Family Life and Public Policy

Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time by FAN Executive Director, Stephen Schneck

This reflection was originally posted in our September 27th newsletter


The Mass readings for next Sunday, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, are among Scripture’s most beautiful pertaining to love, marriage, and family.

The reading from Genesis recounts the union of Eve and Adam, relating how “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” The responsorial psalm, from Psalm 128, has for generations been a traditional blessing for Jewish and Christian weddings. May your children be “like olive plants around your table.” “May you see your children’s children.”

The Gospel from Mark rephrases the Genesis story of marriage, adding that “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Even more sweetly, the Gospel continues…

Let the children come to me;
Do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.

Mark 10:14

In about two weeks, I will be retiring as Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network. And, given my impending retirement, you can imagine my age and surmise my place on life’s trajectory through births and deaths, weddings and funerals. With my wife, I’m looking forward to more time with our children, our “olive plants” around the table, and enjoying life with our “childrens’ children.”

I’m remembering as I write this Paul Stookey’s Wedding Song (There is Love). In the early ‘70s, when I was in my 20s, a wave of my friends rushed to the altar, grooms in bell-bottoms and brides with flowers in their hair, and every reception DJ played the song. So much so, the tune became almost humorous. Ten years ago I would have complained it was a ridiculously corny song. Today, seeing many of those same old friends’ Facebook photos with their grandchildren on their knees or their celebrations of 40th and 50th anniversaries, it all seems a little poignant again.

Of course, my friends’ families are complicated, as are most contemporary families. Scattered across the world, reshaped by deaths, divorces, and remarriages, failures to launch, single-parent households, same-sex relationships, children with grandparents, and much more, my friends’ family experiences remind us that throughout history the reality of family life was never as tidy as June, Ward, Wally, and the Beaver might once have led us to believe.

Yet, loving families are tremendously important for a happy, healthy, and successful life – and that is doubly true for those in poverty and for oppressed or marginalized populations. Loving families are utterly essential for a flourishing society and culture; they are the hearth of civilization. That’s the message of Christ, the psalmist, and Genesis in Sunday’s readings, a message shared by every religion.

Good laws and public policies must recognize this message, too. Family life is impacted by almost everything that the government does. Health care, economics, the tax system, women’s rights, housing, education, welfare, immigration, employment, racial justice, and on and on. Think about how the GI Bill changed the shape of American families, or how the development of the interstate highway system enabled suburban family life (for better or worse), or how Social Security and Medicare changed the relationship of seniors with their children and grandchildren. Think, too, about how recent immigration policies devastated many families by separating children from parents.

It’s so important, then, to make ourselves more aware how existing and proposed laws and policies might affect family life. In particular, echoing the words of Mark’s Gospel, the lives of children should always be foremost in weighing what legislation might mean for families. Even more, given the profound challenges families face amidst the many crises of our day, the onus is on us all to advocate for new and better programs to support and promote opportunities for loving families, like: child care, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act or ‘Obamacare’ expansion, family leave, affordable housing, early childhood education, ending the gender gap in wages, and much more. The infrastructure bill working its way through Congress now, for example, has several promising “family friendly” provisions and programs.

As I look to retire to be more with my family, I must also say in closing that in many ways Franciscan Action Network has become like a family to me, too. In the days ahead, I will miss hearing the passion for justice in Sr. Marie’s voice, the Franciscan heart of Sr. Maria, Janine’s effervescent can-do optimism, Jason’s savvy righteousness, Sr. Louise’s gallant witness for the oppressed, Phyllis’s unflappable competence, Nora’s incredible ethic for doing it right, and Fr. Mike’s reassuring confidence that all will be well in God’s good time.

Of course, I will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the barricades with them all in spirit. My friends and colleagues can always count on me to support their mission for Franciscan-hearted social justice. But, it’s bittersweet that my support now will be from afar.

Please join me in asking our God, through the intercession of Sts. Francis and Clare, to bless my FAN friends and colleagues in their lives and in their work, to sustain them in the mission to which they have been called, and to grant each — peace and all good. Farewell.

Stephen Schneck
FAN Executive Director

Published in: on September 28, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

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