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Question 142:

What is the significance of the family in Christianity?

 

Answer: As a rule, a child is born into a family. The first faces a child looks into are those of his mother and father. Surrounded by his parents love and joy, the child matures into his being as a human. From his parents he learns to walk upright. He knows that he can count on their love. A person who does not experience this in their life will often have problems trusting others, and believing in love and in being loved.

Only by loving others, does a person become all that they are for God, who is love itself and who created each person in His image as man and woman (Gen 1:27). When a man and a woman meet and fall in love, they no longer want to live without each other. With the engagement they enter into a special time of preparation for marriage – a school for life and chastity, a time of grace during which the couple deepen in their marriage plans and the duties that come with marriage. In the sacrament of Matrimony the couple freely and mutually give their consent to life-long fidelity. Marriage comes about through this consent. The human love of the bridal couple is now transformed internally by the love of God so that they give each other Gods love and they sanctify each other (cf. CCC 1639-1642). However, since this love is not just about the love of two people but also includes the love of God, the bridal couple make this vow in public before the whole church community (represented by the witnesses) and before the priest or deacon. He represents the Church and seals the marriage by blessing the couple. Through the blessing, the couple receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church (cf. CCC 1624).

Jesus Himself grew up in a family that was marked in a special way by the holiness of Mary and Joseph. He reveals Himself to His disciples at the beginning of His public life by performing His first miracle at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-11). The Church attaches great importance to Jesus presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence (CCC 1613). This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church (Eph 5:32). The bond is sealed by the couples mutual dedication of self: They become one body and one soul and in doing so find their fulfilment and their happiness.

It is the nature of marital love go beyond physical unity and be open to fertility. New life can come out of the marital bond. The man and woman become father and mother. Their lives expand. Every child is a gift from God, but also a mission. That is why it is important that the spouses are clear before God and their conscience regarding the number of their children and the possibilities of raising them. Likewise every child has the right to be born into a family founded on marriage. Artificial contraception is not permitted. However, natural family planning may be used.

Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its supreme gift, the child (CCC 1664).

Marriage is a bond for life. Jesus said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mk 10:9). Those are harsh words for many because there is no guarantee that a relationship will succeed: people can make mistakes; their love can dwindle in the face of illness or dire circumstances. It can happen that two people who loved each other have no more sympathy for one another and can no longer talk to one another and become estranged. Indeed, the sacrament of Matrimony must not be just a memory of happier times since, in truth, it is the ever-accessible source of grace that never runs dry and lasts until the end of life. From this the married couple can renew their mutual love, find the strength to forgive, find help in times of trial and find joy in fidelity.

Nevertheless, there are marriages that fail, and Christians rightly believe that even in such a case they are not required to relinquish Gods love or the church of Christ. However, they are not free to remarry (cf. CCC 1649-1651).

However, there is the possibility of verifying via an annulment process, whether the marriage was truly concluded according to the Christian understanding of marriage.

The marriage vows:

I take you to be my wife (my husband),

to have and to hold, from this day forward,

for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

(This text, with some minor changes, is selected from: “Ich glaube. Kleiner Katholischer Katechismus“ [the English title: „I believe. A Little Catholic Catehchism“] (Königstein im Taunus: Aid to the Church in Need, 2004), pp. 140-142.

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