Everybody knows what a family is, right? After all, we have all come from a family and we all belong to one, in some manner. A family is "people who live together." That, at least, is the way that we are programmed to think of family. Of course, this has led to so many of the issues that we find in contemporary society today. I am not especially interested in engaging in an apologetics here. The relevant contemporary issues should be pretty obvious, however, and keep them in mind (and please feel free to comment below).
Despite the fact that the family is something distinct, primordial and fundamentally relevant to each one of us as human persons, we really do not know what it is. This is unsettling and startling. I think there are two reason for this lack of a straightforward definition. First, the family is mysterious because it is so rich and deep. An inquiry into its depths is irretrievable. Obviously, this is good. However, there is another reason as well: modernity has cloaked the essence of what a family has traditionally been understood to be. It has to. It has no choice. It could not function otherwise. It would perish if the familial was re-realized. Naturally, this is also to say that the family and thinking attentively about the family is revolutionary: a revolution back to nature and truth.
This reason, by the way, is why I am not interested in addressing apologetics here. The problem comes before contemporary issues. Today's issues are merely symptomatic of the deeper tension.
So then, what is a family?
The family is a university. It is more of a university, in fact, than most "universities" out there. Indeed, it should be the family which informs the universities of today. The family is a true whole, composed of persons who are dedicated to knowing what is True, Good and Beautiful, together as a community. In order to celebrate our families, we must take this task seriously. This is why it is so important that we read to our children, that we read together as spouses. We should also take on family projects together. Aside from ensuring that our families have a liturgical topography to their year, we should also seek to build and grow together. We should seek to learn a language together, study music, history, art etc. Imagine each Sunday all listening to a period of music together, moving from period to period each week, following the history of music as a family. Each member of the family would participate in their own appropriate way: the baby would listen, the children could talk about their experience of the music and the adults could make their own suitable contributions. Of course, you could do this with any subject. This would not be homeschooling, per se. This would be living a rich communal life together, regardless of the children's ages or schooling arrangements.
The family is monastic. In the same way that the university should stem from the family, it is the structure of the family which should (and does) inform the monastic life. This may seem odd. The word "monasticism" actually implies solitude, after all, a singular experience of transcendence. And yet this experience always takes place...in community. Genuine personhood is discovered in community. The familial structure is the most basic example of personhood realized in community. This is why the family is the best analogy, one frequently used by the Fathers of the Church, for the Trinity. Needless to say, the family needs to pray together (I would actually stress the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours as a top priority in this regard over even the Rosary, so do both). On a larger scope, it is the responsibility of the family to follow the contours of the liturgical year. This is not just church business, that we celebrate and are reminded of when we go to Mass. Our families must be saturated by the liturgy in an organic manner. We must eat, speak, act according to this Reality. In the Middle Ages, people contemplated how the Christian should walk...we should have this same attitude.
The family is a kingdom. Perhaps this truth of the family is most frequently forgotten. We live in a culture without kings. We may even have difficulty distinguishing between king and tyrant, though they are true opposites. Meanwhile, we have high expectations of our fathers and husbands, though our expectations are utterly undefined and vague. Fathers and husbands, by vocation, imitate Christ the King. They must be kingly. Wives and Mothers are queens and are called to possess all of the strength and grace that that position entails. The family is political. It is the fundamental political unit. As such, it has a political sovereignty that must be protected and a political responsibility to the rest of culture and society.
Our families are the antidote to the society in which we live. We will never overcome the enemy or prevail in our battles that we face in this culture as individuals. Even before ourselves, we must look to our community, which, in a radical way, begins with our families.