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December 31, 1990

May society enact laws which benefit the family founded on marriage and its characteristics of unity and permanence

On the last day of the year in 1990 , the Holy Father went to the Church of the Gesu where he celebrated Mass and led authorities of the city and Church of Rome in the singing of the "Te Deum" for the graces received during the closing year. The following is a translation of the homily which the Holy Father preached on the occasion.

1. "Life and blessing on the house which fears the Lord" (Responsorial Psalm).

At the end of another year, the Church, the "house" in which the Word made flesh has been pleased to dwell, the family of God which walks in the fear of the Lord towards the fulfillment of time, wants to acknowledge that she has been "blessed" by God, with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (cf. Eph 1:2).

At the same time, she feels the need to praise and thank him from whom comes every perfect gift and in whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change (cf. James 1:16).

Dear brothers and sisters, we are here this evening, precisely to respond to this intimate need of the soul: to sing our "Te Deum" and celebrate the Eucharist, which means precisely "thanksgiving", for the countless benefits given to us by divine goodness in the year which has just ended. This has been by unanimous agreement an extremely important year for all of humanity, and especially for some countries of Europe which have seen new prospects of freedom and national unity affirmed within their territories. The Church also, which has the duty and right to bear witness to Christ in these territories, rejoices to be able now to express with renewed vigor her own faith, and without impediment to proclaim the Gospel to the beloved sons and daughters of those lands and cultures, who have drawn their most noble traditions from such sources.

2. "Life and blessing on the house which fears the Lord". Today the words of the psalm take on a deeper meaning and open up broader horizons. The liturgy of this Sunday after Christmas invites us, in fact, to pause in contemplation before the nativity scene where we find Mary and Joseph with the Child Jesus; it invites us to pause to take in the lesson which we learn from the Holy Family of Nazareth and to ask God "that in our families the same virtues and the same love may flourish" (Collect Prayer).

We want to do so with our eyes attentive to the situation and demands of the families who live in our city, and in the context of the commitment which the celebration of the diocesan pastoral Synod asks of us.

3. "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt." (Mt 2:13).

The Gospel passage which we have just listened to presents to us a picture of the family of Nazareth in which not everything is idyllic, peaceful and serene. They undergo the trial of persecution and the difficulties of exile. They are forced to flee, to take cover, to seek hospitality elsewhere.

These events should not surprise us. They are a further proof of the reality of the mystery of the incarnation which we are celebrating these days. Becoming man, the Son of God wanted to live the experience of a concrete human family, and take on not only its joys, but also its trials and difficulties: the very ones which many of today's families, in our city too, know very well and which many initiatives of service and support seek to remedy.

4. In our times the evils which the rapid and profound sociocultural changes of the recent decades have brought upon the vital fabric of the family have been added to the perennial difficulties. These constitute a new "challenge" to the engagement of communion and mission to which the Church of Rome feels called through the diocesan pastoral Synod.

It is true that in Rome there are also a great number of families which "guard, reveal and communicate love" (Familiaris Consortio, 17), but it is also true that in the current social revolution the family cell is particularly in danger. The ethical and juridical norms which have regulated its structures and functions for centuries are too often called into question. The growing secularism tends to obscure more and more and ultimately to negate the natural creaturely values of the family institution which the redemptive plan recognizes and empowers, making the family, founded upon the sacrament of matrimony, an image of the Trinity and a "domestic Church". The data which was recently published by the pre-synodal commission cause concern: there has been an increase in the number of separations, and of those who live together outside of marriage, while births are declining and the problem of abortion continues.

All of this cannot leave the Church indifferent, the Church which has received from Christ, her Spouse, the mission "to guide and encourage Christians and all people who are trying to preserve and to foster the natural dignity and the supremely sacred value of the married state" (Gaudium et Spes, 47).

In this regard a vast and demanding field of action opens up, not only for the ecclesial community of Rome on its synodal journey, but also for the public institutions which have at heart the common good and the integral promotion of the human person.

I gladly take this opportunity to greet the civil and ecclesiastical authorities present with a particular thought for the priests of the Society of Jesus who are our hosts.

At the threshold of the new year, I invoke upon all the Lord's blessing for a renewed effort in the fulfillment of your service to the Church and the city and especially to the advantage of the family, which is the basic cell of both.

5. Various sources show us that the current crisis of the family often derives from the superficiality of those who are involved. Indeed, quite often the young couples show that they are hardly aware of the meaning and value of this institution, especially as considered from the viewpoint of Revelation. Thus it happens that, even those who freely choose to marry "in the Lord" sometimes end up by disregarding the binding moral obligations contained therein, exposing themselves to the risk of easily imaginable escapes.

Therefore it is easily seen that the priority choice is the apostolate of family evangelization and, in it, the commitment to a more adequate preparation for marriage. Indeed, much has already been done in this field in recent years. Nevertheless, it is necessary to increase and combine forces, giving life to true educational programs, with adequate instruments and subsidy, and most of all, with the involvement of married Couples who are more mature in the faith and available for this particular type of ministry.

A great contribution to the family apostolate will also come from a more marked commitment in the constitution and direction of "family groups" of spirituality and of service, which become ever more capable of placing in common "with generosity... their own spiritual riches with other families (Gaudium et Spes, 48), in order to build up and spread the ecclesial community, thus making the parish a "family of families" and therefore a true evangelizing and witnessing community. Indeed, "future evangelization depends largely on the domestic Church" (Familiaris Consortio, 65).

6. All of this will be easier if the Christian families make an effort to live the communion of which the beginning and nourishment is the Holy Spirit, granted to them in the sacrament of matrimony. A communion which is founded on listening to the word of God, on common prayer, on the practice of the Christian virtues, first of all upon charity, "which is the bond of perfection", according to the teaching we heard from the Apostle Paul in the second reading.

Because of the fact that the family is the first and basic unit of society, we must hope that it will respect and abide by the laws which protect and promote the natural institution of the family based on marriage and its characteristics of unity and permanence.

7. Brothers and sisters, as we are about to conclude another year which has been granted to us by God's goodness, let us listen to the admonition of St Paul: "All that you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord, giving thanks through him to God the Father".

Yes, while we are giving thanks to God the Father, through Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, we commit ourselves to do everything in his name and for his greater glory.

"And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because you are called to it in one body". Amen.

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