Marriage and Family: Essential for the Common Good
A strong future for marriage is both achievable and desirable,” according to a statement by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued in anticipation of Britain’s May 6 general election.
Titled “Choosing the Common Good,” the statement urges voters to reflect on what “a society worth living in” requires. Public-policy that supports marriage is among ways of supporting the common good, it says.
The bishops encourage “a more realistic view of married life” and call attention to the value of marriage preparation. Couples ought to be “prepared with the skills to maintain and develop their commitment,” their statement says. Also needed are “more resources for relationship support.”
In fact, society “has a vested interest in supporting marriage as the surest basis for family life,” the statement affirms. It says, “Politicians of all parties should recognize and support marriage as a key building block of a stable society.” For, “marriage brings considerable and measurable benefits to individuals, children, family life and society.”
In exploring the common good, the statement discusses a broad range of social issues such as respect for life, the financial crisis, social justice and the need to restore trust within society.
What is the common good? The statement explains that “the common good refers to what belongs to everyone by virtue of their common humanity.” Moreover, “the common good is about how to live well together. It is the whole network of social conditions which enable human individuals and groups to flourish and live a full, genuinely human life.”
Human solidarity lies “at the heart of the common good” – a solidarity that develops when people acknowledge “that all are responsible for all,” the statement insists. It adds that humanity’s “flourishing” is what the “common good seeks to serve.”
Furthermore, the vast majority of ordinary people instinctively want “to belong to a world in which people care for one another. They are alienated by a selfish society,” the bishops state.
Accenting the contribution made to the common good when the virtues of prudence and courage, or faith, hope and charity are practiced, their statement says:
“The virtues are not about what one is allowed to do but who one is formed to be.”
It is in families, “for better or worse,” that human beings first are formed in “moral character and the “capacity to relate to others,” the statement points out. Thus, increased levels of “family breakdown” are accompanied by “tragic personal, social and economic costs.”
The bishops applaud “the many parents who, despite family breakdown, provide a loving and stable home for their children.” Yet, their statement adds, society needs “to accept that the promotion and encouragement of family stability must be a high priority” if current statistics on family breakdown, “so damaging to the common good, [are] to be reversed.”
For example, families need “financial, as well as relationship stability, access to affordable housing and fair conditions of employment that respect family responsibilities.”
In its call for public-policy initiatives that recognize the importance of marriage and the family for the common good, the statement cautions “that families have a right to a life of their own, and governments do well when they interfere as little as possible while supporting parents in the exercise of their responsibilities.” Nonetheless, it says, public policy that supports the family is necessary — and to support the family, marriage itself must be supported.
With the upcoming election in mind, the bishops’ statement, released March 3, invites reflection on ways government can foster the common good. Yet, it says, government cannot “solve every problem, or make us more generous or responsible to need.”
In fact, society’s members all play an important role in promoting the common good. Their offering of “time, energy and possessions out of the spirit of good citizenship and genuine neighborliness” is essential to society’s well-being, the bishops comment. They warn that without that type of human solidarity, “society starts to break down, and life becomes intolerable.”