Today, my dear brethren, is the Feast of the Holy Family. It is a feast that recalls the perfect union of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and Our Lord Jesus Christ, a union in which the Word Made Flesh chose to live the greatest part of His earthly life. Today’s feast also recalls the importance of that social institution, the family, in the journey of every soul to its final destiny which is union with God in heaven.
For of all the influences that play a part in the formation of souls, there is none more important than the influence of the family. Schools, wealth, media and politics all play a part in the formation of a soul but, compared to the education of a child by its mother and father and siblings, their role is most assuredly secondary.
The family is not only the most important institution for the formation of individual souls, it is also the building block of society. Disfunction in the family, therefore, not only leads disfunctional individuals, it necessarily leads to a disfunction in the whole of society. This is something that is immediately evident in modern times.
A recent book
In 2006 an interesting book was published entitled Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It by a Mrs. Sue Palmer. In the book, the authoress attempts to expose an unfolding catastrophe of our modern world in a systematic way.
She details the damage caused:
- by poor diet to the mental and physical development of children;
- by too few hours of sleep to their health and learning;
- by electronic media - social media, television, computer games, mobile phones, internet - to the development of cognitive processes;
- by the absence of the mother from home,
- by buggies that face forwards instead of backwards towards the mother,
- by consumerism and advertising,
- by lack of conversation, communal meals and family activities,
- by divorce
and many other such things.
The book is interesting for the catalogue of woes it lays out for the reader, but the solutions it proposes are radically incomplete.
It happily counsels that we should think about:
- avoiding junk food;
- going to bed early;
- getting rid of the telly;
- spending quality time with the children etc..
It proposes an elaborate array of material solutions to modern parenting problems, but it fails entirely in routing those solutions in anything more than a vague notion of what seems to be good, (ie. what seems to be natural) and what is proported to be feasible acccording to modern parenting practice.
What is missing - the Holy Family
In the book, there are no notions of the existence of God and of the order inscribed by God in human nature (and hence in the family); there is no notion of objective right and wrong consequent to our nature and our relation to God; and there is no notion of love, true love by which a soul sacrifices itself to attain its perfection on earth.
One might say in defence that it wasn’t a religious book and so would not have arrived at these conclusions as a consequence. But the existence of God, objective right and wrong and true love are not specifically religious notions - they are entirely natural - and a solution which ignores the natural order of things is simply unnatural.
As Catholics, we know by faith that there is another element in the equation of human perfection too. It is this: the perfection of the natural order, the perfection of the family, is impossible without grace.
For a family to be truly functional, therefore, it must be truly religious and must aspire to supernatural virtue, not only by material means (such as eating and sleeping well, shutting out the evil influences of the world, giving time to your children), but more especially by
- prayer in common (the rosary),
- frequentation of the sacraments
- and a practice of virtue.
In short, it must take the Holy Family as its model. Every virtue for our own families - both supernatural and natural - is there perfectly manisfest: faith, hope and charity; prudence, justice, fortitude, temperence. Every gift of the Holy Ghost operates to an exemplary degree. Every freely given grace (gratia gratis data) bears fruit in their neighbours.
Let us ask for the singular grace by which our families might conform themselves to the Holy Family. By our families' imitation of the Holy Family, may our children be preserved from all that might harm them in this wicked world and may we all be brought safely to that heavenly abode as members of that same Holy Family for all eternity.