The Holy Family stands over and against today’s Herods who seek to devalue marriage, upend and destroy the family and its authentic meaning.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
29 December 2019
What is a family? Although it ought to be obvious, and very much was less than a century ago, it’s now one of the more pressing questions of our age due to the confusion, error, and relativistic, disordered opinions about what constitutes a human family.
In our gospel (Mt 2:13-15, 19-23), we learn that the narcissistic Herod the Great sought to kill the child Jesus and destroy the Holy Family. He saw Jesus as a threat to his power and status. Today, there’s a lot of “Herods” in the world who continue to view Jesus and all that the Holy Family stands for as an obstacle to the way they wish to live. Consequently, families are under attack in many ways, which poses an unprecedented threat to children, people, society, and the common good.
Thankfully, we Catholics have the revelation from God and the belief of the Church as our “guiding light” to ground us in the real meaning and reality of family.
Our readings today are filled with Christian family principles. And we have the model and perfect example of the Holy Family to shed divine light on the meaning of family.
One of the “Herods” we face today is a radical feminism that seeks to alter the meaning of family and upend the roles of men and women. As one example among many, it’s often the case that fatherhood, manhood, and masculinity is today belittled in the media. I’m sure we can all think of a movie in which men are portrayed as bumbling idiots under the rule of capable women who are the real heroes.
In Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II spoke of a “career woman” attitude that manifests in the idea that motherhood and raising a family is beneath women and somehow degrading of their true dignity. This attitude places the career path first in the minds of women as opposed to the vocation of motherhood. He noted that this attitude must be opposed because it tends to be destructive of the human family.
Please don’t misunderstand. St. John Paul II is not saying there’s anything wrong per se with women having careers. Obviously, it’s sometimes necessary for mothers to work outside the home, for example. Many women have accomplished wonderful things in their professional careers. Some choose to remain single so as to better serve the Lord in the secular world. And of course we all know that men and women are created by God with equal human dignity. However, God created the human person as male and female, with distinct roles for each. Masculinity and femininity have meaning, and, in fact, penetrate the entire person, body and soul.
Fatherhood and motherhood in their true, proper sense are essential in the family and in society. The Catechism reminds us that “divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood” (CCC 2214).
Notice how, in the Holy Family, the angel first alerts Joseph, who, as foster father of Jesus and husband of Mary, leads the Holy Family away from the danger of Herod and then back to Nazareth when they return from Egypt. The gospel makes it clear that Joseph is the leader of the household of the Holy Family. He takes up the God-ordained role of father, protector, and leader.
And what about Mary? She takes up the role and vocation of motherhood. Her entire life is about her divine maternity, as the Mother of God. Mary’s role and purpose is to give birth to the Savior of the world as the Mother of the Redeemer. Her vocation of motherhood is to bring the Lord Jesus and thus salvation to all nations. By virtue of her loving fidelity to that role, she is raised up above the angels and saints as Queen of Heaven.
The Devaluation of Marriage
One of the other “Herods” in society is the way marriage is today devalued and disparaged. This occurs in many ways, such as the widespread acceptance of homosexual “marriage,” cohabitation, and no-fault divorce. Again referring to St. John Paul II, he emphasized how marriage is the foundation of family and family is the first cell of society. If marriage goes, society will crumble.
The Catechism reminds us:
A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated. (CCC 2202)
The Church speaks of the family as “a privileged community” (CCC 2206) and “the original cell of social life” (CCC 2207). For these reasons:
The importance of the family for the life and well-being of society entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Civil authority should consider it a grave duty to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality, and promote domestic prosperity. (CCC 2210)
The Reality of Marriage
The family is founded on the marriage of one man and one woman, as was the Holy Family. What is the reality of marriage? Marriage is a lifelong, indissoluble communion or bond of one man and one woman for the purpose of the procreation and education of children. Of course, Mary and Joseph did not procreate. Their marriage was singularly unique in that it was ordered toward raising up the incarnate Son of God in a human family.
Nevertheless, marriage is a lifelong communion of man and woman that is ordered toward the generation and education of children, which means the purpose of marriage is to procreate and form a family (CCC 2201). The family, then, serves life. What does this mean? It means that spouses are open to sharing with God the Creator in the creation of children. Christian spouses do not close themselves off to life in a battle against their God-given fertility. Which means that Christian spouses must say no to contraceptives and sterilization procedures because they can both destroy and prevent life. Contraceptives are contrary to the very purpose and meaning of marriage. For example, hormonal contraceptives like birth control pills not only prevent conception but can act as abortifacients that terminate pregnancies. For these reasons and others, the Church teaches that the use of contraceptives in marriage to avoid pregnancy is intrinsically wrong. It’s always a disordered act. Which is why it’s an intrinsic evil. It is contrary to God’s plan of life and love to contracept in marriage.
Marriage: A Social Arrangement?
Another one of the “Herods” of today is that people think of marriage as merely a temporary social arrangement that is in place to satisfy emotional needs or desires. We see this manifested in same-sex “marriages” and “no-fault divorce.” A Gallup poll this year showed that 63% of Americans support same sex marriage and see nothing morally problematic with these disordered relationships.
73% of Americans think divorce is morally acceptable, which means most people generally think remarriage is acceptable. Of course, there can be situations in which divorce may be necessary. The attempt to contract a new marital union while one’s spouse is still living, however, is not. Christ was clear in all three synoptic gospels that divorce and remarriage constitutes adultery.
Since marriage is ordered toward the procreation and education of children, it must be a lifelong, permanent bond of communion. Why? Children deserve and require the stability of marriage and family for healthy physical and psychological growth. Also, children deserve and require both a mother and father in their education in the divine faith of the Church. Since the education of children is ongoing in marriage, so too does marriage require a lifelong bond.
Marriage and family are not social constructs that can be altered by a majority opinion. Each is authored by and divinely ordained by God. Each is woven into the fabric of the reality of human persons, human communities, and human life in society. Contrary to the sentiment of the day, marriage cannot be “redefined” any more than one can redefine God or the Incarnation or the reality of the Holy Family. Marriage and family are absolutely essential to human flourishing. Therefore Christians must live out the vocation of marriage in a way that harmonizes with God’s plan of life and love.
Discipleship and Combating Today’s Herods
An essential component of our mission as disciples of the Lord Jesus is to educate others on the true meaning of marriage and family, as well as to promote and protect these realities in the public square.
The many “Herods” of today are rebels who fight against the truth, beauty and goodness of marriage and family. They exchange good for evil. I’m reminded of Isaiah 5:20:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, …
And Proverbs teaches:
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12).
You might be asking, “What can I do about these problems?”
First, do you feel called to combat these errors? I have to be honest here. If you’re unconcerned about them or perhaps go along with them in some way, then you need to get right with the Lord. There’s a serious problem of some kind that needs to be worked out. Therefore the first step is placing Christ first and striving to enter into an intimate relationship of communion with him.
Combating the many Herods of today also requires education in the divine faith of the Church (which is a lifelong project!) and the proper formation of conscience according to the teaching of the Church on faith and morals.
Then live and speak the truth about family and marriage. Do not allow lies to persist. Take no part in them. Do not repeat them. Do not consent to them by your silence.
Promote and defend, down to your last breath, what is beautiful, true and good about marriage and family.
That’s precisely what the Lord Jesus Christ did.
Recall that Pilate asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” (Jn 18:37)
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.