Anthropological Foundation of the Family :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)
Anthropological Foundation of the Family
By Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

I was very pleased to accept the invitation to open this diocesan congress with a reflection, above all because it gives me the possibility to meet with you, to have direct contact, and also because it enables me to help you reflect further on the meaning and objective of the pastoral program being followed by the Church of Rome.

I affectionately greet each of you bishops, priests, men and women religious, and in particular you, the laity and families, who consciously assume these tasks of Christian commitment and testimony which have their roots in the sacrament of baptism and, for those who are married, in that of marriage. My heartfelt thanks to the cardinal vicar and to the spouses Luca and Adriana Pasquale, for the words they addressed to me in your name.

This congress, and the pastoral year to which it will offer guidelines, constitute a new stage in the endeavor the Church has begun, based on the diocesan synod, with the citizen mission so cherished by our beloved Pope John Paul II, in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In that mission all the realities of our dioceses -- parishes, religious communities, associations and movements -- mobilized not only on the occasion of a mission to the people of Rome, but to be themselves "people of God on mission," putting into practice the wise expression of John Paul II: "Parish, look for yourself and find yourself outside yourself"; that is, in places where people live. In this way, in the course of the citizen mission, many thousands of Christians of Rome, in the main laymen, became missionaries and took the word of faith in the first place to families of the diverse neighborhoods of the city and later to various workplaces, hospitals, schools and universities, and realms of culture and free time.

After the Holy Year, my beloved predecessor requested that you not interrupt this endeavor, and that you not disperse the apostolic energies awakened and the fruits of grace that were gathered. Because of this, since the year 2001, the fundamental pastoral orientation of the diocese has been to establish the mission permanently, characterizing in a more-determined missionary way the life and activities of the parishes and of each of the other ecclesial realities. First of all I want to tell you that I wish to confirm this option fully: It is ever more necessary and has no alternatives, in a social and cultural context in which multiple forces act that tend to distance us from the faith and Christian life.

For two years now, the missionary commitment of the Church of Rome has concentrated above all on the family, not only because this fundamental human reality is subjected today to multiple difficulties and threats, and therefore is in particular need of being evangelized and supported concretely, but also because Christian families constitute a decisive resource for education in the faith, the building of the Church as communion and its capacity of missionary presence in the most varied situations of life, as well as to leaven in a Christian sense the culture and social structures.

We will also continue with these guidelines in the forthcoming pastoral year and for this reason the theme of our congress is "Family and Christian Community: Formation of the Person and Transmission of the Faith." The assumption with which one must begin to understand the mission of the family in the Christian community and its endeavors of formation of the person and transmission of the faith, continues to be always the meaning that marriage and the family have in the plan of God, Creator and Savior. This will be therefore the essence of my reflection this afternoon, referring to the teaching of the apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" (Part 2, Nos. 12-16).

Anthropological foundation of the family

Marriage and the family are not a casual sociological construct, fruit of particular historical and economic situations. On the contrary, the question of the right relationship between man and woman sinks its roots in the most profound essence of the human being, and can only find its answer in the latter. It cannot be separated from the always ancient and always new question of man about himself: Who am I? And this question, in turn, cannot be separated from the question about God: Does God exist? And, who is God? What is his face really like? The Bible's answer to these two questions is unitary and consequential: Man is created in the image of God, and God himself is love. For this reason, the vocation to love is what makes man the authentic image of God: He becomes like God in the measure that he becomes someone who loves.

From this fundamental bond between God and man another is derived: The indissoluble bond between spirit and body. Man is, in fact, soul that expresses itself in the body and [the] body that is vivified by an immortal spirit. Also, the body of man and of woman has, therefore, so to speak, a theological character, it is not simply body, and what is biological in man is not only biological, but an expression and fulfillment of our humanity. In this way, human sexuality is not next to our being person, but belongs to it. Only when sexuality is integrated in the person does it succeed in giving itself meaning.

In this way, from the two bonds, that of man with God and -- in man -- that of the body with the spirit, arises a third bond: the one that exists between person and institution. The totality of man includes the dimension of time, and man's "yes" goes beyond the present moment: In his totality, the "yes" means "always," it constitutes the area of fidelity. Only in his interior can this faith grow which gives a future and allows the children, fruit of love, to believe in man and in his future in difficult times.

The freedom of the "yes" appears therefore as freedom capable of assuming what is definitive: The highest expression of freedom is not therefore the pursuit of pleasure, without ever arriving at a genuine decision. Seemingly this permanent openness appears to be the realization of freedom, but it is not true: The true expression of freedom is, on the contrary, the capacity to decide for a definitive gift, in which freedom, by surrendering itself, finds itself fully again.

Concretely, the personal and reciprocal "yes" of man and woman opens space for the future, for the authentic humanity of each one, and at the same time is destined to the gift of a new life. For this reason, this personal "yes" must necessarily be a "yes" that is also publicly responsible, with which the spouses assume the public responsibility of faithfulness, which also guarantees the future for the community. None of us belongs exclusively to himself: Therefore, each one is called to assume in his deepest self his own public responsibility. Marriage, as an institution, is not therefore an undue interference of society or of the authorities, an imposition from outside in the most private reality of life; it is on the contrary an intrinsic exigency of the pact of conjugal love and of the depth of the human person.

The different present forms of the dissolution of marriage, as well as free unions and "trial marriage," including the pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are on the contrary expressions of an anarchic freedom that appears erroneously as man's authentic liberation. A pseudo-freedom like this is based on a trivialization of the body, which inevitably includes the trivialization of man.

Its assumption is that man can make of himself what he likes: Thus his body becomes something secondary, which can be manipulated from the human point of view, which can be used as one pleases. Libertinism, which appears as discovery of the body and its value, is in reality a dualism that makes the body contemptible, leaving it so to speak outside the authentic being and dignity of the person.


Marriage and Family in the History of Salvation

The truth of marriage and the family, which sinks its roots in the truth of man, has found its application in the history of salvation, at whose center is the word: "God loves his people." In fact, biblical revelation is above all the expression of a history of love, the history of God's covenant with men. For this reason, God has been able to assume the history of love and of the union of a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, as symbol of the history of salvation. The ineffable fact, the mystery of God's love for men, takes its linguistic form from the vocabulary of marriage and the family, both positive and negative: God's approach to his people is presented with the language of conjugal love, while Israel's infidelity, its idolatry, is designated as adultery and prostitution.

In the New Testament, God radicalizes his love until he becomes himself, through his Son, flesh of our flesh, authentic man. Thus, God's union with man has assumed its supreme, irreversible and definitive form. And in this way, the definitive form of human love is also drawn, that reciprocal "yes" that cannot be revoked. It does not alienate man, but liberates him from the alienations of history to return him to the truth of creation. The sacramental character that marriage assumes in Christ means, therefore, that the gift of creation has been raised to the grace of redemption. Christ's grace is not superimposed from outside of man's nature, it does not violate it, but liberates and restores it, by raising it beyond its frontiers. And just as the Incarnation of the Son of God reveals its true meaning in the cross, so also authentic human love is surrender of oneself; it cannot exist if it avoids the cross.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, this profound bond between God and man, between the love of God and human love, is also confirmed by some negative tendencies and developments, whose weight we all experience. The degradation of human love, the suppression of the authentic capacity to love appears in our time as the most effective weapon for man to crush God, to remove God from man's sight and heart. However, the desire to "liberate" God's nature makes one lose sight of the very reality of nature, including man's nature, reducing it to an ensemble of functions, which can be disposed of according to one's pleasure to build a so-called better world and a happier humanity. But on the contrary, the plan of the Creator is destroyed as is the truth of our nature.


Also in the procreation of children, marriage reflects its divine model, the love of God for man. In man and woman, paternity and maternity, as happens with the body and with love, the biological aspect is not circumscribed: life is only given totally when with birth, love and meaning are also given, which make it possible to say yes to this life. Precisely because of this, it is clear to what point the systematic closing of the union itself to the gift of life and, even more, the suppression or manipulation of unborn life is contrary to human love, to the profound vocation of man and woman.
However, no man and no woman, on their own and by their own strength, can give love and the meaning of life adequately to their children. To be able to say to someone: "your life is good, even if I don't know your future," needs a superior authority and credibility which the individual cannot give himself on his own. The Christian knows that that authority is conferred to that larger family that God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, has created in the history of men, namely, to the Church. It acknowledges the action of that eternal and indestructible love that assures to the life of each one of us a permanent meaning, even if we do not know the future.

For this reason, the building of each of the Christian families is framed in the context of the great family of the Church, which supports and accompanies it, and guarantees that there is a meaning and that in the future there will be the "yes" of the Creator. And, reciprocally, the Church is built by families, "small domestic Churches," as Vatican Council II called them ("Lumen Gentium," 11; "Apostolicam Actuositatem," 11), rediscovering an ancient patristic expression (St. John Chrysostom, "In Genesim serm," VI,2; VII,1). In this connection, "Familiaris Consortio" affirms that "Christian marriage ... constitutes the natural place within which is carried out the insertion of the human person in the great family of the Church" (No. 15).

Family and Church

An obvious consequence derives from all of this: the family and the Church, specifically the parishes and the other forms of ecclesial community, are called to the most profound collaboration in that fundamental task that is constituted, inseparably, by the formation of the person and the transmission of the faith. We know well that for an authentic educational endeavor to take place, it is not enough to communicate a correct theory or doctrine. Something far greater and more human is needed -- that closeness, lived daily, which is proper to love and that finds its most propitious space above all in the family community, and afterwards in a parish or movement or ecclesial association, in which people are found who pay attention to their brothers, in particular, to children and youths, as well as to adults, the elderly, the sick, and families themselves because, in Christ, they love them. The great patron of educators, St. John Bosco, reminded his spiritual sons that "education is something of the heart and that God alone is its proprietor" ("Epistolario," 4, 209).

The figure of the witness is central in the educational endeavor, and especially in education in the faith, which is the summit of the person's formation and his most appropriate horizon: the witness becomes a point of reference precisely in the measure in which he is able to defend the hope that is the basis of his life (see 1 Peter 3:15), and in the measure that the witness is personally involved with the truth he proposes. The witness, moreover, does not point to himself, but points to something, or rather to someone greater, whom he has encountered and experienced as trustworthy goodness. Thus, every educator and witness finds an unsurpassable model in Jesus Christ, the great witness of the Father, who said nothing on his own, but spoke exactly as the Father had taught him (see John 8:28).

This is the reason why at the basis of the Christian person's formation and of the transmission of the faith is necessarily prayer, personal friendship with Christ and contemplation in him of the Father's face. And the same may be said of all our missionary commitment, in particular, our family pastoral program: may the Family of Nazareth be, therefore, for our families and communities the object of constant and confident prayer, as well as model of life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, and especially you, dear priests: I am aware of the generosity and selflessness with which you serve the Lord and his Church. Your daily work for the formation in the faith of new generations, in profound union with the sacraments of Christian initiation, as well as by preparation for marriage and support of families on their journey, which is often not easy, in particular the great task of the education of children, is the fundamental way to always regenerate the Church again and also to vivify the social fabric of our beloved city of Rome.

Threat of relativism

Continue, therefore, without allowing yourselves to be discouraged by the difficulties you meet. The educational relationship is, by its very nature, something delicate: it implies the other's freedom who, even with gentleness, is forced to make a decision. Neither parents, nor priests, nor catechists, nor other educators can substitute the freedom of the child, the boy, the youth whom they direct. And the Christian proposal interpolates freedom very profoundly, calling it to faith and conversion. A particularly insidious obstacle in the educational endeavor today is the massive presence in our society and culture of a relativism that, by not acknowledging anything as definitive, only has as its ultimate measure the "I" itself, with its tastes and which, with the appearance of freedom, becomes for each one a prison, as it separates from others, making each one find himself shut in within his own "I." In such a relativist horizon, therefore, an authentic education is not possible. Without the light of truth, sooner or later every person is condemned to doubt the goodness of his own life and the relationships that constitute it, the validity of his commitment to build with others something in common.

It is clear, therefore, that not only must we try to surmount the relativism in our work of formation of persons, but we are also called to confront its destructive dominance in society and culture. For this reason, it is very important that, in addition to the word of the Church, the testimony and public commitment of Christian families is given, in particular, to reaffirm the inviolability of human life from conception to its natural end, the unique and irreplaceable value of the family based on marriage and the need for legislative and administrative measures that support families in the task of begetting and educating children, essential task for our common future. For this commitment of yours I also give you my heartfelt thanks.

Priesthood and consecrated life

The last message I would like to leave with you concerns attention to vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life. We all know the need the Church has! For these vocations to be born and to mature, for the persons called to keep themselves always worthy of their vocation, prayer is, above all, decisive; it must never be lacking in each of the families and in the Christian community. But also fundamental is the testimony of life of priests, men and women religious, the joy they express for having been called by the Lord. And, essential likewise is the example that children receive within their own family and the families' conviction that the children's vocations are also for them a great gift of the Lord. The option for virginity for love of God and of brothers, which is required for the priesthood and consecrated life, is accompanied by the appreciation of Christian marriage: one and the other, with two different and complementary forms, make visible in a certain sense the mystery of the covenant between God and his people.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I commend these reflections to you as a contribution to your work in the evenings of the congress and later during the next pastoral year. I pray that the Lord will give you courage and enthusiasm so that our Church of Rome, every parish, every religious community, association or movement will participate intensely in the joy and effort of the mission and in this way every family and the whole Christian community will rediscover in the love of the Lord the key that opens the door of hearts and that makes possible an authentic education in the faith and in the formation of persons. My affection and blessing accompany you today and in the future.

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