Family bonds are the virtue of the family, and poverty is the family’s its most direct enemy. Yet it would be a serious error to mistake the problem with society’s material poverty as a solely material problem. “It is not just a matter of bread.” The family is a benefit to society even as it resists the world because it affects “the interior formation of the person.” For example, children in poverty are especially keen for the love of the family, and material poverty directly attacks the family’s love for a child by replacing it with the pursuit of money. I am reminded of a previous audience in which Francis said that children are here the “first victims.”
Poverty is the world’s weapon and, in the way it is used, proves the evil of the ways of the world. It directly attacks the family because the family is the greatest defense against the world. If the family falls to poverty, there is nothing left to resist the other weapons of society. “Ceasar and Mammon … violence and money” would have no conquest without poverty, and so war, their chief means of conquest, is a chief cause of poverty. It is “a great predator of life, of souls.”
And yet, among the poor, the family often endures. That is how strong the family is to resist the powers of the world. Poor families are “a true school of humanity that saves societies from barbarism.” To our shame, they are in poverty; to their honor, they teach us about the strength of family bonds.
Poverty does not go away in these families, but remains, from generation to generation in the same family it is a “destructive spiral” forced on a family by the ways of that family’s society. Society’s chief virtue, the “enjoyment of individual well-being,” cannot come at the cost of “the exploitation of the family bonds.”
Pope Francis, in a way, points out that poverty complicates the lives of the poor. I don’t mean that in some condescending way. I mean that even as the family is kept from work, or if both parents are forced to work, the focus shifts to money and away from the love of children, that further the parents and the family are thrust into the marketplace of worldly ideas. Those ideas consistently emphasize shallow appearances, cluttering the lives of everyone with false virtues such that the true virtues are lost.
This is also why members of the Church must either vow poverty or practice simplicity, because in doing so the Church has both solidarity with the poor and has the power to cut through the lies the poor have been fed, leaving only the true virtues. Simplicity of life has that benefit, that we can focus our lives on that part of life that matters: the moral, sacramental, and religious life in Jesus Christ.
Yes, there is a sense in which we have been fed the same lies as the poor, that passing things are the things to pursue. This is why simplicity in our own lives is so important; it frees us through our avoiding of the latest doodad, but the poor have this in an especially acute way. The same destructive spending habits of the middle class are normalized by society but are more devastating for the poor. In the United States, the world teaches us we should grasp at expensive consumer electronics beyond our means, but they are further beyond the means of the poor, and, though games and entertainments are fun and at best viceless, they are not virtues.
As the materially poor often teach us the strength of that family bond that is the root of all virtue, so we should teach the virtues that are the natural fruit of the family bond; more important, and the foundation of this interaction, is the solidarity with the poor which leads to justice for the poor.