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Tag Archive: Family

Not so much a cultural revolution, as it is a mop-up job

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2013 (8:45 pm), by John W Gillis


Thanks to a link provided by Operation Rescue Boston’s Bill Cotter in a recent newsletter email, I recently came across an article by John Jalsevac at LifeSiteNews.com, which I consider the most insightful piece of short literature I have read on the cultural phenomenon of gay marriage, recognizing not only the problem the concept presents, but also acknowledging the very thin grounds modern (i.e. liberalized) “conservatives” have to stand on in resisting the expansion of the modern notion of marriage to include gays:

But an honest look at the cultural landscape raises the question of just how much is left to defend. The statistics suggest that social conservatives may be brandishing their scimitars not in defense of a robust institution suddenly threatened by a new and hostile cultural force, but rather the smoking ruins of an institution long ago surrendered and abandoned as lost. The Sexual Revolution of the 60s, and what a friend of mine calls the subsequent “hell of the Divorce Tsunami” of the 70s, have already swept this Thing That We Used to Call Marriage out to sea, leaving us clinging to the bobbing flotsam and jetsam.

By this point the statistics are so familiar that they have ceased to be shocking. And yet the numbers ought to shock us. Right now, some sixty percent of couples cohabit before marriage; nearly half of all marriages end in divorce; a record number of Americans aren’t bothering to get married in the first place, and those that do get married are getting married ever later; 41 percent of all children are born out of wedlock; 35 percent of children live in single-parent homes; only 61 percent of children under 18 live with their biological parents; and the birth rate has now dipped below the replacement level, as couples are having fewer and fewer, or sometimes no children at all.

So much for marriage being “life-long,” “exclusive” and child-oriented! Well then, what do we have left? Only the final third of our definition of traditional marriage: that marriage should be between one man and one woman. From the perspective of the gay rights movement, getting rid of this final scrap of our definition is not so much a cultural revolution, as it is a mop-up job. The revolution already happened. Now it’s simply a question of tying up the loose ends.

And they are not wrong.

Jalsevac insists that what is being defended against the encroachment of homosexuality is not marriage in any historically meaningful sense, but a liberal institution he calls New Marriage, which is little more than the corpse of that institution upon which civilization has been built. He is absolutely correct.

Liberalism – understood in its older sense, and not something that began in the 1960s or late 19th century – has had as its aim the destruction/replacement of two fundamental institutions: the Church, and the family. In fact, I think one could reduce its aim to the singular goal of the destruction/replacement of fatherhood (i.e. patriarchy). On the family/marriage front, the main battle was lost about fifty years ago. I barely know anyone who understands marriage as anything that even closely resembles the reality that formed human culture.

Were it not for the working of grace in my life, I don’t think I would be able to understand what the difference is. But there is a difference – a momentous difference – and the truth, however elusive, must be pursued, embraced, and proclaimed. I recommend following the link to the entire article.

Same-sex marriage violates the right of the family to protection by society and the state

Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2012 (4:23 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Thursday, January 5th, 2012.

Douglas Farrow, from an outstanding piece in the new (and terrific-looking) issue of Touchstone, entitled Why Fight Same-Sex Marriage? Nail-head, meet hammer:

[W]e should observe also that when a family of some description is founded by a same-sex couple, it is always founded by violating the natural parent-child bond that marriage is intended to nurture and protect. It deprives the child, whether in the same way that divorce does or in some more innovative technological way, of its prima facie right to its own father and mother. But we should notice something else as well, and not merely parenthetically—something too little noticed either by the detractors or by the champions of marriage. Same-sex marriage violates the natural parent-child bond in every family, and the right of the family to protection by society and the state.

How so?

In Rerum Novarum Pope Leo XIII rightly described the family as “a society very small . . . but none the less a true society, and one older than any State,” with “rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.” This society, “founded more immediately in nature,” is what the Universal Declaration has in mind when it speaks in article 16 of the family. The family’s status as “natural”—that controversial adjective is deployed only in this one specific article—allows it a certain priority over civil society and the state. The latter share an obligation to protect the family, but the family is not at their disposal.

Same-sex marriage dispenses with all of that, however. By excising sexual difference, with its generative power, it deprives itself of any direct connection to nature. The unit it creates rests on human choice, as does that created by marriage. But whether monogamous, polygamous, or polyamorous, it is a closed unit that reduces to human choice, rather than engaging choice with nature; and its lack of a generative dimension means that it cannot be construed as a fundamental building block.

Institutionally, then, it is nothing more than a legal construct. Its roots run no deeper than positive law. It therefore cannot present itself to the state as the bearer of independent rights and responsibilities, as older or more basic than the state itself. Indeed, it is a creature of the state, generated by the state’s assumption of the power of invention or re-definition. Which changes everything.

I have little to add except that I can happily cross “write a short but cogent defense of marriage from an anthropological perspective” off my to-do list – I can simply point people to Farrow’s article, which is far better than anything I would have come up with. Next time some sneering cynic asks you “How is your marriage ‘damaged’ by same-sex marriage?”, share this link. Marriage matters like nothing else matters in human society, and Farrow knows why. And he knows why contraception lies at the root of the breath-taking collapse of the institution over the past century – and especially the past half-century. Required reading for any morally serious person.

Wait, it’s my kids

Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 (8:36 pm), by John W Gillis


A few days before Christmas, I was coming home late after being out attending to some delicate family matters, and I stopped at my favorite local Chinese restaurant for some food to bring home for supper. After placing my order with the manager, I decided to sit at the bar and wait for my order.

There were two young professional women, perhaps into their early thirties, sitting in conversation near the south end of the small bar, so I walked to the north end, sat down on the corner where I’d have a view of the door leading to the kitchen, and ordered myself a beer.

After several minutes, a cell phone began to go off raucously, and one of the women turned, reached into her bag, and eyeballed the noisy phone. She glanced at her friend, and said: “Wait, it’s my kids…”

“Hi buddy… uh-huh… I’ll be home at like 9:40. I know… I know… Is Dad home? Probably not, huh… OK…Listen, it’s only 40 minutes… it’s really only 37 minutes… Is Sarah in bed yet? Good. You be in bed by 9:30, OK? I know… I know… look, it’s only 36 minutes now. You be a good boy now; I gotta go. See you soon.”

As they refreshed their cocktails, the women rekindled their conversation, now loudly enough that I couldn’t but hear them in the otherwise quiet room. The second woman, who had had her back to me, turned toward the bar to stir her drink, so I could now see her in profile. She was heavily made-up, wearing silly and ostentatious jewelry, and an expensive-looking blouse that fit like a nice driving glove should. She held her drink between both hands on the bar, and delved back into a saga already half-told:

“He was telling me about all the things I used to do to piss him off, like ‘All those things I  did in my room’… and I’m like ‘What things?’ He goes, ‘Like how it was all black, and how I was doing that witchcraft and stuff’…”

The first woman – the one with the attention-seeking cell phone and interrupting children – snorted, and quipped:

“So, did you like tell him that this is the 2010s? Get real…”

“Can I brag for a minute? That was my son Toby, you know? The big fella brought home his first real report card yesterday. He had two A’s, 4 or 5 B’s, and 2 C’s. And the C’s were, like, not even fair. I was so proud of him. He works unbelievably hard, especially for a little guy. And his father is, like, No. Help. At. All!”

I spotted the manager coming out of the kitchen holding my dinner, so I quickly drained what was left of my beer, pushed a tip toward the bartender and thanked him, and intercepted the manager as he came around the corner of the front desk.

As I took the food and turned toward the door, I glanced back at the women at the bar, shook my head slightly in sorrow, and counted my blessings. And then I said a prayer for Toby and Sarah. I suppose I also should have said a prayer for those two young women, and the one’s husband, and the other’s father. But at the time, I just couldn’t see past the kids. Thank God for his grace in my life…

Because Being a Christian is Eternal Being and Eternal Youth

Posted: Saturday, November 27, 2010 (8:52 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Saturday, November 27th, 2010:

Hans Urs von Balthasar on Saint Francis and the transcending power of holiness over-against a stifling traditionalism, in Razing the Bastions (1952), from a translation published by Ignatius in 1993 (p.32):

The true peaks rise as the distance grows; we must take care not to consider our own age as an age without salvation or saints. Everything depends on that awareness that we have of our Christianity. For Francis, to be a Christian was something just as immense, certain and startlingly glorious as to be a human being, a youth, a man. And because being a Christian is eternal being and eternal youth, without danger of withering and resignation, his immediate joy was deeper. Not one single year separated him from Christ, the one who had become flesh; from the manger; from the Cross. For him, not one speck of dust had settled on the freshness of the wonder in the passage of time. The hodie of the liturgy on the great feasts was the hodie of his life. Is there a saint who has had any other Christian consciousness of time?

This is a powerful little book (103 pgs.) that is taking me a long time to read, because I am stopping on almost every page to dwell on something Balthasar says.

To really encounter and embrace the eternity that characterizes the life of Christ we share in as Christians is both bracing and mesmerizing. The unity of the Church across time and space, while it may be readily available to consciousness during Eucharistic worship, is otherwise all too easy to lose sight of in the daily hub-bub.

But with the liturgical year ending today, and the new year beginning this evening, it strikes me that this sense of connectedness can can also be facilitated by even petty traditions. Tomorrow being the 1st Sunday of Advent, the afternoon will be time to pull down the seasonal decorations from the garage, and go through the annual process of setting the house up for Advent. It’s a small thing, and it can get corny, but it serves as an opening both for the kids – and us – to reconnect with our own shared past, and for all of us to share in the drama of waiting and preparation that the Church has practiced for two millennia.

It may not be the kind of transcendent presence to Christ that Balthasar ascribed to Francis, but it’s a start. I suspect Francis would appreciate our poverty.

July? What July?

Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 (11:41 pm), by John W Gillis


ccp2 What a whirlwind! Nasta & Yulia have returned to Belarus after a whirlwind month of activity. These girls were very much like other girls I’ve known, but they possessed a truly remarkable courage. They were just little kids, of course, but they really impressed me in how they handled themselves. There was much more bustle in the house than I am accustomed to, while they were here. There was a constant chatter going on in Russian, which at first seemed out of place in the home – as if the house were a train station or airport, and not my sanctuary and refuge – but which quickly became just another background element of the domestic fabric. I miss it.

Being with and around the girls added an interesting contextual layer to my thinking about some issues that have rapidly come to the foreground of my thought these days; issues around technology & medicine, sickness & dying, etc. A number of public and private concerns have had me reflecting yet again on these matters, which seemingly have never been far from the surface since my own brush with death two years ago.

I think the train of thought got started just a day or two before welcoming these two young kids, whose lives are part of the sad legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster, when I coincidentally picked up a small book that I had been uncertain how to classify in my library, and began to read it. It was by Pedro Arrupe, who at the time of writing it was the Superior General of the Jesuits. Roughly the first half of the book was a recollection of his experiences on the ground in Hiroshima in 1945, where he was stationed as a missionary when the first atomic bomb was dropped. Arrupe had studied medicine for five years before entering the seminary, and he had to call upon every thread of his experience in dealing with the crisis. It was a sobering read, to put it gently. My intellectual circumstances snowballed from there, and I soon had several thematically related posts sketched out in my mind, but have been so strapped for time that I’ve little more to show for it than a couple of drafts, and a bucket-full of good intentions.

I’ve had so little time to write that the idea of publishing a blog is beginning to look a bit silly, and I’ve been finding myself (again) tempted to use the blog for publishing blurts & blurbs, instead of somewhat longer pieces, though that’s really not what I launched the site to do – I wanted to use it as a vehicle for stretching out my thinking. I almost always find the idea of publishing blurts uncomfortable when I’m working on more substantial things, even though the majority of articles I at least mentally sketch out never see the light of day, eventually ending up in the dustbin of good intentions. In my saner moments, I continue to think I should be able to strike a better balance here. My preference would be to find more time to write!

Most Private Family Matters

Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2009 (11:43 pm), by John W Gillis


Being not only the day after the day after President Obama’s inauguration, but also the anniversary of the dreadful Roe v. Wade decision, I was thinking quite a bit today about the abortion problem. Being well aware of his earlier statement to Planned Parenthood that could be interpreted to mean that the first thing he would do after obtaining the Presidential office would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, I’ve been warily eyeballing some news sources for the past couple days, waiting to see if the President picks up on the theme. Not that I think it likely too soon – I just can’t imagine the President wanting to roil the waters at this time – but I have little doubt the Congress will drop the bill on his desk for signature in the not-too-distant future, leaving him no choice but to deal with it. And his world will change that day, one way or another.

From what I can gather, he made no mention of it today. releasing instead a canned remark on Roe v. Wade that made the remarkable claim that the decision “stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters.”

Last I knew, Mr. Obama was quite supportive of governmental intrusion into the very heart of the family itself through the issuance of licenses of marriage and certificates of divorce, as well as of intrusive governmental oversight of the welfare of children (even to the point of the government taking child custody if it deems it appropriate), and intrusive government oversight of the quality of domestic relations between husbands and wives in the form of applying laws relating to domestic abuse, and intrusive governmental oversight of family finances, in the forms of both establishing and enforcing alimony and child support arrangements, and in the a priori prioritization of massive family expenditures through taxation, and of course – last but hardly least – government control of the education of children.

But perhaps Mr. Obama is suggesting that these other things are private family matters of a lesser sort, as opposed to the killing of children, which qualifies as being a most private family matter – and that therefore he knows to draw the line of governmental intrusion at the killing, because – Ba’al knows – we can’t have governmental interference in the killing of children, except perhaps to pay for it with the money of those who find it morally outrageous.

A Saint for Our Age

Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2008 (11:33 pm), by John W Gillis


Today was the feast day of Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, and I spent a lot of time thinking about him. When Maximilian was canonized by Pope John Paul II, the pope proclaimed him The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century. He was a great evangelizer and defender of the faith, as well as a protector of Jews and a fierce critic of Nazism – a witness which eventually landed him in Auschwitz as a prisoner.

It was there that his legend was cemented. In retribution for an attempted prisoner escape, the deputy commander of the death camp ordered ten men from Maximilian’s barracks to be sent away to be starved to death. One of the men cried out in grief over his family, and Maximilian stepped forward to take his place. The man survived to personally see Maximilian canonized 41 years later.

The 20th century was nothing if not the stage for the full flowering of Enlightenment deism into outright atheism, and its attendant religiously-flavored inanities. Maximilian’s sensibilities were very much shaped by his experience of the hostility of Europe’s public order toward the Church. As waves of nationalism, socialism, and finally National Socialism, reverberated through the remnants of Christendom, sweeping away traditional meanings of community, the vacuity of the “Enlightenment” project was once for all exposed in the unimaginable darkness of abject brutalities, culminating in the misanthropic hell holes of places like Auschwitz.

Maximilian, in the very midst of the madness, responded in the only way the Church can. He followed his Lord in offering his life, not only for his neighbor, but for his neighbor’s family.

It’s no accident of history that the descent of civilization into various barbarisms in the 20th century has left the 21st century with a legacy of broken families, the destigmatization and social embrace of fornication, a view of sex even within marriage that is radically divorced from its organic meaning in fatherhood and motherhood, the utter collapse of nature’s most fundamental bond of love in the unspeakable crime of abortion, and now, even the attempt to erase the memory of marriage from the consciousness of humanity by perverting its meaning, so that future generations will not even possess a word by which to distinguish marriage from other, non-covenantal, and even explicitly self-centered, domestic arrangements. There will be no thread binding the family together that is left unrepudiated, except the duty of children towards parents – and the wheels of “progress” are already moving to dismantle what remains of that, as society prepares to implement the mirror-image function of abortion in Kevorkianism.

It turns out, it seems, that the family and civilization do not so much support each other, as reflect each other in different historical permutations of the same reality. The family is to civilization as the fetus is to the adult. You cannot destroy one without destroying the other. This is the true crisis of our age, as John Paul II (and his successor) understood as well as anyone. And that Maximilian of Auschwitz is also the patron saint of families is no coincidence.

We need more men like Saint Maximilian with the courage, and the prudence, to offer their lives for the sake the family. The truth is that the world is not so much saved one soul at a time, as one family at a time.

Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.
Acts 16:31 (NAB)

My 10-Year Old Wants an iPod…

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2008 (9:43 pm), by John W Gillis


My Abby wants an iPod for her 10th birthday next week. I guess they’re all the rage within 4th grade. But I’m just not comfortable with it. I feel a collision coming, and it’s not unexpected. The collision will be between my sensibilities and the cultural norms (dare I say: fads) which shape the environment my young children are discovering as they grow up.

Having the girls attend a parochial school, a decision which was primarily based on the desire to provide them a learning environment with at least one foot solidly planted in Catholic values, could only delay the inevitable collision. My fear now is that I have done poorly in preparing for this conflict.

I don’t have a problem with iPods – I own one myself, and use it frequently. Even within the house, my CD player was replaced by an MP3 player 5 or 6 years ago. One of the very few features I required when I recently went shopping for a new car was an auxiliary jack for the audio system, so I could plug in my iPod. My problem is not with the technology, but in the potential for it to be utilized in ways that are destructive, in my lack of confidence in Abby’s readiness to properly discern appropriate from inappropriate uses of the device, and, given Abby’s vulnerability, in my complete lack of control over how it would shape Abby’s attitudes toward the world once it was in her hands.

The problem has two heads, but I think one is a shadow of the other. Some parents complain that iPods, like many other similar and not-so-similar devices, become means of withdrawal and seclusion for their children – that children use them to isolate themselves from the rest of the family, disrupting communication and hardening relationships. This is no doubt the case, but I suspect the devices themselves contribute only in fairly small ways to the developing of the attitude that seeks isolation and disintegration, whereas the content borne by the devices can and will have decisive influence on the minds and hearts of the children who encounter it.

For the most part, the content delivered by these devices carries a message of disintegration, turning their hearts away from the good. It doesn’t need to be that way, and the world has much of real worth to offer – in terms of music, or other art forms that have come to be dominated by commercial self-interest and shallow trendiness.

The challenge is in differentiating – a challenge not always easy for an adult, and pretty much impossible for a 10-year old. What is crucial, from my vantage point, is to be able to communicate to my children what good music is, what music is for, how it can be perverted for bad ends… But how does one convey this to a 10-year old? And what would it mean to send the girl out into the consumer music jungle without any adequate guide? That just strikes me as irresponsible.

This is not going to be easy to think through.

[Note: the string of follow-up posts to this can be found under the Interiorizing Culture tag]