What with the Theology of the Body Congress, the big march in defense of marriage in Mexico, and Family Day in Rome, I think it’s safe to say that the Year of Mercy includes an emphasis on healing the family.

We have, as individuals and as a people, participated in the destruction of the family, and by doing that, we have participated in a successful attack on our children and on the foundation of civilization. Notice that I did not say that “they” have done this. I’m not pointing fingers at gay marriage activists, polygamists, politicians or feminists.

I’m saying that “we,” as in you and me, have each played a part in the destruction of the family. There are exceptions to this blanket assertion. I know some of them. I know men and women, husbands and wives, who build their lives in one another and continue to love each other through the vicissitudes of life; who focus on raising children who are grounded in a faith in Christ and a stable, loving home.

These people have been remarkably successful in raising children who grow up to be faithful Christian adults. I’ve watched as their children find loving spouses and form their own families, as they begin the lifework of raising their own children the way they were raised. I know people who’ve had successful lives and who have built up civilization and the Body of Christ all their days.

But the rest of us — and I include myself in this — have not been so faithful. Some of us, like me, are living a loving marriage with their only spouse. My husband and I have been together through thick and thin for thirty-five years. We’ve buried family, birthed and successfully raised children, lived through lean years when we didn’t have two pennies to rub together, run from tornadoes and faced down illnesses.

A couple of months ago, an interviewer asked me who I went to for comfort when I was diagnosed with cancer. Of course, I went to Jesus. I’ve written about that quite a lot here on the Register. But I also turned immediately to my husband. And he didn’t fail me. More than that, I knew he wouldn’t fail me. I never doubted he’d be there for me, and he was.

So I guess you could say I’m one of the lucky ones. My parents stayed together for over fifty years and were parted only by my daddy’s death. I was surrounded as a child by loving grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I didn’t know it or appreciate it at the time, but I had a safety net of people who surrounded me with love all my growing up.

That’s what family does for people. Children who don’t have it are blighted by the lack all their days. What’s worse, because they didn’t experience it in their own growing up, they don’t value it. They don’t know how it feels to be surrounded by unquestioning love as a child, and sadly, that makes it impossible for them to build nests that create a web of unquestioning love around their own children.

Family is, first of all, the nuclear unit of mom, dad and bambinos. But it is also the wider web of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Family provides a growing child with safe playmates and all the healthy social interaction necessary to teach them how to be successfully human. If it’s not there, no amount of playdates and programmed “activities” can compensate.

We have destroyed family in these past decades; driven it to ground and stripped it of its power to heal, support and nourish. I’ve spent a lot of time interacting with other breast cancer patients these past few months. I’m struck by how strong some of their families are; how all-in supportive some of the husbands. But there are a lot of others who have to face this demon alone.

Some of them, even if they have “families” of a sort, are still alone. Husbands divorce their wives when they get breast cancer, and family members are too involved in their own what-nots to be there. These women turn to other women with breast cancer for the support and love they need to get through the thing. We try. We try our best. But it must be an anemic second-best for these women.

That’s an extreme example of a larger truth. Family, for some people, is dead. It is a nonexistent and meaningless meme that torments them with its facile imitation of the real thing, but always fails to function like the real thing in life. People who’ve never known family can easily come to believe that “family” is a myth used to limit their freedom.

That is because they’ve never known the real freedom of going through life surrounded by people who always have your back.

It’s easy for all of us — and again, I include myself — to go alone with the cultural narratives that have led to the place where we are now. I’m not talking about bad laws, or even about the many divorces. I refer to the easy acceptance of the ethos that consigns things like faithfulness to our spouses, sticking it out through the tough times, taking care of our children rather than buying things, to the dustbin of unimportant, boring banality.

Far more than laws, family has been destroyed by the disregard and even contempt with which we regard the important virtues of faithfulness, fidelity and sacrifice that make family work. We lionize people who brag about sleeping around on their spouses, trade wives and husbands like they were trading cars and who flaunt lying, cheating, and sexual depravity. We admire these people, support them and follow them without regard for what kind people they are.

We consider family totally and absolutely forfeit for the sake of economic interests. Spouses separate, shove children off on “care-givers” they wouldn’t trust with their credit card, and sacrifice their own health in order to “succeed” at giving their lives for the corporate till. We have given over our government and sacrificed our own families and children to the little god of money, money, money.

Jesus once asked Which of you, if your child asked for bread would give her a stone? Or if he asked for fish, would give him a snake?

If we were standing before the Lord and He asked us that, almost everyone in our society would be forced to raise their hand and say “Me.”

The bottom line, which far too many people refuse to see until it’s too late, is that nothing you can buy will compensate you for ruining your child. Glittery new things tarnish and become meaningless in a short time. If you live by the thrill of bagging  purchases, you will always be looking for something else to buy, because the thrill is gone as soon as the deal is done. I know people whose closets are full of things they have purchased and then never used, which they may even have left in the box. I know people who rent storage to keep things they never use and perhaps have never used.

These same people will tell you that they need more money.

What they need is life, real life, that involves human interaction with all its friction and give and take. They need family. They need to put someone else — not something else — in front of their self-indulgence and be about the business of caring for, loving and sticking with other human beings.

God made us male and female. That is the human race. Not male. Not female. But male and female, men and women, together. When we defile that perfect human image of two halves that make a beautiful whole, we destroy the essence of what we are and what we were meant from the beginning to be.

In its earliest pages, the Bible tells us that “a man shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one.” It says male and female, He created them.  

We were meant for one another, in marriage, in family, in life-long love and support and living. We are made for life; to live in love together and create new life, which we shelter, nourish and shape into full adult human beings who can find their own mates and continue the cycle. We were meant to walk with one another, in sickness and health, richer or poorer, better or worse, all the days of our long and fruitful lives.

The things and people we idolize, lionize and put in leadership positions are far too often tawdry failures at everything that really matters in life. They are failures at being human.

Our children ask for the bread of stable, loving homes and we give them the stones of divorce, infidelity, latch-key loneliness and consumer goods. They crave the spiritual nourishment of a Christian home, and we give them the snake of popular entertainment, cultural values and parents who are too busy to be there with them.

Symposiums and demonstrations for the family are good. I support them. But what the family needs most is you and me, living family. We need to switch our upside down values back to right side up and put our families first. We also need to stop supporting, lionizing and excusing people who trash their families. We must — all of us — reject the cultural narrative on family and chose the Christian narrative instead.

We adore and follow the richest, meanest, crudest “successes” we see. They are our cultural North Star. This is not only wrong, it’s stupid.

People who build loving homes and raise children who become productive Christian adults are the ones who deserve respect. They are who we should imitate and follow. They are the real successes at the only things that matter.