Husband & Wife Articles


A Survival Guide for Families

10 tips for Catholics to stay close to the faith

By Dr. Mark Latkovic

In this final column, I will offer 10 practical tips on how to live a holy marriage and family life in today’s secular culture, so that we may not only survive but thrive.

First, the family must be grounded in the faith. Without faith, the Catholic family is simply lost. Its members will have neither the power nor the guidance they need to do the things that a Christian family is called to do: e.g., procreate and educate children, teach the faith and witness to it, engage in evangelization, and serve each other, the Church, and the wider society. Similarly, Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of the family’s threefold “office,” i.e., its participation in Christ’s own “prophetic, priestly, and kingly mission” (See Familiaris Consortio 50). But all of this implies that the parents first know and live the faith themselves. They can’t impart to their children what they don’t have.

The Latkovic family at home.

Second, the Catholic family must be rooted in prayer and the sacraments. This means that the family must pray together as a group and as individuals. It means that the Mass must form the central core of family life and its spirituality. In short, it means that the family must be a “domestic church” (cf. FC, 49). Two sacraments that are most fitting for both nourishing and healing this “church in miniature” are the Eucharist and Confession or Reconciliation.

Third, there must be the effort in Catholic families to acquire the cardinal virtues. Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance help us to overcome daily moral obstacles that hinder holy living. These moral “skills” will help the family to avoid some of the usual challenges that can break families apart –addictions of various sorts, unfaithfulness, rash and foolish decisions, poor stewardship of money, and harmful communication.

Fourth, Catholic families must practice daily acts of kindness, forgiveness, and charity (KFC for short). St. Paul says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). What better Christian virtues than these for family members to exercise?

Fifth, Catholic families must have a plan of action for dealing with the secular culture. You can’t simply wing it. The cultural forces are too strong and pervasive and they will invade your family life. You have to prepare a strategy for how your family will handle issues that pose a challenge to your values and virtues – music, movies, magazines, TV, clothing, friends, dating, dances, drinking, driving, social media, shopping and cell phones. Yet for everything you forbid or take away, there ideally needs to be a substitute. Today’s culture is largely hostile to the traditional model of marriage and family, so this will be an area of continuing challenge.

Sixth, a Catholic family should be good stewards of resources. Whether we’re talking financial resources or resources of time and talent, you must wisely manage all assets. This includes not only money set aside for education, health care, food and shelter, but also money for supporting the Church and charities. Catholic social teaching can be a good guide for families.

Seventh, the Catholic family should encourage members to be physically fit. This should include making sure parents and children not only exercise, but have adequate rest, maintain a good diet, and avoid harmful, and possibly sinful, products (e.g., tobacco, illicit drugs) and practices (e.g., premarital sex, excessive drinking, and reckless driving). “Grace perfects nature,” St. Thomas Aquinas famously said, and so healthy bodies can enable us to work with and not against God’s grace.

Eighth, the Catholic family needs to cultivate a sense of humor and joy. This may seem an odd item to list in a “serious” article, but humor can often be the “sugar” that sweetens a bitter word or an arduous chore. Laughter can be a glue of love.

Ninth, a Catholic family must listen to the Magisterium of the Church. By adhering to the Church’s teaching authority in the area of faith and morals, the family will know that it is at the same time being faithful to Christ himself (cf. Lk 10:16).

Tenth, the Catholic family should strive to be a model of affectionate communion. Talking with each other, sharing meals, taking trips and retreats together, commemorating and/or celebrating special dates such as holy days and birthdays, weddings and funerals will strengthen the natural bond of the Christian family, and better dispose it to “hear the word of God and observe it” (cf. Lk 11:28).

Finally, a personal note to husbands and wives. You must rely on a conjugal love which has been transformed in the sacrament of marriage. I will give John Paul II the final word on the matter: “Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave Himself on the Cross” (FC, 13).

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