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Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 3.4 (2000) 34-56

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Homelessness and the Modern Condition: The Family, Evangelization, and the Global Economy

David L. Schindler

We tend often today to divide personal--"private"--ethical issues, such as those of sexuality and life, from the "public" issues of economic and social justice, or again to detach questions regarding personal conversion from those regarding corporate action and the transformation of structures. We need to reject these dichotomies in order to be faithful to the church's mission, or radical missionary opening, to the world, as intended by Gaudium et spes. I will attempt to defend this proposal in terms of the family's involvement in the economic world. My proposal is simply this: that the love proper to that most basic, particular, and intimate dwelling place called the home is appropriate not only for the family in its nature as a (so-called) private institution, but also for each member of the family as he or she is involved--as a consumer and a worker, manager, or owner--with public institutions.

In the present forum, I can offer only an outline of an argument. I will do so in four parts: a concrete description of the family designed to suggest the core of my proposal (I); a statement of my presuppositions about the nature of the family and of its relation to [End Page 34] the broader culture, drawn from three different sources (II); a brief description of the family's "domestication" of space and time, and its implications for the economy (III); a summary proposal of what Parts I, II, and III entail in terms of the church's mission to and presence in the world (IV).

I: Toward a "Civilization of Love"

Familial relations consist above all in giving and receiving life, in the integral totality of all of life's dimensions. It is of the essence of this life and these relations that they take real time and real space. They require, at the most basic level, a patient--contemplative--openness to the other as other; enduring commitment; a sustained presence of each to the other, most of all in times of intense joy or suffering; attention to detail; special care in critical moments of dependence and vulnerability (for example, in the period of gestation or the first years of life or in the case of serious illness or disability); 1 a deep sense of gratitude and humility, of the importance of the "useless" (e.g., play, beauty): in sum, a style of life governed above all by an awareness of (familial) reality as essentially generous and relational.

What all of this means can be illustrated simply (if partially) by the cooking of a meal. A dinner that is truly "homemade" as distinct from "store-bought" begins from scratch, and involves a different sense of time, space, matter, and motion. Taking time to prepare the meal is understood most basically not as a loss, but as a necessary condition for preparing a dinner of quality: a dinner that is attentive to the particular tastes and desires of this unique--small and local--community, and especially to the health requirements of this community's weakest members. Patient attention to detail in this context is thus not only not insignificant, it is everything: it is the condition for producing a meal in its integrity. A home-cooked meal, in short, itself represents an economy (oijkonomiva) that recognizes the values [End Page 35] of the modern economy (e.g., financial concerns), but integrates these into the deeper and more comprehensive reality of the meal as gift.

Evidently, much more could be said and other examples given here. I wish only to say enough initially to illustrate the burden of my proposal: the love proper to families, which is to say the life that is constitutive of the familial communio personarum, generates a new and distinctive sense of place and indeed of institutional structure: it transforms the space, time, matter, and...


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