As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.
~Pope Saint John Paul II, homily given in Perth, Australia in November 1986
Last week in Rome I joined nearly 300 people from 28 countries representing 83 Catholic movements and institutions for a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family. The primary focus of the three-day conference was to discuss questions aimed in response to the “Relatio Synodi” of the III Extraordinary Synod that met in October 2014. Conference participants were assigned the task of reflecting and discussing the 46 questions posed by the Synod Fathers. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President for the Pontifical Council for the Family, will now synthesize these responses and present them to the Synod secretary for reflection and consideration.
As the opening session began, I recalled the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, the great defender of the family, quoted above. The situations confronting society can be resolved if we merely follow God’s plan for the family based on true marriage – one man and one woman open to the gift of life in an indissoluble and exclusive union, a union instituted and willed by God. Guided by the destructive forces of relativism and cultural individualism, society attempts to deconstruct the natural family and remake it into a new man-made entity, thus rejecting God’s gifts of marriage, family, and life.
Increasingly, governments and multinational organizations are united in a concerted effort to tear the family down. With great success on social, political, legal, and religious fronts, they are undermining healthy traditions and destabilizing religious and moral convictions. The result is the normalization of individualistic values that are imposed with complete intolerance toward anyone who dissents. The Church stands in the breech, confronting the deceptive tactics while witnessing the beauty and wonder of God’s divine plan for the natural family and humanity. Man and woman are not alone in this great battle. There is an answer and there is hope.
The Church is the sign of God’s love. She is a teacher always at the service of humanity. She takes up the call to continually defend the gifts of God while addressing the tensions that cause division and alienation from God. She preaches a message of hope and joy in the midst of a world often torn by strife and discord. She teaches what is true. She cannot call bad what is good or good what is bad. She knows that by upholding the moral law she is contributing to an authentic human civilization – a civilization of life and love – while calling each to remember and take into his heart the moral law. She walks with us, alongside every man and woman, aiding us to fulfill our destiny. She never abandons us.
As with the Church, the family — the “domestic church” — is a community of life and love. It educates and leads its members to their full maturity. It serves the good of each person and their salvation in Christ Jesus. It seeks always to love God who loved us first and in response to His gift of love, the family is always generous in its service of neighbor. Within this divinely instituted cell of society, moral values are witnessed, as well as the fundamental values anchored in the Gospel. Within the natural family, children learn real love and how to distinguish right from wrong, as well as how to choose good over evil. From their mother and father entrusted with their guidance, children learn how to love God with their whole being and how to be generous with their gifts. They learn to respect God’s commands and live out their duty as sons and daughters of God enriched with a spiritual heritage. It is within this cell that children learn the full meaning of Saint Paul’s inspired words: “Love is always patient and kind, it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited. Love takes no joy in others people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.” (1 Cor 13:4-7).
There are many wounds within the Body of Christ. Families and individuals are suffering. This reality cannot be ignored nor should it be ignored. However, we cannot conclude that humanity can resolve or heal its wounds by its own merit – how hopeless and discouraging this would be!
Our goal is not to succumb to the pressures of secularism and individualism promoted and raised up as ideals; instead, we must raise up God’s plan for the natural family, not diminish it as if God doesn’t understand our situation or is unable to heal our brokenness. We are at this precipice because we have manipulated God’s plan, thinking we can design a better family and humanity. We are here because we have sought happiness in self-centered pleasures and material consumption, not in the God-given value of our life and its ultimate destiny.
The One who creates and sustains the possibility of a marriage between one man and one woman — open to gift of life that is indissoluble, exclusive, and fruitful — is God. The One who allows and enables a person to be pure, chaste, selfless, and generous is God. God instituted marriage; it is not a human construct (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1603). He created man for woman and woman for man, united in ‘one flesh’ for the gift of new life.
No one has the authority to re-define marriage, not even the Church. Our responsibility is to highlight the primacy, vocation, and mission of the family thus building a genuine civilization of life and love. The family by its nature is called to transform the world – to be an agent within the culture – light and salt.