Dear Brothers and Sisters,
To adequately prepare for the Great Jubilee of 2000, the Christian
community must accept the serious responsibility of rediscovering the
value of the family and marriage (cf. "Tertio Millennio Adveniente",
51). This is all the more urgent considering how this value is today
called into question by a large part of culture and society.
Not only are some models of family life contested, changing under the
pressure of social transformations and new work conditions, but even the
very idea of family, that community founded on the marriage of a man and
a woman, has been targeted in the name of a relativistic ethic that is
making its way into large sectors of public opinion and even civil
The crisis of the family causes a crisis in society. Many pathological
phenomena -- from loneliness to violence to drugs -- are explained by
the fact that the nuclear family has lost its identity and function.
Where the family diminishes, society loses its connective tissue. This
has disastrous consequences, which destroy people, especially the
weakest: from children to adolescents, to the handicapped, to the sick
2. There must be a reflection that helps not only believers, but all
those of good will, to rediscover the value of marriage and the family.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The family is the original
cell of social life. It is the natural society in which man and woman
are called to give themselves in love and the gift of life. The
authority, stability and relational life in the bosom of the family make
up the foundations of liberty, security and fraternity in the sphere of
society" (n. 2207).
The family can be rediscovered by reason, listening to the moral law
written on the human heart. As a community "founded and vivified by
love" (cf. Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio", 18), the family
draws its strength from the definitive covenant of love in which a man
and a woman give themselves reciprocally, together becoming
collaborators with God in the gift of life.
On the basis of this source-relationship of love, those relationships
established with and among the other members of the family must be
inspired by love and characterized by affection and mutual support. Far
from closing the family in on itself, authentic love opens it out to all
of society, so that the little domestic family and the large family of
all human beings are not in opposition, but in intimate and authentic
relationship. All of this is rooted in the very mystery of God, which
the family evokes in a special way. In fact, as I wrote some years ago
in my "Letter to Families", "in light of the New Testament it is
possible to catch a glimpse of the original model of the family in God
himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life. The divine "We"
constitutes the eternal model of the human "we"; of the "we" first of
all that is formed by the man and the woman, created in the Divine image
and likeness" (n. 6: Teachings XVII/1 , 332).
3. God's fatherhood is the transcendent source of every other human
fatherhood and motherhood. Contemplating it with love, we must feel our
responsibility to rediscover that richness of communion, generation and
life that characterizes marriage and family.
Interpersonal relations develop in the family in which each person is
entrusted with a specific job, yet without rigid schematisms. I do not
intend here to refer to those social roles and functions that are
expressions of particular historical and cultural contexts. Rather I am
thinking of the importance that they hold in the reciprocal spousal
relationship and in the communal responsibility of the parents, figures
of man and woman in how they are called to live out their natural
characteristics within the bounds of a profound, enriching and
respectful communion. "To this 'unity of the two' God entrusts not only
the work of procreation and the life of the family, but the very
construction of history" ("Letter to Women", 8: Teaching XVIII/1 '1994',
4. The child then must be understood as the maximum expression of the
communion between man and woman, the reciprocal acceptance/donation that
is realized and transcended in a "third," who is that child. The child
is God's blessing. He transforms husband and wife into father and mother
(cf. Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio", 21). Both "go out
from themselves" and express themselves beyond themselves in a person,
the very fruit of their love.
In a special way the ideal expressed in Jesus' priestly prayer can be
applied to the family. In this prayer He asks that His unity with the
Father involve the disciples (cf. Jn 17:11) and those who believe in
their word (cf. Jn 17:20-21). The Christian family, as "domestic Church"
(cf. "Lumen Gentium", 11), is called to realize this ideal of perfect
communion in a special way.
5. As we approach the conclusion of this year dedicated to meditation on
God the Father, let us rediscover the family in the light of Divine
Paternity. By contemplating God the Father we can deduce above all an
urgency, particularly regarding the challenge of the present historical
To look at God the Father means to understand the family as the place of
acceptance and promotion of life. It is the laboratory of fraternity
where, with the help of the Christ's Spirit, "a new fraternity and
solidarity, true reflection of the mystery of reciprocal donation and
acceptance proper to the Holy Trinity" ("Evangelium Vitae", 76) is
created among us.
From the renewal of the experience of the Christian family, the Church
will be able to learn to cultivate, among all the members of the
community, a more family-like dimension, adopting and promoting a more
human and fraternal relational style (cf. FC, 64).