Z okazji roku Rodziny 1994
1. Obchodzony w Kościele Rok Rodziny stanowi dla mnie dogodną okazję, aby zapukać do drzwi Waszych domów, pragnę bowiem z Wami wszystkimi się spotkać i przekazać Wam szczególne pozdrowienie. Czynię to za pośrednictwem tego Listu, odwołując się do słów wypowiedzianych w Encyklice Redemptor hominis w pierwszych dniach mej Piotrowej posługi. Pisałem wtedy: "Człowiek jest drogą Kościoła"1.
To zdanie mówi naprzód o różnych drogach, jakimi chadza człowiek, ażeby równocześnie wyrazić, jak bardzo Kościół stara się iść wraz z człowiekiem po tylu różnych drogach jego ziemskiej egzystencji. Kościół stara się uczestniczyć w radościach i nadziejach, a także w trudach i cierpieniach2 ziemskiego pielgrzymowania ludzi z tym głębokim przeświadczeniem, że to sam Chrystus wprowadził go na te wszystkie drogi: że On sam dał Kościołowi człowieka i równocześnie mu go zadał jako "drogę" jego posłannictwa i posługi.
Rodzina drogą Kościoła
2. Pośród tych wielu dróg rodzina jest drogą pierwszą i z wielu względów najważniejszą. Jest drogą powszechną, pozostając za każdym razem drogą szczególną, jedyną i niepowtarzalną, tak jak niepowtarzalny jest każdy człowiek. Rodzina jest tą drogą, od której nie może on się odłączyć. Wszak normalnie każdy z nas w rodzinie przychodzi na świat, można więc powiedzieć, że rodzinie zawdzięcza sam fakt bycia człowiekiem. A jeśli w tym przyjściu na świat oraz we wchodzeniu w świat człowiekowi brakuje rodziny, to jest to zawsze wyłom i brak nad wyraz niepokojący i bolesny, który potem ciąży na całym życiu. Tak więc Kościół ogarnia swą macierzyńską troską wszystkich, którzy znajdują się w takich sytuacjach, ponieważ dobrze wie, że rodzina spełnia funkcję podstawową. Wie on ponadto, iż człowiek wychodzi z rodziny, aby z kolei w nowej rodzinie urzeczywistnić swe życiowe powołanie. Ale nawet kiedy wybiera życie w samotności - to i tutaj rodzina pozostaje wciąż jak gdyby jego egzystencjalnym horyzontem jako ta podstawowa wspólnota, na której opiera się całe życie społeczne człowieka w różnych wymiarach aż do najrozleglejszych. Czyż nie mówimy również o "rodzinie ludzkiej", mając na myśli wszystkich na świecie żyjących ludzi?
Rodzina bierze początek w miłości, jaką Stwórca ogarnia stworzony świat, co wyraziło się już "na początku", w Księdze Rodzaju (1,1), a co w słowach Chrystusa w Ewangelii znalazło przewyższające wszystko potwierdzenie: "Tak [...] Bóg umiłował świat, że Syna swego Jednorodzonego dał" (J 3,16). Syn Jednorodzony, współistotny Ojcu, "Bóg z Boga i Światłość ze Światłości", wszedł w dzieje ludzi poprzez rodzinę: "przez wcielenie swoje zjednoczył się jakoś z każdym człowiekiem. Ludzkimi rękoma pracował, [...] ludzkim sercem kochał, urodzony z Maryi Dziewicy, stał się prawdziwie jednym z nas, we wszystkim do nas podobny oprócz grzechu"3. Skoro więc Chrystus "objawia się w pełni człowieka samemu człowiekowi"4, czyni to naprzód w rodzinie i poprzez rodzinę, w której zechciał narodzić się by wzrastać. Wiadomo, że Odkupiciel znaczną część swego życia pozostawał w ukryciu nazaretańskim, będąc "posłusznym" (por. Łk 2,51) jako "Syn Człowieczy" swej Matce Maryi i Józefowi cieśli. Czyż to synowskie "posłuszeństwo" nie jest już pierwszym wymiarem posłuszeństwa Ojcu "aż do śmierci" (Flp 2,8), przez które odkupił świat?
Tak więc Boska tajemnica Wcielenia Słowa pozostaje w ścisłym związku z ludzką rodziną. Nie tylko z tą jedną, nazaretańską, ale w jakiś sposób z każdą rodziną, podobnie jak Sobór Watykański II mówi, że Syn Boży przez swoje Wcielenie "zjednoczył się jakoś z każdym człowiekiem"5. Kościół, idąc za Chrystusem, który "przyszedł" na świat, "aby służyć" (Mt 20,28), uważa służbę rodzinie za jedno ze swych najistotniejszych zadań - i w tym znaczeniu zarówno człowiek, jak i rodzina są "drogą Kościoła".
3. Z tych właśnie powodów Kościół wita z radością inicjatywę Międzynarodowego Roku Rodziny 1994, podjętą przez Organizację Narodów Zjednoczonych. Świadczy ona o tym, jak istotna i podstawowa jest sprawa rodziny dla wszystkich społeczeństw i państw wchodzących w skład ONZ. Jeśli Kościół pragnie w tej inicjatywie narodów uczestniczyć, to dlatego, że sam został posłany przez Chrystusa do "wszystkich narodów" (por. Mt 28,19). Nie po raz pierwszy zresztą Kościół na swój sposób podejmuje międzynarodowe inicjatywy ONZ. Wystarczy wspomnieć, choćby Międzynarodowy Rok Młodzieży w roku 1985. W ten sposób zamysł wyrażony w Konstytucji soborowej Gaudium et spes - zamysł tak drogi papieżowi Janowi XXIII - znajduje właściwe sobie urzeczywistnienie: Kościół jest obecny w świecie współczesnym.
Tak przeto w uroczystość Świętej Rodziny 1993 rozpoczął się w całej Wspólnocie kościelnej "Rok Rodziny" jako jeden ze znaczących etapów przygotowania do Wielkiego Jubileuszu roku 2000, który wyznacza kres drugiego i początek trzeciego tysiąclecia od narodzenia Jezusa Chrystusa. Rok Rodziny skierowuje nasze myśli i serca w stronę Nazaretu, gdzie dnia 26 grudnia ubiegłego roku został on oficjalnie zainaugurowany Ofiarą Eucharystyczną, sprawowaną przez Legata papieskiego.
Jest rzeczą ważną przez cały ten rok odwoływać się do świadectw miłości i troski Kościoła o rodzinę ludzką. Miłości i troski wyrażającej się w sposób znamienny już od samych początków chrześcijaństwa, kiedy rodzina była określana jako "domowy Kościół". W naszych czasach często wracamy do tego wyrażenia "Kościół domowy", przyjętego przez Sobór6, pragniemy bowiem, ażeby to, co się w nim zawiera, nigdy nie uległo "przedawnieniu". Pragnienia tego nie osłabia świadomość bardzo odmiennych warunków, w jakich bytują ludzkie rodziny w świecie współczesnym. Właśnie dlatego tak bardzo znamienny jest tytuł "Poparcie należne godności małżeństwa i rodziny"7, którym posłużył się Sobór w Konstytucji duszpasterskiej Gaudium et spes dla wyrażenia zdań Kościoła w tej szerokiej dziedzinie. Kolejnym ważnym punktem odniesienia po Soborze jest posynodalna Adhortacja Apostolska Familiaris consortio z 1981 roku. W tekście tym wyraża się rozległe i zróżnicowane doświadczenie rodziny, która wśród tylu ludów i narodów wciąż pozostaje na wszystkich kontynentach "drogą Kościoła", a w jakimś znaczeniu staje się nią jeszcze bardziej tam, gdzie rodzina doznaje wewnętrznych kryzysów, gdy narażona bywa na szkodliwe wpływy kulturowe, społeczne i ekonomiczne, które nie tylko osłabiają jej spoistość, ale wręcz utrudniają jej powstanie.
4. Niniejszy List pragnę skierować nie do rodziny "in abstracto", ale do konkretnych rodzin na całym globie, żyjących pod każdą długością i szerokością geograficzną, pośród całej wielości kultur oraz ich dziedzictwa historycznego. Właśnie miłość, jaką Bóg "umiłował świat" (J 3,16) - ta miłość, jaką Chrystus "do końca [...] umiłował" (J 13,1) każdego i wszystkich, pozwala na takie otwarcie i na takie przesłanie do każdej rodziny, stanowiącej "komórkę" w wielkiej i powszechnej "rodzinie" ludzkości. Bóg, Stwórca wszechświata oraz Słowo Wcielone, Odkupiciel ludzkości są źródłem otwarcia się na wszystkich ludzi jako braci i siostry, i skłaniają nas do obejmowania ich wszystkich tą modlitwą, która zaczyna się od słów "Ojcze nasz".
Modlitwa zawsze sprawia, że Syn Boży jest wśród nas: "gdzie są dwaj lub trzej zebrani w imię moje, tam jestem pośród nich" (Mt 18,20). Niechaj ten List do Rodzin stanie się zaproszeniem Chrystusa do każdej ludzkiej rodziny, a poprzez rodzinę zaproszeniem Go do wielkiej rodziny narodów, abyśmy z Nim razem mogli powiedzieć w prawdzie: "Ojcze nasz!" Trzeba, ażeby modlitwa stała się dominantą Roku Rodziny w Kościele: modlitwa rodziny, modlitwa za rodziny, modlitwa z rodzinami.
Rzecz znamienna, że właśnie w modlitwie i przez modlitwę człowiek odkrywa w sposób najprostszy i najgłębszy zarazem właściwą sobie podmiotowość: ludzkie "ja" potwierdza się jako podmiot najłatwiej wówczas, gdy jest zwrócone do Boskiego "Ty". Odnosi się również do rodziny. Jest ona nie tylko podstawową "komórką" społeczeństwa, ale posiada równocześnie właściwą sobie podmiotowość. I ta podmiotowość rodziny również znajduje swe pierwsze i podstawowe potwierdzenie, a zarazem umocnienie, gdy spotyka się we wspólnym wołaniu "Ojcze nasz". Modlitwa służy ugruntowaniu duchowej spoistości rodziny, przyczyniając się do tego, że rodzina staje się silna Bogiem. W liturgii Sakramentu Małżeństwa celebrans modli się słowami: "Prosimy Cię, Boże, ześlij swoje błogosławieństwo na tych nowożeńców [...] i wlej w ich serca moc Ducha Świętego"8. Trzeba, aby z tego "nawiedzenia serc" płynęła wewnętrzna moc ludzkich rodzin - moc jednocząca je w miłości i prawdzie.
Miłość i troska o wszystkie rodziny
5. Niech Rok Rodziny stanie się powszechną i nieustanną modlitwą "Kościołów domowych" i całego Ludu Bożego! Niech w tej modlitwie znajdą swoje miejsce również rodziny zagrożone czy chwiejące się, również i te zniechęcone, rozbite lub znajdujące się w sytuacjach, które Familiaris consortio określa jako "nieprawidłowe"9. Trzeba, ażeby czuły się ogarnięte miłością i troską ze strony braci i sióstr.
Równocześnie modlitwa Roku Rodziny niech będzie odważnym świadectwem rodzin, które we wspólnocie rodzinnej znajdują spełnienie swego życiowego powołania: ludzkiego i chrześcijańskiego. A ileż ich jest wszędzie, w każdym narodzie, diecezji i parafii! Pomimo wszystkich "sytuacji nieprawidłowych" wolno żywić przekonanie, że te właśnie rodziny stanowią "regułę". Ich świadectwo jest ważne także dlatego, ażeby człowiek, który się w nich rodzi i wychowuje, wszedł bez wahania czy zwątpienia na drogę dobra, jakie jest wpisane w jego serce. Na rzecz takiego zwątpienia zdają się usilnie pracować różne programy przy pomocy potężnych środków, jakie pozostają do ich dyspozycji. Niejednokrotnie trudno się oprzeć przeświadczeniu, iż czyni się wszystko, aby to, co jest "sytuacją nieprawidłową", co sprzeciwia się "prawdzie i miłości" we wzajemnym odniesieniu mężczyzn i kobiet, co rozbija jedność rodzin bez względu na opłakane konsekwencje, zwłaszcza gdy chodzi o dzieci - ukazać jako "prawidłowe" i atrakcyjne, nadając temu zewnętrzne pozory fascynacji. W ten sposób zagłusza się ludzkie sumienie, zniekształca to, co prawdziwie jest dobre i piękne, a ludzką wolność wydaje się na łup faktycznego zniewolenia. Jakże aktualne stają się wobec tego Pawłowe słowa o wolności, do której wyzwala nas Chrystus, oraz o zniewoleniu przez grzech (por. Ga 5,1)!
Widać jak bardzo odpowiedni, a nawet potrzebny jest Rok Rodziny w Kościele. Jak bardzo konieczne jest świadectwo tych wszystkich rodzin, które znajdują w nich prawdziwe spełnienie swego życiowego powołania. Jak bardzo też pilna jest ta - przez cały glob idąca i narastająca - wielka modlitwa rodzin, w której wyraża się dziękczynienie za miłość w prawdzie, za "nawiedzenie serc" przez Ducha-Pocieszyciela10, za obecność Chrystusa pośród rodziców i dzieci: Chrystusa Odkupiciela i Oblubieńca, który "umiłował nas aż do końca" (por. J 13,1). Jesteśmy głęboko przekonani, że miłość ta jest największa (por. 1 Kor. 13,13). Wierzymy, iż zdolna jest ona przewyższyć to wszystko, co nie jest miłością.
Niech wznosi się modlitwa Kościoła, modlitwa rodzin - wszystkich "domowych Kościołów" i niech będzie w tym roku słyszana, naprzód przez Boga, a także przez ludzi! Ażeby nie popadali w zwątpienie. Ażeby nie ulegali mocy pozornego dobra, które stanowi sam rdzeń każdej pokusy.
W Kanie Galilejskiej, dokąd Jezus był zaproszony na gody weselne, słyszymy wezwanie Jego Matki: "Zróbcie wszystko, cokolwiek wam powie" (J 2,5). To wezwanie odnosiło się wówczas do sług weselnych. Odnosi się ono jednak pośrednio do nas wszystkich, którzy oto wkraczamy w Rok Rodziny. To, co mówi do nas Chrystus w tym momencie, zdaje się być w szczególności właśnie wezwaniem do wielkiej modlitwy z rodzinami i za rodziny. Matka Chrystusa zaprasza nas, abyśmy przez tę modlitwę zjednoczyli się z Jej Synem, który miłuje każdą ludzką rodzinę. Dał temu wyraz zaraz na początku swej odkupieńczej misji, właśnie przez swą uświęcającą obecność w Kanie Galilejskiej. Ta Chrystusowa obecność trwa.
Prośmy za wszystkie rodziny całego świata, modląc się przez Niego, z Nim i w Nim do Ojca, "od którego bierze nazwę wszelki ród na niebie i na ziemi" (Ef 3,15).
1994 - Year of the Family
1. The celebration of the Year of the Family gives me a welcome opportunity to knock at the door of your home, eager to greet you with deep affection and to spend time with you. I do so by this Letter, taking as my point of departure the words of the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, published in the first days of my ministry as the Successor of Peter. There I wrote that man is the way of the Church.
With these words I wanted first of all to evoke the many paths along which man walks, and at the same time to emphasize how deeply the Church desires to stand at his side as he follows the paths of his earthly life. The Church shares in the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of people's daily pilgrimage, firmly convinced that it was Christ himself who set her on all these paths. Christ entrusted man to the Church; he entrusted man to her as the "way" of her mission and her ministry.
The family – way of the Church
2. Among these many paths, the family is the first and the most important. It is a path common to all, yet one which is particular, unique and unrepeatable, just as every individual is unrepeatable; it is a path from which man cannot withdraw. Indeed, a person normally comes into the world within a family, and can be said to owe to the family the very fact of his existing as an individual. When he has no family, the person coming into the world develops an anguished sense of pain and loss, one which will subsequently burden his whole life. The Church draws near with loving concern to all who experience situations such as these, for she knows well the fundamental role which the family is called upon to play. Furthermore, she knows that a person goes forth from the family in order to realize in a new family unit his particular vocation in life. Even if someone chooses to remain single, the family continues to be, as it were, his existential horizon, that fundamental community in which the whole network of social relations is grounded, from the closest and most immediate to the most distant. Do we not often speak of the "human family" when referring to all the people living in the world?
The family has its origin in that same love with which the Creator embraces the created world, as was already expressed "in the beginning", in the Book of Genesis (1:1). In the Gospel Jesus offers a supreme confirmation: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). The only-begotten Son, of one substance with the Father, "God from God and Light from Light", entered into human history through the family: "For by his incarnation the Son of God united himself in a certain way with every man. He laboured with human hands... and loved with a human heart. Born of Mary the Virgin, he truly became one of us and, except for sin, was like us in every respect". If in fact Christ "fully discloses man to himself", he does so beginning with the family in which he chose to be born and to grow up. We know that the Redeemer spent most of his life in the obscurity of Nazareth, "obedient" (Lk 2:51) as the "Son of Man" to Mary his Mother, and to Joseph the carpenter. Is this filial "obedience" of Christ not already the first expression of that obedience to the Father "unto death" (Phil 2:8), whereby he redeemed the world?
The divine mystery of the Incarnation of the Word thus has an intimate connection with the human family. Not only with one family, that of Nazareth, but in some way with every family, analogously to what the Second Vatican Council says about the Son of God, who in the Incarnation "united himself in some sense with every man". Following Christ who "came" into the world "to serve" (Mt 20:28), the Church considers serving the family to be one of her essential duties. In this sense both man and the family constitute "the way of the Church."
The Year of the Family
3. For these very reasons the Church joyfully welcomes the decision of the United Nations Organization to declare 1994 the International Year of the Family. This initiative makes it clear how fundamental the question of the family is for the member States of the United Nations. If the Church wishes to take part in this initiative, it is because she herself has been sent by Christ to "all nations" (Mt 28:19). Moreover, this is not the first time the Church has made her own an international initiative of the United Nations. We need but recall, for example, the International Year of Youth in 1985. In this way also the Church makes herself present in the world, fulfilling a desire which was dear to Pope John XXIII, and which inspired the Second Vatican Council's Constitution Gaudium et Spes.
On the Feast of the Holy Family in 1993 the whole ecclesial community began the "Year of the Family" as one of the important steps along the path of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which will mark the end of the second and the beginning of the third Millennium of the Birth of Jesus Christ. This Year ought to direct our thoughts and our hearts towards Nazareth, where it was officially inaugurated this past 26 December at a Solemn Eucharistic Liturgy presided over by the Papal Legate.
Throughout this Year it is important to discover anew the many signs of the Church's love and concern for the family, a love and concern expressed from the very beginning of Christianity, when the meaningful term "domestic church" was applied to the family. In our own times we have often returned to the phrase "domestic church", which the Council adopted and the sense of which we hope will always remain alive in people's minds. This desire is not lessened by an awareness of the changed conditions of families in today's world. Precisely because of this, there is a continuing relevance to the title chosen by the Council in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes in order to indicate what the Church should be doing in the present situation: "Promoting the dignity of marriage and the family". Another important reference point after the Council is the 1981 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. This text takes into account a vast and complex experience with regard to the family, which among different peoples and countries always and everywhere continues to be the "way of the Church". In a certain sense it becomes all the more so precisely in those places where the family is suffering from internal crises or is exposed to adverse cultural, social and economic influences which threaten its inner unity and strength, and even stand in the way of its very formation.
4. In this Letter I wish to speak not to families "in the abstract" but to every particular family in every part of the world, wherever it is located and whatever the diversity and complexity of its culture and history. The love with which God "loved the world" (Jn 3:16), the love with which Christ loved each and every one "to the end" (Jn 13:1), makes it possible to address this message to each family, as a living "cell" of the great and universal "family" of mankind. The Father, Creator of the Universe, and the Word Incarnate, the Redeemer of humanity, are the source of this universal openness to all people as brothers and sisters, and they impel us to embrace them in the prayer which begins with the tender words: "Our Father".
Prayer makes the Son of God present among us: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Mt 18:20). This Letter to Families wishes in the first place to be a prayer to Christ to remain in every human family; an invitation to him, in and through the small family of parents and children, to dwell in the great family of nations, so that together with him all of us can truly say: "Our Father"! Prayer must become the dominant element of the Year of the Family in the Church: prayer by the family, prayer for the family, and prayer with the family.
It is significant that precisely in and through prayer, man comes to discover in a very simple and yet profound way his own unique subjectivity: in prayer the human "I" more easily perceives the depth of what it means to be a person. This is also true of the family, which is not only the basic "cell" of society, but also possesses a particular subjectivity of its own. This subjectivity finds its first and fundamental confirmation, and is strengthened, precisely when the members of the family meet in the common invocation: "Our Father". Prayer increases the strength and spiritual unity of the family, helping the family to partake of God's own "strength". In the solemn nuptial blessing during the Rite of Marriage, the celebrant calls upon the Lord in these words: "Pour out upon them 1 the grace of the Holy Spirit so that by your love poured into their hearts they will remain faithful in the marriage covenant". This "visitation" of the Holy Spirit gives rise to the inner strength of families, as well as the power capable of uniting them in love and truth.
Love and concern for all families
5. May the Year of the Family become a harmonious and universal prayer on the part of all "domestic churches" and of the whole People of God! May this prayer also reach families in difficulty or danger, lacking confidence or experiencing division, or in situations which Familiaris Consortio describes as "irregular". May all families be able to feel the loving and caring embrace of their brothers and sisters!
During the Year of the Family, prayer should first of all be an encouraging witness on the part of those families who live out their human and Christian vocation in the communion of the home. How many of them there are in every nation, diocese and parish! With reason it can be said that these families make up "the norm", even admitting the existence of more than a few "irregular situations". And experience shows what an important role is played by a family living in accordance with the moral norm, so that the individual born and raised in it will be able to set out without hesitation on the road of the good, which is always written in his heart. Unfortunately various programmes backed by very powerful resources nowadays seem to aim at the breakdown of the family. At times it appears that concerted efforts are being made to present as "normal" and attractive, and even to glamourize, situations which are in fact "irregular". Indeed, they contradict "the truth and love" which should inspire and guide relationships between men and women, thus causing tensions and divisions in families, with grave consequences particularly for children. The moral conscience becomes darkened; what is true, good and beautiful is deformed; and freedom is replaced by what is actually enslavement. In view of all this, how relevant and thought-provoking are the words of the Apostle Paul about the freedom for which Christ has set us free, and the slavery which is caused by sin (cf. Gal 5:1)!
It is apparent then how timely and even necessary a Year of the Family is for the Church; how indispensable is the witness of all families who live their vocation day by day; how urgent it is for families to pray and for that prayer to increase and to spread throughout the world, expressing thanksgiving for love in truth, for "the outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit", for the presence among parents and children of Christ the Redeemer and Bridegroom, who "loved us to the end" (cf. Jn 13:1). Let us be deeply convinced that this love is the greatest of all (cf. 1 Cor 13:13), and let us believe that it is really capable of triumphing over everything that is not love.
During this year may the prayer of the Church, the prayer of families as "domestic churches", constantly rise up! May it make itself heard first by God and then also by people everywhere, so that they will not succumb to doubt, and all who are wavering because of human weakness will not yield to the tempting glamour of merely apparent goods, like those held out in every temptation.
At Cana in Galilee, where Jesus was invited to a marriage banquet, his Mother, also present, said to the servants: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). Now that we have begun our celebration of the Year of the Family, Mary says the same words to us. What Christ tells us, in this particular moment of history, constitutes a forceful call to a great prayer with families and for families. The Virgin Mother invites us to unite ourselves through this prayer to the sentiments of her Son, who loves each and every family. He expressed this love at the very beginning of his mission as Redeemer, with his sanctifying presence at Cana in Galilee, a presence which still continues.
Let us pray for families throughout the world. Let us pray, through Christ, with him and in him, to the Father "from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph 3:15).
THE CIVILIZATION OF LOVE
"Male and female he created them"
6. The universe, immense and diverse as it is, the world of all living beings, is inscribed in God's fatherhood, which is its source (cf. Eph 3:14-16). This can be said, of course, on the basis of an analogy, thanks to which we can discern, at the very beginning of the Book of Genesis, the reality of fatherhood and motherhood and consequently of the human family. The interpretative key enabling this discernment is provided by the principle of the "image" and "likeness" of God highlighted by the scriptural text (Gen 1:26). God creates by the power of his word: "Let there be...!" (e.g., Gen 1:3). Significantly, in the creation of man this word of God is followed by these other words: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen 1:26). Before creating man, the Creator withdraws as it were into himself, in order to seek the pattern and inspiration in the mystery of his Being, which is already here disclosed as the divine "We". From this mystery the human being comes forth by an act of creation: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27).
God speaks to these newly-created beings and he blesses them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). The Book of Genesis employs the same expressions used earlier for the creation of other living beings: "multiply". But it is clear that these expressions are being used in an analogous sense. Is there not present here the analogy of begetting and of fatherhood and motherhood, which should be understood in the light of the overall context? No living being on earth except man was created "in the image and likeness of God". Human fatherhood and motherhood, while remaining biologically similar to that of other living beings in nature, contain in an essential and unique way a "likeness" to God which is the basis of the family as a community of human life, as a community of persons united in love (communio personarum).
In the light of the New Testament it is possible to discern how the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life. The divine "We" is the eternal pattern of the human "we", especially of that "we" formed by the man and the woman created in the divine image and likeness. The words of the Book of Genesis contain that truth about man which is confirmed by the very experience of humanity. Man is created "from the very beginning" as male and female: the life of all humanity —whether of small communities or of society as a whole—is marked by this primordial duality. From it there derive the "masculinity" and the "femininity" of individuals, just as from it every community draws its own unique richness in the mutual fulfilment of persons. This is what seems to be meant by the words of the Book of Genesis: "Male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). Here too we find the first statement of the equal dignity of man and woman: both, in equal measure, are persons. Their constitution, with the specific dignity which derives from it, defines "from the beginning" the qualities of the common good of humanity, in every dimension and circumstance of life. To this common good both man and woman make their specific contribution. Hence one can discover, at the very origins of human society, the qualities of communion and of complementarity.
The marital covenant
7. The family has always been considered as the first and basic expression of man's social nature. Even today this way of looking at things remains unchanged. Nowadays, however, emphasis tends to be laid on how much the family, as the smallest and most basic human community, owes to the personal contribution of a man and a woman. The family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum. Here too, while always acknowledging the absolute transcendence of the Creator with regard to his creatures, we can see the family's ultimate relationship to the divine "We". Only persons are capable of living "in communion". The family originates in a marital communion described by the Second Vatican Council as a "covenant", in which man and woman "give themselves to each other and accept each other".
The Book of Genesis helps us to see this truth when it states, in reference to the establishment of the family through marriage, that "a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). In the Gospel, Christ, disputing with the Pharisees, quotes these same words and then adds: "So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mt 19:6). In this way, he reveals anew the binding content of a fact which exists "from the beginning" (Mt 19:8) and which always preserves this content. If the Master confirms it "now", he does so in order to make clear and unmistakable to all, at the dawn of the New Covenant, the indissoluble character of marriage as the basis of the common good of the family.
When, in union with the Apostle, we bow our knees before the Father from whom all fatherhood and motherhood is named (cf. Eph 3:14-15), we come to realize that parenthood is the event whereby the family, already constituted by the conjugal covenant of marriage, is brought about "in the full and specific sense". Motherhood necessarily implies fatherhood, and in turn, fatherhood necessarily implies motherhood. This is the result of the duality bestowed by the Creator upon human beings "from the beginning".
I have spoken of two closely related yet not identical concepts: the concept of "communion" and that of "community". "Communion" has to do with the personal relationship between the "I" and the "thou". "Community" on the other hand transcends this framework and moves towards a "society", a "we". The family, as a community of persons, is thus the first human "society". It arises whenever there comes into being the conjugal covenant of marriage, which opens the spouses to a lasting communion of love and of life, and it is brought to completion in a full and specific way with the procreation of children: the "communion" of the spouses gives rise to the "community" of the family. The "community" of the family is completely pervaded by the very essence of "communion". On the human level, can there be any other "communion" comparable to that between a mother and a child whom she has carried in her womb and then brought to birth?
In the family thus constituted there appears a new unity, in which the relationship "of communion" between the parents attains complete fulfilment. Experience teaches that this fulfilment represents both a task and a challenge. The task involves the spouses in living out their original covenant. The children born to them—and here is the challenge—should consolidate that covenant, enriching and deepening the conjugal communion of the father and mother. When this does not occur, we need to ask if the selfishness which lurks even in the love of man and woman as a result of the human inclination to evil is not stronger than this love. Married couples need to be well aware of this. From the outset they need to have their hearts and thoughts turned towards the God "from whom every family is named", so that their fatherhood and motherhood will draw from that source the power to be continually renewed in love.
Fatherhood and motherhood are themselves a particular proof of love; they make it possible to discover love's extension and original depth. But this does not take place automatically. Rather, it is a task entrusted to both husband and wife. In the life of husband and wife together, fatherhood and motherhood represent such a sublime "novelty" and richness as can only be approached "on one's knees".
Experience teaches that human love, which naturally tends towards fatherhood and motherhood, is sometimes affected by a profound crisis and is thus seriously threatened. In such cases, help can be sought at marriage and family counselling centres, where it is possible, among other things, to obtain the assistance of specifically trained psychologists and psychotherapists. At the same time, however, we cannot forget the perennial validity of the words of the Apostle: "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named". Marriage, the Sacrament of Matrimony, is a covenant of persons in love. And love can be deepened and preserved only by Love, that Love which is "poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). During the Year of the Family should our prayer not concentrate on the crucial and decisive moment of the passage from conjugal love to childbearing, and thus to fatherhood and motherhood? Is that not precisely the moment when there is an indispensable need for the "outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit" invoked in the liturgical celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony?
The Apostle, bowing his knees before the Father, asks that the faithful "be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man" (Eph 3:16). This "inner strength" is necessary in all family life, especially at its critical moments, when the love which was expressed in the liturgical rite of marital consent with the words, "I promise to be faithful to you always... all the days of my life", is put to a difficult test.
The unity of the two
8. Only "persons" are capable of saying those words; only they are able to live "in communion" on the basis of a mutual choice which is, or ought to be, fully conscious and free. The Book of Genesis, in speaking of a man who leaves father and mother in order to cleave to his wife (cf. Gen 2:24), highlights the conscious and free choice which gives rise to marriage, making the son of a family a husband, and the daughter of a family a wife. How can we adequately understand this mutual choice, unless we take into consideration the full truth about the person, who is a rational and free being? The Second Vatican Council, in speaking of the likeness of God, uses extremely significant terms. It refers not only to the divine image and likeness which every human being as such already possesses, but also and primarily to "a certain similarity between the union of the divine persons and the union of God's children in truth and love".
This rich and meaningful formulation first of all confirms what is central to the identity of every man and every woman. This identity consists in the capacity to live in truth and love; even more, it consists in the need of truth and love as an essential dimension of the life of the person. Man's need for truth and love opens him both to God and to creatures: it opens him to other people, to life "in communion", and in particular to marriage and to the family. In the words of the Council, the "communion" of persons is drawn in a certain sense from the mystery of the Trinitarian "We", and therefore "conjugal communion" also refers to this mystery. The family, which originates in the love of man and woman, ultimately derives from the mystery of God. This conforms to the innermost being of man and woman, to their innate and authentic dignity as persons.
In marriage man and woman are so firmly united as to become—to use the words of the Book of Genesis—"one flesh" (Gen 2:24). Male and female in their physical constitution, the two human subjects, even though physically different, share equally in the capacity to live "in truth and love". This capacity, characteristic of the human being as a person, has at the same time both a spiritual and a bodily dimension. It is also through the body that man and woman are predisposed to form a "communion of persons" in marriage. When they are united by the conjugal covenant in such a way as to become "one flesh" (Gen 2:24), theirunion ought to take place "in truth and love", and thus express the maturity proper to persons created in the image and likeness of God.
The family which results from this union draws its inner solidity from the covenant between the spouses, which Christ raised to a Sacrament. The family draws its proper character as a community, its traits of "communion", from that fundamental communion of the spouses which is prolonged in their children. "Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?", the celebrant asks during the Rite of Marriage. The answer given by the spouses reflects the most profound truth of the love which unites them. Their unity, however, rather than closing them up in themselves, opens them towards a new life, towards a new person. As parents, they will be capable of giving life to a being like themselves, not only bone of their bones and flesh of their flesh (cf. Gen 2:23), but an image and likeness of God—a person.
When the Church asks "Are you willing?", she is reminding the bride and groom that they stand before the creative power of God. They are called to become parents, to cooperate with the Creator in giving life. Cooperating with God to call new human beings into existence means contributing to the transmission of that divine image and likeness of which everyone "born of a woman" is a bearer.
The genealogy of the person
9. Through the communion of persons which occurs in marriage, a man and a woman begin a family. Bound up with the family is the genealogy of every individual: the genealogy of the person. Human fatherhood and motherhood are rooted in biology, yet at the same time transcend it. The Apostle, with knees bowed "before the Father from whom all fatherhood 1 in heaven and on earth is named", in a certain sense asks us to look at the whole world of living creatures, from the spiritual beings in heaven to the corporeal beings on earth. Every act of begetting finds its primordial model in the fatherhood of God. Nonetheless, in the case of man, this "cosmic" dimension of likeness to God is not sufficient to explain adequately the relationship of fatherhood and motherhood. When a new person is born of the conjugal union of the two, he brings with him into the world a particular image and likeness of God himself: the genealogy of the person is inscribed in the very biology of generation.
In affirming that the spouses, as parents, cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving birth to a new human being, we are not speaking merely with reference to the laws of biology. Instead, we wish to emphasize that God himself is present in human fatherhood and motherhood quite differently than he is present in all other instances of begetting "on earth". Indeed, God alone is the source of that "image and likeness" which is proper to the human being, as it was received at Creation. Begetting is the continuation of Creation.
And so, both in the conception and in the birth of a new child, parents find themselves face to face with a "great mystery" (cf. Eph 5:32). Like his parents, the new human being is also called to live as a person; he is called to a life "in truth and love". This call is not only open to what exists in time, but in God it is also open to eternity. This is the dimension of the genealogy of the person which has been revealed definitively by Christ, who casts the light of his Gospel on human life and death and thus on the meaning of the human family.
As the Council affirms, man is "the only creature on earth whom God willed for its own sake". Man's coming into being does not conform to the laws of biology alone, but also, and directly, to God's creative will, which is concerned with the genealogy of the sons and daughters of human families. God "willed" man from the very beginning, and God "wills" him in every act of conception and every human birth. God "wills" man as a being similar to himself, as a person. This man, every man, is created by God "for his own sake". That is true of all persons, including those born with sicknesses or disabilities. Inscribed in the personal constitution of every human being is the will of God, who wills that man should be, in a certain sense, an end unto himself. God hands man over to himself, entrusting him both to his family and to society as their responsibility. Parents, in contemplating a new human being, are, or ought to be, fully aware of the fact that God "wills" this individual "for his own sake".
This concise expression is profoundly rich in meaning. From the very moment of conception, and then of birth, the new being is meant to express fully his humanity, to "find himself" as a person. This is true for absolutely everyone, including the chronically ill and the disabled. "To be human" is his fundamental vocation: "to be human" in accordance with the gift received, in accordance with that "talent" which is humanity itself, and only then in accordance with other talents. In this sense God wills every man "for his own sake". In God's plan, however, the vocation of the human person extends beyond the boundaries of time. It encounters the will of the Father revealed in the Incarnate Word: God's will is to lavish upon man a sharing in his own divine life. As Christ says: "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).
Does affirming man's ultimate destiny not conflict with the statement that God wills man "for his own sake"? If he has been created for divine life, can man truly exist "for his own sake"? This is a critical question, one of great significance both for the beginning of his earthly life and its end: it is important for the whole span of his life. It might appear that in destining man for divine life God definitively takes away man's existing "for his own sake". What then is the relationship between the life of the person and his sharing in the life of the Trinity? Saint Augustine provides us with the answer in his celebrated phrase: "Our heart is restless until it rests in you". This "restless heart" serves to point out that between the one finality and the other there is in fact no contradiction, but rather a relationship, a complementarity, a unity. By his very genealogy, the person created in the image and likeness of God, exists "for his own sake" and reaches fulfilment precisely by sharing in God's life. The content of this self-fulfilment is the fullness of life in God, proclaimed by Christ (cf. Jn 6:37-40), who redeemed us precisely so that we might come to share it (cf. Mk 10:45).
It is for themselves that married couples want children; in children they see the crowning of their own love for each other. They want children for the family, as a priceless gift. This is quite understandable. Nonetheless, in conjugal love and in paternal and maternal love we should find inscribed the same truth about man which the Council expressed in a clear and concise way in its statement that God "willed man for his own sake". It is thus necessary that the will of the parents should be in harmony with the will of God. They must want the new human creature in the same way as the Creator wants him: "for himself". Our human will is always and inevitably subject to the law of time and change. The divine will, on the other hand, is eternal. As we read in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jer 1:5). The genealogy of the person is thus united with the eternity of God, and only then with human fatherhood and motherhood, which are realized in time. At the moment of conception itself, man is already destined to eternity in God.
The common good of marriage and the family
10. Marital consent defines and consolidates the good common to marriage and to the family. "I, N., take you, N., to be my wifehusband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life". Marriage is a unique communion of persons, and it is on the basis of this communion that the family is called to become a community of persons. This is a commitment which the bride and groom undertake "before God and his Church", as the celebrant reminds them before they exchange their consent. Those who take part in the rite are witnesses of this commitment, for in a certain sense they represent the Church and society, the settings in which the new family will live and grow.
The words of consent define the common good of the couple and of the family. First, the common good of the spouses: love, fidelity, honour, the permanence of their union until death—"all the days of my life". The good of both, which is at the same time the good of each, must then become the good of the children. The common good, by its very nature, both unites individual persons and ensures the true good of each. If the Church (and the State for that matter) receives the consent which the spouses express in the words cited above, she does so because that consent is "written in their hearts" (Rom 2:15). It is the spouses who give their consent to each other by a solemn promise, that is by confirming the truth of that consent in the sight of God. As baptized Christians, they are the ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony in the Church. Saint Paul teaches that this mutual commitment of theirs is a "great mystery" (Eph 5:32).
The words of consent, then, express what is essential to the common good of the spouses, and they indicate what ought to be the common good of the future family. In order to bring this out, the Church asks the spouses if they are prepared to accept the children God grants them and to raise the children as Christians. This question calls to mind the common good of the future family unit, evoking the genealogy of persons which is part of the constitution of marriage and of the family itself. The question about children and their education is profoundly linked to marital consent, with its solemn promise of love, conjugal respect, and fidelity until death. The acceptance and education of children—two of the primary ends of the family—are conditioned by how that commitment will be fulfilled. Fatherhood and motherhood represent a responsibility which is not simply physical but spiritual in nature; indeed, through these realities there passes the genealogy of the person, which has its eternal beginning in God and which must lead back to him.
The Year of the Family, as a year of special prayer on the part of families, ought to renew and deepen each family's awareness of these truths. What a wealth of biblical reflections could nourish that prayer! Together with the words of Sacred Scripture, these prayerful reflections should always include the personal memories of the spouses-parents, the children and grandchildren. Through the genealogy of persons, conjugal communion becomes a communion of generations. The sacramental union of the two spouses, sealed in the covenant which they enter into before God, endures and grows stronger as the generations pass. It must become a union in prayer. But for all this to become clearly apparent during the Year of the Family, prayer needs to become a regular habit in the daily life of each family. Prayer is thanksgiving, praise of God, asking for forgiveness, supplication and invocation. In all of these forms the prayer of the family has much to say to God. It also has much to say to others, beginning with the mutual communion of persons joined together by family ties.
The Psalmist asks: "What is man that you keep him in mind?" (Ps 8:4). Prayer is the place where, in a very simple way, the creative and fatherly remembrance of God is made manifest: not only man's remembrance of God, but also and especially God's remembrance of man. In this way, the prayer of the family as a community can become a place of common and mutual remembrance: the family is in fact a community of generations. In prayer everyone should be present: the living and those who have died, and also those yet to come into the world. Families should pray for all of their members, in view of the good which the family is for each individual and which each individual is for the whole family. Prayer strengthens this good, precisely as the common good of the family. Moreover, it creates this good ever anew. In prayer, the family discovers itself as the first "us", in which each member is "I" and "thou"; each member is for the others either husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister, grandparent or grandchild.
Are all the families to which this Letter is addressed like this? Certainly a good number are, but the times in which we are living tend to restrict family units to two generations. Often this is the case because available housing is too limited, especially in large cities. But it is not infrequently due to the belief that having several generations living together interferes with privacy and makes life too difficult. But is this not where the problem really lies? Families today have too little "human" life. There is a shortage of people with whom to create and share the common good; and yet that good, by its nature, demands to be created and shared with others: bonum est diffusivum sui: "good is diffusive of itself". The more common the good, the more properly one's own it will also be: mine – yours – ours. This is the logic behind living according to the good, living in truth and charity. If man is able to accept and follow this logic, his life truly becomes a "sincere gift".
The sincere gift of self
11. After affirming that man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, the Council immediately goes on to say that he cannot "fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self". This might appear to be a contradiction, but in fact it is not. Instead it is the magnificent paradox of human existence: an existence called to serve the truth in love. Love causes man to find fulfilment through the sincere gift of self. To love means to give and to receive something which can be neither bought nor sold, but only given freely and mutually.
By its very nature the gift of the person must be lasting and irrevocable. The indissolubility of marriage flows in the first place from the very essence of that gift: the gift of one person to another person. This reciprocal giving of self reveals the spousal nature of love. In their marital consent the bride and groom call each other by name: "I... take you... as my wife (as my husband) and I promise to to be true to you... for all the days of my life". A gift such as this involves an obligation much more serious and profound than anything which might be "purchased" in any way and at any price. Kneeling before the Father, from whom all fatherhood and motherhood come, the future parents come to realize that they have been "redeemed". They have been purchased at great cost, by the price of the most sincere gift of all, the blood of Christ of which they partake through the Sacrament. The liturgical crowning of the marriage rite is the Eucharist, the sacrifice of that "Body which has been given up" and that "Blood which has been shed", which in a certain way finds expression in the consent of the spouses.
When a man and woman in marriage mutually give and receive each other in the unity of "one flesh", the logic of the sincere gift of self becomes a part of their life. Without this, marriage would be empty; whereas a communion of persons, built on this logic, becomes a communion of parents. When they transmit life to the child, a new human "thou" becomes a part of the horizon of the "we" of the spouses, a person whom they will call by a new name: "our son...; our daughter...". "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1), says Eve, the first woman of history: a human being, first expected for nine months and then "revealed" to parents, brothers and sisters. The process from conception and growth in the mother's womb to birth makes it possible to create a space within which the new creature can be revealed as a "gift": indeed this is what it is from the very beginning. Could this frail and helpless being, totally dependent upon its parents and completely entrusted to them, be seen in any other way? The newborn child gives itself to its parents by the very fact of its coming into existence. Its existence is already a gift, the first gift of the Creator to the creature.
In the newborn child is realized the common good of the family. Just as the common good of spouses is fulfilled in conjugal love, ever ready to give and receive new life, so too the common good of the family is fulfilled through that same spousal love, as embodied in the newborn child. Part of the genealogy of the person is the genealogy of the family, preserved for posterity by the annotations in the Church's baptismal registers, even though these are merely the social consequence of the fact that "a man has been born into the world" (cf. Jn 16:21).
But is it really true that the new human being is a gift for his parents? A gift for society? Apparently nothing seems to indicate this. On occasion the birth of a child appears to be a simple statistical fact, registered like so many other data in demographic records. It is true that for the parents the birth of a child means more work, new financial burdens and further inconveniences, all of which can lead to the temptation not to want another birth. In some social and cultural contexts this temptation can become very strong. Does this mean that a child is not a gift? That it comes into the world only to take and not to give? These are some of the disturbing questions which men and women today find hard to escape. A child comes to take up room, when it seems that there is less and less room in the world. But is it really true that a child brings nothing to the family and society? Is not every child a "particle" of that common good without which human communities break down and risk extinction? Could this ever really be denied? The child becomes a gift to its brothers, sisters, parents and entire family. Its life becomes a gift for the very people who were givers of life and who cannot help but feel its presence, its sharing in their life and its contribution to their common good and to that of the community of the family. This truth is obvious in its simplicity and profundity, whatever the complexity and even the possible pathology of the psychological make-up of certain persons. The common good of the whole of society dwells in man; he is, as we recalled, "the way of the Church". Man is first of all the "glory of God": "Gloria Dei vivens homo", in the celebrated words of Saint Irenaeus, which might also be translated: "the glory of God is for man to be alive". It could be said that here we encounter the loftiest definition of man: the glory of God is the common good of all that exists; the common good of the human race.
Yes! Man is a common good: a common good of the family and of humanity, of individual groups and of different communities. But there are significant distinctions of degree and modality in this regard. Man is a common good, for example, of the Nation to which he belongs and of the State of which he is a citizen; but in a much more concrete, unique and unrepeatable way he is a common good of his family. He is such not only as an individual who is part of the multitude of humanity, but rather as "this individual". God the Creator calls him into existence "for himself"; and in coming into the world he begins, in the family, his "great adventure", the adventure of human life. "This man" has, in every instance, the right to fulfil himself on the basis of his human dignity. It is precisely this dignity which establishes a person's place among others, and above all, in the family. The family is indeed—more than any other human reality— the place where an individual can exist "for himself" through the sincere gift of self. This is why it remains a social institution which neither can nor should be replaced: it is the "sanctuary of life".
The fact that a child is being born, that "a child is born into the world" (Jn 16:21) is a paschal sign. As we read in the Gospel of John, Jesus himself speaks of this to the disciples before his passion and death, comparing their sadness at his departure with the pains of a woman in labour: "When a woman is in travail she has sorrow (that is, she suffers), because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world" (Jn 16:21). The "hour" of Christ's death (cf. Jn 13:1) is compared here to the "hour" of the woman in birthpangs; the birth of a new child fully reflects the victory of life over death brought about by the Lord's Resurrection. This comparison can provide us with material for reflection. Just as the Resurrection of Christ is the manifestation of Life beyond the threshold of death, so too the birth of an infant is a manifestation of life, which is always destined, through Christ, for that "fullness of life" which is in God himself: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). Here we see revealed the deepest meaning of Saint Irenaeus's expression: "Gloria Dei vivens homo".
It is the Gospel truth concerning the gift of self, without which the person cannot "fully find himself", which makes possible an appreciation of how profoundly this "sincere gift" is rooted in the gift of God, Creator and Redeemer, and in the "grace of the Holy Spirit" which the celebrant during the Rite of Marriage prays will be "poured out" on the spouses. Without such an "outpouring", it would be very difficult to understand all this and to carry it out as man's vocation. Yet how many people understand this intuitively! Many men and women make this truth their own, coming to discern that only in this truth do they encounter "the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6). Without this truth, the life of the spouses and of the family will not succeed in attaining a fully human meaning.
This is why the Church never tires of teaching and of bearing witness to this truth. While certainly showing maternal understanding for the many complex crisis situations in which families are involved, as well as for the moral frailty of every human being, the Church is convinced that she must remain absolutely faithful to the truth about human love. Otherwise she would betray herself. To move away from this saving truth would be to close "the eyes of our hearts" (cf. Eph 1:18), which instead should always stay open to the light which the Gospel sheds on human affairs (cf. 2 Tim 1:10). An awareness of that sincere gift of self whereby man "finds himself" must be constantly renewed and safeguarded in the face of the serious opposition which the Church meets on the part of those who advocate a false civilization of progress. The family always expresses a new dimension of good for mankind, and it thus creates a new responsibility. We are speaking of the responsibility for that particular common good in which is included the good of the person, of every member of the family community. While certainly a "difficult" good ("bonum arduum"), it is also an attractive one.
Responsible fatherhood and motherhood
12. It is now time, in this Letter to Families, to bring up two closely related questions. The first, more general, concerns the civilization of love; the other, more specific, deals with responsible fatherhood and motherhood.
We have already said that marriage engenders a particular responsibility for the common good, first of the spouses and then of the family. This common good is constituted by man, by the worth of the person and by everything which represents the measure of his dignity. This reality is part of man in every social, economic and political system. In the area of marriage and the family, this responsibility becomes, for a variety of reasons, even more "demanding". The Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes rightly speaks of "promoting the dignity of marriage and the family". The Council sees this "promotion" as a duty incumbent upon both the Church and the State. Nevertheless, in every culture this duty remains primarily that of the persons who, united in marriage, form a particular family. "Responsible fatherhood and motherhood" express a concrete commitment to carry out this duty, which has taken on new characteristics in the contemporary world.
In particular, responsible fatherhood and motherhood directly concern the moment in which a man and a woman, uniting themselves "in one flesh", can become parents. This is a moment of special value both for their interpersonal relationship and for their service to life: they can become parents—father and mother—by communicating life to a new human being. The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself.
This is the constant teaching of the Church, and the "signs of the times" which we see today are providing new reasons for forcefully reaffirming that teaching. Saint Paul, himself so attentive to the pastoral demands of his day, clearly and firmly indicated the need to be "urgent in season and out of season" (cf. 2 Tim 4:2), and not to be daunted by the fact that "sound teaching is no longer endured" (cf. 2 Tim 4:3). His words are well known to those who, with deep insight into the events of the present time, expect that the Church will not only not abandon "sound doctrine", but will proclaim it with renewed vigour, seeking in today's "signs of the times" the incentive and insights which can lead to a deeper understanding of her teaching.
Some of these insights can be taken from the very sciences which have evolved from the earlier study of anthropology into various specialized sciences such as biology, psychology, sociology and their branches. In some sense all these sciences revolve around medicine, which is both a science and an art (ars medica), at the service of man's life and health. But the insights in question come first of all from human experience, which, in all its complexity, in some sense both precedes science and follows it.
Through their own experience spouses come to learn the meaning of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. They learn it also from the experience of other couples in similar situations and as they become more open to the findings of the various sciences. One could say that "experts" learn in a certain sense from "spouses", so that they in turn will then be in a better position to teach married couples the meaning of responsible procreation and the ways to achieve it.
This subject has been extensively treated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, the "Propositiones" of the 1980 Synod of Bishops, the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, and in other statements, up to the Instruction Donum Vitae of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Church both teaches the moral truth about responsible fatherhood and motherhood and protects it from the erroneous views and tendencies which are widespread today. Why does the Church continue to do this? Is she unaware of the problems raised by those who counsel her to make concessions in this area and who even attempt to persuade her by undue pressures if not even threats? The Church's Magisterium is often chided for being behind the times and closed to the promptings of the spirit of modern times, and for promoting a course of action which is harmful to humanity, and indeed to the Church herself. By obstinately holding to her own positions, it is said, the Church will end up losing popularity, and more and more believers will turn away from her.
But how can it be maintained that the Church, especially the College of Bishops in communion with the Pope, is insensitive to such grave and pressing questions? It was precisely these extremely important questions which led Pope Paul VI to publish the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. The foundations of the Church's doctrine concerning responsible fatherhood and motherhood are exceptionally broad and secure. The Council demonstrates this above all in its teaching on man, when it affirms that he is "the only creature on earth which God willed for itself", and that he cannot "fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself". This is so because he has been created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the only-begotten Son of the Father, who became man for us and for our salvation.
The Second Vatican Council, particularly conscious of the problem of man and his calling, states that the conjugal union, the biblical "una caro", can be understood and fully explained only by recourse to the values of the "person" and of "gift". Every man and every woman fully realizes himself or herself through the sincere gift of self. For spouses, the moment of conjugal union constitutes a very particular expression of this. It is then that a man and woman, in the "truth" of their masculinity and femininity, become a mutual gift to each other. All married life is a gift; but this becomes most evident when the spouses, in giving themselves to each other in love, bring about that encounter which makes them "one flesh" (Gen 2:24).
They then experience a moment of special responsibility, which is also the result of the procreative potential linked to the conjugal act. At that moment, the spouses can become father and mother, initiating the process of a new human life, which will then develop in the woman's womb. If the wife is the first to realize that she has become a mother, the husband, to whom she has been united in "one flesh", then learns this when she tells him that he has become a father. Both are responsible for their potential and later actual fatherhood and motherhood. The husband cannot fail to acknowledge and accept the result of a decision which has also been his own. He cannot hide behind expressions such as: "I don't know", "I didn't want it", or "you're the one who wanted it". In every case conjugal union involves the responsibility of the man and of the woman, a potential responsibility which becomes actual when the circumstances dictate. This is true especially for the man. Although he too is involved in the beginning of the generative process, he is left biologically distant from it; it is within the woman that the process develops. How can the man fail to assume responsibility? The man and the woman must assume together, before themselves and before others, the responsibility for the new life which they have brought into existence.
This conclusion is shared by the human sciences themselves. There is however a need for more in-depth study, analyzing the meaning of the conjugal act in view of the values of the "person" and of the "gift" mentioned above. This is what the Church has done in her constant teaching, and in a particular way at the Second Vatican Council.
In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant. The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation: in this way the marriage is called to even greater fulfilment as a family. Certainly the mutual gift of husband and wife does not have the begetting of children as its only end, but is in itself a mutual communion of love and of life. The intimate truth of this gift must always be safeguarded. "Intimate" is not here synonymous with "subjective". Rather, it means essentially in conformity with the objective truth of the man and woman who give themselves. The person can never be considered a means to an end; above all never a means of "pleasure". The person is and must be nothing other than the end of every act. Only then does the action correspond to the true dignity of the person.
In concluding our reflection on this important and sensitive subject, I wish to offer special encouragement above all to you, dear married couples, and to all who assist you in understanding and putting into practice the Church's teaching on marriage and on responsible motherhood and fatherhood. I am thinking in particular about pastors and the many scholars, theologians, philosophers, writers and journalists who have resisted the powerful trend to cultural conformity and are courageously ready to "swim against the tide". This encouragement also goes to an increasing number of experts, physicians and educators who are authentic lay apostles for whom the promotion of the dignity of marriage and the family has become an important task in their lives. In the name of the Church I express my gratitude to all! What would priests, Bishops and even the Successor of Peter be able to do without you? From the first years of my priesthood I have become increasingly convinced of this, from when I began to sit in the confessional to share the concerns, fears and hopes of many married couples. I met difficult cases of rebellion and refusal, but at the same time so many marvellously responsible and generous persons! In writing this Letter I have all those married couples in mind, and I embrace them with my affection and my prayer.
The two civilizations
13. Dear families, the question of responsible fatherhood and motherhood is an integral part of the "civilization of love", which I now wish to discuss with you. From what has already been said it is clear that the family is fundamental to what Pope Paul VI called the "civilization of love", an expression which has entered the teaching of the Church and by now has become familiar. Today it is difficult to imagine a statement by the Church, or about the Church, which does not mention the civilization of love. The phrase is linked to the tradition of the "domestic church" in early Christianity, but it has a particular significance for the present time. Etymologically the word "civilization" is derived from "civis" – "citizen", and it emphasizes the civic or political dimension of the life of every individual. But the most profound meaning of the term "civilization" is not merely political, but rather pertains to human culture. Civilization belongs to human history because it answers man's spiritual and moral needs. Created in the image and likeness of God, man has received the world from the hands of the Creator, together with the task of shaping it in his own image and likeness. The fulfilment of this task gives rise to civilization, which in the final analysis is nothing else than the "humanization of the world".
In a certain sense civilization means the same thing as "culture". And so one could also speak of the "culture of love", even though it is preferable to keep to the now familiar expression. The civilization of love, in its current meaning, is inspired by the words of the conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes: "Christ... fully discloses man to himself and unfolds his noble calling". And so we can say that the civilization of love originates in the revelation of the God who "is love", as John writes (1 Jn 4:8, 16); it is effectively described by Paul in the hymn of charity found in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:1-13). This civilization is intimately linked to the love "poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5), and it grows as a result of the constant cultivation which the Gospel allegory of the vine and the branches describes in such a direct way: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (Jn 15:1-2).
In the light of these and other texts of the New Testament it is possible to understand what is meant by the "civilization of love", and why the family is organically linked to this civilization. If the first "way of the Church" is the family, it should also be said that the civilization of love is also the "way of the Church", which journeys through the world and summons families to this way; it summons also other social, national and international institutions, because of families and through families. The family in fact depends for several reasons on the civilization of love, and finds therein the reasons for its existence as family. And at the same time the family is the centre and the heart of the civilization of love.
Yet there is no true love without an awareness that God "is Love"—and that man is the only creature on earth which God has called into existence "for its own sake". Created in the image and likeness of God, man cannot fully "find himself" except through the sincere gift of self. Without such a concept of man, of the person and the "communion of persons" in the family, there can be no civilization of love; similarly, without the civilization of love it is impossible to have such a concept of person and of the communion of persons. The family constitutes the fundamental "cell" of society. But Christ—the "vine" from which the "branches" draw nourishment—is needed so that this cell will not be exposed to the threat of a kind of cultural uprooting which can come both from within and from without. Indeed, although there is on the one hand the "civilization of love", there continues to exist on the other hand the possibility of a destructive "anti-civilization", as so many present trends and situations confirm.
Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound "crisis of truth"? A crisis of truth means, in the first place, a crisis of concepts. Do the words "love", "freedom", "sincere gift", and even "person" and "rights of the person", really convey their essential meaning? This is why the Encyclical on the "splendour of truth" (Veritatis Splendor) has proved so meaningful and important for the Church and for the world—especially in the West. Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin and will it then be possible to speak concretely—as the Council did—about "promoting the dignity of marriage and the family".
Why is the "splendour of truth" so important? First of all, by way of contrast: the development of contemporary civilization is linked to a scientific and technological progress which is often achieved in a one-sided way, and thus appears purely positivistic. Positivism, as we know, results in agnosticism in theory and utilitarianism in practice and in ethics. In our own day, history is in a way repeating itself. Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of "things" and not of "persons", a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used. In the context of a civilization of use, woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom of its members. To be convinced that this is the case, one need only look at certain sexual education programmes introduced into the schools, often notwithstanding the disagreement and even the protests of many parents; or pro-abortion tendencies which vainly try to hide behind the so-called "right to choose" ("pro-choice") on the part of both spouses, and in particular on the part of the woman. These are only two examples; many more could be mentioned.
It is evident that in this sort of a cultural situation the family cannot fail to feel threatened, since it is endangered at its very foundations. Everything contrary to the civilization of love is contrary to the whole truth about man and becomes a threat to him: it does not allow him to find himself and to feel secure, as spouse, parent, or child. So-called "safe sex", which is touted by the "civilization of technology", is actually, in view of the overall requirements of the person, radically not safe, indeed it is extremely dangerous. It endangers both the person and the family. And what is this danger? It is the loss of the truth about one's own self and about the family, together with the risk of a loss of freedom and consequently of a loss of love itself. "You will know the truth", Jesus says, "and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32): the truth, and only the truth, will prepare you for a love which can be called "fairest love" (cf. Sir 24:24, Vulg.).
The contemporary family, like families in every age, is searching for "fairest love". A love which is not "fairest", but reduced only to the satisfaction of concupiscence (cf. 1 Jn 2:16), or to a man's and a woman's mutual "use" of each other, makes persons slaves to their weaknesses. Do not certain modern "cultural agendas" lead to this enslavement? There are agendas which "play" on man's weaknesses, and thus make him increasingly weak and defenceless.
The civilization of love evokes joy: joy, among other things, for the fact that a man has come into the world (cf. Jn 16:21), and consequently because spouses have become parents. The civilization of love means "rejoicing in the right" (cf. 1 Cor 13:6). But a civilization inspired by a consumerist, anti-birth mentality is not and cannot ever be a civilization of love. If the family is so important for the civilization of love, it is because of the particular closeness and intensity of the bonds which come to be between persons and generations within the family. However, the family remains vulnerable and can easily fall prey to dangers which weaken it or actually destroy its unity and stability. As a result of these dangers families cease to be witnesses of the civilization of love and can even become a negation of it, a kind of counter-sign. A broken family can, for its part, consolidate a specific form of "anti-civilization", destroying love in its various expressions, with inevitable consequences for the whole of life in society.
Love is demanding
14. The love which the Apostle Paul celebrates in the First Letter to the Corinthians—the love which is "patient" and "kind", and "endures all things" (1 Cor 13:4, 7)—is certainly a demanding love. But this is precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to others. The good, says Saint Thomas, is by its nature "diffusive". Love is true when it creates the good of persons and of communities; it creates that good and gives it to others. Only the one who is able to be demanding with himself in the name of love can also demand love from others. Love is demanding. It makes demands in all human situations; it is even more demanding in the case of those who are open to the Gospel. Is this not what Christ proclaims in "his" commandment? Nowadays people need to rediscover this demanding love, for it is the truly firm foundation of the family, a foundation able to "endure all things". According to the Apostle, love is not able to "endure all things" if it yields to "jealousies", or if it is "boastful... arrogant or rude" (cf. 1 Cor 13:5-6). True love, Saint Paul teaches, is different: "Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor 13:7). This is the very love which "endures all things". At work within it is the power and strength of God himself, who "is love" (1 Jn 4:8, 16). At work within it is also the power and strength of Christ, the Redeemer of man and Saviour of the world.
Meditating on the thirteenth chapter of the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we set out on a path which leads us to understand quickly and clearly the full truth about the civilization of love. No other biblical text expresses this truth so simply and so profoundly as the hymn to love.
The dangers faced by love are also dangers for the civilization of love, because they promote everything capable of effectively opposing it. Here one thinks first of all of selfishness, not only the selfishness of individuals, but also of couples or, even more broadly, of social selfishness, that for example of a class or nation (nationalism). Selfishness in all its forms is directly and radically opposed to the civilization of love. But is love to be defined simply as "anti-selfishness"? This would be a very impoverished and ultimately a purely negative definition, even though it is true that different forms of selfishness must be overcome in order to realize love and the civilization of love. It would be more correct to speak of "altruism", which is the opposite of selfishness. But far richer and more complete is the concept of love illustrated by Saint Paul. The hymn to love in the First Letter to the Corinthians remains the Magna Charta of the civilization of love. In this concept, what is important is not so much individual actions (whether selfish or altruistic), so much as the radical acceptance of the understanding of man as a person who "finds himself" by making a sincere gift of self. A gift is, obviously, "for others": this is the most important dimension of the civilization of love.
We thus come to the very heart of the Gospel truth about freedom. The person realizes himself by the exercise of freedom in truth. Freedom cannot be understood as a license to do absolutely anything: it means a gift of self. Even more: it means an interior discipline of the gift. The idea of gift contains not only the free initiative of the subject, but also the aspect of duty. All this is made real in the "communion of persons". We find ourselves again at the very heart of each family.
Continuing this line of thought, we also come upon the antithesis between individualism and personalism. Love, the civilization of love, is bound up with personalism. Why with personalism? And why does individualism threaten the civilization of love? We find a key to answering this in the Council's expression, a "sincere gift". Individualism presupposes a use of freedom in which the subject does what he wants, in which he himself is the one to "establish the truth" of whatever he finds pleasing or useful. He does not tolerate the fact that someone else "wants" or demands something from him in the name of an objective truth. He does not want to "give" to another on the basis of truth; he does not want to become a "sincere gift". Individualism thus remains egocentric and selfish. The real antithesis between individualism and personalism emerges not only on the level of theory, but even more on that of "ethos". The "ethos" of personalism is altruistic: it moves the person to become a gift for others and to discover joy in giving himself. This is the joy about which Christ speaks (cf. Jn 15:11; 16:20, 22).
What is needed then is for human societies, and the families who live within them, often in a context of struggle between the civilization of love and its opposites, to seek their solid foundation in a correct vision of man and of everything which determines the full "realization" of his humanity. Opposed to the civilization of love is certainly the phenomenon of so-called "free love"; this is particularly dangerous because it is usually suggested as a way of following one's "real" feelings, but it is in fact destructive of love. How many families have been ruined because of "free love"! To follow in every instance a "real" emotional impulse by invoking a love "liberated" from all conditionings, means nothing more than to make the individual a slave to those human instincts which Saint Thomas calls "passions of the soul". "Free love" exploits human weaknesses; it gives them a certain "veneer" of respectability with the help of seduction and the blessing of public opinion. In this way there is an attempt to "soothe" consciences by creating a "moral alibi". But not all of the consequences are taken into consideration, especially when the ones who end up paying are, apart from the other spouse, the children, deprived of a father or mother and condemned to be in fact orphans of living parents.
As we know, at the foundation of ethical utilitarianism there is the continual quest for "maximum" happiness. But this is a "utilitarian happiness", seen only as pleasure, as immediate gratification for the exclusive benefit of the individual, apart from or opposed to the objective demands of the true good.
The programme of utilitarianism, based on an individualistic understanding of freedom—a freedom without responsibilities—is the opposite of love, even as an expression of human civilization considered as a whole. When this concept of freedom is embraced by society, and quickly allies itself with varied forms of human weakness, it soon proves a systematic and permanent threat to the family. In this regard, one could mention many dire consequences, which can be statistically verified, even though a great number of them are hidden in the hearts of men and women like painful, fresh wounds.
The love of spouses and parents has the capacity to cure these kinds of wounds, provided the dangers alluded to do not deprive it of its regenerative force, which is so beneficial and wholesome a thing for human communities. This capacity depends on the divine grace of forgiveness and reconciliation, which always ensures the spiritual energy to begin anew. For this very reason family members need to encounter Christ in the Church through the wonderful Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
In this context, we can realize how important prayer is with families and for families, in particular for those threatened by division. We need to pray that married couples will love their vocation, even when the road becomes difficult, or the paths become narrow, uphill and seemingly insuperable; we need to pray that, even then, they will be faithful to their covenant with God.
"The family is the way of the Church". In this Letter we wish both to profess and to proclaim this way, which leads to the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 7:14) through conjugal and family life. It is important that the "communion of persons" in the family should become a preparation for the "communion of Saints". This is why the Church both believes and proclaims the love which "endures all things" (1 Cor 13:7); with Saint Paul she sees in it "the greatest" virtue of all (cf. 1 Cor 13:13). The Apostle puts no limits on anyone. Everyone is called to love, including spouses and families. In the Church everyone is called equally to perfect holiness (cf. Mt 5:48).
The fourth commandment: "Honour your father and your mother"
15. The fourth commandment of the Decalogue deals with the family and its interior unity—its solidarity, we could say.
In its formulation, the fourth commandment does not explicitly mention the family. In fact, however, this is its real subject matter. In order to bring out the communion between generations, the divine Legislator could find no more appropriate word than this: "Honour..." (Ex 20:12). Here we meet another way of expressing what the family is. This formulation does not exalt the family in some "artificial" way, but emphasizes its subjectivity and the rights flowing from it. The family is a community of particularly intense interpersonal relationships: between spouses, between parents and children, between generations. It is a community which must be safeguarded in a special way. And God cannot find a better safeguard than this: "Honour".
"Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives to you" (Ex 20:12). This commandment comes after the three basic precepts which concern the relation of the individual and the people of Israel with God: "Shema, Izrael...", "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord" (Dt 6:4). "You will have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:3). This is the first and greatest commandment, the commandment of love for God "above all else": God is to be loved "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Dt 6:5; cf. Mt 22:37). It is significant that the fourth commandment is placed in this particular context. "Honour your father and your mother", because for you they are in a certain sense representatives of the Lord; they are the ones who gave you life, who introduced you to human existence in a particular family line, nation and culture. After God, they are your first benefactors. While God alone is good, indeed the Good itself, parents participate in this supreme goodness in a unique way. And so, honour your parents! There is a certain analogy here with the worship owed ton God.
The fourth commandment is closely linked to the commandment of love. The bond between "honour" and "love" is a deep one. Honour, at its very centre, is connected with the virtue of justice, but the latter, for its part, cannot be explained fully without reference to love: the love of God and of one's neighbour. And who is more of a neighbour than one's own family members, parents and children?
Is the system of interpersonal relations indicated by the fourth commandment one-sided? Does it bind us only to honour our parents? Taken literally, it does. But indirectly we can speak of the "honour" owed to children by their parents. "To honour" means to acknowledge! We could put it this way: "let yourself be guided by the firm acknowledgment of the person, first of all that of your father and mother, and then that of the other members of the family". Honour is essentially an attitude of unselfishness. It could be said that it is "a sincere gift of person to person", and in that sense honour converges with love. If the fourth commandment demands that honour should be shown to our father and mother, it also makes this demand out of concern for the good of the family. Precisely for this reason, however, it makes demands of the parents themselves. You parents, the divine precept seems to say, should act in such a way that your life will merit the honour (and the love) of your children! Do not let the divine command that you be honoured fall into a moral vacuum! Ultimately then we are speaking of mutual honour. The commandment "honour your father and your mother" indirectly tells parents: Honour your sons and your daughters. They deserve this because they are alive, because they are who they are, and this is true from the first moment of their conception. The fourth commandment then, by expressing the intimate bonds uniting the family, highlights the basis of its inner unity.
The commandment goes on to say: "that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you". The conjunction "that" might give the impression of an almost "utilitarian" calculation: honour them so that you will have a long life. In any event, this does not lessen the fundamental meaning of the imperative "honour", which by its nature suggests an attitude of unselfishness. To honour never means: "calculate the benefits". It is difficult, on the other hand, not to acknowledge the fact that an attitude of mutual honour among members of the family community also brings certain advantages. "Honour" is certainly something useful, just as every true good is "useful".
In the first place, the family achieves the good of "being together". This is the good par excellence of marriage (hence its indissolubility) and of the family community. It could also be defined as a good of the subject as such. Just as the person is a subject, so too is the family, since it is made up of persons, who, joined together by a profound bond of communion, form a single communal subject. Indeed, the family is more a subject than any other social institution: more so than the nation or the State, more so than society and international organizations. These societies, especially nations, possess a proper subjectivity to the extent that they receive it from persons and their families. Are all these merely "theoretical" observations, formulated for the purpose of "exalting" the family before public opinion? No, but they are another way of expressing what the family is. And this too can be deduced from the fourth commandment.
This truth deserves to be emphasized and more deeply understood: indeed it brings out the importance of the fourth commandment for the modern system of human rights. Institutions and legal systems employ juridical language. But God says: "honour". All "human rights" are ultimately fragile and ineffective, if at their root they lack the command to "honour"; in other words, if they lack an acknowledgment of the individual simply because he is an individual, "this" individual. Of themselves, rights are not enough.
It is not an exaggeration to reaffirm that the life of nations, of states, and of international organizations "passes" through the family and "is based" on the fourth commandment of the Decalogue. The age in which we live, notwithstanding the many juridical Declarations which have been drafted, is still threatened to a great extent by "alienation". This is the result of "Enlightenment" premises according to which a man is "more" human if he is "only" human. It is not difficult to notice how alienation from everything belonging in various ways to the full richness of man threatens our times. And this affects the family. Indeed, the affirmation of the person is in great measure to be referred back to the family and consequently to the fourth commandment. In God's plan the family is in many ways the first school of how to be human. Be human! This is the imperative passed on in the family—human as the son or daughter of one's country, a citizen of the State, and, we would say today, a citizen of the world. The God who gave humanity the fourth commandment is "benevolent" towards man (philanthropos, as the Greeks said). The Creator of the universe is the God of love and of life: he wants man to have life and have it abundantly, as Christ proclaims (cf. Jn 10:10); that he may have life, first of all thanks to the family.
At this point it seems clear that the "civilization of love" is strictly bound up with the family. For many people the civilization of love is still a pure utopia. Indeed, there are those who think that love cannot be demanded from anyone and that it cannot be imposed: love should be a free choice which people can take or leave.
There is some truth in all this. And yet there is always the fact that Jesus Christ left us the commandment of love, just as God on Mount Sinai ordered: "Honour your father and your mother". Love then is not a utopia: it is given to mankind as a task to be carried out with the help of divine grace. It is entrusted to man and woman, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, as the basic principle of their "duty", and it becomes the foundation of their mutual responsibility: first as spouses, then as father and mother. In the celebration of the Sacrament, the spouses give and receive each other, declaring their willingness to welcome children and to educate them. On this hinges human civilization, which cannot be defined as anything other than a "civilization of love".
The family is an expression and source of this love. Through the family passes the primary current of the civilization of love, which finds therein its "social foundations".
The Fathers of the Church, in the Christian tradition, have spoken of the family as a "domestic church", a "little church". They thus referred to the civilization of love as a possible system of human life and coexistence: "to be together" as a family, to be for one another, to make room in a community for affirming each person as such, for affirming "this" individual person. At times it is a matter of people with physical or psychological handicaps, of whom the so-called "progressive" society would prefer to be free. Even the family can end up like this kind of society. It does so when it hastily rids itself of people who are aged, disabled or sick. This happens when there is a loss of faith in that God for whom "all live" (cf. Lk 20:38) and are called to the fullness of Life.
Yes, the civilization of love is possible; it is not a utopia. But it is only possible by a constant and ready reference to the "Father from whom all fatherhood 1 on earth is named" (cf. Eph 3:14-15), from whom every human family comes.
16. What is involved in raising children? In answering this question two fundamental truths should be kept in mind: first, that man is called to live in truth and love; and second, that everyone finds fulfilment through the sincere gift of self. This is true both for the educator and for the one being educated. Education is thus a unique process for which the mutual communion of persons has immense importance. The educator is a person who "begets" in a spiritual sense. From this point of view, raising children can be considered a genuine apostolate. It is a living means of communication, which not only creates a profound relationship between the educator and the one being educated, but also makes them both sharers in truth and love, that final goal to which everyone is called by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Fatherhood and motherhood presume the coexistence and interaction of autonomous subjects. This is quite evident in the case of the mother when she conceives a new human being. The first months of the child's presence in the mother's womb bring about a particular bond which already possesses an educational significance of its own. The mother, even before giving birth, does not only give shape to the child's body, but also, in an indirect way, to the child's whole personality. Even though we are speaking about a process in which the mother primarily affects the child, we should not overlook the unique influence that the unborn child has on its mother. In this mutual influence which will be revealed to the outside world following the birth of the child, the father does not have a direct part to play. But he should be responsibly committed to providing attention and support throughout the pregnancy and, if possible, at the moment of birth.
For the "civilization of love" it is essential that the husband should recognize that the motherhood of his wife is a gift: this is enormously important for the entire process of raising children. Much will depend on his willingness to take his own part in this first stage of the gift of humanity, and to become willingly involved as a husband and father in the motherhood of his wife.
Education then is before all else a reciprocal "offering" on the part of both parents: together they communicate their own mature humanity to the newborn child, who gives them in turn the newness and freshness of the humanity which it has brought into the world. This is the case even when children are born with mental or physical disabilities. Here, the situation of the children can enhance the very special courage needed to raise them.
With good reason, then, the Church asks during the Rite of Marriage: "Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church"? In the raising of children conjugal love is expressed as authentic parental love. The "communion of persons", expressed as conjugal love at the beginning of the family, is thus completed and brought to fulfilment in the raising of children. Every individual born and raised in a family constitutes a potential treasure which must be responsibly accepted, so that it will not be diminished or lost, but will rather come to an ever more mature humanity. This too is a process of exchange in which the parents-educators are in turn to a certain degree educated themselves. While they are teachers of humanity for their own children, they learn humanity from them. All this clearly brings out the organic structure of the family, and reveals the fundamental meaning of the fourth commandment.
In rearing children, the "we" of the parents, of husband and wife, develops into the "we" of the family, which is grafted on to earlier generations, and is open to gradual expansion. In this regard both grandparents and grandchildren play their own individual roles.
If it is true that by giving life parents share in God's creative work, it is also true that by raising their children they become sharers in his paternal and at the same time maternal way of teaching. According to Saint Paul, God's fatherhood is the primordial model of all fatherhood and motherhood in the universe (cf. Eph 3:14-15), and of human motherhood and fatherhood in particular. We have been completely instructed in God's own way of teaching by the eternal Word of the Father who, by becoming man, revealed to man the authentic and integral greatness of his humanity, that is, being a child of God. In this way he also revealed the true meaning of human education. Through Christ all education, within the family and outside of it, becomes part of God's own saving pedagogy, which is addressed to individuals and families and culminates in the Paschal Mystery of the Lord's Death and Resurrection. The "heart" of our redemption is the starting-point of every process of Christian education, which is likewise always an education to a full humanity.
Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit. For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children, especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization.
The process of education ultimately leads to the phase ofself-education, which occurs when the individual, after attaining an appropriate level of psycho-physical maturity, begins to "educate himself on his own". In time, self-education goes beyond the earlier results achieved by the educational process, in which it continues to be rooted. An adolescent is exposed to new people and new surroundings, particularly teachers and classmates, who exercise an influence over his life which can be either helpful or harmful. At this stage he distances himself somewhat from the education received in the family, assuming at times a critical attitude with regard to his parents. Even so, the process of self-education cannot fail to be marked by the educational influence which the family and school have on children and adolescents. Even when they grow up and set out on their own path, young people remain intimately linked to their existential roots.
Against this background, we can see the meaning of the fourth commandment, "Honour your father and your mother" (Ex 20:12) in a new way. It is closely linked to the whole process of education. Fatherhood and motherhood, this first and basic fact in the gift of humanity, open up before both parents and children new and profound perspectives. To give birth according to the flesh means to set in motion a further "birth", one which is gradual and complex and which continues in the whole process of education. The commandment of the Decalogue calls for a child to honour its father and mother. But, as we saw above, that same commandment enjoins upon parents a kind of corresponding or "symmetrical" duty. Parents are also called to "honour" their children, whether they are young or old. This attitude is needed throughout the process of their education, including the time of their schooling. The "principle of giving honour", the recognition and respect due to man precisely because he is a man, is the basic condition for every authentic educational process.
In the sphere of education the Church has a specific role to play. In the light of Tradition and the teaching of the Council, it can be said that it is not only a matter of entrusting the Church with the person's religious and moral education, but of promoting the entire process of the person's education "together with" the Church. The family is called to carry out its task of education in the Church, thus sharing in her life and mission. The Church wishes to carry out her educational mission above all through families who are made capable of undertaking this task by the Sacrament of Matrimony, through the "grace of state" which follows from it and the specific "charism" proper to the entire family community.
Certainly one area in which the family has an irreplaceable role is that of religious education, which enables the family to grow as a "domestic church". Religious education and the catechesis of children make the family a true subject of evangelization and the apostolate within the Church. We are speaking of a right intrinsically linked to the principle of religious liberty. Families, and more specifically parents, are free to choose for their children a particular kind of religious and moral education consonant with their own convictions. Even when they entrust these responsibilities to ecclesiastical institutions or to schools administered by religious personnel, their educational presence ought to continue to be constant and active.
Within the context of education, due attention must be paid to the essential question of choosing a vocation, and here in particular that of preparing for marriage. The Church has made notable efforts to promote marriage preparation, for example by offering courses for engaged couples. All this is worthwhile and necessary. But it must not be forgotten that preparing for future life as a couple is above all the task of the family. To be sure, only spiritually mature families can adequately assume that responsibility. Hence we should point out the need for a special solidarity among families. This can be expressed in various practical ways, as for example by associations of families for families. The institution of the family is strengthened by such expressions of solidarity, which bring together not only individuals but also communities, with a commitment to pray together and to seek together the answers to life's essential questions. Is this not an invaluable expression of the apostolate of families to one another? It is important that families attempt to build bonds of solidarity among themselves. This allows them to assist each other in the educational enterprise: parents are educated by other parents, and children by other children. Thus a particular tradition of education is created, which draws strength from the character of the "domestic church" proper to the family.
The gospel of love is the inexhaustible source of all that nourishes the human family as a "communion of persons". In love the whole educational process finds its support and definitive meaning as the mature fruit of the parents' mutual gift. Through the efforts, sufferings and disappointments which are part of every person's education, love is constantly being put to the test. To pass the test, a source of spiritual strength is necessary. This is only found in the One who "loved to the end" (Jn 13:1). Thus education is fully a part of the "civilization of love". It depends on the civilization of love and, in great measure, contributes to its upbuilding.
The Church's constant and trusting prayer during the Year of the Family is for the education of man, so that families will persevere in their task of education with courage, trust and hope, in spite of difficulties occasionally so serious as to appear insuperable. The Church prays that the forces of the "civilization of love", which have their source in the love of God, will be triumphant. These are forces which the Church ceaselessly expends for the good of the whole human family.
Family and society
17. The family is a community of persons and the smallest social unit. As such it is an institution fundamental to the life of every society.
What does the family as an institution expect from society? First of all, it expects a recognition of its identity and an acceptance of its status as a subject in society. This "social subjectivity" is bound up with the proper identity of marriage and the family. Marriage, which undergirds the institution of the family, is constituted by the covenant whereby "a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life", and which "of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children". Only such a union can be recognized and ratified as a "marriage" in society. Other interpersonal unions which do not fulfil the above conditions cannot be recognized, despite certain growing trends which represent a serious threat to the future of the family and of society itself.
No human society can run the risk of permissiveness in fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family! Such moral permissiveness cannot fail to damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among people. It is thus quite understandable why the Church vigorously defends the identity of the family and encourages responsible individuals and institutions, especially political leaders and international organizations, not to yield to the temptation of a superficial and false modernity.
As a community of love and life, the family is a firmly grounded social reality. It is also, in a way entirely its own, a sovereign society, albeit conditioned in certain ways. This affirmation of the family's sovereignty as an institution and the recognition of the various ways in which it is conditioned naturally leads to the subject of family rights. In this regard, the Holy See published in 1983 the Charter of the Rights of the Family; even today this document has lost none of its relevance.
The rights of the family are closely linked to the rights of the person: if in fact the family is a communion of persons, its self-realization will depend in large part on the correct application of the rights of its members. Some of these rights concern the family in an immediate way, such as the right of parents to responsible procreation and the education of children. Other rights however touch the family unit only indirectly: among these, the right to property, especially to what is called family property, and the right to work are of special importance.
But the rights of the family are not simply the sum total of the rights of the person, since the family is much more than the sum of its individual members. It is a community of parents and children, and at times a community of several generations. For this reason its "status as a subject", which is grounded in God's plan, gives rise to and calls for certain proper and specific rights. The Charter of the Rights of the Family, on the basis of the moral principles mentioned above, consolidates the existence of the institution of the family in the social and juridical order of the "greater" society—those of the nation, of the State and of international communities. Each of these "greater" societies is at least indirectly conditioned by the existence of the family. As a result, the definition of the rights and duties of the "greater" society with regard to the family is an extremely important and even essential issue.
In the first place there is the almost organic link existing between the family and the nation. Naturally we cannot speak in all cases about a nation in the proper sense. Ethnic groups still exist which, without being able to be considered true nations, do fulfil to some extent the function of a "greater" society. In both cases, the link of the family with the ethnic group or the nation is founded above all on a participation in its culture. In one sense, parents also give birth to children for the nation, so that they can be members of it and can share in its historic and cultural heritage. From the very outset the identity of the family is to some extent shaped by the identity of the nation to which it belongs.
By sharing in the nation's cultural heritage, the family contributes to that specific sovereignty, which has its origin in a distinct culture and language. I addressed this subject at the UNESCO Conference meeting in Paris in 1980, and, given its unquestionable importance, I have often returned to it. Not only the nations, but every family realizes its spiritual sovereignty through culture and language. Were this not true, it would be very difficult to explain many events in the history of peoples, especially in Europe. From these events, ancient and modern, inspiring and painful, glorious and humiliating, it becomes clear how much the family is an organic part of the nation, and the nation of the family.
In regard to the State, the link with the family is somewhat similar and at the same time somewhat dissimilar. The State, in fact, is distinct from the nation; it has a less "family-like" structure, since it is organized in accordance with a political system and in a more "bureaucratic" fashion. Nonetheless, the apparatus of the State also has, in some sense, a "soul" of its own, to the extent that it lives up to its nature as a "political community" juridically ordered towards the common good. Closely linked to this "soul" is the family, which is connected with the State precisely by reason of the principle of subsidiarity. Indeed, the family is a social reality which does not have readily available all the means necessary to carry out its proper ends, also in matters regarding schooling and the rearing of children. The State is thus called upon to play a role in accordance with the principle mentioned above. Whenever the family is self-sufficient, it should be left to act on its own; an excessive intrusiveness on the part of the State would prove detrimental, to say nothing of lacking due respect, and would constitute an open violation of the rights of the family. Only in those situations where the family is not really self-sufficient does the State have the authority and duty to intervene.
Beyond child-rearing and schooling at all levels, State assistance, while not excluding private initiatives, can find expression in institutions such as those founded to safeguard the life and health of citizens, and in particular to provide social benefits for workers. Unemployment is today one of the most serious threats to family life and a rightful cause of concern to every society. It represents a challenge for the political life of individual States and an area for careful study in the Church's social doctrine. It is urgently necessary, therefore, to come up with courageous solutions capable of looking beyond the confines of one's own nation and taking into consideration the many families for whom lack of employment means living in situations of tragic poverty.
While speaking about employment in reference to the family, it is appropriate to emphasize how important and burdensome is the work women do within the family unit: that work should be acknowledged and deeply appreciated. The "toil" of a woman who, having given birth to a child, nourishes and cares for that child and devotes herself to its upbringing, particularly in the early years, is so great as to be comparable to any professional work. This ought to be clearly stated and upheld, no less than any other labour right. Motherhood, because of all the hard work it entails, should be recognized as giving the right to financial benefits at least equal to those of other kinds of work undertaken in order to support the family during such a delicate phase of its life.
Every effort should be made so that the family will be recognized as the primordial and, in a certain sense "sovereign" society! The "sovereignty" of the family is essential for the good of society. A truly sovereign and spiritually vigorous nation is always made up of strong families who are aware of their vocation and mission in history. The family is at the heart of all these problems and tasks. To relegate it to a subordinate or secondary role, excluding it from its rightful position in society, would be to inflict grave harm on the authentic growth of society as a whole.