We need to put the family first again in our society.

For the Church, the family has always been what the popes call “the vital cell” of human society. For the Church, the family is the center of love where individual personality is formed and values and traditions are passed on to new generations.

“One could say, without exaggeration, that the family is the driving force of the world and of history,” Pope Francis has said.

Last week in this column, I talked about how the “Gospel of the family” was spoken by Jesus and written into the pages of sacred Scripture.

Jesus Christ was one of the few leaders in the ancient world who even acknowledged the reality of marriage and family. And he went much farther. He showed us that there is something awesome and beautiful about marriage and the family in God’s plan for the world and for our lives.

But the family founded on the marriage of man and woman is more than a Christian “invention.” The family is part of the natural order of things, the basic community of persons that is found in every human society.

In our own society, over the last half-century, we’ve seen what happens when we take the family for granted.

Years of social science research point to one conclusion — the health of the family is closely related to the health of our society.

The reality is that there are direct links between family breakdown and other failures and dysfunctions in our society — from poverty and lower wage-earning potential to domestic violence, substance abuse, incarceration, and failure to graduate high school.

These are not moral or religious arguments about the family. And they are not meant to criticize people’s behaviors or condemn people who are living in broken families.

The point is that everyone is better off — and society is better off — when people are living in strong, stable families with a mother and a father. Promoting strong marriages and values that support families is a basic requirement for social justice.

There are a lot of causes for the family’s decline today and we need to understand these causes if we are going to restore the family’s rightful place in our society.

In part, the decline is the result of an aggressive of individualism and secularism that rejects the traditional understanding of marriage and family as natural or God-given institutions. Many now argue that what we call “family” is simply a lifestyle choice, a voluntary arrangement that individuals make with other individuals they choose to live with.

There are also intense economic and social pressures — poverty, unemployment and “underemployment,” discrimination, addictions — that hurt family unity and stability.

We need to face all of these challenges — moral, spiritual and material — if we are going to put the family first again in our society.

Our country was founded on the essentially religious principle that God creates every individual with dignity and rights.

But America was never meant to be only a nation of individuals. Our founders knew that no man or woman is an “island.” They knew that every individual comes from a family and that family and religion were important for society’s growth and strength.

American laws and policies — until recently — have always respected the role of the family and worked to encourage and strengthen marriage and the values that make families and society strong.

And those values, rooted and nurtured in the family experience, have always served as an important “check” on the excessive emphasis on individualism and consumer lifestyles that we find in our society.

We need to renew our appreciation for the key role that marriage and family play in the American idea of government and culture.

I also believe that the more we understand what the family means in God’s plan for our individual lives, the more we will want to promote and defend the family in our society. That’s why, in my next column, I want to talk about the human beauty of marriage and family, as we understand these realities in our Catholic tradition.

Let’s keep one another in prayer this week. And let’s keep praying for the success of the upcoming Synod for the Family, using the prayer of Pope Francis that I shared in my column last week.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the Mother of the Holy Family and every Christian family, to give us the courage to be open to life and to proclaim the Gospel of the family and the beauty of marriage in our society.

Archbishop Gomez’s CPA Award-winning book, “Immigration and the Next America,”is available at the Cathedral Gift Shop (www.olacathedralgifts.com/immigrationandthenextamericarenewingthesoulofournation.aspx). Follow him at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.