Here in the Christmas Octave, the Church bids us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. On the old calendar, it falls later (the Sunday after Epiphany), which makes a little more sense as the Gospels appointed for the feast often take place far forward in time from His birth. The Gospel this year is only forty days into the future (as compared to other years, when the gospel takes place twelve years into the future), but it 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. It is important that we understand what God teaches and effectively proclaim it. In pondering the question of what a holy family is, recall that the primary meaning of the word “holy” is “set apart” or “different. Thus, even if our families are not sin-free, they can be holy if we follow God’s plan.
On 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 Sunday 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).
In these passages we see the basic structure of the family:
- A father in honor over his children
- A wife and mother who is supportive of her husband and his authority
- A husband who supports, loves, and encourages his wife
- A mother in authority over her children
- Children who honor and obey their parents
- Fathers, and by extension mothers, who instruct and admonish their children, not in a way that badgers or discourages them, but rather encourages them and builds them up.
- A family structure that helps children to advance in wisdom and age and in favor before God and man.
- A father, a mother, and children, all reverential and supportive of one another in their various roles and duties.
This is God’s basic teaching on family and marriage. It 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. 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 (Gen 2:24). To this first couple, God gave the mandate, Be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:22).
Note, that 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? Because that is what is best and just for children! Children both need and deserve a stable, lasting union of their father and mother as well as the complementary influence of the two different sexes. It is the best environment in which to raise and form children. The family structure of a father and a mother, a male and a female parent, as set forth by God, flows from what is best and just for children. It is what is sensible and what is best sociologically and psychologically for the proper development of children.
Even without opening the Bible, one can see that it makes sense that a child should have a father and a mother, should have 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. 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 children. God’s biblical mandate that marriage should consist of a father and a mother is not without basis in human reason and common sense.
To intentionally deprive a child of this environment is both unjust to the child and unwise. 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 the relationship between mother and father should be a stable one, something that the children can depend on from day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year.
The proper structure for marriage is set forth both by God and human reason.
II. Struggles – Yet what should be obvious to us as a culture seems to be strangely absent from the minds of many. Let us be clear: sin clouds judgment and makes many think that what is sinful and improper is in fact acceptable or even good. It is not. In our current culture we gravely sin against God and against our children through repeated misconduct and by our 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 that marriage and the family are in crisis today. It is also clear that it is children who suffer the most. The modern Western world displays a mentality that is both deeply flawed and gravely harmful to children. The crisis is a result of the willful, sinful habits of the vast majority of adults in the areas of sexuality, marriage, and family life. The rebellion of adults against the plan and order of God has caused endless grief and hardship and has led to a cultural environment that is poisonous to the proper raising and blessing of children.
Children have much to suffer in this world of our collective making. While not all of us are equally guilty of contributing to their suffering, 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 each other until death do them part.
The problems begin with fornication, which is rampant in our culture. While most do not think of this as a sin of injustice, it is. It is so primarily because of what it does to children.
Many children are conceived out of fornication, and tragically many of them are murdered by abortion. The overwhelming majority of abortions are performed on unmarried women. Despite all the claims that contraception makes every baby a wanted baby, the data show that nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion has skyrocketed since the widespread availability of contraception. This is because the problem is not fertility; it is lust, promiscuity, fornication, and adultery. Contraception fuels these problems with the lie that there is no necessary connection between sex and procreation. The promises associated with contraception are lies; contraception has the opposite effect.
Fornication and the contraceptive mentality (founded on lies) cause grave harm to children, beginning with their death in huge numbers. Children conceived of fornication who do (thankfully) survive are nevertheless (typically) subjected to the injustice of being born into irregular situations. There are single mothers, some single fathers, and many other abnormalities.
Add to this picture the large number of divorced families. Make no mistake about it, these shredded families cause great hardship and pain for children, including being shuttled back and forth between households each week, having to meet “Daddy’s new girlfriend” or “Mommy’s new boyfriend,” and enduring all sorts of other family chaos. Blended families also dramatically increase the likelihood of sexual and emotional abuse, because strictly legal relationships seldom have the built-in protections of natural ones.
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 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 to be treated for 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 (Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue, William B. May).
Add to the burdens that children must experience the new trend of adoption by same-sex couples. 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 for children must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. In many states, same-sex couples and heterosexual couples must be given equal consideration as adoptive parents. It is the adults and their “rights” that seem to matter most; what is best for children is quite secondary.
Here, then, are the struggles we face. Our families are in grave crisis and most children in our culture are not raised in the stable and committed homes they deserve. Let us be even more clear: to intentionally deprive children of this sort of home by raising them outside of a (traditional (male/female)) marriage is sinful, wrong, and an injustice.
Disclaimer – It is not possible to judge every instance of a broken family in sweeping fashion. The modern world has experienced a cultural tsunami and many have been influenced by lies and false promises. If you are divorced, you may well have tried valiantly to save your marriage but your spouse was unwilling. Perhaps in a moment of weakness, perhaps before your conversion to Christ, you fell and bore children outside of marriage, but have done your best since then to raise them well.
In the end, though, we must say that children have had much to suffer on account of adult misbehavior. 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.”
This 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.
- 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, does them a grave injustice.
- Married couples must learn to work out their differences (as was done in the past) and not head for divorce court, something that offends God (cf Malachi 2:16).
- The needs of children far outweigh the preferences and needs of adults.
- Marriage is about what is best for children, not adults.
Regardless of 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. Even if many of us have fallen short, we must not hesitate to announce God’s plan.
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. Thinking that we had better ideas, we have caused great sorrow and hardship for our descendants. We have acted unjustly. We have murdered our children through abortion. Through our selfish misbehavior, we have sown the wind and now our descendants have inherited the whirlwind. It is time to repent. We must help our progeny to rejoice in chastity, marriage, and the biblical family. Otherwise we are doomed to perish.
God has a plan. Our strategy to address this crisis of our times must be to get back to God’s structure for our families.