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Responsibility for the Promotion of the Family

Wednesday, December 1, 1999

1. To adequately prepare for the Great Jubilee of 2000, the Christian community must accept the serious responsibility of rediscovering the value of the family and marriage (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, 51). This is all the more urgent considering how this value is today called into question by a large part of culture and society.

Not only are some models of family life contested, changing under the pressure of social transformations and new work conditions, but even the very idea of family, that community founded on the marriage of a man and a woman, has been targeted in the name of a relativistic ethic that is making its way into large sectors of public opinion and even civil legislation.

The crisis of the family causes a crisis in society. Many pathological phenomena -- from loneliness to violence to drugs -- are explained by the fact that the nuclear family has lost its identity and function. Where the family diminishes, society loses its connective tissue. This has disastrous consequences, which destroy people, especially the weakest: from children to adolescents, to the handicapped, to the sick and aged.

2. There must be a reflection that helps not only believers, but all those of good will, to rediscover the value of marriage and the family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which man and woman are called to give themselves in love and the gift of life. The authority, stability and relational life in the bosom of the family make up the foundations of liberty, security and fraternity in the sphere of society" (n. 2207).

The family can be rediscovered by reason, listening to the moral law written on the human heart. As a community "founded and vivified by love" (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, 18), the family draws its strength from the definitive covenant of love in which a man and a woman give themselves reciprocally, together becoming collaborators with God in the gift of life.

On the basis of this source-relationship of love, those relationships established with and among the other members of the family must be inspired by love and characterized by affection and mutual support. Far from closing the family in on itself, authentic love opens it out to all of society, so that the little domestic family and the large family of all human beings are not in opposition, but in intimate and authentic relationship. All of this is rooted in the very mystery of God, which the family evokes in a special way. In fact, as I wrote some years ago in my "Letter to Families", "in light of the New Testament it is possible to catch a glimpse of the original model of the family in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life. The divine "We" constitutes the eternal model of the human "we"; of the "we" first of all that is formed by the man and the woman, created in the divine image and likeness" (n. 6: Teachings XVII/1 [1994], 332).

3. God's fatherhood is the transcendent source of every other human fatherhood and motherhood. Contemplating it with love, we must feel our responsibility to rediscover that richness of communion, generation and life that characterizes marriage and family.

Interpersonal relations develop in the family in which each person is entrusted with a specific job, yet without rigid schematisms. I do not intend here to refer to those social roles and functions that are expressions of particular historical and cultural contexts. Rather I am thinking of the importance that they hold in the reciprocal spousal relationship and in the communal responsibility of the parents, figures of man and woman in how they are called to live out their natural characteristics within the bounds of a profound, enriching and respectful communion. "To this 'unity of the two' God entrusts not only the work of procreation and the life of the family, but the very construction of history" (Letter to Women, 8: Teaching XVIII/1 '1994', 1878).

4. The child then must be understood as the maximum expression of the communion between man and woman, the reciprocal acceptance/donation that is realized and transcended in a "third," who is that child. The child is God's blessing. He transforms husband and wife into father and mother (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 21). Both "go out from themselves" and express themselves beyond themselves in a person, the very fruit of their love.

In a special way the ideal expressed in Jesus' priestly prayer can be applied to the family. In this prayer he asks that his unity with the Father involve the disciples (cf. Jn 17:11) and those who believe in their word (cf. Jn 17:20-21). The Christian family, as "domestic Church" (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11), is called to realize this ideal of perfect communion in a special way.

5. As we approach the conclusion of this year dedicated to meditation on God the Father, let us rediscover the family in the light of divine paternity. By contemplating God the Father we can deduce above all an urgency, particularly regarding the challenge of the present historical time.

To look at God the Father means to understand the family as the place of acceptance and promotion of life. It is the laboratory of fraternity where, with the help of the Christ's Spirit, "a new fraternity and solidarity, true reflection of the mystery of reciprocal donation and acceptance proper to the Holy Trinity" (Evangelium vitae, 76) is created among us.

From the renewal of the experience of the Christian family, the Church will be able to learn to cultivate, among all the members of the community, a more family-like dimension, adopting and promoting a more human and fraternal relational style (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 64).

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