Christians acknowledge a basic positive regard to marriage and family. The love we experience is partly due to God’s positive regard for us. God loves us as a creation, and God loves each person individually. how do we know this? The Scriptures testify to the example of Jesus:
117. Being loved by God fills us with joy. Human love finds its fullness when it shares in the divine love, in the love of Jesus who surrendered himself in solidarity for us in his total love to the end (cf. Jn 13:1; 15:9).
Perhaps we notice God seeks a reciprocal love from us. God sacrifices for us. Acting on the example of Jesus, and on our own impulse for union with God, we sacrifice in turn. Marriage can be an icon of this, as Pope Paul VI taught:
Conjugal love is reciprocal giving between a man and a woman, the spouses: it is faithful and exclusive to death, and fruitful, open to life and to educating children, resembling the fruitful love of the Blessed Trinity.(Humanae Vitae 9)
Catholics also acknowledge the added layer of sacramentality, that Christ participates in the union of a marriage and offers a particular experience of grace to those who open themselves to the possibilities:
Conjugal love is assumed in the sacrament of marriage to signify the union of Christ with his Church, and hence in the grace of Jesus Christ it finds its purification, nourishment, and fullness (cf. Eph 5:25-33).
Belonging to a family may lead to belonging to an extended family of God. I suspect the “family” isn’t defined exclusively as the “church,” but it certainly includes it. To be sure, the biological family is not the only pathway into the family of God. But it can be a significant and strong one.
For those in a strong Christian family …
118. It is within a family that a person discovers the reasons for, and the path to, belonging to the family of God. From it we receive life and the first experience of love and faith. The great treasure of educating children in the faith consists of the experience of a family life that receives faith, preserves it, celebrates it, passes it on, and gives testimony. Parents must take on a new awareness of their joyful and unrelinquishable responsibility for the integral formation of their children.
The flip side of this, as many Christians know, is that first experiences of love and faith can be lacking, despite baptism and other cultural expressions in the sacraments. By this I mean that while there is a supernatural power in the sacramental life, there is not magical power. An infant may be baptized and a young child may receive Penance and First Communion, and an adolescent may be confirmed, but these experiences, without the intention of cooperating with God’s grace, might serve more as cultural markers rather than liminal events which beckon the young Christian closer to Christ.
In North America, we have the phenomenon of parents “outsourcing” religious education to schools and parish programs. Instead of consulting with families, educators take the lead. Instead of working with parents, catechists have stepped into a vacuum. Instead of an apprenticeship of daily life in Christ, young people experience religion as a compartment on par with music or dance lessons, sports, or a classroom subject. This is far from the ideal of receiving, preserving, celebrating, testifying, and living the faith.
And to be clear: it is not catechesis that has failed. It is the active life of faith of adult Catholics that has failed to meet the standards of the Gospel.
Still, flawed as we are, God still beckons:
119. God loves our families, despite so many wounds and divisions. The presence of Christ invoked through family prayer helps us overcome problems, heal wounds, and open up paths of hope. Many inadequacies in the home can be offset by services provided by the ecclesial community, family of families.
Many inadequacies, but not all of them.
For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.