In our most prayerful moments, and in the most sacred of contexts, how often do we say “Father...Son...Mother...?” Every day the liturgical prayers of the Church speak this language of a family. It is a consolation of the divine will that family relations be placed well within our sense of the Faith, and deeply rooted in our own salvation.
After the fall of our first parents, the Creator, in His merciful justice, imposed a manifold penance of seemingly severe condemnatory punishments. Punitive yet medicinal, looking infinitely beyond the immediate crisis of Original Sin, He established each of them as salutary remedies for the restoration of human nature.
Adam and Eve would be banished from Paradise, that place of great beauty, where they had lived with God in perfect charity and the unimpeded state of grace. Though the wicked serpent had known the human weakness of pride and disobedience, the battle for charity was not lost.
The fourfold sentence is found in Genesis III: firstly, parenting and the raising of the family, by bearing children in the “multiplication of sorrows”; secondly, manual work, by laboring to produce their sustenance “by the sweat of the brow”; thirdly, unflattering modesty, by the wearing of a divinely fashioned garment; fourthly, the penance and expiation of exile, by banishment into the created world at large. All four are laid down by the hand of God and necessarily interrelate, modestia being at the heart of every human regard towards the divine.
Deeper examination of these four punishments reveals a redeeming appearance of the great cardinal virtues. In the raising of the family, prudence. In manual work, fortitude. In modesty, temperance. In banishment, justice. In this fourfold outpouring of virtue, as the outflowing of the four rivers of Paradise, we can only adore the infinite wisdom of the Creator for concealing in austere penance such gifts of hope. “Where sin abounded, grace has superabounded...”
Of these salutary means to restoration, the first one, the raising of the family, and the corresponding necessary prudence, would become a foundational principle of Christendom, entering into the closest collaboration with the work of God, in the transmitting of life, according to both nature and grace.
This would be the essential condition of humanity in the expectation of the great messianic coming of Our Lord, who with Our Lady, would be the new Adam and the new Eve, and the Church, the eternal family.
Before defining the family, human nature before and after the fall of Original Sin must be understood, according to the simple axiom: as a man is and was meant to be according to the mind of his Creator, therein shall be found the model of his restoration.
Man, created in abstracto from that most fundamental of substances, the slime of the earth, was then “placed in Paradise.” He must now rediscover his masculine nature, his innate sense of the abstract and of the fundamental which were his origins, necessary for the problem solving of domestic economics, prudentia œconomica. His sense of self is, as one “placed,” positioned in a greater scheme by the divine hand, entrusted with a mission of greatness, as the executor of the divine will and the receptor of charity, as a beloved son, in order to “maintain, uphold and guard” the works of God, ut operaretur et custodiret.
Man’s natural sense can be recovered if it be elevated through grace to an inherent sense of the divine. His constant need for recourse to divine counsel, his dependence upon divine assistance, would be his necessary reference to his origins, when he first “walked with God” in the innocence of charity, in the state of grace.
Now he must apply all that he presently is and all that he was meant to be, in the perfection and wisdom of the mind of God, to a threefold restoration: authority, hierarchy and unity. The state of paternal authority in fatherhood, to the re-ordering of hierarchy by placing the divine foremost, and unity, the family bond of charity by establishing the union of affections.
But, alas, man’s fallen nature is permanently wounded with the reversals of Original Sin. He who was justly judged as responsible for the fall of Eve, in desperation blamed God. Despite his remonstrations, the sentence stood unmitigated. As he hid from God, he will hide again, masking his confusion and guilt through retaliation in vain arguing and the resentment of authority. He will over-react to correction, rebel and flee from the justice of reform, he will over-judge, question authority, even that of his own paternity, and doubt the Providence of God.
Accused of neglecting his spouse, he will attempt to deflect his guilt by projecting it onto others. He will lack consideration, he will too hastily discern basing his judgment on externals, losing focus on the essential and be distracted by secondary things. He will stubbornly tend towards independence, self-actuation and human prudence. Should he see that he has been disciplined in justice and fairness, he will brood in melancholy and self-pity. He will lose faith in the grace of divine friendship which was once his unfailing guiding light.
Woman, created in Paradise, possesses the attributes of that place of great beauty which is her origin. Her life began in the sleep of man, not the slumber of dreams but the mystical repose of contemplation, wherein the rib that shields the heart was freed and formed into feminine nature.
She must now be the spouse, the helpmate, finding her sense of place at the side of man’s heart, whence she first breathed the breath of life. She delights in the affections of man, who first called her Virago, heroine.
Beauty and charity are her origins, they will be her defense against the false beauties of vanity, immodesty and self-deceit, against the false charities of sentimentality, self-pity and self-love.
Now she must have recourse to her original greatness through harmonious union with man, resisting rivalry and the illusory reasonableness of temptation which captivated her curiosity and prompted her fall.
She must “become what she is,” rediscovering in the depths of her feminine nature the sanctuary of life, a domestic refuge of divine contemplation which was the original condition of her birth, which she will communicate through motherhood in the nurturing of innocence.
Our meditation concludes with the finding of the Child Jesus, the revelation of prudence, and they were all astonished at his prudence and answers.Prudence, the revelation, the answer, the eliciter of the more salutary, discerns the right way, the more noble, to the greater end, which is God. This, in the very person of Jesus, thought to be lost, now recovered from the dangers of travel. His return home to his parents, and in the contemplative sense, to the home of every family, to be their salvation, which is the meaning of his name.
To fallen human nature, the Catholic family is salvation, the exalted means to eternal happiness, the triumph of prudence. As divinely appointed delegates, man and woman are henceforth privileged participants in the Work of Life, as inscribed in the book of Genesis, though no longer in the quest of a material return to Paradise Lost, which is an error of naturalism, wherein nature alone suffices. Our Lord, who is the new Adam, directs man’s desire to return from exile not back to Paradise but to the “many mansions” of his Father’s house, the Kingdom of Heaven.