What do you get when two fallen people fall in love and commit to spending the rest of their lives together, struggling through this thing called life, climbing, stumbling, and climbing again; pulling each other up when we fall, sometimes tripping over each other along the way?
You get the precious seed of a holy family.
Your marriage may not be perfect. No worries. So long as you remain committed through the ups and downs and ins and outs of your relationship. Because the commitment itself will provide you both with the room you need for that seed to take root and germinate.
Marriage gives love the structure, the shelteredness, the climate in which alone it can grow. Marriage teaches spouses humility and makes them realize that the human person is a very poor lover. Much as we long to love and be loved, we repeatedly fall short and desperately need help. We must bind ourselves through sacred vows so that the bond will grant our love the strength necessary to face the tempest-tossed sea of our human condition. – Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love
And what do you get when those two people give themselves completely -at least to the extent that two fallen human beings can give themselves – to one another in love?
This is when love can produce life, and through this act that delicate greenery breaks the surface of the ground, growing more beautiful by the day through the waters of baptism, the nutrients of love and sacrifice provided daily by the parents, with the light of Christ shining down from above in grace and mercy.
This is when you get a family.
You may be thinking, My family doesn’t come close to that image. When you look at your family, you may be discouraged by what you consider to be an infestation of individualism and idiosyncrasies. No one seems on the same page at the same time and polar opposites can be found in every corner. You may be worried that your family may never blossom.
Yours may not be a holy family.
In fact, yours may be an unholy family.
Most of us were born into an unholy family. Actually, that family – unholy as it may be – is the best way for each of us to make our way in this world, the greatest vehicle known to man for our sanctification.
The modern writers who have suggested, in a more or less open manner, that the family is a bad institution, have generally confined themselves to suggesting, with much sharpness, bitterness, or pathos, that perhaps the family is not always very congenial. Of course the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial…
…The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down the chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day he was born.
This is, indeed, the sublime and special romance of the family. It is romantic because it is a toss-up…
…When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairytale. – G.K. Chesterton, On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family
But how, given the widely varied personalities involved in a family, the different values and goals, the wild adventures and the unknown outcomes, do we grow holy in that environment? How can we begin to turn in the same direction, linking arms as we walk through this vale of tears, climbing together to the summit of heaven?
We let go.
(15) The human family, disunited by sin, is reconstituted in its unity by the redemptive power of the death and Resurrection of Christ. Christian marriage, by participating in the salvific efficacy of this event, constitutes the natural setting in which the human person is introduced into the great family of the Church.
(21) Family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation. There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life. But, at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to have the joyous and renewing experience of “reconciliation,” that is, communion reestablished, unity restored. In particular, participation in the sacrament of Reconciliation and in the banquet of the one Body of Christ offers to the Christian family the grace and the responsibility of overcoming every division and of moving towards the fullness of communion willed by God, responding in this way to the ardent desire of the Lord: “that they may be one.” -Saint John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio
So we keep working. In our roles as parents, and in our roles as children, we sacrifice. We serve. We let go. We love.
And when we fall, we get back up and we begin again. Through reconciliation.
Through the life-giving love of the sacraments, the nutrients of our daily sacrifice, and by the grace-filled rays of Christ’s mercy, little by little, our families can become holy. That is when that tiny seed, planted in marriage, germinated in love to become a family, will begin to bloom. And the fragrance will intoxicate the world with its beauty.
But for now…
Face it. Your unholy family is the most amazing adventure you’ll ever find in this life. And the more wild the adventure and the higher the mountain you must climb together, the sweeter the victory when you reach the top.
Let us be grateful for our unholy families, and let us pray that we can unite ourselves to His Cross; that the Blood of Christ will wash away our sins, our pain and our tears along the way. Ultimately, may our families experience the joy of a love that is absolutely and completely self-giving, and together may we find the fruit of salvation through the embrace of the cross.