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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Family: Live and Transmit the Faith - Pope Benedict XVI on the Family

The family, an institution that is under attack in American and across the world.  Since the paper is long the following is Part 1 of 3 of the paper that I wrote on our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI thoughts on the family.  The title of this blog post is taken directly from the Holy Father as well.  The family must be defended and as the following will show the Holy Father is leading the charge in the defense of the vital and fundamental cell of human society.

Pope Benedict XVI is the chief pastor of the Church, the Vicar of Christ and he has the title of the Holy Father.  Truly, the Pope is in the spiritual sense a father to the whole church.  In an age where moral relativism has crept into every aspect of society, including the family, it can be seen that “new forms” of the family are brought forth, that of same-sex parents, single parents, and unmarried parents.  There are many new radical ideas of what family can be, however we are cautioned by Pope Benedict on what the family truly is.  He describes the family as “a most important value that must be defended from any attack that aims to undermine its solidity and call its very existence into question.”[1]  The overall importance of the family can be summed up in one simple quote, “In the Gospel we do not find discourses on the family but an event which is worth more than any words:  God wanted to be born and to grow up in a human family.  In this way he consecrated the family as the first and ordinary means of his encounter with humanity.”[2]  There are many fundamental aspects to the family that must be examined but foundational to begin is that of the Sacrament of Marriage.
            The strength of a marriage is extremely important; Pope Benedict would call it foundational to the health of a family.  “God could take the history of love and of the union of a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage as symbol of salvation history.”[3]  How beautiful that a strong marriage, one based on love could be looked at as symbol of salvation history.  The spousal relationship between God and humanity examined from this wonderful idea of complete self-giving.  Pope Benedict defines marriage as, “this following of the other in love, thus becoming one existence, one flesh, therefore inseparable; a new life…is born from this communion of love that unites and thus creates the future.”[4]  When examining marriage it is important to point out that it is ultimately created by God and is “an institution of the natural law.  Which has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament; it is a great gift that God has given to mankind: respect it and honor it.”[5]  The goodness of marriage can be known then in the natural law and because of its great importance Christ elevated it to a Sacrament that through marriage we might partake in our own salvation.  “Marriage is a Sacrament for the salvation of others: first of all for the salvation of the husband or of the wife, but also of the children, the sons and daughters, and lastly of the entire community.”[6]  Thus, the witness of a loving marriage is essential not only in the family nucleus at home but for the good of the entire community.  Marriage supports the community and edifies it through this witness of self-giving love.  Marriage as heard above is inseparable or as put by Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church indissoluble.  “The indissolubility of marriage does not derive from the definitive commitment of those who contract it but is intrinsic in the nature of the powerful bond established by the Creator.”[7]  It is in this powerful bond and the marital act that life is given thus, “the marvelous reality of the indissoluble marriage…is also the origin of the family.”[8]  There is then great strength in traditional marriage and from this grows family, it must be defended at all times from attacks that might weaken it, which in turn weakens society as a whole.  Many things in today’s culture attack traditional marriage.  “When the bonds between man and woman, and between parents and children, are dissolved, so that the very sources from which life springs are blocked up.”[9]  Accordingly, it can be shown the moral error in homosexual unions because by their very nature they are not open to life and the nurturing of that life.  Where can this all be traced to, Pope Benedict puts it succinctly; “At the origin of all these negative things lies the negation of the truth in favor of what is convenient-or rather, of what is profitable.”[10]  This negation of truth can be seen in so many ways and unfortunately most effectively in the detrimental effects it has on children and the spouses who are hurt by this negation of truth.  “Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or forego it altogether…together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the mutual self-giving is simply absent.”[11]  The prevalence of the absence of marriage has a detrimental effect on all of society but most especially on those most vulnerable children.  “In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.”[12]  It is in the foundation of a strong marital union that, “the family comes into being from the responsible, and definitive ‘yes’ of a man and a woman, and it continues to live from the conscious ‘yes’ of the children who gradually join it.”[13]  The family therefore is based on the openness of parents and from that openness comes a responsibility which must be based Christ.  “For them, the Lord is the center and heart of the family.  He accompanies them in their union and sustains them in their mission to raise children to maturity”[14]  God at his very center is love and so it is authentic, self-giving love that anchors a solid marriage.


[1] Jean-Michel Coulet, ed., An Invitation to Faith: An A toZz Primer On the Thought of Pope Benedict, trans. Kate Marcelin-Rice (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), page 25.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI: Family, Angelus Dec 2006, Spiritual Thought Series (Washington D.C.: USCCB, 2009), page 88.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI: Family, Address to participant in the Ecclesial Diocesan Convention of Rome June 2005, Spiritual Thought Series (Washington D.C.: USCCB, 2009), page 7.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI: Family, Encounter with youth in Lazio, Rome, before the Twenty-First World Youth Day April 2006, Spiritual Thought Series (Washington D.C.: USCCB, 2009), page 8-9.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI: Family, Meeting with youth in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 2007, Spiritual Thought Series (Washington D.C.: USCCB, 2009), page 18.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI: Family, Meeting with priests of the Diocese of Albano, August 2006, Spiritual Thought Series (Washington D.C.: USCCB, 2009), page 13.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI: Family, Address to members of the tribunal of the Roman Rota, Jan. 2007, Spiritual Thought Series (Washington D.C.: USCCB, 2009), page 15.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI, “World Congress of Families: What Parents Should Do (given as a Homily),” Catholic Insight 14, no. 8 (September 2006): 12-14.
[9] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Christianity and The Crisis Of Cultures, trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), page 95.
[10] Ibid, pg 96.
[11] Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict in America: The Full Texts of Papal Talks Given During His Apostolic Visit to the United States (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), page 47.
[12] Ibid, page 47.
[13] Pope Benedict XVI,  “Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict Xvi for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace,” The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents (accessed October, 27 2010).
[14] Pope Benedict XVI: Family, Address to participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, May 2006, Spiritual Thought Series (Washington D.C.: USCCB, 2009), page 64.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow

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