Despite the existential body blows thrown at the family in recent decades, there is a template that might help to push back against the present confusion. In Biology 101, we learned that at the center of every plant or animal cell is a nucleus, whose key function is to control growth. The genetic material contained within is a repository of hereditary information that serves to organize how the cell reproduces itself, meaning that the inheritance from previous generations of cells is inextricably tied both to the survival and future of a particular living thing.
The nucleus is surrounded by two membranes — an inner and an outer — which comprise the nuclear envelope. Not only is this envelope essential to maintaining the shape of the nucleus, but it contains pores which allow critical substances to enter and exit, without which the cell would die. It is fascinating to see how, on the most subsidiary level, tremendously complex activities take place which are ordered not only to the very existence of living things, but the flourishing of their species.
It requires no great leap to see how the Church relates this biological phenomenon to the most basic family structure. Indeed, the Catechism notes, “The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society” (CCC, 2207).
Like the biological cell, the strength of the nuclear family, as the Church understands it, depends on its various ingenious elements. Interestingly, while both membranes are required for the good of the cell, one remarkable feature is their asymmetry. Research has shown that they cannot be reversed; neither can there be two inner membranes or two outer, for each has a distinct, complementary, and irreplaceable role.
Moreover, the membranes’ task of filtering incoming material and facilitating outgoing material is integral to survival and growth, and mirrors the way that the family must interact with the outer world. Each filter’s criterion is to distinguish between what nourishes the cell and the toxins that would destroy it. In this regard, the Catechism quotes from Gaudium et Spes: “The importance of the family for the life and well-being of society entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Civil authority should consider it a grave duty ‘to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality, and promote domestic prosperity’” (CCC, 2210).
Thus, it should become clear in coming months whether the family will be allowed to maintain its integral task, or whether the Christian inheritance it relies on for strength and purpose will have to do battle with a pernicious mutation. Gene therapy, despite its effectiveness when treating some diseases, is potentially disastrous when applied to the healthy parts of cells. The Catechism reminds us: “The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom” (CCC, 2207). With all the audacity of those who built the tower of Babel, tinkering with the mission of the family—whether its construction or what is forced into its inner sanctum — threatens its very ability to survive. Altering its DNA can only undermine its essential moral framework; and vice versa, because inhibiting the benefits that healthy families offer to society will diminish the surrounding culture well into the future. There is already a quiet nuclear war simmering — one effectively below the radar of any standing army. Parents everywhere need to be vigilant, and safeguard that which has been entrusted to them so that coming generations may benefit by the stable truths on which nature and grace depend.
Kineke is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, and can be found online at feminine-genius.com.
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