GENERAL AUDIENCE: On the Relationship Between the Church and the Family

“May the enthusiasm of the Synod Fathers, animated by the Holy Spirit, foster the impetus of a Church that abandons the old nets and returns to fish trusting in the word of her Lord.”

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

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

A few days ago the Synod of Bishops began on the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.” The family that follows the way of the Lord is fundamentally witnessing the love of God and merits, therefore, all the dedication of which the Church is capable. The Synod is called to interpret for today this solicitude and care of the Church. We accompany the Synodal course first of all with our prayer and our attention. And in this period, the catecheses will be reflections inspired by some aspects of the relation — which we can certainly say is indissoluble! — between the Church and the family, with the horizon open to the good of the entire human community.

A careful look at the daily life of the men and women of today shows immediately the need there is everywhere for a robust injection of family spirit. In fact, the style of relations — civil, economic, juridical, professional, of citizenship — seems very rational, formal, organized but also very “dehydrated,” arid, anonymous. At times it becomes unbearable. Although it wishes to be inclusive in its ways, in reality it abandons an increasingly greater number of people to loneliness and rejection.

This is why the family opens for the whole society a much more human prospect: it opens children’s eyes to life — and not only their sight but also all the other senses — representing a vision of human relation built on the free covenant of love. The family introduces to this need the bonds of fidelity, sincerity, trust, cooperation, respect; it encourages to project a habitable world and to believe in relations of trust, even in difficult conditions; it teaches to honor the word given, respect of individual persons, the sharing of personal and other limitations. And we are all aware of the irreplaceable family care for the smallest, most vulnerable, most wounded members and even for the most damaged in the conduct of their life. Whoever practices these attitudes in society, has assimilated them from the family spirit, certainly not from competition and the desire for self-fulfilment.

Well, despite knowing all this, the family is not given due weight — and recognition and support — in the political and economic organization of contemporary society. I would like to say more: not only does the family not have adequate recognition, but it no longer generates learning! Sometimes it could be said that, with all its science and its technology, modern society is not yet able to translate this knowledge into better ways of civil coexistence. Not only is the organization of common life increasingly hindered by a bureaucracy that is altogether foreign to fundamental human bonds, but, in fact, the social and political custom often shows signs of degradation — aggressiveness, vulgarity, contempt … –, which are well below the threshold of even minimal family education. In this situation, the opposite extremes of this brutalization of relations  — namely technocratic obtuseness and amoral familism  — unite and nourish one another. This is a paradox.

On this precise point, the Church singles out today the historic meaning of her mission in regard to the family and genuine family spirit: beginning with a careful revision of life, which concerns herself. It could be said that “family spirit” is a constitutional charter for the Church: so must Christianity appear and so must it be. It is written in clear letters: “You who were far off — says Saint Paul — […] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). The Church is and must be the family of God.

When Jesus called Peter to follow him, he told him that he would make him a “fisher of men”, and for this, a new type of nets is needed. We could say that today families are one of the most important nets for the mission of Peter and of the Church. This is not a net that makes us prisoners. On the contrary, it frees from the evil waters of abandonment and indifference, which drown many human beings in the sea of loneliness and indifference. Families know well the dignity of feeling themselves children and not slaves or strangers, or just a number of an identity card.

From here, from the family, Jesus begins again his passage among human beings, to persuade them that God has not forgotten them. From here Peter gets the vigor for his ministry. From here, obeying the word of the Master, the Church goes out to fish in the deep certain that, if this happens, the fishing will be miraculous. May the enthusiasm of the Synod Fathers, animated by the Holy Spirit, foster the impetus of a Church that abandons the old nets and returns to fish trusting in the word of her Lord. Let us pray intensely for this! As for the rest, Christ has promised and encourages us: if even evil fathers do not refuse bread to their hungry children, just think if God will not give the Spirit to those that — though imperfect as they are — asked for it with impassioned insistence (cf. Luke 11:9-13)! Thank you!

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During the Synod of Bishops,

I would like to reflect on some aspects of the profound relationship between the Church and the family, with a view to the common good of society. When families journey along the way of the Lord, they offer a fundamental witness to God’s love, and they deserve the full commitment and support of the Church. In the family we learn of the bonds which unite us, of fidelity, sincerity, trust, cooperation and respect, even when difficulties abound. Indeed it is in family life that the most vulnerable of society are cared for. And yet, political and economic life today does not always support the family, and seems to have lost the ability to incorporate the virtues of family life into the common life of society. Here the Church is called to exercise her mission by first examining to what extent she is living as the family of God. Like Saint Peter, the Church is called to be a fisher of men, and so too needs a new type of net. Families are this net. They free us from the sea of loneliness and indifference, so that we can all experience the freedom of being children of God. May the Church go out into the deep, confident that the catch will be great. And may the Synod Fathers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, encourage the Church to cast out her net with confidence and faith in the Word of God.

Pope Francis (in Italian):

I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, the Netherlands, Norway, Nigeria, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. I ask you to continue to pray for the Synod on the Family, and to recommit your families to Christ. May you always be witnesses to his mercy and love in the world. God bless you all!

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I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet particularly Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia and the collaborators of the Pontifical Council for the Family, thanking them for their commitment in the organization of the 8th World Meeting of Families at Philadelphia.

I am happy to receive the participants in the course promoted by the Divine Word Missionaries and the Italian Association of Families with Sick Affected by the Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome. I greet the Italian Rescue Corps of the Order of Malta; the military men of Caserta, Avellino and Naples and the members of the Italian Association of Nuclear Medicine. I hope that the
visit to the tombs of the Apostles is for all an occasion to reinvigorate the joy of the faith.

A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today we celebrate the Memoria of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary. Dear young people, may the hope that dwells in Mary’s heart infuse courage in you in face of the important choices of life; dear sick, may the Mother’s fortitude at the foot of the cross support you in the most difficult moments; dear newlyweds, may the maternal tenderness of Her who received Jesus in her womb accompany the new family life you have just begun.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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