General Audience: On Man and Woman as Companions

«The social devaluation of the stable and generative alliance of man and woman is certainly a loss for all»

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Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave at this morning’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.

In the previous catechesis on the family, I reflected on the first passage of the creation of the human being, in the first chapter of Genesis, where it is written: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Today I would like to complete the reflection with the second passage, which we find in the second chapter. Here we read that the Lord, after having created heaven and earth, “formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” He is the pinnacle of creation. Then God put man in a most beautiful garden so that he would till and keep it.

The Holy Spirit, who has inspired the whole Bible, suggests for a moment the image of man alone, and that he is lacking something without woman. And he suggests God’s thought, almost God’s sentiment, who looks at him, who sees Adam alone in the garden: he is free, he is lord … but he is alone. And God sees that this “is not good,” it is as though communion is lacking, plenitude is lacking. “It is not good” – God says – and adds: “I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Then God presents all the animals to man; man gives each one of them its name – and this is another image of man’s lordship over creation — however, he does not find in any animal one that is like him. Thus, man continues alone.

When, finally, God presents woman to him, exulting man recognizes that creature, and only that one, which is part of him: “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Finally, there is a reflection of himself, a reciprocity.

And when a person – it is an example to understand this well – wants to shake hands with another, he must have another before him: if one puts out one’s hand and has nothing, the hand is there, but reciprocity is lacking. So was man, he was lacking something to reach his plenitude, he was lacking reciprocity.

Woman is not a “replica” of man; she comes directly from the creative gesture of God. The image of the “rib” does not express inferiority or subordination but, on the contrary, that man and woman are of the same substance and are complementary. And the fact that – still in the parable – God molded woman while man slept, stresses in fact that she is in no way creature of man, but of God. And it also suggests something else: To find woman, and we can say to find love in woman, to find woman, man must first dream about her and then he finds her.

God’s trust in man and woman, to whom he entrusts the earth, is generous, direct and full. However, it is here where the Evil One introduces in his mind suspicion, incredulity, mistrust and finally disobedience to the commandment that protected them. They fall into that delirium of omnipotence that contaminates everything and destroys harmony. We also feel it within ourselves, so many times, all of us.

Sin generates mistrust and division between man and woman. Their relationship is threatened by thousands of ways of prevarication and submission, of deceitful seduction and humiliating arrogance, even the most dramatic and violent. History bears the imprints. Let us think, for instance, of the negative excesses of patriarchal cultures. Let us think of the many forms of machismo, where woman is considered to be second class. Let us think of the instrumentalization and merchandising of the feminine body in the present media culture. However, let us also think of the recent epidemic of mistrust, skepticism and even hostility that is spreading in our culture – in particular beginning with a comprehensible mistrust of women – in relation to an alliance between man and woman that is capable at the same time of refining the intimacy of communion and of guarding the dignity of the difference.

If we do not find a wave of sympathy for this alliance, capable of establishing the new generations to repair the mistrust and the indifference, children will come into the world ever more uprooted from the maternal womb. The social devaluation of the stable and generative alliance of man and woman is certainly a loss for all. We must reassess marriage and the family! And the Bible says a beautiful thing: man finds woman, they find one another, and man must leave something to find her fully. And for this, man will leave his father and his mother to go with her. It is beautiful! This means to begin a journey. Man is all for woman and woman is all for man.

The care of this alliance of man and woman — also if they are sinners and are wounded, confused or humiliated, mistrustful and uncertain — is therefore for us believers a demanding and exciting vocation, in the present condition. The same passage of creation and of sin, at the end, gives us a most beautiful icon: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.” It is an image of tenderness to that sinful couple that leaves us with our mouth open: the tenderness of God for man and for woman. It is an image of paternal custody of the human couple. God himself takes care of and protects his masterpiece. 

[Translation by ZENIT] [Here is the English-language summary read at the audience:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: Continuing our catechesis on the family, we recall God’s creation of man from the ground. He is placed in the garden, where he is to care for creation. Yet God sees that man is alone, and so he creates woman, someone complementary with whom man can share his life. Man and woman are created to live a life of reciprocity, to enter into a covenant together. Yet sin introduces discord into their relationship, lack of trust and suspicion. We see throughout history the fruit of this sin, especially towards women – oppression, violence and exploitation. Most recently, this mistrust and scepticism has led our culture to disregard the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, that covenant which deepens communion and safeguards the dignity of their uniqueness. When the stable and fruitful covenant between a man and a woman is devalued by society, it is a loss for everyone, especially the young. For all our sins and weaknesses, our vocation is to care for the covenant of marriage. It is a vital and energizing vocation, through which we cooperate with our heavenly Father, who himself always cares for and protects this great gift.

I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from Ireland, Finland, Norway, South Africa, Australia, China, Japan, Canada and the United States. May the Risen Lord confirm you in faith and make you witnesses of his love and mercy. May God bless you all!

 [Original text: English] [At the end of the audience, the Pope offered the following greeting in Italian:]

I address a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I am happy to receive the young Sisters gathered for the formative Congress at the USMI, the Religious of the Most Holy Sacrament and the seminarians from several Italian dioceses: I hope that you will be able to give joyful witness of the vocation received, aware that the missionary commitment does not depend only on our efforts, but above all on the grace that the Lord lavishes will full hands.

Observed today is Earth Day. I exhort all to see the world with the eyes of God the Creator: the earth is the environment to safeguard and the garden to till. May men’s relation with nature not be guided by avidity, manipulation and exploitation, but preserve the divine harmony between creatures and creation in the logic of respect and care, to put it at the service of brothers, also of the future generations.

A particular thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Learn from the Virgi
n Mary to live this Eastertide, making room for listening to the Word of God and for the practice of charity, living with joy your membership in the Church, the family of the disciples of the Risen Christ.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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