Husband & Wife Articles


‘Most Difficult Situations’

The family faces unique challenges

Dr. Mark S. Latkovic

In his 1993 encyclical on the moral life, Veritatis Splendor, Blessed Pope John Paul II called for Christians to “rediscover the newness of the faith and its power to judge a prevalent and all-intrusive culture” (88). Moreover, the pope insisted, “Evangelization – and therefore the ‘new evangelization’ – also involves the proclamation and presentation of morality” (107). This new evangelization “will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force,” John Paul argued, “when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived” (107).

The Latkovic family at home.

If we live our lives in holiness, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, others may “perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations” (107).

These “most difficult situations” can be found in troubled marriages where alcohol, drug abuse, spousal abuse or adultery take place. Or where there is job loss, illness or death of a spouse. These trying situations involve the duty to remain faithful to God’s commandments, and to remain faithful to one’s promises, duties and commitments. Many other things will be required of a Christian, including the development of the moral virtues of prudence (practical wisdom), justice (giving others their due), fortitude (courage), and temperance (moderation). Yet fidelity and the practice of the virtues are made even more difficult in our “culture of secularism.” In this and other ways, the family’s evangelizing mission is challenged.

For Catholics to live out their marital and family commitments as God intended – even in the “most difficult situations” – we must first grapple with what John Paul identified in Evangelium Vitae as “the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man…” This eclipse, he wrote, is “typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism” (21). We must, in other words, understand what we’re up against and understand the factors that challenge us in our pursuit of holiness as a husband, a father and worker. We must confront and overcome, with the grace of God and in the name of Christ, these negative cultural forces that can undermine Christian life and make even more arduous our attempts to face those “most difficult situations.”

Although there are many good things to be said about the culture that we live in today – such as scientific, technological and medical advances – it must be admitted that our culture is in bad shape. More and more people deny God and hate his Church. Especially in the last 50 years, we have seen how our culture’s focus on self (individualism), money (materialism) and pleasure (hedonism) has made living the vocation of Christian marriage and family life increasingly difficult.

Of course, these “disabling” factors have long been with us. As we read in the Bible, “For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn 2:16). But modern technology makes possible not only new sins – for example, in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research – but also the dissemination of older sinful practices on a much larger scale, such as pornography. Even good Christian families are susceptible to this process of secularization, as messages alien to the Gospel penetrate our homes through the mainstream media, movies, magazines and other sources, and then work on our consciences, to corrupt them.

Our culture’s understanding of marriage includes the acceptance of cohabitation, contraception, sterilization, abortion, divorce and remarriage, pornography, same-sex “marriage” and adultery. Sadly, many Catholics, who are either confused about the Church’s teaching, or have serious doubts about it, or even reject it, have absorbed the secular understanding of marriage and sex. The secular culture accepts these things because it accepts the separation of the “unitive” from the “procreative” meaning of the sexual act. This separatist view is in keeping, however, with the culture’s emphasis on autonomy in all things involving marriage, sex, and family. So, you can have sex without babies (contraception), and babies without sex (IVF)! And you don’t have to be married or even of the opposite sex to do either one!

As we seek to be witnesses to the faith, we must also direct our efforts at our fellow Catholics. They too need to hear both the Church’s critique of secularism and her “grand vision” of marriage and the family. We’ll do the latter in our next column.

Mark Latkovic, Ph.D., is Professor of Moral and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich.