You are viewing an archived page on our old website. Click here to visit our new website.

Home | Join/Donate | Current Voices | Liturgical Calendar | What's New | Affirmation | James Hitchcock's Column | Church Documents | Search

Voices Online Edition
Vol. XIX No. 1 Eastertide 2004

-- Be what you are
Excerpts from Pope John Paul II's Letter to Families -- Gratissimam sane
February 2, 1994


This year marks the tenth anniversary of Pope John Paul II's Letter to Families (Gratissimam sane), issued February 2, 1994, in observance of the Year of the Family. Now, a decade later, the family -- even the very concept of marriage -- is the target of more serious threats than when this teaching document first appeared.

Because of the recent push for "marriage" of homosexual couples in various parts of the United States, and elsewhere in the world, we believe a review of key sections of the Letter will be especially useful to Catholics who must confront these vexed issues wisely.

The Letter would be a fruitful resource for study -- individually or in groups -- and we highly recommend that the document be given to couples in marriage preparation programs. (Footnotes do not appear in this excerpt.) -- Editor.

4. In this Letter I wish to speak not to families "in the abstract" but to every particular family in every part of the world, wherever it is located and whatever the diversity and complexity of its culture and history. The love with which God "loved the world" (Jn 3:16), the love with which Christ loved each and every one "to the end" (Jn 13:1), makes it possible to address this message to each family, as a living "cell" of the great and universal "family" of mankind. The Father, Creator of the Universe, and the Word Incarnate, the Redeemer of humanity, are the source of this universal openness to all people as brothers and sisters, and they impel us to embrace them in the prayer which begins with the tender words: "Our Father".

Prayer makes the Son of God present among us: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them". (Mt 18:20) This Letter to Families wishes in the first place to be a prayer to Christ to remain in every human family; an invitation to Him, in and through the small family of parents and children, to dwell in the great family of nations, so that together with Him all of us can truly say: "Our Father"! Prayer must become the dominant element of the Year of the Family in the Church: prayer by the family, prayer for the family, and prayer with the family.

It is significant that precisely in and through prayer, man comes to discover in a very simple and yet profound way his own unique subjectivity: in prayer the human "I" more easily perceives the depth of what it means to be a person. This is also true of the family, which is not only the basic "cell" of society, but also possesses a particular subjectivity of its own. This subjectivity finds its first and fundamental confirmation, and is strengthened, precisely when the members of the family meet in the common invocation: "Our Father". Prayer increases the strength and spiritual unity of the family, helping the family to partake of God's own "strength". In the solemn nuptial blessing during the Rite of Marriage, the celebrant calls upon the Lord in these words: "Pour out upon them [the newlyweds] the grace of the Holy Spirit so that by your love poured into their hearts they will remain faithful in the marriage covenant". This "visitation" of the Holy Spirit gives rise to the inner strength of families, as well as the power capable of uniting them in love and truth.

Love and Concern for all Families
5. May the Year of the Family become a harmonious and universal prayer on the part of all "domestic churches" and of the whole People of God! May this prayer also reach families in difficulty or danger, lacking confidence or experiencing division, or in situations which Familiaris Consortio describes as "irregular". May all families be able to feel the loving and caring embrace of their brothers and sisters!

During the Year of the Family, prayer should first of all be an encouraging witness on the part of those families who live out their human and Christian vocation in the communion of the home... With reason it can be said that these families make up "the norm", even admitting the existence of more than a few "irregular situations". And experience shows what an important role is played by a family living in accordance with the moral norm, so that the individual born and raised in it will be able to set out without hesitation on the road of the good, which is always written in his heart.

Unfortunately various programs backed by very powerful resources nowadays seem to aim at the breakdown of the family. At times it appears that concerted efforts are being made to present as "normal" and attractive, and even to glamorize, situations which are in fact "irregular". Indeed, they contradict "the truth and love" which should inspire and guide relationships between men and women, thus causing tensions and divisions in families, with grave consequences particularly for children. The moral conscience becomes darkened; what is true, good and beautiful is deformed; and freedom is replaced by what is actually enslavement. In view of all this, how relevant and thought-provoking are the words of the Apostle Paul about the freedom for which Christ has set us free, and the slavery which is caused by sin! (cf. Gal 5:1)

It is apparent then how... indispensable is the witness of all families who live their vocation day by day; how urgent it is for families to pray and for that prayer to increase and to spread throughout the world, expressing thanksgiving for love in truth, for "the outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the presence among parents and children of Christ the Redeemer and Bridegroom, who "loved us to the end". (cf. Jn 13:1) Let us be deeply convinced that this love is the greatest of all (cf. I Cor 13:13), and let us believe that it is really capable of triumphing over everything that is not love...

The words of the Book of Genesis contain that truth about man which is confirmed by the very experience of humanity. Man is created "from the very beginning" as male and female: the life of all humanity -- whether of small communities or of society as a whole -- marked by this primordial duality. From it derives the "masculinity" and the "femininity" of individuals, just as from it every community draws its own unique richness in the mutual fulfillment of persons. This is what seems to be meant by the words of the Book of Genesis: "Male and female He created them". (Gen 1:27) Here too we find the first statement of the equal dignity of man and woman: both in equal measure, are persons. Their constitution, with the specific dignity which derives from it, defines "from the beginning" the qualities of the common good of humanity, in every dimension and circumstance of life. To this common good both man and woman make their specific contribution. Hence one can discover, at the very origins of human society, the qualities of communion and of complementarity.

The Marital Covenant
7. The family has always been considered as the first and basic expression of man's social nature. Even today this way of looking at things remains unchanged. Nowadays, however, emphasis tends to be laid on how much the family, as the smallest and most basic human community, owes to the personal contribution of a man and a woman. The family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum. Here too, while always acknowledging the absolute transcendence of the Creator with regard to His creatures, we can see the family's ultimate relationship to the divine "We". Only persons are capable of living "in communion". The family originates in a marital communion described by the Second Vatican Council as a "covenant", in which man and woman "give themselves to each other and accept each other".

The Book of Genesis helps us to see this truth when it states, in reference to the establishment of the family through marriage, that "a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh". (Gen 2:24) In the Gospel, Christ, disputing with the Pharisees, quotes these same words and then adds: "So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder". (Mt 19:6) In this way, He reveals anew the binding content of a fact which exists "from the beginning" (Mt 19:8) and which always preserves this content. If the Master confirms it "now", He does so in order to make clear and unmistakable to all, at the dawn of the New Covenant, the indissoluble character of marriage as the basis of the common good of the family.

When, in union with the Apostle, we bow our knees before the Father from whom all fatherhood and motherhood is named (cf. Eph 3:14-15), we come to realize that parenthood is the event whereby the family, already constituted by the conjugal covenant of marriage, is brought about "in the full and specific sense". Motherhood necessarily implies fatherhood, and in turn, fatherhood necessarily implies motherhood. This is the result of the duality bestowed by the Creator upon human beings "from the beginning".

I have spoken of two closely related yet not identical concepts: the concept of "communion" and that of "community". "Communion" has to do with the personal relationship between the "I" and the "thou". "Community" on the other hand transcends this framework and moves toward a "society", a "we". The family, as a community of persons, is thus the first human "society". It arises whenever there comes into being the conjugal covenant of marriage, which opens the spouses to a lasting communion of love and of life, and it is brought to completion in a full and specific way with the procreation of children: the "communion" of the spouses gives rise to the "community" of the family. The "community" of the family is completely pervaded by the very essence of "communion". On the human level, can there be any other "communion" comparable to that between a mother and a child whom she has carried in her womb and then brought to birth?

In the family thus constituted there appears a new unity, in which the relationship "of communion" between the parents attains complete fulfillment. Experience teaches that this fulfillment represents both a task and a challenge. The task involves the spouses in living out their original covenant. The children born to them -- and here is the challenge -- should consolidate that covenant, enriching and deepening the conjugal communion of the father and mother. When this does not occur, we need to ask if the selfishness which lurks even in the love of man and woman as a result of the human inclination to evil is not stronger than this love. Married couples need to be well aware of this. From the outset they need to have their hearts and thoughts turned toward the God "from whom every family is named", so that their fatherhood and motherhood will draw from that source the power to be continually renewed in love.

Fatherhood and motherhood are themselves a particular proof of love; they make it possible to discover love's extension and original depth. But this does not take place automatically. Rather, it is a task entrusted to both husband and wife. In the life of husband and wife together, fatherhood and motherhood represent such a sublime "novelty" and richness as can only be approached "on one's knees".

Experience teaches that human love, which naturally tends toward fatherhood and motherhood, is sometimes affected by a profound crisis and is thus seriously threatened... At the same time, however, we cannot forget the perennial validity of the words of the Apostle: "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named". Marriage, the Sacrament of Matrimony, is a covenant of persons in love. And love can be deepened and preserved only by Love, that Love which is "poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us".... (Rom 5:5) The Apostle, bowing his knees before the Father, asks that the faithful "be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man". (Eph 3:16) This "inner strength" is necessary in all family life, especially at its critical moments, when the love which was expressed in the liturgical rite of marital consent with the words, "I promise to be faithful to you always ... all the days of my life", is put to a difficult test.

The Unity of the Two
8. Only "persons" are capable of saying those words; only they are able to live "in communion" on the basis of a mutual choice which is, or ought to be, fully conscious and free. The Book of Genesis, in speaking of a man who leaves father and mother in order to cleave to his wife, (cf. Gen 2:24) highlights the conscious and free choice which gives rise to marriage, making the son of a family a husband, and the daughter of a family a wife. How can we adequately understand this mutual choice, unless we take into consideration the full truth about the person, who is a rational and free being? The Second Vatican Council, in speaking of the likeness of God, uses extremely significant terms. It refers not only to the divine image and likeness which every human being as such already possesses, but also and primarily to "a certain similarity between the union of the divine persons and the union of God's children in truth and love". This rich and meaningful formulation first of all confirms what is central to the identity of every man and every woman. This identity consists in the capacity to live in truth and love; even more, it consists in the need of truth and love as an essential dimension of the life of the person. Man's need for truth and love opens him both to God and to creatures: it opens him to other people, to life "in communion", and in particular to marriage and to the family. In the words of the Council, the "communion" of persons is drawn in a certain sense from the mystery of the Trinitarian "We", and therefore "conjugal communion" also refers to this mystery. The family, which originates in the love of man and woman, ultimately derives from the mystery of God. This conforms to the innermost being of man and woman, to their innate and authentic dignity as persons.

In marriage man and woman are so firmly united as to become to use the words of the Book of Genesis -- "one flesh". (Gen 2:24) Male and female in their physical constitution, the two human subjects, even though physically different, share equally in the capacity to live "in truth and love". This capacity, characteristic of the human being as a person, has at the same time both a spiritual and a bodily dimension. It is also through the body that man and woman are predisposed to form a "communion of persons" in marriage. When they are united by the conjugal covenant in such a way as to become "one flesh", (Gen 2:24) their union ought to take place "in truth and love", and thus express the maturity proper to persons created in the image and likeness of God.

The family which results from this union draws its inner solidity from the covenant between the spouses, which Christ raised to a Sacrament. The family draws its proper character as a community, its traits of "communion", from that fundamental communion of the spouses which is prolonged in their children. "Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?", the celebrant asks during the Rite of Marriage. The answer given by the spouses reflects the most profound truth of the love which unites them. Their unity, however, rather than closing them up in themselves, opens them toward a new life, toward a new person. As parents, they will be capable of giving life to a being like themselves, not only bone of their bones and flesh of their flesh, (cf. Gen 2:23) but an image and likeness of God -- a person.

When the Church asks "Are you willing?", she is reminding the bride and groom that they stand before the creative power of God. They are called to become parents, to cooperate with the Creator in giving life. Cooperating with God to call new human beings into existence means contributing to the transmission of that divine image and likeness of which everyone "born of a woman" is a bearer.

The Genealogy of the Person
9. Through the communion of persons which occurs in marriage, a man and a woman begin a family. 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. The Apostle, with knees bowed "before the Father from whom all [parenthood] in heaven and on earth is named", (Eph 3:14-15) in a certain sense asks us to look at the whole world of living creatures, from the spiritual beings in heaven to the corporeal beings on earth. Every act of begetting finds its primordial model in the fatherhood of God. Nonetheless, in the case of man, this "cosmic" dimension of likeness to God is not sufficient to explain adequately the relationship of fatherhood and motherhood. When a new person is born of the conjugal union of the two, he brings with him into the world a particular image and likeness of God Himself: the genealogy of the person is inscribed in the very biology of generation.

In affirming that the spouses, as parents, cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving birth to a new human being, we are not speaking merely with reference to the laws of biology. Instead, we wish to emphasize that God Himself is present in human fatherhood and motherhood quite differently than He is present in all other instances of begetting "on earth". Indeed, God alone is the source of that "image and likeness" which is proper to the human being, as it was received at Creation. Begetting is the continuation of Creation.

And so, both in the conception and in the birth of a new child, parents find themselves face to face with a "great mystery". (cf. Eph 5:32) Like his parents, the new human being is also called to live as a person; he is called to a life "in truth and love". This call is not only open to what exists in time, but in God it is also open to eternity. This is the dimension of the genealogy of the person which has been revealed definitively by Christ, who casts the light of His Gospel on human life and death and thus on the meaning of the human family.

As the Council affirms, man is "the only creature on earth whom God willed for its own sake". Man's coming into being does not conform to the laws of biology alone, but also, and directly, to God's creative will, which is concerned with the genealogy of the sons and daughters of human families. God "willed" man from the very beginning, and God "wills" him in every act of conception and every human birth. God "wills" man as a being similar to Himself, as a person. This man, every man, is created by God "for his own sake". That is true of all persons, including those born with sicknesses or disabilities. Inscribed in the personal constitution of every human being is the will of God, who wills that man should be, in a certain sense, an end unto himself. God hands man over to himself, entrusting him both to his family and to society as their responsibility. Parents, in contemplating a new human being, are, or ought to be, fully aware of the fact that God "wills" this individual "for his own sake".

This concise expression is profoundly rich in meaning. From the very moment of conception, and then of birth, the new being is meant to express fully his humanity, to "find himself" as a person. This is true for absolutely everyone, including the chronically ill and the disabled. "To be human" is his fundamental vocation: "to be human" in accordance with the gift received, in accordance with that "talent" which is humanity itself, and only then in accordance with other talents. In this sense God wills every man "for his own sake". In God's plan, however, the vocation of the human person extends beyond the boundaries of time. It encounters the will of the Father revealed in the Incarnate Word: "God's will is to lavish upon man a sharing in His own divine life. As Christ says: "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly". (Jn 10:10)

Does affirming man's ultimate destiny not conflict with the statement that God wills man "for his own sake"? If he has been created for divine life, can man truly exist "for his own sake"? This is a critical question, one of great significance both for the beginning of his earthly life and its end: it is important for the whole span of his life. It might appear that in destining man for divine life God definitively takes away man's existing "for his own sake". What then is the relationship between the life of the person and his sharing in the life of the Trinity? Saint Augustine provides us with the answer in his celebrated phrase: "Our heart is restless until it rests in you". This "restless heart" serves to point out that between the one finality and the other there is in fact no contradiction, but rather a relationship, a complementarity, a unity. By his very genealogy, the person created in the image and likeness of God, exists "for his own sake" and reaches fulfillment precisely by sharing in God's life. The content of this self-fulfillment is the fullness of life in God, proclaimed by Christ (cf. Jn 6:37-40), who redeemed us precisely so that we might come to share it... (cf. Mk 10:45)

The Common Good of Marriage and the Family
10. Marital consent defines and consolidates the good common to marriage and to the family. "I, N., take you, N., to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life". Marriage is a unique communion of persons, and it is on the basis of this communion that the family is called to become a community of persons. This is a commitment which the bride and groom undertake "before God and His Church", as the celebrant reminds them before they exchange their consent. Those who take part in the rite are witnesses of this commitment, for in a certain sense they represent the Church and society, the settings in which the new family will live and grow.

The words of consent define the common good of the couple and of the family. First, the common good of the spouses: love, fidelity, honor, the permanence of their union until death -- "all the days of my life". The good of both, which is at the same time the good of each, must then become the good of the children. The common good, by its very nature, both unites individual persons and ensures the true good of each. If the Church (and the State for that matter) receives the consent which the spouses express in the words cited above, she does so because that consent is "written in their hearts". (Rom 2:15) It is the spouses who give their consent to each other by a solemn promise, that is by confirming the truth of that consent in the sight of God. As baptized Christians, they are the ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony in the Church. Saint Paul teaches that this mutual commitment of theirs is a "great mystery". (Eph 5:32)

The words of consent, then, express what is essential to the common good of the spouses, and they indicate what ought to be the common good of the future family. 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. This question calls to mind the common good of the future family unit, evoking the genealogy of persons which is part of the constitution of marriage and of the family itself. The question about children and their education is profoundly linked to marital consent, with its solemn promise of love, conjugal respect, and fidelity until death. The acceptance and education of children -- two of the primary ends of the family -- are conditioned by how that commitment will be fulfilled. Fatherhood and motherhood represent a responsibility which is not simply physical but spiritual in nature, indeed, through these realities there passes the genealogy of the person, which has its eternal beginning in God and which must lead back to Him...

12. ...The Church both teaches the moral truth about responsible fatherhood and motherhood and protects it from the erroneous views and tendencies which are widespread today. Why does the Church continue to do this? Is she unaware of the problems raised by those who counsel her to make concessions in this area and who even attempt to persuade her by undue pressures if not even threats? The Church's Magisterium is often chided for being behind the times and closed to the promptings of the spirit of modern times, and for promoting a course of action which is harmful to humanity, and indeed to the Church herself. By obstinately holding to her own positions, it is said, the Church will end up losing popularity, and more and more believers will turn away from her.

But how can it be maintained that the Church, especially the College of Bishops in communion with the pope, is insensitive to such grave and pressing questions? It was precisely these extremely important questions which led Pope Paul VI to publish the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. The foundations of the Church's doctrine concerning responsible fatherhood and motherhood are exceptionally broad and secure. The Council demonstrates this above all in its teaching on man, when it affirms that he is "the only creature on earth which God willed for itself", and that he cannot "fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself". This is so because he has been created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the only-begotten Son of the Father, who became man for us and for our salvation.

The Second Vatican Council, particularly conscious of the problem of man and his calling, states that the conjugal union, the biblical "una caro" ["one flesh"], 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. If the wife is the first to realize that she has become a mother, the husband, to whom she has been united in "one flesh", then learns this when she tells him that he has become a father. Both are responsible for their potential and later actual fatherhood and motherhood. The husband cannot fail to acknowledge and accept the result of a decision which has also been his own. He cannot hide behind expressions such as: "I don't know", "I didn't want it", or "you're the one who wanted it". In every case conjugal union involves the responsibility of the man and of the woman, a potential responsibility which becomes actual when the circumstances dictate. This is true especially for the man. Although he too is involved in the beginning of the generative process, he is left biologically distant from it; it is within the woman that the process develops. How can the man fail to assume responsibility? The man and the woman must assume together, before themselves and before others, the responsibility for the new life which they have brought into existence.

This conclusion is shared by the human sciences themselves. There is however a need for more in-depth study, analyzing the meaning of the conjugal act in view of the values of the "person" and of the "gift" mentioned above. This is what the Church has done in her constant teaching, and in a particular way at the Second Vatican Council.

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: in this way the marriage is called to even greater fulfillment as a family. Certainly the mutual gift of husband and wife does not have the begetting of children as its only end, but is in itself a mutual communion of love and of life. The intimate truth of this gift must always be safeguarded. "Intimate" is not here synonymous with "subjective". Rather, it means essentially in conformity with the objective truth of the man and woman who give themselves. The person can never be considered a means to an end; above all never a means of "pleasure". The person is and must be nothing other than the end of every act. Only then does the action correspond to the true dignity of the person. In concluding our reflection on this important and sensitive subject, I wish to offer special encouragement above all to you, dear married couples, and to all who assist you in understanding and putting into practice the Church's teaching on marriage and on responsible motherhood and fatherhood. I am thinking in particular about pastors and the many scholars, theologians, philosophers, writers and journalists who have resisted the powerful trend to cultural conformity and are courageously ready to "swim against the tide". This encouragement also goes to an increasing number of experts, physicians and educators who are authentic lay apostles for whom the promotion of the dignity of marriage and the family has become an important task in their lives. In the name of the Church I express my gratitude to all! What would priests, Bishops and even the Successor of Peter be able to do without you? From the first years of my priesthood I have become increasingly convinced of this, from when I began to sit in the confessional to share the concerns, fears and hopes of many married couples. I met difficult cases of rebellion and refusal, but at the same time so many marvelously responsible and generous persons! In writing this Letter I have all those married couples in mind, and I embrace them with my affection and my prayer....

19. Saint Paul uses a concise phrase in referring to family life: it is a "great mystery". (Eph 5:32) What he writes in the Letter to the Ephesians about that "great mystery", although deeply rooted in the Book of Genesis and in the whole Old Testament tradition, nonetheless represents a new approach which will later find expression in the Church's Magisterium.

The Church professes that Marriage, as the Sacrament of the covenant between husband and wife, is a "great mystery", because it expresses the spousal love of Christ for His Church...

Saint Paul's magnificent synthesis concerning the "great mystery" appears as the compendium or summa, in some sense, of the teaching about God and man which was brought to fulfillment by Christ. Unfortunately, Western thought, with the development of modern rationalism, has been gradually moving away from this teaching. The philosopher who formulated the principle of "Cogito, ergo sum" -- "I think, therefore I am" -- also gave the modern concept of man its distinctive dualistic character. It is typical of rationalism to make a radical contrast in man between spirit and body, between body and spirit. But man is a person in the unity of his body and his spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter: it is a spiritualized body, just as man's spirit is so closely united to the body that he can be described as an embodied spirit. The richest source for knowledge of the body is the Word made flesh. Christ reveals man to himself. In a certain sense this statement of the Second Vatican Council is the reply, so long awaited, which the Church has given to modern rationalism.

This reply is of fundamental importance for understanding the family, especially against the background of today's civilization, which, as has been said, seems in so many cases to have given up the attempt to be a "civilization of love". The modern age has made great progress in understanding both the material world and human psychology, but with regard to his deepest, metaphysical dimension contemporary man remains to a great extent a being unknown to himself. Consequently the family too remains an unknown reality. Such is the result of estrangement from that "great mystery" spoken of by the Apostle.

The separation of spirit and body in man has led to a growing tendency to consider the human body, not in accordance with the categories of its specific likeness to God, but rather on the basis of its similarity to all the other bodies present in the world of nature, bodies which man uses as raw material in his efforts to produce goods for consumption. But everyone can immediately realize what enormous dangers lurk behind the application of such criteria to man. When the human body, considered apart from spirit and thought, comes to be used as raw material in the same way that the bodies of animals are used -- and this actually occurs for example in experimentation on embryos and fetuses -- we will inevitably arrive at a dreadful ethical defeat.

Within a similar anthropological perspective, the human family is facing the challenge of a new Manichaeanism, in which body and spirit are put in radical opposition; the body does not receive life from the spirit, and the spirit does not give life to the body. Man thus ceases to live as a person and a subject. Regardless of all intentions and declarations to the contrary, he becomes merely an object. This neo-Manichaean culture has led, for example, to human sexuality being regarded more as a area for manipulation and exploitation than as the basis of that primordial wonder which led Adam on the morning of creation to exclaim before Eve: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh". (Gen 2:23) This same wonder is echoed in the words of the Song of Solomon: "You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes". (Song 4:9) How far removed are some modern ideas from the profound understanding of masculinity and femininity found in Divine Revelation! Revelation leads us to discover in human sexuality a treasure proper to the person, who finds true fulfillment in the family but who can likewise express his profound calling in virginity and in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Modern rationalism does not tolerate mystery. It does not accept the mystery of man as male and female, nor is it willing to admit that the full truth about man has been revealed in Jesus Christ. In particular, it does not accept the "great mystery" proclaimed in the Letter to the Ephesians, but radically opposes it. It may well acknowledge, in the context of a vague deism, the possibility and even the need for a supreme or divine Being, but it firmly rejects the idea of a God who became man in order to save man. For rationalism it is unthinkable that God should be the Redeemer, much less that He should be "the Bridegroom", the primordial and unique source of the human love between spouses. Rationalism provides a radically different way of looking at creation and the meaning of human existence. But once man begins to lose sight of a God who loves him, a God who calls man through Christ to live in Him and with Him, and once the family no longer has the possibility of sharing in the "great mystery", what is left except the mere temporal dimension of life? Earthly life becomes nothing more than the scenario of a battle for existence, of a desperate search for gain, and financial gain before all else.

The deep-seated roots of the "great mystery", the sacrament of love and life which began with Creation and Redemption and which has Christ the Bridegroom as its ultimate surety, have been lost in the modern way of looking at things. The "great mystery" is threatened in us and all around us. May the Church's celebration of the Year of the Family be a fruitful opportunity for husbands and wives to rediscover that mystery and recommit themselves to it with strength, courage and enthusiasm...

Concluding Prayer
23... May Christ, who is the same "yesterday and today and for ever", (Heb 13:8) be with us as we bow the knee before the Father, from whom all fatherhood and motherhood and every human family is named. (cf. Eph 3:14-15) In the words of the prayer to the Father which Christ Himself taught us, may He once again offer testimony of that love with which He loved us "to the end"! (Jn 13:1)

I speak with the power of His truth to all people of our day, so that they will come to appreciate the grandeur of the goods of marriage, family and life; so that they will come to appreciate the great danger which follows when these realities are not respected, or when the supreme values which lie at the foundation of the family and of human dignity are disregarded.

May the Lord Jesus repeat these truths to us with the power and the wisdom of the Cross, so that humanity will not yield to the temptation of the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44), who constantly seeks to draw people to broad and easy ways, ways apparently smooth and pleasant, but in reality full of snares and dangers. May we always be enabled to follow the One who is "the way, and the truth, and the life". (Jn 14:6)

Dear Brothers and Sisters: Let all of this be the task of Christian families and the object of the Church's missionary concern throughout this Year, so rich in singular divine graces. May the Holy Family, icon and model of every human family, help each individual to walk in the spirit of Nazareth. May it help each family unit to grow in understanding of its particular mission in society and the Church by hearing the Word of God, by prayer and by a fraternal sharing of life. May Mary, Mother of "Fairest Love", and Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, accompany us all with their constant protection.

With these sentiments I bless every family in the name of the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 2 February, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, in the year 1994, the sixteenth of my Pontificate.

- Pope John Paul II

**Women for Faith & Family operates solely on your generous donations!

WFF is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.

Voices copyright © 1999-Present Women for Faith & Family. All rights reserved.


All material on this web site is copyrighted and may not be copied or reproduced without prior written permission from Women for Faith & Family,except as specified below.

Personal use
Permission is granted to download and/or print out articles for personal use only.

Brief quotations (ca 500 words) may be made from the material on this site, in accordance with the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, without prior permission. For these quotations proper attribution must be made of author and WFF + URL (i.e., “Women for Faith & Family –

Generally, all signed articles or graphics must also have the permission of the author. If a text does not have an author byline, Women for Faith & Family should be listed as the author. For example: Women for Faith & Family (St Louis: Women for Faith & Family, 2005 + URL)

Link to Women for Faith & Family web site.
Other web sites are welcome to establish links to or to individual pages within our site.

Back to top -- Home -- Back to Table of Contents
Women for Faith & Family
PO Box 300411
St. Louis, MO 63130

314-863-8385 Phone -- 314-863-5858 Fax -- Email

You are viewing an archived page on our old website. Click here to visit our new website.