This post continues a series of reflections that I began here.
What are families (natural or intentional) for? There are many ways to answer that question; one way is in terms of its effect on individual people. People, of course, are intended for God; our task in this life is to allow God to so mold us that we will be ready to enjoy spending eternity with him. To put it another way, we are here to become holy; and we should look at everything in our lives in that light.
So let’s look at families in terms of how well they encourage holiness. This is not the only way to look at them, certainly, but let’s give it a try.
I am not an expert in the Church’s theology of marriage; I’m just this guy, ya know? But I do know that part of the point of marriage-until-death-do-us-part is that it gives us lots of opportunities to forgive, forbear, help out, and in general to live in service to others: to serve Christ in the other members of the family. This applies especially to the parents once children show up, but it is true even of childless couples. It’s a true grace, it seems to me, that God gives to couples and families.
Is this grace restricted to what I’ve called natural families? By no means. As Tim Muldoon pointed out in a comment on my previous post, the Holy Family can be regarded as an intentional family in my terms, at least from St. Joseph’s point of view.
A Benedictine monastery can also be seen as an intentional family in my sense. The monks make a vow of stability: they promise to live in the monastery, with the other monks, for the rest of their lives. And just as in marriage, part of the point is that living with others, warts and all, can be a powerful school of holiness.
As I indicated in my last post, I think life in intentional families is more difficult than in natural families, in that there really are natural bonds of affection between parents and their natural children that don’t exist in, say, a monastery. And because of that, I think you could make a case that an intentional family can be an even more powerful school of holiness than a natural family: to make it work, you have to put more into it, and so you get more out of it.
That’s just a conjecture on my part, mind you, but it seems likely to me.
As before, I’m speaking of the family, natural or intentional, at its best. It can be a powerful school of holiness; I think it is intended to be; but it’s certainly possible to play hooky from school, especially if you’ve no notion that that’s one of things it is for.
In short, both kinds of family can be a great aid to holiness; and both can completely fail to hit the mark; but it’s probably easier—indeed, more natural—for natural families.