LETTER TO FAMILIES
Pope John Paul II
Given on February 2 and released on February 22 at the
Published by the Vatican Press.
2. The family - way of the Church
3. The Year of the Family
5. Love and concern for all families
I. THE CIVILIZATION OF LOVE
6. "Male and female he created them"
7. The marital covenant
8. The unity of the two
9. The genealogy of the person
10. The common good of marriage and the family
11. The sincere gift of self
12. Responsible fatherhood and motherhood
13. The two civilizations
14. Love is demanding
15. The fourth commandment: "Honour your father and
17. Family and society
II. THE BRIDEGROOM IS WITH YOU
18. At Cana in Galilee
19. The Great Mystery
20. Mother of Fairest Love
21. Birth and Danger
22. "You welcomed me"
23. "Strengthened in the inner man"
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
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 XII, and which inspired the Second
Vatican Council's Constitution Gaudium et
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 [the newlyweds] 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
I. 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 humanitywhether
of small communities or of society as a wholemarked 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 fulfillment
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 fulfillment. Experience teaches that
this fulfillment represents both a task and a challenge. The
task involves the spouses in living out their original covenant.
The children born to themand 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), their union
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 Goda 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 [and motherhood] 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
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 fulfillment precisely
by sharing in God's life. The content of this self-fulfillment
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 wife/husband. 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"
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 childrentwo of the primary ends of the familyare
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
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
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 fulfillment 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 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 indeedmore than any other human realitythe 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
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
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 parentsfather
and motherby 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
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 fulfillment 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 fulfillment 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
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
him- self" 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 Christthe "vine" from which the "branches"
draw nourishmentis 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 worldespecially 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 concretelyas the Council didabout "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
LOVE IS DEMANDING
14. The love which the Apostle Paul celebrates
in the First Letter to the Corinthiansthe 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
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 of giving
himself. This is the joy about which Christ speaks (cf. Jn 15:11;
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,
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
15. The fourth commandment of the Decalogue deals with the
family and its interior unityits 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
"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 to 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
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
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 familyhuman 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 [and motherhood]
on earth is named" (cf. Eph 3:14-15), from whom every human
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 fulfillment 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
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 fulfillment 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 of
self-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
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
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" societythose
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
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
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.
II. THE BRIDEGROOM IS WITH YOU
AT CANA IN GALILEE
18. Engaged in conversation with John's disciples one day,
Jesus speaks of a wedding invitation and the presence of the
bridegroom among the guests:
"the Bridegroom is with them" (Mt 9:15). In this
way he indicated the fulfillment in his own person of the image
of God the Bridegroom, which had already been used in the Old
Testament, in order to reveal fully the mystery of God as the
mystery of Love.
By describing himself as a "Bridegroom", Jesus reveals
the essence of God and confirms his immense love for mankind.
But the choice of this image also throws light indirectly on
the profound truth of spousal love. Indeed by using this image
in order to speak about God, Jesus shows to what extent the fatherhood
and the love of God are reflected in the love of a man and a
woman united in marriage. Hence, at the beginning of his mission,
we find Jesus at Cana in Galilee, taking part in a wedding
banquet, together with Mary and with the first disciples (cf.
Jn 2:1-11). He thus wishes to make clear to what extent the
truth about the family is part of God's Revelation and the history
of salvation. In the Old Testament, and particularly in the
Prophets, we find many beautiful expressions about the love
of God. It is a gentle love like that of a mother for her
child, a tender love like that of the bridegroom for his bride,
but at the same time an equally and intensely jealous love. It
is not in the first place a love which chastises but one which
forgives; a love which deigns to meet man just as the father
does in the case of the prodigal son; a love which raises him
up and gives him a share in divine life. It is an amazing love:
something entirely new and previously unknown to the whole pagan
At Cana in Galilee Jesus is, as it were, the herald of
the divine truth about marriage, that truth on which the
human family can rely, gaining reassurance amid all the trials
Jesus proclaims this truth by his presence at the wedding
in Cana and by working his first "sign": water changed
into wine. Jesus proclaims the truth about marriage again when,
speaking to the Pharisees, he explains how the love which comes
from God, a tender and spousal love, gives rise to profound
and radical demands. Moses, by allowing a certificate of
divorce to be drawn up, had been less demanding. When in their
lively argument the Pharisees appealed to Moses, Jesus' answer
"from the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:8). And
he reminds them that the One who created man created him male
and female, and ordained that "a man leaves his father and
his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh"
(Gen 2:24). With logical consistency Jesus concludes: "So
they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has
joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mt 19:6). To
the objection of the Pharisees who vaunt the Law of Moses he
replies: "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to
divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so"
Jesus appeals to "the beginning", seeing at the
very origins of creation God's plan, on which the family is based,
and, through the family, the entire history of humanity. What
marriage is in nature becomes, by the will of Christ, a true
sacrament of the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ
the Redeemer. Spouses and families, remember at what price
you have been "bought"! (cf. 1 Cor 6:20).
But it is humanly difficult to accept and to live this
marvellous truth. Should we be surprised that Moses relented
before the insistent demands of his fellow Israelites, if the
Apostles themselves, upon hearing the words of the Master, reply
by saying: "If such is the case of a man with his wife,
it is not expedient to marry" (Mt 19:10)! Nonetheless, in
view of the good of man and woman, of the family and the whole
of society, Jesus confirms the demand which God laid down from
the beginning. At the same time, however, he takes the opportunity
to affirm the value of a decision not to marry for the sake of
the Kingdom of God. This choice too enables one to "beget",
albeit in a different way. In this choice we find the origin
of the consecrated life, of the Religious Orders and Religious
Congregations of East and West, and also of the discipline of
priestly celibacy, as found in the tradition of the Latin Church.
Hence it is untrue that "it is not expedient to marry";
however, love for the kingdom of heaven can lead a person to
choose not to marry (cf. Mt 19:12).
Marriage however remains the usual human vocation which is
embraced by the great majority of the people of God. It is in
the family where living stones are formed for that spiritual
house spoken of by the Apostle Peter (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). The bodies
of the husband and wife are the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit
(cf. 1 Cor 6:19). Because the transmission of divine life presumes
the transmission of human life, marriage not only brings about
the birth of human children, but also, through the power of Baptism,
the birth of adopted children of God, who live the new life received
from Christ through his Spirit.
Dear brothers and sisters, spouses and parents, this is how
Bridegroom is with you. You know that he is the Good
Shepherd. You know who he is, and you know his voice. You know
where he is leading you, and how he strives to give you pastures
where you can find life and find it in abundance. You know how
he withstands the marauding wolves, and is ever ready to rescue
his sheep: every husband and wife, every son and daughter, every
member of your families. You know that he, as the Good Shepherd,
is prepared to lay down his own life for his flock (cf. Jn 10:11).
He leads you by paths which are not the steep and treacherous
paths of many of today's ideologies, and he repeats to today's
world the fullness of truth, even as he did in his conversation
with the Pharisees or when he announced it to the Apostles, who
then proclaimed it to all the ends of the earth and to all the
people of their day, to Jews and Greeks alike. The disciples
were fully conscious that Christ had made all things new. They
knew that man had been made a "new creation": no longer
Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female,
but "one" in Christ (cf. Gal 3:28) and endowed with
the dignity of an adopted child of God. On the day of Pentecost
man received the Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth.
This was the beginning of the new People of God, the Church,
the foreshadowing of new heavens and a new earth (cf. Rev 21:1).
The Apostles, overcoming their initial fears even about marriage
and the family, grew in courage. They came to understand that
marriage and family are a true vocation which comes from God
himself and is an apostolate: the apostolate of the laity. Families
are meant to contribute to the transformation of the earth and
the renewal of the world, of creation and of all humanity.
Dear families, you too should be fearless, ever ready to give
witness to the hope that is in you (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), since the
Good Shepherd has put that hope in your hearts through the Gospel.
You should be ready to follow Christ towards the pastures of
life, which he himself has prepared through the Paschal Mystery
of his Death and Resurrection.
Do not be afraid of the risks! God's strength is always
far more powerful than your difficulties! Immeasurably greater
than the evil at work in the world is the power of the Sacrament
of Reconciliation, which the Fathers of the Church rightly
called a "second Baptism". Much more influential than
the corruption present in the world is the divine power of the
Sacrament of Confirmation, which brings Baptism to its
maturity. And incomparably greater than all is the power of the
The Eucharist is truly a wondrous sacrament. In it
Christ has given us himself as food and drink, as a source of
saving power. He has left himself to us that we might have life
and have it in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10): the life which is in
him and which he has shared with us by the gift of the Spirit
in rising from the dead on the third day. The life that comes
from Christ is a life for us. It is for you, dear husbands
and wives, parents and families! Did Jesus not institute
the Eucharist in a family-like setting during the Last Supper?
When you meet for meals and are together in harmony, Christ
is close to you. And he is Emmanuel, God with us, in an even
greater way whenever you approach the table of the Eucharist.
It can happen, as it did at Emmaus, that he is recognized only
in "the breaking of the bread" (cf. Lk 24:35). It may
well be that he is knocking at the door for a long time, waiting
for it to be opened so that he can enter and eat with us (cf.
Rev 3:20). The Last Supper and the words he spoke there contain
all the power and wisdom of the sacrifice of the Cross. No other
power and wisdom exist by which we can be saved and through which
we can help to save others. There is no other power and no other
wisdom by which you, parents, can educate both your children
and yourselves. The educational power of the Eucharist
has been proved down the generations and centuries.
Everywhere the Good Shepherd is with us. Even as he was at
Cana in Galilee, the Bridegroom in the midst of the bride
and groom as they entrusted themselves to each other for
their whole life, so the Good Shepherd is also with us today
as the reason for our hope, the source of strength for our hearts,
the wellspring of ever new enthusiasm and the sign of the triumph
of the "civilization of love". Jesus, the Good Shepherd,
continues to say to us: Do not be afraid. I am with you.
"I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt
28:20). What is the source of this strength? What is the reason
for our certainty that you are with us, even though they put
you to death, O Son of God, and you died like any other human
being? What is the reason for this certainty? The Evangelist
says: "He loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). Thus do
you love us, you who are the First and the Last, the Living One;
you who died and are alive for evermore (cf. Rev 1:17-18).
THE GREAT MYSTERY
19. Saint Paul uses a concise phrase in referring to family
life: it is a "great mystery" (Eph 5:32). What
he writes in the Letter to the Ephesians about that "great
mystery", although deeply rooted in the Book of Genesis
and in the whole Old Testament tradition, nonetheless represents
a new approach which will later find expression in the Church's
The Church professes that Marriage, as the Sacrament of the
covenant between husband and wife, is a "great mystery",
because it expresses the spousal love of Christ for his Church.
Saint Paul writes: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ
loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify
her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word"
(Eph 5:25-26). The Apostle is speaking here about Baptism, which
he discusses at length in the Letter to the Romans, where he
presents it as a sharing in the death of Christ leading to a
sharing in his life (cf. Rom 6:3-4). In this Sacrament the believer
is born as a new man, for Baptism has the power to communicate
new life, the very life of God. The mystery of the God-man is
in some way recapitulated in the event of Baptism. As Saint Irenaeus
would later say, along with many other Fathers of the Church
of both East and West: "Christ Jesus, our Lord, the Son
of God, became the son of man so that man could become a son
The Bridegroom then is the very same God who became man. In
the Old Covenant Yahweh appears as the Bridegroom of Israel,
the chosen peoplea Bridegroom who is both affectionate
and demanding, jealous and faithful. Israel's moments of betrayal,
desertion and idolatry, described in such powerful and evocative
terms by the Prophets, can never extinguish the love with which
God-the Bridegroom "loves to the end" (cf. Jn
The confirmation and fulfillment of the spousal relationship
between God and his people are realized in Christ, in the New
Covenant. Christ assures us that the Bridegroom is with us (cf.
Mt 9:15). He is with all of us; he is with the Church. The
Church becomes a Bride, the Bride of Christ. This Bride,
of whom the Letter to the Ephesians speaks, is present in each
of the baptized and is like one who presents herself before her
Bridegroom. "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up
for her..., that he might present the Church to himself in splendour,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be
holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:25-27). The love with which
the Bridegroom "has loved" the Church "to the
end" continuously renews her holiness in her saints, even
though she remains a Church of sinners. Even sinners, "tax
collectors and harlots", are called to holiness, as Christ
himself affirms in the Gospel (cf. Mt 21:31). All are called
to become a glorious Church, holy and without blemish. "Be
holy", says the Lord, "for I am holy" (Lev 11:44;
cf. 1 Pet 1:16).
This is the deepest significance of the "great mystery",
the inner meaning of the sacramental gift in the Church,
the most profound meaning of Baptism and the Eucharist. They
are fruits of the love with which the Bridegroom has loved us
to the end, a love which continually expands and lavishes on
people an ever greater sharing in the supernatural life.
Saint Paul, after having said: "Husbands, love your wives"
(Eph 5:25), emphatically adds: "Even so husbands should
love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves
himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and
cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members
of his body" (Eph 5:28-30). And he encourages spouses with
the words: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for
Christ" (Eph 5:21).
This is unquestionably a new presentation of the eternal truth
about marriage and the family in the light of the New Covenant.
Christ has revealed this truth in the Gospel by his presence
at Cana in Galilee, by the sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacraments
of his Church. Husbands and wives thus discover in Christ the
point of reference for their spousal love. In speaking of
Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, Saint Paul uses the analogy
of spousal love, referring back to the Book of Genesis:
"A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to
his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). This is
the "great mystery" of that eternal love already present
in creation, revealed in Christ and entrusted to the Church.
"This mystery is a profound one", the Apostle repeats,
"and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church"
(Eph 5:32). The Church cannot therefore be understood as the
Mystical Body of Christ, as the sign of man's Covenant with God
in Christ, or as the universal sacrament of salvation, unless
we keep in mind the "great mystery" involved in the
creation of man as male and female and the vocation of both to
conjugal love, to fatherhood and to motherhood. The "great
mystery", which is the Church and humanity in Christ, does
not exist apart from the "great mystery" expressed
in the "one flesh" (cf. Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31-32), that
is, in the reality of marriage and the family.
The family itself is the great mystery of God. As the "domestic
church", it is the bride of Christ. The universal
Church, and every particular Church in her, is most immediately
revealed as the bride of Christ in the "domestic church"
and in its experience of love: conjugal love, paternal and maternal
love, fraternal love, the love of a community of persons and
of generations. Could we even imagine human love without the
Bridegroom and the love with which he first loved to the end?
Only if husbands and wives share in that love and in that "great
mystery" can they love "to the end". Unless they
share in it, they do not know "to the end" what love
truly is and how radical are its demands. And this is undoubtedly
very dangerous for them.
The teaching of the Letter to the Ephesians amazes us with
its depth and the authority of its ethical teaching. Pointing
to marriage, and indirectly to the family, as the "great
mystery" which refers to Christ and the Church, the Apostle
Paul is able to reaffirm what he had earlier said to husbands:
"Let each one of you love his wife as himself". He
goes on to say: "And let the wife see that she respects
her husband" (Eph 5:33). Respect, because she loves and
knows that she is loved in return.
It is because of this love that husband and wife become
a mutual gift. Love contains the acknowledgment of the personal
dignity of the other, and of his or her absolute uniqueness.
Indeed, each of the spouses, as a human being, has been willed
by God from among all the creatures of the earth for his or her
own sake. Each of them, however, by a conscious and responsible
act, makes a free gift of self to the other and to the children
received from the Lord. It is significant that Saint Paul continues
his exhortation by echoing the fourth commandment: "Children,
obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honour your
father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise),
'that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the
earth'. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring
them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph
6:1-4). The Apostle thus sees in the fourth commandment the implicit
commitment of mutual respect between husband and wife, between
parents and children, and he recognizes in it the principle
of family stability.
Saint Paul's magnificent synthesis concerning the "great
mystery" appears as the compendium or summa, in some
sense, of the teaching about God and man which was brought
to fulfillment by Christ. Unfortunately, Western thought, with
the development of modern rationalism, has been gradually
moving away from this teaching. The philosopher who formulated
the principle of "Cogito, ergo sum", "I
think, therefore I am", also gave the modern concept of
man its distinctive dualistic character. It is typical of rationalism
to make a radical contrast in man between spirit and body, between
body and spirit. But man is a person in the unity of his body
and his spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter:
it is a spiritualized body, just as man's spirit is so
closely united to the body that he can be described as an
embodied spirit. The richest source for knowledge of the
body is the Word made flesh. Christ reveals man to himself.
In a certain sense this statement of the Second Vatican Council
is the reply, so long awaited, which the Church has given to
This reply is of fundamental importance for understanding
the family, especially against the background of today's civilization,
which, as has been said, seems in so many cases to have given
up the attempt to be a "civilization of love". The
modern age has made great progress in understanding both the
material world and human psychology, but with regard to his deepest,
metaphysical dimension contemporary man remains to a great extent
a being unknown to himself. Consequently the family too
remains an unknown reality. Such is the result of estrangement
from that "great mystery" spoken of by the Apostle.
The separation of spirit and body in man has led to a growing
tendency to consider the human body, not in accordance with the
categories of its specific likeness to God, but rather on the
basis of its similarity to all the other bodies present in the
world of nature, bodies which man uses as raw material in his
efforts to produce goods for consumption. But everyone can immediately
realize what enormous dangers lurk behind the application of
such criteria to man. When the human body, considered apart from
spirit and thought, comes to be used as raw material in
the same way that the bodies of animals are usedand this
actually occurs for example in experimentation on embryos and
fetuseswe will inevitably arrive at a dreadful ethical
Within a similar anthropological perspective, the human family
is facing the challenge of a new Manichaeanism, in which
body and spirit are put in radical opposition; the body does
not receive life from the spirit, and the spirit does not give
life to the body. Man thus ceases to live as a person and
a subject. Regardless of all intentions and declarations
to the contrary, he becomes merely an object. This neo-Manichaean
culture has led, for example, to human sexuality being regarded
more as a area for manipulation and exploitation than
as the basis of that primordial wonder which led Adam
on the morning of creation to exclaim before Eve:
"This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"
(Gen 2:23). This same wonder is echoed in the words of the Song
of Solomon: "You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride,
you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes" (Song
4:9). How far removed are some modern ideas from the profound
understanding of masculinity and femininity found in Divine Revelation!
Revelation leads us to discover in human sexuality a treasure
proper to the person, who finds true fulfillment in the family
but who can likewise express his profound calling in virginity
and in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Modern rationalism does not tolerate mystery. It does
not accept the mystery of man as male and female, nor is it willing
to admit that the full truth about man has been revealed in Jesus
Christ. In particular, it does not accept the "great mystery"
proclaimed in the Letter to the Ephesians, but radically opposes
it. It may well acknowledge, in the context of a vague deism,
the possibility and even the need for a supreme or divine Being,
but it firmly rejects the idea of a God who became man in order
to save man. For rationalism it is unthinkable that God should
be the Redeemer, much less that he should be "the Bridegroom",
the primordial and unique source of the human love between spouses.
Rationalism provides a radically different way of looking at
creation and the meaning of human existence. But once man begins
to lose sight of a God who loves him, a God who calls man through
Christ to live in him and with him, and once the family no longer
has the possibility of sharing in the "great mystery",
what is left except the mere temporal dimension of life?
Earthly life becomes nothing more than the scenario of a battle
for existence, of a desperate search for gain, and financial
gain before all else.
The deep-seated roots of the "great mystery", the
sacrament of love and life which began with Creation and Redemption
and which has Christ the Bridegroom as its ultimate surety,
have been lost in the modern way of looking at things. The "great
mystery" is threatened in us and all around us. May the
Church's celebration of the Year of the Family be a fruitful
opportunity for husbands and wives to rediscover that mystery
and recommit themselves to it with strength, courage and enthusiasm.
MOTHER OF FAIREST LOVE
20. The history of "fairest love" begins at the
Annunciation, in those wondrous words which the angel spoke to
Mary, called to become the Mother of the Son of God. With Mary's
"yes", the One who is "God from God and Light
from Light" becomes a son of man. Mary is his Mother, while
continuing to be the Virgin who "knows not man" (cf.
Lk 1:34). As Mother and Virgin, Mary becomes the Mother
of Fairest Love. This truth is already revealed in the words
of the Archangel Gabriel, but its full significance will gradually
become clearer and more evident as Mary follows her Son in the
pilgrimage of faith.
The "Mother of Fairest Love" was accepted by the
one who, according to Israel's tradition, was already her earthly
husband: Joseph, of the house of David. Joseph would have
had the right to consider his promised bride as his wife and
the mother of his children. But God takes it upon himself to
intervene in this spousal covenant: "Joseph, son of David,
do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived
in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:20). Joseph is aware,
having seen it with his own eyes, that a new life with which
he has had nothing to do has been conceived in Mary. Being a
just man, and observing the Old Law, which in his situation imposed
the obligation of divorce, he wishes to dissolve his marriage
in a loving way (cf. Mt 1:19). The angel of the Lord tells him
that this would not be consistent with his vocation; indeed it
would be contrary to the spousal love uniting him to Mary. This
mutual spousal love, to be completely "fairest love",
requires that he should take Mary and her Son into his own house
in Nazareth. Joseph obeys the divine message and does all that
he had been commanded (cf. Mt 1:24). And so, thanks also to Joseph,
the mystery of the Incarnation and, together with it,
the mystery of the Holy Family, come to be profoundly inscribed
in the spousal love of husband and wife and, in an indirect
way, in the genealogy of every human family. What Saint Paul
will call the "great mystery" found its most lofty
expression in the Holy Family. Thus the family truly takes
its place at the very heart of the New Covenant.
It can also be said that the history of "fairest love"
began, in a certain way, with the first human couple:
Adam and Eve. The temptation to which they yielded and the original
sin which resulted did not completely deprive them of the capacity
for "fairest love". This becomes clear when we read,
for example, in the Book of Tobit that the spouses Tobias and
Sarah, in defining the meaning of their union, appealed to their
first parents, Adam and Eve (cf. Tob 8:6). In the New Covenant,
Saint Paul also bears witness to this, speaking of Christ as
a new Adam (cf. 1 Cor 15:45).
Christ does not come to condemn the first Adam and the first
Eve, but to save them. He comes to renew everything that is God's
gift in man, everything in him that is eternally good and beautiful,
everything that forms the basis of "fairest love".
The history of "fairest love" is, in one sense,
the history of man's salvation.
"Fairest love" always begins with the self-revelation
of the person. At creation Eve reveals herself to Adam, just
as Adam reveals himself to Eve. In the course of history newly-married
couples tell each other: "We shall walk the path of life
together". The family thus begins as a union of the two
and, through the Sacrament, as a new community in Christ. For
love to be truly "fairest", it must be a gift of God,
grafted by the Holy Spirit on to human hearts and continually
nourished in them (cf. Rom 5:5). Fully conscious of this, the
Church in the Sacrament of Marriage asks the Holy Spirit to visit
human hearts. If love is truly to be "fairest love",
a gift of one person to another, it must come from the One who
is himself a gift and the source of every gift.
Such was the case, as the Gospel recounts, with Mary and Joseph
who, at the threshold of the New Covenant, renewed the experience
of "fairest love" described in the Song of Solomon.
Joseph thinks of Mary in the words: "My sister, my bride"
(Song 4:9). Mary, the Mother of God, conceives by the power of
the Holy Spirit, who is the origin of the "fairest love",
which the Gospel delicately places in the context of the "great
When we speak about "fairest love", we are also
speaking about beauty: the beauty of love and the beauty
of the human being who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is capable
of such love. We are speaking of the beauty of man and woman:
their beauty as brother or sister, as a couple about to be married,
as husband and wife. The Gospel sheds light not only on the mystery
of "fairest love", but also on the equally profound
mystery of beauty, which, like love, is from God. Man and woman
are from God, two persons called to become a mutual gift. From
the primordial gift of the Spirit, the "giver of life",
there arises the reciprocal gift of being husband or wife, no
less than that of being brother or sister.
All this is confirmed by the mystery of the Incarnation, a
mystery which has been the source of a new beauty in the
history of humanity and has inspired countless masterpieces of
art. After the strict prohibition against portraying the invisible
God by graven images (cf. Dt 4:15-20), the Christian era began
instead to portray in art the God who became man, Mary his Mother,
Saint Joseph, the Saints of the Old and New Covenant and the
entire created world redeemed by Christ. In this way it began
a new relationship with the world of culture and of art. It can
be said that this new artistic canon, attentive to the
deepest dimension of man and his future, originates in the mystery
of Christ's Incarnation and draws inspiration from the mysteries
of his life: his birth in Bethlehem, his hidden life in Nazareth,
his public ministry, Golgotha, the Resurrection and his final
return in glory. The Church is conscious that her presence in
the contemporary world, and in particular the contribution and
support she offers to the promotion of the dignity of marriage
and the family, are intimately linked to the development of culture,
and she is rightly concerned for this. This is precisely why
the Church is so concerned with the direction taken by the means
of social communication, which have the duty of forming
as well as informing their vast audience. Knowing
the vast and powerful impact of the media, she never tires of
reminding communications workers of the dangers arising from
the manipulation of truth. Indeed, what truth can there be in
films, shows and radio and television programmes dominated by
pornography and violence? Do these really serve the truth
about man? Such questions are unavoidable for those who work
in the field of communications and those who have responsibility
for creating and marketing media products.
This kind of critical reflection should lead our society,
which certainly contains many positive aspects on the material
and cultural level, to realize that, from various points of view,
it is a society which is sick and is creating profound
distortions in man. Why is this happening? The reason is that
our society has broken away from the full truth about man, from
the truth about what man and woman really are as persons. Thus
it cannot adequately comprehend the real meaning of the gift
of persons in marriage, responsible love at the service of fatherhood
and motherhood, and the true grandeur of procreation and education.
Is it an exaggeration to say that the mass media, if they
are not guided by sound ethical principles, fail to serve the
truth in its fundamental dimension? This is the real drama: the
modern means of social communication are tempted to manipulate
the message, thereby falsifying the truth about man. Human
beings are not the same thing as the images proposed in advertising
and shown by the modern mass media. They are much more,
in their physical and psychic unity, as composites of soul and
body, as persons. They are much more because of their vocation
to love, which introduces them as male and female into the realm
of the "great mystery".
Mary was the first to enter this realm, and she introduced
her husband Joseph into it. Thus they became the first models
of that "fairest love" which the Church continually
implores for young people, husbands and wives and families. Young
people, spouses and families themselves should never cease to
pray for this. How can we not think about the crowds of pilgrims,
old and young, who visit Marian shrines and gaze upon the face
of the Mother of God, on the faces of the Holy Family, where
they find reflected the full beauty of the love which God has
given to mankind?
In the Sermon on the Mount, recalling the sixth commandment,
Christ proclaims: "You have heard that it was said, 'You
shall not commit adultery'. But I say to you that every one who
looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with
her in his heart" (Mt 5:27-28). With regard to the Decalogue
and its purpose of defending the traditional solidity of marriage
and the family, these words represent a great step forward. Jesus
goes to the very source of the sin of adultery, which dwells
in the innermost heart of man and is revealed in a way of looking
and thinking dominated by concupiscence. Through concupiscence
man tends to treat as his own possession another human being,
one who does not belong to him but to God. In speaking to his
contemporaries, Christ is also speaking to men and women in every
age and generation. He is speaking in particular to our own generation,
living as it is in a society marked by consumerism and hedonism.
Why does Christ speak out in so forceful and demanding a way
in the Sermon on the Mount? The reason is quite clear: Christ
wants to safeguard the holiness of marriage and of the family.
He wants to defend the full truth about the human person and
Only in the light of this truth can the family be "to
the end" the great "revelation", the first
discovery of the other: the mutual discovery of husband and
wife and then of each son and daughter born to them. All that
a husband and a wife promise to each otherto be "true
in good times and in bad, and to love and honour each other all
the days of their life"is possible only when "fairest
love" is present. Man today cannot learn this from what
modern mass culture has to say. "Fairest love" is learned
above all in prayer. Prayer, in fact, always brings with
it, to use an expression of Saint Paul, a type of interior
hiddenness with Christ in God, "your life is hid with Christ
in God" (Col 3:3). Only in this hiddenness do we see
the workings of the Holy Spirit, the source of "fairest
love". He has poured forth this love not only in the hearts
of Mary and Joseph but also in the hearts of all married couples
who are open to hearing the word of God and keeping it (cf. Lk
8:15). The future of each family unit depends upon this "fairest
love": the mutual love of husband and wife, of parents and
children, a love embracing all generations. Love is the true
source of the unity and strength of the family.
BIRTH AND DANGER
21. It is significant that the brief account of the infancy
of Jesus mentions, practically at the same time, his birth
and the danger which he immediately had to confront. Luke
records the prophetic words uttered by the aged Simeon when the
Child was presented to the Lord in the Temple forty days after
his birth. Simeon speaks of "light" and of a "sign
of contradiction". He goes on to predict of Mary: "And
a sword will pierce through your own soul also" (cf. Lk
2:32-35). Matthew, for his part, tells of the plot of Herod against
Jesus. Informed by the Magi who came from the East to see the
new king who was to be born (cf. Mt 2:2), Herod senses a threat
to his power, and after their departure he orders the death of
all male children aged two years or under in Bethlehem and the
surrounding towns. Jesus escapes from the hands of Herod thanks
to a special divine intervention and the fatherly care of Joseph,
who takes him with his mother into Egypt, where they remain until
Herod's death. The Holy Family then returns to Nazareth, their
home town, and begins what for many years would be a hidden life,
marked by the carrying out of daily tasks with fidelity and generosity
(cf. Mt 2:1-23; Lk 2:39-52).
The fact that Jesus, from his very birth, had to face threats
and dangers has a certain prophetic eloquence. Even as
a Child, Jesus is a "sign of contradiction". Prophetically
eloquent also is the tragedy of the innocent children of Bethlehem,
slaughtered at Herod's command. According to the Church's
ancient liturgy, they shared in the birth and saving passion
of Christ. Through their own "passion", they complete
"what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of
his body, that is, the Church" (Col 1:24).
In the infancy Gospel, the proclamation of life, which
comes about in a wondrous way in the birth of the Redeemer, is
thus put in sharp contrast with the threat to life, a
life which embraces the mystery of the Incarnation and of the
divine-human reality of Christ in its entirety. The Word was
made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14): God became man. The Fathers of the
Church frequently call attention to this sublime mystery: "God
became man, so that we might become gods". This truth
of faith is likewise the truth about the human being. It clearly
indicates the gravity of all attempts on the life of a child
in the womb of its mother. Precisely in this situation we encounter
everything which is diametrically opposed to "fairest
love". If an individual is exclusively concerned with "use",
he can reach the point of killing love by killing the fruit of
love. For the culture of use, the "blessed fruit of your
womb" (Lk 1:42) becomes in a certain sense an "accursed
How can we not recall, in this regard, the aberrations that
the so- called constitutional State has tolerated in so
many countries? The law of God is univocal and categorical with
respect to human life. God commands: "You shall not kill"
(Ex 20:13). No human lawgiver can therefore assert: it is
permissible for you to kill, you have the right to kill, or you
should kill. Tragically, in the history of our century, this
has actually occurred when certain political forces have come
to power, even by democratic means, and have passed laws contrary
to the right to life of every human being, in the name of eugenic,
ethnic or other reasons, as unfounded as they are mistaken. A
no less serious phenomenon, also because it meets with widespread
acquiescence or consensus in public opinion, is that of laws
which fail to respect the right to life from the moment of conception.
How can one morally accept laws that permit the killing of a
human being not yet born, but already alive in the mother's womb?
The right to life becomes an exclusive prerogative of adults
who even manipulate legislatures in order to carry out their
own plans and pursue their own interests.
We are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life
of individuals but also to that of civilization itself. The statement
that civilization has become, in some areas, a "civilization
of death" is being confirmed in disturbing ways. Was it
not a prophetic event that the birth of Christ was accompanied
by danger to his life? Yes, even the life of the One who is at
the same time Son of Man and Son of God was threatened. It was
endangered from the very beginning, and only by a miracle did
he escape death.
Nevertheless, in the last few decades some consoling signs
of a reawakening of conscience have appeared: both among
intellectuals and in public opinion itself. There is a new and
growing sense of respect for life from the first moment of conception,
especially among young people. "Prolife" movements
are beginning to spread. This is a leaven of hope for the future
of the family and of all humanity.
"YOU WELCOMED ME"
22. Married couples and families of all the world: the
Bridegroom is with you! This is what the Pope wishes to say
to you above all else during this Year which the United Nations
and the Church have dedicated to the family. "God so loved
the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in
him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent his
Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world
might be saved through him" (Jn 3:16-17). "That which
is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the
Spirit is spirit... You must be born anew" (Jn 3:6-7). You
must be born "of water and the Spirit" (Jn 3:5). You
yourselves, dear fathers and mothers, are the first witnesses
and servants of this rebirth in the Holy Spirit. As
you beget children on earth, never forget that you are also
begetting them for God. God wants their birth in the Holy
Spirit. He wants them to be adopted children in the Only-begotten
Son, who gives us "power to become children of God"
(Jn 1:12). The work of salvation continues in the world and is
carried out through the Church. All this is the work of the Son
of God, the Divine Bridegroom, who has given to us the Kingdom
of his Father and who reminds us, his disciples, that "the
Kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Lk 17:21).
Our faith tells us that Jesus Christ, who "is seated
at the right hand of the Father", will come to judge the
living and the dead. On the other hand, the Gospel of John assures
us that Christ was sent "into the world, not to condemn
the world, but that the world might be saved through him"
(Jn 3:17). In what then does judgment consist? Christ himself
gives the answer: "And this is the judgment, that the light
has come into the world... But he who does what is true comes
into the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have
been wrought by God" (Jn 3:19, 21). Recently, the Encyclical
Veritatis Splendor also reminded us of this. Is Christ
then a judge? Your own actions will judge you in the light
of the truth which you know. Fathers and mothers, sons and
daughters, will be judged by their actions. Each one of us will
be judged according to the Commandments, including those we have
discussed in this Letter: the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Ninth
Commandments. But ultimately everyone will be judged on love,
which is the deepest meaning and the summing-up of the Commandments.
As Saint John of the Cross wrote: "In the evening of life
we shall be judged on love". Christ, the Redeemer and
Bridegroom of mankind, "was born for this and came into
the world for this, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who
is of truth hears his voice" (cf. Jn 18:37). Christ will
be the judge, but in the way that he himself indicated in speaking
of the Last Judgment (cf. Mt 25:31-46). His will be a judgment
on love, a judgment which will definitively confirm the truth
that the Bridegroom was with us, without perhaps our having been
aware of it.
The judge is the Bridegroom of the Church and of humanity.
This is why he says, in passing his sentence: "Come, O blessed
of my Father... for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was
thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed
me, I was naked and you clothed me" (Mt 25:34-36). This
list could of course be lengthened, and countless other problems
relevant to married and family life could be added. There we
might very well find statements like: "I was an unborn child,
and you welcomed me by letting me be born"; "I was
an abandoned child, and you became my family"; "I was
an orphan, and you adopted me and raised me as one of your own
children". Or again: "You helped mothers filled with
uncertainty and exposed to wrongful pressure to welcome their
unborn child and let it be born"; and "You helped large
families and families in difficulty to look after and educate
the children God gave them". We could continue with a long
and detailed list, including all those kinds of true moral and
human good in which love is expressed. This is the great harvest
which the Redeemer of the world, to whom the Father has entrusted
judgment, will come to reap. It is the harvest of grace and
of good works, ripened by the breath of the Bridegroom in
the Holy Spirit, who is ever at work in the world and in the
Church. For all of this, let us give thanks to the Giver of every
We also know however that according to the Gospel of Matthew
the Final Judgment will contain another list, solemn and terrifying:
"Depart from me... for I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and
you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me"
(Mt 25:41-43). To this list also we could add other ways of acting,
in which Jesus is present in each case as the one who has
been rejected. In this way he would identify with the abandoned
wife or husband, or with the child conceived and then rejected:
"You did not welcome me"! This judgment is also to
be found throughout the history of our families; it is to be
found throughout the history of our nations and all humanity.
Christ's words, "You did not welcome me", also touch
social institutions, governments and international organizations.
Pascal wrote that "Jesus will be in agony until the end
of the world". The agony of Gethsemane and the agony
of Golgotha are the summit of the revelation of love.
Both scenes reveal the Bridegroom who is with us, who loves us
ever anew, and "loves us to the end" (cf. Jn 13:1).
The love which is in Christ, and which from him flows beyond
the limits of individual or family histories, flows beyond the
limits of all human history.
At the end of these reflections, dear Brothers and Sisters,
in view of what will be proclaimed from various platforms during
the Year of the Family, I would like to renew with you the profession
of faith which Peter addressed to Christ: "You have the
words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68). Together let us say: "Your
words, O Lord, will not pass away"! (cf. Mk 13:31). What
then is the Pope's wish for you at the end of this lengthy meditation
on the Year of the Family? It is his prayer that all of you
will be in agreement with these words, which are "spirit
and life" (Jn 6:63).
"STRENGTHENED IN THE INNER MAN"
23. I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every fatherhood
and motherhood is named, "that he may grant you to be strengthened
with might through his Spirit in the inner man" (Eph 3:16).
I willingly return to these words of the Apostle, which I mentioned
in the first part of this Letter. In a certain sense they are
pivotal words. The family, fatherhood and motherhood all go
together. The family is the first human setting in which
is formed that "inner man" of which the Apostle speaks.
The growth of the inner man in strength and vigour is a gift
of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
The Year of the Family sets before us in the Church an immense
task, no different from the task which families face every year
and every day. In the context of this Year, however, that task
takes on particular meaning and importance. We began the Year
of the Family in Nazareth on the Solemnity of the Holy Family.
Throughout this Year we wish to make our pilgrim way towards
that place of grace which has become the Shrine of the Holy
Family in the history of humanity. We want to make this pilgrimage
in order to become aware once again of that heritage of truth
about the family which from the beginning has been a treasure
for the Church. It is a treasure which grows out of the rich
tradition of the Old Covenant, is completed in the New and finds
its fullest symbolic expression in the mystery of the Holy Family
in which the divine Bridegroom brings about the redemption of
all families. From there Jesus proclaims the "gospel
of the family". All generations of Christ's disciples
have drawn upon this treasure of truth, beginning with the Apostles,
on whose teaching we have so frequently drawn in this Letter.
In our own times this treasure has been examined in depth in
the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Perceptive analyses
were developed in the many addresses given by Pope Pius XII to
newlyweds, in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope
Paul VI, in the speeches delivered at the Synod of Bishops on
the Family (1980) and in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio. I have already spoken of these statements of the
Magisterium. If I return to them now, it is in order to emphasize
how vast and rich is the treasure of Christian truth about
the family. Written testimonies alone, however, will not
suffice. Much more important are living testimonies. As
Pope Paul VI observed, "contemporary man listens more willingly
to witnesses than to teachers, and if he listens to teachers
it is because they are witnesses". In the Church, the
treasure of the family has been entrusted first and foremost
to witnesses: to those fathers and mothers, sons and daughters
who through the family have discovered the path of their human
and Christian vocation, the dimension of the "inner man"
(Eph 3:16) of which the Apostle speaks, and thus have attained
holiness. The Holy Family is the beginning of countless other
holy families. The Council recalled that holiness is the
vocation of all the baptized. In our age, as in the past,
there is no lack of witnesses to the "gospel of the family",
even if they are not well known or have not been proclaimed saints
by the Church. The Year of the Family is the appropriate occasion
to bring about an increased awareness of their existence and
their great number.
The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by
way of the family. In these pages I have tried to show how the
family is placed at the centre of the great struggle between
good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that
is opposed to love. To the family is entrusted the task of striving,
first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the
source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man. Every
family unit needs to make these forces their own so that,
to use a phrase spoken on the occasion of the Millennium of Christianity
in Poland, the family will be "strong with the strength
of God". This is why the present Letter has sought
to draw inspiration from the apostolic exhortations found in
the writings of Paul (cf. 1 Cor 7:1- 40; Eph 5:21-6:9; Col 3:25)
and the Letters of Peter and John (cf. 1 Pet 3:1-7; 1 Jn 2:12-17).
Despite the differences in their historical and cultural contexts,
how similar are the experiences of Christians and families then
What I offer, then, is an invitation: an invitation
addressed especially to you, dearly beloved husbands and wives,
fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. It is an invitation
to all the particular Churches to remain united in the teaching
of the apostolic truth. It is addressed to my Brothers in the
Episcopate, and to priests, religious families and consecrated
persons, to movements and associations of the lay faithful; to
our brothers and sisters united by common faith in Jesus Christ,
even while not yet sharing the full communion willed by the Saviour;
60 to all who by sharing in the faith of Abraham belong, like
us, to the great community of believers in the one God; 61 to
those who are the heirs of other spiritual and religious traditions;
and to all men and women of good will.
May Christ, who is the same "yesterday and today and
for ever" (Heb 13:8), be with us as we bow the knee before
the Father, from whom all fatherhood and motherhood and every
human family is named (cf. Eph 3:14-15). In the words of the
prayer to the Father which Christ himself taught us, may he once
again offer testimony of that love with which he loved us "to
the end"! (Jn 13:1).
I speak with the power of his truth to all people of our day,
so that they will come to appreciate the grandeur of the goods
of marriage, family and life; so that they will come to appreciate
the great danger which follows when these realities are not respected,
or when the supreme values which lie at the foundation of the
family and of human dignity are disregarded.
May the Lord Jesus repeat these truths to us with the power
and the wisdom of the Cross, so that humanity will not yield
to the temptation of the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44),
who constantly seeks to draw people to broad and easy ways, ways
apparently smooth and pleasant, but in reality full of snares
and dangers. May we always be enabled to follow the One who is
"the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6).
Dear Brothers and Sisters: Let all of this be the task of
Christian families and the object of the Church's missionary
concern throughout this Year, so rich in singular divine graces.
May the Holy Family, icon and model of every human family, help
each individual to walk in the spirit of Nazareth. May it help
each family unit to grow in understanding of its particular mission
in society and the Church by hearing the Word of God, by prayer
and by a fraternal sharing of life. May Mary, Mother of "Fairest
Love", and Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, accompany us
all with their constant protection.
With these sentiments I bless every family in the name of
the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 2 February, the Feast
of the Presentation of the Lord, in the year 1994, the sixteenth
of my Pontificate.
1. Cf. Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March
1979), 14: AAS 71 (1979), 284-285.
2. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution
on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 1.
3. Ibid, 22.
6. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium,
7. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes, Part II, Chap. 1.
8. Rituale Romanum, Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium, No.
74, editio typica altera, 1991, p. 26.
9. Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22
November 1981), 79-84: MS 74 (1982), 180-186.
10. Cf. Rituale Romanum, Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium,
No 74, ed. Cit., p. 26.
11. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes, 48.
12. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22
November 1981), 69: AAS 74 (1982), 165.
13. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes, 24.
14. Rituale Romanum, Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium, No.
60, ed. cit, p. 17.
15. Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio
(22 November 1981), 28: AAS 74 (1982), 114.
16. Cf. Plus XII, Encyclical Letter Humani Generis
(12 August 1950): AAS 42 (1950), 574.
17. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes, 24.
20. Confessiones, I, 1: CCL 27,1.
21. Cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 50.
22. Rituale Romanum, Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium, No.
62, ed cit, p 17.
23. Ibid, No. 61, ed. cit., p 17.
24. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5,
a. 4, ad 2.
25. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes, 24.
26. Cf. Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis
(30 December 1987), 25: AAS 80 (1988), 543-544.
27. ENCYCLICAL Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979),
14: AAS 71 (1979),884-885; Cf. Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May 1991), 53: AAS 83 (1991),
28. Adversus Haereses IV, 20, 7: PG 7, 1057; SCh 100/2,
29. Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991)
39: AAS 83 (1991), 842.
30. Cf. Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis
(30 December 1987), 25: AAS 80 (1988), 543-544.
31. Cf. PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (25
July 1968), 12 AAS 60 (1968), 488-489; Catechism of the Catholic
Church, NO. 2366.
32. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes, 24.
33. Cf. Homily for the Closing of the Holy Year (25 December
1975): AAS 68(1976), 145.
34. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes, 22.
35. Cf. ibid, 47.
36. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 4, ad 2.
37. Ibid, I-II, q. 22.
38. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution
on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11, 40 and 41.
39. Rituale Romanum, Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium, No.
60, ed. cit., p. 17.
40. Code of Canon Law, Canon 1055, P. 1; Catechism
of the Catholic Church, No. 1601.
41. Cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 74.
42. Cf. Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991),
57: AAS 83 (1991), 862-863 .
43. Cf. Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens (14 September
1981), 19: AAS 73 (1981), 625-629.
44. Cf. Adversus Haereses, III, 10, 2: PG 7, 873; SCh 211,
116- 119; SAINT AUGUSTINE, De Incarnatione Verbi, 54:
PG 25, 191- 192; SAINT AUGUSTINE, Sermo 185, 3: PL 38,
999; Sermo 194, 3, 3: PL 38, 1016.
45. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution
on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 24.
46. "Corpore et anima unus", as the Council so clearly
and felicitously stated: ibid, 14.
47. Ibid, 22.
48. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution
on the Church Lumen Gentium, 56-59.
49. Cf. PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR SOCIAL COMMUNICATIONS, Pastoral
Instruction Aetatis Novae (22 February 1992), 7.
50. In the liturgy of their Feast, which has its origins in
the fifth century, the Church turns to the Holy Innocents, invoking
them with the words of the poet Prudentius (+ c. 105) as "the
flowers of the martyrs whom, at the very threshold of their lives,
the persecutor of Christ cur down as the whirlwind does to roses
still in bud".
51. SAINT ATHANASIUS, De Incarnatione Verbi, 54: PG
25, 191- 192.
52. Cf. Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993), 84.
53. Words of Light and Love, 59.
54. B. PASCAL, Pensees, Le mystere de Jesus, 553 (ed.
55. Cf. in particular Pastoral Constitution on the Church
Gaudium et Spes, 47-52.
56. Of particular interest is the Address to those taking
part in the Convention of the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives
(29 October 1951), in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, XIII, 333-353.
57. Cf. Address to the members of the "Consilium de Laicis"
(2 October 1974) in AAS 66 (1974), 568.
58. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium,
59. Cf. Cardinal STEFAN WYSZYNSKI, Rodzina Bogiem silna,
Homily delivered at Jasna Gora (26 August 1961).
60. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium,
61. Cf. ibid, 16.