The family in the Natural Order
God created the family as the basic building-block of human society. But if you remove the bottom row of blocks in your house, don’t be surprised when the whole lot comes tumbling down! In the same way, if we damage the family or take it away altogether, human society will be destabilised, and eventually collapse.
The family is the basic building-block of human society simply because children, the future adults who will be the teachers, thinkers, workers and tax-payers of this society, come from families. But, you might object, in theory children could come from test-tubes and could be brought up in State-run institutions. Yes, but, the family is not just a child-producing factory – the role of the family is to be a stable and loving environment where the future members of society are nurtured and educated to be able to become thinking, strong, responsible, virtuous and happy members of this society – not just PPS numbers on feet!
But – you guessed it – if the family is the basic building-block of society, then marriage is the foundation of the family. Because a stable marriage between one man and one woman for life will mean that the family will stay together as an institution. Even the very possibility of divorce will destabilise a marriage, and thereby destabilise the family, and thereby destabilise society at large.
The family in the Supernatural Order
This reality of the family is already very beautiful and noble. However, God has made it even more beautiful and noble by raising it to the supernatural order. So, the family remains the environment which provides human society with healthy and responsible new members, but has the additional role of providing good, virtuous and faithful sons and daughters of God, members of His Catholic Church on earth and one day citizens of heaven! This additional role is the superior one, which means that if there were ever a real conflict between ensuring the civic education of their children and their supernatural education, then the latter must win out. In practice, though, both of these goals should be complementary, like a hand fitting into a glove.
The parents ensure the supernatural education of their children firstly by bringing them to the Church to be baptised as soon as is morally possible after their birth, and then by bringing them up to love God, their heavenly Father by living a life of virtue, and regularly receiving the sacraments. The family must, of course, be the place where the earliest lessons in the Faith are learned. Later, when it is necessary to deepen this knowledge, the parents will ensure that the children receive this education in a suitable place outside of the family.
In the actual state of affairs in which we find ourselves, because of Original Sin, the Grace of the Sacrament of Marriage will not only be necessary for the parents to be able to raise their family supernaturally, but it will also be necessary to help them carry out the ordinary, natural duties of parenting. This is because our nature has been wounded by Original Sin and therefore needs to be healed by Grace.