Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo
The Holy See
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Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo
President of the
Pontifical Council for the Family




This theme expresses and condenses some fundamental elements of the family. It opens the mind and heart to broad horizons based on the certainty of the Lord's presence in the domestic Church: "The Lord is with you", as the Successor of Peter recalls in his Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane (n. 18). The Lord's presence, "Christ is head of his body the church" (Eph. 5:23), which fills families with the greatest energy (cf. Eph. 5:27), is the key to, and reason for the certainty that gives consistency to hope. By virtue of that hope, we look and walk toward the future, which is in God's hands, and are led in a dynamic way toward the Third Millennium. The Holy Father, John Paul II, says this in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente: "Each family, in some way, should be involved in the preparation for the Great Jubilee" (n. 28). The Pope had already stated that the "future of humanity passes by way of the family" (Familiaris Consortio, 86).

This theme, which I would like to take up in an introductory way, has a Christological perspective that enriches the reflection and prayer in this first year of the three-year preparatory period for the Jubilee of the Year 2000 with its theme, "Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world, yesterday, today and tomorrow" (TMA, 40).

The Family: Gift and Commitment, Hope for Humanity, the theme which I intend to present, will be the theme both for the World Meeting of the Holy Father with Families and for the Theological and Pastoral Congress.1

The theme chosen is situated in a historical moment after the celebration of the Year of the Family which made it possible to consider the wide-ranging possibilities of the family more deeply, as well as the challenges and difficulties which it faces. The first Theological and Pastoral Congress held in Rome in October 1994 focused on the theme, "The Family: Heart of the Civilization of Love". The proceedings of that Congress have been published.[Pontifical Council for the Family, Famiglia: Cuore della Civiltà dell'Amore, Vatican Press, Vatican City 1995, 271pp.]

In these past years, some events of an international nature convened by the United Nations have taken place which we could list in a series from Rio to Istanbul: i.e., from the Conference in Rio de Janeiro on the Environment in 1992, to the Cairo Conference on Population and Development in 1994, to Beijing on Women in 1995, culminating in the Istanbul Conference on the Habitat in 1996. This year, at the FAO headquarters in Rome, the World Summit on Hunger also took place. These political events were closely connected, even if we cannot speak about an intentional relationship.

It should be pointed out that we are focusing on the family based on marriage as a natural institution with its specific ends and values, the primary cell of society, whose truth is rooted in the heart and experience of peoples. Therefore, it is part of their cultural heritage, a reality open to all peoples of all ages, both believers and non-believers. Our reflection is not limited to what can be grasped through reason alone but, in a special way, we are keeping in mind the sacramental dimension of marriage with the abundant riches that the faith offers us, as indicated by the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 49).


The historical situation is immersed in a series of changes and alterations in ways of thinking which are often filled with very widespread ambiguities. In a certain way, these ambiguities are raising questions about the raison d'être and the very meaning of the family with its irreplaceable physiognomy, based on God the Creator's plan. This has made it necessary today to insist on using the singular form of THE family.

The greatest emphasis should be given to using the singular form, THE FAMILY, at a time when the plural form, THE FAMILIES, is being used more and more, with all this implies in the sense of denying one model of the family based on marriage, a community of love and life, of a man and a woman, open to life. The philosophy and anthropological foundation of the family lie in the singular concept and the singular form of THE family, about which the Pope has offered many enlightening aspects in his Magisterium.2

By keeping the model of the family willed by God as a natural institution without any confusion or undue concessions, we remove ourselves from any superficial and hasty vision which conceives of marriage and the family as merely the fruit of human will, the product of changing consensus. This kind of consensus does not offer stability and identity, values without which marital union, being left out in the open, suffers the deterioration of successive forms of erosion that weaken the family.

In quoting the text of Genesis 2:24, the Lord solemnly declares God's plan from the beginning of creation ("ab initio": as a model of creation). There is an order established by God from creation (Ap Arches) (cf. Mt. 19:4): "The Creator made them male and female…For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become as one. Thus they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined".3 The Catechism of the Catholic Church presents Tertullian's comment: "undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit" (CCC, n. 1642). We must remember that "flesh" in Biblical language does not only denote the material part of man but the man himself as a person. In the Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul again refers to this passage of Genesis (cf. Eph. 5:31) and calls it a "great mystery (to misterion…mega)" (Eph. 5:32), related to Christ and the Church. The "mega" (the greatness of the mystery in the process to which Scripture refers) has its roots in the fact that man (anthropos: Adam) is a type (typos) of the love of Christ and of the Church. 4

The theme we are presenting takes the gift which has its source in God himself, from whom all gifts come (cf. Jm. 1:17), as its key. This is a gift received in the Church ("gift of the Church") and for the Church, through the domestic Church.

The gift which the future spouses offer one another through their corresponding free and explicit acceptance, i.e., the consent, forms the indispensable element that "makes the marriage" (CCC, n. 1626). It is better for the "human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other" (CCC, n. 1627) to be stated in a formula which the couple learn by memory and express in a personal and meaningful way.

It could be said that the Church's insistence on adequate preparation for marriage, in the different stages, seeks to ensure that the "Yes" of the spouses will have all its certainty and richness (cf. CCC, n. 1632), and this is at the basis of the values and requirements of conjugal love. Therein lies the key to their happiness, as the third nuptial blessing of the ritual states: "May they find their happiness in giving themselves to one another". The liturgical celebration should express everything that reciprocal self-giving implies between the spouses, between the spouses, the Church and God, in the love that is showered over their hearts.5

The gift of the spouses, which is both precise and permanent, implies and expresses mature freedom, through the canonical form used by the priest who receives the consent in the name of the Church, and "visibly expresses the fact that marriage is an ecclesial reality" (CCC, nn. 1630, 1631), a public commitment, in "the bond…established by God himself" (CCC, n. 1640). It is an irrevocable bond that requires fidelity between the spouses and to God, faithfulness to what his divine wisdom disposes. Christ is present in the heart of human freedom, in its thriving continuity, in an act renewed daily, by virtue of which they are ("veluti") consecrated, as Gaudium et Spes observes.

The spouses cannot attain their happiness and realization on the margin of that truth which enriches the meaning of their freedom. The spouses have given themselves to one another in Christ, who follows their footsteps; he offers them the energies they need to overcome the limitations of a necessarily vulnerable freedom, and makes it possible for them to say sincerely: "I…take you…as my wife (as my husband) and I promise to be true to you… for all the days of my life".6 These words, which accompany the spouses' outstretched hands, are charged with meaning and should warn them about the risks of betraying love which the world presents as a right and even as a liberation, thus making one's word inexpressive and one's gesture empty, without any dimension of greatness.



The family, based on marriage, a community of life and love (of "the whole of life" in the presentation of the Code of Canon Law, can. 1055), has its "indispensable element" which "makes the marriage" in the exchange of consent (cf. CCC, n. 1626).

Consent, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes, consists in a "human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other" (GS, 48,1) (CCC, n. 1627). The reciprocal self-giving is made through a word as a solemn promise accompanied by gestures which stress the will of mutual self-giving. The gift that is offered, one's own person, takes on the quality of a gift when it is accepted. The Catechism adds, "I take you to be my wife - I take you to be my husband". This consent which unites the spouses to one another, has its completion in the fact that the two are "becoming one flesh" (CCC, n. 1627).

Consent, as an expression of this gift, which makes the marriage, "the marriage covenant", and constitutes a community of the whole of life (cf. CCC, n. 1601), is a gift in God. It has its source and author in God. When the spouses give themselves to one another, they become a gift from Christ who gives the man to the woman and the woman to the man. This is "the intimate partnership of life and love…established by the Creator…God himself is the author of marriage" (GS, 48,1). As the Second Vatican Council recalls, "Our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses" (GS, 48b).

This plan of creation willed by God in the beginning is what the Lord solemnly sanctifies and raises to the dignity of a sacrament. It is God who joins in marriage, in the community "with its own proper laws", as an institution "established by the Creator" which does not depend on human will (cf. CCC, n. 1603). The passages of biblical theology are well known which show, in the framework of a well-defined anthropology, how in the first couple the call is anchored in the heart of a human being to complementarity and acceptance. In this union, whose author is God, He himself is committed and projects himself in the horizon of his Covenant with humanity, of Christ with the Church. Most forcefully, Max Thurian stated: "It is not a mere contract related to mutual fidelity. God in person brings about this mystery of union and gives it certainty before the dangers of breakdown. This is the primordial characteristic of Christian marriage. Marriage is union in God and through God…".7

Christian marriage has a direct relationship to the Covenant of Christ. In this sense, consent is not an act between two persons, but "triangular" (to use Carlo Rocchetta's expression): a "Yes" stated within the "Yes" of Christ and to the Church. The spouses' consent cannot be separated from belonging to Christ. "The tradere se ipsum of Christ to the Church, gives in-depth shape to the tradere se ipsum of the spouses".8

What God has joined to become "only one flesh" man cannot subject to his whims or free will. Marriage is not the kind of consent that is the fruit of changing human agreements but rather an institution which plunges its roots into the sacred: the very will of the Creator. It is not a generous gift from members of parliaments or the achievement of lawmakers in their political strategies. Full lordship belongs to God and it is He who comes forward and offers the gift. Joachim Gnilka makes this comment: "Let no man separate what God has joined (Mt. 19:6) is only understandable if we start from the presupposition that it is God who unites every married couple".9

The gift expressed in "personal, irrevocable" consent which establishes the Covenant of marriage, bears the seal and the quality of definitive and total mutual self-giving (cf. CCC, n. 2364).

The self-giving to become "only one flesh" is personal surrender; things are not offered in the word-promise that is based on the Lord. Since it a personal gift, in the original plan, the dialectics of possession and domination do not come into play. Therefore, it is not the destruction of the person, but his/her realization in the dialectics of love which do not consider the other as a thing or an instrument to be possessed and used, but the mystery of the person in whom the features of God's image are delineated. Only an adequate conception of the "truth about man" and of the anthropology that defends the dignity of man and woman, makes it possible to fully overcome the temptation to treat the other as a thing and to interpret love a kind of seduction. This is not love that belittles or nullifies but one which exalts and realizes. Only in this way can the kind of gift be understood and interpreted which frees from selfishness, from a love devoid of content which is insufficient and instrumentalizing and relates the union to mere enjoyment, without any responsibility or continuity, like an exercise of freedom that degenerates since it is far from the truth.

The Second Vatican Council forcefully states the following: "If man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself" (GS, 24). Therefore, man has dignity as his end, not that of an instrument or thing, and in his capacity as a person, he is capable of giving himself, not only of giving.

In reciprocal self-giving, in the dialectics of total self-giving, the spouses "become only one flesh", a unity of persons, "communio personarum", from their essence, in the unity of bodies and spirits. They give themselves to each other with spiritual energy and their own bodies in a love where sex is at the service of a language that expresses self-giving. As the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio states, sex is an instrument and sign of reciprocal self-giving: "Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death" (FC, 11).

It is very difficult to grasp all the richness contained in the words "only one flesh" in the biblical term. In the Letter to Families, the Holy Father analyzes its meaning in the light of the values of the "person" and of the "gift", as well as in relation to the conjugal act which is already included in this scriptural concept. These are the Pope's words in Gratissimam Sane: "The Second Vatican Council, particularly conscious of the problem of man and his calling, states that the conjugal union, the biblical 'una caro', can be understood and fully explained only by recourse to the values of the 'person' and of 'gift'. Every man and every woman fully realizes himself or herself through the sincere gift of self. For spouses, the moment of conjugal union constitutes a very particular expression of this. It is then that a man and woman, in the 'truth' of their masculinity and femininity, become a mutual gift to each other. All married life is a gift; but this becomes most evident when the spouses, in giving themselves to each other in love, bring about that encounter which makes them 'one flesh' (Gen. 2:24). They then experience a moment of special responsibility, which is also the result of the procreative potential linked to the conjugal act. At that moment, the spouses can become father and mother, initiating the process of a new human life, which will then develop in the woman's womb" (n. 12).

In this perspective, and in commenting on the "mystery of femininity" in his "Catechesis on Human Love", John Paul II observes this (in relation to Genesis 4:1): "The mystery of femininity is manifested and revealed in depth through motherhood, as the text says, 'she conceived and gave birth'. The woman stands before man as a mother, the subject of a new human life conceived in her which develops and is born of her into the world. In this way, the mystery of the man's masculinity is also revealed in depth, that is, the generating and paternal significance of his body". Later the Pope stresses this: "Parenthood is one of the most outstanding aspects of humanity in Sacred Scripture".10 We will return to this theme when we examine the gift of the child.

In the light of the theology of self-giving, the Pope reflects on body language and all its expressiveness and meaning as a personal gift of the human person. "As ministers of a sacrament, which is made up of consent and perfected through the conjugal union, a man and a woman are called to express that mysterious language of their bodies in all their truth. Through actions and reactions, through the whole, reciprocally conditioned dynamism of tension and enjoyment, through all this, man, the person speaks (…) And, precisely on the level of this 'body language' — which is something more than just sexual reactivity and, as an authentic language of persons, is placed under the requirement of truth, i.e., objective norms — a man and a woman mutually express themselves to one another in the fullest and deepest way, insofar as possible for them, through the very somatic dimension of masculinity and femininity: the man and the woman express themselves in the whole truth about their persons".11 This relationship and personal dimension expressed in "only one flesh", speak of a relationship to God as a couple which, as such, is the image of God. "We can deduce that man has become the image and likeness of God not only through his own humanity but through the communion of persons".12

It is this truth which ennobles and dignifies what ought to be transmitted in sexual education worthy of its name. It should stress the greatness of sexuality in its personal dimension as a language of love: self-giving, acceptance, commitment that does not close persons in on themselves or a cycle closed to pleasure. On the contrary, sexuality is raised up to God and acquires a new dimension of eternity, i.e., it is not circumscribed to unlasting acts that time wipes away and wears out because it is elevated from the very source of love.

How can such an expression of totality in human and personal language not mark one's existence with a sense of deep commitment? In some way, even after the death of one of the spouses, something of their relationship remains. Far from entering into a discussion about the right of a widow or widower to remarry, in thinking above all about some very significant prayers in the Oriental Liturgy for remarriage, one finds not exactly words of praise but, as it were, of permission or tolerance. It seems to me that an area of explanation opens up here for this type of relationship, and it is not exactly indifferent for a person who has submerged him/herself in the current of the gift.

The meaning of self-giving must be regained in order to free it from a culture that attacks the dignity of man and woman and destroys the personal relationship of the spouses, as if the process of self-giving did not respond to deep needs of the personality and as if science, worthy of this name, could not come to the aid of the truth about man.

This is the not the place to go into considerations which our Council has already made in a Document the title of which explanation its main content: Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. This perspective is also recognized fundamentally by the conquest of reason and the developments of a science that truly approaches human essence. A projection which overcomes selfishness and tends toward the other is altruistic; this is not extraneous, e.g., to Freud's thinking. Today a denunciation can be made of the trivialization of sex which stops at previous stages where selfishness closes in and isolates, in a form of immaturity that destroys the language of love and truth, and both the man and the woman are victims of this.

Often the contracting parties come to marriage with a personality that is seriously damaged by a falsifying culture, and this is like a time bomb for the marriage. The fact that sexual language, as harmonious and articulate behavior which is at the beginning of the truth, should not be reduced merely to the biological sphere is sometimes expressed by writers of the caliber of Marguerite Yourcenar in her Memories of Hadrian. Let me give some of her thoughts which seem to me to illustrate the truth which the Magisterium wishes to transmit. She says that the language of acts and contacts goes from the periphery of our universe to its center and returns more necessary than ourselves. The wondrous prodigy takes place in which one can see more a taking on of the flesh through the spirit rather than simply a game of the flesh, in a kind of mystery of dignity of the other which consists in offering oneself a point of support from the other world.13

There is then a kind of intuition which is not exclusive to the world of faith, that gives sex back its greatness and saves it from the emptying and instrumental use which is very similar to the use of disposable items in the consumer culture. The globality of the person is at stake. Moreover, a person's actions are not external to him or her, as if they could be attributed to another in a form of underlying and childish "irresponsibility", like a person who feels incapable or unsure of responding for his/her actions that take on the tone of games suggested by a torpid being.

Let us go back to one of M. Yourcenar's thoughts that conveys an ethical impression well: "I am not one of those who say that their actions do not belong to them. They must pertain to them because actions are the only means and measure of fixing themselves on people's memory or on their own…Between me and the actions of which I am made, there is no undefinable gap, and proof of this is the fact that I experience a continuous need to weigh them, to explain them, and to account for them to myself".14

In sexual language, man expresses himself and, in some way, outlines, models and shapes his destiny. The gift, its truth and meaning acquire a stature and proportion worthy of man. For this reason, Familiaris Consortio stresses this value without which sex is emptied, loses its truth and even turns into a caricature and grimace that lacerates and disfigures what should glow in the mystery of 'one flesh': "Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter — appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul" (n. 13).

Consent, the reciprocal gift — as we mentioned earlier — is "personal and irrevocable"; the self-giving is "definitive and total". Its noble, proper and sole place is in marriage. There self-giving is true!

We might say that the definitive aspect is a characteristic of the totality of self-giving. This surpasses any partial self-giving, in bits, in "convenient installments", which render homage to selfishness and to love darkened by sin. Thus a love given "in bits" loses its depth, spontaneity and poetry. Between the engaged, there is a different tonality. The love they promise one another either yearns to last "for ever" or, basically, it does not exist. Self-giving is for one's whole lifetime and in all circumstances. This ensures against what is provisional, against breakdowns and lies. What can we say about those who propose to pass laws regarding marriages ad tempus, temporary unions, as a new step in "pluralism" and a complacent juridical attitude? "To state that love is the constitutive element of marriage is to maintain that since irrevocable, mutual self-giving did not exist, the 'foedus coniugale' does not exist between the spouses. Therefore, the laws of unity and indissolubility are not requirements extrinsic to marriage but they arise from its very essence. Therefore, the constituent love must be conjugal, exclusive and indissoluble love".15

Marriage bears the guarantee of stability, permanence and perpetuity. We might say that the reciprocal gift "involves an obligation much more serious and profound than anything which might be 'purchased' in any way and at any price" (Gratissimam Sane, 11). This is expressed in a word of commitment. A. Quilici observes the following: "One does not truly give oneself until first and in truth he gives his word. If not, this is similar to a kind of violation. The gift of the body is not truly human unless each one gives his/her agreement, to the extent that each one has allowed going farther in the dialogue, until the ultimate intimacy".16

This expressive word remains and deeply commits the spouses; therefore, self-giving that is voluntarily limited in time destroys the very quality of a total gift. The word expresses a profound 'yes' that rises from the source of a love that wants to be faithful over time. Cardinal Ratzinger describes that 'yes' in this way: "Man, in his totality, includes the temporal dimension. Moreover, the 'yes' of a human being also surpasses this time. In its integrality, the 'yes' means for ever. It constitutes the area of fidelity… the freedom of the 'yes' makes itself felt as freedom before what is definitive".17 Love18 is not necessarily subject to the wear and tear of time, like things that get worn out and gradually lose their energy. It does not fall into the sphere of the law of entropy. Time can aid growth and maturation before God by making love a more serious and deeper commitment. In Cana, I heard this beautiful promise and these words of an elderly married couple: "I love you more than yesterday but less than tomorrow". The joy of serenity, of a testimony that acquires substance over the years, is discovered in many marriages of elderly persons in whom freshness and tenderness are kept alive and strengthened over time.

By virtue of the total donation, the requirement of indissolubility can be understood better which frees and protects love and is not its prison or impoverishment. It is false that marriage is the tomb of love and that what is definitive and indissoluble ruins love's spontaneity and dynamics. There is no doubt that a culture of precariousness leads to this situation in which one's word is devoid of meaning and superficial to the point of irresponsibility. It cannot tolerate the weight of the truth which is neither capricious nor changing, like a false love that is deceptive. "The possible absence or weakening in manifestations of conjugal love does not destroy its properties and natural tendency, although it may hinder them, for both must always be enlivened by conjugal love".19

Total self-giving leads to the need for fidelity. This is a concrete form of gift which commits and frees. A faithful love is also radically indissoluble. It frees from the fear of betraying and being betrayed and provides the source of life the guarantee and transparency to which the children are entitled.

Antonio Miralles writes the following: "Also the spouses' personal, reciprocal self-giving requires the indissolubility of the reciprocal bond which they have established through their self-giving. It is total and thus excludes all provisional, temporary self-giving (…) The conjugal bond presents a definitive character in that it springs from an integral self-giving which also includes the temporality of the person. Giving oneself with the reservation of being able to free oneself in the future would mean that the self-giving is not total, and thus contrary to what gives rise to a real marriage".20

It should in fact be stated that fidelity, indissolubility and a definitive character are essential for the quality of the gift. Herein lie the commitment and promise of the gift, the commitment that also opens up in an essential way to the gift of life and becomes a public witness in the Church and in society. It is light, the flame placed on the candle holder.

St. John Chrysostom makes a beautiful comment on this style of self-giving when offering advice to a couple: "I have taken you in my arms, I love you and prefer you to my life. Since the present life is nothing, my most burning desire is to spend it with you in such a way that we will be sure not to be separated in the life that is reserved for us…I put your love above everything…".21 The duration, the definitive character of self-giving, by virtue of its totality, leads to the indissolubility which is attributed to natural marriage and takes on a more profound and expressive dimension in Christian marriage, before and under the Lord's eyes.

Natural marriage already had "a certain sacramentality" in a broad sense as a foreshadowing of the mystery of the nuptial union, in the intimate unity of only one flesh, included (in some way) in the mystery of God's Covenant with humanity, in the language of creation, of God with his people (cf. Hos. 1-3), of Christ with the Church.22 "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for her…For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cling to his wife, and the two shall be made into one. This is a great foreshadowing; I mean that it refers to Christ and the church" (Eph. 5: 25, 31-33).

In the central part of this text of the Letter to the Ephesians, in verse 25, the model is Christ's self-giving, in the language of the sacrifice in which the greatest love, without any limits, is expressed: crucified love! The "tradidit semetipsum", total and radical self-giving which is the model, is the fundamental mystery that includes the conjugal covenant. The mystery (cf. v. 32) refers to the process which has its "type", its model in Christ and the Church. It should be noted that in speaking about the great (mega) mystery, the author is referring to the importance of the mystery and its expressive power, not to its obscurity. The mystery of Christ's nuptial union with the Church is reproduced in the marriage of a man and a woman.23

We are in the sacred area of self-giving that takes on its full light in Christ and in his redeeming passion. This is what the Council of Trent stressed in the XXIV session, Denz. 969: "Gratiam vero quae naturalem illum amorem perficeret, et indissolubilem unitatem confirmaret coniugesque sanctificaret: ipse Christus…sua nobis passione promeruit". In commenting on this key text, Max Zerwick writes: "Since this is the case, human marriage is something more than a mere figure when it takes place between members of Christ. It must bring about the loving union of Christ with his Church. Therefore, marriage is not merely figurative but a real sharing in what Paul calls the great mystery".24

The "tradere seipsum" of each of the spouses, like Christ, as Carlo Rocchetta observes, "is an act which is perpetual by nature…a permanent sacrament".25

"The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself" (CCC, n. 1639). The marriage bond established by God himself is an irrevocable reality and so it is not in the Church's power to contravene this divine disposition (cf. CCC, n. 1640). Unhappily, the idea is widespread that if the Pope and the Bishops were less rigorous, they could introduce some changes and open doors to solutions, at least in exceptional cases. This truth must therefore be repeated with decisiveness and love: it is not in the Church's power and therefore non possumus! And it should not be thought that the situation of one couple, no matter how exceptional, would be removed from divine wisdom. The judgment that returns is linked to the original project ratified by Christ: "Let no man separate what God has joined". How could changes be introduced in the name of God who is faithful to the Covenant and who, in his mercy, guards and protects the good of marriage?

It is thought, on the other hand, that indissolubility is an ideal but unattainable requirement. Could God place such an obligation on married persons, such a burden, that would turn out to be harsh and unbearable for them because it is unattainable? He, who is the author of marriage, goes toward Christians spouses; he offers his grace and strength so that they will be able to live in the domestic Church in the dimension of the Kingdom.

It is necessary to reflect, with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in hand, on all the riches of marriage in God's plan, in all the considerations which are made about marriage in the order of creation in the bondage of sin, and about marriage in the Lord. God's original project should be understood in this sense: "The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator" (CCC, n. 1603). Therefore, it is not merely a human institution subject to human free will. God himself is the author of marriage (cf. Ibid.).

It is natural in the community of conjugal life and love, regulated by its own laws, to accept God's will joyfully and confidently. In the bondage of sin, marriage is threatened by discord, a spirit of domination and infidelity. It is a disorder (opposed to the original order) which "does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin" (CCC, n. 1607). Breakdowns, deformations, relationships of domination and concupiscence set in, but "the order of creation persists, though seriously disturbed. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them 'in the beginning'" (CCC, 1608). In the pedagogy of the old law, "moral conscience concerning the unity and indissolubility of marriage developed" (CCC, 1610). The Lord "unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman". "This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond… [is meant] to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin" (cf. CCC, nn. 1614, 1615). In marriage in the Lord, "by following Christ, renouncing themselves… spouses will be able to 'receive' the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ" (CCC, 1615).



Saint Augustine taught that, "Among the goods of marriage, the offspring have first place. It was truly the Creator himself of humankind, in his goodness, who wished to make use of men as ministers for the propagation of life…".26 The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio teaches: "The fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator — that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person" (n. 28). These two statements should be stressed: parents are ministers and servants of life.

Life must be born in marriage, as the suitable place, the most excellent place where life is wanted, loved, accepted and in which a whole process of integral formation takes place.

The Second Vatican Council states the following: "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory" (GS, 48, 1). In a more expressive way it says, "Indeed children are the supreme gift of marriage and greatly contribute to the good of the parents themselves" (GS, 50,1). It should be noted that the Holy Father Paul VI personally wanted this vigorous statement included in the text. Children are a gift that grows out of the same reciprocal gift of the spouses as an expression and completion of their mutual self-giving. This is a wonderful inter-relation of gifts which the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlights splendidly: " Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which 'is on the side of life', (FC, 30) teaches that 'each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life' (HV, 11) (…) man on his own initiative may not break… the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act" (CCC, n. 2366). The Catechism quotes Humanae Vitae again: "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man's exalted vocation to parenthood" (CCC, 2369).

Children are a "common good of the future family". The words of consent define this: "In order to bring this out, the Church asks the spouses if they are prepared to accept the children God grants them and to raise the children as Christians…Fatherhood and motherhood represent a responsibility which is not simply physical but spiritual in nature" (Grat. San., 10). Further on it teaches this: "When they transmit life to the child, a new human 'thou' becomes a part of the horizon of the 'we' of the spouses, a person whom they will call by a new name" (Grat. San., 11).

The Holy Father situates this doctrine in the framework of the theology of the gift of the person and in the perspective of the Council, of the "most precious gift" (GS, 50).

The child's existence is a gift, the first gift from the Creator to the creature: "The process from conception and growth in the mother's womb to birth makes it possible to create a space within which the new creature can be revealed as a 'gift'" (Grat. San., 11). "The child becomes a gift to its brothers, sisters, parents and entire family. Its life becomes a gift for the very people who were givers of life" (Ibid.).

It should be repeated how the meaning of mutual and true love includes the meaning of reciprocal self-giving open to life. Contraception sets up a language contradictory to the language that expresses reciprocal and total self-giving. It becomes inexpressive and thus a lie. A language that is not the vehicle of the truth but of a lie, with the objective disorder which contraception implies, is opposed to love (in a certain way, it does not manage to protect the "unitive meaning" fully). Only mutual and true love that expresses total self-giving without any reservations has the strength proper to conjugal love. When a couple freely and consciously let themselves be carried away by another logic and follow a systematic path of contraception, aren't they putting a kind of time bomb on their conjugal union?

This truth is expressed with particular strength and clarity in Familiaris Consortio: "Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality" (FC, 32). (Entire text reproduced in the CCC, n. 2370).

Another penetrating analysis of the conjugal union and the procreation of children is made in a book by the Most Rev. Francisco Gil Hellín entitled Il matrimonio e la vita coniugale: "The essential meanings of the conjugal act, which are the unitive and the procreative meanings, express respectively the essence and the end of marriage (…) If love, which leads the spouses to self-giving by becoming only one flesh, is carried out 'in truth', 'rather than closing them in on themselves, opens them to a new life, to a new person' (Grat. San., 8)".

Conjugal life includes a logic of sincere self-giving to one's husband or wife and to the children. "The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation" (Grat. San., 12). The capacity for this gift either grows and matures through its exercise throughout conjugal life, or it remains inhibited by selfishness whose snares tend to lessen the dynamism of the truth written into the self-giving itself. One of the principal manifestations of such selfishness — "not only the selfishness of individuals, but also of couples" (Ibid., 14) is not seeing procreation as a requirement of conjugal love but as a gratifying result and a choice voluntarily added to love. "The idea of gift contains not only the free initiative of the subject, but also the aspect of duty" (Ibid.).

Conjugal love which does not include the procreative dimension proper to its intimate truth ends up resembling "so-called 'free love'; this is particularly dangerous because it is usually suggested as a way of following one's 'real' feelings, but it is in fact destructive of love" (Ibid.). Therefore, the refusal to open up to children greatly contributes today to undermining and destroying the conjugal gift. This is not a question of acts or periods in which spouses are weak in living the requirements of fatherhood or motherhood in a coherent way in difficult or particularly heroic situations, as has always occurred out of human fragility.

Today many conjugal unions bring about their own destruction by falsifying the coordinates of their self-giving. "In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant. The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation" (Ibid., 12). When the husband or wife's capacity to be a father or mother is rejected, the gift does not respect the requirements of conjugal love. For this reason, the Pope states that it is essential for a real civilization of love that "the husband should recognize that the motherhood of his wife is a gift" (Ibid., 16).27

In his catechesis on human love, John Paul II speaks about "body language" which, in the conjugal union, means not only love but also potential fecundity, and this can be deprived of its full and proper meaning. Since it is not licit to separate artificially the unitive and procreative meaning (cf. HV, 12), "the conjugal act, deprived of its inner truth, because it is deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be an act of love".28

A child is part of the spiritual dimension of marriage which is open to life. Here an area of reflection should be followed that goes from trinitary love to conjugal love. The family that grows in the image of the Trinity, the "we" of the family in the image of the trinitary "we", includes the child that grows out of total and fruitful love. Carlo Rocchetta writes this: "According to the affirmation of 1 John 4:16, 'God is love' (agapè), the supreme fullness of love that gives and receives; not an 'I' alone, closed in on itself, but an 'I' that lives in itself an existence of interpersonal love, an eternal generation that springs from love and leads to love, where the exchange of gift/acceptance between the two first Persons attains its fullness in the encounter with the Third Person (…) The supernatural bond between the spouses takes on this trinitary value. The sacramental grace represents the gift of the trinitary ontology showered over the hearts of the spouses as a dynamic resemblance which gives in-depth structure to the life of the spouses and makes them a sign and sharing in the three-fold personal communion of God".29

It must be repeated that the child or children, the "good of the offspring", is the raison d'être of marriage. As we know, for Doms, the meaning of marriage and the love of two persons who find their deepest expression in the conjugal act would be in itself the most intimate and precious achievement, apart from any orientation to the child. The realization of conjugal unity would in itself justify the institution of marriage. Krempel expresses a similar position.30

The Council sheds great light on the full meaning of marriage and confutes these and other similar positions: "Marriage and married love are by nature ordered to the procreation and education of children. Indeed children are the supreme gift of marriage ("sunt praestantissimum matrimonii donum") and greatly contribute to the good of the parents themselves (…) Without intending to underestimate the other ends of marriage, it must be said that true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it is directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day" (GS, 50).31

Familiaris Consortio categorically states that "the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator — that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person" (n. 28).

In the family, the sanctuary of life, the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae points out that "Within the 'people of life and the people for life', the family has a decisive responsibility. This responsibility flows from its very nature …". Later it adds: "Consequently the role of the family in building a culture of life is decisive and irreplaceable. As the domestic church the family is summoned to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life. This is a responsibility which first concerns married couples, called to be givers of life, on the basis of an ever greater awareness of the meaning of procreation as a unique event which clearly reveals that human life is a gift received in order then to be given as a gift" (n. 92).

The family proclaims the Gospel of life in raising children (cf. EV, 92); it celebrates the Gospel of life through daily prayer, which also includes everyday life, and this is in the service of life expressed in solidarity (cf. EV, 93). All this is part of an integral pastoral care of the family "capable of making every family rediscover and live with joy and courage its mission to further the Gospel of life" (EV, 94).

The family in fact cannot be separated from its essential service to life. This has a clear and long-standing tradition in the Council (cf. GS, 50a) and is also confirmed in the whole of the Magisterium and in pastoral care of the family. Allow me to repeat that, ""By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring" (GS, 50). The family's relationship with life is more complete, direct and integral. All are invited to proclaim and defend life. "What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life" (EV, 95). However, the various approaches to the same objective are different. "Everyone has an important role to play". The Holy Father points out the creation of the Pontifical Academy for Life with its particular functions (cf. EV, 98).32

This perspective of the very close connection between the family and life was certainly followed in the creation of the Pontifical Council for the Family (May 13, 1981), through the insight of the Holy Father John Paul II, not only in relationship to the family institution, but also as a Department of the Roman Curia, with the special task indicated in art. 141, 3 of the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia Pastor Bonus: "[The Pontifical Council for the Family] makes efforts so that the rights of the family will be recognized and defended, also in social and political life; it also supports and coordinates initiatives for the defense of human life from conception, and in favor of responsible procreation".

The Letter of the Holy Father to Families, Gratissimam Sane, provides a solid doctrinal and pastoral basis to the whole service to life by the family and from the family. We will mention some of the most outstanding aspects. In n. 9, dedicated to the genealogy of the person, it states: "Bound up with the family is the genealogy of every individual: the genealogy of the person. Human fatherhood and motherhood are rooted in biology, yet at the same time transcend it". It is thus situated in reference to God: "God himself is present in human fatherhood and motherhood quite differently than he is present in all other instances of begetting 'on earth'" (Ibid.).

The child's quality as a gift is recorded, albeit in a laconic way, in the biblical text, "The man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I have produced a man with the help of the Lord'" (Gn. 4: 1). This is like a guarantee, despite the fact that the child she conceived would be his brother's murderer. It is a joyful exclamation for a new man! In the New Testament, the birth of a man — "a man has been born into the world" (Jn. 16: 21) — constitutes a paschal sign, as the Pope recalls. While speaking to his disciples before his passion and death, Jesus compared the sadness that would overcome them to the pains of childbirth which would be transformed into joy when a man is born who comes into the world (joy and happiness for new life risks being experienced less and less in the culture of death, in the growing mistrust which this culture spreads around the world today, with its sick societies). The joy which should fill families in awaiting and welcoming a new child turns into a colorless, sometimes unwanted process. It is as if the song of the angels and shepherds in Bethlehem did not echo in every home, with all the human "poverty", like wounds inflicted on humanity which this attitude implies in contrast to the attitude of those who want a child at all costs! This contrast, however, should not make the gift of a child be interpreted as a "right" that can be claimed in the last instance, even through recourse to acts which are morally illicit because they do not express the real self-giving proper to the personal conjugal act.

Normally, a child who is conceived and its birth, despite the responsibility and sacrifice this implies, is an invitation from the new being to celebrate. There is paschal joy! This is the real meaning of St. Irenaeus' words, "Gloria Dei vivens homo". This atmosphere does not reduce in any way the strength of the commitment which a child's gift incarnates, like a great, gratifying and inescapable responsibility (cf. Grat. San, 12).

In the joyful fulfillment of this responsibility and the ability to respond first of all to God, one's coherence and thus happiness are at stake. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, the ministry of the Church to absolve and forgive sins, responds to her prophetic mission to proclaim the truth. When the Gospel is proclaimed and accepted in hearts, it bears fruits of healthy repentance which prepares to receive forgiveness. Only a kind of commiseration which does not come from Christian love can lead to dissimulating the truth which may hurt or to mitigating the moral requirements derived from Revelation, but this kind of hurt is healthy and saving.

This attitude will certainly not take away the suffering of believers for their disordered deeds, but it will lead them to the joy of forgiveness whereby God welcomes them as children who return to the paternal home. These are the criteria which guided the preparation of the Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life by the Pontifical Council for the Family. In it the understanding and merciful attitude is presented which confessors should always have when receiving penitents in the celebration of this sacrament, as well as the clarity, truth and doctrinal competence with which they must educate and instruct those who may be disoriented or in error.

There is one widespread prejudice and error that means to oppose truth and mercy. "Mercy" without truth would be a caricature of what the Lord entrusts to the Church as her mission. In the name of a poorly understood "understanding", the Church cannot, so to speak, "close" an eye, pass over without seeing, denouncing, precisely as a requirement of true reconciliation and re-encounter with the Lord in truth and forgiveness.

A child is a gift for the family. The family focuses its attention on it and follows it throughout the whole process from conception, birth, and upbringing with tenderness and a sense of gratitude, with wonder and surprise, in discovering the different moments of the new being's affirmation. This requires a pedagogy so that routine will not destroy what is beautiful and gratifying in the parental mission and so that the "burden" will not reduce the legitimate intensity of fullness and joy. A well-known moralist put these words on a child's lips and I would like to transcribe them: "Do not be afraid to welcome me and take on my life as a mission! This will not be a heavy task for you; on the contrary, it will be such a light task that it will even lessen your oppressed life. I in fact am not a despotic boss (…) I will be capable of such gratitude as to become a compensation for you that is much greater than your toil".33

The Lord teaches us through words and deeds. He took a child and placed it in the midst of his disciples and said, "Whoever welcomes a child such as this for my sake welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes, not me, but him who sent me" (Mk. 9:36-37). The sign of welcome already bears the message of the gift offered and the welcome goes back to the Giver of all good. Children are first of all a blessing, a message transmitted in spontaneous tenderness, which especially characterizes the home. More than a burden, they are bearers of the "Good News" which is proclaimed and shines in them. We might say that the Gospel of the family and the Gospel of life that echo in the domestic church, the sanctuary of life, are the place from which the child itself proclaims its own dignity. "God the Creator calls him into existence 'for himself'; and in coming into the world he begins, in the family, his 'great adventure', the adventure of human life. 'This man' has, in every instance, the right to fulfill himself on the basis of his human dignity. It is precisely this dignity which establishes a person's place among others, and above all, in the family" (Grat. Sane, 11).

This "above all, in the family", which simply reminds us about the inseparability between family and life, brings true joy that pulsates in every new life in a unique way.

"The Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel" (EV, 2). In the family the Gospel is lived like an adventure that brings surprise and wonder and keeps everything in its heart, like Mary. The mystery of Bethlehem and Nazareth bears an anthropological truth, of life as a gift, in the dignity which God's love sustains and nourishes: "By his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man" (GS, 22).

Hans Urs von Balthasar has expressed this thought well: "(…)In all the non-Christian cultures, a child has only a marginal importance because it is merely a stage that precedes adulthood. Christ's incarnation is necessary for us to see not only the anthropological importance but also the theological and eternal importance of being born, the definitive beatitude of being, starting from the womb that generates and gives birth".34

There are some who put forth the hypothesis that "the sense of childhood" only grew up in the mid-sixteenth century (this is Philippe Ariès' position). G. Campanini makes this comment: "Over and above the verifiability of Aries' starting hypothesis…there is no doubt that in the West there has been a long period during which the child was in the periphery, and a brief but equally rich and significant phase (which embraces approximately the last three centuries of Western history) in which the child has been placed at the center of the family and, in some way, of all social life. This was the period of 'puero-centrism', which may be wearing out before our eyes as an effect of an ever more advanced technological development in which it seems that there is no more place for childhood".35 The author, a profound sociologist at the University of Parma, manifests the concern with unique clarity and synthetic observations, that technology may close off personal relations and that ultimately what will count more is the keyboard in what he calls the "digital society", rather than the nearness of persons and closeness to children.

In education, intelligence is appreciated (I would say a kind of intelligence) more than the whole personality. The encounter with the "button" (the computer keyboard or electronic games) is taking the place of the encounter with persons. The phenomenon which Campanini describes as the "loss of center" includes the loss of reference points regarding fundamental values, especially ethical and religious values, while another framework of "values" is growing. The computer can be a field open to the imagination, a programmed and pre-codified imagination, but a child finds itself in a world where its "living world" is being reduced. The erosion of fundamental mediation structures is taking place, the principal one of which is the family where, in past society, most knowledge was acquired. School itself is giving more and more place to "information" from machines. Will the family and the school cease being nuclei of protection?36 We will return to the theme of social mediation and family later when taking the concerns of Pierpaolo Donati into consideration regarding the social overview.

It is impressive to see how ground is being lost where promising progress was being made in recognizing children's central, and not peripheral or marginal, place. Children are already in danger in their mothers' wombs when parliaments become places for the most unjust sentences of death! While solid progress is being made on the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (without going into its relations and oscillations in some parts which were rightly subject to "reservations" by the Holy See Delegation), and the Church is fighting for codes protecting children, widespread attempts of all sorts are being made, and the necessary coherence cannot always be seen between what is underwritten and promised and concrete behavior. There is an abyss between the "Convention" of the United Nations and some recommendations of the European Parliament. Furthermore, the reaction is still very timid to scandals which are stirring people's consciences in a healthy way, although these situations are the result of widespread permissiveness. Children are its first victims! This reaction could be a path of return after prostration.

Along the lines of Familiaris Consortio n. 25, regarding the rights of children, the Pontifical Council for the Family, with very limited means, has undertaken a mobilization of consciences, especially with regard to children's "authority" in the family and society. The Holy Father stated the following at the General Assembly of the United Nations on October 2, 1979: "Concern for the child, even before birth, from the first moment of conception and then throughout the years of infancy and youth, is the primary and fundamental test of the relationship of one human being to another" (FC, n. 26). A "test" for the family's and society's state of health is its loving care of children. I am beset by the doubt that children's situations are being relegated to second place because of married persons' excessive concern for "their" problems (as if a child could stay on the margin) and their search for happiness that seems evasive, inaccessible and far from the reference points which should guide every life and even more the life of those who have decided to share it. Isn't divorce overwhelming proof when children suffer "emotional" abandonment?

In a normal process, concern for the child gives a new sense of responsibility. A couple cannot resolve "their problems" to the disadvantage or harm of the one who becomes the witness to the quality of their love and to the personality facets of the persons who gave him or her life.37 A child can also become a victim who reclaims its rights, although in silence.

Concern is growing for the social costs and the destruction of children's rights, but it cannot be seen how to implement this in a society that has fallen into a deep lethargy. If a child is considered a gift, in its transparent innocence which encourages treating it with a privileged, committed and thoughtful love, the contrast becomes more painful when this love is denied. We might say that near the doors of Bethlehem the manifestation of Herod's intentions are growing darker, as are the physical and moral massacres which sow victims among the most vulnerable.

M. Zundel offers a lovely text which also helps to see this terrible contrast: "Who has not felt moved to prayer at seeing the wonderful sight of a sleeping child? The countless possibilities which it enfolds have the original purity of the gift.38 And just think of the dreadful mass murder taking place! I visited a parish in Rwanda: during the genocide (which is not ending in any case) approximately 6,000 women and children were assassinated in the church and its surroundings. Humanity continues its "self-genocide" through an avalanche of abortions that are burying its future!

If what Plato says is true — namely, that the education of children, the Paideia, is the principle which every human community uses in order to preserve itself — then we must say, as one journalist observes, that the communities which educate children and use them for sex, war, commerce and publicity have already decided their own extinction and they are well aware of it.

To be a child, on the other hand, requires a way of living, a behavior. A child is proud of its father and shows this in the act of placing itself in his hands, as an act that expresses the supreme confidence that the father will make everything right that is wrong and disordered. A child is recognized when it speaks with its father and addresses him with the confident name of "Abba" (Daddy)! This was Jesus' relationship with his father, which went from childhood to death, until the last cry of the Son of the Father abandoned on the Cross. Jesus had a special relationship in the family context with his Mother, from whose womb he came: "Blessed is the fruit of your womb". This relationship went far beyond the biological limits and attained unexpected dimensions in a dialogue that bore fruit in prompt, careful, decisive obedience to God's will. "A woman from the crowd called out, 'Blest is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!' 'Rather,' he replied, 'blest are they who hear the word of God and keep it' " (Lk. 11:27-28). There is a common saying which Tangum Yeronshami used which paraphrases the blessing of Judah over Joseph. Jesus does not contradict this Beatitude, which he knows his mother fully deserves, but he enunciates a higher one.39

Children, who are the gift of God (Ps. 126:3), have the responsibility to take the form of a gift to their parents, to be obedient to God's will, to trust in them, in the same current that leads to God. Jesus "was obedient to them" (Lk. 2:51) and perfectly observed the commandment, "Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you" (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16). "The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit" (CCC, n. 2205).

A child is a gift that considerably strengthens the marriage bond and acts as a cement in the understanding between the husband and wife who look together toward a common plan which makes them come out of themselves in order to meet in the child's future: the new life which grew from them through their cooperation with God the Creator. Projected toward the child, they build their future. In a certain way, they, as the first evangelizers of their children, are also evangelized by them. Taking care of children is expressed in trust, as a fundamental human attitude. Giuseppe Angelini writes this: "Everyone knows the very great value which children give to the understanding between their parents. But even more than its very great value, we should speak about the radical inability of small children to imagine their life and whole world without this 'understanding'(…). Also in this way children show that they are a blessing…an illumination of the overall meaning of life".40 One requirement for welcoming the gift of children is knowing how to commit oneself. "The truth of the generative act thus requires, from the beginning, that a man and a woman promise one another to the one who will come…".41

All these aspects which we have only mentioned and which deserve being deepened in a theology of the values of the "person and of the gift", which reaches such high levels of greatness for believers, were not entirely unknown to the wisdom of secular culture. Let us listen to Aristotle: "Parents love their children like themselves because children born of them are like them …and children love their parents because they had their origin in them (…) Lastly, children are considered a bond: therefore, married persons without children separate more easily; children are a common good for both and what is in common keeps them united".42

Family relations, as Giorgio Campanini observes, take on other dimensions in the light of the Gospel: "'Honor your father and your mother' (Dt. 15:4) can lead to various forms of children's subjection . In different contexts, the care of children was not always disinterested. The Gospel introduces the new category of 'service' into the area of relationships between parents and children which does not exclude, but in a certain sense rises definitively above 'authority' (Mt. 20: 26), thus changing the traditional relationship of subjection". We might say that the concept and focus of authority is enriched and put in the service of the children's growth. And I think that this is the author's perspective when he states: "Understanding the exercise of authority as a service implies that the one on high must make those below the center of his or her concerns".43 This is temporary subordination in the Lord which achieves and leads to growth. Once again, love seeks the good of the other, not domination. Parental love should not be "possessive" since it takes oxygen away from the children and impedes their growth. In this sense, family authority is "ex-centric" in that its center is outside of it.

The child, the center of concern, makes the parents tend toward the common good in which they personally converge, like a deep living and existential urgency, a characteristic form of common purpose which, from their intimate communion, is pursued for the sake of the fruit of their love, the blessed fruit, in the dual character of "service" and "promise". This project and common purpose go from procreation throughout upbringing.

In St. Thomas' thought, this is like an integral uterus: "The type of relationship of evangelical 'submission' (to not forget the fact that 'he was subject to them' or 'he was subjected to them'), becomes an exemplary value for society itself and for the exercise of authority. Therefore, family authority can be proposed as an ideal type for every form of authority exercised in the spirit of the Gospel".44

The Catechism of the Catholic Church observes in this perspective: "Authority, stability and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security and fraternity within society" (CCC, n. 2207).

The commitment to children's education places authority in this perspective and overcomes the instinctive tendency to transfer one's own personality and expectations to the children. This requires a real commitment to educate in the faith (Cf. GS, 48).



"The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of love…Family life is an initiation into life in society" (CCC, n. 2207).

I cannot dwell on this necessary dimension which has been dealt with at other times and in other reflections. I will limit myself to some considerations of a general nature.

The Council had already stressed the following at the beginning of the Chapter, "The Dignity of Marriage and the Family": "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family" (GS, 47). Later, in no less expressive terms, it states: "For God himself is the author of marriage and has endowed it with various benefits and with various ends in view: all of these have a very important bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of every member of the family, on the dignity, stability, peace, and prosperity of the family and of the whole human race" (GS, 48a).

The family is a gift for society and requires adequate recognition and support from it, just as families are expected to take on their political task.

The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio dedicates Chapter III of Part III to "Participating in the Development of Society" (nn. 42-48), because "the family is 'the first and vital cell of society' (AA, 11). The family has vital and organic links with society, since it is its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of service to life (…) Far from being closed in on itself, the family is by nature and vocation open to other families and to society, and undertakes its social role" (FC, 42).

The relations between the family and society regarding the State's mediation are neither easy nor transparent, and this is true for various reasons. The State invades areas which were formerly reserved for the family. Moreover, although democracy waves the flag of respect and participation, the family is more and more confined to a reduced area where it has difficulty breathing and where it feels hard-pressed and harassed. The State's power is becoming omnipotent. In some way, the movement toward privatization, in being reduced to intimacy, can really represent a form of flight and refuge from commitments which the family has with society. Pier Paolo Donati points this out: "The family is becoming — (…) from a 'psychological' viewpoint — a particular form of cohabitation, of subjectivized and privatized communication, a pure manifestation of intimacy and affection, which does not have influence — and should not — in a significant way, except for reasons of social and cultural backwardness".45

This is a complex phenomenon which Paul Moreau, in closely following F. Chirpaz, takes up in one of its dimensions. In the "outside" world, one must produce and struggle in order to live. This is the world of economic competition and political conflicts. On the other hand, as Chirpaz specifies, "the family world can appear in counterpoint and opposition to society, as the place for the private sector, for real human relations".46 Intimacy, as a refuge from threatening society or a hostile State, from a society that generates suffering, would be the place of real truth and peace. Curiously, the city is attractive but, at the same time, it causes aversion and nourishes the Virgilian dream of the countryside away from the unbearable, aggressive and disorganized city. This conception of privatization, which deprives the family of its function in society, can be covered over with all kinds of reasons including individualistic, self-centered and disinterested attitudes. Moreau's denunciation is timely: "By fleeing from this world, through its desertion by honest persons like me, I am leaving it to faithless and lawless persons".47 Objectively, deserting the "politeia" is an act of irresponsibility: "(…) To flee from danger means not to face it and those who are content to flee from the public world (démission de sa qualité de citoyen) come to be objectively accomplices in the degradation affecting society".48

To take refuge in the private sector and create no opposition is a temptation that aids the State's ambition of new domination which ends up not recognizing something "sovereign" in the family, something prior to the State itself, and confines it to the powerlessness of those who have no more strength.

This is also Campanini's legitimate concern: "Family morality is not exercised exclusively within the domestic walls (…) The family has the precise duty to take part in the humanization of society and human promotion. Precisely because it is structurally a meeting point between the public and private spheres, the family cannot isolate itself in its intimacy (which, in the sense of privatization, would be misinterpreted and deformed); on the contrary, it is called upon to take charge of the problems of the society surrounding it. Moreover, setting up this relationship appears in advanced industrial societies to be characterized by a strong influence of the public sphere on family life — a condition which is almost necessary for the correct fulfillment of the educational mission".49

The Holy Father, John Paul II, stresses the importance of the family which must be recognized as the "primordial and, in a certain sense, sovereign society". This very interesting concept is explained by the Pope in his Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, with its precise outlines and nuances, when dealing with the family and society (cf. Grat. Sane, 17).

The family is a sovereign society, recognized in its identity as a social subject. This sovereignty is specific and spiritual as a solidly rooted reality, although it is conditioned from various viewpoints. The rights of the family, which are closely related to human rights, must be recognized as a subject that fulfills God's plan and which calls for the particular and specific rights contained in the Charter of the Rights of the Family. The Pope recalls their long-standing tradition among peoples, in their cultures (here the concept of "nation" is included and relations with the State which has a less "family" structure since it is organized according to a political system and in a more "bureaucratic" form), but which has "a soul" inasmuch as it responds to its nature as a political community. It is precisely here, in the relationship between the family and the "soul" of the State, that the principle of subsidiariety is situated in the framework of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The State must not take up the place and task of the family and violate its autonomy. The position of the Church, based on an undeniable experience, is categorical in this regard: "An excessive intrusiveness on the part of the State would prove detrimental, to say nothing of lacking due respect…Only in those situations where the family is not really self-sufficient does the State have the authority and duty to intervene" (Grat. Sane, 17).

When the family, an indispensable value for society, is not respected and aided but hindered, an immense void is created which is disastrous for peoples (e.g., divorce, the leveling of marriage, "simple union which can be ratified as marriage in the society", permissivism, etc.). The Pope draws this conclusion: "The family is at the heart of all these problems and tasks. To relegate it to a subordinate or secondary role… would be to inflict grave harm on the authentic growth of society as a whole" (Ibid.).

As an application of the principle of subsidiariety in the educational field, it must be recalled that the Church cannot entirely delegate this mission!

I will have to limit myself here to just mentioning the problem of social mediations which are removing the family from those areas where its presence is beneficial and necessary.

Pierpaolo Donati reflects on the "new family mediations" after raising this question: "Does the family no longer mediate in the social sphere?". In some sectors, the family is treated like a "left-over" that is called upon only in problematic cases. There is a widespread sensation that the family ought to disappear from the public scene. The marriage commitment and the value of stability have even been described as "survivors".50 However, Pierpaolo Donati rightly points this out: "In fact, no research in the area confirms the irrelevance of family belonging today in the non-family spheres…Although for certain aspects and in some areas family mediations may be decreasing or have been lost, for other aspects and in other areas the mediations are increasing or new ones are arising. On the whole, the relevance of the family in the non-family spheres…not only continues but is growing both in actual behavior and in the needs for cultural and even political legitimization".51 There is an entirely new shape of things. If the family no longer defines social status (and this can be positive), it nonetheless has other forms of unforeseen mediation.

Today it is understood that a child is neither an isolated atom, a monad in Leibnitz's pattern, nor an island or a molecule fluctuating in a void. Concern is returning for children's rights. The right to a child's biological identity is sought as well as its cultural, ethnic and historical roots. Donati observes this: "In the past it was society that imposed the mediations which the family was supposed to play; today the individual enjoys the right to make use of the mediations, to make them emerge, to recognize them and to give value to them".52 He also notes this: "The most recent research shows that the average family, in a way different from the past, has a number of positions and relations which, far from being less important than in the past, are more decisive for the social destiny and the quality of life".53

This same sociologist recognizes areas in which ignorance is spreading in an alarming way, especially in the political area, which ought to be of greatest interest, at least in circumstances where negative effects and reactions cannot be hidden.54 The separation is accentuated in the educational field.55

New forms of mediations are coming from a deeper discovery of the family as a subject, particularly with regard to humanization and personalization, for instance, in everything the family necessarily represents in the balanced growth of the child: the mediation of love in the home or human warmth and caring for the elderly with the rich contribution of their experience to the family in a broader conception through inter-generational solidarity.56 The "subjectivity" of the family is of great importance for the formation of the personal identity of a child who needs a family environment as a fundamental right.57

In this perspective, it could be said that whereas for some aspects the family as a social value is forgotten, for others a new value of the family is emerging.58

Everything that highlights essential aspects of the family's mediation may free the family institution from other contingent forms of mediation which, at a given moment, can be left aside without affecting either the family nucleus or the social fabric. The family can be a channel for transmitting values or a center of mediation which seems to be more decisive for the quality of social life and public ethics. This coincides with what the Charter of the Rights of the Family points out: "The family constitutes, much more than a mere juridical, social and economic unit, a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society".59

A new citizenship of the family is taking shape in the new forms of mediation.60 In this sense, incorporation into society would not be based on the family to which one belongs (as in the past), like a kind of passport or credit card because of one's "last name". In principle, this phase seems to be over and could be a positive thing. Incorporation into society would be based instead on the identity and harmonious development of the personality acquired above all in the family. There would no longer be those who rest "while their surname is at work"; on the contrary, the qualities acquired through personal talents, ability and integrity would be important. In this perspective, the family is the first school of virtues. In the new citizenship, with the whole set of new relations of special importance, women are being given greater value according to rights-duties and not because they depend on a male figure, about which some feminist movements (not the radical ones) are rightly concerned. This is an area in which something broader is expressed, such as respect for the fundamental rights of the human person which, with regard to the family, are not limited to recognizing less individual rights.61

In terms of mediation for the values of authentic humanity in and based on the family, today high social costs are cited for not giving due recognition to the family institution. From a sociological viewpoint, Donati puts his finger on the sore spot: "It can in fact be observed that a growing number of social problems originate in the failure to recognize and support the functions of the family's social mediation. This is witnessed to by the increased maladjustment, ill-being, mental illness, drug addiction, suicide and attempted suicide among young people in the same way that continuing drop-outs from compulsory schooling are indicative of family shortcomings".62

The same author observes the following: "Modern society has tried to eliminate all mediation between the individual and society". It has sought the self-realization of the "pure individual", in an "open society", made up of individuals. The result has been to lose the individual and, once family mediation is denied, to leave him "homeless", with very serious consequences. The "individual" they have made is a "weak subject" in need of building "ex novo" forms of mediation, without which neither "society" nor "human subjects" can exist.63 A new home is needed where the family will be given back all its importance. They cannot honestly complain that a universal "unit-we" does not work, or that there is no altruism when the values of the identity "we", which is the family, in the "small, everyday forms of solidarity", are denied. "The family…is necessary for the survival and development of political citizenship itself".64 "No one can do without a relationship of trust, aid and primary support over the course of one's lifetime".65

Being left "homeless", without a family, because of the suicidal caprices of the State, means that a human being is put to the streets, left out in the open, threatened to the core of his/her personality. Let us be sincere: these weak individuals are proof of the failure of adventuresome hypotheses, of the worst kind of anthropology, and a fathomless void in the conception of a human being as a person and of society itself. Without a profound change in this direction, how can a general breakdown be avoided? This danger on the universal or national level should intensify the healthy reaction and the political and social function of the family.66 This also requires that the right of the family will be recognized "to be able to rely on an adequate family policy on the part of public authorities in the juridical, economic, social and fiscal domains, without any discrimination whatsoever" (art. IX). The family is entitled to exist and to progress as such, that is, as a family (art. VI).

For individuals, nearness is not enough because this fails to recognize "family subjectivity", the home as a center and source of relations, without which society is lost!

The social costs of not recognizing family mediations, with the obstacles that risk immobilizing it politically and in its social influence, sow their victims, we repeat, predominantly among the children. The information and statistics are astonishing which are provided by the Review, Concilium, dedicated to the theme "Where are our children?", and to what is rightly described as a "silent catastrophe".67 It is all the more painful because it is in contrast with an impressive range of possible solutions. How can we not denounce a terrible lack of solidarity and political will to provide rapid solutions?

A historical answer could be given through an effective mobilization to the widespread phenomenon of unjust violence that generates death, to inequalities and imbalances in resources that sow millions and millions of innocent victims (without counting the abominable slaughter of abortion): "If one tenth of the means used around the world for arms in these two decades had been placed at the disposal of the principal objectives of the development policy, today we would be living in a world with little or no malnutrition, with a much lower number of illnesses and invalidity, with a much greater level of literacy and education, and with much higher incomes".68 This conclusion is based on data from the German Committee for UNICEF on the situation of children around the world in 1995.69 The report to which I am referring opens a door to hope with regard to some other aspects: "Sanitary conditions around the world have improved more over the past 40 years than throughout the whole preceding history of humanity".70 "In the past decade, the emergence of childhood as a subject of public and political interest has been truly impressive…The attention now given to children does not end in the principle that they are the 'most vulnerable citizens' of society or the 'the most precious resource of humanity'…The twenty-first century belongs to the children".71 Let us open our hearts to hope!

There are other forms of "poverty" that sow victims among children, like a rake passing over their backs, and these are not limited to economic questions or physical health. Today these are the object of study and analysis, e.g., in the United States, in the terms expressed in the title of one article, "In what way in the United States has the family become a 'liberal theme'". In the political area, "the liberals are interested (this is a sub-title) in the question of values". Some dramatic testimonies are reported: "The proof of the growing poverty of single mothers and the deterioration of the mental and physical health of children represent the most important factors in this change in mentality. The increased number of divorces and births outside of marriage is now considered the proximate cause behind these tendencies. As to divorce, in the 70s and 80s there was an enormous increase in the divorce rate in the United States which is currently around 50%".72 Its effects on the decline in economic conditions are also enormous. Recent studies are mentioned which show that divorce leads to serious economic breakdown.73 And what can be said about births outside of marriage!

There are many serious studies on the negative impact of the family's absence on children and youth. How can the leaders of a country not feel seriously called upon in this regard, over and above any political denominations? It has been established unequivocally that "the relationship between adolescent crime and family breakdown has become clearer. Louis Sullivan, the former Secretary of the Department of Health… reported that more than 70% of male youths in jail came from families where the father was absent".74 On the contrary, "children obtain the best results when they have the personal involvement and material support of a father and a mother and when both parents fulfill their responsibilities as loving providers… Growing rates of divorce, out of wedlock pregnancies and the absence of parents are not simply manifestations of alternative life styles but of adult behavior patterns that increase the risk of negative consequences for the children".75

This summary information taken from most reliable sources shows us the size of the problem and the need to strengthen and aid the family in carrying out its important social mediations without which (and this is not apocalyptic rhetoric), civilizations will break down. At the center of the problem there is a question of values, life styles, behaviors that affect society through the existence or absence of the family. Therefore, it is in the State's greatest interest to help the family so that there will be "a vigorous family ethic". Galston76 believes that a just democracy requires virtuous citizens, and that religion is essential to the creation of the ethics of motivations77 which are cultivated in the family.


The theme of the World Meeting of the Holy Father with Families opens the heart to hope.

One looks to the future with certain trust, despite the difficulties and concerted hostility that are weakening the institution of marriage.

Hope puts us in the perspective of the Third Millennium which offers an occasion to look at the past, to make a balance, to learn many lessons from history in the Church's pilgrimage under God's glance in the heart of humanity and, above all, to celebrate the faith through solid commitments by taking the future in hand, which belongs to God, before whom we must assume our responsibilities. We cannot desert the decisive battles of humanity.

The family "is closely linked with the mystery of the Incarnation and the very history of man", as the Holy Father observes in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (n. 28), on the occasion of the Year of the Family. From Nazareth, where "the Word became flesh" (Jn. 1:14), comes the sublime message of the Holy Family. It is the model for families, the inexhaustible source of the spirituality and new energies that come from the Risen one who acts with transforming dynamism in the very heart of history in the special revelation of the mystery, in the fullness of time, which is identified with the mystery of the Incarnation (TMA, 1).

In Christ, who "fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling" (GS, 22), the mystery is also deciphered of the primary cell of society, the community of life and love, in which the Lord is present as he was at the marriage of Cana.

The Lord continues to come toward families, to enlighten them, strengthen them and redeem their love. He walks with them in a caring dialogue which must be discovered through faith and prayer. In many circumstances, this pilgrimage is difficult when bitterness is felt about what has not been achieved, or perhaps because of battles lost and the erosion of many families. But through contact with the Savior of men, as with the pilgrims of Emmaus, hope is born again in a cause that seemed to be shattered.

Redeemed love continues to have wonderful energies for responding to the challenges and taking on the necessary responsibilities which the Lord entrusts to families and without which humanity, and even the Church herself, would be condemned to failure. If the future of humanity passes through the family, it becomes necessary to consider the vast opportunities which the future holds and to think, to a good extent, in answer to the Lord of history, that the family is the architect of its own destiny. The Pope points this out: "Each family, in some way, should be involved in the preparation for the Great Jubilee. Was it not through a family, the family of Nazareth, that the Son of God chose to enter into human history?" (TMA, 28).

The Lord, who "made his dwelling among us" (Jn. 1:14), who, so to speak, pitched his tent (of the Bedouins), as the biblical language suggests, among us, wanted to do this in the concrete family of Nazareth where Jesus learned his first lessons in obedient nearness to his parents.

The celebration of the World Meeting in Rio requires this open, joyful and contemplative attitude in which the mystery of the family is discovered and deepened in the Lord. It is for this reason that we wanted preparation for the event to have the form of "catecheses" on which millions of families are reflecting, in different parts of the world, guided by the doctrine of the Church, in an atmosphere of prayer, and with the conviction that the Lord is accompanying them.

Hope is something that is written into human dynamism. It is part of basic human nature. Hoping and the way of hoping is a determining factor, as one philosopher writes.78 Human existence is determined not only by taking on the present, but also through remembrance of the past and expectation of the future in the sense of active hope which opens us to a value or a series of values which we desire. Therefore, it is part of man to hope and to have hope. For Christians, this hope is projected toward God. This generates an attitude of limitless trust in God's protection and help so that when trust is not placed in God, as one author comments, it becomes an irresponsible certainty destined to be destroyed.79

As the Spanish writer Eugenio D'Ors noted, hope, on the one hand, is "the virtue with the worst reputation" or, as Chamfort dared to say, hope "is a charlatan that constantly deceives us". On the other hand, however, we are living in a historical moment in which it is necessary to reconstruct the coordinates of hope. True hope, like truth and authentic love, does not deceive and, in that sense, is not a fragile and deceptive "irresponsible certainty" but a necessary dimension which is based on the absolute of God.

By virtue of the solid certainty of Christ's triumph, the Savior of men, a triumph which is ours because he lets us share in it, hope offers us the tonic, the disposition and the guarantee of confidence. It gives vigor and direction to our movement as moral behavior. Saint John of the Cross thus spoke about a "green-colored dress".80 This solid hope and confidence are absolute because they rest on divine promises.81

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this: "The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity" (n. 1818).

Through hope we cast our anchors toward heaven where the Lord has already arrived. Jesus who has already entered into eternity is the one who returns for that definitive appointment with humanity which is the parusia. Therefore, hope puts us in the area of history and eschatology.

How can we lift up our hearts to hope when a whole series of signs causes doubts, some of which are grounded, about survival, at least according to the present patterns? There are obvious symptoms of erosion, especially in some countries, and worrisome breakdowns are predicted in family structures in ever greater areas. We recall how the doubts about the family's future were nourished in the international forums during the International Year of the Family in the recurring term "uncertain family", in line with L. Rousell's position.82

Nonetheless, it could be that projections regarding phenomena that are causing concern in some countries are being unduly aggrandized and generalized. Even in the countries most affected by the systematic destruction of the family with "the conspiracy" of the State, one ought to ask whether new tendencies and firm reactions will not arise in the future that will urge the political forces, beginning with the most committed pastoral efforts of Christians, toward new directions and changes. There are some hopeful signs which reveal a new dynamic.

In any case, will it be possible for peoples who have had so many lessons from history to continue towards an adventure with a tragic ending?

We have seen how certain defeatist conclusions give little consideration to the fact that a fundamental concern for the continuity of the family persists, and to the abundant data from sociological inquiries, especially the answers from young people, indicating that the majority want to have a stable family. Whether their behavior is in conformity with what they express as their ideal is another matter.83 The bitter experiences of social disarray are already suggesting the need to some politicians for coherent financial measures and positions to support and protect the family.

In the final phases of the International Year of the Family, there was a more positive atmosphere, compared to the rarefied air at the beginning, which was also freer with regard to the premises on which many were working frantically at the start.

We have mentioned the new way of treating the family, for instance, in the United States, where the family has once again become of political interest.84

We cannot let ourselves be carried away by a kind of "determinism" of a fatalistic sort that makes us give up without fighting what seems to be an inescapable trend of eclipse of the family. Since the family is an institution willed expressly by the Creator, shouldn't a search for the necessary good for married persons, children and society be felt in the heart of peoples and of individual persons?

We have considered the fact that it is not an objective for the family to cease being a center of social mediation and that there are essential mediations aimed at recognizing and protecting the family as a privileged place of humanity and its safeguard. With the help of the sciences, "the citizenship of the family" is taking on a new image which is inseparable from its educational task at the service of the identity of the human person. It is surely here where we must deepen the family's rich possibilities, without holding on to other forms of presence and mediation by the family which were more suited to other moments in history and other cultural modes.

This necessary mediation leads us to give priority to the dimension of the child, as the concrete path for redeeming the family institution and its reinforcement, precisely because children reveal the outlines and ways of being and living in the family.

Allow me to tell a story. At the World Congress of Families in Malta (November 1993), organized by the United Nations, the principal speaker (and this was symptomatic) was the French sociologist, L. Rousell. The forecast about the family's future was full of dark spots. It might have been said that hope was dying. At the end, I asked him a question, as if the "spes contra spem" had moved me for which Abraham was praised. I asked him if he really saw no way out because if that was the situation, humanity was heading toward a void. After reflecting a bit, he offered me his book, which I had already read with interest, and replied: "I am starting to think that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is the child". Yes, in children there is a light and a way out. Although that "way out" can still not be seen in his work, I must confess that this is a fundamental track.

It is service to children, their loving care, which can free from the tentacles of selfishness that grip so many couples in a "dual selfishness", and also society which, through the asphyxiation of values, is bringing about the crises of humanity. Children, who are the fruits of love, evangelize and free the authors, together with God, of their life. By fulfilling their principal task which is not opposed to but, on the contrary, gives fullness to conjugal love, a couple is freed by their children from being reduced to solving "their problems" without leaving any room for the children and their rights and suffering.

In very many societies which are running the risk of aging, especially in spirit (without going into considerations regarding the "demographic winter"), the light comes from above in the new light that comes from God, just as the Lord, the Savior of the world, came "from above".

Please allow me to make another reference of an artistic nature. A well-known Spanish sculptor, Luis Antonio Sanguino, generously gave his work entitled "Santuarium vitae", as a gift to the Pontifical Council for the Family. It is a beautiful piece of sculpture, like a hymn to life. From the hands of Christ, pierced by nails — the hands of God, the potter of man. In the form of a cradle, life is born in the bright cave of a woman, the mother. It is the womb in which the "nasciturus" is sleeping…born like a tree, the tree of life, in the family: there are boys and girls of all races. With smiling faces they raise their arms in a sign of victory toward heaven, toward the light. The light, which is in the blessed wombs of mothers, enlightens the love of spouses, of the families and of the world, with more poetry and realism than the sole light that is seen at the end of the tunnel. This is the true light of the One who, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, illuminates every person who comes into this world (cf. Jn. 1:9).

I would like to conclude with one more artistic reference and thanks for another gift we received.

The famous, Italian religious artist, Enrico Manfrini, has given a beautiful bass-relief of the Holy Family of Nazareth for the World Meeting. The sculptor who has enriched the Christian artistic heritage with many works, is 83 years old. He works with youthful enthusiasm in his shop in Milan together with his wife. They are a living witness of a family, of a serenely happy couple who, as in the book of Tobias, are growing old together under God's glance (cf. Tb. 14:2). I asked myself this: How, at that age, can hands be so agile to the inspiration that moves them, as laborious and precise as those of a young person, to the point of shaping the wonderful countenances of the Baby Jesus, God, of Joseph and Mary, that filled the humble house-workshop of Nazareth with light?

It seems to me that the secret of this artist's longevity lies in the conjugal love and in the children with whom the Lord has blessed him. Nazareth, Bethlehem and Cana tell us about the family, and the Lord's working presence continues in history. In the Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, the Successor of Peter pointed out the "Bridegroom" who is within the family. It is He who joins the spouses in the mystery of his Covenant; it is He who renews love through mutual self-giving in the family communion, gift and commitment, which plunges its roots into God; it is He who changes the water into wine and comes to help the newlyweds in that series of new things that continues over the years; it is He who shares hope, because He is Hope.



1 The World Meeting of the Holy Family with Families will take place in Rio de Janeiro from October 4-5, 1997. It will be preceded by a Theological and Pastoral Congress from October 1-3, 1997 which will bring together 2,500 participants delegated by the Episcopal Conferences, together with theologians, pastors, representatives of apostolic movements for the family and life, as well as groups and associations involved in, and committed to the transcendental cause of the domestic Church, the sanctuary of life.

2 Cf. e.g., Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, nn. 11-16; Letter to the Heads of State of the world, March 14, 1994; Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, nn. 6-12.

3 Some translate this as "only one being", thus deepening the meaning of the Biblical term.

4 Cf. H. Schlier, La Lettera agli Efesini, Paideia, Brescia 1973, pp. 414-415.

5 Cf. Rituale Romanum, Ordo celebrandi matrimonium, n. 74.

6 Ritual of the Celebration of Marriage quoted in Gratissimam Sane, n. 11.

7 M. Thurian, Mariage et Celibat, Dons et appels, Taize, 1977, pp. 27-28.

8 C. Rocchetta, Il sacramento della coppia, EDB, Bologna 1996, p. 42.

9 Joachim Gnilka, Il Vangelo di Matteo, Part I and II, Paideia, Brescia 1990, p. 229.

10 John Paul II, Uomo e donna lo creò. Catechesi sull'amore umano, Ed. Città Nuova - Vatican Press, 1995, p. 97.

11 Ibid., p. 468, n. 4.

12 Ibid., p. 59.

13 Cf. M. Yourcenar, Mémoires d'Hadrien, Gallimard, Paris 1974, pp. 21-22.

14 Ibid., p. 34.

15 Francisco Gil Hellín, "El matrimonio: amor e institución", in Aa.Vv. Cuestiones fundamentales sobre matrimonio y familia, Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona 1980, p. 239.

16 A. Quilici, Les fiançailles, Le Sarment/Fayard, Paris 1993, p. 135.

17 J. Ratzinger, Le mariage et la famille…, p. 311.

18 "The love which is spoken about here is 'amor coniugalis', i.e., not the mere sentiment and blind and irresistible impulse exposed to the instability of passion, but that 'eminently human' affection that, since it comes from the will, takes on and ennobles all the manifestations of the natural tendency. Part of the most noble part of the person — the affection of the will — is directed toward its end, embracing all the good of the person loved" (Francisco Gil Hellín, op. cit., pp. 236-237).

19 Francisco Gil Hellín, Ibid., p. 240.

20 Antonio Miralles, Il matrimonio, Ed. S. Paolo, Milan 1996, p. 82.

21 J. Joannes Chrisostomus, Homilia in Eph., 20, 8.

22 Cf. A. Miralles, op. cit., p. 81.

23 Cf. H. Schlier, op. cit., p. 415.

24 M. Zerwick, Carta a los Efesios, Herder, p. 166.

25 C. Rocchetta, op. cit., p. 42.

26 St. Augustine, De Bono Coniugali, 24, 32.

27 Francisco Gil Hellín, El matrimonio y la vida conjugal, Edicep, Valencia 1995, pp. 230, 236.

28 John Paul II, Uomo e donna lo creò - Catechesi sull'amore umano, Città Nuova Editrice - Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995, p. 468.

29 C. Rocchetta, op. cit., p. 161.

30 Cf. A. Miralles, op. cit., pp. 74-75.

31 The former Holy Office, in the decree of April 1, 1944, had already rejected the position represented by Doms and Krempel (Denz-Sch., n. 3838). Moreover, Pius XII had taught the primary and intimate end of procreation in his Discourse to Obstetricians on October 29, 1951. He stressed that "Everything that is most spiritual and profound in conjugal love as such was placed, through the will of nature and the Creator, at the service of offspring" (Matrimonio e famiglia nel magistero della Chiesa, n. 264).

32 In this way, by having recourse to the scholastic use of the formal object, the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers refers to health with a focus on illness and thus of health which must be treated, taken care of, with emphasis on illness and human suffering (cf. Pastor Bonus, art. 152, 153).

33 Giuseppe Angelini, Il figlio, una benedizione, un compito, Vita e Pensiero, Milan 1991, p. 164.

34 Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Homo creatus est, Morcelliana, Brescia 1991, p. 186.

35 G. Campanini, Realtà e problemi della famiglia contemporanea, Ed. Paoline, Turin 1989, p. 105.

36 Cf. Ibid., pp. 104-111.

37 The Pontifical Council for the Family has held the following pastoral meetings related to the theme of children:.

• The rights of children, Rome, June 18-19, 1992.

• The exploitation of children through prostitution and pornography, Bangkok (Thailand), September 9-11, 1992.

• Child labor, Manila (Philippines), July 1-3, 1993.

• Adoption of children, Seville (Spain), February 25-27, 1994.

• Street children, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), July 27-29, 1994.

38 M. Zundel, Recherche de la personne, Desclée, Paris 1990, p. 54.

39 Cf. Pierre Grelot, Jésus de Nazareth. Christe le Seigneur, vol. 1, Cerf, Paris 1997, p. 298.

40 G. Angelini, op. cit., p. 172.

41 Ibid., p. 180.

42 Aristotle, Etica Nicomachea, VIII, 12.

43 Giorgio Campanini, Famiglia in Nuovo Dizionario di Teologia Morale, San Paolo, Milan 1990, p. 410.

44 Ibid.

45 Pierpaolo Donati, La nuova cittadinanza di famiglia in Terzo rapporto sulla famiglia in Italia, Cisf, Ed. Paoline, Cinisello Balsamo 1993, p. 26.

46 F. Chirpaz, Difficile rencontre, Cerf, Paris 1982, p. 70.

47 Paul Moreau, Les valeurs familiales. Essai de critique philosophique, Cerf, Paris 1991, p. 145.

48 Ibid., p. 149.

49 G. Campanini, op. cit., p. 411.

50 N. Luhmann has expressed the opinion in a scientific way whereby individuals must not be connected with their family belonging in any way. Its role is irrelevant (N. Luhmann, Il sistema sociale famiglia in La ricerca sociale, 1989, n. 39, pp. 235-352). Even less should the family be considered as a "sub-system of society" (With this, a concrete negation is made of the family as a sovereign subject with specific rights). It cannot and must not mediate anything any longer between the individual and society, not even in relations between the sexes (cf. N. Luhmann, Donne, uomini, Iusea, Paris-Lecce 1992, pp. 52-70).

51 P. Donati, op. cit., p. 28.

52 Ibid., p. 31.

53 Ibid., p. 59.

54 Cf. Ibid., p. 61.

55 Donati recognizes the growing difficulty of some mediations or their reductive character, e.g., the school, social and health services, enterprise (economy)—with reference to the Italian situation. In general, in observing some countries, it might be thought that "the family does not exist: 'couples', 'women', 'children', 'the elderly' exist: that is, only generic social categories" (op. cit., p. 61). Nonetheless, interest is growing again in a greater involvement in the economic area (in the micro-economy and in local communities) (cf. Familia et Vita, review of the Pontifical Council for the Family, No. 2/96).

56 Cf. Donati, op. cit., p. 65.

57 Here it would be good to refer to the valid opinions of Buttiglione regarding the theme of the family as a communion of persons and concretely regarding the function of the mother and the father (cf. R. Buttiglione, L'uomo e la famiglia, Dino Editore, Rome 1991, pp. 121, 141).

58 Donati notes this: "The subjectivity of the family ultimately means that the family, precisely with regard to mediation, is becoming a new 'value' which is felt, lived and pursued intentionally with its own meaning which is not subordinate or dependent on other contexts or variables" (op. cit., p. 70).

59 Charter of the Rights of the Family, Vatican Press, Vatican City 1983, Preamble, E.

60 Donati comments that "if the family had no more reference to citizenship, the fundamental rules of inter-human cohabitation would be lacking and thereby the orientation toward the person as a sense of belonging and identity would vanish" (op. cit., p. 71).

61 A whole series of personal relations open up in the area of the family and in reference to society. The Bologna professor observes this: "To promote the citizenship of the family means, in other terms, to opt for choices which go in the direction of a real, more complete democracy: a democracy made of solidarity, sharing, participation and autonomy of the person as individuals in relation to one another" (op. cit., p. 73). Something of this perspective could be found in the motto of the International Year of the Family proclaimed by the United Nations for 1994: "Building the smallest democracy".

62 P. Donati, op. cit., p. 76.

63 Ibid., p. 80.

64 Ibid., p. 79.

65 Ibid., p. 77.

66 Cf. Charter of the Rights of the Family, art. VIII.

67 Cf. Concilium, 2/1996 (Italian edition). The tragedy of poverty is taken up as a "silent catastrophe" of the "40,000 children who die each day of hunger and illness, the 150 million who live in a precarious state of health and growth, and the 100 million children between 6 and 11 years of age who do not go to school": the age-old injustices, the lack of solidarity and resources, despite favorable changes and new resources (Concilium, 2/1996, 17).

68 Ibid., p. 20.

69 The paragraph which I quoted continues in this way: "and with lower birth rates, with less social and environmental problems, with less civil wars and refugees and with less international conflicts". Since I have serious doubts regarding the birth rate, which seems to be derived from a slightly correct demographic vision, I preferred to place that statement in the notes. It should be considered that if the huge economic resources which are destined today to an exaggerated birth control were directed toward in-depth formation of the family, we would be better off.

70 Concilium, op. cit., p. 20.

71 Ibid.

72 Don Browning, "In che modo negli Stati Uniti la famiglia è divenuta un 'tema liberale'" in Concilium, 2/1996, pp. 52-53.

73 "Approximately 10% of white children and 14% of black children with separated parents fell into poverty over the course of the following year…45% of families with children under 18 who are in the care of a woman are poor compared to only 7% of families with children in the care of a married couple" (Ibid.).

74 Op. cit., p. 54. We cannot dwell here on the figures relative to suicide, mental disorder, which are instructive. The same can be said for scholastic achievement. The costs are enormous! The deterioration, also of economic conditions, has obvious relations in certain cultural changes with the tendency "ever more accentuated to resolve the conflict of interests between adults and children in favor of the former" (Ibid., p. 55).

75 Beyond Rhetoric: A New American Agenda for Children and Families. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 1991, xix, quoted in Concilium, 2/1996, p. 59.

76 W. Galston is a well-known moral philosopher and author of the book "Liberal Purposes (Cambridge University, Press, Cambridge, 1990) (which apparently inspired some changes in Clinton's policy). He studies Aristotelian democracy which presumes that the citizens must have a high degree of virtue and moral character.

77 Cf. D. Browning, Concilium, 2/1996, p. 65.

78 Cf. H.G. Gadamer, Plato dialektische Ethik, 1931, p. 138.

79 Cf. R. Bultmann, Elpis in Grande Lessico del N.T., Paideia, Brescia, II, 518.

80 St. John of the Cross, La noche oscura, III, 21, 6.

81 Hope is not a marginal thing, much less in the world of philosophy. Kant recalled that every philosophy was related to four fundamental questions, of which the third would be, "What am I permitted to hope?". Basically, as J.L. Bruges comments, every religion is born from a question about the future (cf. Dictionnaire de la morale catholique, CLD, 1991, p. 153). Hope also puts new vivacity into theology (Ibid.).

82 His hypotheses were the object of consideration in some of my other conferences. He concentrates especially on the situation in France and perhaps of other Western European countries.

83 Other studies show the numerical increase in premarital relations and postponement of the date for celebrating marriage. Various factors lead them to stay at home. The phenomenon of "prolonged adolescence" is new and worrisome.

84 While the demographic and pro-abortion policies are to be deplored, an effort is seen on the part of liberal politicians to present themselves as defenders of the family (cf. Concilium, 2/1996, pp. 48-65).