Bernardo M. Villegas
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Christian Roots of the Family

          One of the reasons why the Filipino worker is generally a cut above others of different nationalities is his or her cheerful disposition.  Whether here or abroad, the typical Filipino always radiates hope and optimism.  The smile comes to his or her face easily.  This propensity to joy is, in turn, due to strong family bonds that characterize Philippine society at all economic and social levels.  It is very noticeable that marketing or advertising of business is very often directed towards strengthening family ties.  Whether it is fast food, softdrinks, noodles, dairy products, real estate, or entertainment, the appeal is generally to keeping the family intact, harmonious and joyful.  Myriad of private organizations--both religious and secular--revolve around the family.  There are Catholic lay organizations such as Couples for Christ and Marriage Encounter that promote strong families and marriages. Some of these organizations have gone global.  There are secular organizations like EDUCHILD, Parents for Education Foundation, Alliance for the Family and others that have as their mission to make families more stable by helping them carry out their most important task of educating children.  The very Constitution of the Philippines is exceptional in its mandating the State to strengthen the family and respect marriage as an "inviolable institution."  It is also the only Constitution in the world that explicitly commands the State to protect equally the mother and the unborn baby from conception.  Even professional organizations such as those of seafarers go out of their way to recognize the need to strengthen the link between seafarers who are away for a long period of time and their family members left behind.

          Although the family is a natural institution whose strength and sustainability can be fostered in any society regardless of creed or culture, precisely because it is based on natural law, there is little doubt that in the Philippines, it is Christian principles and tradition that contribute most to its stability.  Thanks to the Catholic Church, there is no divorce in the Philippines.  To give credit to whom it is due, I remember that it was the late Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma, who chaired the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Philippine Constitution, who was most responsible for the whole article on The Family.  It was her strong Catholic convictions that inspired her to ensure that the family would be protected in the fundamental law of the land.  It will be Christianity, above all, that will help Filipinos, now and in the future, to ensure that the breakdown of the family that is so rampant even in formerly Christian societies as those in Europe will not contaminate our shores. 

          There is no room for complacency, however.  The very phenomenon of Filipino Overseas Workers is a threat to the stability of the family because of fathers and mothers leaving their families behind for long periods of time.  Through the media of mass communication, especially television and the internet, anti-family lifestyles are being absorbed almost by osmosis by the youth in the Philippines.  To make matters worse, there is a vocal minority--funded and goaded by foreign groups--who are aggressively supporting legislation to introduce such anti-family measures as artificial birth control, divorce and same-sex marriage.  They are heedless of empirical studies by social scientists abroad, like Nobel laureate George Akerlof, showing that the widespread use of artificial contraceptives inevitably leads to more abortions, divorce, single mothers and mentally troubled adolescents.

          We have to learn from the sad experiences of many European countries.  Because they have abandoned their Christian principles and traditions, the institution of the family is literally in shambles.  Pope Benedict XVI has been waging an admirable campaign to convince Europe to return to its Christian roots.  In a best seller entitled Values in a Time of Upheaval, the Pope wrote:  "Now I come to a second point for European identity:  marriage and the family.  Monogamous marriage, as the basic structure for the relationship between a man and a woman and as the cell for the construction of civic society, has been formed by biblical faith.  It has given Europe--East and West--its specific 'face' and its specifically human character, precisely because one must struggle again and again to realize the form of fidelity and of renunciation that monogamous marriage by its very nature requires.  Europe would cease to be Europe if this basic cell of its social construction were to disappear or to be changed in its essence.  We are all aware of the risks confronting marriage and the family today--partly because its indissolubility is watered down by an ever easier access to divorce, and partly because of the increasing cohabitation of men and women without the legal form of marriage.

          "The paradoxical modern demand of homosexual partnerships to receive a legal form that is more or less the equivalent of marriage is a clear antithesis to this tradition.  This trend departs from the entire moral history of mankind, which despite all the variety in the legal forms governing marriage--has always been aware that this is essentially a special form of the relationship of men and women, open to children and hence to the formation of a family.  This is not a question of discrimination.  Rather, we must ask what man is as man and as woman, and how we may correctly shape the relationship between them.  If this relationship becomes increasingly detached from legal forms, while at the same time homosexual partnerships are increasingly viewed as equal in rank to marriage, we are on the verge of a dissolution of our concept of man, and the consequences can only be extremely grave..."

          Filipinos as individuals and the Philippines as a nation have a serious responsibility and challenge to defend the family as a natural institution and to strengthen its roots in the Christian faith.  In the midst of an increasingly pagan world, we have to have the faith, fortitude, and hope of the early Christians.  Just picture the pagan environment in which they had to preach the doctrine of Christ.  American author Leo Trese describes it vividly in his book A Trilogy:  "There was no sense of the dignity of human beings; two-thirds of the people were slaves, chattels of their owners.  Life was cheap; a father had the right to kill his own children or his own slaves if he felt in the mood.  Marriage was a mere gesture; all a husband had to do, to divorce his wife, was to put her out and close the door upon her; women were looked upon as the servants of men and tools of male pleasure."

          But the early Christians were not daunted.  Thanks to them, we are now Christians and it is now our turn to bring back the doctrine of Christ to the world, including Europe from whom we received the faith.  As Trese continues:  "This was the world that the poor apostles were expected to convert.  In the face of slavery, they would have to preach the inviolable dignity of the human person. In the face of pagan contempt for human life, they would have to preach God's exclusive dominion over life.  In the face of easy divorce, debased womanhood and rampant lust, they would have to preach the sanctity of marriage, the true ideal of womanhood, and the obligation to continence. ..."  Without exaggerating, Filipinos are among those in today's "time of upheaval" called to live their faith as the early Christians did.  Our very human happiness depends upon it.    For comments, my email address is