The Family:

Seminary of Hope

By Fr. John Hardon

On this page: Families are Made for Heaven

Faith - Foundation of Hope

Family - Foundation of Faith,

Four Pillars of the Catholic Family

Forces Hostile to the Family 

Catholic Instruction of the Family

The Two Armies

This article from the Summer/Fall 1995 issue of

The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine

Copyright 1994. All Rights Reserved

When we say that the family is the seminary of hope, we are not using a figure of speech. A seminary is externally the seedbed (Latin, seminarium) of that which is to take root and grow into the flower, plant or tree from which the seed has been sown.


But how is the family the seedbed of hope? It is the seedbed of hope in eternal life, for which families here on earth are the precondition and necessary preparation. Parents conceive their children now in time in order to teach them there is a heavenly eternity to hope for, and train them to pay the price of reaching heaven in the world to come.


Families are Made for Heaven


We are so accustomed to speaking of families in terrestrial terms that we may have to do some violence to our thinking to say that families are really made for heaven. This is the clear teaching of divine revelation and should be the towering goal of our earthly desires.


We are destined to be reunited as families in that heavenly Jerusalem which the voice of God told St. John, "You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make His home with them; they shall be His people, and He will the their God." (Revelation 2:13)


Home on earth is where the families begin and grow. But home in heaven is where families are meant to arrive, where God will wipe away all tears from our eyes, where there will be no more death or family bereavement, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past will have gone, and what we now call the future will be an everlasting present in the company of those whom we have loved on earth, never again to be separated from them for all eternity.


Faith - the Foundation of Our Hope


All of this we can look forward to on one condition - that we really believe it is true.


When St. Paul wrote that, "Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for" (Hebrews 11:1), he was saying more than most of us realize. He was saying that our hope of eternal happiness in heaven is only as strong as our faith in the existence of heaven is certain. A weak faith produces a weak hope; a deep faith produces a firm hope. Without faith, there can be no hope. Our faith is both the condition and the measure of our hope, no more and no less.


As we look around us at the world of business and politics, the world of unsatisfied desires and pain; at the world of selfishness, greed and crime - we are tempted to discouragement and thousands of Americans are giving in to despair.


Early in this century, G.K. Chesterton made a very wise observation about the meaning of hope. "As long as matters are really hopeful," he said, "hope is a mere flattery or platitude. It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all. Like all the Christian virtues, it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable."


The more hopeless things seem to be, the more we need a strong faith to provide us with an unshakable hope that everything in this world will pass away; that the sufferings of this life are not to be compared with the glory that awaits us in the life to come.


Hope is the confident desire of obtaining some future good - finally the supreme good of everlasting life in the family of the Holy Trinity. But our desire will be only as confident as our minds are convinced that this is not mythology or an empty dream.


The Family - Foundation of Faith


St. Paul again tells us that faith comes from hearing. Someone who already believes, professes his faith in word or action, helps others receive the faith - from God, of course, but through the one who believes.


This is the ordinary course of Divine Providence. Only believers reproduce believers.


We see, therefore, that the family is certainly the source of our natural generation of education as human beings. But it is also, and especially, the source and support of our supernatural life and well-being. For it is mainly through the family that we receive and grow in the true faith without which the supernatural life would not even be possible. That is why the faith of each member of the family is so necessary to provide the sustenance in faith that the other members of the family so desperately need.


First in this law of dependence are the father and mother. The strength of their own Catholic faith will determine the strength of their children's faith. In the designs of God, they are the principal channels of grace of faith to their children.


What is true in the course of nature is even more true in the order of grace. Like reproduces like. In today's world of widespread unbelief, this will mean nothing less than heroic faith in the parents if they hope to reproduce and preserve this faith in their offspring.


It is here that we must at least briefly explain what I have come to call the four pillars of the Catholic family: fidelity, indissolubility, children, and selfless charity.




The first pillar is the obligation that the husband and wife assumed when they received the Sacrament of Matrimony. They promised God that they would remain faithful to each other in a world that has canonized infidelity and makes a mockery of the marriage vows.


Remember that parents are channels of grace to their children. This is far deeper than merely giving good example. Father and mother are to be conduits of supernatural light for the sons and daughters they have brought into the world.




If there is one truth of the Catholic faith that parents must teach their children it is the indissolubility of Christian marriage.


Since apostolic times, whole nations have been lost to the Catholic Church because married people wanted to divorce and remarry. The Catholic Church will survive only where Christ's difficult doctrine on marital indissolubility is still believed and practiced.




Not every marriage, we know, is fruitful in children. One of the heaviest sacrifices that childless couples have to make is to accept God's will in their lives. They must learn the secret of spiritual parenthood and devote their zeal to teaching the faith to other people's children.


But where the husband and wife can have offspring, their generosity in reproducing themselves is the single most effective way of propagating the faith to their children.


All the orthodoxy of their Catholicism will be lost on deaf ears unless the children see their children see their parents living what they profess to believe. Contraception is lethal for the preservation of the true faith, in any age, and has been given thunderous emphasis in our age. Infertility has been reduced to an exact science and children have become a liability in materially underdeveloped countries of the Western world.


Definition of Family as Loving Community


In the Catholic philosophy of life, a family of father, mother and children is not a mere group of persons who happen to be related by blood. A family is not just a society of individuals who cohabit with one another.


In the mind of Christ, a family is to be a loving community. This implies some remarkable things. It implies there is someone in authority in the family, someone who, with kindly patience, makes the decisions for the family. It implies there is mutual trust among the members of the family. They share with one another their hopes and desires, and they are sure that their confidence will not be betrayed. It implies that the members of a family, in a true sense, live together. They are in each other's company, not grudgingly, but willingly, and together form an unmistakable unity. On Pentecost Sunday, St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that the first Christians had already begun to form a community - beginning with the community of each Christian family. What united these first Christian families was their common faith. They were united by their common allegiance "to the teaching of the Apostles."


Forces Hostile to the Family


Even as we are speaking about the family as the seminary of hope, we have no illusions about the hostile forces at work to destroy or, at least, weaken the family.

At root, these forces in the realm of ideas that are alien to the Catholic philosophy of life.
· There is a misguided notion of independence of the spouses in relation to each other.
· There is a serious misconception about the authority of the parents in the family.
· There is the scandal of divorce and so called "remarriage." As one of my co-ed students, who was planning to marry after graduation from the state university where I was teaching, once told me, "My greatest fear is that I will become like my mother who will divorce her third husband shortly after my own wedding day!"
· There is the scourge of a contraceptive mentality. This, in turn has promoted sterilization and led to the legalization of abortion.

Pope John Paul II identifies what he called "the root" of these hostile forces and phenomena:

"[It is] a corruption of the idea and experience of freedom. Freedom is conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God's plan for marriage and the family. Rather it is seen as an autonomous power of self affirmation, often against others, for one's own selfish well-being." (Familiaris Consortio, I.6)

On these premises, freedom becomes what Lucifer asserted at the dawn of angelic history, "Non serviam!" ("I will not serve!")


To know this is to appreciate the gravity of the crisis affecting the family. It is also to see the transcendent need for sound Catholic instruction of family and for the family in the face of such demonic powers let loose in our day.


Catholic Instruction of the Family


As faithful sons and daughters of Mother Church, we know what follows when families are not taught, as the Holy Father says, that "freedom is a capacity for realizing the truth of God's plan for marriage and the family."


Instead of knowing that God's plan is to lead families to heaven by doing His Will, people are being taught to do their own will. The result has been pandemonium, which literally means "all demonic." Pandemonium is the literary term for the abode of the demons. In the English language, it is the center of vice, a place of lawlessness and anarchy. Is it too much to say that where self-will has replaced the divine will as the purpose of human freedom, the consequence has been pandemonium?


The conclusion from all this is obvious. Families must be taught that we have a free will in order to do God's will on earth and, thereby, reach a heavenly eternity.


Here is the grave responsibility we have before God. As bishops and priests, religious and laity, single and married, we must become active apostles of religious instruction to families.


Parents and children are being exposed to so much erroneous thinking, it is no wonder that family life in once flourishing Christian countries is disintegrating. Ideas have consequences. True ideas have good consequences. False ideas have bad consequences.


We who have the true faith, which is the only foundation for real hope, have the obligation to teach this faith to the myriads of families that are literally walking in darkness and sitting in the shadow of death.


We also have a second grave responsibility. It is to provide parents with the necessary tools of instruction on teaching the Catholic faith to their children.


In secularized countries like the U.S., many parents have no choice. They must provide homeschooling if they want their children to remain Catholic and grow in their love and practice of the Catholic faith.


What we need is another St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to restore the Catholic school system in our country. But that is unpredictable, uncertain and totally hidden in the providence of God.

God wants us to convince parents that they have the primary duty to provide for the religious education of their children. But we must make sure it is authentic Christian education, based on revealed truth as interpreted by the Catholic Church.


In order to achieve this, the parents will have to be organized. I do not hesitate to say they have to be mobilized. Why? Because the propagators of untruth are highly organized and they are certainly mobilized.


The Two Armies


St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises, has the key meditation on what he calls the Two Standards. He tells the exercitant to make a mental representation of two leaders, Christ and Lucifer, each calling on his followers to rally under his standard.


Lucifer summons innumerable demons and scatters them, some to one city, some to another, throughout the whole world. He tells his minions to lay snares for people everywhere so that no place, so state of life, and no individual is overlooked. The demons are to tempt human beings to set their hopes on the possessions of this world, and in this way lead them, through pride, into sin and the loss of their immortal souls.


Christ, on the other hand, calls on His followers to "spread His sacred doctrine among all peoples." His strategy is the opposite of Lucifer's. Those who are really under His standard are to be inspired to love the Cross, to be detached from the empty pleasures and honors of this world, and to set their hopes on the world that will never end.


Our privilege is to be on the side of Christ in this cosmic battle for souls. It is the most ferocious in the history of Christianity. But we must be ready to pay the price in the sacrifice of time and money, of ease and convenience, of energy and human respect if we are to overcome the demonic forces at work in the modern world.


The center of this conflict is over the family. The heart of this conflict is over the truth. The good of this conflict is eternity. The victory in this conflict is assured, on the one condition that we are ready to die for Christ - who died on the Cross to save us from hell and to give us heaven as the hope of our destiny.

Fr. John Hardon, S.J., a noted theologian and home education advocate, is also the author of numerous books. He resides in Detroit, Michigan, often assisting at Mass at the Assumption of Our Lady (Grotto) Church.

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