December 29, 2013
Can you imagine what the situation we have just heard described in the Gospel would have been like had Joseph not been there? We would have had Mary and her infant Son taking that perilous journey at a moment’s notice, across mountains and foreboding desert, retracing the path that their ancestors had taken 40 years to complete. What odds would you give Mary and the babe without a father?
Well, you might say, Mary and Jesus would have had God’s help. My response: They did have God’s help, they had Joseph! You might say God “built in” the help for us by creating the family, the basic cell of society, made up of a father and a mother and children.
Just as it was no accident whom God chose as the mother of His Son, so it was no accident that God chose Joseph to be his foster-father. We rightly consider the Holy Family to a model family. Not an idealized, incomprehensible family, but a down to earth real family that is given to us to remind us of God’s plan.
It is true that often due to circumstances beyond their control children have to be raised in less than ideal settings—a spouse dies in an accident, a victim of abuse has no option but to leave the abuser, etc. We can have nothing but respect for those who have experienced these tragedies and we should do all can to assist those who find themselves in these situations. But none of these examples should lead us to doubt the value of the model the Lord has given us.
The stable loving home provided by one man and one woman provides the best environment in which a couple’s love can cooperate with God’s creative love to bring new life into the world. The family made up of a father, a mother and children forms the basic cell of a stable society. The only real notable exceptions through the history of humanity of which I am aware are some situations in which men used their power to marry more than one woman—and from the stories that come down to us that didn’t work out very well.
Society and governments have learned that it is in their best interest to offer support and protection to these stable units for the sake of the community’s ability to prosper. Sadly, today, we have set out to experiment with this fundamental cell of society. Today 4 out of every 10 children born in our country are born out of wedlock, and they are not being born primarily to teenagers either, but to unmarried women in their 20’s. One in 5 children live in homes without dads.
Study after study shows us what we know intuitively: that an intact family in which children are raised by their biological parents is the best situation for children. Jennifer Marshall summed up the studies in this way: “Compared with counterparts in other common household arrangements, adolescents in intact families have better health, are less likely to be depressed, are less likely to repeat a grade in school, and have fewer developmental problems, data show. By contrast, national surveys reveal that, as a group, children in other family forms studied are more likely to experience poverty, abuse, behavioral and emotional problems, lower academic achievement, and drug use.” (Jennifer Marshall, Heritage Foundation, 2004)
We don’t have a lot of data yet on same-sex couples that marry and raise children, but even setting aside the serious moral implications of such a relationship the information we do have is that children who are raised in this novel experiment face significant psychological hurdles. Even in Scandinavia where same-sex couples have had a civil equivalent to marriage for more than 20 years and where homosexual behavior is widely accepted, the divorce rate is much higher than for heterosexual couples, and we know that divorce is a significant hurdle for children to overcome.
We rejoice today at the model of the Holy Family provides for us in this challenging time. By upholding Marriage according to this ideal and insisting upon its essential nature for society we do not in any way deny the inherent goodness and fundamental dignity of any person. Our newborn Savior calls all persons, no matter their struggle, to follow him according to His divine plan.
+Bishop Mark J. Seitz