The family has order and purpose, and when we mess with that and make it about "feelings" or "desires," we can expect a lot of chaos and disorder to result.
Leila Miller, for those who are unfamiliar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?
Sure! I am a Catholic wife and a mother of eight children, ages 28 to ten, and I have ten grandchildren. I've been teaching the Faith since my "reversion" about 25 years ago. I also have been a Catholic blogger (Little Catholic Bubble and LeilaMiller.net) and a writer. My fourth book, Impossible Marriages Redeemed: They Didn't End the Story in the Middle, was recently published.
What are some of the biggest lies society preaches about the family?
That it's "whatever you want it to be" and "whatever makes you happy." However, that is not the nature of family. Family was created and ordained by God, from the Garden of Eden. God created a man and a woman, and that relationship was a marriage, from the beginning. The marital relationship was and is, by nature, literally designed to bind a husband and wife together for life, and to bring forth children. The family has order and purpose, and when we mess with that and make it about "feelings" or "desires," we can expect a lot of chaos and disorder to result. Just take a look around and you can see that sad reality playing out clearly.
What are some practical steps husbands and wives can take to strengthen their marriages?
First, they have to understand what I said above; they have to understand what marriage is. Without that knowledge, there's no foundation or grounding, and the whole thing becomes about emotions and feelings. If we don't "feel happy" or "feel fulfilled" or "feel understood" or "feel romantic," then we "feel" as if we don't have a real marriage, a valid marriage. What we forgot is that marriage is a lifelong space for us to be loved, even as we are sinners. It's how we work out the sins and faults that we have, all the while in the safety of knowing that we will not be kicked to the curb if we are imperfect — even if we mess up badly.
It's a journey that doesn't start at bliss on the wedding day and stay there, but rather it's an objective, unbreakable union with peaks and valleys that bring great joy and great sorrow, season after season — much of which is beyond our individual control. If we see the vow as being ironclad (and what sacred vow isn't?), then we can weather the storms that will come throughout the decades of a marriage. I know that is not a typical way to answer your question, and that I'm supposed to talk about the importance of good communication, date nights, etc., but I do think that what I've said is the most important thing, and the one most neglected.
From what you've seen, what is the most prominent impact that a broken family has on the culture?
Broken families give us millions and millions of broken adults — namely, the children of divorce all grown up. At the time of the divorce, kids are told that they will be happy as long as their parents are happy, and that children are resilient. The result is that any grief or trauma the children feel at having their family blown apart is stuffed deep down. The "divorce was the best thing" narrative of the parents and the other wise adults in society (teachers, therapists, clergy) must be upheld.
If the child acts out, it's the child who is diagnosed, put on medication, etc., as we are never to point to the divorce, or the decision of the adults, as the real source of the problem. As they grow up, the children of divorce often lack interior confidence due to a loss of identity; they can experience a piercing loneliness, anxiety, and/or anger, and are unsure of how to commit to a life-long marriage themselves, even as many of them are determined never to divorce and bring that kind of suffering upon their own children. Think about it: Every single adult on the planet has to navigate very bad situations in life and carry crosses, but the children of divorce have to do all that with and from a shattered foundation. This massive, added burden makes everything exponentially more difficult.
In your book, Primal Loss, you take on the problem of divorce. Have you found that more people are treating divorce lightly? What do you think fuels this idea?
I have found that while Catholics are against divorce in theory, they are not against divorce in practice. In fact, Catholics seem to be very much in favor of divorce when it comes to the folks closest to them, who are suffering in a marriage. We don't want to see our loved ones suffer. The cross has become repellant to us moderns. So, divorce is seen, perhaps, as a very sad thing but a "necessary" thing, to get Catholics to a place of "true love" (always based on feelings and fulfillment) or "finding the soulmate God intended for me" — all of which, ironically, is the secular culture's narrative, not a Catholic understanding!
We often hear about Christ's compassion and mercy. But as a people who recognize the damage that sin can cause, how do we show mercy without appearing to overlook or even celebrate sin?
I think that can only be done the way Christ did it. He always, always forgave (forgiveness would save most marriages, by the way) and yet He never said that the sin should continue or that it was "okay" to sin. As Catholics, we are expected to be able to balance both justice and mercy. The key is to grow in virtue ourselves, in imitation of Christ and the saints. Too many Catholics today seem to deny or downplay the witness of the saints, who came up against much misunderstanding, suffering, and injustice, often at the hands of those closest to them. They didn't so much continually point out and resent the sins of those around them, but rather they continued to root out their own sins, becoming heroically virtuous and Christ-like in the process. They trusted in Christ's promises more than they trusted in man. That is the Christian life: Holiness through the cross. Redemption through the cross. And, yes, forgiving others as Christ forgave us. No one wants to hear that anymore, as we fancy ourselves so much more "enlightened" than the Catholics who came before us, but are we really?
One role of the Catholic Church is to respond to the troubles of the world. This is one reason why we spend so much time talking about issues of marriage and sex. But constantly responding to the problems facing humanity can make the Church appear to have a pessimistic attitude. Obviously, this isn't true. The message of Christ's Church is loving and hopeful. Where do you see hope in the culture of family?
I see hope where I see Truth. The human soul was created to desire the Truth. When the Truth is preached and lived, hope abounds, and grace overflows. Truth is vast and infinite, but at base, Truth is radically simple: Love equals sacrifice. Vows are sacred and inviolable. Marriage is a reflection of Christ and His Church. God rewards faithfulness. Where sin abounds grace abounds even more. Miracles still happen, daily.
If we recognize that love is about the other, then the beauty of marriage suddenly opens up to us. If we remember that our true Spouse loved us to His death, despite our own unfaithfulness and sin, then our gratitude for that unspeakable love will lead us to love our own spouse unconditionally, for love of Christ. I have seen so many miracles come out of "disaster" marriages, that I see hope all around me. We can never say that "this marriage is beyond hope." God redeems it all. If we don't believe that, then we Catholics have forgotten who we are. We are a people of hope and redemption, and there is nothing less pessimistic than that!
Leila Miller. "An Honest Conversation about the Modern Family." Chaste Love Magazine (June 20, 2020).
Reprinted by permission of Chaste Love and Leila Miller.
Leila Miller is a Catholic wife and mother. She and her husband Dean have eight children, ages 28 to 10, and 10 grandchildren. Leila was a poorly-catechized Catholic who almost left the Church before her reversion. Since then, she has taught the Faith for 25 years, and her first blog, the popular Little Catholic Bubble, ran for eight years, before her readers convinced her to start writing books. Those books now include Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today's Tough Moral Issues (co-authored with Trent Horn of Catholic Answers); Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak; Raising Chaste Catholic Men; and Impossible Marriages Redeemed: They Didn't End the Story in the Middle. Leila’s current blog can be found at LeilaMiller.net. She and her family live in Phoenix, Arizona.Copyright © 2020 Chaste Love
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