The Order of the Family Subject to “Industrial Strength” Solvents

Last week I wrote about the objective order of marriage in relation to procreation, starting from the words of Genesis: God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said: ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. (Gen 1:27-28)

The distinct role of the man and woman precisely in relation to the offspring is what reveals, as general law of nature, the leadership of the husband in relation to the outside world of ‘subduing the earth’, and the inward looking, domestic role of the wife in making the house to be a true home. This natural order of things, which should be an order of love, was deeply wounded by sin, but like the whole of marriage is healed and restored through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, grace must work in the midst of a fallen world and the modern world has thrown up some particular obstacles to the working of grace. In particular, two radical transformations of modern social life have made the order of love harder, but not impossible, to achieve.

We might think that in the ‘traditional’ order of the family, the husband would go off to work during the day, while the wife stayed home and took care of the house. We are, however, mistaken. Before the industrial revolution the husband was not so separated from the home, nor was the wife so separated from her husband’s work. In the life of the country farm and in the life of the urban shop, the husband was never far removed from the home; indeed, the wife collaborated in the work of the husband and the husband’s proximity to the home made it easier for him to be a presence in the family.

The industrial revolution changed this by sending the husband off to work in the factory or in the office. He might then come home from a dull, mind-numbing day of work, often weary and exhausted, with little patience for misbehaving children, and little desire for anything but for his wife to serve him dinner.

The wife, on the other hand, was left alone at home. Nevertheless, before the Second World War, the urban wife and mother typically lived in a small, close-knit neighborhood, in which she had the companionship and support of the other housewives. After the Second World War, suburbanization moved the housewife out of the close-knit neighborhood, into the isolation on a somewhat anonymous suburban community, where she was left alone with a new thing – daytime television.

The second radical transformation was presaged during the Second World War, when women supported the war effort by working in factories. Still, it was only in the 1970s that women began entering the workforce in large numbers, leading to a restructuring of the economy that now makes it difficult for the husband alone, on a single salary, to support wife and family.

This movement of women into the workforce was not the result of economic need, but of feminist ideology that set men and women in competition. The working woman, bringing home her own paycheck, was now expected to be more independent of her husband. This brought about the “exaggerated liberty”, against which Pope Pius XI warned. An “exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.” (Castii Connubii 27)

In our nation today a boy is not raised to assume the responsibility of providing for a family and taking on the role of a loving and provident husband and father. Nor is a woman prepared to take care of a home and raise children as loving wife and mother. Now society gives no honor or recognition to the dignity of the housewife. Indeed, while ‘slut-shaming’ is strictly forbidden, the shaming of the stay at home Mom is now very much in vogue.

With both father and mother away from the home and working, children are sent away first to day-care, then to school, where both boys and girls are taught that being adult means ‘pursuing the career of your choice’. When they become young men and women, they begin uniting, often temporarily, often without marriage, on the basis of shared interests. Their union seems to be a sort of sexual companionship while each pursues his or her life goals. That is the new definition of ‘love’ which is readily extended to members of the same sex and which also lends itself to the fantasy world of transgenderism.

Sex becomes the universal escape from the dull machinery of the industrial/technological world that reduces human beings to being cogs in the machine. Children, when they are not an accident of nature – gee, I didn’t know that could happen – become a mere afterthought.

“Love” in this view of things does not seem to be very fulfilling. That leads us, then, to the second narrative of creation, which speaks to us of the true intimacy of love: This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. (Gen 2:22)

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.