Catholicism tells us family life is important for many reasons. One is that, potentially, it offers us the sacramental image of the very inner life of God Himself.
Put more simply, says Monsignor Art Holquin, “The Church in her theology rightly calls the family, the ‘domestic church’ because it is within this family church that we first come to know the God of love, mercy and forgiveness.” Msgr. Holquin is episcopal vicar for Divine Worship at the Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano.
Father Damien Giap, chaplain at St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa, agrees. “I think that if a child growing up experiences the love that comes from mom and dad, it helps very much to build the foundation,” Father Damien explains. “The best way for parents to show children they love them is for them to love each other. Then, when children mature, they then understand the love of the Father and the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Indeed, both church leaders say, familial love is key to our growing our faith.
“Family love for Christians always holds the potential to be sacramental or iconic of God’s love,” Msgr. Holquin says. “Husband and wife in their marital bond image the intimacy of God’s love for his people. Hence, the grace of family love empowers its members to be that transforming and healing love in our broken world today.
“The irreplaceable bond of husband to wife, wife to husband, parents to children and children to parents can indeed make real and indeed deepen the very love and faithfulness of God’s holy people within the domestic Church.”
Family love is so central to faith, Father Damien notes, that unless we have experienced God’s love in the form of our family, we have little love to give others. “You can only give what you have,” he says. “The love of God isn’t just a series of dos and don’ts. Religion is about faith and love; the love we have received and that we then give to others. A person experiences and feels the love of God only if they have the foundation built in their formative years.”
As we grow up, we learn the civility and order that family provides, he notes. “We spend the commodity of time that is so precious with our children. It gives them a certain foundation and stability when we eat and play together.”
When parents fulfill their specific roles in the family with love and devotion, Father Damien says, children are reassured that the family is a safe, nurturing place.
To be sure, Msgr. Holquin says, when he baptizes babies, he always tells participants that “it is within our family, the domestic church, that we first come to know what it means to experience the love of God – the caring, tender, forgiving and merciful love which shapes any family in Christian integrity. It all begins in the family!”