Husband & Wife Articles


Fighting for the Family

Dr. Mark S. Latkovic

We are confronted today with the challenge of helping the family fight for its continued existence in a secular world that denies its God-given meaning and purpose. Because every human person arrives in this world through a family, we need to find ways to help families flourish.

The experience of millennia suggests that the happiness of human persons and whole societies rises and falls with the family. No other human institution is more important to the moral, spiritual and cultural health of a nation than the family founded on marriage, the lifelong union of one man and one woman.

The Latkovic family at home.

The battles that we see raging over the nature of the family may be new in some respects, but in reality the family has often been under attack through the ages. Plato saw the family as an obstacle to the integration of people into an ordered society. Marx said the family was oppressive and conformist. Perhaps one new feature of today’s debates is the idea that the family is malleable, with no objective nature. In the past, there was at least an understanding that the family has a definable natural form, and opponents knew well what they were trying to overthrow. Today’s culture denies that there is any such normative family definition; its meaning and composition are up to each person to define.

But despite this post-modern effort to alter the traditional structure of marriage and the family, the Catholic Church’s constant teaching remains clear. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family.” This understanding should be considered “the normal reference point” for judging other proposals for defining what constitutes a family (CCC 2202).

What can we do to get the message out?

I believe that what we need to restore and renew the family is a surge of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian family needs a divine “power surge.”

Our Christian faith teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the source of our spiritual growth; without him, we cannot hope to be transformed and make progress in the life of faith and ongoing conversion (see CCC 683, 1433, 1989). The Holy Spirit is the source of all holiness; without him we cannot hope to sanctify ourselves through our marriages or evangelize effectively. Through his grace, the Catechism teaches, the Holy Spirit “communicate[s] to us the new life,” which is nothing less than the knowledge of the Father and his Son (see CCC 684; Jn 17:3).

Now let us apply this need for a surge of the Holy Spirit directly to marriage and family life. The role of the Holy Spirit is to unite. In the family, that union starts with spouses in marriage, which is a sacrament that bestows grace through the Holy Spirit. To love our spouse “as Christ loved the Church” (Eph 5:25) is possible only with the love of God in our hearts. This self-giving love is both a gift for us (grace) and a task for us (something we do with our human freedom).

Cardinal Marc Ouellet explains how this understanding of the Holy Spirit as the agent of love relates directly to marriage. In his book Divine Likeness: Toward a Trinitarian Anthropology of the Family, he writes, “The more the sanctifying Spirit takes possession of conjugal love, the more he progressively conforms it to its archetype: Christ’s spousal love for the Church.” The Holy Spirit, he says, “teaches [spouses] to love the other person ‘for his own sake,’ but ever more in Christ and through Christ.” But this passage from human love to conjugal charity, Cardinal Ouellet says, presupposes “a life of prayer, radical obedience to Christ, renunciation of self, patient listening to the other, and a readiness to begin again after difficult moments.”

In The Nuptial Mystery, Cardinal Angelo Scola relates the Holy Spirit directly to the Christian family, showing how he is also the principle of unity or communion in family life: “If the Spirit is the principle of nuptiality because he actuates the family as imago Trinitatis, he will therefore open the family to the logic of the gift, to the gratuitous. The logic of the gift finds its objective verification within the family, in the insuppressible openness to the other that we find even in the ‘one flesh’ (conjugal act), where (sexual) difference as such is oriented toward the generation of the child.”

Our next column will discuss what this all means practically for the family in society and for our efforts to evangelize each other and the culture.

Mark Latkovic, Ph.D., is Professor of Moral and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich.