Just before Christmas a new civil law, allowing same-sex couples to get married, took effect in Scotland. The Scottish media reported that a few of those in existing civil partnerships turned up at their local registrars to convert their partnerships to marriage. Quite likely there will be some more reports in upcoming weeks as the first same-sex couples get married. So now we can expect a massive increase in separations and divorces of traditional marriages, and falling numbers in forming new heterosexual marriages. Or at least that’s the scenario presented by those claiming that gay marriage completely undermines the traditional model. To be honest, I’m pretty certain that this particular argument is totally misplaced; the existence or absence of same-sex marriage is the least – if any – of the problems modern families have to face. Keeping the family together, providing food and shelter, good education for children, health – these and many others are the focus of their priorities, and they should be the Church’s priorities in providing pastoral care to families.
For years the Germans used a slogan defining the role of a woman in the family as ‘the 3 Ks’: Kinder, Küche, Kirche – which translates as ‘Children, Kitchen and Church.’ This clear-cut division of duties within the family seems to be deeply rooted in the biblical and Christian traditions. We can actually find quite a lot of examples in the Good Book stating a sort of superiority of a man over his wife. In practical terms that model meant that the woman was totally dependent on her husband, giving him unlimited power and control over her.
In the book of Genesis there is a passage describing the creation of a female, when God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ A procession of different creatures brought to the man then followed, yet none of these was found fit for purpose. Eventually God made the female out of the man’s rib while he was asleep. He reacts enthusiastically when she is brought to him: ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’ As a result the Bible concludes: ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ This beautiful story – told in a poetic way – is often misinterpreted as the confirmation of the unequal status of a man and a woman, because the latter is described as ‘a helper’ and created out of the man. The genuine message of this story is totally the opposite, and probably becomes clearer if we know that the word helper means supporter, companion or soulmate. The man recognises the woman as someone who can respond with love to his love, someone equal to him in status and dignity; someone with whom he can communicate on equal terms; someone with whom he can create a lasting relationship in absolute freedom of choice.
Modern families face many different challenges, and obviously there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to every difficult situation and circumstance. There’s no silver bullet to sort everything out. But I think there’s some good general advice in today’s second reading that you can take on board. The core message is that each and every one in the family should look after the others rather than him- or herself. If everyone is bent on giving rather than taking, then there’s enough love to drive the whole family, and still more to give away to those outside.