It is often said that the family is the foundation of civilization, as well as the means for personal and communal growth. “As the family goes, so goes the world”. It’s hard to downplay this truth, especially with so much brokenness in our world. However, another truth is equally important: marriage is the foundation of the family. “As marriage goes, so goes the family.”
It may seem obvious that these two structures, marriage and family, go together. But from my experience, there is a growing number of people who do not feel this way. They are skeptical that there has to be a certain ideal for marriage. This could be due to personal experiences or just their own reasoning.
Some culture observers note that one of the clearest signs our society had begun departing from it’s Judeo-Christian heritage was the institution of no-fault divorce in the late 1960’s. Since that trend began, the family structure has weakened and society has become more fragmented.
People can debate about public policy and discuss the many causes behind these trends. I wish to simply draw attention to the correlation between decline in marriages and decline in families. These trends are clearly related in some way. They also seem to correlate with the decline in practice of religion.
I believe our culture is suffering and trying to find ways to make things better. Many people don’t see the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage (husband and wife, open to life) as being very successful. Afterall, many of these broken marriages and families come from people who have some religious background.
So what is a compelling response?
Good marriages. Committed couples who love each other especially through difficult times. There is no better explanation. People of faith need to refocus on our own marriages and live the beauty of God’s design. This will benefit not only our own families, but all of society as well.
We as Catholics need to deepen our appreciation for what marriage is. If we don’t, it can all too often seem like a burden rather than a blessing. When we look to scripture and tradition, we see God has used marriage to relate to us from the very beginning. He wants us to draw inspiration from Him in order to find happiness in our earthly lives. We cannot thrive by just our own strength, we need the Lord’s grace.
There are many examples of this marital imagery in our faith with the most important being Jesus the Bridegroom and His bride the Church. As the Catechism says, “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church” (CCC 1617). All of creation receives the love of God through this natural foundation.
God has made us in such a way that men and women unite together to create new life. The best way for new life to flourish is to be supported by a husband and wife as part of a strong network of extended family & friends. The community is only as strong as the bonds of love between spouses and their children.
When these structures are weak and broken, the society has to compensate to try to fill in the gaps. Sometimes this is unavoidable, however, this trend is unsustainable for a community. If perpetuated, it will cause lasting harm (physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially).
It is crucial that we draw strength for our foundation from Jesus, the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2). As St. Paul writes “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her” (Eph. 5). This sacrificial attitude is the essence of spousal love. The closer husbands and wives are to Christ, the stronger their relationship will be. The stronger their relationship, the better off their family and community will be.
There is another factor which makes this project difficult: satan. Since the beginning of humans’ existence, the evil one has sought to divide men and women. He knows their bond is the foundation of a thriving society, and he works to put cracks in it. We let him do this when we are not attentive to the state of marriage.
It is not about making people feel guilty or judging those who have experienced real hardship. It is about being honest and each person doing the best they can. Everyone can be part of creating this foundation. As Catholics we know that in Heaven all will be married to God (Mt. 22), and some consecrated individuals display this reality already while on earth.
Let us ask God for the grace to see our role in building up the foundation of marriage. It could be as a spouse, child, or friend. In all the dynamics of our relationships, God is calling us to model the love between Him and the Church. This love is steadfast and generous. May we answer this call in a courageous and humble manner!