Regaining the “Forgotten” Meaning of Family

"Family" is about more than just relationships. From God's perspective, it's much deeper and richer than that.

It’s easy not to fully appreciate a word we hear all the time. We become somewhat desensitized to the things represented by words that are common and familiar to us, or numb to the ideas they convey. The more familiar a thing is, the more its meaningfulness seems to fade. This is also true of the word and concept of Family. 

We see family as a collective of people who are related to each other either by blood or law (related by marriage, adoption, and so on). But family isn’t only about relationships. That only characterizes the family. The family, from God’s perspective—and therefore from the perspective of reality—is much more beautiful than that, and it’s meaning is much more rich.

Reflection of the Holy Trinity

The family is uniquely a human reflection of the Holy Trinity. That’s why God sees the family as so important, and it’s why the family has a place of such high honor.

“The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father, Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children, it reflects the Father’s work of creation.” (Catechism, Paragraph 2205) 

The family reflects and even mimics the work and character of God Himself! 

By having children, we reflect God’s work of creation. The education of children by their parents reflects God’s revelation to man. 

Exemplified by the Holy Family

The Holy Family was a family just like yours. St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Jesus were a family. They lived together, ate together, laughed together, and faced challenges together. They also prayed together, read the scriptures together, and worshiped God together. Imagine the Virgin Mary or St. Joseph reading scripture to a young Jesus or teaching him the scriptures and their meaning as he grew up. This is the model we all should strive for in our own families.

Mary was the first teacher of Our Lord, just as all mothers are their children’s first teachers. St. Joseph taught Jesus how to be a man. Jesus was God, but he was also a human who had to learn. St. Joseph taught Jesus his trade as a carpenter, and he probably taught him how to pray well and probably taught him things about the scriptures. The father is usually the spiritual leader of the family. 

If we model our own families after the Holy Family, we will have different lives. Pray to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and ask them to leave their spiritual impression upon your family.

The Domestic Church

Since the very beginning of Christianity, the family has been described as the “domestic church.” It’s like a “little church,” as John Paul II explained it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this of the domestic church,

 “The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason, it can and should be called a domestic church. It is a community of faith, hope, and charity; it assumes singular importance in the Church, as is evidenced in the New Testament. 2205 “Daily prayer and the reading of the word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelization and missionary task.” (Paragraphs 2205, 2206)

Like the Church itself, and like any local Catholic parish, the family is a community of faith, hope, and of charity. Daily prayer and scripture reading strengthen the family in charity and advance each family member in holiness. Before you cast that off as romantic idealism, I encourage you to put it into proactive and see for yourself how true that is. 

“The Christian family has an evangelization and missionary task.”

CCC 2205

As a domestic Church, the family assumes the mission of the ecclesial Church (the “actual” Church). That is to be witnesses of the Gospel in the world and in the ordinary moments of the lives of its members, to bring Jesus Christ into the world by word, deed, or example, and to be witnesses to each other—to other members of the family. The members of the domestic church aid each other in holiness, just as members of a parish do for one another.

The family, as the domestic Church, is the building block of civilization. “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” (St. Pope John Paul II)  As families—the domestic churches—become strained and broken, nations and the world begin crumbling as well. This is why the integrity of the family is so vital to the integrity and peace of a community, nation, and the world.

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