Posts Tagged ‘relationship’

Father Cantalamessa Analyzes Relationship

ROME, OCT. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of a commentary written by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, on the relationship between Sts. Francis and Clare.

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It has become commonplace to speak of the friendship between Clare and Francis in terms of falling in love. In his essay “Falling in Love and Loving,” the sociologist F. Alberoni says that “the relationship between St. Clare and St. Francis has all the characteristics of falling in love, sublimated or transferred to the Godhead.”

Francis, like any man even if he is a saint, may well have experienced the attraction of woman and the call of sex. The sources tell us that in order to overcome a temptation of this kind the saint once rolled around in the snow in the depths of winter.

But it was not Clare who was the object of the temptation! When a man and woman are united in God, this bond, if it is authentic, excludes all attraction of an erotic kind, without even a struggle. He or she is, as it were, sheltered. It is another kind of relationship. Between Clare and Francis there was certainly a very strong human bond, but it was paternal or fraternal in kind, not spousal. They were like two trees joined by their foliage, not by their roots.

The extraordinarily profound understanding between Francis and Clare, which features so strongly in the Franciscan epic, does not come from “flesh and blood,” like that between Eloise and Abelard, or Dante and Beatrice (to quote two equally famous examples). If it had done so, it might have left some trace in the literature, but not in the history of sanctity. In one of Goethe’s well-known expressions, we could call the friendship of Francis and Clare an “elective affinity,” as long as we understand “elective” not only in the sense of people who have chosen each other, but who have made the same choice.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote that “being in love does not mean looking at each other, but looking together in the same direction.” Clare and Francis really didn’t spend their whole lives gazing at each other and feeling good together. They exchanged the fewest of words, probably only those reported in the sources. There was a tremendous reserve between them, so much so that at times the saint was affectionately chided by his brothers for being too harsh with Clare.

Only at the end of his life do we see this rigor in the relationship soften, and Francis visits his “little plant” more and more frequently in search of comfort and confirmation. As death draws near and sickness consumes him, San Damiano becomes his refuge, and it is at her side that he intones the Canticle of Brother Son and Sister Moon, with its praise of “Sister Water,” “useful, humble, precious and chaste,” which might have been written with Clare in mind.

Instead of looking at each other, Clare and Francis looked in the same direction, and we know what “direction” that was in their case. Clare and Francis were like two eyes always looking in the same direction. Two eyes are not just two eyes, I mean, not just one eye repeated. Neither of the two eyes is just an extra or a spare eye. Two eyes looking at an object from different angles give depth and relief to the object, enabling us to enfold it in our gaze. That is how it was for Clare and Francis.

They looked at the same God, the same Lord Jesus, the same crucified one, the same Eucharist, but from different “angles,” each with their own gifts and the sensitivity proper to a man and a woman: masculine and feminine. Together, they understood more than two Francises or two Clares could have done.

Recently, a good television film was made, called “Francis and Clare,” produced by Fabrizio Costa. It will run on Channel 1 of Italian Television (RAI Uno) on Oct. 6 and 7, and will soon be seen on English-language television, as it was originally shot in English. Better than Franco Zeffirelli’s “Brother Sun and Sister Moon,” it manages to avoid the romantic charm of a human love story.

In the past there was often a tendency to present the personality of Clare as too subordinate to that of Francis, exactly like a “sister Moon” who lives in the reflected light of “brother Sun.” The latest example of this is John M. Sweeney’s study “Light in the Dark Age: the Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi.”

All the more praiseworthy, then, the fact that the authors of this television fiction have chosen to present Francis and Clare as two parallel lives, interweaving and unfolding synchronically, with equal space given to the one and the other. This has never been done in this form before, and it echoes the sensitivities of today and contemporary efforts to highlight the important presence of women in history. But in this case, it is not a matter of ideological spin, but a portrayal of reality.

Watching the preview of the film “Francis and Clare,” what struck me most was the symbolic opening scene. Francis is walking through a meadow and Clare follows him, almost playfully putting her feet in the footsteps left by Francis. He, asks her: “Are you following in my footsteps?” She replies brightly: “No, much deeper ones.”



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New Studies Reveal Close Relationship

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The fortunes of family life and religion may well be linked, say experts in recent studies. W. Bradford Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is the author of a research brief published in May by the Institute for American Values’ Center for Marriage and Families.

“Churches are bulwarks of marriage in urban America,” he affirmed in the brief “Religion, Race, and Relationships in Urban America.” Wilcox started by observing that in spite of widespread concern over the breakdown of marriage and family life in contemporary society, so far little attention has been paid on religion’s influence for the family.

His attempt to remedy this omission is based on a reading of data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (FFCW), sponsored by Columbia and Princeton Universities.

The dramatic changes in family structures are graphically illustrated by Wilcox.

— From 1960 to 2000, the percentage of children born out of wedlock rose from 5% to 33%.

— The divorce rate more than doubled to almost 50%.

— The percentage of children living in single-parent families rose
from 9% to 27%.

Poor and minority families have suffered even more. In 1996, for example, 35% of African American children and 64% of Latino children were living in married households, compared to 77% of white children.

Wilcox argued that religion can influence family life in four ways.

— Religious institutions promote norms strengthening marriage, for example, the idea that sex and childbearing ought to be reserved for marriage, and broader moral norms that support happier, more stable marriages.

— Religious faith endows the marital relationship with a sense of transcendence.

— In many religious groups there are family-oriented social networks that offer emotional and social support, plus a measure of social control that reinforces commitment to the marital bond.

— Religious belief and practice provides support to cope with stresses such as unemployment or the death of a loved one. A greater psychological resilience, in turn, is linked to higher quality marriages.

Paradox

Wilcox does, however, admit that religious participation is by no means an automatic guarantee of a happy family life. In fact, what he termed “one of the paradoxes of American religious life,” is the contradiction between the high level of religious practice among African Americans — the highest of any racial group — and the reality that they have the lowest rate of marriage of any racial or ethnic group.

Turning to an analysis of the data from the FFCW survey, Wilcox argued that it shows how religious attendance — particularly by fathers — is associated with higher rates of marriage among urban parents.

Moreover, churchgoing boosts the odds of marriage for African American parents in urban America in much the same way it boosts the odds of marriage for urban parents from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Paternal church attendance is particularly important for urban relationships, Wilcox maintains. If a father goes to church regularly, then he is more likely to enter into marriage and also to have a relationship of higher quality.

Benefits of belief

The arguments raised by Wilcox are similar to those put forward by Patrick Fagan in a paper published by the Heritage Foundation last December. In “Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” Fagan argued that “religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families and the community.”

“Regular attendance at religious services is linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages and well-behaved children,” he pointed out.

Numerous sociological studies, Fagan continued, show that valuing religion and regularly practicing it are associated with greater marital stability, higher levels of marital satisfaction and an increased likelihood that an individual will be inclined to marry.

Among other points, these studies reveal that:

— Women who are more religious are less likely to experience divorce or separation than their less religious peers.

— Marriages in which both spouses attend religious services frequently are 2.4 times less likely to end in divorce than marriages in which neither spouse worships.

— Religious attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability, confirming studies conducted as far back as 50 years ago.

— Couples who share the same faith are more likely to reunite if they separate than are couples who do not share the same religious affiliation.

Moreover, Fagan pointed out, religious practice is also related to a reduction in such negative behaviors as domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse and addiction.

Losing God

Mary Eberstadt looked at the other side of the coin in the relationship between family and religion in an article published in the June-July issue of the magazine Policy Review. In the article “How the West Really Lost God,” she reflected on the causes of secularization, a phenomenon particularly notable in Western Europe.

The thesis often put forward, Eberstadt observed, is that secularism came first and that this had a negative impact on family life in Western Europe. She argued, however: “At least some of the time, the record suggests, they also became secular because they stopped having children and families.”

In support of her case Eberstadt pointed out that European fertility in general dropped well before the dramatic demise of religious practice observed in recent decades. Within Europe she cited the example of France, which saw fertility decline much sooner than in many other European countries, and is also a nation where secularism is stronger.

Ireland, by contrast, withstood the winds of secularism until a short time ago, and it was also a country with strong families. The recent erosion of religion in Ireland was preceded by a collapse in Irish fertility, Eberstadt added.

Turning to the United States she commented that the higher level of religious practice could be due to the greater number of children.

Evangelicals and Mormons, who unlike Catholics are not prohibited from using contraceptives, also have larger families. Maybe, Eberstadt posited, there is something about the family that inclines people toward religiosity.

She then examined the dynamic that exists between family life and religion. The experience of birth leads parents to a moment of transcendence. As well, the practice of sacrificing oneself for the good of the family and children may lead people to go beyond selfish pleasure-seeking. In addition, the fear of death, in terms of losing a spouse or child is a powerful spur to faith.

As for the well-known fact that women tend to be more religious than men, maybe Eberstadt argued, this is due to their more intimate participation in the birth of their children compared to a man’s role.

While fertility rates in Europe and many other countries are now very low, this could change as the disadvantages of single motherhood and the social and economic consequences of shrinking populations weigh more heavily.

“There is nothing inevitable about the decline of the natural family and thus, by implication, religion too,” Eberstadt contended. While quick to admit that, “merely having families and children is no guarantee of religious belief,” a resurgence in family life could well strengthen religion.

The authors of the studies cited here would probably be the first to admit that the interaction between religion and the family is complicated and that many other factors play a part in the strengthening or weakening of both. No doubt more research is needed, but these initial efforts point to some interesting relationships.

The natural family, Ebserstadt concludes, “as a whole has been the human symphony through which God has historically been heard by many people.” A symphony unfortunately marred by many discordant notes today, but whose return to harmony would be of immense benefit.