Benedict XVI on Anthropological Foundation of the Family (Part 1)

Addresses Congress of the Diocese of Rome

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ROME, JUNE 9, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Monday in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, at the opening of the Ecclesial Congress of the Diocese of Rome. The theme of the congress was “Family and Christian Community: Formation of the Person and Transmission of the Faith.” Part 2 will appear Friday.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

I was very pleased to accept the invitation to open this diocesan congress with a reflection, above all because it gives me the possibility to meet with you, to have direct contact, and also because it enables me to help you reflect further on the meaning and objective of the pastoral program being followed by the Church of Rome.

I affectionately greet each of you bishops, priests, men and women religious, and in particular you, the laity and families, who consciously assume these tasks of Christian commitment and testimony which have their roots in the sacrament of baptism and, for those who are married, in that of marriage. My heartfelt thanks to the cardinal vicar and to the spouses Luca and Adriana Pasquale, for the words they addressed to me in your name.

This congress, and the pastoral year to which it will offer guidelines, constitute a new stage in the endeavor the Church has begun, based on the diocesan synod, with the citizen mission so cherished by our beloved Pope John Paul II, in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In that mission all the realities of our dioceses — parishes, religious communities, associations and movements — mobilized not only on the occasion of a mission to the people of Rome, but to be themselves “people of God on mission,” putting into practice the wise expression of John Paul II: “Parish, look for yourself and find yourself outside yourself”; that is, in places where people live. In this way, in the course of the citizen mission, many thousands of Christians of Rome, in the main laymen, became missionaries and took the word of faith in the first place to families of the diverse neighborhoods of the city and later to various workplaces, hospitals, schools and universities, and realms of culture and free time.

After the Holy Year, my beloved predecessor requested that you not interrupt this endeavor, and that you not disperse the apostolic energies awakened and the fruits of grace that were gathered. Because of this, since the year 2001, the fundamental pastoral orientation of the diocese has been to establish the mission permanently, characterizing in a more-determined missionary way the life and activities of the parishes and of each of the other ecclesial realities. First of all I want to tell you that I wish to confirm this option fully: It is ever more necessary and has no alternatives, in a social and cultural context in which multiple forces act that tend to distance us from the faith and Christian life.

For two years now, the missionary commitment of the Church of Rome has concentrated above all on the family, not only because this fundamental human reality is subjected today to multiple difficulties and threats, and therefore is in particular need of being evangelized and supported concretely, but also because Christian families constitute a decisive resource for education in the faith, the building of the Church as communion and its capacity of missionary presence in the most varied situations of life, as well as to leaven in a Christian sense the culture and social structures.

We will also continue with these guidelines in the forthcoming pastoral year and for this reason the theme of our congress is “Family and Christian Community: Formation of the Person and Transmission of the Faith.” The assumption with which one must begin to understand the mission of the family in the Christian community and its endeavors of formation of the person and transmission of the faith, continues to be always the meaning that marriage and the family have in the plan of God, Creator and Savior. This will be therefore the essence of my reflection this afternoon, referring to the teaching of the apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” (Part 2, Nos. 12-16).

Anthropological foundation of the family

Marriage and the family are not a casual sociological construct, fruit of particular historical and economic situations. On the contrary, the question of the right relationship between man and woman sinks its roots in the most profound essence of the human being, and can only find its answer in the latter. It cannot be separated from the always ancient and always new question of man about himself: Who am I? And this question, in turn, cannot be separated from the question about God: Does God exist? And, who is God? What is his face really like? The Bible’s answer to these two questions is unitary and consequential: Man is created in the image of God, and God himself is love. For this reason, the vocation to love is what makes man the authentic image of God: He becomes like God in the measure that he becomes someone who loves.

From this fundamental bond between God and man another is derived: The indissoluble bond between spirit and body. Man is, in fact, soul that expresses itself in the body and [the] body that is vivified by an immortal spirit. Also, the body of man and of woman has, therefore, so to speak, a theological character, it is not simply body, and what is biological in man is not only biological, but an expression and fulfillment of our humanity. In this way, human sexuality is not next to our being person, but belongs to it. Only when sexuality is integrated in the person does it succeed in giving itself meaning.

In this way, from the two bonds, that of man with God and — in man — that of the body with the spirit, arises a third bond: the one that exists between person and institution. The totality of man includes the dimension of time, and man’s “yes” goes beyond the present moment: In his totality, the “yes” means “always,” it constitutes the area of fidelity. Only in his interior can this faith grow which gives a future and allows the children, fruit of love, to believe in man and in his future in difficult times.

The freedom of the “yes” appears therefore as freedom capable of assuming what is definitive: The highest expression of freedom is not therefore the pursuit of pleasure, without ever arriving at a genuine decision. Seemingly this permanent openness appears to be the realization of freedom, but it is not true: The true expression of freedom is, on the contrary, the capacity to decide for a definitive gift, in which freedom, by surrendering itself, finds itself fully again.

Concretely, the personal and reciprocal “yes” of man and woman opens space for the future, for the authentic humanity of each one, and at the same time is destined to the gift of a new life. For this reason, this personal “yes” must necessarily be a “yes” that is also publicly responsible, with which the spouses assume the public responsibility of faithfulness, which also guarantees the future for the community. None of us belongs exclusively to himself: Therefore, each one is called to assume in his deepest self his own public responsibility. Marriage, as an institution, is not therefore an undue interference of society or of the authorities, an imposition from outside in the most private reality of life; it is on the contrary an intrinsic exigency of the pact of conjugal love and of the depth of the human person.

The different present forms of the dissolution of marriage, as well as free unions and “trial marriage,” including the pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are on the contrary expressions of an anarchic freedom that appears erroneously as man’s authentic liberation. A pseudo-freedom like this is based on a trivialization of the body, which inevitably includes the trivialization of man.

Its assumption is that man can make of himself what he likes: Thus his body becomes something secondary, which can be
manipulated from the human point of view, which can be used as one pleases. Libertinism, which appears as discovery of the body and its value, is in reality a dualism that makes the body contemptible, leaving it so to speak outside the authentic being and dignity of the person.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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