Letter to Families
February 2, 1994
Pope John Paul II
LETTER TO FAMILIES FOR THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE FAMILY
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.(1)
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(2) of people's daily
pilgrimage, firmly convinced that it was Christ himself that set her on all
these paths. Christ entrusted man to the Church; he entrusted man to her as the
"way" of her mission and 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 labored 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."(3) If, in fact, Christ
"fully discloses man to himself,"(4) 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."(5) 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
Year of the Family
3. For these very reasons the Church joyfully welcomes the decision of
the United Nations 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
XXIII 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 toward Nazareth,
where it was officially inaugurated this past Dec. 26 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(6) 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."(7) 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
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."(8) 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
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"(9) May all families be able to feel the loving and caring embrace
of their brothers and sisters!
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 programs 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 glamorize, 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,"(10) 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. 3:15).
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 (Gn. 1:26), God
creates by the power of his word: "Let there be...!" (e.g., Gn. 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" (Gn. 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" (Gn. 1:27)
God speaks to these newly created beings and he blesses them: "Be
fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gn. 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
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 humanity—whether
of small communities or of society as a whole—is marked 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" (Gn. 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
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."(11)
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" (Gn. 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."(12) 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 toward 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 them—and 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 toward 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 toward
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 counseling centers 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
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.
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. Gn. 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
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
In marriage man and woman are so firmly united as to become—to use the
words of the Book of Genesis—"one flesh" (Gn. 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" (Gn. 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.(14) 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 toward a new life, toward 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. Gn. 2:23), but an image and likeness of God—a
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.
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,(15) 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
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
As the council affirms, man is "the only creature on earth whom God
willed for its own sake."(17) 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.(18) 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"
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.(19)
What then is the relationship between the life of the person and his sharing in
the life of the Trinity? St. Augustine provides us with the answer in his
celebrated phrase: "Our heart is restless until it rests in you."(20) 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.(21) 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 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 honor you all the days of my life" (22). 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.(23) 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, honor, 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 ministers of the sacrament of matrimony in the Church. St.
Paul teaches that this mutual commitment of theirs is a "great mystery" (Eph.
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
children—two of the primary ends of the family—are 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 ties.
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 grandchild.
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 lot
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).(24) 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."
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."(25) This might appear to be
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
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" (Gn. 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: 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.
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. (26) 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 woman 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 makeup of certain persons. The common good of the
whole of society dwells in man; he is, as we recalled, "the way of the
Church."(27) Man is first of all the "glory of God": "Gloria Dei vivens homo,"
in the celebrated words of St. Irenaeus, (28) 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 fulfill 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 indeed—more than any other human
reality—the 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 of life."(29)
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 labor: "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 birth pangs;
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 St.
Irenaeus' 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
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 Tm. 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. (30) 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
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 parents—father and
mother—by 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.(31)
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. St. 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 Tm. 4:2), and not to be daunted by the fact that "sound teaching is no
longer endured" (cf. 2 Tm. 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 vigor,
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
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."(32) 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" (Gn. 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
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 marvelously 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.
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,"(33) 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.
"(34) 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
center and the heart of the civilization of love.
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
himself 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 Christ—the vine from
which the branches draw nourishment—is 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
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 "splendor of truth" ("Veritatis Splendor") has
proved so meaningful and important for the Church and for the world—especially
in the West. Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in
marriage and in the family can regain its splendor will the building of the
civilization of love truly begin and will it then be possible to speak
concretely—as the council did—about "promoting the dignity of marriage and the
Why is the splendor 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
programs 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 defenseless.
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
countersign. 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 in society.
Love Is Demanding
14. The love which the apostle Paul celebrates in the First Letter to
the Corinthians—the 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 St. Thomas, is by its
nature "diffusive." (36) 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" if it yields to "jealousies," or if it is "boastful
... arrogant or rude" (cf. 1 Cor. 13:5-6). True love, St. 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
savior of the world.
Meditating on the 13th 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 St. Paul.
The hymn to love in the First Letter to the Corinthians remains the Magna Carta
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 each family.
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 in giving himself. This is the joy about
which Christ speaks (cf. Jn. 15:11; 16:20, 22).
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 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 conditioning, means
nothing more than to make the individual a slave to those human instincts which
St. Thomas calls "passions of the soul."(37) 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 program of utilitarianism, based on an individualistic understanding
of freedom—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, fresh wounds.
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 St. 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).(38)
Fourth Commandment: "Honor Your Father and Mother"
15. The Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue deals with the family and
its interior unity—its 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: "honor" (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
"Honor 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. "Honor 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, honor 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 honor and love is a deep one. Honor, at its very center, 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
neighbor. And who is more of a neighbor than one's own family members, parents
Is the system of interpersonal relations indicated by the Fourth
Commandment one-sided? Does it bind us only to honor our parents? Taken
literally, it does. But indirectly we can speak of the honor owed to children by
their parents. "To honor" 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."
Honor is essentially an attitude of unselfishness. It could be said that it is
"a sincere gift of person to person," and in that sense honor converges with
love. If the Fourth Commandment demands that honor 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 honor (and the love) of your children! Do not let the divine
command that you be honored fall into a moral vacuum! Ultimately then we are
speaking of mutual honor. The commandment "honor your father and mother"
indirectly tells parents: Honor 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: Honor them so that you will
have a long life. In any event, this does not lessen the fundamental meaning of
the "imperative" honor, which by its nature suggests an attitude of
unselfishness. To honor never means "calculate the benefits." It is difficult,
on the other hand, not to acknowledge the fact that an attitude of mutual honor
among members of the family community also brings certain advantages. Honor is
certainly something useful, just as every true good is "useful. "
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, "honor." All human rights are ultimately
fragile and ineffective, if at their root they lack the command to honor; 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 family—human as the
son or daughter of one's country, a citizen of the world. The God who gave
humanity the Fourth Commandment "benevolent" toward 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, "Honor 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
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
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" (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 family comes.
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
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 them.
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?"(39) 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 onto 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 St. 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 they 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 likewise is 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 intrinsic and
absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities. The
principle of subsidiarity 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 psychophysical 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, "Honor 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 honor 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 honor 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 honor,
the recognition and respect due to man precisely because he is a man, is the
basic condition for every authentic educational process.
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 family community.
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."(40) Only such a union can be recognized
and ratified as a "marriage" in society. Other interpersonal unions which do not
fulfill the above conditions cannot be recognized, despite certain growing
trends which represent a serious threat to the future of the family and of
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
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" society—those 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 fulfill 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
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. None the less, 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
toward the common good.(41) 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: (43) 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 labor 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 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 world.
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 of life. Jesus proclaims this truth by his
presence at the wedding in Cana and by working his first "sign": water changed
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 was categorical:
"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" (Gn.
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" (Mt 19:8).
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.
But it is humanly difficult to accept and to live this marvelous 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 Pt.
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 the
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 has 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. Rv. 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 Pt. 3:15), since the Good Shepherd has put that
hope in your hearts through the Gospel. You should be ready to follow Christ
toward 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 Eucharist.
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. Rv. 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. Rv. 1:17-18).
The Great Mystery
19. St. 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 New Testament tradition, nonetheless represents a new approach which will
later find expression in the Church's magisterium.
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. St. 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 the 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 St. 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 of
The bridegroom then is the very same God who became man. In the old
covenant Yahweh appears as the bridegroom of Israel, the chosen people—a
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. 13:1).
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
splendor, 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" (L. 11:44; cf. 1 Pt. 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.
St. 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, St. 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" (Gn. 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 an 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. Gn. 2:24; Eph. 5:31-32), that is, in the reality of marriage and the
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 community of persons and of generations. Could we
ever 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.(45) 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 St. Paul continues his
exhortation by echoing the Fourth Commandment: "Children, obey your parents in
the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor 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. 6:14). 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.
St. 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.(46) 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.(47)
In a certain sense this statement of the Second Vatican Council is the reply, so
long awaited, which the Church has given to modern rationalism.
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 bodies of animals are
used—and this actually occurs for example in experimentation on embryos and
fetuses—we will inevitably arrive at a dreadful ethical defeat.
Within a similar anthropological perspective, the human family is facing
the challenge of a new Manichaeism, 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 an 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"
(Gn. 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" (Sng. 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
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.(48)
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 the 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, comes 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 St. 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 that 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. Tb. 8:6). In the
new covenant, St. 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 onto 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" (Sng. 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 mystery.
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 a 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, St. 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.(49)
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
programs 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
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
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 everyone 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 his dignity.
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 other—to be "true in good times and in bad, and to love
and honor 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 St. 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 40 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 2 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 hometown, 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.(50) 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."(51) 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 fruit."
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
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. Pro-life 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.(52) 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 St. John of the Cross wrote: "In the evening of life we shall
be judged on love."(53) 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 good gift.
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 nations and all humanity. Christ's words,
"You did not welcome me," also touch social institutions, governments and
Pascal wrote that "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.
"(54) 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
vigor 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 toward 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.(55) Perceptive analyses were developed
in the many addresses given by Pope Pius XII to newlyweds,(56) 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."(57)
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.(58) 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
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
center 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."(59) This is why the present letter has sought to draw
inspiration from the apostolic exhortation 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
Pt. 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 and now!
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 Savior;(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 forever" (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 St. Peter's, Feb. 2, the feast of the presentation of
the Lord, in the year 1994, the 16th of my pontificate.
1. Cf. encyclical "Redemptor Hominis," 14: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 71
2. Cf. Vatican Council II, "Gaudium et Spes," 1.
3. Ibid., 22.
6. Cf. "Lumen Gentium," 11.
7. "Gaudium et Spes," Part II., Chapt. 1.
8. Roman Ritual, Rite of Celebration of a Marriage, 74, editio typica
altera, 1991, p. 26.
9. Cf. apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio," 79-84: A.A.S.
74 (1982), 180-186.
10. Cf. Rite of Celebration of a Marriage, 74.
11. "Gaudium et Spes," 48.
12. "Familiaris Consortio," 69.
13. "Gaudium et Spes," 24.
14. Rite of Celebration of a Marriage, 60.
15. "Familiaris Consortio," 28.
16. Cf. Pius XII, encyclical "Humani Generis: (August 12, 1950),
A.A.S. 42 (1950), 574.
17. "Gaudium et Spes," 24.
20. "Confessions," I, 1.
21. Cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 50.
22. Rite of Celebration of a Marriage, 62.
23. Ibid., 61.
24. St. Thomas Aquinas, "Summa Theologiae," I, q. 5, a. 4, ad. 2.
25. "Gaudium et Spes," 24.
26. Cf. encyclical "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," 25: A.A.S. 80
27. "Redemptor Hominis," 14: A.A.S. 71 (1979), 884-885; cf.
encyclical "Centesimus Annus", 53, A.A.S. 83 (1991), 859.
28. "Adversus Haereses" IV, 20, 7.
29. "Centesimus Annus," 39.
30. Cf. "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," 25.
31. Cf. Paul VI, encyclical "Humanae Vitae, " 12: A.A.S. 60
(1968), 488-489; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2366.
32. "Gaudium et Spes," 24.
33. Cf. Homily for the Closing of the Holy Year (Dec. 25, 1975):
A.A.S. 68 (1976), 145.
34. 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. "Lumen Gentium," II, 40 and 41.
39. Rite of Celebration of a Marriage, 60.
40. Code of Canon Law, Canon 1055.1; Catechism of the Catholic Church,
41. Cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 74.
42. Cf. "Centesimus Annus," 57.
43. Cf. encyclical "Laborem Exercens," 19: A.A.S. 73 (1981),
44. Cf. "Adversus Haereses," III, 10, 2; St. Augustine, "De Incarnatione
Verbi," 54; Sermo 185, 3; Sermo 194, 3, 3.
45. Cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 24.
46. "Corpore et anima unus," as the council so clearly and felicitously
stated: ibid., 14.
47. Ibid., 22.
48. Cf. "Lumen Gentium," 56-59.
49. Cf. Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pastoral
Instruction on Social Communications, 7 (Feb. 22, 1992).
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 (d: c. 405) as "the flowers of the martyrs whom, at the very
threshold of their lives, the persecutor of Christ cut down as the whirlwind
does to roses still in bud."
51. St. Athanasius, "De Incarnatione Verbi," 54.
52. Cf. "Veritatis Splendor." 84.
53. Words of Light and Love, 59.
54. Blaise Pascal, Pensees, Le Mystere de Jesus, 553 (ed. Br.).
55. Cf. in particular 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 (Oct. 29, 1951), in
"Discourse Radiomessaggi," XIII, 333-353.
57. Cf. Address to the Council of the Laity, Oct. 2, 1974, in A.A.S.
66 (1974), 568.
58. Cf. "Lumen Gentium," 40.
59. Cf. Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, Homily at Jasna Gora (Aug. 26, 1961).
60. Cf. "Lumen Gentium," 15.
61. Cf. ibid., 16.