Benedict XVI on Anthropological Foundation of the Family (Part 2)

Addresses Congress of Diocese of Rome

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ROME, JUNE 10, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the second part of an address Benedict XVI delivered Monday in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, when presiding 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.»

A translation of Part 1 appeared Thursday.

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Marriage and Family in the History of Salvation

The truth of marriage and the family, which sinks its roots in the truth of man, has found its application in the history of salvation, at whose center is the word: «God loves his people.» In fact, biblical revelation is above all the expression of a history of love, the history of God’s covenant with men. For this reason, God has been able to assume the history of love and of the union of a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, as symbol of the history of salvation. The ineffable fact, the mystery of God’s love for men, takes its linguistic form from the vocabulary of marriage and the family, both positive and negative: God’s approach to his people is presented with the language of conjugal love, while Israel’s infidelity, its idolatry, is designated as adultery and prostitution.

In the New Testament, God radicalizes his love until he becomes himself, through his Son, flesh of our flesh, authentic man. Thus, God’s union with man has assumed its supreme, irreversible and definitive form. And in this way, the definitive form of human love is also drawn, that reciprocal «yes» that cannot be revoked. It does not alienate man, but liberates him from the alienations of history to return him to the truth of creation. The sacramental character that marriage assumes in Christ means, therefore, that the gift of creation has been raised to the grace of redemption. Christ’s grace is not superimposed from outside of man’s nature, it does not violate it, but liberates and restores it, by raising it beyond its frontiers. And just as the Incarnation of the Son of God reveals its true meaning in the cross, so also authentic human love is surrender of oneself; it cannot exist if it avoids the cross.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, this profound bond between God and man, between the love of God and human love, is also confirmed by some negative tendencies and developments, whose weight we all experience. The degradation of human love, the suppression of the authentic capacity to love appears in our time as the most effective weapon for man to crush God, to remove God from man’s sight and heart. However, the desire to «liberate» God’s nature makes one lose sight of the very reality of nature, including man’s nature, reducing it to an ensemble of functions, which can be disposed of according to one’s pleasure to build a so-called better world and a happier humanity. But on the contrary, the plan of the Creator is destroyed as is the truth of our nature.


Also in the procreation of children, marriage reflects its divine model, the love of God for man. In man and woman, paternity and maternity, as happens with the body and with love, the biological aspect is not circumscribed: life is only given totally when with birth, love and meaning are also given, which make it possible to say yes to this life. Precisely because of this, it is clear to what point the systematic closing of the union itself to the gift of life and, even more, the suppression or manipulation of unborn life is contrary to human love, to the profound vocation of man and woman.
However, no man and no woman, on their own and by their own strength, can give love and the meaning of life adequately to their children. To be able to say to someone: «your life is good, even if I don’t know your future,» needs a superior authority and credibility which the individual cannot give himself on his own. The Christian knows that that authority is conferred to that larger family that God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, has created in the history of men, namely, to the Church. It acknowledges the action of that eternal and indestructible love that assures to the life of each one of us a permanent meaning, even if we do not know the future.

For this reason, the building of each of the Christian families is framed in the context of the great family of the Church, which supports and accompanies it, and guarantees that there is a meaning and that in the future there will be the «yes» of the Creator. And, reciprocally, the Church is built by families, «small domestic Churches,» as Vatican Council II called them («Lumen Gentium,» 11; «Apostolicam Actuositatem,» 11), rediscovering an ancient patristic expression (St. John Chrysostom, «In Genesim serm,» VI,2; VII,1). In this connection, «Familiaris Consortio» affirms that «Christian marriage … constitutes the natural place within which is carried out the insertion of the human person in the great family of the Church» (No. 15).

Family and Church

An obvious consequence derives from all of this: the family and the Church, specifically the parishes and the other forms of ecclesial community, are called to the most profound collaboration in that fundamental task that is constituted, inseparably, by the formation of the person and the transmission of the faith. We know well that for an authentic educational endeavor to take place, it is not enough to communicate a correct theory or doctrine. Something far greater and more human is needed — that closeness, lived daily, which is proper to love and that finds its most propitious space above all in the family community, and afterwards in a parish or movement or ecclesial association, in which people are found who pay attention to their brothers, in particular, to children and youths, as well as to adults, the elderly, the sick, and families themselves because, in Christ, they love them. The great patron of educators, St. John Bosco, reminded his spiritual sons that «education is something of the heart and that God alone is its proprietor» («Epistolario,» 4, 209).

The figure of the witness is central in the educational endeavor, and especially in education in the faith, which is the summit of the person’s formation and his most appropriate horizon: the witness becomes a point of reference precisely in the measure in which he is able to defend the hope that is the basis of his life (see 1 Peter 3:15), and in the measure that the witness is personally involved with the truth he proposes. The witness, moreover, does not point to himself, but points to something, or rather to someone greater, whom he has encountered and experienced as trustworthy goodness. Thus, every educator and witness finds an unsurpassable model in Jesus Christ, the great witness of the Father, who said nothing on his own, but spoke exactly as the Father had taught him (see John 8:28).

This is the reason why at the basis of the Christian person’s formation and of the transmission of the faith is necessarily prayer, personal friendship with Christ and contemplation in him of the Father’s face. And the same may be said of all our missionary commitment, in particular, our family pastoral program: may the Family of Nazareth be, therefore, for our families and communities the object of constant and confident prayer, as well as model of life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, and especially you, dear priests: I am aware of the generosity and selflessness with which you serve the Lord and his Church. Your daily work for the formation in the faith of new generations, in profound union with the sacraments of Christian initiation, as well as by preparation for marriage and support of families on their journey, which is often not easy, in particular the great task of the education of children, is the fundamental way to always regenerate the Church again and also to vivify the social fabric of our beloved city of Rome.

Threat of relati

Continue, therefore, without allowing yourselves to be discouraged by the difficulties you meet. The educational relationship is, by its very nature, something delicate: it implies the other’s freedom who, even with gentleness, is forced to make a decision. Neither parents, nor priests, nor catechists, nor other educators can substitute the freedom of the child, the boy, the youth whom they direct. And the Christian proposal interpolates freedom very profoundly, calling it to faith and conversion. A particularly insidious obstacle in the educational endeavor today is the massive presence in our society and culture of a relativism that, by not acknowledging anything as definitive, only has as its ultimate measure the «I» itself, with its tastes and which, with the appearance of freedom, becomes for each one a prison, as it separates from others, making each one find himself shut in within his own «I.» In such a relativist horizon, therefore, an authentic education is not possible. Without the light of truth, sooner or later every person is condemned to doubt the goodness of his own life and the relationships that constitute it, the validity of his commitment to build with others something in common.

It is clear, therefore, that not only must we try to surmount the relativism in our work of formation of persons, but we are also called to confront its destructive dominance in society and culture. For this reason, it is very important that, in addition to the word of the Church, the testimony and public commitment of Christian families is given, in particular, to reaffirm the inviolability of human life from conception to its natural end, the unique and irreplaceable value of the family based on marriage and the need for legislative and administrative measures that support families in the task of begetting and educating children, essential task for our common future. For this commitment of yours I also give you my heartfelt thanks.

Priesthood and consecrated life

The last message I would like to leave with you concerns attention to vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life. We all know the need the Church has! For these vocations to be born and to mature, for the persons called to keep themselves always worthy of their vocation, prayer is, above all, decisive; it must never be lacking in each of the families and in the Christian community. But also fundamental is the testimony of life of priests, men and women religious, the joy they express for having been called by the Lord. And, essential likewise is the example that children receive within their own family and the families’ conviction that the children’s vocations are also for them a great gift of the Lord. The option for virginity for love of God and of brothers, which is required for the priesthood and consecrated life, is accompanied by the appreciation of Christian marriage: one and the other, with two different and complementary forms, make visible in a certain sense the mystery of the covenant between God and his people.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I commend these reflections to you as a contribution to your work in the evenings of the congress and later during the next pastoral year. I pray that the Lord will give you courage and enthusiasm so that our Church of Rome, every parish, every religious community, association or movement will participate intensely in the joy and effort of the mission and in this way every family and the whole Christian community will rediscover in the love of the Lord the key that opens the door of hearts and that makes possible an authentic education in the faith and in the formation of persons. My affection and blessing accompany you today and in the future.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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