We live in dangerous times where the Family is under threat. Marriage is often seen as a mere piece of paper, a mere contract that can be broken as long as the right price is paid. Children are seen as a burden, or weapons during a nasty divorce settlement.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2207 The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.
Since the beginning of man, the family has always existed. Families exist even in animals. Regardless of religion or culture, family will always be the foundation of a society. Although people have attempted to redefine family and marriage, normally it would refer to a married man and woman and their children.
Indeed family life proves to be a good or a bad initiation into life in society, with good outcomes or very, very dire consequences. Society is built up using families as a building blocks, therefore sound families build up a sound society. It also means that messed up families make up a messed up society. A child that learns dishonesty in the family will grow up to be dishonest. A child that learns to be selfish will grow up to be selfish. Criminals are seldom born, they are most nurtured, or have lacked nurturing.
‘What an ill-bred child.’ ‘你没有家教！’ These are common insults that are also directed to one’s parents. Unfortunately, it is true for us. For some of us, our parents did not teach us well, may have mistreated us, or worse, have no parents. It is not to say that messed up people definitely have messed up parents, but it is not often the case? Thanks to genetics, we do take after our parents. We may have the same bad or good habits as them. Bad parents are very likely to raise kids.
The Church often describes the family as the ‘Domestic Church’. It is in our families where we learn to love and to serve God. It is our Fathers and Mothers who first teach us how to pray. They teach us the concept of right and wrong. They teach us to make sacrifices, and they show how by making sacrifices for us. In many families it is a great school of faith.
No greater cross does a family have than a wayward son; When a wife has to bear with a drunken husband, or a mother with a drunken son, day in and day out: such a great tests of faith and opportunities for mortification! We also see this in the Lives of the Saints. St Monica who prayed for her son St Augustine of Hippo to repent from his immoral life and errors, had her prayers answered after many years.
Lumen Gentium (109) writes:
In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.
Indeed, good and sound families are the best environment to foster vocations. Vocations encompass Marriage, Religious Life and Holy Orders. More importantly, the family is where saints are made. In the Eastern Church, St Basil the Elder and St Emmelia had nine children, and four of them are venerated as Saints: St Basil the Great, St Macrina the Younger, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Peter of Sebaste.
If parents do not encourage vocations, nobody can. If parents do not offer up their children, nobody can.
What of broken and incomplete families? What of those families who are simply helpless and may need outside help? Catechism states:
2209: The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family
That explains why the extended family is useful in nurturing children. The absent father should be replaced with the uncle, grandfather, or even godfather. When families break apart, the children must not suffer. The chain of bad parents begetting bad children can be broken, but it is very difficult. Children require good examples to follow. In the lack of good examples, to whom shall we look?
The Holy Family is rightly described as the model of all families: St Joseph the Father, Mary the Mother and Jesus the Son. St Joseph acts as the virtuous foster father of Our Lord. He has done many things modern males would not do: Marry a woman with a child that does not belong to him – taking responsibility; Protecting the whole family and fleeing to Egypt when under pursuit by King Herod; working hard for the benefit of his family. These are just some of the things a father should do.
Our Blessed Lady was devoted in her motherly care. How much work and toil must have gone into taking care of the household. How much self-sacrifice that she has given. Even these days we hear of young mothers abandoning their households. It would do best for married women to imitate Our Blessed Lady.
The virtue of Obedience is disparaged in modern times. But we must realize that even the Son of God was obedient to the authority of His parents. Children must obey the lawful orders of their parents. Of course if they command us to do sinful or immoral things, then it would be virtuous to disobey.
When Jesus went missing in the Temple and His parents could not find Him, they could not understand why He did this to them. Correctly, Mary and Joseph pondered these things in their hearts. Parents must take effort to understand their children though often it may be very difficult. Children may find it difficult to obey their parents. They too must take the effort to understand. Very often we ask, ‘Why do I have to do this? It does not make any sense!’. However later on hindsight we will then discover that the decision was indeed a wise one.
So for us who have come from broken or incomplete families, do not despair. Let us look to the Holy Family, not to imitate them in the number of members, but in the number of virtues. For us who have loving families, let us thank God for giving us these gifts.
Collect of the Mass (1962):
O Lord Jesus Christ, who, being subject to Mary and Joseph, didst sanctify home life with ineffable virtues: grant that, with the aid of both, we may be taught by the example of the Thy Holy Family, and attain to eternal fellowship with them: Who livest and reignest with Thee and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever, Amen.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph pray for us and our families!