During the last five decades, marriage has declined while the number of broken families has sharply increased. The ills of society that we face today are the direct result of the breakdown of the traditional family.
Formed to address this critical issue, the Calling Couples to Christ Apostolate strives to help couples live Christ-centered, joy-filled marriages. St. John Paul II said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Healthy and whole families lead to a healthy and whole society.
In seeking resources to assist us in this effort, we were delighted to see that Dr. Scott Hahn recently published a new book, The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order. Dr. Hahn makes the bold claim that through the Sacrament of Matrimony, a truly peaceful and humane society are possible.
In the Introduction, Dr. Hahn states: “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…we can transform the world” (xv). In contemplating the future of his grandchildren, Dr. Hahn asks the question: What kind of society will we leave [them]?” (xvi). He proposes that we cannot control the culture that our offspring will inherit but it is essential that we do everything possible to ensure they “inherit the true faith” (xvi). And it is through the living out of their faith that God’s transforming grace will impact the culture in which they live.
Throughout the book, Dr. Hahn stresses that it is through the power of the Sacrament of Matrimony, that couples receive the grace to live counter-culturally, in mutual love and unity. “By healing our spiritual wounds, perfecting our nature, and elevating us to God’s level, grace makes community possible. Under the dominion of sin, we all go off to our own place – a place with our own morality, our own philosophy, our own truth” (146). Continuing, he says: “Sin isolates; grace integrates. Only grace can sustain the communion that makes marriage possible” (147). Echoing the mission of our Apostolate, Dr. Hahn says, “Any enduring society must unite itself to the source of grace, Jesus Christ” (147). Marriage and family works when Christ is at the center. The breakdown of the family is the result of the breakdown of faith.
Pointing to the popular religions of the time, Dr. Hahn says that “Secularism and liberalism and relativism and postmodernism and all the other inhumane-isms of our age have left an entire civilization dazed and confused.” As an antidote to the ills of society without hope, Dr. Hahn stresses “Now is the time to speak Catholic truth with clarity and boldness. It’s what people want, and more importantly, it is what they need” (159).
Additionally, Dr. Hahn stresses that…
…if we’re serious about creating a vital and sustainable culture of marriage (and therefore a vital and sustainable society), we must be honest about the central role of God and His Church in that culture. God’s grace is the oxygen for the flame of marriage; our secular, liberal civilization smothers it (131, emphasis added).
Instead of looking to the government or secular programs to fix the problem, Dr. Hahn issues a clarion call for Catholic Christians to make a difference in the world in which we live.
Rather than fussing about when “society” is going to get its act together, the Church – including especially the laity living out the Sacrament of Marriage – needs to get its act together… it… means living sacramentally… organizing our lives around the covenantal love of Jesus made available to us in a unique way through the Church (176).
And so our personal, marital, and familial witness is the essential element in the sacramental society. No institution or set of rules and regulations can bring it about; it requires holy, virtuous people who form holy, virtuous families that in turn form holy, virtuous societies (177).
It is only through the Church, united with Christ, that we can achieve communion with each other in our marriages, families, and in our society. It would do us well to follow the path to personal and societal wholeness laid out by Dr. Hahn in this insightful book.
The family is the first essential cell of human society. St. Pope John XXIII
Dr. Scott Hahn holds the Father Michael Scanlan, T.O.R., Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and president of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He also serves as the McEssy Distinguished Visiting Professor of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization, University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1982, Dr. Hahn entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, 1986.
Dr. Hahn is also the best-selling author of more than 40 books including The Lamb’s Supper, Reasons to Believe, The Fourth Cup, Romans: A Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, and Rome Sweet Home (co-authored with his wife, Kimberly).
 The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order, by Scott Hahn. Emmaus Road Publishing: Steubenville, OH, 2018. 182 pages. ISBN: 9781947792555.