It came like they all do in an Indiana summer afternoon. Off on the horizon…
Family key to saving culture
You don’t have to look far or listen hard to hear someone decrying the state of Western civilization.
In “The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order” (Emmaus Road, $22.95), Scott Hahn presents a plan for each of us and posits an answer. The answer’s not surprising, but his presentation of it is both delightful to read and challenging to consider.
Hahn spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about “The First Society” and the ideas he presents in it. The following is an excerpt of that conversation:
Our Sunday Visitor: Why did you approach the topic as hope-filled rather than optimistic?
Scott Hahn: If we don’t live this out at home, politicians can’t clean up the mess. We should really focus on what it is we can do to allow God to change our hearts, our homes, our lives and the world around us. [We need to] shift the center of gravity from politics to faith, and not just to faith in the abstract sense of theology but faith in the concrete, practical, lived experience of people struggling to be faithful and loving and humble and forgiving in their marriages.
This is where supernatural hope comes from: to recognize that God gives us what we need [and] he makes up for what we lack, but only when we acknowledge how weak we are and how much we lack.
OSV: Are we on the road to extinction? Why does marriage play such a big role?
Hahn: We are on the road that could lead to extinction. The root of the problem is found in each of our hearts: pride. It’s pride that allows us to continue down a path in self-destruct mode. I think once they undergo sufficient humiliations, individuals and cultures usually recognize [that they] have to go back and rethink certain important matters. Whether we’ll do that or not is up in the air.
|“The First Society”|
Author: Scott Hahn
Publisher: Emmaus Road
About the author: Scott Hahn is the bestselling author of over 40 titles, including “The Lamb’s Supper” (Doubleday, $22) and “The Fourth Cup” (Image, $23). He holds the Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and New Evangelization at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990. He also serves as the McEssy Distinguished Visiting Professor of Biblical Theology at Mundelein Seminary. He has six children and 15 grandchildren. For more information, visit ScottHahn.com.
The sacraments are capable of forming civilizations and renewing cultures that have decayed. The sacraments represent the faithfulness of God’s omnipotent love and mercy, which is our primary hope. Public contempt for God is freely expressed, and the implications of that are disastrous for families and catastrophic for marriages.
Looking at the basics of the Creed [and] at the building blocks of our faith, we have the things that our society needs more than new politicians or promises.
OSV: Why has individualism led to one-way dependency of the less powerful on the more powerful? What’s our next step?
Hahn: Individualism is at the root of our problem. Individualism and collectivism are the result of trying to figure out who is the basic unit of society or the state. In fact, [it’s] the family. Nobody is born an individual [or] citizen. You’re born as a son or daughter. The relational matrix into which we enter life is a family. Overcoming individualism is just a way of adjusting to the reality that has been denied or suppressed by a culture that [has] puffed [each of us] up with a sense of our own self-importance.
This idea of individualism needs to be replaced with a culture of family and recognizing that the family is the face of the society and not subject to legal redefinition.
It’s the empirical fact that we come from a man and a woman. It’s also a divine gift that we spurn at great risk and great cost.
OSV: Is this individualism primarily an American problem?
Hahn: It is primarily an American problem, [and] given the influence of America, it is now also a worldwide problem. Rugged individuals became the founding creed of the American way. America, more than any other country, was founded by individuals who cut their ties from the past. The legacy that we have received in America is a mixed blessing, so that individuals are free to pursue things, but [also] free to languish in isolation, depression, greed and selfishness in a way that our culture justifies.
OSV: How are we to be Jesus to one another, and why will this will help solve our current crisis?
Hahn: The covenant is the alternative way of thinking. When Jesus establishes the New Covenant, he does so in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is his body, and the Church is his body. We are members of his body more than my arms and legs are members of my body because my body is mortal. His body is immortal, and we are going to be united more perfectly to it.
We are members of Christ’s body, and so representing Jesus to one another is not some pious fiction. It isn’t religious rhetoric. It is really the reality that we confess when we say “amen” to the priest [saying] “The body of Christ.”
This is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We are members of his bride. We have to go home and live out that mystery [in] the way we treat our bride or our bridegroom, our wife or our husband. This is the whole point of the sacraments, especially the Blessed Sacrament.
OSV: How do we get the common good back?
Hahn: In this case the phrase “common good” is not primarily a political principle. It describes what we are as human beings in relationships. There is no tug-of-war between an individual pursuing what is best for himself and the culture looking for its best.
I am a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a husband or wife, a father or mother, and I am also a citizen. The Church’s notion of a common good is rooted in natural moral philosophy and is the single thing that we need to understand better than anything else.
Once we do understand it, we’re going to recognize that religion and politics have to conspire to protect marriages and families. That is what is in everybody’s best interests, whether they’re single or married, divorced or widowed, hetero or same-sex attraction. The culture will flourish to the extent that marriages and families flourish.
We really only achieve true freedom to the extent that we understand what is true and do the good. This is the truth of the common good.
OSV: What immediate and longer-term steps should we be taking as individuals and groups to accomplish a widespread return to God and the Catholic Church?
Hahn: I do think that the Catholic Church is the answer, but only when we understand exactly what we mean by the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church is truly catholic in the sense of universal.
Catholics in America are so much more American than they are Catholic. We need to allow the circumstances of this decadent culture to arouse within us an awareness that we’ve not only had the answers all along, but also that these things aren’t just true or meaningful, they’re powerful and beautiful.
We have to look to the saints and strive to become like them. The sacraments are the only means by which God can make up for all that we lack and give us what we need, along with the truth of the Church’s teaching that is rooted in the word of God. These things are indispensable.
The single greatest gift we can give to this nation that we love is our faith, not only lived out more fully but also understood more fully.
It’s up to us in the way that we encourage our kids who are now having their own kids. There really is a solid basis for that kind of supernatural hopefulness that helps us to realize that the Catholic Church is not reducible to the Vatican. It’s not reducible to my diocese or to my parish.
We do what we can exactly where we are in our station of life. That state of life is where God’s grace will reach us and then it will work through us and reach other people, mostly through friendship and conversations, not arguments.
Sarah Reinhard is content network manager for OSV and curator of the Triple Take weekday newsletter: http://bit.ly/OSVTripleTake.