Here in the middle of the Christmas Octave, the Church bids us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. On the old calendar, the Feast of the Holy Family falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which makes a little more sense since the gospels appointed for the feast often take us far forward in time mere days after He is born. The gospel this year is only forty days into the future (unlike other years when the gospel takes us twelve years into the future), but today’s gospel is still well past the Feast of the Epiphany, which we have yet to celebrate.
Nevertheless, here we are. Perhaps it is a good time to reflect on family life. For, at Christmas time, family and extended family often gather together. We are also in the midst of a reflection by the Church at Synods in Rome on the modern problems associated with the family. These problems are rooted in the loss of God’s vision for human families and sexuality. Pray for the synod members, that they will look less to diseases now and more to the solutions given in God’s Word. It is true that we must understand the problems, but it is even more important that we understand what God teaches and effectively proclaim it.
In terms of this Feast of the Holy Family, let us consider marriage and family along three lines: structure, struggles, and strategy.
I. Structure – All through the readings for today’s Mass, we are instructed on the basic form, the basic structure of the family. For example,
- God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons (Sirach 3:2).
- May your wife be like a fruitful vine, in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants, around your table (Psalm 128:3).
- Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so that they may not become discouraged (Colossians 3:20–21).
- Each year, Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover … Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety … (Luke 2:45, 51).
- And he was obedient to them; … And Jesus advanced in age and wisdom and favor before God and man (Luke 2:51–52).
And thus we see the basic structure of family:
- A father in honor over his children
- A wife and mother, supportive of her husband and his authority
- A mother, having authority over her children, supported, loved, and encouraged by her husband and obeyed by her children
- Children who both honor and obey their parents
- Fathers, and by extension mothers, who instruct and admonish their children, but not in a way that badgers and discourages them, but in a way that encourages and builds them up
- A family structure that helps children to advance in wisdom and age, and in favor before God and man
- So, a father, a mother, and children, all reverential and supportive of one another in their various roles and duties.
Here, then, is God’s basic teaching on family and marriage. Here is the basic structure for the family as God sets it forth: a man who loves his wife and a woman who loves her husband. And in this stable, lasting, and faithful union of mutual support and love, they conceive and raise their children in the holy fear of the Lord.
Add to this, the principal description of the book of Genesis, which lays out how God sets forth marriage: “A man shall leave his father and mother, cling to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). And to this first couple, God gives the mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22).
Note, too, how the structure of the family takes its basic form based on its essential work: procreation and the rearing of children. Why should marriage be a stable and lasting union? Why is Adam told to cling to his wife, to form a stable and lasting union with her? Why? Because this is what is best and just for children! Children both need and deserve a stable and lasting union of their father and mother, and the complementary influence of the two different sexes. This is what is best for children to be raised and formed. Hence, the family structure of a father and a mother, a male and a female parent, flows from what is best and just for children. The structure of the family, as set forth by God, is rooted in what is best and just for children. This is what is sensible and best, sociologically and psychologically, for the proper development of children.
Even before we open the Bible, it makes sense that a child should have a father and a mother, the influence and teaching of both a male and a female. There are things that a father, a male, can teach a child that a mother, a female, cannot teach as well. Further, the mother, a female, can teach and model for children what only she knows best. Both male and female influences are essential for the proper psychological and sociological development of the child. Clearly, then, God’s biblical mandate that marriage should consist of a father and a mother is not without basis in simple human reason and common sense.
To intentionally deprive a child of this context is both unjust to the child and unwise. Hence, we see that the basic structure for marriage takes its shape from what is best and just for children. Both God and nature provide for a father and a mother, a male and a female, to conceive and raise a child.
It also makes sense, based on simple human reasoning, that that relationship should be stable, something the child can depend on from day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year, through all the formative years.
Here then is the proper structure for marriage. It is set forth both by God and human reason.
II. Struggles – And yet, what should be obvious to us as a culture seems to be strangely absent in the minds of many. Let us be clear: sin clouds judgment and makes many think that what is sinful and improper is in fact okay or even good. It is not. In our current culture we gravely sin against God and against our children by consistent misconduct and by the refusal to accept what is obviously true. The words of St. Paul are fulfilled in our modern times: their senseless minds were darkened, and they became vain and foolish in their reasoning (Rom 1:21).
It is clear today that the family is in grave crisis. And it is also clear that it is the children who suffer the most. Our modern age in the western world shows forth a mentality that is both deeply flawed and gravely harmful to children.
Marriage and family are in great crisis due to the willful and sinful habits of the vast majority of adults in our culture regarding sexuality, marriage, and family life. The rebellion of adults against the plan and order of God has caused endless grief and hardship, and has set forth a culture that is poisonous to the proper raising and blessing of children.
Previously, there has commentary on this on the blog regarding this. Without repeating whole blog posts, the following excerpts stands forth:
Children have much to suffer in this world of our collective making. And while not all of us are equally guilty of contributing to the suffering of children, none of us is wholly innocent either, if for no other reason than our silence.
Consider that most children born today are no longer born into the stable and lasting family units they justly deserve, with a father and mother committed to one another till death do them part.
The problems begin with fornication, which is rampant in our culture. And while most do not think of this as a sin of injustice, it is. It is so because of what it does primarily to children.
The fact is, many children are conceived of fornication. Tragically, most of these children who are thus conceived are outright murdered by abortion. 85% of abortions are performed on unmarried women. And for all the vaunted declarations of how contraception makes every baby a wanted baby, nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion has skyrocketed with the availability of contraception. This is because the problem is not fertility; it is lust, promiscuity, fornication, and adultery. And contraception fuels these problems by further enabling them with the lie that there is no necessary connection between sex and procreation. The promises associated with contraception are lies; contraception does the opposite of what it promises.
Thus fornication and the contraceptive mentality (founded on lies) cause grave harm to children, beginning with their death in huge numbers. And the children conceived of fornication who do (thankfully) survive are nevertheless subjected to the injustice of usually being born into irregular situations. There are single mothers, some single fathers, and many other irregularities.
Add to this picture the large number of divorced families. And make no mistake about it, these shredded families cause great hardships and pain for children that include children being shuttled back and forth between different households each week, having to meet “daddy’s new girlfriend” or “mommy’s new boyfriend,” and all sorts of other family chaos. Blended families also dramatically increase the likelihood of sexual and emotional abuse, since legal relationships seldom have the built-in protections of natural relationships.
All of this misbehavior, individual and cultural, harms children. Not being raised in a traditional marriage dramatically increases a child’s likelihood of suffering many other social ills, starting with poverty.
The chief cause of poverty in this country, is the single motherhood, absent fatherhood.
71% of poor families are not married.
Children of single parent homes are 2 times more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime,
2 times more likely be treated for emotional and behavioral problems,
Twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school,
33% more likely to drop out of school,
3 times more likely to end up in jail by age 30.
50% more likely to live in poverty as adults,
And twice as likely to have a child outside of marriage themselves. [*]
And add to the burdens children must experience, the new trend of same-sex adoption. Never mind that it is best for the psychological development of a child to have a father and a mother, a male and a female influence. No, what is best and just children must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Same-sex couples must now be given equal consideration under the law (in many states) to heterosexual couples. It’s the adults and their rights that seem to matter most here; what is best for children is quite secondary.
Here then are our struggles. Our families are in grave crisis and MOST children in our culture are not raised in the stable and committed homes they deserve. And let us be even more clear: to intentionally deprive children of this sort of home by raising them outside of marriage, or in same-sex unions, etc., is sinful, wrong, and an injustice.
Disclaimer – Let us also be clear that it is not possible to personally judge every case of a broken family. The modern world has experienced a cultural tsunami and many have been influenced by lies and other false promises. It may be true that, if you are divorced, you tried to save your marriage but your spouse was unwilling. Perhaps in a moment of weakness, perhaps before your your conversion to Christ, you fell and bore children outside of marriage, but have done your best to raise them well.
But in the end we must say that children have had much to suffer on account of adult misbehavior in our culture. It is a true and sad fact, and we need to repent and beg God’s grace and mercy to undo our grave sins of commission, omission, and silence. We have set forth a bitter world for our children to inherit.
III. Strategy – What are we to do? In a phrase, “Preach the Word.” Whatever the sins of us in this present generation (and there are many), we must be prepared to repropose, unambiguously, the wisdom of God’s Word to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Even if many of us in the current generation have fallen short, we cannot hesitate to announce God’s plan for sexuality, marriage, and family.
Our strategic proclamation must include these key elements:
- No sex before marriage, ever, under any circumstances. Sexual intercourse is rooted in the procreation of children and there is no legitimate use of it outside of marriage, ever. There are no exceptions to this.
- Children deserve and have the right to expect two parents, a father and a mother, committed to each other till death do them part. Anything short of this is a grave injustice to children and a mortal sin before God.
- Gay unions, or single mothers and fathers are NOT an acceptable alternative to biblical marriage. To intentionally subject children to this, for the sake of political correctness or for the perceived needs of adults, is a grave injustice to them.
- Marriage is about what is best for children, not adults.
- Married couples must learn to work out their differences (as was done in the past) and not rush to divorce courts, which offends God (cf Malachi 2:16).
- The needs of children far outweigh the preferences and needs of adults.
Whatever the personal failings of any of us in this present evil age (cf Gal 1:4), our strategy must be to preach the undiluted plan of God for sexuality, marriage, and family to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
In short, “Back to the Bible! Back to the plan of God! Away with modern experiments and unbiblical schemes!” God has given us a plan. And we, thinking we had better ideas, have caused great sorrow and hardship for our descendants. We have acted unjustly, murdered our children through abortion, and, sowing in the wind, have caused those who have survived our misbehavior to inherit the whirlwind. It is time to repent and help our heirs to rejoice in chastity, marriage, and biblical family. Otherwise we are doomed to perish.
God has a plan and it must be our strategy to get out of our struggles and back to God’s structure for our families.
This song says, “So, humbly I come to you and say. As I sound aloud the warfare of today. Hear me, I pray. What about the children?”