“God blessed them, and God said to them Be fruitful and multiply” (Gn 1:28).
In God’s plan the family is the primordial institution of humankind. It is older than any society. It is older than any state. It is an institution in its own right in relation to the state.
The state is supposed to support the family. The state is supposed to nurture the family. The state is supposed to protect the family. The state is supposed to respect the family. The state is supposed to preserve the family. The state is not supposed to intrude upon the rights of the family.
In God’s plan, the family is the bedrock of society. The family is the cell in our society. It is the key link in the chain that keeps the society together. “Families are the first place in which we are formed as persons and at the same time are the bricks for the building up of society” (Pope Francis, 2014).
Man and woman marry. They form a family. Multiple families form a community. Multiple communities form a region. Multiple regions form a country. And the foundation of this enterprise is the family. The family has a huge, vital and crucial role in our society.
Family Models How to Love Well
Fundamentally, the family models for all of humankind how to love well. The family models the love and care that exists between husband and wife. The family models the love and care that exists for the children. The family models how to live morally and how to live ethically. “Marriage itself and the good of the children demand total fidelity” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1646-1648).
The family has the capacity to impact our whole society. The family, by its lifestyle of forgiveness and compassion; by its lifestyle of giving and receiving love, can offer what is needed for peace and justice in the world. “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bear with one another and forgive one another” (Col 3:12).
St. John Chrysostom, as far back as the fourth century, called the Christian family “the domestic church.” He saw families as centers of living faith. He saw parents as the first heralds of the faith. He saw families as extremely important to the wider Church. “The little church is part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic family of domestic churches” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11).
St. John Chrysostom saw the home as the first school of the Christian life. He saw the home as the first place we learn about love, about compassion, about repeated forgiveness, about prayerful and attentive worship (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1657).
St. John Chrysostom viewed the family home as a sacred place. It is a holy place. It is where most of us are conceived, and where some of us are born. It is where we first hear about God. It is where we learn about forgiveness and compassion. It is where we learn to pray, where faith and values are ‘caught.’ It is where we are nursed when we are sick, and it is where many of us die.
The early Christians viewed the family as standing at the center of the Church’s mission to evangelize. It is through witness and testimony that the family self-evangelizes and, at the same time, evangelizes the wider community. “Families as domestic churches are called upon in a special way to pass on the faith to their respective milieu” (Cardinal Walter Kasper, 2014).
Jesus and the Family Environment
Jesus brought great dignity and honor to the “domestic church.” He spent more than 90 percent of His earthly life in a family environment. He spent his adolescence in a family environment. He spent his young adulthood in a family environment.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, like most families in their time and in our time, had their trials and tribulations. The stable was the delivery room for their child. They had their flight into Egypt. They lived as refugees. They lived on the periphery. They knew discrimination. They lost their son in the temple.
Yet, this “domestic church” had three key virtues that empowered them to become a “holy family.” They had a powerful and reverent faith. They had trust and reliance on God; they gave each other repeated forgiveness; and they gave compassionate care to each other.
Mary, a young and faith-filled teenager from Galilee, totally believed and totally trusted when the angel said to her, “You have won favor with God…the Holy Spirit will come upon you…nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:35-38).
Joseph, a faith-filled carpenter from Galilee, totally believed and totally trusted when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said to him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Mt 1:20).
Jesus proclaimed from the Torah in the local synagogue on the Sabbath, “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me…for he has anointed me…he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18).
All three members of this holy family trusted in God, believed in God, hoped in God, relied on God, were inspired by God.
Forgiveness and Letting Go
Forgiveness for this holy family meant letting go of attachments, letting go of bitterness, letting go of comparisons, letting go of competition, letting go of controlling, letting go of hatred, letting go of hurt, letting go of suspicion, letting go of judgments, letting go of negative judgments, letting go of tensions and letting go of fears.
Compassion for this holy family was their capacity to feel their way into each other’s lives, to feel each other’s joys and celebrations, to feel each other’s pain and suffering and to feel each other’s sorrow and grief.
The holy family had daily prayer in their home. They had silent time when God spoke to them. They had worship time when they came together in the synagogue with the wider community. There they publicly praised and thanked God for his many gifts, and it was there they asked God for more blessings.
Without a doubt the holy family had faith in God as an integral part of their lives. And all the recent research is proving that families and individuals who have faith in God and pray are healthier, happier and live longer than those who do not connect with God.
The 2015 Synod of Bishops is exploring further the key and indispensable role of the “domestic church” in evangelizing the wider community and in spiritually renewing the whole of our society in this millennium.
MSGR. MORGAN, a retired priest of the Diocese of Camden, is licensed in the state of New Jersey as a psychologist and as a marriage and family therapist.
|Why the Church Does Not Endorse So-called Same-sex marriage
134. Premising marriage as mainly erotic or emotional satisfaction, which is a step made easier by the separation of sex and procreation, also enables arguments for same-sex unions. In some countries today there are movements to redefine marriage as if it could include any strong affective or sexual relationship between any consenting adults. Where divorce and contraception are established habits and this revised vision of marriage has taken root, redefining marriage to include same-sex marriage can seem a plausible next step.
135. With respect to the idea of same-sex marriage, as is well known, the Church declines to bless or sanction it. This does not imply any denigration or failure to appreciate the intensity of same-sex friendships and love. As should be clear at this point in this catechesis, the Catholic Church holds that everyone is called to give and receive love. Committed, sacrificial, chaste, same-sex friendships should be esteemed. Because Catholics are committed to love, hospitality, interdependence, and “bearing one another’s burdens,” the Church at all levels will want to nurture and support opportunities for chaste friendship, always seeking solidarity with those who, for whatever reason, are unable to marry.
136. True friendship is an ancient and honorable vocation. St. Aelred of Rievaulx observed that the desire for a friend arises from deep within the soul. True friends produce a “fruit” and a “sweetness” as they help each other respond to God, encouraging one another in living the Gospel. “Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.”
137. But, as should also be clear by now, when Catholics speak of marriage, we are referring to something distinct from other relationships of particularly intense love, even if that love is deep and endures sacrificially and over long periods of time. Intense long-term affective intimacy is not sufficient for a marriage. Marriage, as indeed was universally recognized until very recently in the West, is premised on the duties arising from the possibilities and challenges posed by the procreative potential of a man and a woman.
138. The Church invites all men and women to see in their sexuality the possibility of a vocation. To reach maturity as a man or a woman means engaging certain questions to one’s self: how is God calling me to integrate my sex into his plan for my life? Created in the image of God, our destiny is always communion, sacrifice, service, and love. The question for each and every one of us is how we will donate the sexual aspects of our lives in marriage or in celibate community. In neither case is our erotic desire or romantic preference sovereign or autonomous; in both cases, we will inevitably be called upon to make sacrifices which we would not choose if we were writing our own scripts.