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How the family is a 'domestic church' Print
Guest column
Thursday, Sep. 29, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
Veronica Arntz

In this four-part series discussing Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (AL), I hope to establish a clear understanding of marriage and family in the first and second parts.

In the third and fourth parts, I will clarify some confusion over the nature of the divorced and remarried and the reception of Communion, looking at the document itself.

Our next step shall be to link what we previously said about marriage to what the Church says about family.

As St. John Paul II explains in his 2001 Roman Rota address, "The natural character of marriage is better understood when it is not separated from the family" (5).

Children are gift from God

Pius XI's 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii (CC) describes the importance of marriage for the birth of children: "It is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God by the cooperation of those bound in wedlock" (12).

Thus, the children are a gift from God to the married couple. It is God's design that children be born into a family united by "conjugal faith" (CC, 22), which "blooms more freely, more beautifully, and more nobly, when it is rooted in that more excellent soil, so the love of husband and wife which pervades all the duties of married life and holds pride of place in Christian marriage" (CC, 23).

'Common goods'

This beautiful image of married and family love described by Pius XI is explained further in St. John Paul II's 1994 Letter to Families: "The family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum" (7).

The communion between the husband and wife, therefore, extends to their children. In St. John Paul II's perspective, the consent given by the spouses and the children are both considered the "common goods" of marriage.

As he explains, "Just as the common good of the spouses is fulfilled in conjugal love, ever ready to give and receive new life, so too the common good of the family is fulfilled through that same spousal love, as embodied in the newborn child" (Letter to Families, 11).

The love of the spouses is fulfilled in bringing children into the world. Every child is made in the image and likeness of God, which means that he or she ought to be born into a family that imitates God's own love.

A 'domestic church'

Because baptized men and women are sacramentally married, their family is called a "domestic church" (Lumen gentium, 11).

We see this especially described in Ephesians 5:21-33. The family is an image of Christ's love for his Church. Christ gave everything for his bride, which means that the husband likewise ought to give everything for his own bride.

The Church gives herself completely to Christ's will, and the wife likewise should give credence to her husband as her head. This is the beautiful and natural relationship between the husband and wife designed by God from the beginning.

Amoris Laetitia begins by offering an exegesis on Psalm 128, which praises the household that fears the Lord. "Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord" (Psalm 128:3-4).

Building the house

Commenting on this beautiful psalm, Pope Francis writes, "If the parents are in some sense the foundations of the home, the children are like the 'living stones' of the family" (cf. 1 Peter 2:5) (AL, 14).

He continues, saying that the word "child" in the Old Testament is related to the verb "to build." In such a way, "Psalm 128, in speaking of the gift of children, uses imagery drawn from the building of a house and the social life of cities" (AL, 14).

The family, in fearing the Lord and obeying his commands, properly builds their domestic church, their little house for God.

In this context, we think of Christ's words about houses built on rock or sand. Thus, the family, in building its domestic church, ought to build their house on the rock of God's laws, rather than on the sand of false ideologies and sin (cf. Matthew 7:14-28).

In sum, marriage is a lifelong covenant established by God between one man and one woman. This covenant is designed for the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.

From these two ends come the gift of the family, which is meant to be a communio personarum, a communion of persons, living together in faithful life and love.

Veronica Arntz graduated from Wyoming Catholic College in May 2016 and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology degree from the Augustine Institute, Denver, Colo.