The solemn feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph brings to our attention the love of God for the human family in a way that can only be identified as completely unexpected and surprising. God surprises man with a Savior born into a human family. It is not a surprise to us because it is so extraordinary, but because of its utter naturalness. It is so thoroughly human. It is surprising because God, who creates and rules the cosmos, chooses to reveal Himself to us within the life a typical family structure.
What could be more natural for humanity than a family built upon love of father and mother? Even though we accept the reality that, many times, homes are broken, as a consequence of sin and the human condition, instinctively, we know, also, that the home life of parents and children, in which love is preserved and protected, is to be supported by society. In turn, we expect members of families and our society to reach out in those conditions where homes are broken apart to see that the family is made as strong as possible, and to insure that the children receive the type of support they need to flourish.
We take it for granted that we have the opportunity in a family for a special kind of relationship. The family does something for the human person that every human person needs. Our familial relationships form us as human beings, even as the family is formed by the individual, each with his or her own human identity. Even Our Lord in His human nature accepted such a set of relationships in order to become who He was to be as a man. The Savior we know is God, but He was the product of the nurturing of Mary and Joseph, as his mother and father, as well. The Gospel tells us that Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and found favor before God and man. As intimately as He, as God, knew His mother and foster father, in His humanity He drew from them elements of His human character that he chose to carry to the Cross and to Heaven.
The Church affirms that the family structure needs to be protected for the benefit of each individual and for the benefit of mankind. The Scriptural teachings on the duties of the husband and wife, father and mother, and children, might seem, at first glance, to be an expression of accepted moral expectations among those who hold to a certain structure of the family. Respect, honor, obedience, and mutual forgiveness are certainly important duties in the Christian home. Truly, though, this teaching expresses a moral code that is a consequence of the authentic nature of the family. “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother's authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.” (Sir 3:2-6) The honor paid to the father and mother as God has established it atones for sins, finds favor with God, and prepares a heavenly inheritance. The Gospel tells us of Jesus’ unhesitating obedience to his parents. Even though he knew he had a mission, he also knew that His parents were given a particular mission in regard to him, as well. The Lord God gives this mission to every father and mother. Without this family structure, we cannot find anywhere a moral code that leads to the values of a just society. Without the family, the values and conduct which have formed civilizations have no basis. As the family, so goes society.
Much of what is written, above, is simply a restatement of the truth about the family that many in our society now seem to reject. All those who truly seek Christ’s justice must not be drawn in to this rejection. Just yesterday, for example, the law in Maine changed to allow for the redefinition of marriage. Christians, on the other hand, must be clear to point out that with such new definitions, man loses the rational basis for a just social order that has been built upon the flourishing of the family. With this rejection of the truth about marriage and the family goes, as well, the foundation established for social responsibilities such the right to a just wage, to education, the rights to insurance and retirement benefits, the right to participate in economic development, the right to adequate housing and healthcare, and so on. These rights and responsibilities have been built around the maintenance and support of the family. Social relationships form the fabric out of which arise the rights of workers. The foundation of all of society is the family. Without the family, there is no longer a firm moral basis for any of these things. We would have to conclude that with a redefinition of the family, there will come significant changes in the way society will view labor and the duties owed by society toward workers.
In his Christmas Day address to the city of Rome and to the world, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this trend toward abandoning the traditional structure of the family. He acknowledged that this trend to redefine the family is allegedly based upon the role attributed to freedom that would allow society to create any family structure it wants. However, he said, in reality, the scope of this trend goes to the point of being a rejection of the truth about one’s own nature. He said, “People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.” And he adds, “The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.”
If we as a people have decided that we can define ourselves in any way we wish, regardless of the obvious realities of the human body, I would ask, is there anything left that can be called sacred? We can see ourselves; our bodies and its characteristics are obvious. If we cannot bind ourselves to a rational understanding of that which we can see, what will we do to God, whom we cannot see?
The authentic family, even with all of its limitations and even with the effects of the fall, reveals the truth about God and teaches us to look for the truth that comes from Him. We, who believe, must refuse to accept the redefinition of the family because it is a complete rejection of God as He revealed Himself. When a society abandons the truth about the family, it has abandoned the God of Divine Revelation, as well.