General Audience: On the Gift of Children

«A society of children who do not honor their parents is a society without honor»

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Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After having reflected on the figure of the mother and the father, in this catechesis on the family I would like to talk about the child or, better, the children. I take my cue from a beautiful image of Isaiah. The Prophet writes: “your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be carried in the arms. Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and rejoice” (60:4-5a).  It is a splendid image of the happiness that is realized in the reunion of parents and children, who walk together towards a future of freedom and peace, after a long time of privations and separation, when the Hebrews found themselves far from their homeland.

In fact, there is a close connection between the hope of a people and the harmony between generations. We should think of this well. There is a close connection between the hope of a people and the harmony between generations.The joy of children makes the hearts of their parents palpitate and re-opens the future.  Children are the joy of the family and of society. They are not a problem of reproductive biology, or one of the many ways of fulfilling themselves, and much less so, are they a possession of their parents. No. Children are a gift: do you understand? Children are a gift. Each one is unique and unrepeatable and, at the same time, unmistakeably connected to his roots. In fact, according to God’s plan, to be a son and a daughter means to bear in oneself the memory and the hope of a love that has realized itself precisely by kindling the life of another original and new human being. And for parents, each child are unique, different, and diverse.

Allow me to recall a family memory. I remember my mother would tell us – we were five [children]-: «I have five children.» When they asked her: «Which one is your favourite, she would answer: «I have five children, like five fingers. [He shows his fingers to the crowd] If you hit this one, it hurts me; if you hit this other one, it hurts me. All five will hurt me. They are all my children, but they are all different like the finger on a hand.» And that is how the family is! Children are different, but they are all children.

A child is loved because he is a child: not because he is beautiful, or because he is like this or like that; no, it is because he is your child! Not because they think like me or fulfil my wishes.A child is a child: a life generated by us but destined to him, to his good, to the good of the family, of society and of the whole of humanity.

From here stems also the depth of the human experience of being a son and daughter, which enables us to discover the most gratuitous dimension of love, which endlessly amazes us. It is the beauty of being loved first: children are loved before they arrive. How many times I meet mothers in the square who show their bellies and ask me for a blessing…these children are loved before coming into the world. And this is free, this is love; they are loved before birth, like the love of God who always loves us first. They are loved before doing anything to merit it, before being able to talk or think, in fact, before coming into the world! To be children is the fundamental condition to know the love of God, who is the ultimate source of this authentic miracle. In the soul of every child, in as much as vulnerable, God puts the seal of this love, which is the basis of his personal dignity, a dignity that nothing and no one can destroy.

Today it seems more difficult for children to imagine their future. Parents – I referred to it in preceding catecheses – have perhaps taken a step backwards and children have become more uncertain about taking their steps forward. We can learn the good relation between generations from our Heavenly Father, who leaves each one of us free but never leaves us alone. And if we make a mistake, He continues to follow us with patience without diminishing His love for us.

Our Heavenly Father does not take steps backwards in his love for us, never! He always goes in front of us and if we can’t go forward, He waits for us, but he doesn’t go back. He wants His children to be courageous and to take their steps forward.

For their part, the children must not be afraid of the commitment to build a new world: it is right for them to desire that it be better than the one they have received! However, this must be done without arrogance, without presumption. One must be able to recognize the value of children, and parents must always be rendered honor.

The fourth Commandment asks children – and we are all children! – to honor their father and their mother (Cf. Exodus 20:12). This Commandment comes immediately after those that concern God Himself. In fact, it contains something sacred, something that is at the root of all other kinds of respect between men. And, added in the biblical formulation of the fourth Commandment is: “that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” The virtuous connection between the generations is guarantee of the future, and it is the guarantee of a truly human history. A society of children who do not honor their parents is a society without honor; when parents are not honoured, one loves their own honor! It is a society destined to fill itself with arid and avid young people. However, a society that is greedy with its generation, which does not like to surround itself with children, that considers them above all a worry, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society, because they do not want children, they don’t have children, the birthrate never reaches one percent. Why? Each one of us must think and respond. If a family that is full of children is regarded as if it were a weight, there is something that’s not right! The generation of children must be responsible, as the Encyclical Humanae vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VIalso teaches, but to have more children cannot become automatically an irresponsible choice. To not have children is a selfish choice. Life rejuvenates and acquires energies by multiplying itself: it is enriched, not impoverished! The children learn to take charge of their family, they mature in the sharing of their sacrifices, they grow in the appreciation of their gifts. The happy experience of fraternity animates the respect and the care of parents, to whom we owe our gratitude.

Many of you here present have children and we are all children. Let us do something, a minute of silence. Each one of us think in their hearts to their children – if you have them -; think in silence. And let us all think about our parents and thank God for the gift of life. In silence, those who have children, think of them, and everyone think about our parents. [Moment of silence] May the Lord bless our parents and bless your children.

May Jesus, the eternal Son, who was made a son in time, help us to find the way of a new radiation of this very simple and very great human experience, which is being children. In the multiplication of generation there is a mystery of enrichment of the life of all, which comes from God Himself. We must rediscover it, challenging the prejudice, and live it, in faith and in perfect joy. And I tell you: how beautiful it is when I pass among you and see the moms and dads who raise up their children to be bless. This is an almost divine gesture. Thank you for doing that!

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Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the family, we now reflect on the importance and role of children. The prophecy of Isaiah which we listened to at the beginning of this Audience speaks of the joy and hope which children bring to their parents. Children are the fruit of their parents’ love and a gift of God, whose own infinite love bestows inviolable dignity and worth upon each person who comes into
the world. The Fourth Commandment, which enjoins respect for parents, invites us to see in the relationship between the generations a sacred bond which affects every other relationship and ensures a sound future for society as a whole. The Church’s concern for the responsible and generous transmission of God’s gift of life is thus linked to the health of society, which is strengthened, renewed and enriched by the presence of the young. May Jesus, Son of God and son of a human family, help us, and society as a whole, to value the gift of life, the dignity of the family, and our responsibility to help young people look to the future with joy, hope and courage.

Pope Francis (in Italian):

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke joy and peace in the Lord Jesus. God bless you all!

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I follow with concern the news arriving from Lampedusa, where other dead are being counted among the immigrants because of the cold throughout the crossing of the Mediterranean. I wish to assure of my prayer for the victims and I encourage again to solidarity, so that no one is lacking the necessary help.

Finally, I invite to pray for the Consistory that will take place in the forthcoming days. May the Holy Spirit help the works of the College of Cardinals and illumine the new Cardinals and their service to the Church.

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I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet the participants in the congress promoted by the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi and the schoolchildren, especially the Lyceums of Ronciglione and Bassano Romano, the Cesare Arici Institute of Brescia and the Martyrs of Hungary School of Scafati. I greet the members of the Parents Associations of Pediatric Oncology, the little bedridden of the Institute of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the numerous groups of UNITALSI. I encourage all to grow in love of the Lord, in wisdom of heart and in generous service to their neighbor suffering in body and in spirit.

A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes and the 23rdWorld Day of the Sick is being observed. Dear young people, dispose yourselves to be “eyes for the blind and feet for the cripple”; dear sick, feel yourselves supported always by the prayer of the Church, and you, dear newlyweds, love life which is always sacred, even when it is marked by fragility and sickness.

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