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The Book: The Catholic Family in the Modern World
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Imprimi Protest: Joseph P. Daoust, S.J.
Nihil Obstate: Richard J. Schuler
Imprimatur: John R. Roach, D.D., Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Marriage and the Family before Christ
The Redemption of the Family
Christianity Enters the Ancient World
The Pillars of the Christian Family
Anyone who has knowledge of the modern world realizes that the family in one country or another is in deep trouble. Nothing less than the survival of whole nations is at stake as we see family life disintegrating. There are tens of millions of abortions annually throughout the world; and by now, scores of millions of people are living in what we would call broken marriage, which means broken families.
There must be some deep reason for this catastrophe. There is. The disintegration of the family, in one western nation after another is the result of disintegration of Christianity in these societies. As a once-Christian nation becomes de-Christianized, the family in these nations begins to break down. The breakdown of the family in once-flourishing Christian countries is the consequence of a de-Christianized society.
What, then, is the solution? Its obvious. Restore authentic Christianity and you will restore family life. Our reflections will come in stages. We will briefly see that before the coming of Christ marriage and the family were not what we Christians understand them to be. Then we shall look at what Christ did to elevate marriage and the family by giving them stability founded in charity that was simply unknown in previous human history. Then a quick look at how the ancient world reacted to the rise of the Christian family in its midst. Finally, and most practically, we will ask what means Catholic families should use: to preserve their marriage, to reform, and, if necessary, to rebuild family life on the foundations of authentic Christianity.
Marriage and the Family Before Christ
The Incarnation took place at the peak of Roman imperial history. As St. Luke tells us, it was in obedience to a decree of the Emperor Caesar Augustus that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to be registered by the Roman officials. It was the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, who finally condemned Jesus to death on Calvary. It was under the Roman Emperor Nero that Saints Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome and it was the Roman Emperors, one after another, who for the first three centuries of the Churchs existence persecuted the Christians, beheaded them, threw them to the lions in the Coliseum and aimed to wipe out the very name of Christina from the Roman vocabulary.
What was the condition of marriage and the family in the Roman Empire at the dawn of Christianity? It was pagan, thoroughly pagan in every sense of the word. Contraception was so widely practiced that, we can say, it was universal in the Roman Empire. A Roman writer has one of his women characters say, What need have I of children? I live well, happily, peacefully doing as I please.
Contraception goes back to the earliest days of recorded history. Historians of contraception trace its practice to as early as 2800 B.C. By the end of the first century B.C., the Greeks and Romans had become masters of the art of contraception. However, they never really distinguished between contraception and abortion. The drugs that a woman used were calculated to not only avoid conception but to destroy whatever conception in the womb may have taken place.
Abortion was correspondingly widespread in the Roman Empire. There were no laws prohibiting abortion. The one effective control was to allow the husband to impose the death penalty on his wife if she aborted a child without his permission. Every husband had the right to order his wife to abort if he did not want the child. The father had a legal right to demand that his wife abort if he told her to, and Roman law backed him in insisting that his wife abort the unborn child.
As the Roman Empire became more materially wealthy, its acceptance of abortion became so commonplace that the Roman philosopher, Seneca, finally concluded, There is no longer room for any remedy where everything which had once been a vice is now a part of the common pattern. And he added, There is no point to having laws against abortion because everybody does it. This same Seneca, in a letter to his wife, casually describes the then current practice of abortion by fashionable women to preserve their beautiful figures.
Infanticide was commonplace. Between abortion and infanticide there is no statistical way we can tell which was more widely practiced in the Roman Empire of the first century B.C. or the first century A.D. But we do know it was among the poorer classes who could not afford a drug induced abortion, that infanticide was more popular. It was much cheaper to kill a child already born than to take expensive drugs by the woman who was with child. Behind this practice of killing their newly born were several factors:
Does a man hate the members of his own body when he uses the knife upon them? There is no anger there but the pitying desire to heal. Mad dogs they knock on the head; the fierce and savage ox we slay, sickly sheep we put to the knife to keep them from infecting the flock. Unnatural progeny we destroy, so also drown children who, at birth, are weakly and abnormal. It is not anger, but reason that separates the hurtful from the sound.
Marriage among the Romans was essentially cohabitation. Historians distinguish three kinds of union between men and women. The first and most stable form of union was where the woman became, by law, the property of the man who married her. She thus became independent of her father and the Roman law made sure she was totally dependent on the husband. But even in this legal kind of union, the husband was legally free to divorce his wife. Later on, as womens liberation entered the Roman Empire, the wife was also free to divorce her husband.
In the second type of union, the woman remained under the legal control of her father although she lived with the man who she called her husband. But here too divorce with the right to remarry was sanctioned by the law and all but universally practiced. Divorce was prevalent in the golden age of Roman history. Pompey (106-48 B.C.) was legally married four times; Cicero (106-43 B.C.) three times. There was no problem getting a divorce. It was simply a private matter. Either party could send the other a notice, volo divortium (I want a divorce), without giving any reason or any complaint of misconduct. No remedy could be found for this universal disorder. The resulting degeneracy finally led to the downfall of the Roman Empire.
The third form of union was concubinage. The head of the household was called paterfamilias. Under concubinage, totally legal, the head could have several women in the same household, women he had relations with. The legal status of these concubines depended mainly on his own financial resources.
Children in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ were essentially the wards of the men who fathered them. The legal rights of these men were the most important factor in the rearing of children. They remained so completely under this authority that they became literally the mens property. The fathers had the power of life and death over those whom they begot and their absolute power was recognized by the laws of the Roman Empire.
Famila is the Latin word for family. But familia did not mean what family came to mean with the evangelization of the Roman world. Among the ancient Romans, famulus was a servant and familia was a household servant. In the classical Roman usage, the family hardly included the parents or children. It should be re-emphasized that the pagan family meant everybody in a given household which could include not only the servants, but the slaves, and the whole harem of women subject to the male head of the household.
No single word in the Western world took on a more changed meaning than the word family. Certainly, Christianity adopted much of the vocabulary of the Greek and Roman society into which Jesus was born. But Christ changed the meaning of this vocabulary. In doing so, He did more than change the meaning of words; He elevated these words to a sublimity they had never known before.
Not unlike familia in the pre-Christian Roman Empire, the Hebrews did not have a specific word for understanding of the family. They used such terms as bethab, which meant fathers house or bayit, which directly meant a whole social group who lived together in one house or tent. Under this term were included the male head, his wife or wives or concubines, their children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, with their offspring, illegitimate sons, dependents and aliens, and slaves of both sexes.
Polygamy and Bigamy
A plurality of wives was a recognized feature of pre-Christian Jewish morality. It was assumed to be necessary for the survival of the family and to provide for male children. Concubinage with slave women was practiced for the same reason. Thus female slaves were considered the property of their master. They became his concubines, unless they belonged to the mistress of the household. In this case, they could be appropriated by the man at her suggestion or with her consent.
Slave concubines could be acquired in different ways: as booty in time of war, or bought from impoverished parents, or in the ordinary slave traffic with gentile nations.
Moreover, a man might take several wives, as familiar examples in the Old Testament indicate. Wealthy and important personages had more than one wife, for example Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon. But even ordinary men could have at least two wives, like Elkanah who was the husband of both Hannah and Peninnah. This indicates that bigamy, if not polygamy, was not limited to the wealthy or prominent leaders of Jewish society.
We know therefore that polygamy was established as a recognized institution from ancient times.
Parallel with polygamy, however, was the recognition of monogamy as an ideal. The earliest Hebrew codes sought to regulate the practice of polygamy. Thus the code of Deuteronomy forbade kings to multiply wives. In the writings of the prophets, the warning is even clearer.
What the Old Testament brings out is that bigamy came in the line of Cain, to emphasize that it was a tragic result of the fall of Adam and Eve.
The Old Testament prophets stressed the idea that monogamy is the symbol of the union of Yahweh with His people. He loves them, even as He wants them to love Him by remaining faithful to His laws. Idolatry is denounced as infidelity in this spiritual marriage between God and His Chosen People.
Status of Women
Alongside of a growing respect for monogamy, polygamy was practiced among the Jews as late as the New Testament times. Of course, divorce with the right to remarriage was simply recognized.
The logical result of polygamy and divorce with remarriage was the subordinate position of women. The wife was a piece of property. The wording of the Tenth Commandment shows that the relative position of wives and concubines was mainly determined by the husbands (or mans) favor.
The children of a wife could claim the greater or even the whole of a mans inheritance. In other ways, however, concubines enjoyed about the same position as the wives. Illegitimacy of children, in our sense, was quite unknown.
The husband had supreme authority over his wife. According to Deuteronomy, he could divorce her for practically any reason. Although the Mosaic Law was sympathetic with the plight of women, yet in practice they had no redress when wronged by the husband. They could not divorce their husbands. Absolute faithfulness was expected of the wife, but was not expected of the husband as long as he had not done injustice to another man.
On principle, then, a wife was the chattel of her husband. But there were exceptions. Women of intelligence and courage could improve their position, and even reach some degree of importance and influence in society. They could obtain some measure of freedom.
The Old Testament tells us of Hagars who were treated harshly by their masters and rivals. At the same time we are told about the Sarahs and Rebekahs and Abigails who acted not only independently but even against the wishes of their husbands in order to get what they wanted.
The Book of Proverbs describes the blessings that a man acquires when he has a good wife. It also tells of the misery of a man who allows himself to fall under the power of a contentious woman.
In pre-Christian times, Judaism was simply a patriarchal religion. This meant that women were to be subservient to men. Thus daughters did not automatically inherit from their fathers; they could do so only under special conditions. The binding force of a vow made by a woman depended on the approval of her father or husband, whereas a mans vow was to be kept no matter what the attitude of others. Her father gave a woman to be the wife of another man, and her husband could freely divorce her. The only question was on what grounds the divorce should be granted, whether for any reason---simply because she no longer pleased her husband, or because of some moral wrongdoing, like adultery. In any case, it was assumed that the husband could then legally marry another woman.
Jewish custom distinguished the relationship of children to their mother and fathers. Mothers were expected to love their children, and Isaiah speaks of One whom his mother comforts (Isaiah 66:13). But the father had complete power over his children, over their fortunes and even their lives. The Law provides that an unworthy son could be stoned to death on the accusation of his parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Not only does the Decalogue command respect toward ones parents; the Mosaic law lays down the penalty of death for striking or cursing father or mother (Exodus 21:15, 17). Anyone who was disrespectful to his parents was accursed (Deuteronomy 27:16).
We have a striking contrast between the Old and New Testament morality in the parable of the prodigal son. The wayward son had defied his father and broken away from his family. As he himself admitted, he had lost all rights to his fathers affection and was no longer worthy even to be called his son. Yet, the father not only forgave him, but embraced him, and prepared a feast to honor the one who was lost and found. Significantly, it is St. Luke, the disciple of St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, who narrates this account of loving mercy in contract with the severity of the Old Law.
Comparison with pre-Christian Paganism
Family life among the pre-Christian Jews was notably higher than its counterpart in the Roman Empire. The main reason for this was Judaism had the benefits of divine revelation and the sanctions of divinely inspired laws.
Yet, as we shall see, Jewish family life in the first century of the Christian era was still awaiting the coming of the Messiah.
We got some idea of the contrast between Jewish and Christian family morality from Christs Sermon on the Mount in the fifth through the seventh chapters of St. Matthews Gospel.
The key statement of Jesus was, Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them (Matthew 5:17). This completion included His elevation of family life to heights that were never known until Divine Love became incarnate to teach the world His new commandment of love. Moreover, family life as revealed by Christ was never possible before---because He had not yet come to bestow such supernatural power as the world would need to live up to His superhuman laws.
The Redemption of the Family
We have so far seen something of the condition of family life in the ancient world, both of the Roman Empire and of pre-Christian Judaism. So now we want to ask ourselves some questions. Why were marriage and the family in such a sorry state in the pre-Christian world? What did Christ do to redeem family life from its sad condition?
In one simple statement, we may say that marriage and the family needed redemption because they were both deeply steeped in sin. When we speak of the fall of man, we must remember this means not only the fall of man as an individual, but the fall of man as a social being. Or again, the fall of man means not only the fall of single human being but the fall of human society. Everything that we associate with original sin for the individual person should be applied also to what we may call the original sin of human society, and for our purpose, of the human family which is the basic unit of society.
Effect of Original Sin on Individuals
Original sin has not only one but two meanings. They are closely related: the one follows on the other, but the one is not the other. First of all original sin was the loss of sanctifying grace to our first parents. Since they did not have the grace to pass on, they passed on instead the lack of grace to their descendants. As a result of the fall of Adam and Eve all the descendants of that first pair (with the unique exception of the Mother of God) all human persons have come into the world without the grace of God. That is the first consequence of original sin on each individual.
Along with the loss of Gods friendship, original sin, for each person, means the penalty of bodily death. In Gods original plan, no human being was to have died. But once our first parents sinned, along with sanctifying grace they lost the gift of bodily immorality. Along with death, we also inherited the prelude to death, which is sickness. All kinds of corporal sufferingsuffering of the body, suffering of the feeling, suffering in the emotionsis the result of sin.
Besides the penalty of death and suffering, each of us, again as individuals, lost what we call the gift of integrity. We are the heirs of the sad inheritance of concupiscence. Our desires are no longer under control. We have urges that lead us astray; we have desires the tempt us to sin; we have instincts that incite us to evil, in a word, we have passions. In all of this we are still identifying the effects of original sin on each individual in the human race.
As if all of this was not enough, our minds have been darkened by original sin. We are hindered in understanding as well as we should what is Gods will for us in this world and how we should do it to reach His eternal company in the life to come.
These are the four traumatic effects of original sin on every human being with the sole exception of one human person, namely the Mother of the Most High.
Original Sin and Society
Everything we believe that original sin has done to human beings as individual persons, we believe is also done to human beings as members of society, beginning with the foundation of human society which is marriage and the family. What are we saying? We are saying that original sin has not only profoundly damaged individual persons. It has also damaged human society. As a result of original sin, human society had been deprived of supernatural grace and the consequent right to heaven.
Not only did no single human being have a right to heaven, but the human race, the human family had no claim on heaven. As a result of original sin, human society became subject to death by the demise of its members and the experience of corporate suffering. It is not only individuals that are mortal; whole societies must die. Except for original sin there would have been no wars, and just for the record, the death casualties in the wars fought since 1900 have been greater than in all the wars of previous history put together. Except for original sin, there would be no enmity between members of the same family. There would have been no murder of Abel by his envious brother Cain. Except for original sin, there would have been no famines, no plagues, no floods, no hurricanes, and, most tragic of all, no killing of the unborn in their mothers wombs.
Because of original sin, society has lost its gift of integrity. This means the loss of self-control by individuals and, we now add, self-control by societies. We are now subject to unthinking drives. Not only as individuals do we have personal tendencies that are sinful but societies also, including our own, have irrational drives, and mad urges, incentives to evil. We have social inclinations that, to say the least, are not good, but are corporate temptations to sin. How do you explain a mad man like Hitler getting millions of people to follow in what became the most devastating war of human history. The lowest figures are 50 million in battle and 50 million more killed or died as a result of the Second World War.
This means that the same seven capital sins which are the main sinful urges that we all have as individuals are the same sinful drives of human society. I keep repeating the question what do we mean? We mean that we are naturally prone to sin not only as individuals, but as societies. I am naturally proud. Let me change the subject of the noun, we are all naturally proud. All human societies are naturally proud. We, as social beings, are naturally lustful. We are naturally irascible. We are naturally given to anger. We are all fallen human beings, we not just as individuals, but as a society, are naturally covetous and greedy, and naturally envious. What is envy? The sadness we feel when we see someone else have what either we lack or someone succeed where we have failed. I know of no single sin that divides more families than envy.
We, and not only I, we are naturally lazy. We are all naturally gluttonous and given to over-indulgence of the body in food, in sleep, in drink, in leisure that many people, though they sleep at night, spend hours every day just dreaming. Most of the reading of Americans, the most educated nation in human history, is fiction. Some ninety per cent of the novels are make-believe or dreams. We are all naturally, as social beings, slothful. We may never have even heard the Italian expression, dolce far niente, the sweet pleasure of going nothing. But that is how we naturally are. No wonder we have problems in American family life.
Because of our fallen human nature, we have a spontaneous leaning toward all of these sinful propensities: as individual persons and as member of a family.
Lastly, each one of us has a darkened intellect. Over the years I have learned from experience that knowledge makes a bloody entrance. The problem is that for many people knowledge just never even makes an entrance. It is not only individuals, but society; especially families are intellectually darkened by original sin. Could anyone question the blindness in family life over the centuries, the stupidity of those who should be living in harmony, torn apart by dissension or envy or lust or greed or jealousy or pride?
So much for an overview of the effect of original sin on human society and especially on the foundation of human society, the family.
Redeemer of the Family
God became man to redeem the world. But most of us, I believe, most of the time identify the redemption as the redemption of individual human beings. Did Christ come to redeem individuals? Yes, he did. The name Jesus, as we know, means Savior. Is our Lord the Savior? Yes. But Christ is not only my Savior, He is our Savior. He came to redeem not just individuals, but human society, the human family. We repeat the question, what did Christ do to redeem family life? In order to redeem the human family from the ravages of sin brought into the world, what did God do? He became man.
It is certainly not coincidental that the first promise of a Redeemer was made by God to our first parents after they sinned. They had sinned collectively, as the beginning of the first family of the human race. And they were collectively promised redemption and God foretold that He would place enmity between the seed of the devil and the seed of the woman; and the devils head would be crushed. Sin and its effects would be overcome. It took many centuries before the promised redemption was fulfilled. But once the Redeemer came, it provided the means for restoring the family of mankind back to friendship with God and provided the means to grow in this friendship here on earth as a prelude to families joining the divine society of Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all eternity.
How did God, when he became man, go about redeeming, which means repairing, which means healing a fallen human family? He did so by revealing what family life should be, by teaching the truths by which human families should live and by giving the human race the means to live up to what He taught families should be.
What a Family Should Be
Jesus taught that a family should be a lifelong union of persons who are united by profession of the same divine faith as He revealed to the human race. It should be a lifelong union of persons who are obedient to the teachings of the Church founded by Christ. It should be a lifelong union of persons who are nourished by the sources of grace provided by Jesus Christ. Needless to say, this is what the Redeemer wanted and still wants family life to be. We are not saying that all Christian families either fully reflect these standards of Christ or always remain faithful to His expectations. But we should know what the standard is.
Christ wants family life to be a lifelong union of persons who are spiritually united by the profession of the same divine faith as revealed by Jesus Christ. How many people, without a second thought, will marry someone who does not share their faith? The price they pay and the risk they take are known to God alone.
As envisioned by Christ, a family is a lifetime union of two persons who are obedient to the teachings of the Church which He founded and which alone is divinely authorized to tell Christians how they are to live their married lives. This includes the Churchs teaching on marital morality and, with emphasis, her unchangeable doctrine on fidelity and procreative love in marital intimacy.
When God came into the world, as man, He made sure that He came into the world as part of a family. Certainly His Mother was a Virgin and Joseph was His foster father. But in the eyes of the world, the Holy Family was a family. Could God have come into the world in some other way? The inventive genius of God is infinite. He chose this one way.
As a member of a family, Jesus was conceived, was born and lived as a Child in His family. At home in Nazareth he practiced the virtue of obedience. The young Jesus remains for all time the perfect model of what children should be. God became man to teach children how they should behave. God became man and lived as a Child to not merely teach, but to show children they should be submissive; they should be responsible. When they are told to do something, they do it. They should be humble. The language that some parents tell me their children use to their parents some of that language is unrepeatable. A son tells his father, Who do you think you are? There are even textbooks instructing the parents to stop telling their children what to do. The parents should learn from the children! God became man, I repeat, as a member of a family and for years, indeed, most of His visible life on earth, the God-man spent as a member of His family, conforming to the demands of His parents. This was the Creator obeying His creatures!
Christs life for thirty years was a hidden life, lived as a loving cooperative Child, then Boy, then Adolescent, then a young Adult. There is no more revealing statement in the Gospels for the subject that we are discussing, than a statement of St. Luke who tells us that after Jesus was found in the Temple by Mary and Joseph He returned to Nazareth and was subject to them. Jesus had separated Himself from Mary and Joseph for three days while listening to and quizzing the learned rabbis in the temple. The Holy Spirit inspired St. Luke to record both facts: that Jesus separated Himself for three days and then went back to Nazareth for seventeen more years. It was His Fathers will that He separate from Mary and Joseph for three short days. But then it was again His Fathers will to return to Nazareth and be obedient and dependent for the next two decades minus three years.
Even more revealing is the fact that in the temple of Jerusalem Mary asked her Son, Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have sought you sorrowing. Jesus did not answer her question. He asked her another question. Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Fathers business? The first father used by Mary should always be lower case. The second Father used by Jesus, should always be capitalized. What was Jesus doing? He was making His first profession of divinity. Thanks, in effect, He told Mary, thanks mother, for saying what you did. It gives me the chance to say what I want to say. I have only one Father, the First Person of the Holy Trinity. In other words, as later on Jesus would declare, the Father and I are one.
Jesus not only revealed what family life should be but He showed the kind of family that God Himself had designed from all eternity. Thus we can learn not only from what Jesus said, but also from what He did. Thus Jesus Christ, the natural Son of God and co-eternal with the Father, Almighty like the Father, all-knowing like the Father, one in being with the Father, became man that He might teach children until the end of time how they are to behave toward their parents. What is the lesson? Those children are to love their parents in humble submission, with gracious humility and with complete, whole-hearted obedience, because their parents take the place of God.
Tradition tells us that Joseph died some years before Christ began His public ministry. Jesus remained at Nazareth to be with His Mother. What an inspiration to know that here too, the son of God is model for us to imitate. When the time came for Jesus to begin proclaiming the Gospel, He never losthow could He? or gave up His deep, tender love for His Mother. Again, how much we can learn from the Savior about loving our parents. We are still their children no matter how grownup we may be.
At the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee, Jesus was present along with His Mother and, by then, also with His disciples. He was just beginning His public ministry. There He did the surprising thing of acceding to His Mothers wishes, to please her and to teach us how a parent should be loved. How human can you be? He worked His first miracle and what a miracle. No healing of the blind or paralyzed; no restoration of a dead person to life; but changing water into wine. Why? Because His mother asked Him.
Then, under the Cross on Calvary. His mother stood there with the Apostle John. She, the valiant woman watched her Son bleed to death from the scourging, crowning with thorns and especially the Crucifixion inflicted on Him by His enemies. What did Jesus do? He entrusted His mother to the loving care of His beloved disciple. Then He instructed John to be sure to take care of my mother.
All of this is told us by the same disciple, now writing as the evangelist. It makes clear what kind of human Son the divine Son of God could be. It also gives us some idea of the example Christ wanted to give us of how a Christian family should live. How is that? Like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, in loving harmony, in peaceful concord, in humble simplicity, in cooperative agreement, in mutual respect, in selfless service for one another, in a word, the model of family life which God became man to teach human families until the end of time.
God chose Mary from all eternity to be His mother and chose Joseph from all eternity to be His foster father. Having both taught and showed what family life should be Christ also provided the world with the necessary means, for at least some measure of imitation of the Holy Family. The first of these means were the truths which Christ revealed.
Everything which Christ taught his followers to believe somehow affects the family. But there are certain truths of faith that are fundamental. More will be said about these as we develop our reflections on the Christian family. What bears emphasis here is that these are divinely revealed truths that God became man to communicate to the human race.
Prayer, Sacraments and the Church
Having laid down the principles on which family life should be based; Christ also provided the supernatural resource which is necessary for living up to these revealed norms. These resources are mainly prayer, the sacraments and the Church.
Jesus insisted on prayer if we are to remain faithful to the graces of our state of life, here the state of matrimony. There is no choice.
Every member of the family must be faithful to the daily practice of prayer. It is not too much to say that the members of a family will remain united if they pray. There are so many divisive forces at work, and human nature is too selfish to hope for a stable family life without constant light and strength from God, to be obtained from devoted prayer. Without prayer, graces will not be available. Without grace, stable family life is impossible.
Moreover, Christ instituted seven sacraments in order to provide for the spiritual well-being of all His followers. But he made one sacrament especially for the married. We may say He had to do so, in sheer justice to Himself. Having set down His expectations for marriage and the family, He made the expectations practicable by supplying the resources of grace available in the sacrament of matrimony.
Finally, Christ founded the Church to preserve the truths He revealed, to explain them to the faithful, and to be for all mankind the universal sacrament of salvation. It is through the Church, of which the Bishop of Rome is the visible head, that Christ channels His graces of wisdom for the human mind and strength for the human will to know and live up to the mind and will of God. These graces are not only for individuals but for societies, and especially for families.
Christianity Enters the Ancient World
The ancient Romans had a noun for marriage: matrimonium. They had a word for family: familia. When Christ came into the world and Christianity began to spread, the early Church retained the Roman vocabulary. Already in the early second century, the whole Bible was translated into Latin. However, under divine guidance, the meaning of the words which the Roman used was drastically changed.
Familia was no longer a group of people living together including a mans harem and his concubines. Matrimonium was no longer a mere legal contract which gave a man absolute rights over his household, including the right of life and death over his children.
Once Christianity began to spread, the Romans at first could not believe it. But when they realized that Christians were really serious, they began to oppose them. That is why in the first three hundred years there were no Christian churches and no chapels above ground. Christians had to worship and priests had to offer Mass underground in the catacombs. Christianity in the first three centuries of its existence was an underground Christianity. That is good to hear because in two thousand years the essentials of Christs teaching have not changed. His followers face the same dilemma now as they faced in 100 AD; either conform to the unbelieving world in which they live, or endure the enmity of the world even as Christ and the early Christians did.
The teaching of Christ on marriage, chastity and the family became an integral part of the life of His followers in the early Church. What the Master had preached to the apostles, they in turn passed on by preaching and by writing to those who believed in Christ as the Son of God who became man to redeem a sinful world. The followers of Christ in the early Church took Him seriously. From the sermon of Peter on Pentecost Sunday on, through the Acts of the Apostles written by St. Luke, the letters of Sts. Paul, James, Jude and John, we see how the Gospel affected the Christian believers. It transformed their lives in a way that can only be called miraculous. They were changed men and women.
Historians of the early Church tell us that two beliefs lived out by the first Christians were the most remarkable. More than anything else, except the grace of God, they were the main reasons for the rapid spread of Christianity. They were the two virtues that are basic to the Christian family, namely charity and chastity.
The expression about the early Christians, See how they love one another, referred especially to the love that husband and wife had for each other; the love that husband and wife had for the children not yet conceived or born and once the children were born, the love of father and mother for their offspring; the love of young men and young women for one another. Moreover, it was chaste love.
That is the kind of love that Christ taught and His early followers tried to live. This was a spectacle, again, using the Latin spectaculum, something marvelous to behold. It was the marvel of chaste love or, if you wish, of loving chastity which converted so many pagans to Christianity that by the end of the first century there were over one hundred Catholic dioceses along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. In theological language, we call it a moral miracle. Naturally speaking it cannot be done. Only God could provide the means of living that way.
Letter to Diognetus
Most people have no idea about the extensive development of the Church from the first and second centuries of Christian history. One of the most eloquent of these historical sources is the famous letter to Diognetus. In this letter, the writer describes how the followers of Christ lived at the close of the Apostolic Age. He explains how their contemporaries looked upon the Christians and then he described how the Christians saw themselves in a world that was not only not Christian but, once Christianity came on the scene---became virulently anti-Christian.
We might ask: Why go back into early Christian history? Because history repeats itself. When Christ foretold that His followers would be misunderstood, maligned, opposed and persecuted, even as He had been, He was speaking for all times, indeed for all periods of history until the end of time. We need to know, not to be surprised, much less shocked how todays de-Christianized world looks on us, followers of the Master.
Even more important is the role that faithful Christians have to play in cooperating with Gods providence. They have the duty to safeguard and, where necessary to restore family life to what Christ wants it to be.
The letter to Diognetus can be found in the Liturgy of the Hours, which is now in the vernacular and specifically in the Office of Readings for Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter. Evidently, the Church wants the faithful in the post-conciliar age, after the Second Vatican Council, to know how the faithful Christians lived and what they experienced in the pre-conciliar age. To be exact, this letter was written two hundred years before the first Council of the Church, which met in 325 A.D. at Nicea in Asia Minor. The quotations will be given in sequence, each with its own heading.
In Many Ways Christians Are Ordinary People
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based on reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
Yet there is Something Extraordinary About Christians
They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their household, but for them there is no homeland, wherever it may be, their homeland is a foreign country. Like others, Christians also marry and have children, but they do not expose these children. They do not kill the children. Christians share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they live on a level which is above all human law.
Christians Are Persecuted
Christians love everyone, yet everyone persecutes them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of criminals but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks yet no one can explain the reason for this hated.
Christians are the Moral Soul of the World
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul so Christians are seen living in the world but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it; not because of any injury the soul has done but because of the restriction the soul places on its bodily pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong but because they are opposed to its allurements.
Christian Flourish Under Persecution
Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the bodys hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body that the body is held together and in the same way, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, although immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time among perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christians lofty and divinely appointed function from which a Christian is not permitted to excuse himself.
There would be no justification for these long quotations except that the gravity of our subject deserves them. Our present Holy Father says, The normal condition of the Catholic Church is one of persecution. To remain faithful to Christs teaching on marriage and the family, on chastity and the sanctity of unborn human life, the followers of Christ will be opposed. What the world at the end of the first century did to believing and faithful Christians, the world is doing today. Yet, mysteriously, Christianity flourishes under opposition.
In many ways todays Catholics are ordinary people. I replace the word Catholics for the word Christians as found in the original letter. Why? Because since the first Century of the Churchs existence there have been many separations from original Christianity which, in practice, meant separation from the Roman Catholic Church. And the main reason for these massive departures was Christs teaching and the Churchs preserving the truth about marriage, about chastity and about the family.
With Gods grace we are not only generic Christians but Catholic Christians. We believe that the faith we profess is essentially the same faith professed by our forbearers nineteen centuries ago. Our Catholic lives today, no less than the lives of our Catholic ancestors at the end of the apostolic age are in many ways, quite ordinary. Our lives are not outlandish. They are not based on merely human speculation. We are not a cult. Nor is our religion a fad.
Just as the early Christians, so we Catholics are like our contemporaries in many ways. We eat the same food, we buy the same furniture, our buildings and homes do not look different from those of other people. Nevertheless, we are extraordinary people. Our first Catholic ancestors were unusual. So we, in many ways are different. Like other people, we marry, have children; but unlike those who do not share our faith we stay married. We do not kill, either before or after birth, the children whom our mothers conceive.
Faithful Catholics allow the children whom they conceive to be born. They neither practice contraception, nor, once the children are born, are they killed. We recall that abortion and infanticide were protected by imperial law in the Roman Empire. Surely, Catholics then and Catholics now are quite unusual.
Faithful Catholics who are married remain faithful to their spouses. They do not commit adultery. In not a few dioceses in the early Church, some bishops were so strict, too strict. They would not even give absolution to those who were guilty of adultery or, in other cases, years---seven or more yearsof penance, standing every Sunday morning outside the church, where the penitents were identified as adulterers. The Popes had to step in and tell the bishops, I admire your zeal but adulterers should be given absolution. While the Popes did not approve, in not a few dioceses the following sins were not remitted in sacramental absolution: apostasy, abortion, adultery and fornication.
Finally, faithful Catholics, no less than the early Christians, live in the flesh, but are not governed by the flesh. Faithful Catholics do not practice masturbation or fornication or homosexuality. That is the way it is, that is the way it was, and the Catholic Church will survive only where people still believe that the sins listed by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans are mortally grave.
Christians of the early Church lived a family life that was in stark contrast with the lives of others around them. The Christian family of the first and second century was a family that lived a life of chastity. There was chastity before marriage, which excluded adultery; chastity in marriage which excluded infidelity and deliberate infertility. In our day we are just facing the same situation as the Church as faced for nineteen centuries.
Christians were persecuted at the beginning of the Churchs history. Catholic Christians are persecuted in our day. It is sobering to hear how the world of the Roman Empire reacted to the presence of faithful Christians in its midst. The pagan world of the Roman Empire treated the followers of Christ exactly as Christ had foretold. They were persecuted. They were condemned, they were not understood, they suffered dishonor, they were defamed, they were attacked, they were punished as malefactors and they were abused.
The lesson for us is too obvious to have to explain. Our loyalty to the teaching of Christ on family life and all its implications is not appreciated by the unbelieving world in which we live. No more did the non-Christian world appreciate the practice of chastity by the members of Christian families at the end of the first century. It is both sobering and enlightening to expect faithful Catholic families to be oppressed and opposed by those who do not understand or refuse to understand what we believe. They do not understand for the simplest of reasons: because they do not believe what, on faith, we believe in Gods revealed truth. One thing we Catholics should be clear about. The unbelieving, the non-Christian or the ex-Christian world with which we live, will not like the way we think, the way we talk, or the way we live. There is only one danger, that in order to please the world, we will conform Christs teaching to the philosophy of the world.
Catholics, we are told, are the moral soul of the world. The language is unusual but the meaning behind the language is most important. We are not used to hearing the kind of vocabulary that we read from the letter to Diognetius: that Christians are the moral soul of the world. What does this mean? It means that Christ came to teach the whole world and to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, to enlighten everyone on the will of God.
This prophetic role of the Catholic Church became the subject of a historic document issued by Pope John Paul II. Its English title is The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. And the heart of this role can be summarized in two sentences. We are living, says the Pope, at a moment in history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform the family and aware of the well-being of society and their own good are intimately tied to the good of the family. What does this tell us? It tells us that the Catholic Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family and showing their full vitality and Christian development and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the people of God. (Familiaris Consortio, 3).
This statement of Pope John Paul could have been written nineteen centuries ago. Then, as now, the very survival of the family depends on the teaching of the Catholic Church and if need be, the heroic example of the Catholic faithful.
Christians flourish under persecution. Loyalty to Christ in sexual morality, marital fidelity and fruitfulness, in a word, loyalty to Christian family life has never been acceptable to what the Savior calls the world. It was true in first century Palestine and Rome. It is still true today.
No doubt the followers of Christ who insist on proclaiming and practicing the truth about family life are to expect contradiction. But there is a consoling feature to this opposition. Christianity not only survives, it actually thrives on opposition. The phrase, the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians was coined during the height of persecution in the Roman Empire in the third century. It is equally valid as we enter the twenty-first century.
As mysterious as the language may seem, it should make us happy. That is what Our Lord promised in the eighth beatitude. Blessed are you, He said, if you are persecuted in my name. Rejoice and be glad.
This was the living God in human form telling us that what He taught is not only livable but, through His grace, actually enjoyable.
The Pillars of the Christian Family
A standard dictionary of the English language defines marriage as the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family. The value of this definition is that it describes what people in general understand a marriage to be. It is, indeed, an institution which joins men and women in a special kind of dependence for the purpose of starting and preserving a family.
However, as believers in Christ and members of the Church He founded, we know much more than the secular description of marriage would imply.
We finally know that marriage is not only an institution, but a society of loving persons who live together under divinely established authority and in peaceful harmony.
When we say that Christian marriage is holy we are saying more than meets the eye. We are saying three things: that Christian marriage is a sacrament, that Christian marriage is supernatural, and that Christian marriage is the foundation of the Christian family. Each of these doctrines is basic to a correct understanding of our faith and normative for living this faith according to the mind of Christ, whether we are personally married or not.
Sacrament of Matrimony
We know what a sacrament is. A sacrament is something visible which Christ instituted and that gives the grace which the sacrament signifies. Thus, Holy Communion is a sacrament. We receive Holy Communion in our mouth, we swallow and it signifies being nourished or fed. That is the way we naturally feed the body. There is an orifice called the mouth which has voluntary muscles. We open the mouth and receive an object called food into the mouth. We swallow and leave it up to the involuntary muscles of the stomach to digest what we have eaten. And unless we daily feed the body, we become weaker and weaker and finally, barring a miracle, we die.
So the Eucharist as Holy Communion is a sacrament of feeding the soul. When we are baptized we receive the supernatural life of the soul. But being baptized is not enough. The life of the soul must be fed. And the principal food of the soul, to keep it spiritually alive, is the Holy Eucharist.
The same with marriage. What does the marrying couple do when they marry? It is obvious they are making some kind of a bilateral contract. Yes, but this is no ordinary contract. Christian marriage is a sacrament. When a couple agrees to enter marriage, there is always a third partner to the contract and that is Jesus Christ. It is not only the title of a book but a sober fact of our faith that for Christians, it takes Three to Get Married. In the catacombs under the city of Rome, there are frescoes painted on the walls that can still be identified. One of them, from the second century shows a couple getting married, holding hands. Above them is standing Christ with His hands raised in blessing and rays of light from His hands going down on their joined hands. Thus when two baptized people marry they receive a title for all the graces they will need to live up to their responsibilities as husband and wife and, if there are children, as parents. This title through Gods continual and special assistance is assured for the rest of their married life.
What graces do they receive? Having received the sacrament, the couple receives a title to all the graces they need to know what God wants them to do as husband, wife and parents; and how they are to do His will. They also receive a claim to all the strength they need for their wills to live a faithful married life and raise a Christian family according to the plan of God for them. No one else except two baptized Christians when they marry receives the sacrament of matrimony. If either or neither is baptized, they may be validly married, of course, but they do not receive the sacrament of marriage or the lifetime guarantee of graces which the Savior confers on His married followers.
Since Christian marriage is a sacrament, the whole family benefits from the graces of this sacrament. Not only husband and wife, but the children share in the graces which Christ has promised infallibly to confer on those of his followers who enter matrimony. Moreover, marriage is a sacrament of the living. When two baptized people marry, they should be in the state of grace. Otherwise, although married, the one (or both) not in Gods friendship will not receive the sacramental grace until restored to friendship with God.
This follows logically on what we have just said. If Christian marriage is a sacrament, then it is not a natural union. Nowadays we are not much used to hearing the word supernatural. But it is very important. For our purpose, supernatural means superhuman, above the human, beyond the human, more than merely human. It means that the partners to a Christian marriage are given a lifetime promise from God to all the wisdom, all the patience, all the prudence, all the courage, all the control of their passions and, especially, all the selfless love they will need to live up to the more than human demands that Christ makes on the espoused who believe in His name.
What do we further mean when we say that a Christian marriage is supernatural? We mean that the Christian family has a right to all the divine assistance it needs to remain together as a family here on earth and to be reunited as a family in the heavenly kingdom for which families came into being. Families begin on earth; their destiny is for eternity. We dare say that in sheer justice, Christ assures us of the supernatural means we need to achieve a supernatural, and therefore, superhuman end. What is the end or purpose of family life on earth? That the families will be together as families in heaven. The goal or destiny is heavenly beatitude for families. Once the end of the world comes there will be no more conceiving of children or giving birth and, consequently, no more marrying. There will be as many families for all eternity as there will have been by the end of the world. If families are to reach their heavenly destiny, to which no creature has a natural claim, they have to pay the price of getting there. We came into the world without God consulting us, whether we even wanted to be conceived or born. We therefore began our existence with no contribution on our part. But we will not reach our eternal destiny, as persons and as families without our generous cooperation with the grace of God.
Foundation of the Christian Family
Without the sacrament of marriage we could not logically speak of a Christian family. In the language of the Catholic faith, a Christian family is not just a natural or temporal family. Christian families are destined to remain families for all eternity.
Christian families are meant to be living witnesses to the power of divine grace to transform a human institution into a superhuman society. The divine prototype or fundamental model of a Christian family is nothing less than the eternal community of the all-holy Trinity. For each of the three Divine Persons share with one another everything which Each, shall we say, has.
We read in the four chapters of St. Johns Gospel, just before His Passion, where Christ is telling us to love one another as I have loved you. He is giving us the one sign, or public manifestation until the end of time, of being what we claim to be, His disciples, if you have love, one for another. And the most fundamental object of that divine obligation for the followers of Christ is the family.
What are we saying? We are saying that Christs teaching on the practice of charity applies nowhere more basically or more universally than in the family. What kind of charity is this? It is the kind of love he practiced toward us. It is the love that ended on the Cross.
The supernatural charity that Christ expects of His followers is to be reflected in their selfless love as members of the Christian family. The adjective selfless is part of our faith. Husbands are to love their wives and wives their husbands; parents their children and children their parents; brothers and sisters are to love one another---selflessly. How selflessly? As Christ has loved us, even to laying down His life for us.
We who have the true faith should share these convictions with others. We may call this the apostolate of family to family. We believe the sacrament of marriage enables us to make the humanly impossible actually enjoyable.
Two statements in the Gospels come to mind here. At the Annunciation the angel told Our Lady that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:38). And at the Last Supper just before Jesus told us, This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12). He promised that if we keep His commandments we will remain in His love, so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete (John 15:11).
The graces available in the sacrament of marriage are proportionate twice over. They assure Christian families of the light and strength they need to love one another with selfless generosity. And they promise Christian families the incredible grace of happiness in loving others even when this love means suffering forand fromthe ones whom we love.
Once we realize that Christian marriage is holy, it seems obvious that it cannot be polygamous. Monogamous marriage is the opposite of polygamous. Christ came into the world when polygamy was widespread. To this day polygamy is practiced in the non-Christian world. In fact, the five hundred million Moslems who are not Christian, not only permit polygamy but polygamy is part of their faith; it is built into the Koran and protected by civil law.
When Our Lord elevated matrimony to the level of a sacrament, His followers from the very beginning understood this to exclude polygamy (plural marriage) in any form. Equally forbidden was polyandry (plural husbands) for the wife and polygyny (plural wives) for the husband.
What did Jesus teach on the subject? The Gospels do not verbally quote Him condemning polygamy. But they make it clear that He was restoring marriage to its monogamous state before the fall. If there was one thing which the apostolic Church did not tolerate it was plurality of marriages for one spouse.
There is no doubt that polygamy was practiced in the Old Testament. We may even say it was permitted by God. But then we explain that if God allowed polygamy before the coming of Christ He could also prevent its natural and devastating consequences.
In the sixteenth century the Council of Trent proclaimed monogamy as an infallible doctrine. Polygamy was condemned in the most explicit terms. What deserves to be repeated is that since the coming of Christ polygamy is forbidden not only for Catholics or baptized Christians but the whole human race. This stands to reason. In the light of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, monogamy was commanded to our first parents and their first progeny. What Christ therefore did was to bring such graces to mankind as even the pre-Christian Jews had not received. Every human being now has access to the supernatural help needed to avoid polygamy.
Catholic teachers of Sacred Doctrine have built on the Churchs magisterium an exhaustive literature in defense of monogamy. They commonly identify four reasons why monogamy is a prescribed law of God.
By way of preface we know that God can tell us to do something, or avoid something without explaining why. After all, He is God. Nevertheless, He has given us a mind. We can reflect on a precept of revelation and defend the divine wisdom of demanding monogamy since the coming of Christ.
What are some of the reasons that the Churchs wisdom has developed for the blessings of monogamy?
Faithfulness or fidelity is the next foundation of Christian marriage and, therefore, the third bedrock of the Christian family. As soon as we hear the word fidelity we think of a promise that one person makes to another. It is assumed that once a promise has been made it should be kept. I may not have been obliged to promise someone something, but once I made the promise I am expected to be faithful in keeping the promise. The term faithfulness to a promise is the meaning of fidelity.
We are here speaking of Christian marriage as the foundation of the Christian family. Consequently, the meaning of fidelity for the followers of Christ is much deeper and more demanding than for those who either do not know Christ or do not have access to the marvelous graces of the sacrament of matrimony.
There are two levels of fidelity as understood by Christ and expected of His followers when they enter marriage. There is the fidelity in Christian wedlock which excludes the sin of unfaithfulness, and there is a fidelity which includes the practice of selfless love. There are, therefore, two sins that Christian married people can commit against fidelity, namely adultery and selfishness. And there are two virtues they are to exercise, namely marital chastity and Christ-like charity.
In the language of all nations, this is the assumed meaning of marital fidelity, that a husband remains faithful to his wife and she to her husband by not committing adultery. Consequently, the first feature of the Christian family is that it assumes fidelity of the married spouses to each other and forbids sexual liberties outside the sacred precincts of matrimony. This means that between themselves the married people are permitted the fullness of sexual experience; but the word permitted is the wrong word. I kept it in to emphasize what the right word should be. Marital intercourse is not simply permitted as less than good, to avoid something worse. The marital embrace with complete, whole-hearted satisfaction for husband and wife is not only or mainly a sort of concession to human nature to prevent the uncontrolled outburst of passion. It is Gods own creation that symbolizes the relationship between Himself and the human race.
There is a whole book in the Bible of the Old Testament called the Song of Songs, also called the Canticle of Canticles. It is all about the love of God for His people and the love that human beings should have for God. One chapter after another compares these two loves to the faithful love between husband and wife which rejects adultery.
The sacrament of matrimony is intended to deepen the mutual affection of husband and wife by giving each of them the opportunity to grow through marital intercourse in their intimacy with God. In Gods providence, one purpose of marital intercourse is to deepen the love of husband and wife for one another. But just because intercourse in Christian marriage is so sacred, it is for that reason also, exclusive. In fact, a good synonym of sacredness is exclusiveness. For a husband or a wife to have relations with someone else than their married spouse, is profaning marriage. Marital intercourse is sacred; it is holy. It is not only permitted but prescribed by God for married people between themselves. No one, absolutely no one, may enter between husband and wife to alienate their affections or intrude on their unique relationship. Christs teaching should leave no room for doubt.
In His sermon on the mount, He spelled out the difference between the Old Testament understanding of adultery. You have learned how it was said, He told the people, You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully he has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).
With the coming of Christ, the very meaning of adultery changed above anything that the Old Testament prescribed for the Jews. For the Jews it was mainly a matter of justice, as the text of the last of the Ten Commandments declares. You shall not covet your neighbors house. You shall not covet your neighbors wife or his servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that is his (Exodus 20:17). See where the wife is put in? Adultery was forbidden in the Old Law because it was an injustice to steal; even by alienating another womans affection and depriving the husband of what he has a right to, like he has a right to his house or his ox or his mule. Adultery, therefore, was forbidden because a mans wife, like his cattle, was his property.
What Christ did was to make adultery more than a sin against justice. It now became a sin against chaste love.
The term chaste love came to mean two things:
Both elements call for some explanation. In fact it is right here that the Catholic Churchs teaching on marital fidelity is most widely misunderstood by the unbelieving world.
The sexual drive is the most imperious in the human body. It was implanted by the Creator in order to provide for the reproduction of the human race. Since the fall, however, this desire is no longer under such mastery as it would have been if sin had not entered the world.
The sexual instinct is therefore God-given and noble. But with divine grace it must be mastered. Otherwise it can become a flaming furnace and a destructive hurricane. Seen in this context, it is not surprising that Christ should have added what He did, after saying that a man commits adultery if he even looks at a woman lustfully.
If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell (Matthew 5:29).
What the Savior did was to place chastity where it has been ever since the dawn of Christianity. It is the virtue that not only controls the sex appetite but provides us with the means of offering God a sublime self-sacrifice.
As Catholic tradition gradually unfolded the meaning of chastity, it remains in deed a form of temperance. A chaste person is one who tempers, in the sense of restrains the desire for sexual pleasure by not having this experience except within the sacred bounds of marriage. Within this sanctuary it is a holy enjoyment that God has associated with the responsibilities of matrimony. But for those who believe in Christ and wish to follow His teaching, chastity is also a revealed form of sacrifice.
At the heart of marital fidelity, then, chastity is not only the practice of justice nor only the practice of temperance. It also includes the surrender, according to Gods will, of what we like, namely sexual gratification, in order to please Him for whose sake married people are often called upon to make the oblation.
In our day, sexual pleasure has been elevated to a kind of mysticism. Christian believers must therefore see that fidelity in marriage includes fidelity to God. They are to be faithful in thanking God for the pleasures that He gives them and faithful in sacrificing these pleasures when the circumstances of married life requires their surrender.
As Self-less Charity
We enter a new world when we begin to speak of marital fidelity as a lifelong commitment to selfless love. It is so new that God had to become man to reveal it, and His followers have to believe in Him to be able to live it.
To grasp something of what this is we might briefly distinguish between justice and charity.
Justice means that I give other people what they have a right to, or negatively, that I do not deprive other persons of what belongs to them. When I practice justice I respect other peoples rights: I do not steal by enriching myself at someone elses expense.
Charity begins where justice leaves off. When I practice charity, the question I ask myself is, What does another person need and that I may deprive myself of in order to enrich and give the person in need?
Until the coming of Christ, the human race had only a dim foreshadowing of what marital fidelity as a commitment to selfless love even meant. Moreover, the pre-Christian world did not yet have the grace to put such love into practice.
Our faith tells us that the sacrament of matrimony enables married people to do far more than avoid adultery. It enables them to love each other with the kind of selfless love the God Himself became man to make possible.
The features of this selfless love are enumerated by St. Paul in the same letter to the Corinthians in which he explains the responsibilities of Christians who enter marriage. By exact count, he identifies fourteen qualities. Each one deserves a volume of commentary.
One paragraph of comment should be made about the word St. Paul used to describe selfless affection. In the original Greek it was agape, the Churchs official Latin caritas, and in English charity. It is the same word that Jesus used when He revealed what He called a new commandment.
I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another (John 13:34).
In English we do not even have a verb to go along with the noun charity. Yet everything depends on our clearly seeing what the Savior demands of His followers. It is not just love, which can be natural and perfectly human. He wants charity, which is supernatural or superhuman generosity that is literally born of God.
Following the lead of St. Paul, we see that charity, here marital charity, is patient. Patient charity is charity that suffers. Husband and wife should expect to cause each other some pain. Everyone suffers, but not everyone suffers willingly. Patience is voluntary suffering, where the suffering is not only endured but even embraced, out of love.
Marital charity is kind. Kindness is understanding sympathy. It is shown in affability of speech, generosity of conduct, and forgiveness of real or apparent injuries sustained.
The charity of husband and wife does not envy. If I really love someone I am not saddened because he or she has what I lack or achieves where I have failed. No single weakness of human nature is more devastating to a happy marriage than envy. And no single virtue is more necessary for Christian marriage than a love which rejoices when one spouse possesses what the other does not have or succeeds where the other has not achieved.
Marital charity is never obstinate. One of the blessings of marriage is that it provides the spouses with endless opportunities for giving in to one another. Without compromising on principles, they are able with Gods grace to surrender their self-will and thus grow in divine love.
True marital love is never boastful. It assumes that husband and wife know each other so deeply there is no need to pretend or try to impress or simulate.
Between husband and wife there should be no ambition. One of the hardest trials in marriage is the unspoken competition that the modern world encourages. If anything, Christian charity encourages the desire to see ones married partner praised and even acclaimed.
The charity of Christ enables married people not to seek ones own. So far from insisting on their own opinions or having their own way the husband tries to please his wife and she her husband in everything conformable with the will of God.
Marital Christian love is not provoked to anger. It is one thing to be offended; it is something else to take offense. There are too many differences between the spouses to prevent all conflict of interest or temperament. But charity can work the miracle of accepting these differences as part of Gods providence for husband and wife and family. It can turn these potential conflicts into graces for deepening familial love.
Christlike charity does the incredible. It thinks no evil. In marriage this is a safeguard against the temptation to suspect ones spouse. Certainly each must give no reasonable grounds for suspicion by the other. But human nature is so naturally suspicious that Christ provided His married believers with a special gift to resist the spontaneous urge to doubt another persons moral integrity.
When St. Paul says that charity does not rejoice in iniquity, he is expressing one of the mysteries of our fallen human nature. The sins and failing of other people can be temptations to pride. We are liable to take smug satisfaction in the wrongdoing of others and are prone to think ourselves better than they. Here again the Savior has given us the norm to follow. First let us remove the plank (serious failings) from our own eyes. Then we shall be able to pass judgment on the speck (minor failings) in other peoples eyes. Spouses who live by this norm of humble charity know from experience what harmony it brings to a Christian family.
Authentic charity rejoices with the truth. This means that husband and wife and children honestly strive to know the true personality of each member of the family. They try to see one another as God sees them, with deep understanding of their inner soul and happy over the good qualities they possess.
St. Pauls litany concludes with four universals that quite alone would identify the superhuman love that Christ expects of those whom He has joined in marriage. Charity bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. The word all is repeated four times in the inspired text and reveals the height of sanctity to which married Christians are called by their nuptial vocation.
Love, then, is sustained choice. In marriage, this choice is to be sustained through life. Since the object of our choice is another human being, this will call for endurance throughout life here on earth, which only the grace of God can provide. But that is exactly what a sacrament means: the assumed conferral of grace, which in matrimony is the enduring gift of selfless love.
Growth in Charity
In the language of the world, when two people get married they are in love. But in the vocabulary of the true faith, married people are to grow in selfless love. The question is, How? And the Catholic answer is:
Behind this answer stand centuries of revealed wisdom. Those who believed in this wisdom and put it into practice have preserved Christian marriage and the family since apostolic times to the present day.
While the Popes words occur in what he called an apostolic exhortation, we can say his directives are really imperatives. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters are sinners. They need the sacrament of confession if they are to have full access to the mercy of God who became man, as He said, to save sinners.
Given the importance of this sacrament, it is worth briefly explaining the five names by which it is called.
It is the Sacrament of Penance. Why? Because in this sacrament we repent of what we have done wrong. We are sorry for having offended an all-just and loving God and we promise to amend our lives in the future.
It is the Sacrament of Confession, because by divine law we are required to verbally identify our grave sins against God and are encouraged to confess our venial sins against His divine will.
It is the Sacrament of Conversion, because it gives us the strength we need to turn away from sin and return to the friendship and more faithful service of God.
It is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Why? Because we are sure of being reconciled with the God against whom we have sinned. Christ told the penitents of His day, Your sins are forgiven, go and do not sin again. He is telling us the same today, through the priestly absolution we receive in confession.
It is the Sacrament of Peace because one of its blessed effects is to give the repentant sinner such peace of heart as only a forgiven sinner has a right to expect. After we have done wrong, it is not only that we feel guilty because we have an uncomfortable state of mind. Guilt is the greater or lesser loss of Gods grace which this sacrament restores.
Why do husbands and wives quarrel? Why can there be bitter, deadly conflicts between two people who had vowed to love one another until death? The fundamental reason is that either one or the other or both are not at peace. Sinners are not at peace. Either we recover peace inside of us or we are going to be a problem to others and maybe, humanly speaking, an impossible person to live with. Every troublesome person in the family needs to be relieved of his sin. That is why the Sacrament of Peace is necessary to restore peace to families that are in conflict.
By indissolubility we mean the permanence of Christian marriage which cannot be dissolved by the withdrawal of consent of the married partners or by any human authority.
Founded on Sacred Scripture, the permanence of sacramental marriage has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church. Already in His sermon on the mount Jesus had declared that anyone who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery (Matthew 5:12).
When the Pharisees pressed Jesus on what conditions permit divorce and remarriage He told them this was allowed to the Jews because you were so unteachable. But I say to you: the man who dismisses his wife---and marries another, is guilty of adultery (Matthew 19:7-9). St. Mark, writing for the converts from paganism where women had the legal right to divorce their husbands, recalls Christ teaching that if a woman divorces her husband she is guilty of adultery too (Mark 10:12).
Since apostolic times, the Catholic Church has explained these passages from the New Testament to mean that
Three conditions therefore, make a Christian marriage absolutely indissoluble, namely: when both spouses have been validly baptized before they marry; their marital contract was valid because they made it with sufficient understanding of what Christian marriage means and freely chose to marry; and their union was then consummated.
No single feature of Christian wedlock has been more severely tested than its indissolubility. This has been the single principal cause for persons leaving the Catholic Church, for the separation of whole nations from Catholic unity, and for the intrusion of State authority in presuming to grant divorces with the right to remarry for baptized Christians.
The corresponding strain which this has placed on married Catholics is a matter of history. It is also a witness to the supernatural, because above human, strength that the sacrament of marriage confers on those who expect Christ to work moral miracles in their favorprovided they believe in His name.
Certainly the grace of God is available to preserve a Christian marriage. But this grace requires cooperation on our part. Married people have a free will. There is no more basic use they can make of this freedom than to use the supernatural light and strength they receive from prayer and the sacraments.
But they must recognize that the world in which they live is in many ways a de-Christianized world. The instability of marriage and consequently of family life is a scandal. It leads to widespread sinful imitation. That is what scandals are, seductive attractions of other peoples immoral behavior.
The Mass Media
The one most powerful influence on modern thought is the media of social communications.
In the sixteenth century, whole nations were changed in their thinking and living by the discovery of print. It all depended on who wrote a book, and what ideas the author proposed. St. Ignatius Loyola was converted by reading a life of Christ and a printed collection of the lives of the saints. His contemporary Machiavelli sowed the seeds of modern statecraft by his Prince and other books, in which he taught that the end in view justifies whatever means are used; even the laws of God must give way to secure the temporal well being of a country.
In the twentieth century the electronic media are shaping the morals of hundreds of millions, depending on the principles of those who control the media.
Those who believe that marriage is a lifetime commitment have no choice. They must exercise not only prudence but consistent vigilance in what they read in print, what they hear on the radio, and what they see on television. Otherwise the inevitable happens. The sexual promiscuity of our times becomes the norm of morality and the teaching of Christ is dismissed as the remnant of a pre-scientific age.
Understanding the Faith
We Catholics cannot simply go into protective custody if we want to remain firm in our religious convictions. We must grow in our grasp of what we believe, here the revealed truth that marriage is for life.
Systematic reading of sound Catholic literature, going back to the Scriptures and on through the great masters of Christian wisdom, may seem unrealistic. But it is sheer realism for families that want to nourish their virtue of faith.
Associating with persons whose marriage is sound is common sense, if married people are to deepen their own lifetime commitment. We tend to become like those we admire, and we naturally imitate persons in whose company we move. This judicious company keeping should begin already in childhood. One of the less well-known statements of St. Teresa of Avila is the advice she gives to parents on rearing their children.
If I were to give advice, I would say to parents that they ought to be very careful whom they allow to mix with their children when young; for much mischief comes from this, since our natural inclinations are to evil rather than to good (Autobiography, 2).
Our faith came originally from persons who had the faith. So our growth in faith comes from those who believe. From early childhood throughout life, those who believe in Christs difficult teaching on the permanence of marriage should have their faith nourished by the good example of others who believe the same.
There are certain moral and spiritual practices that the Churchs wisdom has shown are necessary to keep a marriage intact.
Marital fruitfulness and the nurture of children is the single most controversial aspect of marriage in what we call the modern world.
However, unlike other pillars of the Catholic family, this is not only physical or natural generation and care. It is also, and emphatically, spiritual or supernatural regeneration and education. By way of exception, therefore, we shall consider this large subject separating from both perspectives.
Natural Generation and Care
Our purpose here is not to stress the controversy into which the Church was inevitably drawn because of her uncompromising refusal to separate children from marital intercourse. In fact, it is not really a controversy, as though the Church could ever deny the teaching of the divine law: that the marital embrace as a beautiful expression of espoused love may never exclude the acceptance of children.
At the Dawn of Christianity
We have already seen something about marriage in the Roman Empire at the coming of Christ. What needs to be made clear, however, is that the limitation of children was commonplace.
The Hellenistic and Roman world at that time lived under the shadow of overpopulation. The more materially developed parts of the empire frequently had only one child per family. Except among the slaves and servants, families of four or five children were rare.
There was an unspoken desire for two sons, in case one of them should die or be killed, and among the citizens there were not many families that would rear more than one daughter. A daughter was considered a liability, mainly because when she married, a dowry had to be provided by her family. As a rule, the first child of a marriage would not be exposed if it were healthy. Sickly infants were killed soon after they were born.
The solution to overpopulation was normally infanticide. Abortion was also practiced, especially among those who could afford the abortifacient drugs; even though these were often fatal to the mother. Exposure of the newborn was very simple. The unwanted child was left on a trash heap or in some isolated place to die. Or slave traders might take or buy the child to be reared in slavery. Girl babies might be taken to be trained for a life of prostitution.
The traditional pre-Christian Jewish view was that a child had the right to protection of the law from conception. The Greeks and Romans, however, did not consider the newborn a part of the family until acknowledged as his child by the father. There was a formal ritual in which the child became legally recognized as a human person and received into the family.
The Incarnation: God Becomes a Child
It was the Incarnation which revealed to the world the dignity of fruitfulness in marriage. When God became man, He entered the world as a human Child, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of His Virgin Mother.
This is the doctrinal foundation for seeing the value of children in Christian marriage.
We believe that God did not have to assume our human nature in order to redeem the world. Yet He freely chose to do so as a Child. Evidently He wanted to teach us how precious children are in His eyes, since from all eternity He had decided to go through every stage of childhood, from conception, through infancy to young manhood.
Christ and Christianity
The most detailed account of the Saviors dealing with children is told by all three Synoptics. But among these, St. Marks account is the most specific.
They were bringing little children to Him that He might touch them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
When Jesus saw them, He was indignant and said to them, Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God.
Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God as a little child will not enter into it.
And he put His arms about them, and laying His hands upon them, He began to bless them (Mark 10: 13-16).
It is not coincidental that this extensive narrative is given by the evangelist who was writing for the converts from paganism, where contraception, abortion and infanticide were so common.
Even when children were allowed to be born or permitted to live after birth, the prevalent attitude of the pre-Christian Roman Empire was pragmatic. Children were an economic and military necessity: to carry on the necessary work and provide recruits for the army.
The coming of Christ not only brought a new dimension to child-bearing. It elevated the purpose of having and rearing children to a moral level never before known, even in pre-Christian Judaism.
This purpose was the practice of Christ-inspired love of God.
When Jesus said, Let the little children come unto me, He was saying more than the Gospel episode may seem to imply. He was not only reprimanding the disciples for trying to prevent the mothers from having Him touch the children and bless them. He was revealing to His married followers that they should have children not only to increase and multiply the human race as in Genesis; nor only to preserve and extend the Chosen People, as among the Israelites. He was telling those who believed He is incarnate Love, to bring children into the world for the greater glory of God. As believing parents they were to reproduce themselves twice over, once physically by procreating and rearing children; and once again spiritually by sharing their faith in Jesus Christ with their offspring. Children would thus be brought to Him in such multitudes as only the Son of God could have foreseen in first century Palestine.
Historically this is what happened. While paganism declined in numbers and influence, Christianity grew phenomenally. Constantine had no choice except to give Christians their religious freedom in the early fourth century. By that time, they were too numerous and influential to be ignored or persecuted as enemies of the State.
However, it was not only that fruitful marriages increased the Churchs growth numerically. The children born to believing parents became a powerful magnet of grace for the propagation of the Gospel. It is worth repeating that it was mainly the practice of selfless purity which converted whole nations to Christianity.
Those who believed in Christ lived in chastity. Before marriage they abstained from the sexual sins identified by St. Paul as debarring a person from heaven. Those in marriage abstained from contraception.
Those who believed in Christ lived in reproductive charity. They accepted the children that God sent them as expressions of their love for Him. They took the Masters words literally when He told them to love one another as He had loved them. They loved not only those who already existed and were in their midst. They loved even those who did not yet exist, but whom they could bring into life by procreation.
In this they, indeed, loved one another as Jesus Christ loved them. As God, He loves not only those who already are but also those whom He will bring into being by His almighty power.
The Catholic Church Stands for Human Life
Never in her two millennia of existence has the Catholic Church witnessed more eloquently to Christs invitation, Let the little children come to me than today.
The twentieth century has been the most homicidal in human history. Death casualties in the wars fought since 1900 have been greater than in all the wars put together since the origin of mankind. Death casualties through abortion have been greater in the last decades of the nineteen hundreds than they had been accumulatively in all the previous ages of recorded history.
For those who believe, the sanctity of human life is part of their Christian faith. Human life is sacred because it comes from God, since He individually creates each human soul. Human life is also sacred because it is intended to glorify God by doing His will in this world and destined to see Him in the beatific vision in the world to come.
That is why children are such a blessing. The Catholic Church not only forbids contraception and abortion as gravely sinful. She positively encourages the married to have children. Why? God wants to be served in love by His believing followers here on earth, and possessed by them with perfect happiness in eternity.
Among the less well known passages of the Second Vatican Council is its encouragement of large families.
Wherever Christian spouses in a spirit of sacrifice and trust in divine providence carry out their duties of procreation with generous human and Christian responsibility, they glorify the Creator and perfect themselves in Christ.
Among the married couple who thus fulfill their God-given mission, deserving of special mention are those who after prudent reflection and mutual decision courageously undertake the proper upbringing of a large number of children (The Church in the Modern World. 50).
According to Christs prophecy, after the resurrection they will neither marry nor be given in marriage (Matthew 22:30). But until then, children are part of Gods eternal plan for humanity.
Supernatural Regeneration and Education
As Catholic Christianity views the fruitfulness of marriage, it is not only or in fact mainly physical. No doubt this is important and fundamental. On this level, Catholicism is the only international authority in the modern world that is absolutely opposed to contraception, no matter how widespread the practice may be; and adamant against abortion, no matter how many civil laws may legalize the killing of unborn human beings.
In the light of Christian revelation, the fruitfulness of marriage is also supernatural. Husband and wife are to be partners not only in reproducing themselves physically in the children they conceive and to whom they give birth and natural are. They are also to be partners in the spiritual procreation and development of their offspring. They are to provide for the childrens baptism, which the Church calls the sacrament of regeneration. They are further to provide for the preservation and growth of the divine life received at baptism.
Our focus here will be on two aspects of the parents role in this spiritual nurturing, namely their rights and responsibilities in the religious instruction of their children.
While recognizing the rights of others, notably the Church, and within the Church, of bishops, priests and religious, we concentrate on the rights of father and mother, hence parents (plural), in the religious rearing of their offspring.
Moreover, we are speaking of rights and responsibilities. A word of explanation here seems to be in order.
A right is the moral claim that a person has to possess something or do something which others have a duty to respect.
Rights therefore imply duties. For example, I have a right to my reputation; other people have the duty to respect it and not do it injury. That would be an injustice.
A responsibility, on the other hand, is different. It is the obligation which follows from some position or office which I receive or assume. A responsibility always pertains, for our purpose, to some other person or persons who, then, depend upon me. They, in turn, have a right to expect me to fulfill my responsibility.
The Rights of Parents in Religious Education
Stated concisely; parents have the right to give their offspring a share in their own life of the spirit, corresponding to the share they have given them in their life of the body.
Or, in more concrete terms, parents have the right to communicate their own religious beliefs and practices to the sons and daughters to whom they have already communicated their physical existence as human beings.
We, therefore, closely identify the spiritual rights of father and mother with their natural rights to bring the family physically into being.
This is not coincidental. The one follows on the other. No less than a married couple have a natural right to beget children, who are like the parents as human persons; so a married couple have the corresponding right to procreate children who are like their parents as religious persons.
This is one of the main reasons why mixed marriages create difficulties in bringing up the children according to the religious beliefs of the parents. If the parents are divided in religious conviction, this places a heavy burden on the children to favor one parents persuasion over the other, since they should love both father and mother equally and should want to follow the example of both on the basic issues of religious profession.
Source of the Parents Rights
We might ask why the question should be raised. Why?
From whom, then, do parents rights in education, and especially religious education, not derive?
They do not derive from the State or from civil society. Not only does the Church teach this, but, to its credit, the US Supreme Court in the famous Oregon case (1925) ruled that a state law requiring all children to attend public schools was unconstitutional. Pope Pius XI quoted this decision in his classic encyclical on Christian Marriage.
As often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purposes within the competency of the state.
The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from teachers only.
The child is not the mere creature of the state. Those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.
It is the denial of this position, in secularized countries, which is one of the least publicized but most agonizing features of political tyranny, where the state claims prior rights over the parents to educate the child in its own irreligious philosophy.
Besides not deriving from the State, parents rights to give their children the religious education of their choice do not come from any vested interests, whether secular (which we should expect) nor professedly ecclesiastical. Even the Church, while urging and telling parents to give their children a Catholic education, is not precisely the source of the parents rights to conferring this education.
Moreover, the parents are not their own source of these rights to give their children a religious upbringing
We are now ready to affirm that the rights of the fathers and mothers to give their offspring adequate and as far as possible, accurate religious education come from God.
Why so? Because it was He who created the human spirit and infused it into the body prepared for infusion by the mother and father.
As so many childless couples sadly know, it is finally up to God whether they will have children or not.
Why so? Because God makes each immortal soul individually out of nothing and unites it with a body to produce a human person. These persons are to serve God on earth, for which they need training from childhood. Then, if they serve God faithfully in this life, they will enjoy the vision of God in the life that will never end.
Since God gave parents the privilege of bringing children into the world both physically and spiritually, He also places on them the obligation to nurture the lives which they freely procreated.
And the duty of religious nurture is no less, in fact, more grave than the duty of physical care.
Why grave? Because none of us can either bring himself into existence---which is obvious---nor can any of us keep ourselves or develop in existence (which may be less obvious) by ourselves. We need help; constant, lifelong, abiding, perduring assistance from others.
In order to cut through a forest of possible ways of spelling out parents responsibility to rear their children religiously (and not only physically) let us divide the subject into two parts: how this responsibility should be satisfied by the parents themselves and how to fulfill this duty through others.
Although it may sound like a platitude, it is not. Parents should cooperate with one another, father with mother, and not mother alone; and less still mother in one direction and father in another direction.
This cooperativeness presumes mutual affection between the spouses. You do not cooperate with someone you do not love.
This cooperativeness also presumes mutual understanding of their respective roles in the religious and moral rearing of the child. Behind such mutual understanding is mutual reflection and discussion between husband and wife on how they can best contribute, each according to his and her ability to the well-being of the offspring given to them by God.
As we get more specific about the parents cooperative responsibility, we can identify three ways that the parents, personally, nurture their children in things of the spirit. They do so:
First of all, by what they are:
What are we saying? We are saying that the most fundamental means at the parents disposal for training their children in the ways of God is by themselves living the ways of God.
The proverbs of all nations are filled with eloquence on the persuasive power of good example. Among dozens, there is the French proverb which says that children have more need of models than of critics.
Yet there is more than example implied in the statement that parents best teach religion by what they are. We are here dealing in the realm of grace. In the ordinary course of Providence, God uses as His instruments those who are personally most united to Him by their virtue, who are most humble and patient and pure and prayerful.
Secondly, by what they do:
This may seem to be unnecessary after having said that father and mother provide religious upbringing by what they are.
On the contrary. In things of the spirit, it is not enough to be (for our purposes) a Christian and a Catholic. A person must act like one.
Why is this important to stress? Because there is in all of us a tendency to divide our lives into two compartments. There is the temptation to claim (honestly and sincerely) to be one thing and yet to behave like something else.
This Jekyll and Hyde separation in us is neither rare nor surprising. Remember St. Pauls confession about himself, The good things that I will, I do not; but the evil things that I will not, that I do.
Thirdly, by what they say:
Again, we enter a region of mystery; the mystery of how our words are a channel of ourselves.
Yet we know that among all the means of self-communication, none is more universal or more effective than the spoken word.
We shall examine presently how parents exercise their religious responsibilities through other persons and agencies.
What needs strong emphasis, however, is that these other persons or agencies are only helpful; they are not essential. They are secondary, not primary.
The first and foremost communicative agent of religious belief and practice is the parent. This is the common verdict of Christian history, as it is also the common teaching of the Catholic Church.
If we further ask, how do the parents exercise this role, there are many possible answers, but I would like to concentrate on just one; one that I consider central to religious pedagogy. It responds to that instructive sign of human intelligence which a child begins to reveal at a very early age, earlier than most people suspect.
Child specialists agree that children begin to ask intelligent whys long before they are able to conceptualize and much less, rationalize the meaning of their questions. We are told that the whys which appear between the age of three and seven are extremely numerous. Yet this is already the second age of whys in the child, implying that children begin to ask why before they are three years old.
Evidently it makes all the difference in the world how a childs whys are answered.
Responsibility through Others
This brings us face to face with the role of the school and other institutions of religious education as means by which parents can fulfill their responsibility through othersto give their children the religious training which God expects of them.
The key to a balanced understanding of what I wish to say is a development of what we just saw, namely, that children are naturally hungry for knowledge, insatiably hungry. Their hunger begins sooner than the traditional age of discretion. And it continues all through life. In this sense, we are always children because we always need and want to know.
But then arises a problem. Who will teach the growing mind? Who will satisfy the desire of the budding intellect to receive the light of human knowledge and, with emphasis, the knowledge of God and the things of God?
Parents in a growing number of cases may be able to do so alone. But generally they need assistance. That is how schools came into existence: to supplement what father and mother can best initiate and best sustain, and always permeate. Yet life is too complex and the store of knowledge too immense for most parents to cope with the maturing minds of their children without help from schools and other teaching enterprises.
That is the purpose of organized education in the literate world. It is also the purpose of Catholic schools. Confraternity of Christian Doctrine programs and allied agencies for giving the young child, the growing pre-adolescent, the adolescent and maturing adult the answers to questions about the meaning of joy and sorrow, or work and prayer, of freedom and grace, of life and death, of time and eternity.
Implicit in all these auxiliary instruments of religious pedagogy is the admission that no ordinary parent, could (even if he or she wanted to) satisfy the native desire for feeding the human mind in the countless whys it keeps asking others---because it is asking itself---the cause and purpose, the motive and justification of reality. It wants to know the reason for everything; not only of things that can be seen and touched, but of the greater realities which cannot be experienced by the senses
That is why we have Catholic schools and religious instruction on a parochial or regional basis; to help parents answer the constant hungering whys of their offspring, from pre-kindergarten days through the university.
But that is also why these institutions cannot be ambiguous about their identity.
These institutions and agencies must---this is a divine imperative---must respond to the Catholic faith of the parents who avail themselves of their services.
There is no alternative. Either the school or program responds to what Catholic parents have a right to expect of it or it is not serving the purpose of its existence and should be treated accordingly.
It is up to the parents, more than to anyone else to coordinate their efforts, and to join these efforts with prayer---to preserve the historic function of Catholic education in the modern world.
Before God, parents have received a sacred trust. No one has a higher trust than they. No one has a higher responsibility.
But, we must add, no one can take either the trust or the responsibility away.
It belongs to the parents because it is given to them by God. The children they call theirs are first of all His. They came from Him and they are destined for Him.
That is why God became a child: to teach us how simple it is to reach heaven, if only we are humble enough to listen to His words, and for parents, courageous enough to lay down our lives, if need be, for the souls entrusted to our loving care.
The capstone of a truly Christian family is that it forms a community. A good synonym would be togetherness. But we had better know what kind of togetherness a family should have. It is togetherness that is not of merely human making or of human ingenuity. It is a community born of God.
On Pentecost Sunday, after Peter had preached his first sermon and told the people they were to repent and be baptized, some 3000 became Christians.
Immediately upon receiving the grace of baptism, these new converts remained faithful .to the community. Moreover
The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common. They sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.
They went as a body to the Temple everyday but met in their houses for the breaking of bread. They shared their good gladly and generously. They praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved (Acts 2:42-27).
Much has happened in the world since St. Luke described the community life of the first Christians. But his description was no ordinary historical narrative. It was the revealed word of God, written for all times, including our own. Authentic Christianity was then, and is now, communal. And within Christianity, a family is as truly authentic as its members are a believing community.
According to Pope John Paul II, we are at a moment in history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it. (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. 3). These forces are especially hostile to the unity of the family. If this unity is even to survive, it must be fostered by the conscious effort to avoid whatever is divisive and to cultivate whatever unifies the members of a family.
Centuries of Christian wisdom have shown that certain features are typically unifying and their opposite divisive. This means that the family:
We have no illusions about the price that a family has to pay to fulfill these conditions for being a community of love. So many forces are at work in the world to separate and divide the family in the name of individual liberty. The exaltation of individuality is camouflaged as personality.
Only a deep faith in Jesus Christ and trustful hope in His power can make the humanly impossible divinely possible with the help of His grace. Selfishness, as the saints tell us, is cunning. It pushes and insinuates itself into everything, while making us believe it is not there at all. This is the root cause of the breakdown of family life in so many materially developed countries in our day. Only the God who became a Child and lived on earth as a member of a family could have inspired the selfless love that brought the Christian family into being. This same Jesus, we are confident, will reform the Christian family where it was weakened and even bring it, where need be, back to life.
After all, has that not been the story ever since Good Friday and Easter Sunday? The Church, we may say, has died many times and risen againfor the best of reasons. Her Founder is God, who was crucified and rose from the dead. The future of the Christian family is most promising, but only for those who really believe that Christianity is the religion of civilization.
Copyright © 1991 Inter Mirifica
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