Crowning the work of creation, on the sixth day, “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” While God was pleased with all his works, in the formation of the human race God rejoiced in a special way. He saw that what he had done was “very good,” Scripture tells us, as though the inspired author wanted to stress God’s special action in creating man and woman, made to the image and likeness of the Creator through a spiritual and immortal soul. Moreover, God gratuitously bestowed a participation in his own intimate life, making the first man and woman his children and filling them with preternatural gifts.
Divine providence, in providing for the human being’s free cooperation in the transmission of life, has wanted to protect it from the vagaries of possible caprices through the natural institution of marriage, later elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament.
The family—the great human family, and each of the families that make it up—is one of the natural instruments desired by God so that men and women could cooperate in an orderly way with his creative decree. God’s will in counting on the family in his plan of salvation was confirmed, as time went on, through the various covenants that Yahve established with the ancient patriarchs: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In its set time, the promise of a Redeemer was given to the House of David.
When the fullness of time arrived, an angel of the Lord announced to men the fulfillment of the divine plan: Jesus is born, in Nazareth, of the Virgin Mary, through the action of the Holy Spirit. And God provided a family for his Son, with an adoptive father, Joseph, and Mary, his virginal mother. God deigned, also in this extraordinary event, to provide an example of how he wants men and women, his children, to be born and to grow up: within a stably constituted institution.
“Our thoughts turn to the different events and circumstances surrounding the birth of the Son of God. As we contemplate the stable in Bethlehem or the home of the holy family in Nazareth, Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus occupy a special place in our hearts. What does the simple, admirable life of the holy family tell us?” We can respond to St. Josemaría’s question with words from the Compendium of the Catechism: the Christian family, in the image of Jesus’ family, is also a “domestic church” because it manifests the communal and familial nature of the Church as the family of God.
Owing to its natural and supernatural mission, the family has a great dignity. Every family is a sacred entity and merits the veneration and solicitude of its members, of civil society and of the Church. Therefore, it is a tragic corruption of its essence to reduce it to conjugal relations, or to a social unit or a harmonization of special interests. St. Josemaría insisted that “we must strive so that these cells of Christianity may be born and may develop with a desire for holiness.”
The home has to be the first and principal school where children learn to live the human and Christian virtues. The Church has a great interest in the proper development of the “school of virtues” that each family should be. Through the generous cooperation of Christian parents in the divine plan, God himself “will increase and enrich his family.”The Mystical Body of Christ grows in number and virtue on earth, and from Christian homes an especially pleasing oblation is offered to God.
The reality of the family establishes certain rights and duties. All its members should have a clear awareness of the dignity of the family community and of the mission it is called to carry out. Each person should fulfill his or her duties with a true sense of responsibility, despite the sacrifices required. In regard to its rights, the family has a double title to the state’s respect and recognition: the family is the origin of the state and a society is only as good as the families that make it up.
The love that is born in the family—both gentle and demanding—makes family life a foretaste of heaven. “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.”
At the present moment in the life of society, it is especially urgent to once more instill a Christian meaning into so many homes. To contribute to this immense work, the key to restoring a Christian tone to society, each of us has to begin by putting order into his own house.
Of special importance here is the education of one’s children. Parents are called to provide this education in a society that to a great extent has become de-Christianized. Pope John Paul II stressed two basic truths in this regard: “first, that man is called to live in truth and love; and second, that everyone finds fulfillment through the sincere gift of self.” “Raising children can be considered a genuine apostolate. It is a living means of communication, which not only creates a profound relationship between the educator and the one being educated, but also makes them both sharers in truth and love, that final goal to which everyone is called by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”