Culture is a living organism, of interconnected relationships with universal strands. Culture is a people’s way of guiding themselves through life, from conception to death and through all the critical milestones on the way to life on “the other side”.
A people distill their experience into the wise ways of elegantly celebrating these milestones — of relating with each other in definite protocols in dress, in speech, in ways of expressing joys or sorrows; in being with each other and ways of supporting each other every step of the way. That is culture.
And high culture is when we, from all levels of wealth and education, put music and art and poetry and drama and song and dance to these steps through life.
How much of culture would vanish if we left out romance (courtship through marriage), how much poetry, song, dance, opera, novels, drama and art. Imagine these arts with no expression of romance.
The most exciting part of culture is the celebration of romance, from the first moment of interest in “the other” through the high drama of the ups and downs of coming closer and closer in affection, leading eventually to betrothal and marriage. The whole community looks on and hopes — or fears.
But behind all the excitement and drama of romance — eventually — lies the baby, the new life. The purpose of it all. This is the quieter but stronger joy, that transforms the beautiful young woman into the strong young mother who now has a fierce purpose in life, a purpose that also transforms her husband, the young man moving from ‘carefreedom’ to steady worker and strong protector. And with each birth together they grow in strength and love — if all is going as it should. If they love. If they live for the other.
Thus at the center of culture — of all the weaves of its tapestry — lies the baby. But also lies prayer, for — as all with common sense or the experience of life we all know — the help of God is needed to rise to such love (and the data illustrate it so).
However, it is a mistake to see ourselves as guardians of old cultures, though we love them and bring much of them forward with us, especially the more intimate and the deeply family forms within them. Rather, because we live in a very new and very different world, we are called to create our new ways of guiding and supporting each other — particularly in the more public, “high-art” and “low-art” forms — that express the drama of romance to the birth of the child and all the steps that child negotiates on its journey to its own romance with the one to whom it is going to give its heart for the rest of its life… and on to death, when that child finally goes home to God Who has watched over each of its steps — from that first moment of its creation when He and two other children of His, male and female, co-created this new wonderful being: their child.
We are all called to build these new cultures— the long dance of love and service to others around us but most of all service to the one to whom we have given our heart and to the children we together have called into existence for all eternity. We are the builders of a new culture that, interwoven with strands of modernity, will span the globe. For all these milestones through life need a similar guidance, universally, if they are to be successfully negotiated: fidelity, purity and chastity of heart, marriage, birth, motherhood and fatherhood, introduction of the child to God and the transcendental (to which they take to like ducks to water in the very early years when it should therefore begin), wisdom from parents and grandparents about life, love, hard work, friendship, loyalty to family, friends and community, enjoyment of festivities, time for family and friends, and, as preparation for the last journey to the next life, a richness in belonging selflessly to those close by. All these are universals. All peoples need their own wise ways of shepherding their offspring through life, thus giving the world variety in culture because of tradition, habitat, and religious beliefs.
Protecting each other’s different ways of negotiating these steps through life is a universal and global need. Honoring and permitting the differences is needed in a global community. This culture building is a new twist on a task as ancient as man, and as widespread as the dispersion of mankind through history.
All over the world, in all these cultures, the same melody can be heard, sung by every child, sung to all of us but most intimately to its father and mother: I need you both to love each other — in marriage — for without your married love I cannot become the person I am meant to be; without your marriage I cannot fully become myself. You owe this to me. It is my right. On it I am helplessly dependent. It is not only your gift to me. It is a justice — an inalienable right — a universal right you owe me and as I cry out for it, I cry out for justice. With all the other children of the world.
It is time to articulate this universal right of the child. It is the core strand of the weave of every culture, of all the cultures we are called to build anew for our children and grandchildren on into the centuries ahead.
In this just love lies life. Outside it lies death. We are called to life — always, everywhere, forever.
Pat Fagan is Senior Fellow and Director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI). This article is slightly adapted from a speech given at The World Congress of Families, in Budapest, May 27, 2017 and is republished from the MARRI blog with permission.