Dignity of the Christian Family
by Albert F. Ernst, O.S.F.S.


The Infant Savior appeared on earth in order to, "Restore all things in Christ".  Where could He establish a more firm and more lasting foundation than in the family?  The family is, indeed, the most important and influential unit of the entire social order.  As the family, so a nation.  By being born into a family, Jesus indicated that He came not only to suffer and to die, but also to teach and to sanctify: and the first object of His work of teaching and sanctifying was the family.

Originally in the Garden of Eden, God had made marriage a permanent institution.  It was founded as a holy organization.  God bestowed His very first blessing upon it.  When marrying the first couple, Scripture says, "God blessed them".  Alas, our first parents abandoned the holiness God had given them.  Family distress descended upon them.  After the first sin on earth, paganism followed.  This weakened the family tie.  Divorce and it's consequent disruption made family union an impossibility.  God tolerated this abuse only because of the hardness of their hearts.

To remedy this unwholesome condition of society, the Son of God chose to become a member of a family.  In due time, Christ restored the sanctity of family life.  He dignified family life by making marriage a sacred relation, a sacrament which gives holiness and stability to domestic life.  By so doing, He established the Christian family.

The Christian family is a holy organization.  Due to its sacramental character, the husband and father exercises the authority of Christ himself.  "A husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church".  The wife and mother is like the bride of Christ.  "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loves the Church".  The children born of this sacred union are destined to become adopted children of God, reared, "In the discipline and admonition of the Lord".  Thus, through the graces of the sacrament, the Catholic family becomes, "A little Church" in Christ.  And don't forget the Church of Christ is holy.

A family is holy when husband, wife and children cooperate with God in the duties which belong to each.  It is this three fold cooperation which the Holy Family of Nazareth exemplifies.  Joseph cooperated with God by exercising the responsibility which had between given to Him.  In taking the place of God in this family, Joseph assumed a kindly authority over Christ and Mary.  Because God wanted it that way, Joseph acted as the head of the family, even though he knew that Mary was far superior to him in dignity.  An angel had told him of Mary's divine motherhood.  Their Son was God.  What boundless submission to the will of God was required of Joseph in being charged with the duties of directing and giving gentle command to two persons unspeakably greater than he.  But God asked Joseph to accept this obligation and Joseph offered his cooperation.

When the Child's life was threatened, a heavenly messenger appeared not to Mary, but to Joseph.  In this way the angel showed that Joseph was responsible for the family's safety.  He was supposed to tell Mary and her child what to do, to hasten to the foreign land of Egypt.  Later, when the menacing sword of Herod had fallen into the grave, the guarding angel appeared again to Joseph and advised him of the order he was to issue; to bid Jesus and Mary to return to and resume normal family life in their native country.

Mary cooperated with God by her obedience to Joseph and by her motherly guidance of Jesus.  Although his task was not one of difficulty in the manner in which other wives and mothers have trials in dealing with their family, Mary was awed by the sublimity of her position.  She had become the Mother of God.  What grief of love was hers in not revealing this fact of a divine pregnancy to her husband.  Perhaps it was in obedience to God's will that she did not make this mystery known to Joseph.  Was not this a family trial for Mary?  What sorrow pierced her heart when she felt in duty bound to ask her Son the reason for His absence of three days. "Son, why hast thou done so to us?  Behold, thy father and I have been seeking thee sorrowing".  What submission to divine providence was required of her to receive Jesus' reply.  "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business".  This answer increased her wonder.  For, she, "Did not understand the words that He spoke to them".  After Joseph died, leaving her a widow with full parental responsibility, every item of family life was rested upon her.  Then, anxieties increased until she laid her Son to rest near Calvary.

Jesus cooperated with God the Father.  He expresses it in this way, "I came to do the will of Him who sent Me".  In accord with God's will, He became one of the Holy Family.  As the third member of the family, He, "Advanced in wisdom, age and grace".  His whole private life is summed up in the word subjection.  Scripture has it, "He was subject to them".  The very last recorded deed of His private life was one of listening to His Mother, "Woman, what would thou have Me do"?  He did as Mary wished, even though her wish called for a miracle.

Behold the Holy Family which is the model family for every Christian home.  It is called holy, not merely because as an individual, Jesus was holiness itself; but because Mary was the most holy and Joseph was holy and just.  This family is called holy also because, in the subordination which is indispensable in a well ordered home, each accepted the duty God had assigned.  From this special family we learn that the order of authority and obedience as exercised in the Holy Family is the pattern of holiness which should be adopted by every Catholic family.