A Society of Households
Richard S. Aladics MA STL.
The Holy Father speaks about the family as a "community of persons", founded upon marriage, and whose basis is "the very nature of the human person". Contemporary Western society and its materialistic culture draws its strengths from perceived technological and economic successes. Indeed, as the Pope himself has said, man's progress in the new-found freedom and autonomy which contemporary civilisation has given him, should be a cause for profound self-examination: "Does this progress, which has man for its author and promoter, make human life on earth 'more human' in every aspect of that life? Does it make it more 'worthy of man'?" The decline of the family in the West is, according to Fr Nichols, not simply the consequence of changing morality, but also of much 'wider social, economic and educational' trends. The result of these trends is that contemporary society no longer sees the family as important; behind this observation lies the fact that contemporary society and the family no longer sees the value of the person.
Chapter Seven, Reconstituting a Society of Households, of Fr Nichols book Christendom Awake provides a practical means of countering the present trends. His treatment of Francis Mannion's Christian assessment of economics has enabled him to coceive of a practical spirituality for the family. The very use of the word 'household' suggests a corporate structure in which each member has a role to fulfil, and because he is proposing a 'spirituality' for the family, such roles are to be understood not merely as functional ones but as truly human roles. A family spirituality is precisely one which 'sees' the genuine goods of the family and the means of achieving those goods. Since the goods of the family are true human goods, that is, they authentically represent and benefit the person, it becomes necessary in such a materialistic culture as ours, deliberately to choose ways which will achieve and communicate those goods.
A spirituality of the household economy is a profoundly Christian concept. Moreover, it is one which is suited to the capitalist structure of Western society since it is precisely the actual culture of today which is called to bear the truth about the family. The needs of the family can be met by a realignment, or a 'subversion', of the day to day elements of modem life. Now, since the task of serving humanity belongs naturally to the family and, therefore, all other agents are subsidiary to the family, there is a sense in which the Christian family has an obligation not to live in accordance with modem trends but to choose those ways of thinking and living which truly represent the family's truth and its task. And, of course, it is precisely all the social, economic and educational agents of contemporary society which should be subsidiary to the family. The role and the task of the Christian family is essential in such a setting.
In a society which manifests a confused and often false understanding of what the family is, the Church teaches a clear and distinctive doctrine about the nature of the family. In addition to the family, the Church's teaching includes, to a profound degree, the social, political and economic dimensions of human life. The basis of this teaching rests upon the understanding which the Church has of man himself. That which the Holy Father calls an 'adequate anthropology' is one which responds fully to the truth about man; about his nature and about his transcendental existence. Fundamentally, of course, it is because of the Incarnation that we know that God's truth is a mediated truth. All that is objectively true and real within creation, and especially the nature and meaning of man's life, has been given to man by God himself. Thus, we can know with certainty the whole range of authentic possibilities by which man genuinely expresses himself. Christian Revelation then, is essential if man is to grasp that meaning, for it is Christ alone who "fully reveals man to himself". 
In teaching that the family is both "so to speak, the domestic church" and "a kind of school of deeper humanity" the Church is confirming the family as the most profound way in which man expresses himself. The Church teaches that the family "finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do."  Thus, in the nature of the family we discover its ethic, and in the exercise of that ethic the family becomes what it is.
A spirituality of the household economy bespeaks the essential role of the family within society and culture. The family is the true human agent of humanity; of human life itself and of all things which are truly human - values, culture, society, the Church. In a society which has, to a large degree, lost sight of humanity and has permitted the rise of new cultural agents - agents who purvey the destructive forces of pornography, subjective feelings-based culture and the erasure of objective moral criteria, contraceptive culture, the abortion industry, the culture of capitalistic profiteering and drug culture, we must restore our own thinking about the family.
The family as the genuine and primary agent of human affairs is "a community with a truly communal character, a community that exists and acts on the basis of the bestowal of humanity and the mutual exchange of gifts."  Individuals and families are often led to believe that modem materialistic culture is the primary medium of all kinds of goods and values, and that the family has very little to contribute. Sometimes the family is even perceived of as an obstacle to personal freedom. Many have forgotten that it is their own spiritual nature which makes them the irreplaceable bearer and agent of human goods and values. The family then, needs practical principles to guide "the dynamic and existential development of what it is" , principles which can be implemented and adapted by actual christian families.
The notions of the family as stewardly, sacramental, and of frugality, hospitality and stability may seem out of kilter with the prevailing trends, yet these most basic social virtues are such because they find their focus and their extension in the family. So, the family is the best place for profound self-examination and, therefore, for examining whether or not contemporary trends 'make man more human'. The nature of New Evangelisation of the family is precisely to show that the family's true goals are much greater than those which contemporary culture suggests. The family today needs a practical spirituality to help it to go beyond contemporary trends. In admitting the inspiration which the Gospel brings, the family will become more and more 'worthy of man' and men and women will become 'more human'.
1. Wojtyla, K., Person and Connnunity. Selected Essays, Peter Lang (New York, 1993) p351.
2. Redemptor Hominis, 15.
3. Gaudium et Spes, 22.
4. Lumen Gentium, 11.
5. Gaudium et Spes, 52.
6. Familiaris Consortio, 17.
7. Wojtyla, K., Person and Community, p327.
8. Familiaris Consortio, 17.
Fr Richard S. Aladics
Diocese of Leeds
Fr Richard Aladics is a priest of the Diocese of Leeds. He was ordained in 1988 after studying at the English College, Valladolid, Spain. He has served in a number of pastoral appointments in the Diocese of Leeds. Presently he is Parish Priest of St Aelred of Rievaulx, Harrogate England.
In 1998 he gained a Masters degree in Theology through 'Maryvale Institute' and, that same year was sent to study for the Licence at the John Paul II Institute in Valencia, Spain. Both his dissertations were written on the subject of a Catholic Media: The presentation of news in a Catholic manner and, The evangelisation of the family by the media.
This version: 16th June 2001.