“The common good embraces the sum total of all those conditions of social life which enable individuals, families, and organizations to achieve complete an effective fulfillment.” – Pope St. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, no. 74
What does “the common good” of society mean?
The Catechism’s section on the common good (nos. 1905-1917) lists three essential components:
- Respect for the person
- Social well-being and development
It notes, “The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: ‘The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around’ (Gaudium et Spes, no. 26). This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love” (CCC, no. 1912).
To put it simply, society should be ordered in such a way that people will find it easier to be good, even to get to heaven—to develop their gifts and capacities in peace, carrying out their duties and responsibilities without having to struggle against oppression or fear, able to act according to their consciences. The common good is meant to ensure that people may live a “truly human life” (CCC, no. 1908). Government, the state, has a role to play in upholding the common good (see CCC, no. 1910) by supporting institutions that are good for all.
Strong marriages—marriages in which a man and a woman stay together for their entire lives—are good for society as well as for the couple themselves. They serve as examples to the community of the virtues of love, fidelity and perseverance. They demonstrate the capacity of the human being to live up to his or her promises. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.”[i] Children who are raised in homes with their own married mother and father enjoy stability that no other family structure offers.[ii]
If we consider these points, it becomes clear that marriage is important to the common good of society—the institution of marriage, properly understood as a man and a woman, bound to one another and their children, helps everyone in the society to flourish. It encourages young men and women to make promises to one another if they want to be “a couple”; it gives a societal recognition of such a promise and the community’s investment in helping the couple to keep it; and it gives children the stable homes they deserve.
The series we are beginning on the MUR blog accompanies short segments of the video Made for the Common Good. In this video, various experts and witnesses discuss the importance of marriage to society. During the next five weeks, we will explore these themes a bit more. The questions provided can be used for personal reflection or for group discussion.
[i] G.K. Chesterton. “The Wildest of Adventures,” in Brave New Family, ed. Alvaro de Silva (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990, p. 51.
[ii] There are many studies that show this. One article about family structure is: W. Bradford Wilcox, “Family Structure Matters – Science Proves It,” National Review, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/425957/family-structure-matters-science-proves-it-w-bradford-wilcox (accessed February 9, 2017).