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A Catholic Family is Different

The fundamental concept of the Catholic family is that a particular married couple participates in Christ’s marriage to his Church. As Vatican II put it, Christ “fills the Church, which is His body and His fullness, with His divine gifts so that it may expand and reach all the fullness of God.” So in the family that participates in Christ’s marriage to his Church, Christ works through each member of the family so that each gifts the others with the fullness of God’s gifts.

For starters, the man and woman get to know each other chastely – how otherwise would they know that they are really meant for each other? Their union is not based primarily on feelings; it is based on scriptural love seeking and working daily for the good of the other person. Husband and wife and children all love in this way as far as they are each able. The good of a person is what God wishes for that person starting with the basics for survival and ranging all the way to manifesting God’s glory by sharing His goodness as a family. Part of that good even lies in helping each other to achieve God’s good.

Such a family is self-preserving. Each member of the family does what he/she can to preserve the family community understood in this way. Given how rare such families are these days, there is something in them to be especially cherished and preserved. The members should learn early on that they will often be unaided in their special tasks in the world at large, but will, we hope, get support from their extended family and from like-minded families. Their parish probably needs some groups for like-minded families, with or without the presence of clergy. That was one of the good things emphasized during last year’s Synod on the Family.

A Catholic family is long lasting. Its durability will be challenged, from outside as well as inside, as parents accompany each other and their children through the times of life. And in turn, children accompany parents in their own ways. As the months turn into years and into decades, in thousands of little ways, each brings out the ultimate good in him/herself and everyone else. These experiences add to the family’s body of wisdom, which everyone in the family passes around – and passes on.

The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1680 [National Gallery, London]
The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1680 [National Gallery, London]

Such a family will be aware that the time when families could be isolated from the surrounding culture is long gone. An untiring watchfulness is the only other option. This means everyone will need to be properly informed about life and the world – and most especially about participating in the supernatural life of the Church.

Putting the awareness in context, John Paul II said that families “have the specific role of interpreting the history of the world in the light of Christ, inasmuch as they are called to illuminate and organize temporal realities according to the plan of God, Creator and Redeemer.” This calls for real discussions, even if Johnny or Jennifer is a teenager! It means getting beyond the hit-and-run style of what commonly passes for communicating in Smartphone America. Communication means answering sentences with further sentences – and keeping this process going until conclusions begin to be apparent to everyone.

Such families also know how to suffer. From the inconvenience of calmly taking off work to take care of Janey, to the really heavy and stressful tackling conflicts over drugs or the wrong kind of “friends,” families learn to bear with each other and see each other through the rough patches. They can learn to see such experiences for the humbling redemption that they are.

Conflicts between the family and outsiders will increase in the coming years. There will be conflicts with schools over the new Paternalism of the kind that says “you agree with us or we will humiliate you,” conflicts with government officials over getting business licenses and getting just treatment regarding taxes. Such conflicts are going to become the new normal for believers.

But God is near. John Paul II again: just as “the infidelity of Israel does not destroy the eternal fidelity of the Lord, and therefore the ever faithful love of God is put forward as the model of the faithful love which should exist between spouses.” For “Israel” read “modern state” and you will get what I mean.

The Catholic family is rooted in the Spirit of God. The family is best viewed, appreciated and understood as the noblest, created analogy of the Divine Trinity that there is. The fruitful interpersonal relationship between husband and wife results in a new person, a child who will bring them to love each other more and learn how to love him or her more. They share “in the very authority and love of God the Father and Christ the Shepherd, and in the motherly love of the Church, and it enriches them with wisdom, counsel, fortitude and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (John Paul II)

That divine family is always there when this or that Catholic family is celebrating in joy or, it’s good for us to remind ourselves in days to come, when it is in trouble.

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI, PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are: Laity: Beautiful, Good and True; The World of the Sacraments; Catholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini, and, most recently, John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae: The Gift of Catholic Universities to the World.