. There was no birth control pill before 1960; so the marital embrace brought with it the scintillating possibility that God would extend his loving hand and bless the couple in a special way with a child. Their love would be forever honored with a new life, a new being destined to stand for eternity before the Throne of God.
That ideal – that men and women should (1) unite in marriage, then (2) remain coupled, and (3) together raise the children that God gives them – is held up in Scott Hahn's newest book, The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order. The book is a departure from Hahn's usual topics: By my count, Dr. Hahn has authored, co-authored or edited some 73 books – and most of them focused on theology and Scripture. The First Society, like Hahn's 2002 book First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity, outlines the sociological and political advantages of a strong family, and explains the need for strong marriages, if we hope to develop a strong society.
The First Society does rely on the truth found in the Bible, to be sure; but it melds theological exposition with political science. Hahn shows how the sacrament of Matrimony is the primary building block of a culture, and he exposes the weakness inherent in a contemporary culture which regards intimate relationships as disposable. Only when the family unit is strong, he asserts, will society be strong.
This primacy of the marriage relationship is reaffirmed in Catholic social teaching. Dr. Hahn notes that the good of the family and the common good of society cannot be separated. A society that would pursue one at the expense of the other is doomed to lose both. And yet, Hahn observes, that's exactly what's happened throughout the Western world.
In our modern society which values individual liberty and autonomy above all else, it's easy to reject the claims which the common good makes upon our choices and our actions. Stay together for the good of the family? Remain sexually faithful, when there are so many temptations? But Hahn is adamant in his defense of the common good. “If the good of the family,” he writes, “is essential to the common good of society, then so is the health of our marriage culture. And if marriage is essential to the common good, then so is a virtuous and ordered sexuality.”
And taking the reflection on marriage to its logical conclusion, Dr. Hahn calls for a renewed appreciation for the sacrament of Matrimony, by which natural marriage is blessed and strengthened as the couple enters into a familial relationship with God.
Catholic Social Teaching Identifies Societal Problems, and Finds the Answers in Relationship
The book goes on to confront the issue of abortion and other societal problems which are, Dr. Hahn shows, symptomatic of the failure to recognize the inherent value of the family and of each individual. Under secularism, the social fabric is fraying – and what is the answer? Solidarity requires a radical commitment to the good of others over and above our own interests.
Saint John Paul II, in his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (“The Social Concern”), defined the Church's understanding of solidarity. Pope John Paul II saw solidarity as the heart of the common good; and he warned against two key threats to solidarity and the development of healthy, integrated societies: what he called the “desire for profit” and the “thirst for power.”
Despite the popularity of secular liberalism, Dr. Hahn demonstrates that it cannot fulfill the deepest longings of the human person. And human beings have a natural desire for truth, which is preserved by the Catholic Church and her Magisterium, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The twin threats identified by Saint John Paul – the temptation to profit and to power – are paramount in today's society; and their answer can be found in the Catholic vision for marriage.
Marriage, Hahn concludes, “is not only the first society, but also, in its transfigured and divinized form, the last society. It is both the form and the fundamental unit of all human societies ... precisely because it is the earthly analogue of divine communion.”
Only when we understand marriage in this light can we succeed in ordering all of society according to God's divine plan.