In addressing the place and mission of marriage and the family, the Church has given remarkable light and encouragement. In the secular vision of human life and activity, marriage and the family have no coherent form or place. "Humanae Vitae" situates the role and mission of spouses at the very centre of all human affairs, and by rejecting artificial contraception, seeks to protect that role and mission from the many forces of secularisation. Artificial contraception admits third-party interests into the marriage union, and by separating sexuality from procreation, seeks to secularise and diminish the dignity and mission of spouses.
Once we see that marriage and the family is the foundation of all human affairs, then we see that every one in the whole world stands in relation to marriage and the family. Yet in the changing culture of the modern world, all the many models of family life fail to convince us. The 1950s model family with the housewife at home, and the husband who comes home from work to find his wife and children well attired and waiting for him to join them at the family table, "The Waltons" (who?), or more recently the roles played out on modern soap operas, are all conditioned by the culture, and whilst being formative of the culture, are unable to reveal the truth about the family.
In the light of "Humanae Vitae" - which newly establishes spouses at the very centre of human affairs, and which sets them as the primary interpreters of culture - John Paul II gave us what can fairly be described as the greatest statement about the family ever made.
"Familiaris Consortio" of 1981 does not look at the family from the outside, but from the interior, and so it speaks of what is the essetial reality of the family; not a kitchen full of 'white goods', or having two or three smartly dressed children, nor the anguish of a teenager who feels 'hemmed in' by his or her parents. Suddenly, when one realises that the family is the centre and ground of civilisation, its mission to 'create a community of persons' is set in relief. So too is its mission to serve life, to participate in the formation of society, and to share in the mission of the Church. With these four missions, John Paul II touches the essence of the family. In a sense, it doesn't matter what a family looks like, or how the culture seeks to present the family, because now we can see what the family is. The mission of the family reveals its identity.
If "Humanae Vitae" establishes spouses in their identity, "Familiaris Consortio" establishes families in theirs. And at the root of this foundation of all human reality we find a bond; the marriage bond between a man and women; a God-given spiritual reality, whether natural marriage or sacramental, upon which the whole edifice of human civilisation rests.