This week we mark 40 years since the Supreme Court of our nation made abortion legal. Since that time, over 55,000,000 children have been destroyed by means of surgical abortion (that we know of).
There is something terribly broken in our nation that we would allow for this, and that our government has sanctioned (and in many ways supported) such outright destruction. I could take several approaches to speaking about the ills of our society on this anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, and I have spoken of many issues in the past, but this year I’d like to talk about the interplay between the family and the government.
It’s something that I’ve been contemplating in light of our celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family a few Sundays ago, and so I hope you will forgive my recalling our readings of that Feast for the sake of taking a look at family life — a subject which certainly deserves our consideration on more than just one or two days of the year.
I think it is tremendously interesting and telling that from the very beginning of God’s Revelation to mankind there is a clear, but very simple, expression of His eternal plan for the family. Beginning in Genesis, we hear of God’s plan — God created male and female, and He created marriage, consisting of one husband, one wife, one lifetime, with openness to children — at the very dawn of creation. And the narrative is carried through Scripture until we reach Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, who sanctify married life in a very special way, because of course, Jesus was God, Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His protector. Thinking back to the readings that the Church provides for us on the Feast of the Holy Family, right from the beginning we see some basic elements of the makeup of the family (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; Colossians 3:12-21; and Luke 2:41-52).
In very brief and simple terms, we see that a general responsibility of the father of the family is to be in charge of security and order. We remember the angel coming to Joseph and saying, “take the child and his mother to Egypt” (Mt 2:13), to protect the family. The father is in charge of security and the keeping of order, so that the mother can perform the far more important duty and responsibility of protecting, generating, and caring for life and love.
The role of the daughters and the sons are laid out simply as well. (Though just because they are simple in their framing does not mean that we should be tempted to thinking that they are simply man-made roles. They are God-made roles; God made this plan.) The first responsibility of sons and daughters is simply to obey, and we hear that over and over again — even Jesus, in His relationship to God the Father, speaks of His obedience. So, too, in the narratives of Jesus’ life with His earthly parents, we see obedience. All along we see Jesus, though imbued with the fullness of knowledge, in His human nature asking questions of His parents and listening to them — obeying.
In very general terms then, the primary responsibility for protecting and ordering the family falls to the father, so that the mother can be a generator and protector of life and love, and the sons and daughters are to be obedient to their parents such that defense, order, life, and love can flourish and increase. And all of this is bound up together by faithful, self-sacrificial love. This is how God created the family in the beginning, and that’s how he renewed the family according to the wonderful familial communion of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
The limited role of government
This plan for the family to many in our world today seems idealistic, to say the least. But this is God’s plan and it’s useful to reflect upon that plan in light of our own times. It’s useful as well to consider the role of the government in the course of history. From the beginning, and even in Jesus’ time, the role of governments was non-existent, or severely limited. The family, for ages, was the model and foundation of society — where there was a defense ministry, a love and life ministry, and an obedience ministry. This model of society, the family, has been around since humankind began — long before the first national, state, or local government was founded. And the family relations were meant to be the foundation and the model for the way that any government body functioned.
The family is — in every way — prior to the state, and the state’s model and list of responsibilities should flow from the family and should include a ministry for defense, for nurturing life and love (brotherly love of neighbor and of the country), and for obedience (in our case an obedience to the ideal of the Constitution).
And so, if the family is the foundation of and model for the state, and if the family is inherently prior to the state, the only thing that the state should do with regard to marriage (the fount from which families spring forth) is to safeguard it, to uphold the inherent dignity of marriage, from which flows the impetus for life and love, for defense, and for obedience which is the very foundation of human society.
What went wrong
However, we see that things are topsy-turvy. In a very notable way, this skewed understanding started with an acceptance and increase of artificial contraception and “no-fault” divorce — that’s when things really started to get out of hand with regard to our understanding of the family, and with regard to our understanding of the state’s role in relation to it. That’s when things started to get out of hand with regard to our understanding of the very moorings of society, because the deepest bonds of family — the faithfulness of husband and wife, and their openness to and responsibility for procreating new life (which, it should be obvious, is necessary for the continuation of the human race) — were torn down.
With the state no longer upholding the family in this way, society no longer supported and promoted the responsibility of a man to protect and order the family — his responsibility for remaining faithful to his wife and children was easily dismissed. So too, with the increase of artificial contraception, “no-fault” divorce, and then the legalization of abortion — which we mark this week — did we see the woman released from her responsibility for faithfully promoting and generating life and love in the family.
From those moments when “no-fault” divorce and artificial contraception, and then abortion became approved and accepted, we fast-forward to a point where now the state — which has no authority whatsoever to do so — is trying to redefine marriage itself. In a way, in terms of its logical progression, this makes perfect sense. The state has released men and women from any responsibility to faithfulness, released human sexuality from its intended purpose of generating and increasing life and love, and now is attempting to re-make marriage according to a world wherein there is sex without any need to commit to fidelity, defense, life, or love. If marriage is without the necessary responsibilities to fidelity, defense, life, or love, it is not marriage and marriage is then free for redefinition in whatever way the state would like.
Even beyond that, there is a movement to try to turn human sexuality (which is a good, endowed by God the Creator) into “gender.” Whereas an understanding of sex goes to the core of the person, gender is a more superficial, linguistic category which can be changed and adjusted according to the whims of anyone. And in order to avoid influencing whatever whim a child might eventually experience, we are to remove any classification which ties one to one’s sex. Children are supposed to be brought up so that when the reach a certain age, they are allowed to decide what they are in terms of male or female. This contributes further to the destruction of marriage, for if you can’t tell what a male or a female is objectively, how can there be marriage and how can there be family?
So, in this world, what is family? Anything you want it to be. There is beginning to be no such thing as “husband” and “wife.” No such thing as “daughter” or “son,” no such thing as fidelity, no such thing as procreation out of love, no such thing as nurturing or obedience, and no defense for future generations. There is no defense of the family, period.
The challenges of family roles
As we begin this New Year, it is good that we consider the Holy Family from which Jesus’ ministry began, we need to take the opportunity to think about what it is that God has meant the family to be, and what it is that Jesus witnessed to in His own life on this earth.
And we should not pretend that these roles are easy — they are not, and that may be why it’s so easy to do away with them.
Joseph’s role as father was a challenge from the beginning — it required a dying to self from the moment that he took Mary as his wife, and he defended the family by fleeing to Egypt, into the desert (not a happy place). Joseph’s defense of the family was not an easy job.
Mary’s role as generating and caring for life and love was not an easy job, one full of pain and sorrow.
For Jesus, in His divine nature, obedience was easy, but it resulted ultimately in His being obedient unto His suffering and death on a cross.
Undertaking the ministries of family is not easy. That’s why so many children are not obedient to their parents, and that’s why so many husbands and wives are afraid of their children, why so many men and women are afraid of committing to defense, to love, and to life, why there is so much divorce, contraception, and abortion. And everything is out of whack, such that now the temptation is to ask the state to legislate any meaning out of the whole institution.
But what can we do about it? This is our call to a New Evangelization to changing hearts and minds. Our evangelization can take place through beauty — through the beauty of the family life. When men and women strive to live out the life of a holy family, and when they imbue their children with this, the witness of love, of life, of defense, and of obedience is such that it cannot be surpassed by anyone who has eyes to see or a heart which is not completely hard.
Defending the gift with love
And so, we can defend the gift of life and of family life out of love and out of obedience to God’s plan. And by God’s Grace, we can overcome all that is besieging the family, all that leads to our culture of death, and we can do it with love. This must be the place that we begin. Pushing for legislation is helpful in so far as it allows the foundation of society — the family — to be defended and protected. But, by building our families, one-by-one, and supporting the families and the young men and women around us, we can transform society and, eventually, even the government once again.
If we can convince more and more men to be true to taking responsibility for their actions, for committing, in fidelity, to defending a wife and children; if we can convince more and more women that they will be cared for and defended such that they can remain open to promoting and generating life and love; if we can provide structures for the obedience of children such that they are formed more and more to be good and upstanding contributors to society — living the good example of their parents, we will see a new flourishing of our society; we will see an end to the horror of abortion.
So many of you are doing such an excellent job, and despite all that is going wrong, with regard to confusion and attacks on the family and family life, we should not be discouraged, because we see the signs of life and of change in our children and in so many families. Supporting and encouraging life, supporting and encouraging families, and supporting and encouraging God’s ministers to the family will ultimately win the day. Focusing upon building those things with courage and not letting ourselves be troubled by all the “slings and arrows” of our own day and age is our priority and our duty.
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this. Continued blessings to you all! Praised be Jesus Christ!