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 some sense. It is a bit odd to read, a mere five days after celebrating Jesus’ birth, a Gospel in which He is 12 years old. And then, next week, we have the Feast of Epiphany in which Jesus is an infant again.
Nevertheless, here we are. Perhaps, it is a good time to reflect on family life, as immediate and extended family often gather together during the Christmas season. Let us consider the family and marriage 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.
- 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
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. Within 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 describes 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). To this first couple, God gave the mandate, Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:22).
Thus, we have set forth biblically the basic structure of the family: a father, a mother, and children, all reverential and supportive of one another in their various roles and duties.
Note how the structure of the family take its basic form in terms of its essential fruit: procreation and rearing of children. Why should marriage be a stable and lasting union? Why is Adam told to cling to his wife and to form a stable and lasting union with her?
Because this is what is best and most just for children! Children both need and deserve the stable and lasting union of a father and a mother, the complementary influences of the two sexes. This is the best environment in which to raise and form children. Hence, the family structure of a father and a mother, a male and female parent, flows from what is best and most just for children. The structure of the family, as set forth by God, is rooted in what is best and most just for children. It is what is sensible and what is best, sociologically and psychologically, for the proper development of children.
Even without looking in the Bible, one can see how sensible it is for a child to have the influence and teaching of both a father and a mother, a male and a female. There are things that a father can teach and model for his children that a mother is not as well-suited to impart; conversely, a mother can teach and model for her children things that only she knows best.
This much is clear: both male and female influences are essential for the proper psychological and sociological development of children. 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 environment is both unwise and unjust to children. Hence, we see that the basic structure for marriage takes its shape from what is best and most 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 the marital relationship should be stable, something that children can depend on from day to day, month to month, and year to year.
Here, then, is the proper structure for marriage. It is set forth both by God and supported by human reason.
II. Struggles – Yet what should be obvious seems to be strangely absent from the minds of many. Sin clouds our judgment and makes some think that what is sinful and improper is in fact acceptable or even good. It is not. In our current modern culture, we gravely sin against God and against our children through consistent misconduct and by refusing 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 the family is in crisis today, and 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.
Marriage and family are in crisis due the willfully sinful habits of many adults in the areas of sexuality, marriage, and family life. This includes sins such as cohabitation, fornication, abortion, adultery, homosexual acts, pornography, the sexualization of children, and the sexual abuse of children. Add to this the widespread acceptance of contraception, which has facilitated the illusion of sex without consequences and promoted the lie that there is no necessary connection between children and sexual relations. The rebellion of adults against the plan and order of God has caused endless grief and hardship and created a culture that is poisonous to the family, the dignity of the individual, and the proper raising and blessing of children.
III. Strategy – What are we to do? Preach the Word! Whatever the sins of this present generation (and there are many), we must be prepared to unambiguously re-propose the wisdom of God’s Word to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Even if we have fallen short personally, we cannot hesitate to announce God’s plan for sexuality, marriage, and family.
Our strategic proclamation must include these key elements:
- There must be no sex before marriage, ever, under any circumstances. Sexual intercourse is rooted in the procreation of children and there is no legitimate engagement in it outside of the bonds of marriage. There are no exceptions to this.
- Children deserve and have the right to expect two parents, a father and mother, committed to each other until death do them part. Anything short of this is a grave injustice to children and a mortal sin before God.
- Neither homosexual unions, nor single parent households are an acceptable alternative to biblical marriage. To allow children to be subjected to such environments for the sake of political correctness does them a grave injustice.
- 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 resort to divorce, which offends God (cf Malachi 2:16).
- The needs of children far outweigh the preferences, “rights,” 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.
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 know better, we have caused great sorrow and hardship for our descendants. We have acted unjustly; we have murdered our children through abortion. Sowing in the wind, we 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.
God has a plan and it must be our strategy, our way out of our struggles and back to His structure for our families.