In his book, The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing. 2018), Scott Hahn discusses marriage as foundational to a strong society.
In the introduction he says, “There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage” (xiv). He stresses the importance of marriage with these words of Fr. Donald J. Keefe, “If Catholics would simply live the Sacrament of Matrimony for one generation, we would witness a transformation of society and have a Christian culture” (xiv).
Hahn says marriage is not meant to flow from society. Rather, “In marriage we find the primordial human community, from which all other communities emerge. If we get marriage right, we can not only transform our families and parishes, we can transform the world” (xv).
This might seem like an impossible task but nothing is impossible for God. There is hope! Hahn writes, “We can’t control the national or civilizational culture our children will inherit, but we can do do everything in our power to ensure our children will inherit the true faith. We can’t control the nature of the society our children will have to contend with, but we can influence the nature of Catholic children our society will have to contend with” (xvi-xvii).
Why is marriage important to society? Because marriage and family is where we learn to interact with people. Society is becoming centered on the individual. Hahn writes (describing liberalism in terms of political philosophy, not a political party), “Liberalism puts the rights and liberties of the individual at the center of the constellation of political values, displacing communal duties and pursuit of the common good. Liberalism therefore conceives of society not as an organic whole with various goods that are proper to that whole, but as a collection of autonomous individuals pursing their own goods” (footnote, xvii).
Hahn is not looking to simply to go back in time when marriage and family was seen differently (7). Yet, “just because we can’t recreate the past doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it” (10). He writes of what marriage is meant to be, what God created it to be.
In legal terms, marriage involves a contract. A couple make their marriage vows to each other. However, marriage is not meant to be simply a legal contract. Marriage is meant to be a covenant. Hahn offers the following distinction. “A contract generally sets the terms of giving, taking, or sharing certain aspects of ourselves – property, goods, labor, and son. A covenant, on the other hand, sets the terms of joining our entire selves with another. A covenant builds on a contract to such a degree that it becomes something truly and substantially different” (21). He goes on, “Contracts create temporary and contingent arrangements of property; covenants create permanent family bonds” (22).
To have a great product, one has to have a great foundation. Family is meant to be a foundation for society. As Hahn writes, “How well (or poorly) families do this job will determine the structure and the stability of the wider community” (27). He goes on to write, “One of the most important roles the family plays is as the first place where young people grow accustomed to considering the needs of other individuals and the community ahead of themselves” (27).
Family shapes who we are. It is part of our identity (see Hahn, 31). Of course, we are not perfect. Thus, our families are not perfect. That should not stop us from trying. Our imperfections are why we need God. To be a good family we need God’s help. For a marriage to be successful, it is not just a “civil institution” with God present when the wedding is in a church. A good marriage needs God. God makes marriage a Sacrament to give the grace the couple needs (see Hahn, 39).
I hope to write more on Hahn’s thoughts in The First Society. For now, let us pray for all marriages and families to be open to the grace that God offers.