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Promote an authentic civilization of life


The necessity and urgency to promote a "civilization of life" was stressed by the Pope during the audience on Friday, 10 June 1988, to those taking part in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. The following is a translation of the discourse which was delivered in French.


Your Eminence,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate
Dear Friends,

1, I am pleased to receive you here during these days in which you are meeting in Plenary Assembly. I greet all the Members, and especially those who are taking part for the first time in the work of the Pontifical Council for the Family and are thereby taking up a new form of responsibility for pastoral care of the family.

You have chosen for the central theme of your reflections, "The Family in the Mission of the Laity", with a special reference to a "pro-life civilization". This theme links the last Synod of Bishops with the 1980 Synod on the Family. On my part, I would like to stress the importance of the family in civil society as well as in the Church, the family which lay people constitute and defend, the family which is responsible for the evangelization of the new generations.

2. In reflecting on the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world, the last Synod of Bishops studied the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in depth and analyzed the ecclesial experiences of the last two decades. Two important aspects of the laity's vocation were emphasized: the laity's active and responsible belonging to the common mission of the Church, and the personal call to holiness which is addressed to everyone.

A great deal has been done during these years to make the Conciliar teachings known. It is necessary to continue studying them and making all the faithful aware of the essential aspects of their vocation. Our configuration to Christ--the fact that we have been baptized and are all children of God--is the common basis of the diversity of functions which fall upon the members of the People of God under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the laity in the Church is exercised not only within ecclesial structures. Faithful lay people, the salt of the earth and light of the world, contribute toward "transfiguring the whole of existence through the dynamism of grace and freedom" (cf. John Paul II, Angelus, 1 March 1988).

The family is a privileged area in which the Christian laity must "seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will" (Lumen Gentium, 31). The family is the natural source from which a pro-life civilization springs, the center where all the values that protect life converge, and the basic social unity of all civilizations at the service of life.

3. From the fact that the family is the primordial cell of society and of the Church, all Christians participate in one way or another in this institution. Furthermore, the sacrament of marriage sanctifies Christians' mutual conjugal self-giving and confirms them in their role as fathers and mothers. These are the created realities which the Church's Magisterium has the mission of clarifying in the light of Christian Revelation. The exercise of the Church's Magisterium in a sphere so important for society and for the Church of Christ herself constitutes one of the bishops' ongoing pastoral concerns. The place which the Second Vatican Council gave to marriage and the family attests to this. For the subsequent period, it is well to recall what the reflection of the 1980 Synod and the doctrine presented in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio have been for the Church. Particular attention is to be given to Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae, of which the twentieth anniversary is being celebrated, and which represents and continues to represent a resolute "Yes" to life, to the Creator, a positive acceptance of the laws he has given to humanity for transmitting and protecting life.

4. Marriage and the family, however, are not exclusively Christian institutions. They belong to the heritage which God gave to humanity: "God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). These natural realities were established and structured according to laws and values that, far from limiting and restricting human freedom, permit personal and social progress.

With the awareness that the sacrament of marriage elevates and sanctifies these realities of nature, Christians must appreciate and recognize the values which are at the basis of the great mystery of conjugal love between the spouses. In fact, as the Second Vatican Council recalls: "All that goes to make up the temporal order: personal and family values, culture, economic interests... all these are not merely helps to man's last end; they possess a value of their own, placed in them by God..." (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7). The values of life and of the family are therefore one of the components of the temporal order which the faithful laity must not only defend, but promote and develop, in union with all other men of good will. Society itself benefits from such action.

These values belong to the very order of creation. Also, by nature, man's heart ought to seek them and grow in them. However, pride, selfishness and all the disorder introduced by sin often hinder discovering and, above all, admitting and observing the moral laws which guarantee these values. Now, Christians perceive them in the light of Revelation and grace helps to conform to them.

5. In this sense, Christian lay people can accomplish an apostolate of evangelical preparation. By placing their expertise at the service of the values pointed out by the Magisterium, they contribute to making them better recognized by persons and social groups. Their action will aim at making these basic values respected so that they will be upheld even by governments.

The witness of family life led by Christian spouses can be a valuable contribution by making clear to the whole of society what the family really is, "in what it is and what it does as an 'intimate community of life and love'" (Familiaris Consortio, 50). The richness of the communion of persons, in their fidelity, will make it better understood that divorce and instability of self-giving are in reality seeds of death since the indissoluble personal bond is the source of life.

Attitudes contrary to life, its acceptance and transmission lead to acts such as abortion, sterilization or contraception. This brings about a distorted vision of marriage; it limits the meaning of the mutual self-giving between spouses. "The ultimate reason for these mentalities is the absence in people's hearts of God, whose love alone is stronger than all the world's fears and can conquer them" (FC, 30). When a child is not regarded as a gift of God, when conjugal love becomes like a selfish turning in upon oneself, when the laws of marriage are considered as an unbearable obstacle, when civil powers do not support the family in its structure and needs, then promotion of an authentic pro-life civilization becomes especially necessary. It is the laity--men and women of all generations--who can make known in their surroundings, by a daily apostolate beginning with education, the values and riches involved in human needs.

"The family is the first and fundamental school of social living... the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society" (FC, 37).

6. Through you, dear friends, I address myself to all Christian spouses. Make the social significance of your vocation as Christian spouses and parents understood. Your activity does not belong to an area extraneous to the good of all society. Respect for life, concern about human and Christian formation, the virtues of honesty, moderation and hospitality, education to chastity and self-control, the ability to love beyond one's own self-centeredness, care for the aged and the sick--these are all part of a whole set of values that people need in order to live up to their full dignity.

I therefore encourage all groups which, in fidelity to the Church's Magisterium, help Christian spouses to affirm their spirituality and develop their apostolate.

Promoting the family so that it will respond fully to its vocation is an apostolic concern common to all Christians. Everyone must be attentive to what clarifies or strengthens the values of marriage, fatherhood and motherhood. At the crossroads of the generations, marriage takes on a special missionary dimension in the Church. Living and solid, it is a primary place for a wider spreading of the Gospel and the building of the kingdom of God in the present world.

7. I express my best wishes for your work, for all your activity, together with all those who have the responsibility for pastoral care of the family in the local Churches. I ask the Lord to fill you with his Blessings as well as the families to whose service you are dedicated.

Priests for Life
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