We celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family last Sunday, so it’s a pleasure for me to share some thoughts about The Choice of the Family: A Call to Wholeness, Abundant Life, and Enduring Happiness by Bishop Jean Laffitte.
In a series of interviews conducted by Pierre and Véronique Sanchez, Bishop Laffitte explains how the family is the bedrock of society. This is the vocation most of us will have, so it’s important to do it faithfully.
For people familiar with St. John Paul II’s work, this will not be new. However, it always helps if the same ideas are reiterated in different ways. JPII’s book on Love and Responsibility is heavy reading. This book is far more digestible given the Q&A format, though at times, the questions felt too convoluted or leading. But most of the time one has the sense of sitting comfortably with the Bishop, possibly having some tea and biscuits, as he delves into the intricacies of family life. I especially liked that the interviewers spent some time on Bishop Laffitte’s background. He’s the youngest of a dozen children, raised in a faithful Catholic home. The example of his own family is lovely, with a father who leads the family and a mother who nurtures the gifts of her children. He drifted away for a while after Vatican II but adopted the faith he had received and answered the call to the priesthood eventually. He was among the “first generation” formed by the JPII Institute and now serves as the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
The rest of the book is devoted to marriage, family life and the raising of children. As parents, we bear the responsibility towards our children to transmit the faith and it’s very clear that we cannot give what we do not have. So it’s essential for parents to practice the faith. He stressed the importance of marriage preparation. Most people forget that it begins in childhood (this is called remote preparation). You pray for your future spouse, you practice chastity so that you can make a total gift of yourself to the one with whom you will become one flesh. He advises against co-habitation because it is a lie to live like husband and wife when you have not made that commitment. He notes that it is much more difficult and damaging for the woman than it is for the man in a situation like this. The other effect of premarital sex is that the couple contracepts, but if it fails, they end up killing the baby. In the case that the couple eventually marries, there’s a higher likelihood of divorce. This is because the couple does not understand that marriage is forever.
Bishop Laffitte then speaks of proximal preparation, what we formally think of as marriage preparation, where the priest counsels couples preparing for marriage, and teaches them the true meaning of marriage, not as a contract that can be broken when things begin to go downhill, but rather as a covenant the man and woman make with each other and with God! One cannot undo what God has joined. Unfortunately, many people marry thinking that they can divorce if things go badly. This mentality has to change and it begins in our homes and families.
Once the couple is married, they need to be open to new life. This is God’s plan for marriage – for a child to enter the world with a mother and a father who love each other for the rest of their lives. Even Jesus came down to earth as an Infant in a family. That Mary and Joseph were chaste spouses was because they had given themselves totally to God and in His service.
He discussed at length how the contraceptive culture is damaging families. Increasingly more importance is placed on material wealth than the blessings that children bring to our lives. Instead of trusting in a providential God, we take matters into our own hands and sever the power He has given us in being co-creators with Him. Not every intimate act results in a child. God is the author of all life and He decides when the time is right for a child. And He will give all the necessary graces to raise that child!
The flip side of this is thinking that God owes us a child and then engaging in reproductive technologies that create a baby in a test tube. That is also sinful. A couple should never separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sex. A result of the entitlement attitude is that couple ends up treating the child as a commodity. It is big business that is bad for families. It has opened doors for people to make babies for themselves, babies they couldn't possibly have naturally.
He discusses pastoral care for the divorced and remarried, and for those who suffer from homosexual attraction. The bottom line is that we are all called to chastity. And we cannot present ourselves to receive the Holy Eucharist if we are not in a state of grace. So, it is still important to hear Holy Mass, but a couple that is not in a valid marriage must abstain from Holy Communion.
In today’s world, where people are confused about what marriage is, and how it should be lived, this book has many of the answers. You can tell that Bishop Laffitte is very much a shepherd and takes his vocation seriously in keeping the sheep on the right path. I highly recommend it.