The Christian Family
John Mc Dermott s.j.
Vatican II called the family "the fondation of society", and its weakening must affect everyone (Gaudium et Spes, 52). Necessary as the family may be for civil society, only in the light of the gospel does its full meaning emerge.
A superficial reading of the New Testament might at first lead to the discovery of apparent contradictions in its teaching about marriage. On the one hand Jesus approves the Old Testament law to honor oneís father and mother (Mk 10, 17-19) and, going beyond the old law, restores the indissolubility of marriage as God originally intended it (Mk 10, 5-12).
On the other hand Jesus announces that He has come to bring not peace, but the sword that divides the members of a family from each other (Mt 10, 34-36; Lk 12, 51-53). Indeed, Jesus declared: "Whoever comes to me cannot be my disciple unless he hates his father and his mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and his sisters, and himself as well" (Lk 14, 26).
To understand those difficult sayings of our Lord, marriage must be seen in the wider context of Scripture. At the very beginning, the Book of Genesis inform us: "So God created human beings; they will be like us and resemble us... He created them male and female" (Gen. 1, 26-27). Immediately thereafter God commande them: "Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control." (Gen. 1, 27).
The mystery of love demands
In the New Testament the full revelation of God has occurred and from its perspective we can understand the full meaning of the Book of Genesis. For if God is love (I Jn. 4, 16), then man and woman are created in the image of Godís love. and just as Godís love is expansive, going, as it were, beyond itself in creation and then in redemption, where God pours out His heartís blood to share His life with us, so also the married love of husband and wife is called to bring forth children.
To refuse that inherent dynamism of marriage toward children would be to stifle love. The biological drive that results in procreation is but a sign of the deeper, spiritual reality that love involves, viz., expansive self-giving.
For men are composed of body and soul in a vital unity. Just as oneís body helps form the spiritual personality, the soul for its part expresses itself in a body. People naturally express their joy through smiles and laughter, their grief through tears and laments. The union of love expresses itself in physical union that unites bodies as well as souls.
And the very bodily expression of love can help spiritual love to grow as the physical sharing manifests the desire to share ever more fully the interior life of the beloved.
If man is a mystery to himself, who can explain by himself neither how he came to be nor what he attain with his life, love is an even greater mystery. Who can explain why one person should be loved by another? Friendship is a free gift and no one can ever force another person to love him. So great is our desire for love and so immense is our incapacity to guarantee it that industries have made fortunes by persuading people that a certain type of toothpaste or deodorant or hair spray or clothing or automobile inevitably will make one loved...
Despite the success of such advertising we know in our hearts that love cannot be compelled, cannot be bought. That is why an immense sense of joy, wonder, and gratitude overwhelms us when we find that we are loved. Why should someone love me? Why should someone be willing to prefere me to himself ?
For the mystery of love demands total dedication. One cannot say, "I love you as long as the money lasts or I find pleasure in you", "I love you for five years or ten", or "I love you if you agree with me". Such conditions and limitations indicate clearly that alleged lover is only seeking his own advantage, not the good of the beloved. That is not love.
Yet there is nothing in any of us which permits us to say, "You must love me with all your heart, even be willing to give your life for me". Love didands absolute commitment, even unto death. Only God can demand total commitment from man.
It is the deepest mystery of life and love that God calls us to Himself in calling us to love each other.
Marriage was the primordial sacrament uniting Adam and Eve with each other and with God. They were created in the image of God who is Love.
"Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church
and gave his life for it."(Eph. 5, 25).