Our Holy Father exhorts us to become what we truly are as Christian families. However, in our culture today there is much confusion about what it means to be a family.
Ephesians 3:14-15 tells us that every family in heaven and on earth is named from our Heavenly Father: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” This means that what we are to become as Christian families is intimately tied to our relationship with God and His relationship to us. Just as Genesis 1:26 says that we are made in the image and likeness of God, the same is true of our families. Our families in some way are to reflect the likeness of God as well.
Christians worship the True God who is family. The Triune God is a communion of persons Father, Son, and Spirit. Trinitarian scholars teach us that within the Godhead there is a total and complete self-giving love between the Father and the Son. The Father gives Himself completely and totally to the Son, and the Son gives Himself completely and totally to the Father. From this complete and total self-giving between the Father and the Son proceeds another person we call the Holy Spirit. Our Holy Father calls the Holy Spirit, “Person-Love.” And, of course, the Holy Spirit also empties Himself out completely to the Father and the Son. In short, the persons within the Godhead pour themselves out completely to each other. This complete and total giving of self to another person is known as “kenosis.”
According to our Holy Father in his teachings on the theology of the body, Christian families are made in the image and likeness of God. The husband is called to give of himself completely to his wife. The wife is instructed by God to give herself completely to her husband. The conjugal act between husband and wife should be the summit of this complete giving of self where the unity between the husband and wife are expressed through their bodies. When God visits the husband and wife through this complete self-giving expressed by the conjugal act, another human person comes forth a child. This child is then the personification of the love of the parents and is also called to this self-giving loving communion of persons known as the human family.
Notice that the human family is not a government program or merely a human sociological invention. The human family, when lived out in its fullness, is an icon or image of the inner life of the Blessed Trinity! As Catholics, our hope is to participate in the life of the Trinity for all eternity in the new heavens and new earth. Our God generously gives us the opportunity to begin living out this life in the Trinity even now in our Christian families.
Living out the interior life of God in our families is a very tall order for fallen humans. In fact, we would definitely fail in this if God had not provided a way for us to be successful. Prayer, regular Mass attendance, Scripture reading, and obedience to God’s commandments help us to cooperate with God’s grace in making our families what they are supposed to be images of the inner life of the Trinity.
However the greatest assistance we receive in living out God’s inner life has been given to us in the sacraments. The sacraments give us sanctifying grace the power to live out the inner life of God in ourselves and our families. The reason for this is that when Adam and Eve sinned they divorced themselves and us from God. In addition, they also divorced themselves from each other. When Jesus came and took on human nature, He became the Great Reconciler. He not only reconciled the human race to God, but He also reconciled members of the human race to each other. This means that the sacraments instituted by Christ reunite us with God. Through them we are empowered to live in a bridal relationship with God and to answer His call to give of ourselves to our human family.
So, the sacraments give us the power to faithfully fulfill our roles in the domestic church, the family. They give husbands the power to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. They give wives the power to respect their husbands. And they give children the power to honor their parents, and parents the power to become the chief catechists of the Faith to their children both in words and actions.
I bought a T-shirt at a Catholic conference this summer that said: “Evangelize always. When necessary use words.” Imagine what would happen if every Christian family truly lived out, however imperfectly, the inner life of the Trinity within their families. I suspect that many of the problems we see in the Church today would soon disappear or at least be greatly reduced in severity. There would be fewer divorces as husbands and wives truly lived out the self-giving love of the sacrament of marriage. The poor and the infirm would be assisted. There would be no shortage of vocations in the Church, to marriage, the priesthood, and the religious life, because a family that truly lives out its purpose would catechize its children, parish, and community well in the Faith both through words and actions.
The world would see a love in action that it could not ignore. This is what is needed is we are ever to turn the corner on problems like abortion, euthanasia and other moral issues for which legal remedies have proven so elusive. The future of the human race flows through families, and noting will have a greater positive impact on the future than strengthening family life.
As a Jehovah’s Witness and then a Protestant Christian, I was never taught what it really means to become a Christian family. I learned this important truth about God and mankind when I became Catholic. The Catholic Church has the answer to what ails the family today. We Catholics should realize this and share this wisdom with our friends and neighbors, through our words and actions, so that all may have the opportunity to choose to live out the inner life of the Trinity, by the grace of God, for eternity.
Jeffery Schwehm is a former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Headquarters Staff in Brooklyn, New York, and a former Lutheran. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, WI and is a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Kohler, WI.