The family

Introduction                       Person                           Family                             Education

The family and its mission

(Second Talk of the series Person, Family and Education 1950) 

I remind you of what we have already discussed: the Human Person. 

We must understand thoroughly how very important this primary truth is. We must deepen it and reflect on it. It must become a personal conviction. We are not a herd, we do not follow.., we point out the road and we lead the way. This presupposes that we are personally convinced. Because then if you are so convinced people can threaten to shoot you and they will not even succeed in intimidating you. For the world of tomorrow it is indispensable to have personalities of this stamp. 

We must understand thoroughly what a young working boy or working girl is, no matter how poor or ignorant, whether white or black or yellow; all without exception are persons. 

We know that there is a big difference between a person and a thing, between a person and an animal. But it is not enough to say, "The young worker, the young working girl, is not an animal;" we must know that he is that inner "I," that inner being which possesses something of God; he is a son, she a daughter of God and the image of God. 

It goes much further. God who is all-powerful, because he loves and trusts man, confided his plan to man: "Increase and multiply and possess the earth." Man became the lieutenant of God on earth, and the collaborator of God, and the plan of God was committed to him. The plan cannot be worked out if man is unwilling; and that is the appeal which God makes to each person. Each person is responsible for the plan of God and there-fore for the happiness of mankind. And God, though he is all-powerful, is powerless without the human person. That is staggering. People sometimes say that God does not exist, that he is unjust because he lets so many things happen. It is not God who lets us down, but men who refuse to carry out their mission. 

The first men said, "We prefer to satisfy our passions." God then became man to redeem them. But once more God is helpless in the plan of redemption without man. Christ can remain hanging on the cross until the end of time, and if men so choose they will not be saved. We do not reflect enough on our responsibility to each other and towards God. If we understood that, generosity would become easy and would not be a burden. Because God asks us to do difficult things, he is not therefore a tyrant. God asks us this because he loves us and wants our personality to be preserved. He respects us, wants us to understand how necessary it is that we respect ourselves. Virtue instead of being wearisome becomes a lever which uplifts us to heaven. 

We are now going to talk about the first call God makes, of the first divine and human institution, the family and the vocation to found a family. Once again we must remember that there, just as in the question of the human person, we are dealing with a truth which is universal and without exception. It is true for the negroes, the Chinese, the Hindus; for the poor working girl as for the wealthy woman, it is a universal truth without any exception whatsoever. 

The family is important and necessary. To be a man, to develop properly as a man, a man needs a family. 

These are the two fundamental truths, the two pillars which support the whole edifice of mankind: the human person and the family. If the pillars are removed, humanity is lost and everything becomes slavery, barbarism and dictatorship. 

And note that these two truths cannot be separated. Without the family there is no man and no person; and without persons there is no family. 

In the animal world there is no family, nor do machines have families. You need two persons to make a family. 

The first thing that you notice is that a man as a human person is born, develops, and increases in and by the family. 

In the animal world it suffices to bring them together. After that the male goes his way, and the female her way. For a little time the female will take care of her young, but soon they too go their own way. You can make sanctuaries, parks, for animals. You can herd all the females together. They need nothing beyond being fecundated. 

But for man it is quite different. You can't make men in artificial incubators, although unfortunately you can bring them up in incubators. But then they are no longer men but beasts. A man, in order to be born as a man, needs to be born into a family with a mother and a father who will love him in a human way, and who will bring him up in a human way. If the State takes the place of the family, if the State sets up creches and nurseries to do the family's work, then real men cease to exist. 

The family is thus the first institution of God and was created by God even before the first sin. That must not be forgotten. There is nothing of original sin in marriage, because the family and marriage were founded and instituted by God before sin appeared. 

It is also the first human institution. Without it humanity would not be complete. Mankind would have no means of multiplying, developing, and increasing throughout the earth without men and women. The family is the union of man and woman. A woman by herself cannot produce children-a man by himself cannot produce children. The divine institution was needed in order that there should be men-that there should be humanity. This then was willed by God; that there should be a union between the two sexes. And everything that is connected with sex, the marriage act, the sex organs, the body, is sacred and divine. You can abuse it, you can violate it, you can commit sacrilege, but it remains sacred. 

But, alas, people do not treat it as sacred. This is sacrilege, for the body of a man or woman is a body which is necessary to God for him to fulfil his divine plan. 

There are in the world today 2,200 million men and women because there are two sexes: man and woman, who together have this responsibility of increasing and multiplying so that throughout eternity millions and millions of human beings may enjoy the love of the presence of God and of one another. 

The family is thus the very first cell in the social structure, the very first social union, which is indispensable and without which there are no children, no men, no human society. Marriage and the family are a union for which there is no substitute. Nothing, nobody, can take their place. You can even say: as the families are so will mankind be. 

You may give everybody cars, radios, money, but men will not be happier for it. They cannot be happy merely with material things. 

There is one institution which cannot be replaced by anything else, which lies at the root of the happiness of mankind, of peace, progress, and civilisation: it is the family, which is the first cell and the first centre of life, the first home. The family is an image of God, of the Blessed Trinity. That necessary union between man and woman and the child is the most perfect image of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three inseparables, three persons in one God. On earth, because human nature is limited, there are three persons. Each is separate but each is united by the divine bond, the family. 

The family is almost the most beautiful image of the union uniting Christ and the Church. The union of Christ with the Church makes the Church fruitful and makes the Church increase. It is true of every family, whether black or yellow or white; and it is not merely true of Christian families but of any family. 

How does the family begin? The family begins with marriage, and marriage is a mutual contract, a mutual union, a mutual engagement. "I take you for my wife;" "I take you for my husband." It is therefore a promise between one man and one woman, a mutual engagement for the founding of a family. It is not a man and a woman undertaking to open a business, or unite their possessions, or to live together, or to exercise a profession together. That is not marriage. I am convinced that if an inquiry were done on this we should find more invalid marriages than we think. 

A man and woman must know why they unite. Their union is in order to found a family, that is to give themselves to one another completely to beget children, to bring children into the world, and so through their love to find happiness, and to educate and bring happiness to their children. 

There are conditions which are essential and without which there is no marriage. 

The pledge must be a free pledge, not undertaken through the influence of fear, or by threat, or forced by violence. 

Marriage is a conscious commitment, that is, those who enter it should know what it is about and really undertake to advance on that path. There is thus a question of age, of deliberation, and of knowledge. Children cannot get married, a madman cannot get married. A conscious commitment is needed, with the knowledge of what one is doing. They must know why and they must will it. 

It must be between people who are capable of marrying. They must be able to unite themselves in marriage; they must have the life necessary for married life. 

It must be lawful. No one can marry somebody who is already married; a father cannot marry his daughter; a priest cannot marry. It must then be a legitimate commitment, allowed by the law, for the happiness of the family, for the health of the family, for the social order and in fulfilment of the divine plan. 

These are, for the persons who wish to marry, essential conditions. 

The union which the two make is a union which cannot be dissolved. They are united for life and for eternity. 

The union is also an exclusive one. They engage themselves to unite and they exclude as long as they live any other union. There is thus no divorce: why? For the happiness of the man and the woman and of all the children, and in that there is nothing tyrannical or arbitrary. It will be said: if the marriage is unhappy, must a man remain unhappy all his life ? Yes, in order to make other families happy. 

God in all of this is not acting capriciously. He is not doing this in order to get on everyone's nerves, for all this comes from the very essence of human nature. That exclusive union made once and for all between the masculine human person and the feminine human person is for the happiness of the child, so that the child shall not become an orphan and shall not suffer from a separation. 

These characteristics of marriage, that it is indissoluble and exclusive, are above all necessary for the woman and the girl. If the man can leave his wife and marry another, the wife is always the victim. The man of course does not care two hoots, but she, the woman, remains with the child and suffers all the consequences. She is the victim, and remains the victim, for the rest of her life. 

It is thus a sacred and a holy union, which makes holy the two partners to it. It is not a union of passions or instincts. They unite in order to fulfil in this life a mission given to them by God, and without which God would be helpless to carry out his plan. It is also for that reason that marriage is a state of life; it is permanent and it does not change. It is a community of living which endures and remains unchanging until the end of time. 

At the same time it is a divine and an apostolic mission. The marriage of a pagan, of a black or of the poorest working girl is the carrying out of a divine mission which God needs in order to carry out his plan. 

Normally is that how marriage is thought of, and is that how they talk about it in the factories and the places where workers congregate? What do they say of marriage? How do the young for whom you are responsible react to it ? I ask you, the leaders of the working youth, to reflect deeply on this truth. It is true for every marriage. 

We will now speak of Christian Marriage, of marriage between Christians, and of the Christian family. Every marriage is a divine institution. But for the Christians in addition marriage is a sacrament; that is, marriage as instituted by God has been made into a sacrament by Christ. The mission of marriage is important in the Church and also in the work of redemption. Christ has made marriage a source of grace. It is an institution which, at the moment it begins, receives the grace necessary from God, and the strength necessary from God, and the help necessary from God, and the power necessary from God, which the man and the woman need. And that applies not merely to the actual moment when they receive the sacra-ment, but the sacrament continues to exercise its influence as long as the marriage endures. 

It is a source of grace and at the same time it is a consecration of the two partners. They are consecrated by God as they were consecrated by their baptism and their confirmation, and as the priest is consecrated when he is ordained. Marriage the sacrament consecrates the husband and wife for the ministry which they have to exercise in the Church, and in view of the mission which they must exercise in the Church. 

Marriage is a blessing of the partners ; and the thing that is the feature of marriage is that it is the two partners who administer the sacrament to each other. The priest is merely there in order to bless the marriage and witness it for the Church. Marriage is the only sacrament in which those who receive it also give it to each other. All the other sacraments are given by a third person. Marriage is the great exception. The two partners are united and mutually give the grace of marriage to each other, God's help and God's merits for their marriage. 

Why did Christ make marriage a sacrament? Because of the importance of marriage in the Church and because of the apostolate which springs from marriage. It is marriage which must multiply the members of the Mystical Body. If there is no Christian marriage there is no Church. It is marriage which must multiply the number of the Church's children and give to the Church children who become priests, missionaries and apostles. In that lies the irreplaceable importance of marriage. The priest cannot take its place, nor can the apostolate of the partners have any other substitute. Have we already thought about that? And note that marriage, the problem of marriage, is today studied everywhere in the world and more especially in the Church where the religious life and the spirituality and asceticism of marriage are being studied. The present Pope might well be called the Pope of the family so greatly does he wish to renew the understanding of how important the family is in the Church. 

For the Christian there are not two marriages, sacramental marriage and civil marriage; but for Christians the civil marriage is a civil formality. That formality is important as an entry in the books of the State and as an official pledge whereby the protection of the two partners and the children is safe-guarded; by it the children are made legitimate, the marriage is recognised, upheld, and favoured by law in regard to inheritance, fidelity of the partners, etc. For the non-Christian civil marriage is marriage instituted by God. If these were not baptised and they wish to be married, then civil marriage is marriage for them; but for Christians the only marriage is sacramental marriage performed before the priest delegated by the Church, and the partners are then the ministers of the marriage. 

We have seen how important and necessary is the mission of marriage and the family. Let us notice also that this call to marriage is really a call from God, it is not caprice or passion, but a vocation and a call from God just as there is a vocation to the priesthood. It is a divine vocation; it is holy and it makes holy, it is apostolic and missionary. Its importance and its holiness for all men in all places on earth and for the Church in particular cannot be exaggerated. 

In addition to this understanding, which is indispensable, there is another essential for marriage, preparation. 

It is necessary to see that there is a general and distant preparation for marriage, a human preparation beginning with life, and we might say even before life begins. This preparation is highly important and takes place first of all in the family. That child is fortunate which is born in a really Christian family with really Christian parents. I have already said this: Everything that I am I owe to my mother. Even before I went to school I knew the whole of sacred history, and I knew it because my mother taught me. Just as my flesh comes from her, so does my mind. You are made by your mother. 

The part the woman plays as an educator is irreplaceable. She repeats, she explains, and it is a mother who makes a Pope, a Bishop, a priest, an apostle. 

That distant preparation for marriage can have no substitute. We must pity the child who has not received it, because it is priceless, and the poorest working mother can give it. 

After this preparation of the child comes the preparation of the boy and of the girl, the moral preparation which is highly important for their education in purity. 

Then comes the immediate preparation. The young man and the girl are no longer children. They need friendship; they begin to want to know. They must have a formation and a preparation which is moral, religious, professional, and civic, which fits them for their task in the home. 

Lastly there is the immediate preparation which is the mutual preparation of the young man choosing a girl. Together each prepares the other by a holy novitiate for their mission in marriage, as priests are prepared. You do not become engaged in order to exchange embraces, kisses, and excite feelings, but in order to understand better the holiness and the greatness of marriage. The young man and the girl choose each other freely, fully knowing what they are doing. They learn to know each other and become conscious of their responsibility, loyalty and sincerity. 

It can be safely said that in most cases the preparation will determine the kind of marriage.. 

If the two have merely misused each other physically, it need surprise no one if three months, a year, two years later, they are weary of each other. During the engagement they did nothing but embrace and kiss; nothing mattered except themselves; the Y. C.W., the apostolate, nothing existed . . . Now it is all over; and after a year or two they seek satisfaction with others. 

After marriage there begins the responsibility and the holiness of marriage. When people have prepared themselves solely for the sexual and animal sensations of marriage, it is hopeless. Are you surprised when so many young married women are deserted by their husbands? The reason is that for every cheapening they make of themselves when they are engaged, they pay the penalty when they are married. There are conditions which are necessary in the preparation-indispensable and irreplaceable. 

If you want to get to know a young man or a girl, do not look for them in a dance hall or at the pictures; if there is one place where you cannot get to know a young man or a girl it is precisely the dance hall or the cinema. Marriage is not going to be a dance, or a comedy, and to prepare for marriage in dance halls and cinemas is nonsense: it is absurd, a contradiction in itself. You cannot possibly get to know each other there; you are inevitably too keyed up. More loyalty and sincerity are needed. Why hide your real self? You are concerned with something holy, with something which makes for holiness. 

This preparation demands a number of moral conditions, certain dispositions of the soul; and to acquire them a normal formation is needed. If the young man promptly misuses the girl, the matter is finished, she is finished. 

There are also a number of social and professional conditions they must be able to live; they must have a house and security. The married woman must be protected by law. Much still remains to be done on this score. If the wife has to go out to work, the marriage is split, with terrible and regrettable consequences. That is why we demand legislation in favour of marriage and of preparation for marriage. 

We must see the importance of the Y.C.W. in this preparation. The Y.C.W. is the school of the family. We can teach working boys and girls the holiness, the meaning, the greatness of the family and prepare them for it. The leaders in the Movement and in the teams have a heavy responsibility here, first of all in their own lives, which must be a witness and an example. From that comes the importance of those genuine Y.C.W. marriages; they remained true to the Movement until their marriage and visited the young working boys and girls when the latter got married. 

Y.C.W. loyalty and fidelity to the Movement: that is the condition of genuine Y.C.W. marriages. As Chaplain-General, I have seen hundreds of them. They are the shining glory of the Y.C.W. But there is one condition-fidelity to the Movement, because the Movement is the best school. 

It is in the Y.C.W., in the Y.C.W. apostolate, that you become fathers and wives, mothers and educators. That is the reason why you ought to be able to pledge yourselves for a year, two years, for five years, for ten years, in the Y.C.W. and work in the Y.C. W. during the time you are engaged, without saying, "My boy or girl won't let me." Later on, you will be sorry. 

But in that case you must also accept the consequences and the conditions of that pledge, and not start flirting with a boy or girl and then get engaged for an indefinite number of years. No one gets engaged for seven or ten years. It is not a question of one's passions; it is a question of mission and apostolate. You must be able to give up keeping company at too young an age, or continuing too long, or indulging in certain pleasures and satisfactions. You must be able to pledge yourself; that is the only way to make certain each will respect and be faithful to the other, will persevere with the other, and above all with the children. 

For all that you must wait until you are old enough before you begin to court your future partner. 

We must tell this to the working boys and girls; we are to guide, educate, and form them; we are responsible for them, and consequently we must set them the example. 

By these means we will achieve our aim; to build a new world by means of new families, by new preparation for family life. If we do that we build up a new working class, which will not be exploited this time, which will not allow itself to be exploited; it will not allow human labour to be exploited; because that labour must be the source of life for a family and not a means for some third party to make money. We demand working conditions, security, respect for the family, for the man, the woman, the child. 

That will give us a new working class to build a new world.

Joseph Cardijn, 1950

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