“All of the love that God has in Him, all of the beauty that God has in Himself, all of the truth that God has in Himself, he gives to the family. And a family is truly a family when it is able to open its arms and receive all of this love.”
Pope Francis, Address at the World Meeting of Families,
September 26, 2015
We just started using the term “transformational” for our St. Margaret of Cortona program for families and for Christ House, our home for homeless men, when we were working on our five year plan, Vision 2020. Somehow “transitional” just didn’t capture what we were trying to do with these families and these men.
We wanted to be clear that while self-sustaining and finding a home is critical, we are not rapid rehousers who see success solely when a person has a roof over his head and a place to rent. That is necessary but not sufficient from our point of view.
What’s missing in the rapid rehouser world? What’s missing in the ‘transitional’ world from homeless to being in a home?
The same thing that is always missing in the utilitarian perspective, love. John Paul II put it best:
Love is “the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.”
(Familiaris Consortio, 22)
If we are not loving and being loved, we are apt to be lost, wandering aimlessly whether we have a home or not. We will be tempted to selfishness and a willfulness that is imposing, but not to self-sacrifice that is self-giving and rewarding.
So, we decided to rev it up a bit at St. Margaret’s and brought in our excellent Family Services clinicians to teach the parents, many of whom are single moms. (A high percentage of homeless families are moms with kids under the age of five — this is a profile of many of the homeless families at St. Margaret’s.)
How could they learn to play with their kids so they might be able to adopt a posture of more love and affection to their children? You might ask ‘Does this need to be taught?’ Actually, it doesn’t really need to be taught, but it needs to be rediscovered and prioritized in families that face so many day to day struggles and a seemingly endless stream of losing propositions and stressors.
At St. Margaret’s, we can take care of some things to create an environment where moms and kids can play together and rediscover the one thing that no one can take away: their love and affection for each other.
As you might guess, these moms are weary and wary. Who are we to tell them how to love their children? Who are we to tell them how to parent? Indeed.
The Catholic Church sees parents as the people responsible for all aspects of their children’s lives. So we cannot usurp. But we can love them, honor their dignity as persons, and help them to be successful in this most fundamental vocation, the vocation of love.
To be honest, many of them are a bit cynical of love. In some cases, their lovers and husbands have hurt more than they have helped. They may never have received outward affection and love as a child or young adult. They might have grown up cynical and distrustful. They may have been seriously hurt and thought they had to resign themselves and their families to placing love on the back burner.
But we can accompany them and help them to reprioritize and emphasize this loving aspect of their families. We can usher them to a place where they can see the power of love and the dynamism of affection and consideration even amidst so many burdensome days and disappointments.
The case workers and directors of St. Margaret’s are taking the tact of love with every intervention they make. Sure, sometimes it is tough love and not every family succeeds. But we are trying to create a culture of love and respect.
We call the clinical model that our therapists use “Filial Family Therapy,” where play between parent and child leads to a stronger parent child relation and a stronger family. It’s a place where parent and child meet each other’s needs amidst the hecticness.
The most fundamental vocation, loving, is honored and fostered. We see love as transformational because Christ did (Mt 22:39). St. Paul saw it as the only thing that is truly transformational (1 Cor. 13:1,3). As Pope Francis told us, God gives his love, beauty and truth to the family.
Love transforms our residents, and it also transforms us. And everyone needs help in living the fundamental vocation of love, especially families.
For more information on our approach and programming at St. Margaret’s contact Veronica Roth at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 910-4845.
To volunteer at St. Margaret’s or Christ House or any of our programs please go to our volunteer website.