Husband & Wife Articles


The Nature of Christian Families

All families are enriched by the truths of the Church

By Jason Godin

My family – my amazing wife, my two wonderful children and me – isn’t a “modern” family, at least by the standards popularized by our culture. We try to choose the positive things in society and avoid the harmful influences.

For example, commercials on television display some funny moments about today’s families, but what they also propose as the fundamental nature of families, as well as what makes a “real” relationship between parents and their kids, are anything but funny from the perspective of a Catholic husband and father.

Conjugal Community

In its teachings on the Fourth Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Christian family as a conjugal community “ordered to the good of the spouses” and “to the procreation and education of children” (2201). It is an institution founded, first and foremost, on one man and one woman united together by God through the Sacrament of Marriage. This foundation of a sacramental marriage then leads to a larger family as it increases in number with the blessings of children (cf. CCC, 2202).

Yet our culture defines marriage and, increasingly, the family as nothing more than another choice in an array of living arrangements that anyone can enter and leave when it fails to feel good. But it isn’t. Marriage and the family built upon it are much more, and come to mean much more, for all involved. These are not convenient arrangements for the pursuit of pleasure or a favorable tax or benefit status. Marriage and family are serious, adult commitments that necessarily involve sharing and sacrifice. Joy is there, of course, as well as fulfillment and contentment, but only when pursued within the context of love and responsibility.

Importantly, the term “conjugal” points toward a dynamic, continual exchange of love. It is an active love shared between persons, specifically a husband, his wife, and God who is Love (cf. 1 John 4:8). It is a healthy relationship that deepens daily with responsibilities both to self and to others. Married spouses better or “perfect” each other by sharing themselves completely. The fruit of this more perfect union may be children, to be sure, but also the new relationships and shared responsibilities that arrive with them.

Norms and Ideals

The Catechism teaches that a family understood as a conjugal community should also serve as “the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationships are to be evaluated,” and one that exists “prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it” (2202). Undeniably, contemporary culture and its discontents attack the Church for her very teachings regarding the primary definition and place of family in broader society, and for teaching infallibly that marriage is by nature only between a man and a woman.

The divisions in our society over marriage stem, in part, from profound disagreements over the definition of truth. Questions about truth prove very uncomfortable, if not impossible, to answer today when one reduces all truths to mere opinions, and believes that no individuals or institutions teach with moral authority because no such authority ever existed in the first place. Pope Benedict XVI correctly diagnosed this dark reality unmoored from absolute truth as a “dictatorship of relativism”.

Whenever someone writes about the foundational truths of the faith, it is easy for others who disagree to show how the writer or other Catholics do not live up to the ideal. Indeed. I’m not proposing for a minute that my family is perfect. Like all families, we have some days that go better than others. We struggle and juggle just like everybody else. What I’m highlighting, however, is the extraordinary treasury of Catholic teachings on the nature of families – as a conjugal community, as the primary reference for society, and as a Triune sign and image – and how the teaching on these realities help us in living healthier and more enriching lives. Like a light in the darkness the Church provides sure guidance toward goodness that all families can follow.

Married with two children, Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.