Family Dreams, Part II


“The Creation of Eve,” Michelangelo, c. 1511.


For Catholics, Sacred Scripture is the “soul of sacred theology.” This means that theology, which is faith seeking greater understanding of what God has revealed to us, must look to the Bible as its primary source of reflection. So, if we want to think about the family the way God thinks about the family, we need to read, pray, interpret and then live out the Word of God. To do that rightly, we need the guidance Mother Church, whose soul is the Holy Spirit, whose Bridegroom is Christ, whose Father is God and whose children we are. You see, theology is a family affair from start to finish. I invite you now to join me in having a picnic in the lush gardens of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, where we can feast on Jesus Christ, the Bread come down from heaven.

Old Testament

The book of Genesis, which is the biblical book of beginnings, inaugurates the great story of creation and salvation by narrating God’s calling into existence a “very good” (Genesis 1:31) world teeming with life and characterized by unity-in-diversity. In the first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:4), man and woman, created on the sixth day, are the crowning glory and stewards of God’s freshly minted world. Humanity, precisely as male and female, is stamped with the “image and likeness” of the one God; with the divine “us” – “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The Church Fathers saw in this plural voice of the one God an intimation of the Trinity, still yet to be fully revealed in Christ. They also recognized in the divine “us” a sign that, out of all creation, only man and woman bear the image of the three-in-one God. The image of God, for the author of Genesis, is reflected both in the male/female face-to-face communion and in the divine command, “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), by which man and woman are made co-creators of a community of divine images (cf. Genesis 5:1-3); of faces-in-communion. This means that life-giving marriage – i.e. family – bears the greatest resemblance to the Creator, and that family born of marriage is the crown and goal of creation.

The second creation story (Genesis 2:4-3:25), which narrates with poetic beauty the creation of Man from the earth and the creation of Woman from the earth-Man, offers a stunning explanation of the God-designed origins of monogamous marital unity. God creates the man and woman in covenant relationship, bound by commands and entrusted with the stewardship of creation. Arising from the original unity of Adam’s one flesh, the woman becomes a sign to the man that he is called to be in relation, to live a life of loving communion with an equal taken from his side. The man and the woman naturally seek one another and both find completion only in their return to the original unity from which God first fashioned them (cf. Genesis 3:24). For the author of this story, human nature is essentially nuptial, build on the “cleaving” covenant bond of marriage. Because that covenant bond was created by God himself, the nuptial union of man and woman is implicated in their covenant with the Creator, so that breaking the marital covenant meant breaking the divine covenant (cf. Malachi 2:10-16; Mark 10:9).

This creation story also revealed that being human is inextricably bound up with being in communion with another, seeing the other as your other self, and to living out that communion in harmony with the Creator’s commandments (cf. Genesis 2:16-17). But as with the first creation story, this communion of nuptial love overflows into the community of family. In fact, Genesis 3:24 refers to the “father and mother” of the son who “abandons” them in order to be joined to his wife as one flesh. Thus, in the beginning marriage and family life are established by God himself to serve as the vital center of the human story yet to unfold.

But alas! The glory of this story comes to an end. In chapter three of Genesis, the author suddenly leads us into the dark and destructive sequel to God’s bright and creative work, as man and woman disobey the divine command, breaking their primordial covenant and falling into a disastrous divorce from their Creator, from one another and from all of creation. The symphony has dissolved into a cacophony, but at once a new song arises from the dissonant chords: the song of salvation. The rest of the biblical narrative after Genesis 3, all the way up to the New Testament, recounts the “wonderful works of God” who, time after time, leads his people out of slavery to sin and death into the glorious freedom of the children of God. The history of salvation reveals the mercy of God working through a twisted and sordid genealogy of marriages and families, tribes and nations to restore the unity of the human family and reunite them to God in an everlasting covenant of nuptial love.

Christ gathered up all that mangled history and re-fashioned it into something beautiful, reestablishing — in the Holy Family —  marriage and family as the foundation of the New Creation.

Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.

Of this salvation event marriage, like every sacrament, is a memorial, actuation and prophecy: “As a memorial, the sacrament gives them the grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them before their children. As actuation, it gives them the grace and duty of putting into practice in the present, towards each other and their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems. As prophecy, it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ.”

Like each of the seven sacraments, so also marriage is a real symbol of the event of salvation, but in its own way. The spouses participate in it as spouses, together, as a couple, so that the first and immediate effect of marriage is not supernatural grace itself, but the Christian conjugal bond, a typically Christian communion of two persons because it represents the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and the mystery of His covenant.

The content of participation in Christ’s life is also specific: conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter- appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values. — St. John Paul II

“The Conception of the Virgin Mary,” i.e. Sts. Joachim and Anna.

15 comments on “Family Dreams, Part II

  1. numberonesinner says:

    This culture , that culture , the current culture. Oh how I’ve grown tired of this “modern culture ” where tolerance is the new catch phrase. Human nature being what it is, our human history is cyclic . Growing up in New England as kid I remember a catch phrase” if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes, it’ll change .” Oh how I love Mother Church. Our catholic culture ,established over 2000 years ago, has been guided by GODS generous gift of the HOLY SPIRIT, and despite the trips hiccups and falls, she as CHRIST promised , continues on in the face of Satan’s ” “modern culture.” What another wonderful opportunity in church history to ,as St Faustina said JESUS I TRUST IN YOU. this trust is rooted in our faith our hope and our charity. These virtues after truly the example mother church nurtures in US so that we can be the leaven . Thank you dr. kneel for being one of many measuring cups needed to meter out the essential ingredients for this sinners loaf of bread.P.B.W.Y. always.

    • NOS! I agree that so much of our contemporary culture is poisoned and sick, but, being a student of the late Francis Cardinal George I have to echo the words of Fr. Barron here (which I know you would as well): “Cardinal George often signaled his impatience with the term “counter-cultural” in regard to the Church’s attitude vis-à-vis the ambient culture. His concern is that this can suggest a simple animosity, whereas the successful evangelist must love the culture he is endeavoring to address. But he saw a deeper problem as well, namely, that, strictly speaking, it is impossible to be thoroughly counter-cultural, since such an attitude would set one, finally, against oneself. It would be a bit like a fish adamantly insisting that he swims athwart the ocean. Therefore, the one who would proclaim the Gospel in the contemporary American setting must appreciate that the American culture is sown liberally with semina verbi (seeds of the Word).” So much good in our culture, so much bad. Just as when we corrupt sinners are baptized, God, who loves sinners, forgives and heals what is ill and grows and builds on what is well. God is not counter-me, but is merciful toward me and so is able to love sinners into wellness. Same point you make, just a different angle. 🙂 A.W.Y.S. always!

  2. WoopieCushion says:

    Thank you for providing the teaching necessary to respond to the Church-in-culture that I pray to trust even more Divine Providence has placed me in unmistakably.

  3. nos says:

    Same point………. mmmmmmm I don’t think so . Whereas you correct with a kiss my instrument of choice is the hammer. I shall pray that your wise advice penetrates this thick Irish,Greek scull. Love to you and your s

    • Ah! But yes, my point, as yours, was that our culture does need conversion. Hammer, kiss. The instrument fits the need. And, knowing you as I do NOS, I would be happy to fall under your hammers. Our your bubble levels…

  4. Jennifer says:

    Your posts on marriage always leave me with mixed feelings: your elucidation of God’s ideal always reveals the truth and beauty of His intention for us. I admire it so much. Yet, and yet, at the same time I lament. As I’ve mentioned before my husband is not Christian, so despite our Church wedding, our marriage is not sacramental. This is not to disparage my kind, loving, fantastic husband, I hope it doesn’t appear that way… though I have such a huge log in my eye I can’t even see if I’m being critical of him when he did nothing wrong… it’s not his fault that the lukewarm wife he married went uber-Catholic on him! Anyway, my point of bringing this up – and it is meant to tie in to the culture v. counter-culture discussion above, is that like it or not, we are products of this culture, and many of us have started off our marriages or our relationships in ways that are not what the Church holds up as gold standards. Many people, thanks be to God, hear the call to return to him, but they still have to work out their pasts: it can look like exes and step-families or messy custody battles or conflicts over everyday, very personal, life decisions where your faith informs one of you and sounds crazy to the other one. Please pray for those of us who are trying to make it neck-deep in muck.
    (And I would love nothing more for my beautiful husband to experience a true conversion, to know the love of our Father. And I believe that in time it will happen. But I forget to trust God, and I get too impatient, and get prideful and take it as an indictment of myself when I can’t convince even my closest loved one to become Catholic…when I know I mustn’t. In the mean time I can’t help but think how God is showing me how much more I must have hurt Him for turning away from Him for so long. So, I try to read these beautiful posts about the dream of family and dream too, and try to accept my current situation as an opportunity for mortification and purification and just trust that God knows my heart and to keep being obedient to His will and to love until it hurts and then love some more. )


    • I will pray, J, for your struggle. I admire your beautiful honesty and deep desire for holiness. So many (maybe most) of us, myself included, bring much unredeemed life baggage with us into our faith walk, marriage, parenting, etc. The down side is, we see how far we are from the glistening ideal God calls us to; the up side is, in our very persons God, rich in mercy, gets to redeem our broken culture and history and family junk by redeeming it in us! I, with all my messy stuff, am his opportunity to enter our broken world and heal it. Wow! God never redeems “in general,” but redeems in and through unique people who bear the burden of sin and death in themselves, and say to him, “Yes.” … Which also means that others around us who are part of the very mess we’re in get to share in the benefits of what God does in and through us. The binding force of love is written into our nature. And “carrying one another to God” is the way God prefers we do it, clearly. Like the paralytic carried by the four men to be healed by Jesus — those four men probably had their lives “burdened” and “weighed down” with the desperate and incessant needs of this paralyzed man…but their love for him, trust in God’s power and love made them happy to be inconvenienced by this burden so that they could bring him to God by their own hands and sweat…since he himself was unable to do that without them. I also think here of 1 Corinthians 7:14. And — here’s Paschal logic for you — the more junk in our lives we have to bring with us to God, the greater God’s work of redemption in and through us can be (cf. Romans 5:20) and the greater his glory can shine in and through us (cf. John 9:2-3). He makes what is worst in our life work best in our favor if only we hand it over to him again and again. What hope! O Felix culpa, O Happy fault! This vision of faith opens up in darkness, light; in desperation, hope; in mourning, joy; in burdens, trust; in imperfection, a way of perfection; in need, love; in sin, mercy; and so on. So much more to say to you, but because it is so personal I will offer a longer response to you later “off the air.” 🙂 In the mean time let me end with a recent retro post: Thank you for your witness and your balanced voice…I need to speak more of this…I hear you…. Pax!

      • Jennifer says:

        Immediately after initially reading the post you refer to above, I had hand written St John’s advice on a sheet of paper that I have been carrying around in my purse for weeks, re-reading it almost daily! That passage has truly been important to me.

    • LP says:

      My dear Jennifer
      I admire your openness and honesty and my heart aches for you. I hope and pray that God, through Jesus and His loving Spirit, wraps you in his arms and comforts you and tells you that, no matter what, He is with you and those you love.
      I too am married to a non-Catholic who is the most loving, supportive and amazing man. I too long for him to become a Catholic, especially when he comes with me to the Easter Vigil each year. I too think my past life means that I cannot be an effective channel of grace to bring this about.
      And yet, God is with us no matter how often we forget that and His will is going to be done. I know it is easy to say that and harder to accept; I can confirm that from my own experience. But as Peter said, Lord, where else would we go; You have the message of eternal life.
      Jennifer, how blessed we are to have God’s Word, Love and Spirit. And how blessed we are to have inspirational souls like Dr Tom to help us on our way.
      with much love and a sincere hope for peace, LP

  5. n.o.S. says:

    My Dearest dearest “J” my small scale friend and sister in CHRIST OUR SAVIOR .YOU are truly amazing . When Dismas reads this be ready for the St Monica and St Augustine onslaught of intercessory prayer.I too along with all who have come to love you and admire your fearlessness .can’t wait to put this prayer at the front of the intentions list for however long it takes. Keep trusting kiddo,when , not if this happens .All the angels and saints and all those who love you both will sing Glory Glory Glory. Your strength is such an inspiration to this weak weak sinner. Know “J” that your faith will be rewarded much like the woman who “reached out” and. touched CHRISTS cloak,the centurion who knew JESUS just had to speak the words and his child would be healed from afar. Wow Jennifer I have to tell you I’m getting excited thinking about your mates conversion. Head up you cancel you. Your southern border is covered. Hugs HUGS and more HUGS to you and yours.

    P.S. and you have a card up your sleeve…… the good doctah.

  6. nos says:

    Cancel no no no the word was you canuck you

    • Jennifer says:

      thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement. I’ll even let you get away with calling me a canuck 😉 Good to have you for a friend, Enno S.

  7. LP says:

    Dear Jennifer
    After I posted my earlier comments to you, I prayed for you and your husband, for me and my husband and for Dr Tom and his bride. It occurred to me in prayer that none of us is the person we once were. When I met and married my lovely husband, I was away from the church. Since returning nearly 20 years ago, I have become much more involved in my parish and, while very supportive, EP worries about me and asks me to do less especially when I come home physically, emotionally and spiritually drained.
    BUT, and here’s the kicker, God is always there, always to raise us up and give us strength even at our lowest ebb. We just need to say Help me Lord. And if we feel too weak to be raised up, we can just rest in the shelter of His cloak and draw warmth from His love.
    Take care, dear one and know that friends around the globe are with you and your angels and saints are with you, guarding you. with love, LP

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, LP, I really appreciate you sharing your perspective and your encouragement. Our husbands sound similarly wonderful 🙂 God IS always there! I have certainly, without question, been drawn to Him through this situation. Bless you, dear sister!

  8. Jennifer says:

    thank you so much, all of you, your kind words and prayers and insight are truly grace-filled arrows hitting my heart this morning. thank you xo

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