“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 key 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 said last year.
Man and woman marry. They form a family. Multiple families form a village. Multiple villages form a region. Multiple regions form a country. And the foundation of this entire process is the family. The family has a huge, vital and crucial role in our society.
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” (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1646-1648)
The family has the capacity to impact our whole society. The family, by its life-style of forgiveness and compassion; by its life-style 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; we learn about compassion; we learn about repeated forgiveness and we learn about prayerful and attentive worship (Catechism of the Catholic Church 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; it is where some of us are born; it is where we first hear about God; it is where we learn about forgiveness; it is where we learn about compassion; it is where we learn to pray; it is 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 has said.
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 childhood 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 family members of this holy family trusted in God; trusted in a higher power; believed in God; believed in a higher power; hoped in God; hoped in a higher power; relied on God; relied on a higher power; were inspired by God; were inspired by a higher power.
Forgiveness for this holy family was 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; 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; to feel each other’s celebrations; to feel each other’s pain; to feel each other’s suffering; to feel each other’s sorrow; to feel each other’s 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. 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.
What gifts do I bring to my family?
What kind of family do I want to live in?
How can I be the change I want to see in my family?
Msgr. Thomas J. Morgan is a retired priest of the Diocese of Camden.