On Thursday, Pope Francis received in audience members of the Academic Community of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, on the occasion of the opening of the new Academic Year.
Here is a ZENIT working translation of the Pope’s address.
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Most Reverend Excellency,
I am especially happy to open together with you this new Academic Year of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, the thirty-fifth of its foundation. I thank the Grand Chancellor, His Excellency Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, and the Principal, Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri for their words and I extend my gratitude also to all those who have headed the Institute.
The farsighted intuition of Saint john Paul II, who greatly desired this academic institution, can be even better recognized and appreciated today in its fruitfulness and timeliness. His wise discernment of the signs of the times restored with vigor the attention of the Church and of human society itself, to the profundity and delicacy of the bonds that are generated from the conjugal alliance of man and woman. The development that the Institute has had in the five Continents confirms the validity and meaning of the “catholic” form of its program. The vitality of this project, which has generated an institution of such high profile, encourages the further development of initiatives of colloquium and exchange with all academic institutions, also those belonging to different religious and cultural areas, which are committed today to reflecting on this most delicate frontier of the human.
In the present circumstances, the conjugal and family bonds are put to the test in many ways. The affirmation of a culture that exalts narcissistic individualism, a conception of freedom disengaged from responsibility for the other, the growth of indifference to the common good, the imposition of ideologies that attack the family project directly, as well as the growth of poverty that threatens the future of so many families, are all the more reasons for the crisis of the contemporary family. Then there are the open questions of the development of new technologies, which render possible practices which at times are in conflict with the true dignity of human life. The complexity of these new horizons recommends a tighter bond between the John Paul II Institute and the Pontifical Academy for Life. I exhort you to frequent courageously these new and delicate implications with all the necessary rigor, without falling “into the temptation of varnishing them, of perfuming them, of adjusting them somewhat and of domesticating them” (Letter of the Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Argentine Catholic University, March 3, 2015).
The uncertainty and disorientation that touch the fundamental affections of the person and of life destabilize all the bonds, those of the family and the social, having the “I” prevail increasingly over the “we,” the individual over society. It is a success that contradicts the plan of God, who entrusted the world and history to the alliance of man and woman (Genesis 1:28-31). This alliance — by its very nature — implies cooperation and respect, generous dedication and shared responsibility, ability to recognize difference as richness and promise, not as motive for subjection and malfeasance.
The recognition of the dignity of man and of woman implies a just appreciation of their mutual relationship. How can we know in depth the concrete humanity of which we are made without learning it through this difference? And this happens when man and woman speak to each other and question one another, love one another and act together, with mutual respect and benevolence. It is impossible to deny the contribution of modern culture to the rediscovery of the dignity of the sexual difference. Therefore, it is also very disconcerting to see that now this culture seems to be blocked by a tendency to cancel the difference instead of resolving the problems that mortify it.
The family is the irreplaceable womb of the initiation of the creaturely alliance of man and woman. This bond, sustained by the grace of God the Creator and Savior, is destined to be realized in the many ways of their relationship, which are reflected in the different communal and social bonds. The profound correlation between family figures and the social forms of this alliance – in religion and in ethics, in work, in the economy and in politics, in the care of life and in the relationship between the generations – is now global evidence. In fact, when things go well between man and woman, the world and history also go well. In the opposite case, the world becomes inhospitable and history stops.
The testimony of humanity and of the beauty of the Christian experience of the family must therefore be inspired again more in depth. The Church dispenses God’s love for the family in view of its mission of love for all the families of the world. The Church – which recognizes herself as family people – sees in the family the icon of the God’s covenant with the whole human family. And, in reference to Christ and to the Church, the Apostle affirms that this is a great mystery (cf. Ephesians 5:32). Therefore, the charity of the Church commits us to develop – on the doctrinal and pastoral plane – our capacity to read and interpret, for our time, the truth and the beauty of God’s creative plan. The radiation of this divine project, in the complexity of the human condition, calls for a special intelligence of love. And also a strong evangelical dedication, animated by great compassion and mercy for the vulnerability and fallibility of the love between human beings.
It is necessary to apply oneself with greater enthusiasm to the rescue – I would almost say to the rehabilitation – of this extraordinary “invention” of divine creation. This rescue must be taken seriously, be it in the doctrinal sense as well as the practical, pastoral and testimonial sense. The dynamics of the relationship between God, man and woman, and their children, are the golden key to understand the world and history, with all that they contain. And, finally, to understand something of the profound, which is found in the love of God Himself. Can we succeed in thinking thus “greatly”? Are we convinced of the power of life that this plan of God bears in the love of the world? Are we able to snatch the new generations from resignation and re-conquer them to the audacity of this plan?
We are certainly very aware of the fact that we also bear this treasure in “earthen vessels” (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7). Grace exists, as does sin. Therefore, we must learn not to be resigned to human failure, but let us sustain the rescue of the creative plan at all costs. It is right, in fact, to recognize that at times “we have presented a theological ideal of marriage that is too abstract, almost artificially constructed, far from the concrete situation and of effective possibilities of families as they are. This excessive idealization, especially when we have not reawakened confidence in grace, has not made marriage more desirable and attractive, but all the contrary” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 36). God’s justice shines in fidelity to His promise. And this splendor, as we learned from Jesus’ revelation, is His mercy (cf. Romans 9:21-23).
The twofold Synodal appointment of the Bishops of the world, cum Petro e sub Petro, has manifested concordantly the necessity to extend the Church’s understanding and care for this mystery of human love, in which the love of God gains ground for all. The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia makes a treasure of this extension and solicits the entire people of God to render the Church’s family dimension more visible and effective. The families that make up the people of God and build the Lord’s Body with their love, are called to be more aware of the gift of grace that they themselves bear, and to become proud to be able to put it at the disposition of all the poor and the abandoned that despair of being able to find or re-find it. Today’s pastoral topic is not only that of the “distance” of many from the ideal and practice of the Christian truth of marriage and the family; more decisive yet is the topic of the Church’s “closeness”: closeness to the new generations of spouses, so that the blessing of their bond convinces them increasingly and accompanies them, and closeness to the situations of human weakness, so that grace can rescue them, give them new courage and heal them. The Church’s indissoluble bond with her children is the most transparent sign of God’s faithful and merciful love.
The new horizon of this commitment certainly sees your Institute convoked, in an altogether special way, to sustain the necessary opening of the intelligence of the faith at the service of the pastoral solicitude of the Successor of Peter. The fruitfulness of this task of further reflection and study, in favor of the whole Church, is entrusted to the impetus of your mind and your heart. Let us not forget that “good theologians also, as good Pastors, smell of the people and of the street and, with their reflection, pour oil and wine on men’s wounds” (March 3, 2015). Theology and pastoral <care> go together. A theological doctrine that does not let itself be guided and molded by the evangelizing end and by the pastoral care of the Church is all the more unthinkable than a pastoral of the Church that is unable to make a treasure of the revelation and of her tradition in view of a better intelligence and transmission of the faith.
This task calls for being rooted in the joy of the faith and in the humility of joyful service to the Church. Of the Church that exists, not of a Church thought in one’s image and likeness. The living Church in which we live, the beautiful Church to which we belong, the Church of the one Lord and one Spirit, to whom we give ourselves as “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10), who offer their best gifts. The Church we love, so that all can love her. The Church in which we feel loved beyond our merits, and for which we are ready to make sacrifices, in perfect joy. May God accompany us in this path of communion that we undertake together. And may He bless from now on the generosity with which you are about to sow the furrow entrusted to you.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]