Life is an endless series of new beginnings.

I think it would be appropriate if on this first day of the new year, following, as it does, last Sunday’s feast of the Holy Family, we directed our thoughts and prayers to the primacy, the preeminence, of family life.  I know of nothing more important than constant, increasingly patient and unselfish attention to the multiple relationships that make up our families.

The definition of family not too many years ago was, with very few exceptions or variations, a social unit consisting of a married couple – male and female — and their children, whether natural or adopted. Today, to name only two variations, we have same-sex partners/parents and blended families (with children from two different sets of parents).  Whether these models will endure into the distant future or be ultimately rejected by society remains to be seen.  But they are here now, no matter who may disapprove of them.

I’m no anthropologist, but I am at least aware that around this earth there are ancient traditions in which there is a wide variety of family structures that have thrived for centuries.  I think of tribes for whom the family is as wide as the tribe itself – where the raising of children is the corporate effort of the entire village. I think of the time-honored tradition of polygamy, in which a single male fathers children by many females.

It was only a few days ago that I mentioned here a man who, in a sort of surrender to the inevitable, told me that in his family there are now “unmarried spouses,” by which he meant, of course, adults – his children — living together with someone of the opposite sex but without benefit of a wedding or a license from either the church or the state.

What are we to say or do or think about these phenomena that for so many of us go against the grain?  I am of the opinion that we should suspend judgment and assume that the persons involved in them are acting in good conscience and are practicing all the virtues that make a traditional marriage what it is meant to be.  By that I mean that they are living in true and faithful love and are caring well for their children physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Basically and essentially, it is love and fidelity that make a good marriage and a good family.  You and I have both known too many perfectly legal and validly sacramental marriages that are empty shells and more of an obstacle to the persons involved than they are a source of life and joy.  That undeniable fact is what makes me impatient with our Catholic Church’s condemnation of divorce without exception. Sometimes a marriage becomes so sick and dysfunctional that it is a constant source of toxicity to all whom it touches.  I can’t imagine Jesus wanting such a situation to exist when it could be easily and honorably ended.

But, to widen the scope of this New Year’s Day message, I’ll state the obvious and say that all of us can look back with regret at our failure to do at times what we should have done.  There’s no point in pining over that, and it well may be true that we did the best we could at the time or that some pressure or distraction or ignorance kept us from acting differently and better.

If you are open to a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution, I’d suggest that it be simply to listen — not just hear the sound of another’s voice, but really listen – listen to the mind and heart from which it comes,listen to this other person with respectful attention, expecting to hear something worth hearing – and acknowledging that with gratitude.

2016 will be a banner year if a change in us makes someone close to us a happier, freer person.  That would be only a joy for all concerned!


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