Recently, standing behind a mom in line at Disney, I heard her reflect to a…
The evolution of the family: It matters
There is nothing so offensive as the Judeo-Christian vision of the family. That was as true in antiquity as it is now.
We like to think that playing with different family forms is a brave new idea for a brave new world. But the idea that the family could be something other than one man, one woman, and the children they bear is an ancient, pre-Christian notion that’s simply reasserting itself in a post-Christian world. The ancient world was tremendously tolerant of same-sex households, polygamous households, polyamorous households and every other kind of household you could think of. Archaeologists have the pottery records to prove it.
Yes, at the beginning of time, God created the family as Christians understand it. He created Eve to be the perfect helper for Adam (cf. Gn 2:18) and gave them the first great commission to “be fertile and multiply” (Gn 1:28). Before the Fall, God, man, woman and the world lived in what St. John Paul II called “original unity.”
But original sin disrupted that unity. Man and woman became estranged from each other. The union they enjoyed with God and God’s plan for creation was destroyed (cf. Gn 3:23-24). The world was thrown into chaos (cf. Gn 6). Little made sense anymore (cf. Gn 11). After the Fall, men, women, children and all of creation were just shattered bits in a box of odds and ends that the ancient, pre-Judeo-Christian world played with at will.
But as salvation history played out, God not only gave us more hints about his plan for revealing himself to us, he also gave us a clearer picture of his vision of family. As time passed, family evolved through grace and from chaos, polygamy, monogamous realtionships that could still be broken and, finally, to what it was in the beginning (cf. Mt 19:8) — a lifelong, indissoluble, monogamous relationship between one man, one woman and the children they bore.
The story of this vision of family climaxes with Christ conferring the dignity of a sacrament on a man and a woman at the wedding at Cana (cf. Jn 2:1-12). In a sense, similar to the way Jesus consecrated bread and wine out of any other elements he could have chosen to celebrate the first Eucharist, Christ consecrated the relationship between man and woman out of all the possible relationships he could have chosen. Just like we can’t have a valid Eucharist without bread and wine, we can’t have a valid Christian marriage without man and woman. But why does it matter? Why would God care so much about what a family looks like?
The Church teaches that, as Christians understand it, the human family is an icon of the Trinity. An icon isn’t just a picture. It’s a window into the world of the sacred. God, in his very nature, is family: three persons, intimately united as one. The family — as Christianity defines it — gives us the best peek we can get at the inner life of God on this side of heaven.
The story of the Christian vision of family life runs parallel to the story of our salvation because, as God draws nearer, he empowers us to see his face more clearly in the type of family he created in his image. It’s this unique vision of family that is most capable of communicating the free, total, faithful and fruitful love that flows from God’s own heart. This is, as St. Paul explains, “a great mystery” that deserves our deepest reverence and respect (Eph 5:32).
When the Church asserts the dignity of this vision of family life, it’s not out of hatred for any other person or household. Although the Christian family is honored to be an icon of the Trinity, every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Because of that, it’s certainly arguable that every household — to the degree that it attempts to approximate the blessings the Christian vision of family offers — can be used by God for some good. But to suggest that any other family form is equivalent to the revealed, Christian vision of family is like suggesting that cookies and milk could make a valid Eucharist.
Catholics assert the dignity of the Christian vision of marriage for the simple reason that God ordained it to reveal the importance about himself and his love for the world. The Christian vision of marriage and family was not created by us. It was instituted by God. Our job, as disciples, is to promote and defend this vision for the sacred icon that it is.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including “For Better … FOREVER! The Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage” (Our Sunday Visitor, $21.95).