POPE TO PLENARY OF PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY
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.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate
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
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
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
"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
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
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.