The Personalist Project

The Pope recounts all our afflictions with such deep insight and loving concern in paragraphs 39 - 56.

Our world is preoccupied with ephemera. We treat everything—even the deepest, most important things, such as affective relationships—in a consumerist, egotistical way.

I am struck—even a little surprised—by his mention (more than once) of narcissism. Lately I have come to think of narcissism as the prime spiritual antagonist of the person. It is the mode of the antichrist in our day—an entrapping, destroying mode—the antithesis of love and communion. Some days I think maybe it's just me: I'm seeing narcissism everywhere because I happen to have encountered it in my own life. Now I have papal confirmation that my experience is part of a broad trend.

In paragraph 52, he raises the problem I'd hoped he would: the scourge of violence within families:

...violence within families breeds new forms of social aggression, since “family relationships can also explain the tendency to a violent personality. This is often the case with families where communication is lacking, defensive attitudes predominate, the members are not supportive of one another, family activities that encourage participation are absent, the parental relationship is frequently conflictual and violent, and relationships between parents and children are marked by hostility. Violence within the family is a breeding-ground of resentment and hatred in the most basic human relationships”.

He notes too that violence isn't limited to the physical realm. Verbal abuse is a form of violence, so is emotional neglect and a climate of hostility. 

Immediately after, the Pope reaffirms the indispensability of marriage as the ground of civilization:

...only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life... No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.

At the same time, he takes care to distinguish the essence of marriage—as exclusive, indissoluble, and life-giving—from the old patriarchal form of marriage that has rightly been rejected in our day.

Surely it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of the traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence, yet this should not lead to a disparagement of marriage itself, but rather to the rediscovery of its authentic meaning and its renewal. 

I wish more traditionalists would open their hearts and minds to this aspect of modern experience. Feminism (for instance) is not reducible to a nihilistic rejection of maternity or a hatred of men. It also represents a valid protest against real injustices, and an assertion of real values, which have been affirmed as true by the Church.

If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women.

The Pope makes clear that equality doesn't mean sameness. Men and women have different, complementary roles in family life, according to their respective natural gifts. What he rejects is the subordination of women to men. He also rejects unambiguously the new gender ideology that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family." 

It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift.

But these are only a sampling of the range of challenges and problems facing the family today. He mentions reproductive technologies, euthanasia and assisted suicide, addiction, sex trafficking, economic stress, and many others. He ends Chapter 2 on a note of hope, though. We are never to lose hope.

The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to a yearning that is part and parcel of human existence”.48 If we see any number of problems, these should be, as the Bishops of Colombia have said, a summons to “revive our hope and to make it the source of prophetic vi- sions, transformative actions and creative forms of charity”.49 

Chapter 3 is about "the vocation of the family." I'll take that up in my next post.

Comments (2)

Emily Carling

#1, May 26, 2016 9:53am

"Lately I have come to think of narcissism as the prime spiritual antagonist of the person. It is the mode of the antichrist in our day—an entrapping, destroying mode—the antithesis of love and communion."

I am so glad you shared this- thank you! I have heard many people I know throw the term 'narcissism' around but lack the full understanding of it. But it is so refreshing to read what you wrote! The disorder is a poison of the person, in my opinion. I watched my parents' marriage fall apart because of it (among other things, to be sure), and now watching them individually live with this personality disorder is equally as painful. Not to mention, watching those in my family who have not received help fall into the same patterns of behavior. Such a heartache on the family, and I speak from personal experience. I am very glad the Pope mentioned it in his writing. Narcissism seems to be epidemic, but its much worse, I think, than we (collectively) know. I found this enlightening article in the healing process, I am feeling moved to post it here, it is edifying. What it revealed was startling to learn as an adult child. [url=][/url]

Katie van Schaijik

#2, May 26, 2016 10:30am

Thanks for your comment and link, Emily. I've come across that wordpress article before. It's a good one.

Another resource I've found particularly helpful for probing the phenomenon  is The Narcissistic Family. It shows how children can be damaged by a narcissistic family system, even when it neither parent has the personality disorder. 

I understand it in terms of the master/slave hermeneutic. In that sinful dynamic of fallen human nature, the stronger, more powerful person or persons dominate and use the weaker and more vulnerable for their own pleasure or profit. In family life, it means the parents use their children to serve their needs and interests rather than "laying down their lives" to serve the needs of the children.

I think very often they have no idea they're doing it. Especially in religious families, parents understand themselves to be establishing right order, exercising authority and teaching right and wrong. In fact, though, they're being abusive, interfering with the right development of their children's personalities, and setting them up for codependency.

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