Read: Pope Francis releases first major paper on the family

In the pope's Amoris Laetitia, he offers no concrete changes in church laws but appears to leave open the important question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics could take Holy Communion. Pope Francis offers hope to divorced Catholics, says no to gay marriage

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of April 8, 2016

POST-SYNODALa APOSTOLICa EXHORTATION

AMORIS aLATITIA
OF aTHE aHOLYa FATHER

FRANCIS
TOa BISHOPS, aPRIESTS aAND aDEACONS
CONSECRATED aPERSONS
CHRISTIAN aMARRIED aCOUPLES
AND aALL aTHEa LAY aFAITHFUL
ON aLOVEa IN aTHE aFAMILY

1.a

T

he Joy of

Love experienced by families
is also the joy of the Church. As the
Synod Fathers noted, for all the many signs of
crisis in the institution of marriage, athe desire
to marry and form a family remains vibrant,
especially among young people, and this is an
inspiration to the Churcha.1 As a response to
that desire, athe Christian proclamation on the
family is good news indeeda.2
2.a The Synod process allowed for an examination of the situation of families in todayas
world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage
and the family. The complexity of the issues
that arose revealed the need for continued open
discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral,
spiritual, and pastoral questions. The thinking of
pastors and theologians, if faithful to the Church,
honest, realistic and creative, will help us to
achieve greater clarity. The debates carried on
in the media, in certain publications and even
among the Churchas ministers, range from an
1
a Third Extraordinary General Assembly
Synod of Bishops, Relatio Synodi (18 October 2014), 2.
2
a Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly
Synod of Bishops, Relatio Finalis (24 October 2015), 3.

of the
of the

3

immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that
would solve everything by applying general rules
or deriving undue conclusions from particular
theological considerations.
3.a Since atime is greater than spacea, I would
make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal,
moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by
interventions of the magisterium. Unity of
teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the
Church, but this does not preclude various ways
of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or
drawing certain consequences from it. This will
always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards
the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us
fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to
see all things as he does. Each country or region,
moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its
culture and sensitive to its traditions and local
needs. For acultures are in fact quite diverse and
every general principlea| needs to be inculturated,
if it is to be respected and applieda.3
a Concluding Address of the Fourteenth Ordinary General
Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (24 October 2015): LaOsservatore
Romano, 26-27 October 2015, p. 13; cf. Pontifical Biblical
Commission, Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia. Atti della sessione
plenaria 1979 della Pontificia Commissione Biblica, Turin, 1981;
Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution
on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 44; John
Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio (7 December
1990), 52: AAS 83 (1991), 300; Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
Gaudium (24 November 2013), 69, 117: AAS 105 (2013), 1049,
1068-69.
3

4

4.a I must also say that the Synod process
proved both impressive and illuminating. I am
grateful for the many contributions that helped
me to appreciate more fully the problems faced
by families throughout the world. The various
interventions of the Synod Fathers, to which I
paid close heed, made up, as it were, a multifaceted gem reflecting many legitimate concerns and
honest questions. For this reason, I thought it
appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic
Exhortation to gather the contributions of the
two recent Synods on the family, while adding
other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and
encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.
5.a This Exhortation is especially timely in this
Jubilee Year of Mercy. First, because it represents
an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts
of marriage and the family, and to persevere in
a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity,
commitment, fidelity and patience. Second, because it seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign
of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy.
6.a I will begin with an opening chapter inspired
by the Scriptures, to set a proper tone. I will then
examine the actual situation of families, in order
to keep firmly grounded in reality. I will go on
to recall some essential aspects of the Churchas
teaching on marriage and the family, thus paving
5

the way for two central chapters dedicated to love.
I will then highlight some pastoral approaches that
can guide us in building sound and fruitful homes
in accordance with Godas plan, with a full chapter devoted to the raising of children. Finally, I
will offer an invitation to mercy and the pastoral
discernment of those situations that fall short of
what the Lord demands of us, and conclude with
a brief discussion of family spirituality.
7.a Given the rich fruits of the two-year Synod
process, this Exhortation will treat, in different
ways, a wide variety of questions. This explains
its inevitable length. Consequently, I do not
recommend a rushed reading of the text. The
greatest benefit, for families themselves and for
those engaged in the family apostolate, will come
if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs. It is likely, for example, that married
couples will be more concerned with Chapters
Four and Five, and pastoral ministers with Chapter Six, while everyone should feel challenged by
Chapter Eight. It is my hope that, in reading this
text, all will feel called to love and cherish family
life, for afamilies are not a problem; they are first
and foremost an opportunitya.4

a Address at the Meeting of Families in Santiago de Cuba (22
September 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 24 September 2015, p. 7.
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CHAPTER ONE

IN THE LIGHT OF THE WORD

8.a The Bible is full of families, births, love
stories and family crises. This is true from its
very first page, with the appearance of Adam and
Eveas family with all its burden of violence but
also its enduring strength (cf. Gen 4) to its very
last page, where we behold the wedding feast of
the Bride and the Lamb (Rev 21:2, 9). Jesusa description of the two houses, one built on rock
and the other on sand (cf. Mt 7:24-27), symbolizes
any number of family situations shaped by the
exercise of their membersa freedom, for, as the
poet says, aevery home is a lampstanda.5 Let us
now enter one of those houses, led by the Psalmist with a song that even today resounds in both
Jewish and Christian wedding liturgies:
aBlessed is every one who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands;
you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;

a Jorge Luis Borges, aaCalle Desconocidaa, in Fervor de
Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, 2011, 23.
5

7

your children will be like olive shoots
round your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your childrenas children!
Peace be upon Israel!a (Ps 128:1-6).
You and your wife

9.a Let us cross the threshold of this tranquil
home, with its family sitting around the festive
table. At the centre we see the father and mother,
a couple with their personal story of love. They
embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken
of by Christ himself: aHave you not read that he
who made them from the beginning made them
male and female?a (Mt 19:4). We hear an echo
of the command found in the Book of Genesis: aTherefore a man shall leave his father and
mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24)a.
10.a The majestic early chapters of Genesis
present the human couple in its deepest reality.
Those first pages of the Bible make a number of
very clear statements. The first, which Jesus paraphrases, says that aGod created man in his own
image, in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created thema (1:27). It is
striking that the aimage of Goda here refers to
8

the couple, amale and femalea. Does this mean
that sex is a property of God himself, or that
God has a divine female companion, as some ancient religions held? Naturally, the answer is no.
We know how clearly the Bible rejects as idolatrous such beliefs, found among the Canaanites
of the Holy Land. Godas transcendence is preserved, yet inasmuch as he is also the Creator, the
fruitfulness of the human couple is a living and
effective aimagea, a visible sign of his creative
act.
11.a The couple that loves and begets life is a
true, living icon a not an idol like those of stone
or gold prohibited by the Decalogue a capable
of revealing God the Creator and Saviour. For
this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of
Godas inner life (cf. Gen 1:28; 9:7; 17:2-5, 16; 28:3;
35:11; 48:3-4). This is why the Genesis account,
following the apriestly traditiona, is interwoven
with various genealogical accounts (cf. 4:17-22,
25-26; 5; 10; 11:10-32; 25:1-4, 12-17, 19-26; 36).
The ability of human couples to beget life is the
path along which the history of salvation progresses. Seen this way, the coupleas fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding
and describing the mystery of God himself, for
in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The
triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection. Saint John Paul II shed
light on this when he said, aOur God in his deep9

est mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he
has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the
essence of the family, which is love. That love, in
the divine family, is the Holy Spirita.6 The family
is thus not unrelated to Godas very being.7 This
Trinitarian dimension finds expression in the
theology of Saint Paul, who relates the couple
to the amysterya of the union of Christ and the
Church (cf. Eph 5:21-33).
12.a In speaking of marriage, Jesus refers us
to yet another page of Genesis, which, in its
second chapter, paints a splendid and detailed
portrait of the couple. First, we see the man,
who anxiously seeks aa helper fit for hima (vv.
18, 20), capable of alleviating the solitude which
he feels amid the animals and the world around
him. The original Hebrew suggests a direct encounter, face to face, eye to eye, in a kind of
silent dialogue, for where love is concerned,
silence is always more eloquent than words. It is
an encounter with a face, a athoua, who reflects
Godas own love and is manas abest possession,
a helper fit for him and a pillar of supporta, in
the words of the biblical sage (Sir 36:24). Or
again, as the woman of the Song of Solomon
will sing in a magnificent profession of love and
mutual self-bestowal: aMy beloved is mine and
a Homily at the Eucharistic Celebration in Puebla de los Angeles
(28 January 1979), 2: AAS 71 (1979), 184.
7
a Cf. ibid.
6

10

I am hisa| I am my belovedas and my beloved is
minea (2:16; 6:3).
13.a This encounter, which relieves manas solitude, gives rise to new birth and to the family. Significantly, Adam, who is also the man
of every time and place, together with his wife,
starts a new family. Jesus speaks of this by
quoting the passage from Genesis: aThe man
shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become onea (Mt 19:5; cf. Gen 2:24). The very
word ato be joineda or ato cleavea, in the original Hebrew, bespeaks a profound harmony, a
closeness both physical and interior, to such an
extent that the word is used to describe our union with God: aMy soul clings to youa (Ps 63:8).
The marital union is thus evoked not only in its
sexual and corporal dimension, but also in its
voluntary self-giving in love. The result of this
union is that the two abecome one flesha, both
physically and in the union of their hearts and
lives, and, eventually, in a child, who will share
not only genetically but also spiritually in the
aflesha of both parents.
Your children are as the shoots
of an olive tree

14.a Let us once more take up the song of the
Psalmist. In the home where husband and wife
are seated at table, children appear at their side
alike olive shootsa (Ps 128:3), that is, full of
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energy and vitality. If the parents are in some
sense the foundations of the home, the children are like the aliving stonesa of the family
(cf. 1 Pet 2:5). Significantly, the word which
appears most frequently in the Old Testament
after the name of God (YHWH, athe Lorda),
is achilda (ben, asona), which is itself related to
the verb ato builda (banah). Hence, Psalm 128,
in speaking of the gift of children, uses imagery
drawn from the building of a house and the social
life of cities: aUnless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vaina| Lo, sons are a
heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a
reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are
the sons of oneas youth. Happy is the man who
has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put
to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the
gatea (Ps 127:1, 3-5). These images reflect the
culture of an ancient society, yet the presence of
children is a sign of the continuity of the family
throughout salvation history, from generation to
generation.
15.a Here too, we can see another aspect of the
family. We know that the New Testament speaks
of achurches that meet in homesa (cf. 1 Cor
16:19; Rom 16:5; Col 4:15; Philem 2). A familyas
living space could turn into a domestic church, a
setting for the Eucharist, the presence of Christ
seated at its table. We can never forget the image
found in the Book of Revelation, where the Lord
says: aBehold, I stand at the door and knock; if
12

any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will
come in to him and eat with him, and he with
mea (Rev 3:20). Here we see a home filled with
the presence of God, common prayer and every
blessing. This is the meaning of the conclusion
of Psalm 128, which we cited above: aThus shall
the man be blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord
bless you from Zion!a (Ps 128:4-5).
16.a The Bible also presents the family as the
place where children are brought up in the faith.
This is evident from the description of the Passover celebration (cf. Ex 12:26-27; Deut 6:20-25)
and it later appears explicitly in the Jewish haggadah, the dialogue accompanying the rite of the
Passover meal. One of the Psalms celebrates
the proclamation of faith within families: aAll
that we have heard and known, that our fathers
have told us, we will not hide from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the
wonders which he has wrought. He established
a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach
to their children; that the next generation might
know them, the children yet unborn, and arise
and tell them to their childrena (Ps 78:3-6). The
family is thus the place where parents become
their childrenas first teachers in the faith. They
learn this atradea, passing it down from one person to another: aWhen in time to come your son
asks youa| You shall say to hima|a (Ex 13:14).
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Thus succeeding generations can raise their song
to the Lord: ayoung men and maidens together,
old and young together!a(Ps 148:12).
17.a Parents have a serious responsibility for
this work of education, as the Biblical sages often remind us (cf. Prov 3:11-12; 6:20-22; 13:1;
22:15; 23:13-14; 29:17). Children, for their part,
are called to accept and practice the commandment: aHonour your father and your mothera
(Ex 20:12). Here the verb ato honoura has to do
with the fulfilment of family and social commitments; these are not to be disregarded under the
pretence of religious motives (cf. Mk 7:11-13).
aWhoever honours his father atones for sins, and
whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays
up treasurea (Sir 3:3-4).
18.a The Gospel goes on to remind us that children are not the property of a family, but have
their own lives to lead. Jesus is a model of obedience to his earthly parents, placing himself under their charge (cf. Lk 2:51), but he also shows
that childrenas life decisions and their Christian
vocation may demand a parting for the sake of
the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 10:34-37; Lk 9:5962). Jesus himself, at twelve years of age, tells
Mary and Joseph that he has a greater mission
to accomplish apart from his earthly family (cf.
Lk 2:48-50). In this way, he shows the need for
other, deeper bonds even within the family: aMy
mother and my brethren are those who hear the
word of God and do ita (Lk 8:21). All the same,
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in the concern he shows for children a whom the
societies of the ancient Near East viewed as subjects without particular rights and even as family
property a Jesus goes so far as to present them
as teachers, on account of their simple trust and
spontaneity towards others. aTruly I say to you,
unless you turn and become like children, you
will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heavena (Mt 18:3-4).
A path of suffering and blood

19.a The idyllic picture presented in Psalm 128
is not at odds with a bitter truth found throughout sacred Scripture, that is, the presence of pain,
evil and violence that break up families and their
communion of life and love. For good reason
Christas teaching on marriage (cf. Mt 19:3-9) is inserted within a dispute about divorce. The word
of God constantly testifies to that sombre dimension already present at the beginning, when,
through sin, the relationship of love and purity
between man and woman turns into domination:
aYour desire shall be for your husband, and he
shall rule over youa (Gen 3:16).
20.a This thread of suffering and bloodshed
runs through numerous pages of the Bible, beginning with Cainas murder of his brother Abel.
We read of the disputes between the sons and
the wives of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob, the tragedies and violence marking the
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family of David, the family problems reflected in
the story of Tobias and the bitter complaint of
Job: aHe has put my brethren far from mea| my
kinsfolk and my close friends have failed mea| I
am repulsive to my wife, loathsome to the sons
of my own mothera (Job 19:13-14, 17).
21.a Jesus himself was born into a modest family that soon had to flee to a foreign land. He visits the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law is ill
(cf. Mk 1:30-31) and shows sympathy upon hearing of deaths in the homes of Jairus and Lazarus
(cf. Mk 5:22-24, 35-43; Jn 11:1-44). He hears the
desperate wailing of the widow of Nain for her
dead son (cf. Lk 7:11-15) and heeds the plea of
the father of an epileptic child in a small country town (cf. Mk 9:17-27). He goes to the homes
of tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus
(cf. Mt 9:9-13; Lk 19:1-10), and speaks to sinners like the woman in the house of Simon the
Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50). Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and
he weaves them into his parables: children who
leave home to seek adventure (cf. Lk 15:11-32),
or who prove troublesome (Mt 21:28-31) or fall
prey to violence (Mk 12:1-9). He is also sensitive to the embarrassment caused by the lack of
wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-10), the failure of
guests to come to a banquet (Mt 22:1-10), and
the anxiety of a poor family over the loss of a
coin (Lk 15:8-10).
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22.a In this brief review, we can see that the
word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but
rather a source of comfort and companionship
for every family that experiences difficulties or
suffering. For it shows them the goal of their
journey, when God awill wipe away every tear
from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain
any morea (Rev 21:4).
The work of your hands

23.a At the beginning of Psalm 128, the father
appears as a labourer who by the work of his
hands sustains the physical well-being and tranquillity of his family: aYou shall eat the fruit of
the labour of your hands; you shall be happy, and
it shall be well with youa (Ps 128:2). It is clear
from the very first pages of the Bible that work
is an essential part of human dignity; there we
read that athe Lord God took the man and put
him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep ita
(Gen 2:15). Man is presented as a labourer who
works the earth, harnesses the forces of nature
and produces athe bread of anxious toila (Ps
127:2), in addition to cultivating his own gifts
and talents.
24.a Labour also makes possible the development of society and provides for the sustenance, stability and fruitfulness of oneas family:
aMay you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the
days of your life! May you see your childrenas
17

children!a (Ps 128:5-6). The Book of Proverbs
also presents the labour of mothers within the
family; their daily work is described in detail as
winning the praise of their husbands and children (cf. 31:10-31). The Apostle Paul was proud
not to live as a burden to others, since he worked
with his own hands and assured his own livelihood (cf. Acts 18:3; 1 Cor 4:12; 9:12). Paul was
so convinced of the necessity of work that he
laid down a strict rule for his communities: aIf
anyone will not work, let him not eata (2 Th 3:10;
cf. 1 Th 4:11).
25.a This having been said, we can appreciate
the suffering created by unemployment and the
lack of steady work, as reflected in the Book of
Ruth, Jesusa own parable of the labourers forced
to stand idly in the town square (Mt 20:1-16), and
his personal experience of meeting people suffering from poverty and hunger. Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where
the lack of employment opportunities takes its
toll on the serenity of family life.
26.a Nor can we overlook the social degeneration brought about by sin, as, for example, when
human beings tyrannize nature, selfishly and
even brutally ravaging it. This leads to the desertification of the earth (cf. Gen 3:17-19) and those
social and economic imbalances denounced by
the prophets, beginning with Elijah (cf. 1 Kg 21)
and culminating in Jesusa own words against injustice (cf. Lk 12:13; 16:1-31).
18

The tenderness of an embrace

27.a Christ proposed as the distinctive sign of
his disciples the law of love and the gift of self
for others (cf. Mt 22:39; Jn 13:34). He did so in
stating a principle that fathers and mothers tend
to embody in their own lives: aNo one has greater love than this, to lay down oneas life for oneas
friendsa (Jn 15:13). Love also bears fruit in mercy
and forgiveness. We see this in a particular way
in the scene of the woman caught in adultery; in
front of the Temple, the woman is surrounded
by her accusers, but later, alone with Jesus, she
meets not condemnation but the admonition to
lead a more worthy life (cf. Jn 8:1-11).
28.a Against this backdrop of love so central
to the Christian experience of marriage and the
family, another virtue stands out, one often overlooked in our world of frenetic and superficial
relationships. It is tenderness. Let us consider
the moving words of Psalm 131. As in other
biblical texts (e.g., Ex 4:22; Is 49:15; Ps 27:10), the
union between the Lord and his faithful ones is
expressed in terms of parental love. Here we see
a delicate and tender intimacy between mother
and child: the image is that of a babe sleeping
in his motheras arms after being nursed. As the
Hebrew word gamA>>l suggests, the infant is now
fed and clings to his mother, who takes him to
her bosom. There is a closeness that is conscious and not simply biological. Drawing on
this image, the Psalmist sings: aI have calmed
19

and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its
motheras breasta (Ps 131:2). We can also think
of the touching words that the prophet Hosea
puts on Godas lips: aWhen Israel was a child, I
loved hima| I took them up in my armsa| I led
them with cords of compassion, with the bands
of love, and I became to them as one who eases
the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them
and fed thema (Hos 11:1, 3-4).
29.a With a gaze of faith and love, grace and
fidelity, we have contemplated the relationship
between human families and the divine Trinity.
The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children,
so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors Godas creative
work. The family is called to join in daily prayer,
to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and
become ever more fully a temple in which the
Spirit dwells.
30.a Every family should look to the icon of the
Holy Family of Nazareth. Its daily life had its
share of burdens and even nightmares, as when
they met with Herodas implacable violence. This
last was an experience that, sad to say, continues
to afflict the many refugee families who in our
day feel rejected and helpless. Like the Magi,
our families are invited to contemplate the Child
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and his Mother, to bow down and worship him
(cf. Mt 2:11). Like Mary, they are asked to face
their familyas challenges with courage and serenity, in good times and bad, and to keep in their
heart the great things which God has done (cf.
Lk 2:19, 51). The treasury of Maryas heart also
contains the experiences of every family, which
she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us
understand the meaning of these experiences
and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families.

21

CHAPTER TWO

THE EXPERIENCES
AND CHALLENGES OF FAMILIES
31.a The welfare of the family is decisive for
the future of the world and that of the Church.
Countless studies have been made of marriage
and the family, their current problems and challenges. We do well to focus on concrete realities, since athe call and the demands of the Spirit
resound in the events of historya, and through
these athe Church can also be guided to a more
profound understanding of the inexhaustible
mystery of marriage and the familya.8 I will not
attempt here to present all that might be said
about the family today. Nonetheless, because the
Synod Fathers examined the situation of families
worldwide, I consider it fitting to take up some
of their pastoral insights, along with concerns
derived from my own experience.
The current reality of the family

32.a aFaithful to Christas teaching we look to the
reality of the family today in all its complexity, with
both its lights and shadowsa| Anthropological and
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio
(22 November 1981), 4: AAS 74 (1982), 84.
8

23

cultural changes in our times influence all aspects
of life and call for an analytic and diversified approacha.9 Several decades ago, the Spanish bishops noted that families have come to enjoy greater freedom athrough an equitable distribution
of duties, responsibilities and tasksa; indeed, aa
greater emphasis on personal communication
between the spouses helps to make family life
more humanea, while aneither todayas society
nor that to which we are progressing allow an
uncritical survival of older forms and modelsa.10
It is also evident that athe principal tendencies
in anthropological-cultural changesa are leading
aindividuals, in personal and family life, to receive less and less support from social structures
than in the pasta.11
33.a On the other hand, aequal consideration
needs to be given to the growing danger represented by an extreme individualism which weakens family bonds and ends up considering each
member of the family as an isolated unit, leading
in some cases to the idea that oneas personality
is shaped by his or her desires, which are considered absolutea.12 aThe tensions created by an
overly individualistic culture, caught up with possessions and pleasures, leads to intolerance and
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 5.
a Spanish Bishopsa Conference, Matrimonio y familia (6
July 1979), 3, 16, 23.
11
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 5.
12
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 5.
9

10

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hostility in familiesa.13 Here I would also include
todayas fast pace of life, stress and the organization of society and labour, since all these are
cultural factors which militate against permanent
decisions. We also encounter widespread uncertainty and ambiguity. For example, we rightly value
a personalism that opts for authenticity as opposed to mere conformity. While this can favour
spontaneity and a better use of peopleas talents,
if misdirected it can foster attitudes of constant
suspicion, fear of commitment, self-centredness
and arrogance. Freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of
ourselves. Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals
or personal discipline, it degenerates into an
inability to give oneself generously to others.
Indeed, in many countries where the number
of marriages is decreasing, more and more people are choosing to live alone or simply to spend
time together without cohabiting. We can also
point to a praiseworthy concern for justice; but
if misunderstood, this can turn citizens into clients interested solely in the provision of services.
34.a When these factors affect our understanding of the family, it can come to be seen as a
way station, helpful when convenient, or a setting in which rights can be asserted while relationships are left to the changing winds of personal desire and circumstances. Ultimately, it is
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 8.

13

25

easy nowadays to confuse genuine freedom with
the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily, as
if there were no truths, values and principles to
provide guidance, and everything were possible
and permissible. The ideal of marriage, marked
by a commitment to exclusivity and stability, is
swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or
tiresome. The fear of loneliness and the desire
for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a
growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that
could hamper the achievement of oneas personal
goals.
35.a As Christians, we can hardly stop advocating marriage simply to avoid countering contemporary sensibilities, or out of a desire to be
fashionable or a sense of helplessness in the
face of human and moral failings. We would be
depriving the world of values that we can and
must offer. It is true that there is no sense in
simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could
change things. Nor it is helpful to try to impose
rules by sheer authority. What we need is a more
responsible and generous effort to present the
reasons and motivations for choosing marriage
and the family, and in this way to help men and
women better to respond to the grace that God
offers them.
36.a We also need to be humble and realistic,
acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people
has helped contribute to todayas problematic
26

situation. We need a healthy dose of self-criticism. Then too, we often present marriage in
such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to
grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are
overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence
on the duty of procreation. Nor have we always
provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of
thinking and their concrete concerns. At times
we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far
removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive
idealization, especially when we have failed to
inspire trust in Godas grace, has not helped to
make marriage more desirable and attractive, but
quite the opposite.
37.a We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without
encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening
the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital
life. We find it difficult to present marriage more
as a dynamic path to personal development and
fulfilment than as a lifelong burden. We also find
it hard to make room for the consciences of the
faithful, who very often respond as best they can
to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in
complex situations. We have been called to form
consciences, not to replace them.
27

38.a We must be grateful that most people do
value family relationships that are permanent
and marked by mutual respect. They appreciate
the Churchas efforts to offer guidance and counselling in areas related to growth in love, overcoming conflict and raising children. Many are
touched by the power of grace experienced in
sacramental Reconciliation and in the Eucharist,
grace that helps them face the challenges of marriage and the family. In some countries, especially in various parts of Africa, secularism has
not weakened certain traditional values, and marriages forge a strong bond between two wider
families, with clearly defined structures for dealing with problems and conflicts. Nowadays we
are grateful too for the witness of marriages that
have not only proved lasting, but also fruitful and
loving. All these factors can inspire a positive and
welcoming pastoral approach capable of helping
couples to grow in appreciation of the demands
of the Gospel. Yet we have often been on the
defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in
proposing ways of finding true happiness. Many
people feel that the Churchas message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the
preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth
a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals
like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught
in adultery.
28

39.a This is hardly to suggest that we cease warning against a cultural decline that fails to promote
love or self-giving. The consultation that took
place prior to the last two Synods pointed to the
various symptoms of a aculture of the ephemerala. Here I think, for example, of the speed
with which people move from one affective relationship to another. They believe, along the lines
of social networks, that love can be connected
or disconnected at the whim of the consumer,
and the relationship quickly ablockeda. I think
too of the fears associated with permanent commitment, the obsession with free time, and those
relationships that weigh costs and benefits
for the sake of remedying loneliness, providing
protection, or offering some service. We treat
affective relationships the way we treat material
objects and the environment: everything is disposable; everyone uses and throws away, takes
and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last
drop. Then, goodbye. Narcissism makes people
incapable of looking beyond themselves, beyond
their own desires and needs. Yet sooner or later,
those who use others end up being used themselves, manipulated and discarded by that same
mind-set. It is also worth noting that breakups
often occur among older adults who seek a kind
of aindependencea and reject the ideal of growing old together, looking after and supporting
one another.
29

40.a aAt the risk of oversimplifying, we might
say that we live in a culture which pressures young
people not to start a family, because they lack
possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture
presents others with so many options that they
too are dissuaded from starting a familya.14 In
some countries, many young persons apostpone
a wedding for economic reasons, work or study.
Some do so for other reasons, such as the influence of ideologies which devalue marriage and
family, the desire to avoid the failures of other
couples, the fear of something they consider too
important and sacred, the social opportunities
and economic benefits associated with simply
living together, a purely emotional and romantic conception of love, the fear of losing their
freedom and independence, and the rejection of
something conceived as purely institutional and
bureaucratica.15 We need to find the right language, arguments and forms of witness that can
help us reach the hearts of young people, appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment,
love and even heroism, and in this way inviting
them to take up the challenge of marriage with
enthusiasm and courage.
41.a The Synod Fathers noted that acultural
tendencies in todayas world seem to set no limits
on a personas affectivitya; indeed, aa narcissistic,
a Address to the United States Congress (24 September 2015):
LaOsservatore Romano, 26 September 2015, p. 7.
15
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 29.
14

30

unstable or changeable affectivity does not always
allow a person to grow to maturitya. They also
expressed concern about the current aspread of
pornography and the commercialization of the
body, fostered also by a misuse of the internet,
and about those areprehensible situations where
people are forced into prostitutiona. In this context, acouples are often uncertain, hesitant and
struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. A crisis in a coupleas relationship destabilizes the family and may lead, through separation
and divorce, to serious consequences for adults,
children and society as a whole, weakening its individual and social bondsa.16 Marital problems
are aoften confronted in haste and without the
courage to have patience and reflect, to make
sacrifices and to forgive one another. Failures
give rise to new relationships, new couples, new
civil unions, and new marriages, creating family
situations which are complex and problematic
for the Christian lifea.17
42.a Furthermore, athe decline in population,
due to a mentality against having children and
promoted by the world politics of reproductive
health, creates not only a situation in which the
relationship between generations is no longer
ensured but also the danger that, over time, this
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 10.
a Third Extraordinary General Assembly
Synod of Bishops, Message, 18 October 2014.
16
17

of the

31

decline will lead to economic impoverishment
and a loss of hope in the future. The development of bio-technology has also had a major impact on the birth ratea.18 Added to this are other factors such as aindustrialization, the sexual
revolution, the fear of overpopulation and economic problemsa| Consumerism may also deter
people from having children, simply so they can
maintain a certain freedom and life-stylea.19 The
upright consciences of spouses who have been
generous in transmitting life may lead them, for
sufficiently serious reasons, to limit the number
of their children, yet precisely afor the sake of
this dignity of conscience, the Church strongly
rejects the forced State intervention in favour of
contraception, sterilization and even abortiona.20
Such measures are unacceptable even in places
with high birth rates, yet also in countries with
disturbingly low birth rates we see politicians encouraging them. As the bishops of Korea have
said, this is ato act in a way that is self-contradictory and to neglect oneas dutya.21
43.a The weakening of faith and religious practice in some societies has an effect on families,
leaving them more isolated amid their difficulties.
The Synod Fathers noted that aone symptom
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 10.
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 7.
20
a Ibid., 63.
21
a Catholic Bishopsa Conference
Culture of Life! (15 March 2007), 2.
18
19

32

of

Korea, Towards a

of the great poverty of contemporary culture is
loneliness, arising from the absence of God in
a personas life and the fragility of relationships.
There is also a general feeling of powerlessness
in the face of socio-cultural realities that oftentimes end up crushing familiesa| Families often
feel abandoned due to a lack of interest and attention on the part of institutions. The negative
impact on the social order is clear, as seen in the
demographic crisis, in the difficulty of raising
children, in a hesitancy to welcome new life, in
a tendency to see older persons as a burden, and
in an increase of emotional problems and outbreaks of violence. The State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure
the future of young people and help them realize
their plan of forming a familya.22
44.a The lack of dignified or affordable housing
often leads to the postponement of formal relationships. It should be kept in mind that athe
family has the right to decent housing, fitting
for family life and commensurate to the number of the members, in a physical environment
that provides the basic services for the life of
the family and the communitya.23 Families and
homes go together. This makes us see how important it is to insist on the rights of the family
and not only those of individuals. The family is
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 6.
a Pontifical Council for the Family, Charter of the
Rights of the Family (22 October 1983), Art. 11.
22
23

33

a good which society cannot do without, and it
ought to be protected.24 aThe Church has always
held it part of her mission to promote marriage
and the family and to defend them against those
who attack thema,25 especially today, when they
are given scarce attention in political agendas.
Families have the right to ato be able to count on
an adequate family policy on the part of public
authorities in the juridical, economic, social and
fiscal domainsa.26 At times families suffer terribly
when, faced with the illness of a loved one, they
lack access to adequate health care, or struggle
to find dignified employment. aEconomic constraints prohibit a familyas access to education,
cultural activities and involvement in the life of
society. In many ways, the present-day economic
situation is keeping people from participating in
society. Families, in particular, suffer from problems related to work, where young people have
few possibilities and job offers are very selective
and insecure. Workdays are long and oftentimes
made more burdensome by extended periods
away from home. This situation does not help
family members to gather together or parents to
be with their children in such a way as to nurture
their relationships each daya.27
aCf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 11-12.
a Pontifical Council for the Family, Charter of the
Rights of the Family (22 October 1983), Introduction.
26
a Ibid., 9.
27
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 14.
24
25

34

45.a aA great number of children are born outside of wedlock, many of whom subsequently
grow up with just one of their parents or in a
blended or reconstituted familya| The sexual
exploitation of children is yet another scandalous and perverse reality in present-day society.
Societies experiencing violence due to war, terrorism or the presence of organized crime are
witnessing the deterioration of the family, above
all in large cities, where, on their outskirts, the
so-called phenomenon of astreet-childrena is on
the risea.28 The sexual abuse of children is all the
more scandalous when it occurs in places where
they ought to be most safe, particularly in families, schools, communities and Christian institutions.29
46.a aMigration is another sign of the times to
be faced and understood in terms of its negative effects on family lifea.30 The recent Synod
drew attention to this issue, noting that ain various ways, migration affects whole populations
in different parts of the world. The Church has
exercised a major role in this area. Maintaining
and expanding this witness to the Gospel (cf.
Mt 25:35) is urgently needed today more than
evera| Human mobility, which corresponds
to the natural historical movement of peoples,
can prove to be a genuine enrichment for both
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 8.
aCf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 78.
30
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 8.
28
29

35

families that migrate and countries that welcome
them. Furthermore, forced migration of families, resulting from situations of war, persecution, poverty and injustice, and marked by the
vicissitudes of a journey that often puts lives at
risk, traumatizes people and destabilizes families.
In accompanying migrants, the Church needs a
specific pastoral programme addressed not only
to families that migrate but also to those family members who remain behind. This pastoral
activity must be implemented with due respect
for their cultures, for the human and religious
formation from which they come and for the
spiritual richness of their rites and traditions,
even by means of a specific pastoral carea| Migration is particularly dramatic and devastating
to families and individuals when it takes place
illegally and is supported by international networks of human trafficking. This is equally true
when it involves women or unaccompanied children who are forced to endure long periods of
time in temporary facilities and refugee camps,
where it is impossible to start a process of integration. Extreme poverty and other situations
of family breakdown sometimes even lead families to sell their children for prostitution or for
organ traffickinga.31 aThe persecution of Christians and ethnic and religious minorities in many
parts of the world, especially in the Middle East,
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 23; cf. Message for the World Day of
Migrants and Refugees on 17 January 2016 (12 September 2015),
LaOsservatore Romano, 2 October 2015, p. 8.
31

36

are a great trial not only for the Church but also
the entire international community. Every effort should be encouraged, even in a practical
way, to assist families and Christian communities
to remain in their native landsa.32
47.a The Fathers also called particular attention
to afamilies of persons with special needs, where
the unexpected challenge of dealing with a disability can upset a familyas equilibrium, desires and
expectationsa| Families who lovingly accept the
difficult trial of a child with special needs are
greatly to be admired. They render the Church
and society an invaluable witness of faithfulness
to the gift of life. In these situations, the family
can discover, together with the Christian community, new approaches, new ways of acting, a
different way of understanding and identifying
with others, by welcoming and caring for the
mystery of the frailty of human life. People with
disabilities are a gift for the family and an opportunity to grow in love, mutual aid and unitya| If
the family, in the light of the faith, accepts the
presence of persons with special needs, they will
be able to recognize and ensure the quality and
value of every human life, with its proper needs,
rights and opportunities. This approach will promote care and services on behalf of these disadvantaged persons and will encourage people
to draw near to them and provide affection at
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 24.

32

37

every stage of their lifea.33 Here I would stress
that dedication and concern shown to migrants
and to persons with special needs alike is a sign
of the Spirit. Both situations are paradigmatic:
they serve as a test of our commitment to show
mercy in welcoming others and to help the
vulnerable to be fully a part of our communities.
48.a aMost families have great respect for the
elderly, surrounding them with affection and
considering them a blessing. A special word of
appreciation is due to those associations and
family movements committed to serving the elderly, both spiritually and sociallya| In highly
industrialized societies, where the number of elderly persons is growing even as the birth rate
declines, they can be regarded as a burden. On
the other hand, the care that they require often
puts a strain on their loved onesa.34 aCare and
concern for the final stages of life is all the more
necessary today, when contemporary society attempts to remove every trace of death and dying.
The elderly who are vulnerable and dependent
are at times unfairly exploited simply for economic advantage. Many families show us that it
is possible to approach the last stages of life by
emphasizing the importance of a personas sense
of fulfilment and participation in the Lordas paschal mystery. A great number of elderly people are cared for in Church institutions, where,
a Ibid., 21.
a Ibid., 17.

33
34

38

materially and spiritually, they can live in a peaceful, family atmosphere. Euthanasia and assisted
suicide are serious threats to families worldwide;
in many countries, they have been legalized. The
Church, while firmly opposing these practices,
feels the need to assist families who take care of
their elderly and infirm membersa.35
49.a Here I would also like to mention the situation of families living in dire poverty and
great limitations. The problems faced by poor
households are often all the more trying.36 For
example, if a single mother has to raise a child
by herself and needs to leave the child alone at
home while she goes to work, the child can grow
up exposed to all kind of risks and obstacles to
personal growth. In such difficult situations of
need, the Church must be particularly concerned
to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance,
rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules
that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them
Godas mercy. Rather than offering the healing
power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would aindoctrinatea that message,
turning it into adead stones to be hurled at othersa.37
a Ibid., 20.
aCf. ibid., 15.
37
a Concluding Address of the Fourteenth Ordinary General
Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (24 October 2015): LaOsservatore
Romano, 26-27 October 2015, p. 13.
35
36

39

Some challenges

50.a The responses given to the two pre-synodal
consultations spoke of a great variety of situations and the new challenges that they pose. In
addition to those already mentioned, many of
the respondents pointed to the problems families
face in raising children. In many cases, parents
come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and
many families no longer even share a common
meal. Distractions abound, including an addiction to television. This makes it all the more difficult for parents to hand on the faith to their
children. Other responses pointed to the effect
of severe stress on families, who often seem
more caught up with securing their future than
with enjoying the present. This is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady
employment, finances and the future of children.
51.a Drug use was also mentioned as one of
the scourges of our time, causing immense suffering and even breakup for many families. The
same is true of alcoholism, gambling and other
addictions. The family could be the place where
these are prevented and overcome, but society
and politics fail to see that families at risk alose
the ability to act to help their membersa| We see
the serious effects of this breakdown in families
torn apart, the young uprooted and the elderly
abandoned, children who are orphans of living
parents, adolescents and young adults confused
40

and unsupported.a38 As the Bishops of Mexico
have pointed out, violence within families breeds
new forms of social aggression, since afamily
relationships can also explain the tendency to a
violent personality. This is often the case with
families where communication is lacking, defensive attitudes predominate, the members are not
supportive of one another, family activities that
encourage participation are absent, the parental
relationship is frequently conflictual and violent,
and relationships between parents and children
are marked by hostility. Violence within the
family is a breeding-ground of resentment and
hatred in the most basic human relationshipsa.39
52.a No one can think that the weakening of
the family as that natural society founded on
marriage will prove beneficial to society as a
whole. The contrary is true: it poses a threat to
the mature growth of individuals, the cultivation
of community values and the moral progress of
cities and countries. There is a failure to realize
that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to
play in society as a stable commitment that bears
fruit in new life. We need to acknowledge the
great variety of family situations that can offer a
certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions,
38
a Argentinian Bishopsa Conference, Navega mar adentro
(31 May 2003), 42.
39
a Mexican Bishopsa Conference, Que en Cristo Nuestra
Paz MA(c)xico tenga vida digna (15 February 2009), 67.

41

for example, may not simply be equated with
marriage. No union that is temporary or closed
to the transmission of life can ensure the future
of society. But nowadays who is making an effort to strengthen marriages, to help married
couples overcome their problems, to assist them
in the work of raising children and, in general,
to encourage the stability of the marriage bond?
53.a aSome societies still maintain the practice
of polygamy; in other places, arranged marriages
are an enduring practicea| In many places, not
only in the West, the practice of living together
before marriage is widespread, as well as a type
of cohabitation which totally excludes any intention to marrya.40 In various countries, legislation
facilitates a growing variety of alternatives to
marriage, with the result that marriage, with its
characteristics of exclusivity, indissolubility and
openness to life, comes to appear as an old-fashioned and outdated option. Many countries are
witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family,
tending to adopt models based almost exclusively
on the autonomy of the individual will. Surely
it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of
the traditional family marked by authoritarianism
and even violence, yet this should not lead to a
disparagement of marriage itself, but rather to
the rediscovery of its authentic meaning and its
renewal. The strength of the family alies in its
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 25.

40

42

capacity to love and to teach how to love. For all
a familyas problems, it can always grow, beginning
with lovea.41
54.a In this brief overview, I would like to stress
the fact that, even though significant advances
have been made in the recognition of womenas rights and their participation in public life,
in some countries much remains to be done to
promote these rights. Unacceptable customs
still need to be eliminated. I think particularly
of the shameful ill-treatment to which women
are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and
various forms of enslavement which, rather than
a show of masculine power, are craven acts of
cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union. I
think of the reprehensible genital mutilation of
women practiced in some cultures, but also of
their lack of equal access to dignified work and
roles of decision-making. History is burdened
by the excesses of patriarchal cultures that considered women inferior, yet in our own day, we
cannot overlook the use of surrogate mothers
and athe exploitation and commercialization of
the female body in the current media culturea.42
There are those who believe that many of todayas
problems have arisen because of feminine emana Ibid., 10.
a Catechesis (22 April 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 23 April
2015, p. 7.
41
42

43

cipation. This argument, however, is not valid,
ait is false, untrue, a form of male chauvinisma.43
The equal dignity of men and women makes us
rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear, and within families there is a growing
reciprocity. If certain forms of feminism have
arisen which we must consider inadequate, we
must nonetheless see in the womenas movement
the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition
of the dignity and rights of women.
55.a Men aplay an equally decisive role in family
life, particularly with regard to the protection and
support of their wives and childrena| Many men
are conscious of the importance of their role in
the family and live their masculinity accordingly.
The absence of a father gravely affects family life
and the upbringing of children and their integration into society. This absence, which may be
physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual,
deprives children of a suitable father figurea.44
56.a Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that adenies the difference and reciprocity in nature of
a man and a woman and envisages a society
without sexual differences, thereby eliminating
the anthropological basis of the family. This
ideology leads to educational programmes and
a Catechesis (29 April 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 30 April
2015, p. 8.
44
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 28.
43

44

legislative enactments that promote a personal
identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male
and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which
can also change over timea.45 It is a source of
concern that some ideologies of this sort, which
seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as
absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how
children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that abiological sex and the socio-cultural
role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not
separateda.46 On the other hand, athe technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the
reproductive act, making it independent of the
sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have
become modular and separable realities, subject
mainly to the wishes of individuals or couplesa.47
It is one thing to be understanding of human
weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let
us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the
Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent.
Creation is prior to us and must be received as a
gift. At the same time, we are called to protect
a Ibid., 8.
a Ibid., 58.
47
a Ibid., 33.
45
46

45

our humanity, and this means, in the first place,
accepting it and respecting it as it was created.
57.a I thank God that many families, which are
far from considering themselves perfect, live in
love, fulfil their calling and keep moving forward,
even if they fall many times along the way. The
Synodas reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities,
with all their joys, hopes and problems. The
situations that concern us are challenges. We
should not be trapped into wasting our energy
in doleful laments, but rather seek new forms
of missionary creativity. In every situation that
presents itself, athe Church is conscious of the
need to offer a word of truth and hopea| The
great values of marriage and the Christian family
correspond to a yearning that is part and parcel
of human existencea.48 If we see any number
of problems, these should be, as the Bishops of
Colombia have said, a summons to arevive our
hope and to make it the source of prophetic visions, transformative actions and creative forms
of charitya.49

a Relatio Synodi 2014, 11.
a Colombian Bishopsa Conference, A tiempos dificiles,
colombianos nuevos (13 February 2003), 3.
48
49

46

CHAPTER THREE

LOOKING TO JESUS:
THE VOCATION OF THE FAMILY
58.a In and among families, the Gospel message
should always resound; the core of that message,
the kerygma, is what is amost beautiful, most
excellent, most appealing and at the same time
most necessarya.50 This message ahas to occupy
the centre of all evangelizing activitya.51 It is the
first and most important proclamation, awhich
we must hear again and again in different ways,
and which we must always announce in one form
or anothera.52 Indeed, anothing is more solid,
profound, secure, meaningful and wise than that
messagea. In effect, aall Christian formation
consists of entering more deeply into the kerygmaa.53
59.a Our teaching on marriage and the family
cannot fail to be inspired and transformed by
this message of love and tenderness; otherwise,
it becomes nothing more than the defence of
a dry and lifeless doctrine. The mystery of the
50
a Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November
2013), 35: AAS 105 (2013), 1034.
51
a Ibid., 164: AAS 105 (2013), 1088.
52
a Ibid.
53
a Ibid., 165: AAS 105 (2013), 1089.

47

Christian family can be fully understood only in
the light of the Fatheras infinite love revealed in
Christ, who gave himself up for our sake and
who continues to dwell in our midst. I now wish
to turn my gaze to the living Christ, who is at the
heart of so many love stories, and to invoke the
fire of the Spirit upon all the worldas families.
60.a This brief chapter, then, will summarize
the Churchas teaching on marriage and the family. Here too I will mention what the Synod
Fathers had to say about the light offered by our
faith. They began with the gaze of Jesus and
they spoke of how he alooked upon the women and men whom he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps in truth, patience
and mercy as he proclaimed the demands of
the Kingdom of Goda.54 The Lord is also with
us today, as we seek to practice and pass on the
Gospel of the family.
Jesus restores and fulfils Godas plan

61.a Contrary to those who rejected marriage as
evil, the New Testament teaches that aeverything
created by God is good and nothing is to be rejecteda (1 Tim 4:4). Marriage is aa gifta from
the Lord (1 Cor 7:7). At the same time, precisely
because of this positive understanding, the New
Testament strongly emphasizes the need to safeguard Godas gift: aLet marriage be held in honour
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 12.

54

48

among all, and let the marriage bed be undefileda
(Heb 13:4). This divine gift includes sexuality:
aDo not refuse one anothera (1 Cor 7:5).
62.a The Synod Fathers noted that Jesus, ain
speaking of Godas original plan for man and
woman, reaffirmed the indissoluble union between them, even stating that ait was for your
hardness of heart that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was
not soa (Mt 19:8). The indissolubility of marriage
a awhat God has joined together, let no man put
asundera (Mt 19:6) a should not be viewed as a
ayokea imposed on humanity, but as a agifta granted to those who are joined in marriagea| Godas
indulgent love always accompanies our human
journey; through grace, it heals and transforms
hardened hearts, leading them back to the beginning through the way of the cross. The Gospels
clearly present the example of Jesus whoa| proclaimed the meaning of marriage as the fullness
of revelation that restores Godas original plan
(cf. Mt 19:3)a.55
63.a aJesus, who reconciled all things in himself,
restored marriage and the family to their original
form (cf. Mt 10:1-12). Marriage and the family
have been redeemed by Christ (cf. Eph 5:21-32)
and restored in the image of the Holy Trinity,
the mystery from which all true love flows. The
a Ibid., 14.

55

49

spousal covenant, originating in creation and revealed in the history of salvation, takes on its full
meaning in Christ and his Church. Through his
Church, Christ bestows on marriage and the family the grace necessary to bear witness to the love
of God and to live the life of communion. The
Gospel of the family spans the history of the
world, from the creation of man and woman in
the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27),
to the fulfilment of the mystery of the covenant
in Christ at the end of time with the marriage of
the Lamb (cf. Rev 19:9)a.56
64.a aThe example of Jesus is a paradigm for
the Churcha| He began his public ministry
with the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana
(cf. Jn 2:1-11). He shared in everyday moments
of friendship with the family of Lazarus and his
sisters (cf. Lk 10:38) and with the family of Peter (cf. Mk 8:14). He sympathized with grieving
parents and restored their children to life (cf. Mk
5:41; Lk 7:14-15). In this way he demonstrated
the true meaning of mercy, which entails the restoration of the covenant (cf. John Paul II, Dives
in Misericordia, 4). This is clear from his conversations with the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 1:4-30)
and with the woman found in adultery (cf. Jn 8:111), where the consciousness of sin is awakened
by an encounter with Jesusa gratuitous lovea.57
a Ibid., 16.
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 41.

56
57

50

65.a The incarnation of the Word in a human
family, in Nazareth, by its very newness changed
the history of the world. We need to enter into
the mystery of Jesusa birth, into that ayesa given
by Mary to the message of the angel, when the
Word was conceived in her womb, as well as the
ayesa of Joseph, who gave a name to Jesus and
watched over Mary. We need to contemplate the
joy of the shepherds before the manger, the adoration of the Magi and the flight into Egypt,
in which Jesus shares his peopleas experience of
exile, persecution and humiliation. We need to
contemplate the religious expectation of Zechariah and his joy at the birth of John the Baptist,
the fulfilment of the promise made known to
Simeon and Anna in the Temple and the marvel
of the teachers of the Law who listened to the
wisdom of the child Jesus. We then need to peer
into those thirty long years when Jesus earned his
keep by the work of his hands, reciting the traditional prayers and expressions of his peopleas
faith and coming to know that ancestral faith until he made it bear fruit in the mystery of the
Kingdom. This is the mystery of Christmas and
the secret of Nazareth, exuding the beauty of
family life! It was this that so fascinated Francis
of Assisi, Theresa of the Child Jesus and Charles
de Foucauld, and continues to fill Christian families with hope and joy.
66.a aThe covenant of love and fidelity lived
by the Holy Family of Nazareth illuminates the
51

principle which gives shape to every family, and
enables it better to face the vicissitudes of life
and history. On this basis, every family, despite
its weaknesses, can become a light in the darkness
of the world. aNazareth teaches us the meaning
of family life, its loving communion, its simple
and austere beauty, its sacred and inviolable character. May it teach how sweet and irreplaceable
is its training, how fundamental and incomparable its role in the social ordera (Paul VI, Address in
Nazareth, 5 January 1964)a.58
The family in the documents of the Church

67.a The Second Vatican Council, in its Pastoral
Constitution Gaudium et Spes, was concerned ato
promote the dignity of marriage and the family (cf. Nos. 47-52)a. The Constitution adefined
marriage as a community of life and love (cf. 48),
placing love at the centre of the familya| aTrue
love between husband and wifea (49) involves mutual self-giving, includes and integrates the sexual and affective dimensions, in accordance with
Godas plan (cf. 48-49)a. The conciliar document
also emphasizes athe grounding of the spouses
in Christ. Christ the Lord amakes himself present to the Christian spouses in the sacrament of
marriagea (48) and remains with them. In the
incarnation, he assumes human love, purifies it
and brings it to fulfilment. By his Spirit, he gives
a Ibid., 38.

58

52

spouses the capacity to live that love, permeating
every part of their lives of faith, hope and charity. In this way, the spouses are consecrated and
by means of a special grace build up the Body
of Christ and form a domestic church (cf. Lumen
Gentium, 11), so that the Church, in order fully to
understand her mystery, looks to the Christian
family, which manifests her in a real waya.59
68.a aBlessed Paul VI, in the wake of the Second
Vatican Council, further developed the Churchas
teaching on marriage and the family. In a particular way, with the Encyclical Humanae Vitae he
brought out the intrinsic bond between conjugal love and the generation of life: aMarried love
requires of husband and wife the full awareness
of their obligations in the matter of responsible
parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much
insisted upon, but which at the same time must be
rightly understooda| The exercise of responsible
parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own
duties towards God, themselves, their families and
human societya (No. 10). In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI highlighted the
relationship between the family and the Churcha.60
69.a aSaint John Paul II devoted special attention to the family in his catecheses on human
love, in his Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane and
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 17.
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 43.

59
60

53

particularly in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio. In these documents, the Pope defined
the family as athe way of the Churcha. He also
offered a general vision of the vocation of men
and women to love, and proposed basic guidelines for the pastoral care of the family and for
the role of the family in society. In particular, by
treating conjugal love (cf. No. 13), he described
how spouses, in their mutual love, receive the gift
of the Spirit of Christ and live their call to holinessa.61
70.a aPope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical Deus
Caritas Est, returned to the topic of the truth of
the love of man and woman, which is fully illuminated only in the love of the crucified Christ
(cf. No. 2). He stressed that amarriage based on
an exclusive and definitive love becomes an icon
of the relationship between God and his people,
and vice versa. Godas way of loving becomes the
measure of human lovea (11). Moreover, in the
Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he highlighted the
importance of love as a principle of life in society
(cf. 44), a place where we learn the experience of
the common gooda.62
The sacrament of Matrimony

71.a aScripture and Tradition give us access to a
knowledge of the Trinity, which is revealed with
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 18.
a Ibid., 19.

61
62

54

the features of a family. The family is the image
of God, who is a communion of persons. At
Christas baptism, the Fatheras voice was heard,
calling Jesus his beloved Son, and in this love we
can recognize the Holy Spirit (cf. Mk 1:10-11).
Jesus, who reconciled all things in himself and
redeemed us from sin, not only returned marriage and the family to their original form, but
also raised marriage to the sacramental sign of
his love for the Church (cf. Mt 19:1-12; Mk 10:112; Eph 5:21-32). In the human family, gathered
by Christ, athe image and likenessa of the Most
Holy Trinity (cf. Gen 1:26) has been restored, the
mystery from which all true love flows. Through
the Church, marriage and the family receive the
grace of the Holy Spirit from Christ, in order to
bear witness to the Gospel of Godas lovea.63
72.a The sacrament of marriage is not a social
convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament
is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since atheir mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between
Christ and the Church. The married couple are
therefore a permanent reminder for the Church
of what took place on the cross; they are for
one another and for their children witnesses of
the salvation in which they share through the
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 38.

63

55

sacramenta.64 Marriage is a vocation, inasmuch
as it is a response to a specific call to experience
conjugal love as an imperfect sign of the love
between Christ and the Church. Consequently,
the decision to marry and to have a family ought
to be the fruit of a process of vocational discernment.
73.a aMutual self-giving in the sacrament of
matrimony is grounded in the grace of baptism,
which establishes the foundational covenant of
every person with Christ in the Church. In accepting each other, and with Christas grace, the
engaged couple promise each other total selfgiving, faithfulness and openness to new life.
The couple recognizes these elements as constitutive of marriage, gifts offered to them by God,
and take seriously their mutual commitment, in
Godas name and in the presence of the Church.
Faith thus makes it possible for them to assume
the goods of marriage as commitments that can
be better kept through the help of the grace
of the sacramenta| Consequently, the Church
looks to married couples as the heart of the
entire family, which, in turn, looks to Jesusa.65
The sacrament is not a athinga or a apowera,
for in it Christ himself anow encounters Christian spouses... He dwells with them, gives them
the strength to take up their crosses and so
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio
(22 November 1981), 13: AAS 74 (1982), 94.
65
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 21.
64

56

follow him, to rise again after they have fallen,
to forgive one another, to bear one anotheras
burdensa.66 Christian marriage is a sign of how
much Christ loved his Church in the covenant
sealed on the cross, yet it also makes that love
present in the communion of the spouses. By
becoming one flesh, they embody the espousal
of our human nature by the Son of God. That
is why ain the joys of their love and family life,
he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the
wedding feast of the Lamba.67 Even though the
analogy between the human couple of husband
and wife, and that of Christ and his Church, is
aimperfecta,68 it inspires us to beg the Lord to
bestow on every married couple an outpouring
of his divine love.
74.a Sexual union, lovingly experienced and
sanctified by the sacrament, is in turn a path
of growth in the life of grace for the couple.
It is the anuptial mysterya.69 The meaning and
value of their physical union is expressed in the
words of consent, in which they accepted and
offered themselves each to the other, in order to
share their lives completely. Those words give
meaning to the sexual relationship and free it
a Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1642.
a Ibid.
68
a Catechesis (6 May 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 7 May
2015, p. 8.
69
a Leo the Great, Epistula Rustico Narbonensi Episcopo,
Inquis. IV: PL 54, 1205A; cf. Hincmar of Rheims, Epist. 22: PL
126, 142.
66
67

57

from ambiguity. More generally, the common
life of husband and wife, the entire network of
relations that they build with their children and
the world around them, will be steeped in and
strengthened by the grace of the sacrament. For
the sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God
showed the fullness of his love for humanity by
becoming one with us. Neither of the spouses
will be alone in facing whatever challenges may
come their way. Both are called to respond to
Godas gift with commitment, creativity, perseverance and daily effort. They can always invoke
the assistance of the Holy Spirit who consecrated their union, so that his grace may be felt in
every new situation that they encounter.
75.a In the Churchas Latin tradition, the ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the
man and the woman who marry;70 by manifesting their consent and expressing it physically, they receive a great gift. Their consent and
their bodily union are the divinely appointed
means whereby they become aone flesha. By
their baptismal consecration, they were enabled
to join in marriage as the Lordas ministers and
thus to respond to Godas call. Hence, when
two non-Christian spouses receive baptism, they
need not renew their marriage vows; they need
aCf. Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis Christi
(29 June 1943): AAS 35 (1943), 202: aMatrimonio enim quo coniuges
sibi invicem sunt ministri gratiae a|a
70

58

simply not reject them, since by the reception
of baptism their union automatically becomes
sacramental. Canon Law also recognizes the validity of certain unions celebrated without the
presence of an ordained minister.71 The natural
order has been so imbued with the redemptive
grace of Jesus that aa valid matrimonial contract
cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacramenta.72 The Church can
require that the wedding be celebrated publicly,
with the presence of witnesses and other conditions that have varied over the course of time,
but this does not detract from the fact that the
couple who marry are the ministers of the sacrament. Nor does it affect the centrality of the
consent given by the man and the woman, which
of itself establishes the sacramental bond. This
having been said, there is a need for further reflection on Godas action in the marriage rite; this
is clearly manifested in the Oriental Churches
through the importance of the blessing that the
couple receive as a sign of the gift of the Spirit.
Seeds of the Word and imperfect situations

76.a aThe Gospel of the family also nourishes
seeds that are still waiting to grow, and serves
as the basis for caring for those plants that are
a Cf. Code of Canon Law, cc. 1116; 1161-1165; Code of
Canons of the Eastern Churches, 832; 848-852.
72
a Ibid., c. 1055 ASS2.
71

59

wilting and must not be neglected.a73 Thus,
building on the gift of Christ in the sacrament,
married couples amay be led patiently further on
in order to achieve a deeper grasp and a fuller
integration of this mystery in their livesa.74
77.a Appealing to the Bibleas teaching that all
was created through Christ and for Christ (cf. Col
1:16), the Synod Fathers noted that athe order of
redemption illuminates and fulfils that of creation.
Natural marriage, therefore, is fully understood
in the light of its fulfilment in the sacrament of
Matrimony: only in contemplating Christ does a
person come to know the deepest truth about human relationships. aOnly in the mystery of the
Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on
lighta| Christ, the new Adam, by the revelation
of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully
reveals man to himself and makes his supreme
calling cleara (Gaudium et Spes, 22). It is particularly helpful to understand in a Christocentric keya|
the good of the spouses (bonum coniugum)a,75
which includes unity, openness to life, fidelity,
indissolubility and, within Christian marriage,
mutual support on the path towards complete
friendship with the Lord. aDiscernment of the
presence of aseeds of the Worda in other cultures
(cf. Ad Gentes 11) can also apply to the reality of
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 23.
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio
(22 November 1981), 9: AAS 74 (1982), 90.
75
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 47.
73
74

60

marriage and the family. In addition to true natural marriage, positive elements exist in the forms
of marriage found in other religious traditionsa,76
even if, at times, obscurely. We can readily say
that aanyone who wants to bring into this world
a family which teaches children to be excited by
every gesture aimed at overcoming evil a a family
which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work a
will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation.
Whatever the people, religion or region to which
they belong!a77
78.a aThe light of Christ enlightens every person
(cf. Jn 1:9; Gaudium et Spes, 22). Seeing things with
the eyes of Christ inspires the Churchas pastoral
care for the faithful who are living together, or are
only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried. Following this divine pedagogy, the Church
turns with love to those who participate in her
life in an imperfect manner: she seeks the grace
of conversion for them; she encourages them to
do good, to take loving care of each other and
to serve the community in which they live and
worka| When a couple in an irregular union attains a noteworthy stability through a public bond
a and is characterized by deep affection, responsibility towards the children and the ability to overcome trials a this can be seen as an opportunity,
a Ibid.
a Homily for the Concluding Mass of the Eighth World Meeting
of Families in Philadelphia (27 September 2015): LaOsservatore
Romano, 28-29 September 2015, p. 7.
76
77

61

where possible, to lead them to celebrate the
sacrament of Matrimonya.78
79.a aWhen faced with difficult situations and
wounded families, it is always necessary to recall
this general principle: aPastors must know that,
for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situationsa (Familiaris
Consortio, 84). The degree of responsibility is
not equal in all cases and factors may exist which
limit the ability to make a decision. Therefore,
while clearly stating the Churchas teaching, pastors are to avoid judgements that do not take into
account the complexity of various situations, and
they are to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of
their conditiona.79
The transmission of life and the rearing of
children

80.a Marriage is firstly an aintimate partnership of life and lovea80 which is a good for the
spouses themselves,81 while sexuality is aordered
to the conjugal love of man and womana.82 It
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 53-54.
a Ibid., 51.
80
aSecond Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 48.
81
a Cf. Code of Canon Law, c. 1055 ASS 1: aad bonum coniugum
atque ad prolis generationem et educationem ordinatuma.
82
a Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2360.
78
79

62

follows that aspouses to whom God has not
granted children can have a conjugal life full of
meaning, in both human and Christian termsa.83
Nonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to
procreation aby its very naturea.84 The child
who is born adoes 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 fulfilmenta.85 He
or she does not appear at the end of a process,
but is present from the beginning of love as
an essential feature, one that cannot be denied
without disfiguring that love itself. From the
outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on
itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it
beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband
and wife can refuse this meaning,86 even when
for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life.
81.a A child deserves to be born of that love,
and not by any other means, for ahe or she is not
something owed to one, but is a gifta,87 which
is athe fruit of the specific act of the conjugal
a Ibid., 1654.
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 48.
85
a Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2366.
86
aCf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (25 July
1968), 11-12: AAS 60 (1968), 488-489.
87
a Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2378.
83
84

63

love of the parentsa.88 This is the case because,
aaccording to the order of creation, conjugal
love between a man and a woman, and the
transmission of life are ordered to each other
(cf. Gen 1:27-28). Thus the Creator made man
and woman share in the work of his creation
and, at the same time, made them instruments
of his love, entrusting to them the responsibility for the future of mankind, through the transmission of human lifea.89
82.a The Synod Fathers stated that athe growth
of a mentality that would reduce the generation
of human life to one variable of an individualas or a coupleas plans is clearly evidenta.90 The
Churchas teaching is meant to ahelp couples to
experience in a complete, harmonious and conscious way their communion as husband and wife,
together with their responsibility for procreating
life. We need to return to the message of the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul
VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods
of regulating birtha| The choice of adoption or
foster parenting can also express that fruitfulness
which is a characteristic of married lifea.91 With
special gratitude the Church asupports families
a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Instruction Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), II, 8: AAS 80
(1988), 97.
89
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 63.
90
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 57.
91
a Ibid., 58.
88

64

who accept, raise and surround with affection
children with various disabilitiesa.92
83.a Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the
family is the sanctuary of life, the place where
life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous
contradiction when it becomes a place where life
is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value
of a human life, and so inalienable the right to
life of an innocent child growing in the motheras
womb, that no alleged right to oneas own body
can justify a decision to terminate that life, which
is an end in itself and which can never be considered the apropertya of another human being.
The family protects human life in all its stages,
including its last. Consequently, athose who
work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the
moral duty of conscientious objection. Similarly,
the Church not only feels the urgency to assert
the right to a natural death, without aggressive
treatment and euthanasiaa, but likewise afirmly
rejects the death penaltya.93
84.a The Synod Fathers also wished to emphasize that aone of the fundamental challenges facing families today is undoubtedly that of raising
children, made all the more difficult and complex
by todayas cultural reality and the powerful influence of the mediaa.94 aThe Church assumes a
a Ibid., 57.
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 64.
94
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 60.
92
93

65

valuable role in supporting families, starting with
Christian initiation, through welcoming communitiesa.95 At the same time I feel it important to
reiterate that the overall education of children is
a amost serious dutya and at the same time a aprimary righta of parents.96 This is not just a task
or a burden, but an essential and inalienable right
that parents are called to defend and of which no
one may claim to deprive them. The State offers
educational programmes in a subsidiary way, supporting the parents in their indeclinable role; parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely
the kind of education a accessible and of good
quality a which they wish to give their children
in accordance with their convictions. Schools do
not replace parents, but complement them. This
is a basic principle: aall other participants in the
process of education are only able to carry out
their responsibilities in the name of the parents,
with their consent and, to a certain degree, with
their authorizationa.97 Still, aa rift has opened up
between the family and society, between family
and the school; the educational pact today has
been broken and thus the educational alliance
between society and the family is in crisisa.98
a Ibid., 61
a Code of Canon Law, c. 1136; cf. Code of Canons of
the Eastern Churches, 627.
97
a Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and
Meaning of Human Sexuality (8 December 1995), 23.
98
a Catechesis (20 May 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 21 May
2015, p. 8.
95
96

66

85.a The Church is called to cooperate with parents through suitable pastoral initiatives, assisting
them in the fulfilment of their educational mission. She must always do this by helping them
to appreciate their proper role and to realize that
by their reception of the sacrament of marriage they become ministers of their childrenas
education. In educating them, they build up the
Church,99 and in so doing, they accept a Godgiven vocation.100
The family and the Church

86.a aWith inner joy and deep comfort, the
Church looks to the families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging
them and thanking them for the testimony they
offer. For they bear witness, in a credible way, to
the beauty of marriage as indissoluble and perpetually faithful. Within the family awhich could
be called a domestic churcha (Lumen Gentium, 11),
individuals enter upon an ecclesial experience
of communion among persons, which reflects,
through grace, the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
aHere one learns endurance and the joy of work,
fraternal love, generous a even repeated a forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer
99
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio
(28 November 1981) 38: AAS 74 (1982), 129.
100
aCf. Address to the Diocesan Conference of Rome (14 June
2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 15-16 June 2015, p. 8.

67

and the offering of oneas lifea (Catechism of the
Catholic Church, 1657)a.101
87.a The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic
churches. aIn virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, every family becomes, in effect, a good for
the Church. From this standpoint, reflecting on
the interplay between the family and the Church
will prove a precious gift for the Church in our
time. The Church is good for the family, and the
family is good for the Church. The safeguarding
of the Lordas gift in the sacrament of matrimony
is a concern not only of individual families but
of the entire Christian communitya.102
88.a The experience of love in families is a
perennial source of strength for the life of
the Church. aThe unitive end of marriage is a
constant summons to make this love grow and
deepen. Through their union in love, the couple
experiences the beauty of fatherhood and motherhood, and shares plans, trials, expectations and
concerns; they learn care for one another and
mutual forgiveness. In this love, they celebrate
their happy moments and support each other
in the difficult passages of their life togethera|
The beauty of this mutual, gratuitous gift, the joy
which comes from a life that is born and the loving care of all family members a from toddlers
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 23.
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 52.

101
102

68

to seniors a are just a few of the fruits which
make the response to the vocation of the family
unique and irreplaceablea,103 both for the Church
and for society as a whole.

a Ibid., 49-50.

103

69

CHAPTER FOUR

LOVE IN MARRIAGE
89.a All that has been said so far would be insufficient to express the Gospel of marriage and
the family, were we not also to speak of love. For
we cannot encourage a path of fidelity and mutual self-giving without encouraging the growth,
strengthening and deepening of conjugal and
family love. Indeed, the grace of the sacrament
of marriage is intended before all else ato perfect
the coupleas lovea.104 Here too we can say that,
aeven if I have faith so as to remove mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all
I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned,
but have not love, I gain nothinga (1 Cor 13:2-3).
The word alovea, however, is commonly used
and often misused.105
Our daily love

90.a In a lyrical passage of Saint Paul, we see
some of the features of true love:
aLove is patient,
love is kind;
a Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1641.
a Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est
(25 December 2005), 2: AAS 98 (2006), 218.
104
105

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love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way,
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all thingsa (1 Cor 13:4-7).
Love is experienced and nurtured in the
daily life of couples and their children. It is helpful to think more deeply about the meaning of
this Pauline text and its relevance for the concrete situation of every family.
Love is patient

91.a The first word used is makrothymA(c)i. This
does not simply have to do with aenduring all
thingsa, because we find that idea expressed at
the end of the seventh verse. Its meaning is
clarified by the Greek translation of the Old
Testament, where we read that God is aslow to
angera (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18). It refers, then,
to the quality of one who does not act on impulse and avoids giving offense. We find this
quality in the God of the Covenant, who calls
us to imitate him also within the life of the
family. Saint Paulas texts using this word need
to be read in the light of the Book of Wisdom
(cf. 11:23; 12:2, 15-18), which extols Godas
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restraint, as leaving open the possibility of repentance, yet insists on his power, as revealed in
his acts of mercy. Godas apatiencea, shown in
his mercy towards sinners, is a sign of his real
power.
92.a Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use
us. We encounter problems whenever we think
that relationships or people ought to be perfect,
or when we put ourselves at the centre and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything
makes us impatient, everything makes us react
aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience, we
will always find excuses for responding angrily. We will end up incapable of living together,
antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and
our families will become battlegrounds. That is
why the word of God tells us: aLet all bitterness
and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be
put away from you, with all malicea (Eph 4:31).
Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world,
just as they are. It does not matter if they hold
me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me
by the way they act or think, or if they are not
everything I want them to be. Love always has
an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world,
even when he or she acts differently than I would
like.
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Love is at the service of others

93.a The next word that Paul uses is chrestA(c)uetai.
The word is used only here in the entire Bible. It
is derived from chrestA3s: a good person, one who
shows his goodness by his deeds. Here, in strict
parallelism with the preceding verb, it serves as
a complement. Paul wants to make it clear that
apatiencea is not a completely passive attitude,
but one accompanied by activity, by a dynamic
and creative interaction with others. The word
indicates that love benefits and helps others. For
this reason it is translated as akinda; love is ever
ready to be of assistance.
94.a Throughout the text, it is clear that Paul
wants to stress that love is more than a mere feeling. Rather, it should be understood along the
lines of the Hebrew verb ato lovea; it is ato do
gooda. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola said, aLove
is shown more by deeds than by wordsa.106 It
thus shows its fruitfulness and allows us to experience the happiness of giving, the nobility
and grandeur of spending ourselves unstintingly, without asking to be repaid, purely for the
pleasure of giving and serving.
Love is not jealous

95.a Saint Paul goes on to reject as contrary to
love an attitude expressed by the verb zelA3i a to be
a Spiritual Exercises, Contemplation to Attain Love (230).

106

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jealous or envious. This means that love has no
room for discomfiture at another personas good fortune (cf. Acts 7:9; 17:5). Envy is a form of sadness
provoked by anotheras prosperity; it shows that we
are not concerned for the happiness of others but
only with our own well-being. Whereas love makes
us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other personas achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It
frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes
that everyone has different gifts and a unique path
in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs.
96.a In a word, love means fulfilling the last two
commandments of Godas Law: aYou shall not
covet your neighbouras house; you shall not covet
your neighbouras wife, or his manservant, or his
maidservant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything
that is your neighbourasa (Ex 20:17). Love inspires a sincere esteem for every human being and
the recognition of his or her own right to happiness. I love this person, and I see him or her with
the eyes of God, who gives us everything afor our
enjoymenta (1 Tim 6:17). As a result, I feel a deep
sense of happiness and peace. This same deeply rooted love also leads me to reject the injustice
whereby some possess too much and others too
little. It moves me to find ways of helping societyas outcasts to find a modicum of joy. That is not
envy, but the desire for equality.
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Love is not boastful

97.a The following word, perpereAoetai, denotes
vainglory, the need to be haughty, pedantic and
somewhat pushy. Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves,
but are focused on others; they do not need to
be the centre of attention. The word that comes
next a physioAotai a is similar, indicating that love
is not arrogant. Literally, it means that we do
not become apuffed upa before others. It also
points to something more subtle: an obsession
with showing off and a loss of a sense of reality.
Such people think that, because they are more
aspirituala or awisea, they are more important
than they really are. Paul uses this verb on other occasions, as when he says that aknowledge
puffs upa, whereas alove builds upa (1 Cor 8:1).
Some think that they are important because they
are more knowledgeable than others; they want
to lord it over them. Yet what really makes us
important is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak. Elsewhere the
word is used to criticize those who are ainflateda
with their own importance (cf. 1 Cor 4:18) but in
fact are filled more with empty words than the
real apowera of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 4:19).
98.a It is important for Christians to show their
love by the way they treat family members who
are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or
less sure in their convictions. At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers
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within the family become unbearably arrogant.
Love, on the other hand, is marked by humility;
if we are to understand, forgive and serve others
from the heart, our pride has to be healed and
our humility must increase. Jesus told his disciples that in a world where power prevails, each
tries to dominate the other, but ait shall not be
so among youa (Mt 20:26). The inner logic of
Christian love is not about importance and power; rather, awhoever would be first among you
must be your slavea (Mt 20:27). In family life, the
logic of domination and competition about who
is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love.
Saint Peteras admonition also applies to the family: aClothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for aGod opposes the
proud, but gives grace to the humbleaa (1 Pet 5:5).
Love is not rude

99.a To love is also to be gentle and thoughtful,
and this is conveyed by the next word, aschemonA(c)i.
It indicates that love is not rude or impolite; it
is not harsh. Its actions, words and gestures are
pleasing and not abrasive or rigid. Love abhors
making others suffer. Courtesy ais a school of
sensitivity and disinterestednessa which requires a
person ato develop his or her mind and feelings,
learning how to listen, to speak and, at certain
times, to keep quieta.107 It is not something that a

a Octavio Paz, La llama doble, Barcelona, 1993, 35.

107

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Christian may accept or reject. As an essential requirement of love, aevery human being is bound
to live agreeably with those around hima.108 Every
day, aentering into the life of another, even when
that person already has a part to play in our life,
demands the sensitivity and restraint which can
renew trust and respect. Indeed, the deeper love
is, the more it calls for respect for the otheras freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens
the door to his or her hearta.109
100.a To be open to a genuine encounter with
others, aa kind looka is essential. This is incompatible with a negative attitude that readily points
out other peopleas shortcomings while overlooking oneas own. A kind look helps us to see beyond our own limitations, to be patient and to
cooperate with others, despite our differences.
Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and
knits a firm social fabric. In this way, it grows
ever stronger, for without a sense of belonging
we cannot sustain a commitment to others; we
end up seeking our convenience alone and life
in common becomes impossible. Antisocial
persons think that others exist only for the satisfaction of their own needs. Consequently, there
is no room for the gentleness of love and its
a Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 114, art.

108

2, ad 1.

aCatechesis (13 May 2005): LaOsservatore Romano, 14
May 2015, p. 8.
109

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expression. Those who love are capable of speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and
encouragement. These were the words that Jesus
himself spoke: aTake heart, my son!a (Mt 9:2);
aGreat is your faith!a (Mt 15:28); aArise!a (Mk
5:41); aGo in peacea (Lk 7:50); aBe not afraida
(Mt 14:27). These are not words that demean,
sadden, anger or show scorn. In our families, we
must learn to imitate Jesusa own gentleness in our
way of speaking to one another.
Love is generous

101.a We have repeatedly said that to love another we must first love ourselves. Paulas hymn
to love, however, states that love adoes not seek
its own interesta, nor aseek what is its owna.
This same idea is expressed in another text: aLet
each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of othersa (Phil 2:4).
The Bible makes it clear that generously serving
others is far more noble than loving ourselves.
Loving ourselves is only important as a psychological prerequisite for being able to love others:
aIf a man is mean to himself, to whom will he be
generous? No one is meaner than the man who
is grudging to himself a (Sir 14:5-6).
102.a Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that ait
is more proper to charity to desire to love than
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to desire to be loveda;110 indeed, amothers, who
are those who love the most, seek to love more
than to be loveda.111 Consequently, love can
transcend and overflow the demands of justice,
aexpecting nothing in returna (Lk 6:35), and the
greatest of loves can lead to alaying down oneas
lifea for another (cf. Jn 15:13). Can such generosity, which enables us to give freely and fully,
really be possible? Yes, because it is demanded
by the Gospel: aYou received without pay, give
without paya (Mt 10:8).
Love is not irritable or resentful

103.a If the first word of Paulas hymn spoke of
the need for a patience that does not immediately react harshly to the weaknesses and faults
of others, the word he uses next a paroxA1/2netai a
has to do more with an interior indignation provoked by something from without. It refers to
a violent reaction within, a hidden irritation that
sets us on edge where others are concerned, as if
they were troublesome or threatening and thus
to be avoided. To nurture such interior hostility
helps no one. It only causes hurt and alienation.
Indignation is only healthy when it makes us
react to a grave injustice; when it permeates our
attitude towards others it is harmful.
a Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 27, art. 1,

110

ad 2.

80

a Ibid., q. 27, art. 1.

111

104.a The Gospel tells us to look to the log in
our own eye (cf. Mt 7:5). Christians cannot ignore the persistent admonition of Godas word
not to nurture anger: aDo not be overcome by
evila (Rm 12:21). aLet us not grow weary in doing gooda (Gal 6:9). It is one thing to sense a
sudden surge of hostility and another to give into
it, letting it take root in our hearts: aBe angry
but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on
your angera (Eph 4:26). My advice is never to let
the day end without making peace in the family.
aAnd how am I going to make peace? By getting
down on my knees? No! Just by a small gesture,
a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored. Just a little caress, no words
are necessary. But do not let the day end without making peace in your familya.112 Our first
reaction when we are annoyed should be one of
heartfelt blessing, asking God to bless, free and
heal that person. aOn the contrary bless, for to
this you have been called, that you may obtain a
blessinga (1 Pet 3:9). If we must fight evil, so be
it; but we must always say anoa to violence in the
home.
Love forgives

105.a Once we allow ill will to take root in our
hearts, it leads to deep resentment. The phrase
ou logAzetai to kakA3n means that love atakes no
aCatechesis (13 May 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 14
May 2015, p. 8.
112

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account of evila; ait is not resentfula. The opposite of resentment is forgiveness, which is rooted
in a positive attitude that seeks to understand
other peopleas weaknesses and to excuse
them. As Jesus said, aFather, forgive them; for
they know not what they doa (Lk 23:34). Yet
we keep looking for more and more faults,
imagining greater evils, presuming all kinds of
bad intentions, and so resentment grows and
deepens. Thus, every mistake or lapse on the
part of a spouse can harm the bond of love and
the stability of the family. Something is wrong
when we see every problem as equally serious; in
this way, we risk being unduly harsh with the failings of others. The just desire to see our rights
respected turns into a thirst for vengeance rather
than a reasoned defence of our dignity.
106.a When we have been offended or let down,
forgiveness is possible and desirable, but no one
can say that it is easy. The truth is that afamily
communion can only be preserved and perfected
through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires,
in fact, a ready and generous openness of each
and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation. There is no family that
does not know how selfishness, discord, tension
and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise
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the many and varied forms of division in family
lifea.113
107.a Today we recognize that being able to forgive others implies the liberating experience of
understanding and forgiving ourselves. Often
our mistakes, or criticism we have received from
loved ones, can lead to a loss of self-esteem. We
become distant from others, avoiding affection
and fearful in our interpersonal relationships.
Blaming others becomes falsely reassuring. We
need to learn to pray over our past history, to
accept ourselves, to learn how to live with our
limitations, and even to forgive ourselves, in
order to have this same attitude towards others.
108.a All this assumes that we ourselves have
had the experience of being forgiven by God,
justified by his grace and not by our own merits.
We have known a love that is prior to any of our
own efforts, a love that constantly opens doors,
promotes and encourages. If we accept that
Godas love is unconditional, that the Fatheras love
cannot be bought or sold, then we will become
capable of showing boundless love and forgiving
others even if they have wronged us. Otherwise,
our family life will no longer be a place of understanding, support and encouragement, but rather
one of constant tension and mutual criticism.
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 21: AAS 74 (1982), 106.
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Love rejoices with others

109.a The expression chaArei epA! te adikAa has to
do with a negativity lurking deep within a personas heart. It is the toxic attitude of those who
rejoice at seeing an injustice done to others. The
following phrase expresses its opposite: sygchaArei te
aletheAa: ait rejoices in the righta. In other words,
we rejoice at the good of others when we see their
dignity and value their abilities and good works.
This is impossible for those who must always be
comparing and competing, even with their spouse,
so that they secretly rejoice in their failures.
110.a When a loving person can do good for
others, or sees that others are happy, they themselves live happily and in this way give glory to
God, for aGod loves a cheerful givera (2 Cor 9:7).
Our Lord especially appreciates those who find
joy in the happiness of others. If we fail to learn
how to rejoice in the well-being of others, and focus primarily on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence, for, as Jesus said, ait is
more blessed to give than to receivea (Acts 20:35).
The family must always be a place where, when
something good happens to one of its members,
they know that others will be there to celebrate it
with them.
Love bears all things

111.a Paulas list ends with four phrases containing the words aall thingsa. Love bears all things,
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believes all things, hopes all things, endures all
things. Here we see clearly the countercultural
power of a love that is able to face whatever
might threaten it.
112.a First, Paul says that love abears all thingsa
(panta stA(c)gei). This is about more than simply putting up with evil; it has to do with the use of the
tongue. The verb can mean aholding oneas peacea
about what may be wrong with another person.
It implies limiting judgment, checking the impulse to issue a firm and ruthless condemnation:
aJudge not and you will not be judgeda (Lk 6:37).
Although it runs contrary to the way we normally use our tongues, Godas word tells us: aDo not
speak evil against one another, brothers and sistersa (Jas 4:11). Being willing to speak ill of another person is a way of asserting ourselves, venting resentment and envy without concern for the
harm we may do. We often forget that slander
can be quite sinful; it is a grave offense against
God when it seriously harms another personas
good name and causes damage that is hard to
repair. Hence Godas word forthrightly states that
the tongue ais a world of iniquitya that astains
the whole bodya (Jas 3:6); it is a arestless evil,
full of deadly poisona (3:8). Whereas the tongue
can be used to acurse those who are made in the
likeness of Goda (3:9), love cherishes the good
name of others, even oneas enemies. In seeking
to uphold Godas law we must never forget this
specific requirement of love.
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113.a Married couples joined by love speak well
of each other; they try to show their spouseas
good side, not their weakness and faults. In
any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill
of them. This is not merely a way of acting in
front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see
the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees
those weaknesses and faults in a wider context.
It recognizes that these failings are a part of a
bigger picture. We have to realize that all of us
are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The
other person is much more than the sum of the
little things that annoy me. Love does not have
to be perfect for us to value it. The other person
loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but
the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that
it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and
earthly. If I expect too much, the other person
will let me know, for he or she can neither play
God nor serve all my needs. Love coexists with
imperfection. It abears all thingsa and can hold
its peace before the limitations of the loved one.
Love believes all things

114.a Panta pisteAoei. Love believes all things.
Here abelief a is not to be taken in its strict theological meaning, but more in the sense of what
we mean by atrusta. This goes beyond simply
presuming that the other is not lying or cheating.
Such basic trust recognizes Godas light shining
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beyond the darkness, like an ember glowing beneath the ash.
115.a This trust enables a relationship to be free.
It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our
grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to
control, possess and dominate everything. This
freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships.
The spouses then share with one another the
joy of all they have received and learned outside
the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for
those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those
who know that their spouse is always suspicious,
judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will
tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and
weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other
than who they are. On the other hand, a family
marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its
members to be themselves and spontaneously to
reject deceit, falsehood, and lies.
Love hopes all things

116.a Panta elpAzei. Love does not despair of the
future. Following upon what has just been said,
this phrase speaks of the hope of one who knows
that others can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential. This does
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not mean that everything will change in this life.
It does involve realizing that, though things
may not always turn out as we wish, God may
well make crooked lines straight and draw some
good from the evil we endure in this world.
117.a Here hope comes most fully into its
own, for it embraces the certainty of life after
death. Each person, with all his or her failings,
is called to the fullness of life in heaven. There,
fully transformed by Christas resurrection, every
weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away.
There the personas true being will shine forth in
all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps
us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to
see each person from a supernatural perspective,
in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he
or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even
if it is not yet visible.
Love endures all things

118.a Panta hypomA(c)nei. This means that love
bears every trial with a positive attitude. It stands
firm in hostile surroundings. This aendurancea
involves not only the ability to tolerate certain
aggravations, but something greater: a constant
readiness to confront any challenge. It is a love
that never gives up, even in the darkest hour. It
shows a certain dogged heroism, a power to
resist every negative current, an irrepressible
commitment to goodness. Here I think of the
words of Martin Luther King, who met every
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kind of trial and tribulation with fraternal love:
aThe person who hates you most has some good
in him; even the nation that hates you most has
some good in it; even the race that hates you
most has some good in it. And when you come
to the point that you look in the face of every
man and see deep down within him what religion calls athe image of Goda, you begin to love
him in spite of [everything]. No matter what
he does, you see Godas image there. There is
an element of goodness that he can never sluff
offa| Another way that you love your enemy
is this: when the opportunity presents itself for
you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which
you must not do ita| When you rise to the level
of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek
only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who
happen to be caught up in that system, you love,
but you seek to defeat the systema| Hate for
hate only intensifies the existence of hate and
evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me
and I hit you back and you hit me back and so
on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just
never ends. Somewhere somebody must have
a little sense, and thatas the strong person. The
strong person is the person who can cut off the
chain of hate, the chain of evila| Somebody
must have religion enough and morality enough
to cut it off and inject within the very structure
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of the universe that strong and powerful element of lovea.114
119.a In family life, we need to cultivate that
strength of love which can help us fight every
evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or
to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
I am sometimes amazed to see men or women
who have had to separate from their spouse for
their own protection, yet, because of their enduring conjugal love, still try to help them, even
by enlisting others, in their moments of illness,
suffering or trial. Here too we see a love that
never gives up.
Growing in conjugal love

120.a Our reflection on Saint Paulas hymn to
love has prepared us to discuss conjugal love.
This is the love between husband and wife,115 a
love sanctified, enriched and illuminated by the
grace of the sacrament of marriage. It is an aaffective uniona,116 spiritual and sacrificial, which
combines the warmth of friendship and erotic
a Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon delivered at Dexter
Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November
1957.
115
a Thomas Aquinas calls love a vis unitiva (Summa Theologiae
I, q. 20, art. 1, ad 3), echoing a phrase of Pseudo-Dionysius the
Areopagite (De Divinis Nominibus, IV, 12: PG 3, 709).
116
a Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 27, art. 2.
114

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passion, and endures long after emotions and
passion subside. Pope Pius XI taught that this
love permeates the duties of married life and enjoys pride of place.117 Infused by the Holy Spirit,
this powerful love is a reflection of the unbroken
covenant between Christ and humanity that culminated in his self-sacrifice on the cross. aThe
Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new
heart and renders man and woman capable of
loving one another as Christ loved us. Conjugal
love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly
ordained: conjugal charity.a118
121.a Marriage is a precious sign, for awhen a
man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of
marriage, God is, as it were, amirroreda in them;
he impresses in them his own features and the indelible character of his love. Marriage is the icon
of Godas love for us. Indeed, God is also communion: the three Persons of the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity. And this is precisely the mystery of marriage:
God makes of the two spouses one single existencea.119 This has concrete daily consequences,
because the spouses, ain virtue of the sacrament,
are invested with a true and proper mission, so
that, starting with the simple ordinary things of
a Encyclical Letter Casti Connubii (31 December 1930):
AAS 22 (1930), 547-548.
118
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981) 13: AAS 74 (1982), 94.
119
a Catechesis (2 April 2014): LaOsservatore Romano, 3 April
2014, p. 8.
117

91

life they can make visible the love with which
Christ loves his Church and continues to give his
life for hera.120
122.a We should not however confuse different
levels: there is no need to lay upon two limited
persons the tremendous burden of having to
reproduce perfectly the union existing between
Christ and his Church, for marriage as a sign
entails aa dynamic processa|, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of
the gifts of Goda.121
Lifelong sharing

123.a After the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the agreatest form of friendshipa.122
It is a union possessing all the traits of a good
friendship: concern for the good of the other,
reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the
resemblance born of a shared life. Marriage joins
to all this an indissoluble exclusivity expressed in
the stable commitment to share and shape together the whole of life. Let us be honest and
acknowledge the signs that this is the case.
Lovers do not see their relationship as merely temporary. Those who marry do not expect
a Ibid.
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 9: AAS 75 (1982), 90.
122
a Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles III, 123; cf.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 8, 12 (ed. Bywater, Oxford, 1984,
174).
120
121

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their excitement to fade. Those who witness the
celebration of a loving union, however fragile,
trust that it will pass the test of time. Children
not only want their parents to love one another, but
also to be faithful and remain together. These
and similar signs show that it is in the very nature
of conjugal love to be definitive. The lasting
union expressed by the marriage vows is more
than a formality or a traditional formula; it is
rooted in the natural inclinations of the human
person. For believers, it is also a covenant before
God that calls for fidelity: aThe Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife
of your youth, to whom you have been faithless,
though she is your companion and your wife by
covenanta| Let none be faithless to the wife
of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lorda
(Mal 2:14-16).
124.a A love that is weak or infirm, incapable of
accepting marriage as a challenge to be taken up
and fought for, reborn, renewed and reinvented
until death, cannot sustain a great commitment.
It will succumb to the culture of the ephemeral
that prevents a constant process of growth. Yet
apromising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables
us to surrender our future entirely to the one we
lovea.123 If this love is to overcome all trials and
a Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei (29 June 2013), 52: AAS
105 (2013), 590.
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remain faithful in the face of everything, it needs
the gift of grace to strengthen and elevate it. In
the words of Saint Robert Bellarmine, athe fact
that one man unites with one woman in an indissoluble bond, and that they remain inseparable
despite every kind of difficulty, even when there
is no longer hope for children, can only be the
sign of a great mysterya.124
125.a Marriage is likewise a friendship marked
by passion, but a passion always directed to an
ever more stable and intense union. This is because amarriage was not instituted solely for the
procreation of childrena but also that mutual
love amight be properly expressed, that it should
grow and maturea.125 This unique friendship between a man and a woman acquires an all-encompassing character only within the conjugal union.
Precisely as all-encompassing, this union is also
exclusive, faithful and open to new life. It shares
everything in constant mutual respect. The Second Vatican Council echoed this by stating that
asuch a love, bringing together the human and
the divine, leads the partners to a free and mutual
self-giving, experienced in tenderness and action,
and permeating their entire livesa.126
a De sacramento matrimonii, I, 2; in Id., Disputationes, III, 5,
3 (ed. Giuliano, Naples, 1858), 778.
125
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 50.
126
a Ibid., 49.
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Joy and beauty

126.a In marriage, the joy of love needs to be
cultivated. When the search for pleasure becomes obsessive, it holds us in thrall and keeps
us from experiencing other satisfactions. Joy, on
the other hand, increases our pleasure and helps
us find fulfilment in any number of things, even
at those times of life when physical pleasure has
ebbed. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that the word
ajoya refers to an expansion of the heart.127 Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it
involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable
mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions
and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and
longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always
on the path of friendship, which inspires married
couples to care for one another: athey help and
serve each othera.128
127.a The love of friendship is called acharitya
when it perceives and esteems the agreat wortha
of another person.129 Beauty a that agreat wortha
which is other than physical or psychological
appeal a enables us to appreciate the sacredness
of a person, without feeling the need to possess
it. In a consumerist society, the sense of beauty
is impoverished and so joy fades. Everything is
aCf. Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 31, art. 3., ad 3.
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 48.
129
aCf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 26, art. 3.
127
128

95

there to be purchased, possessed or consumed,
including people. Tenderness, on the other hand,
is a sign of a love free of selfish possessiveness.
It makes us approach a person with immense respect and a certain dread of causing them harm
or taking away their freedom. Loving another
person involves the joy of contemplating and
appreciating their innate beauty and sacredness,
which is greater than my needs. This enables me
to seek their good even when they cannot belong
to me, or when they are no longer physically appealing but intrusive and annoying. For athe love
by which one person is pleasing to another depends on his or her giving something freelya.130
128.a The aesthetic experience of love is expressed in that agazea which contemplates other persons as ends in themselves, even if they
are infirm, elderly or physically unattractive. A
look of appreciation has enormous importance,
and to begrudge it is usually hurtful. How many
things do spouses and children sometimes do in
order to be noticed! Much hurt and many problems result when we stop looking at one another.
This lies behind the complaints and grievances
we often hear in families: aMy husband does not
look at me; he acts as if I were invisiblea. aPlease
look at me when I am talking to you!a. aMy wife
no longer looks at me, she only has eyes for
our childrena. aIn my own home nobody cares
a Ibid., q. 110, art. 1.

130

96

about me; they do not even see me; it is as if I
did not exista. Love opens our eyes and enables
us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a
human being.
129.a The joy of this contemplative love needs
to be cultivated. Since we were made for love,
we know that there is no greater joy than that
of sharing good things: aGive, take, and treat
yourself wella (Sir 14:16). The most intense
joys in life arise when we are able to elicit joy in
others, as a foretaste of heaven. We can think of
the lovely scene in the film Babetteas Feast, when
the generous cook receives a grateful hug and
praise: aAh, how you will delight the angels!a It is a
joy and a great consolation to bring delight to
others, to see them enjoying themselves. This
joy, the fruit of fraternal love, is not that of the
vain and self-centred, but of lovers who delight
in the good of those whom they love, who give
freely to them and thus bear good fruit.
130.a On the other hand, joy also grows through
pain and sorrow. In the words of Saint Augustine, athe greater the danger in battle the greater is the joy of victorya.131 After suffering and
struggling together, spouses are able to experience that it was worth it, because they achieved
some good, learned something as a couple, or
came to appreciate what they have. Few human
a Augustine, Confessions, VIII, III, 7: PL 32, 752.

131

97

joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and
have achieved something as the result of a great,
shared effort.
Marrying for love

131.a I would like to say to young people that
none of this is jeopardized when their love finds
expression in marriage. Their union encounters
in this institution the means to ensure that their
love truly will endure and grow. Naturally, love
is much more than an outward consent or a contract, yet it is nonetheless true that choosing to
give marriage a visible form in society by undertaking certain commitments shows how important it is. It manifests the seriousness of each
personas identification with the other and their
firm decision to leave adolescent individualism
behind and to belong to one another. Marriage
is a means of expressing that we have truly left
the security of the home in which we grew up in
order to build other strong ties and to take on a
new responsibility for another person. This is
much more meaningful than a mere spontaneous
association for mutual gratification, which would
turn marriage into a purely private affair. As a
social institution, marriage protects and shapes
a shared commitment to deeper growth in love
and commitment to one another, for the good
of society as a whole. That is why marriage is
more than a fleeting fashion; it is of enduring
importance. Its essence derives from our human
98

nature and social character. It involves a series
of obligations born of love itself, a love so serious and generous that it is ready to face any risk.
132.a To opt for marriage in this way expresses a genuine and firm decision to join paths,
come what may. Given its seriousness, this public commitment of love cannot be the fruit of a
hasty decision, but neither can it be postponed
indefinitely. Committing oneself exclusively and
definitively to another person always involves a
risk and a bold gamble. Unwillingness to make
such a commitment is selfish, calculating and
petty. It fails to recognize the rights of another
person and to present him or her to society as
someone worthy of unconditional love. If two
persons are truly in love, they naturally show this
to others. When love is expressed before others in the marriage contract, with all its public
commitments, it clearly indicates and protects
the ayesa which those persons speak freely and
unreservedly to each other. This ayesa tells them
that they can always trust one another, and that
they will never be abandoned when difficulties
arise or new attractions or selfish interests present themselves.
A love that reveals itself and increases

133.a The love of friendship unifies all aspects
of marital life and helps family members to grow
constantly. This love must be freely and generously expressed in words and acts. In the family,
99

athree words need to be used. I want to repeat
this! Three words: aPleasea, aThank youa, aSorrya. Three essential words!a.132 aIn our families
when we are not overbearing and ask: aMay I?a;
in our families when we are not selfish and can
say: aThank you!a; and in our families when someone realizes that he or she did something wrong
and is able to say aSorry!a, our family experiences peace and joya.133 Let us not be stingy about
using these words, but keep repeating them, day
after day. For acertain silences are oppressive,
even at times within families, between husbands
and wives, between parents and children, among
siblingsa.134 The right words, spoken at the right
time, daily protect and nurture love.
134.a All this occurs through a process of constant growth. The very special form of love
that is marriage is called to embody what Saint
Thomas Aquinas said about charity in general.
aCharitya, he says, aby its very nature, has no
limit to its increase, for it is a participation in
that infinite charity which is the Holy Spirita|
Nor on the part of the subject can its limit be
fixed, because as charity grows, so too does its
capacity for an even greater increasea.135 Saint
a Address to the Pilgrimage of Families during the Year of Faith
(26 October 2013): AAS 105 (2013), 980.
133
a Angelus Message (29 December 2013): LaOsservatore
Romano, 30-31 December 2013, p. 7.
134
a Address to the Pilgrimage of Families during the Year of Faith
(26 October 2013): AAS 105 (2013), 978.
135
a Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 24, art. 7.
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100

Paul also prays: aMay the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one anothera (1 Th
3:12), and again, aconcerning fraternal lovea|
we urge you, beloved, to do so more and morea
(1 Th 4:9-10). More and more! Marital love is
not defended primarily by presenting indissolubility as a duty, or by repeating doctrine, but
by helping it to grow ever stronger under the
impulse of grace. A love that fails to grow is at
risk. Growth can only occur if we respond to
Godas grace through constant acts of love, acts
of kindness that become ever more frequent, intense, generous, tender and cheerful. Husbands
and wives abecome conscious of their unity and
experience it more deeply from day to daya.136
The gift of Godas love poured out upon the
spouses is also a summons to constant growth
in grace.
135.a It is not helpful to dream of an idyllic and
perfect love needing no stimulus to grow. A celestial notion of earthly love forgets that the best
is yet to come, that fine wine matures with age.
As the Bishops of Chile have pointed out, athe
perfect families proposed by deceptive consumerist propaganda do not exist. In those families,
no one grows old, there is no sickness, sorrow
or deatha| Consumerist propaganda presents a
fantasy that has nothing to do with the reality
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 48.
136

101

which must daily be faced by the heads of familiesa.137 It is much healthier to be realistic about
our limits, defects and imperfections, and to respond to the call to grow together, to bring love
to maturity and to strengthen the union, come
what may.
Dialogue

136.a Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life. Yet it can only be the fruit of a long and
demanding apprenticeship. Men and women,
young people and adults, communicate differently. They speak different languages and they act in
different ways. Our way of asking and responding to questions, the tone we use, our timing and
any number of other factors condition how well
we communicate. We need to develop certain attitudes that express love and encourage authentic
dialogue.
137.a Take time, quality time. This means being
ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires
the self-discipline of not speaking until the time
is right. Instead of offering an opinion or advice,
we need to be sure that we have heard everything
the other person has to say. This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to
a Chilean Bishopsa Conference, La vida y la familia:
regalos de Dios para cada uno de nosotros (21 July 2014).
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listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions. Do not be rushed, put aside
all of your own needs and worries, and make
space. Often the other spouse does not need a
solution to his or her problems, but simply to
be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledge
their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their
anger, their hopes and their dreams. How often
we hear complaints like: aHe does not listen to
me.a aEven when you seem to, you are really
doing something else.a aI talk to her and I feel
like she canat wait for me to finish.a aWhen I
speak to her, she tries to change the subject, or
she gives me curt responses to end the conversationa.
138.a Develop the habit of giving real importance to the other person. This means appreciating them and recognizing their right to exist, to
think as they do and to be happy. Never downplay what they say or think, even if you need to
express your own point of view. Everyone has
something to contribute, because they have their
life experiences, they look at things from a different standpoint and they have their own concerns,
abilities and insights. We ought to be able to acknowledge the other personas truth, the value of
his or her deepest concerns, and what it is that
they are trying to communicate, however aggressively. We have to put ourselves in their shoes
and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their
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deepest concerns and to take them as a point of
departure for further dialogue.
139.a Keep an open mind. Donat get bogged
down in your own limited ideas and opinions,
but be prepared to change or expand them. The
combination of two different ways of thinking
can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. The
unity that we seek is not uniformity, but a aunity in diversitya, or areconciled diversitya. Fraternal communion is enriched by respect and
appreciation for differences within an overall
perspective that advances the common good.
We need to free ourselves from feeling that we
all have to be alike. A certain astuteness is also
needed to prevent the appearance of astatica
that can interfere with the process of dialogue.
For example, if hard feelings start to emerge,
they should be dealt with sensitively, lest they
interrupt the dynamic of dialogue. The ability
to say what one is thinking without offending
the other person is important. Words should be
carefully chosen so as not to offend, especially
when discussing difficult issues. Making a point
should never involve venting anger and inflicting hurt. A patronizing tone only serves to
hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others. Many
disagreements between couples are not about
important things. Mostly they are about trivial
matters. What alters the mood, however, is the
way things are said or the attitude with which
they are said.
104

140.a Show affection and concern for the other
person. Love surmounts even the worst barriers.
When we love someone, or when we feel loved
by them, we can better understand what they are
trying to communicate. Fearing the other person
as a kind of arivala is a sign of weakness and
needs to be overcome. It is very important to
base oneas position on solid choices, beliefs or
values, and not on the need to win an argument
or to be proved right.
141.a Finally, let us acknowledge that for a worthwhile dialogue we have to have something to say.
This can only be the fruit of an interior richness
nourished by reading, personal reflection, prayer
and openness to the world around us. Otherwise,
conversations become boring and trivial. When
neither of the spouses works at this, and has little real contact with other people, family life becomes stifling and dialogue impoverished.
Passionate love

142.a The Second Vatican Council teaches that
this conjugal love aembraces the good of the
whole person; it can enrich the sentiments of the
spirit and their physical expression with a unique
dignity and ennoble them as the special features
and manifestation of the friendship proper to
marriagea.138 For this reason, a love lacking
a Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 49.
138

105

either pleasure or passion is insufficient to symbolize the union of the human heart with God:
aAll the mystics have affirmed that supernatural
love and heavenly love find the symbols which
they seek in marital love, rather than in friendship, filial devotion or devotion to a cause. And
the reason is to be found precisely in its totalitya.139 Why then should we not pause to speak
of feelings and sexuality in marriage?
The world of emotions

143.a Desires, feelings, emotions, what the ancients called athe passionsa, all have an important place in married life. They are awakened
whenever aanothera becomes present and part
of a personas life. It is characteristic of all living
beings to reach out to other things, and this tendency always has basic affective signs: pleasure
or pain, joy or sadness, tenderness or fear. They
ground the most elementary psychological activity. Human beings live on this earth, and all that
they do and seek is fraught with passion.
144.a As true man, Jesus showed his emotions.
He was hurt by the rejection of Jerusalem (cf. Mt
23:27) and this moved him to tears (cf. Lk 19:41).
He was also deeply moved by the sufferings of
others (cf. Mk 6:34). He felt deeply their grief
(cf. Jn 11:33), and he wept at the death of a friend
a A. Sertillanges, LaAmour chrA(c)tien, Paris, 1920, 174.

139

106

(cf. Jn 11:35). These examples of his sensitivity
showed how much his human heart was open to
others.
145.a Experiencing an emotion is not, in itself,
morally good or evil.140 The stirring of desire or
repugnance is neither sinful nor blameworthy.
What is morally good or evil is what we do on the
basis of, or under the influence of, a given passion.
But when passions are aroused or sought, and as a
result we perform evil acts, the evil lies in the decision to fuel them and in the evil acts that result.
Along the same lines, my being attracted to someone is not automatically good. If my attraction to
that person makes me try to dominate him or her,
then my feeling only serves my selfishness. To
believe that we are good simply because awe feel
gooda is a tremendous illusion. There are those
who feel themselves capable of great love only
because they have a great need for affection, yet
they prove incapable of the effort needed to bring
happiness to others. They remain caught up in
their own needs and desires. In such cases, emotions distract from the highest values and conceal a self-centredness that makes it impossible
to develop a healthy and happy family life.
146.a This being said, if passion accompanies a
free act, it can manifest the depth of that act.
Marital love strives to ensure that oneas entire
a Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 24, art. 1.

140

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emotional life benefits the family as a whole and
stands at the service of its common life. A family is
mature when the emotional life of its members becomes a form of sensitivity that neither stifles nor
obscures great decisions and values, but rather follows each oneas freedom,141 springs from it, enriches, perfects and harmonizes it in the service of all.
God loves the joy of his children

147.a This calls for a pedagogical process
that involves renunciation. This conviction
on the part of the Church has often been
rejected as opposed to human happiness.
Benedict XVI summed up this charge with great
clarity: aDoesnat the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesnat
she blow the whistle just when the joy which is
the Creatoras gift offers us a happiness which
is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?a142
He responded that, although there have been
exaggerations and deviant forms of asceticism
in Christianity, the Churchas official teaching, in
fidelity to the Scriptures, did not reject aeros as
such, but rather declared war on a warped and
destructive form of it, because this counterfeit
aCf. ibid., q. 59, art. 5.
a Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005),
3: AAS 98 (2006),A 219-220.
141
142

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divinization of erosa| actually strips it of divine
dignity and dehumanizes ita.143
148.a Training in the areas of emotion and
instinct is necessary, and at times this requires
setting limits. Excess, lack of control or obsession with a single form of pleasure can end
up weakening and tainting that very pleasure144
and damaging family life. A person can certainly channel his passions in a beautiful and
healthy way, increasingly pointing them towards
altruism and an integrated self-fulfilment that
can only enrich interpersonal relationships in
the heart of the family. This does not mean
renouncing moments of intense enjoyment,145
but rather integrating them with other moments
of generous commitment, patient hope, inevitable weariness and struggle to achieve an ideal.
Family life is all this, and it deserves to be lived
to the fullest.
149.a Some currents of spirituality teach that
desire has to be eliminated as a path to liberation from pain. Yet we believe that God loves
the enjoyment felt by human beings: he created
us and arichly furnishes us with everything to
enjoya (1 Tim 6:17). Let us be glad when with
a Ibid., 4: AAS 98 (2006), 220.
a Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 32, art.7.
145
a Cf. Id., Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 153, art. 2, ad 2:
aAbundantia delectationis quae est in actu venereo secundum rationem
ordinato, non contrariatur medio virtutisa.
143
144

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great love he tells us: aMy son, treat yourself
wella| Do not deprive yourself of a happy daya
(Sir 14:11-14). Married couples likewise respond to Godas will when they take up the biblical injunction: aBe joyful in the day of prosperitya (Ec 7:14). What is important is to have
the freedom to realize that pleasure can find different expressions at different times of life, in
accordance with the needs of mutual love. In
this sense, we can appreciate the teachings of
some Eastern masters who urge us to expand
our consciousness, lest we be imprisoned by
one limited experience that can blinker us. This
expansion of consciousness is not the denial or
destruction of desire so much as its broadening
and perfection.
The erotic dimension of love

150.a All this brings us to the sexual dimension
of marriage. God himself created sexuality,
which is a marvellous gift to his creatures. If
this gift needs to be cultivated and directed, it is
to prevent the aimpoverishment of an authentic
valuea.146 Saint John Paul II rejected the claim
that the Churchas teaching is aa negation of the
value of human sexualitya, or that the Church
simply tolerates sexuality abecause it is necessary
for procreationa.147 Sexual desire is not somea John Paul II, Catechesis (22 October 1980), 5:
Insegnamenti III/2 (1980), 951.
147
a Ibid., 3.
146

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thing to be looked down upon, and aand there
can be no attempt whatsoever to call into question its necessitya.148
151.a To those who fear that the training of
the passions and of sexuality detracts from the
spontaneity of sexual love, Saint John Paul II
replied that human persons are acalled to full
and mature spontaneity in their relationshipsa,
a maturity that ais the gradual fruit of a discernment of the impulses of oneas own hearta.149
This calls for discipline and self-mastery, since
every human person amust learn, with perseverance and consistency, the meaning of his or
her bodya.150 Sexuality is not a means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal
language wherein the other is taken seriously,
in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity. As
such, athe human heart comes to participate, so
to speak, in another kind of spontaneitya.151 In
this context, the erotic appears as a specifically
human manifestation of sexuality. It enables us
to discover athe nuptial meaning of the body
and the authentic dignity of the gifta.152 In his
catecheses on the theology of the body, Saint
John Paul II taught that sexual differentiation
a Id., Catechesis, (24 September 1980), 4: Insegnamenti
III/2 (1980), 719.
149
a Catechesis (12 November 1980), 2: Insegnamenti III/2
(1980), 1133.
150
a Ibid., 4.
151
a Ibid., 5.
152
a Ibid., 1: 1132.
148

111

not only is aa source of fruitfulness and procreationa, but also possesses athe capacity of
expressing love: that love precisely in which the
human person becomes a gifta.153 A healthy
sexual desire, albeit closely joined to a pursuit
of pleasure, always involves a sense of wonder,
and for that very reason can humanize the impulses.
152.a In no way, then, can we consider the
erotic dimension of love simply as a permissible evil or a burden to be tolerated for the
good of the family. Rather, it must be seen as
gift from God that enriches the relationship
of the spouses. As a passion sublimated by a
love respectful of the dignity of the other, it
becomes a apure, unadulterated affirmationa
revealing the marvels of which the human
heart is capable. In this way, even momentarily, we can feel that alife has turned out good
and happya.154
Violence and manipulation

153.a On the basis of this positive vision of
sexuality, we can approach the entire subject
with a healthy realism. It is, after all, a fact
that sex often becomes depersonalized and
153
a Catechesis (16 January 1980), 1: Insegnamenti III/1
(1980), 151.
154
a Josef Pieper, Aber die Liebe, Munich, 2014, 174.
English: On Love, in Faith, Hope, Love, San Francisco, 1997, p.
256.

112

unhealthy; as a result, ait becomes the occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the
selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instinctsa.155 In our own day, sexuality risks being poisoned by the mentality of ause and discarda. The body of the other is often viewed
as an object to be used as long as it offers satisfaction, and rejected once it is no longer appealing. Can we really ignore or overlook the
continuing forms of domination, arrogance,
abuse, sexual perversion and violence that are
the product of a warped understanding of sexuality? Or the fact that the dignity of others
and our human vocation to love thus end up
being less important than an obscure need to
afind oneself a?
154.a We also know that, within marriage itself,
sex can become a source of suffering and manipulation. Hence it must be clearly reaffirmed
that aa conjugal act imposed on oneas spouse
without regard to his or her condition, or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no
true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wifea.156 The
acts proper to the sexual union of husband and
wife correspond to the nature of sexuality as
155
a John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (25
March 1995), 23: AAS 87 (1995), 427.
156
aPaul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (25 July
1968), 13: AAS 60 (1968), 489.

113

willed by God when they take place in aa manner which is truly humana.157 Saint Paul insists:
aLet no one transgress and wrong his brother
or sister in this mattera (1 Th 4:6). Even though
Paul was writing in the context of a patriarchal culture in which women were considered
completely subordinate to men, he nonetheless
taught that sex must involve communication
between the spouses: he brings up the possibility of postponing sexual relations for a period,
but aby agreementa (1 Cor 7:5).
155.a Saint John Paul II very subtly warned that
a couple can be athreatened by insatiabilitya158. In
other words, while called to an increasingly profound union, they can risk effacing their differences
and the rightful distance between the two. For
each possesses his or her own proper and inalienable dignity. When reciprocal belonging turns into
domination, athe structure of communion in interpersonal relations is essentially changeda.159 It
is part of the mentality of domination that those
who dominate end up negating their own dignity.160
Ultimately, they no longer aidentify themselves
subjectively with their own bodya,161 because they
take away its deepest meaning. They end up using
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 49.
158
a Catechesis (18 June 1980), 5: Insegnamenti III/1 (1980), 1778.
159
a Ibid., 6.
160
a Cf. Catechesis (30 July 1980), 1: Insegnamenti III/2
(1980), 311.
161
a Catechesis (8 April 1981), 3: Insegnamenti IV/1 (1981), 904.
157

114

sex as form of escapism and renounce the beauty
of conjugal union.
156.a Every form of sexual submission must
be clearly rejected. This includes all improper interpretations of the passage in the Letter to the Ephesians where Paul tells women
to abe subject to your husbandsa (Eph 5:22).
This passage mirrors the cultural categories
of the time, but our concern is not with its
cultural matrix but with the revealed message
that it conveys. As Saint John Paul II wisely observed: aLove excludes every kind of
subjection whereby the wife might become
a servant or a slave of the husbanda| The
community or unity which they should establish through marriage is constituted by a reciprocal donation of self, which is also a mutual subjectiona.162 Hence Paul goes on to say
that ahusbands should love their wives as their
own bodiesa (Eph 5:28). The biblical text is
actually concerned with encouraging everyone
to overcome a complacent individualism and
to be constantly mindful of others: aBe subject to one anothera (Eph 5:21). In marriage,
this reciprocal asubmissiona takes on a special
meaning, and is seen as a freely chosen mutual
belonging marked by fidelity, respect and care.
Sexuality is inseparably at the service of this
a Catechesis (11 August 1982), 4: Insegnamenti V/3
(1982), 205-206.
162

115

conjugal friendship, for it is meant to aid the
fulfilment of the other.
157.a All the same, the rejection of distortions
of sexuality and eroticism should never lead
us to a disparagement or neglect of sexuality
and eros in themselves. The ideal of marriage
cannot be seen purely as generous donation
and self-sacrifice, where each spouse renounces all personal needs and seeks only the otheras good without concern for personal satisfaction. We need to remember that authentic
love also needs to be able to receive the other,
to accept oneas own vulnerability and needs,
and to welcome with sincere and joyful gratitude the physical expressions of love found in
a caress, an embrace, a kiss and sexual union.
Benedict XVI stated this very clearly: aShould
man aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the
flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone,
then spirit and body would both lose their dignitya.163 For this reason, aman cannot live by
oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who
wishes to give love must also receive love as
a gifta.164 Still, we must never forget that our
human equilibrium is fragile; there is a part of
us that resists real human growth, and any moa Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005),
5: AAS 98 (2006), 221.
164
a Ibid., 7.
163

116

ment it can unleash the most primitive and selfish tendencies.
Marriage and virginity

158.a aMany people who are unmarried are
not only devoted to their own family but often
render great service in their group of friends, in
the Church community and in their professional
lives. Sometimes their presence and contributions are overlooked, causing in them a sense of
isolation. Many put their talents at the service
of the Christian community through charity and
volunteer work. Others remain unmarried because they consecrate their lives to the love of
Christ and neighbour. Their dedication greatly
enriches the family, the Church and societya.165
159.a Virginity is a form of love. As a sign,
it speaks to us of the coming of the Kingdom
and the need for complete devotion to the cause
of the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 7:32). It is also a reflection of the fullness of heaven, where athey
neither marry not are given in marriagea (Mt
22:30). Saint Paul recommended virginity because he expected Jesusa imminent return and he
wanted everyone to concentrate only on spreading the Gospel: athe appointed time has grown
very shorta (1 Cor 7:29). Nonetheless, he made
it clear that this was his personal opinion and
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 22.

165

117

preference (cf. 1 Cor 7:6-9), not something demanded by Christ: aI have no command in the
Lorda (1 Cor 7:25). All the same, he recognized
the value of the different callings: aEach has his
or her own special gift from God, one of one
kind and one of anothera (1 Cor 7:7). Reflecting
on this, Saint John Paul II noted that the biblical
texts agive no reason to assert the ainferioritya of
marriage, nor the asuperioritya of virginity or celibacya166 based on sexual abstinence. Rather than
speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it
should be enough to point out that the different
states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one
way and others in another. Alexander of Hales,
for example, stated that in one sense marriage
may be considered superior to the other sacraments, inasmuch as it symbolizes the great reality
of aChristas union with the Church, or the union
of his divine and human naturesa.167
160.a Consequently, ait is not a matter of
diminishing the value of matrimony in favour of
continencea.168 aThere is no basis for playing one
off against the othera| If, following a certain
theological tradition, one speaks of a astate of
perfectiona (status perfectionis), this has to do not
a Catechesis (14 April 1982), 1: Insegnamenti V/1 (1982),

166

1176.

167
a Glossa in quatuor libros sententiarum Petri Lombardi, IV,
XXVI, 2 (Quaracchi, 1957, 446).
168
a John Paul II, Catechesis (7 April 1982), 2: Insegnamenti
V/1 (1982), 1127.

118

with continence in itself, but with the entirety
of a life based on the evangelical counselsa.169
A married person can experience the highest
degree of charity and thus areach the perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity
to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man and
womana.170
161.a The value of virginity lies in its symbolizing a love that has no need to possess the other; in
this way it reflects the freedom of the Kingdom
of Heaven. Virginity encourages married couples to live their own conjugal love against the
backdrop of Christas definitive love, journeying
together towards the fullness of the Kingdom.
For its part, conjugal love symbolizes other values. On the one hand, it is a particular reflection of that full unity in distinction found in the
Trinity. The family is also a sign of Christ. It
manifests the closeness of God who is a part of
every human life, since he became one with us
through his incarnation, death and resurrection.
Each spouse becomes aone flesha with the other as a sign of willingness to share everything
with him or her until death. Whereas virginity
is an aeschatologicala sign of the risen Christ,
marriage is a ahistoricala sign for us living in this
world, a sign of the earthly Christ who chose to
aId., Catechesis (14 April 1982), 3: Insegnamenti V/1
(1982), 1177.
170
a Ibid.
169

119

become one with us and gave himself up for us
even to shedding his blood. Virginity and marriage are, and must be, different ways of loving.
For aman cannot live without love. He remains
a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his
life is senseless, if love is not revealed to hima.171
162.a Celibacy can risk becoming a comfortable
single life that provides the freedom to be independent, to move from one residence, work or
option to another, to spend money as one sees
fit and to spend time with others as one wants.
In such cases, the witness of married people becomes especially eloquent. Those called to virginity can encounter in some marriages a clear
sign of Godas generous and steadfast fidelity to his covenant, and this can move them to a
more concrete and generous availability to others. Many married couples remain faithful when
one of them has become physically unattractive,
or fails to satisfy the otheras needs, despite the
voices in our society that might encourage them
to be unfaithful or to leave the other. A wife can
care for her sick husband and thus, in drawing
near to the Cross, renew her commitment to love
unto death. In such love, the dignity of the true
lover shines forth, inasmuch as it is more proper
to charity to love than to be loved.172 We could
also point to the presence in many families of
a Id., Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March
1979), 10: AAS 71 (1979), 274.
172
a Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 27, art. 1.
171

120

a capacity for selfless and loving service when
children prove troublesome and even ungrateful.
This makes those parents a sign of the free and
selfless love of Jesus. Cases like these encourage
celibate persons to live their commitment to the
Kingdom with greater generosity and openness.
Today, secularization has obscured the value of
a life-long union and the beauty of the vocation
to marriage. For this reason, it is anecessary to
deepen an understanding of the positive aspects
of conjugal lovea.173
The transformation of love

163.a Longer life spans now mean that close
and exclusive relationships must last for four,
five or even six decades; consequently, the initial decision has to be frequently renewed. While
one of the spouses may no longer experience an
intense sexual desire for the other, he or she may
still experience the pleasure of mutual belonging
and the knowledge that neither of them is alone
but has a apartnera with whom everything in life
is shared. He or she is a companion on lifeas
journey, one with whom to face lifeas difficulties
and enjoy its pleasures. This satisfaction is part
of the affection proper to conjugal love. There
is no guarantee that we will feel the same way all
through life. Yet if a couple can come up with
a shared and lasting life project, they can love
a Pontifical Council for the Family, Family, Marriage
and aDe Factoa Unions (26 July 2000), 40.
173

121

one another and live as one until death do them
part, enjoying an enriching intimacy. The love
they pledge is greater than any emotion, feeling
or state of mind, although it may include all of
these. It is a deeper love, a lifelong decision of
the heart. Even amid unresolved conflicts and
confused emotional situations, they daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one another, to share their lives and to continue loving
and forgiving. Each progresses along the path
of personal growth and development. On this
journey, love rejoices at every step and in every
new stage.
164.a In the course of every marriage physical
appearances change, but this hardly means that
love and attraction need fade. We love the other
person for who they are, not simply for their
body. Although the body ages, it still expresses
that personal identity that first won our heart.
Even if others can no longer see the beauty of
that identity, a spouse continues to see it with
the eyes of love and so his or her affection does
not diminish. He or she reaffirms the decision
to belong to the other and expresses that choice
in faithful and loving closeness. The nobility of
this decision, by its intensity and depth, gives
rise to a new kind of emotion as they fulfil their
marital mission. For aemotion, caused by another human being as a persona| does not per se

122

tend toward the conjugal acta.174 It finds other
sensible expressions. Indeed, love ais a single
reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge
more clearlya.175 The marriage bond finds new
forms of expression and constantly seeks new
ways to grow in strength. These both preserve
and strengthen the bond. They call for daily effort. None of this, however, is possible without praying to the Holy Spirit for an outpouring
of his grace, his supernatural strength and his
spiritual fire, to confirm, direct and transform
our love in every new situation.

174
a John Paul II, Catechesis (31 October 1984), 6:
Insegnamenti VII/2 (1984), 1072.
175
a Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25
December 2005), 8: AAS 98 (2006), 224.

123

CHAPTER FIVE

LOVE MADE FRUITFUL
165.a Love always gives life. Conjugal love
adoes not end with the couplea| The couple, in
giving themselves to one another, give not just
themselves but also the reality of children, who
are a living reflection of their love, a permanent
sign of their conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a
mothera.176
Welcoming a new life

166.a The family is the setting in which a new
life is not only born but also welcomed as a gift
of God. Each new life aallows us to appreciate the utterly gratuitous dimension of love,
which never ceases to amaze us. It is the beauty of being loved first: children are loved even
before they arrivea.177 Here we see a reflection
of the primacy of the love of God, who always
takes the initiative, for children aare loved before
having done anything to deserve ita.178 And yet,
176
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio, (22 November 1981), 14: AAS 74 (1982), 96.
177
a Catechesis (11 February 2015): LaOsservatore Romano,
12 February 2015, p. 8.
178
a Ibid.

125

afrom the first moments of their lives, many
children are rejected, abandoned, and robbed
of their childhood and future. There are those
who dare to say, as if to justify themselves, that
it was a mistake to bring these children into the
world. This is shameful! a| How can we issue
solemn declarations on human rights and the
rights of children, if we then punish children
for the errors of adults?a179 If a child comes
into this world in unwanted circumstances, the
parents and other members of the family must
do everything possible to accept that child as
a gift from God and assume the responsibility
of accepting him or her with openness and affection. For awhen speaking of children who
come into the world, no sacrifice made by adults
will be considered too costly or too great, if it
means the child never has to feel that he or she is
a mistake, or worthless or abandoned to the four
winds and the arrogance of mana.180 The gift
of a new child, entrusted by the Lord to a father
and a mother, begins with acceptance, continues
with lifelong protection and has as its final goal
the joy of eternal life. By serenely contemplating
the ultimate fulfilment of each human person,
parents will be even more aware of the precious
gift entrusted to them. For God allows parents
a Catechesis (8 April 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 9 April
2015, p. 8.
180
a Ibid.
179

126

to choose the name by which he himself will call
their child for all eternity.181
167.a Large families are a joy for the Church.
They are an expression of the fruitfulness of
love. At the same time, Saint John Paul II rightly
explained that responsible parenthood does not
mean aunlimited procreation or lack of awareness of what is involved in rearing children, but
rather the empowerment of couples to use their
inviolable liberty wisely and responsibly, taking
into account social and demographic realities,
as well as their own situation and legitimate desiresa.182
Love and pregnancy

168.a Pregnancy is a difficult but wonderful
time. A mother joins with God to bring forth
the miracle of a new life. Motherhood is the fruit
of a aparticular creative potential of the female
body, directed to the conception and birth of a
new human beinga.183 Each woman shares in
a Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium
et Spes, 51: aLet us all be convinced that human life and its
transmission are realities whose meaning is not limited by the
horizons of this life only: their true evaluation and full meaning
can only be understood in reference to our eternal destinya.
182
a Letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations
Organization on Population and Development (18 March 1994):
Insegnamenti XVII/1 (1994), 750-751.
183
a John Paul II, Catechesis (12 March 1980), 3:
Insegnamenti III/1 (1980), 543.
181

127

athe mystery of creation, which is renewed with
each birtha.184 The Psalmist says: aYou knit me
together in my motheras womba (Ps 139:13).
Every child growing within the motheras womb
is part of the eternal loving plan of God the
Father: aBefore I formed you in the womb I
knew you, and before you were born I consecrated youa (Jer 1:5). Each child has a place in Godas
heart from all eternity; once he or she is conceived, the Creatoras eternal dream comes true.
Let us pause to think of the great value of that
embryo from the moment of conception. We
need to see it with the eyes of God, who always
looks beyond mere appearances.
169.a A pregnant woman can participate in
Godas plan by dreaming of her child. aFor nine
months every mother and father dreams about
their childa| You canat have a family without
dreams. Once a family loses the ability to dream,
children do not grow, love does not grow, life
shrivels up and diesa.185 For Christian married
couples, baptism necessarily appears as a part of
that dream. With their prayers, parents prepare
for baptism, entrusting their baby to Jesus even
before he or she is born.
170.a Scientific advances today allow us to know
beforehand what colour a childas hair will be or
a Ibid.
a Address at the Meeting with Families in Manila (16 January
2015): AAS 107 (2015), 176.
184
185

128

what illnesses they may one day suffer, because all
the somatic traits of the person are written in his
or her genetic code already in the embryonic stage.
Yet only the Father, the Creator, fully knows the
child; he alone knows his or her deepest identity
and worth. Expectant mothers need to ask God
for the wisdom fully to know their children and
to accept them as they are. Some parents feel
that their child is not coming at the best time.
They should ask the Lord to heal and strengthen
them to accept their child fully and wholeheartedly. It is important for that child to feel wanted.
He or she is not an accessory or a solution to
some personal need. A child is a human being of
immense worth and may never be used for oneas
own benefit. So it matters little whether this new
life is convenient for you, whether it has features
that please you, or whether it fits into your plans
and aspirations. For achildren are a gift. Each
one is unique and irreplaceablea| We love our
children because they are children, not because
they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or
embody our dreams. We love them because they
are children. A child is a childa.186 The love of
parents is the means by which God our Father
shows his own love. He awaits the birth of each
child, accepts that child unconditionally, and welcomes him or her freely.
a Catechesis (11 February 2015): LaOsservatore Romano,
12 February 2015, p. 8.
186

129

171.a With great affection I urge all future mothers: keep happy and let nothing rob you of the
interior joy of motherhood. Your child deserves
your happiness. Donat let fears, worries, other
peopleas comments or problems lessen your joy
at being Godas means of bringing a new life to
the world. Prepare yourself for the birth of your
child, but without obsessing, and join in Maryas
song of joy: aMy soul proclaims the greatness of
the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of
his servanta (Lk 1:46-48). Try to experience this
serene excitement amid all your many concerns,
and ask the Lord to preserve your joy, so that you
can pass it on to your child.
The love of a mother and a father

172.a aChildren, once born, begin to receive,
along with nourishment and care, the spiritual
gift of knowing with certainty that they are loved.
This love is shown to them through the gift of
their personal name, the sharing of language,
looks of love and the brightness of a smile. In
this way, they learn that the beauty of human relationships touches our soul, seeks our freedom,
accepts the difference of others, recognizes and
respects them as a partner in dialoguea| Such
is love, and it contains a spark of Godas love!a187
Every child has a right to receive love from a
a Catechesis (14 October 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 15
October 2015, p. 8.
187

130

mother and a father; both are necessary for a
childas integral and harmonious development.
As the Australian Bishops have observed, each
of the spouses acontributes in a distinct way to
the upbringing of a child. Respecting a childas
dignity means affirming his or her need and natural right to have a mother and a fathera.188 We
are speaking not simply of the love of father and
mother as individuals, but also of their mutual
love, perceived as the source of oneas life and the
solid foundation of the family. Without this, a
child could become a mere plaything. Husband
and wife, father and mother, both acooperate
with the love of God the Creator, and are, in
a certain sense, his interpretersa.189 They show
their children the maternal and paternal face of
the Lord. Together they teach the value of reciprocity, of respect for differences and of being
able to give and take. If for some inevitable reason one parent should be lacking, it is important
to compensate for this loss, for the sake of the
childas healthy growth to maturity.
173.a The sense of being orphaned that affects
many children and young people today is much
deeper than we think. Nowadays we acknowledge as legitimate and indeed desirable that
188
a Australian Catholic Bishopsa Conference, Pastoral
Letter Donat Mess with Marriage (24 November 2015), 13.
189
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 50.

131

women wish to study, work, develop their skills
and have personal goals. At the same time, we
cannot ignore the need that children have for a
motheras presence, especially in the first months
of life. Indeed, athe woman stands before the
man as a mother, the subject of the new human
life that is conceived and develops in her, and
from her is born into the worlda.190 The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world. I
certainly value feminism, but one that does not
demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For
the grandeur of women includes all the rights
derived from their inalienable human dignity but
also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities
a motherhood in particular a also grant duties,
because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to
protect and preserve for the good of all.191
174.a aMothers are the strongest antidote
to the spread of self-centred individualisma|
It is they who testify to the beauty of lifea.192
Certainly, aa society without mothers would
be dehumanized, for mothers are always, even
in the worst of times, witnesses to tenderness,
a John Paul II, Catechesis (12 March 1980), 2:
Insegnamenti III/1 (1980), 542.
191
a Cf. Id., Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (15 August
1988), 30-31: AAS 80 (1988), 1726-1729.
192
a Catechesis (7 January 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 7-8
January 2015, p. 8.
190

132

dedication and moral strength. Mothers often
communicate the deepest meaning of religious
practice in the first prayers and acts of devotion
that their children learna| Without mothers,
not only would there be no new faithful, but the
faith itself would lose a good part of its simple
and profound warmtha| Dear mothers: thank
you! Thank you for what you are in your family
and for what you give to the Church and the
worlda.193
175.a A mother who watches over her child
with tenderness and compassion helps him or
her to grow in confidence and to experience that
the world is a good and welcoming place. This
helps the child to grow in self-esteem and, in
turn, to develop a capacity for intimacy and empathy. A father, for his part, helps the child to
perceive the limits of life, to be open to the challenges of the wider world, and to see the need
for hard work and strenuous effort. A father
possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity who demonstrates affection and concern for
his wife is just as necessary as a caring mother.
There can be a certain flexibility of roles and
responsibilities, depending on the concrete circumstances of each particular family. But the
clear and well-defined presence of both figures,
female and male, creates the environment best
suited to the growth of the child.
a Ibid.

193

133

176.a We often hear that ours is aa society without
fathersa. In Western culture, the father figure is
said to be symbolically absent, missing or vanished.
Manhood itself seems to be called into question.
The result has been an understandable confusion. aAt first, this was perceived as a liberation:
liberation from the father as master, from the
father as the representative of a law imposed
from without, from the father as the arbiter of
his childrenas happiness and an obstacle to the
emancipation and autonomy of young people.
In some homes authoritarianism once reigned
and, at times, even oppressiona.194 Yet, aas often happens, one goes from one extreme to the
other. In our day, the problem no longer seems
to be the overbearing presence of the father so
much as his absence, his not being there. Fathers
are often so caught up in themselves and their
work, and at times in their own self-fulfilment,
that they neglect their families. They leave the
little ones and the young to themselvesa.195 The
presence of the father, and hence his authority,
is also impacted by the amount of time given
over to the communications and entertainment
media. Nowadays authority is often considered
suspect and adults treated with impertinence.
They themselves become uncertain and so fail
to offer sure and solid guidance to their children.
a Catechesis (28 January 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 29
January 2015, p. 8.
195
a Ibid.
194

134

A reversal of the roles of parents and children is
unhealthy, since it hinders the proper process of
development that children need to experience,
and it denies them the love and guidance needed
to mature.196
177.a God sets the father in the family so that
by the gifts of his masculinity he can be aclose
to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow,
hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow a when they play and when
they work, when they are carefree and when
they are distressed, when they are talkative and
when they are silent, when they are daring and
when they are afraid, when they stray and when
they get back on the right path. To be a father
who is always present. When I say apresenta,
I do not mean acontrollinga. Fathers who are
too controlling overshadow their children, they
donat let them developa.197 Some fathers feel
they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is
that achildren need to find a father waiting for
them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to
show it, but they need ita.198 It is not good for
children to lack a father and to grow up before
they are ready.
a Cf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 28.
a Catechesis (4 February 2015), LaOsservatore Romano, 5
February 2015, p. 8.
198
a Ibid.
196
197

135

An expanding fruitfulness

178.a Some couples are unable to have children. We know that this can be a cause of real
suffering for them. At the same time, we know
that amarriage was not instituted solely for the
procreation of childrena| Even in cases where,
despite the intense desire of the spouses, there
are no children, marriage still retains its character
of being a whole manner and communion of life,
and preserves its value and indissolubilitya.199 So
too, amotherhood is not a solely biological reality, but is expressed in diverse waysa.200
179.a Adoption is a very generous way to become parents. I encourage those who cannot
have children to expand their marital love to
embrace those who lack a proper family situation. They will never regret having been generous. Adopting a child is an act of love, offering
the gift of a family to someone who has none. It
is important to insist that legislation help facilitate the adoption process, above all in the case
of unwanted children, in order to prevent their
abortion or abandonment. Those who accept
the challenge of adopting and accepting someone unconditionally and gratuitously become
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 50.
200
a Fifth General Conference of the Latin American
and Caribbean Bishops, Aparecida Document (29 June 2007), No.
457.
199

136

channels of Godas love. For he says, aEven if
your mother forgets you, I will not forget youa
(Is 49:15).
180.a aThe choice of adoption and foster care
expresses a particular kind of fruitfulness in the
marriage experience, and not only in cases of infertility. In the light of those situations where
a child is desired at any cost, as a right for oneas
self-fulfilment, adoption and foster care, correctly understood, manifest an important aspect of
parenting and the raising of children. They make
people aware that children, whether natural,
adoptive or taken in foster care, are persons in
their own right who need to be accepted, loved
and cared for, and not just brought into this
world. The best interests of the child should always underlie any decision in adoption and foster
carea.201 On the other hand, athe trafficking of
children between countries and continents needs
to be prevented by appropriate legislative action
and state controla.202
181.a We also do well to remember that procreation and adoption are not the only ways of experiencing the fruitfulness of love. Even large
families are called to make their mark on society,
finding other expressions of fruitfulness that in
some way prolong the love that sustains them.
Christian families should never forget that afaith
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 65.
a Ibid.

201
202

137

does not remove us from the world, but draws
us more deeply into ita| Each of us, in fact,
has a special role in preparing for the coming of
Godas kingdom in our worlda.203 Families should
not see themselves as a refuge from society, but
instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of
solidarity with others. In this way, they become
a hub for integrating persons into society and a
point of contact between the public and private
spheres. Married couples should have a clear
awareness of their social obligations. With this,
their affection does not diminish but is flooded
with new light. As the poet says:
aYour hands are my caress,
The harmony that fills my days.
I love you because your hands
Work for justice.
If I love you, it is because you are
My love, my companion and my all,
And on the street, side by side,
We are much more than just twoa.204
182.a No family can be fruitful if it sees itself
as overly different or aset aparta. To avoid this
a Address at the Meeting with Families in Manila (16 January
2015): AAS 107 (2015), 178.
204
aMario Benedetti, aTe Quieroa, in Poemas de otros,
Buenos Aires 1993, 316: aaTus manos son mi caricia / mis acordes
cotidianos / te quiero porque tus manos / trabajan por la justicia. // Si
te quiero es porque sos / mi amor mi cA3mplice y todo / y en la calle codo a
codo / somos mucho mA!s que dos.
203

138

risk, we should remember that Jesusa own family, so full of grace and wisdom, did not appear
unusual or different from others. That is why
people found it hard to acknowledge Jesusa wisdom: aWhere did this man get all this? Is not
this the carpenter, the son of Mary?a (Mk 6:23). aIs this not the carpenteras son?a (MtA 13:A 55).
These questions make it clear that theirs was an
ordinary family, close to others, a normal part
of the community. Jesus did not grow up in a
narrow and stifling relationship with Mary and
Joseph, but readily interacted with the wider family, the relatives of his parents and their friends.
This explains how, on returning from Jerusalem,
Mary and Joseph could imagine for a whole day
that the twelve-year-old Jesus was somewhere
in the caravan, listening to peopleas stories and
sharing their concerns: aSupposing him to be in
the group of travellers, they went a dayas journeya
(Lk 2:44). Still, some Christian families, whether
because of the language they use, the way they
act or treat others, or their constant harping on
the same two or three issues, end up being seen
as remote and not really a part of the community.
Even their relatives feel looked down upon or
judged by them.
183.a A married couple who experience the
power of love know that this love is called to
bind the wounds of the outcast, to foster a culture of encounter and to fight for justice. God
has given the family the job of adomesticatinga
139

the world205 and helping each person to see fellow human beings as brothers and sisters. aAn
attentive look at the everyday life of todayas men
and women immediately shows the omnipresent
need for a healthy injection of family spirita|
Not only is the organization of ordinary life increasingly thwarted by a bureaucracy completely
removed from fundamental human bonds, but
even social and political mores show signs of
degradationa.206 For their part, open and caring
families find a place for the poor and build friendships with those less fortunate than themselves.
In their efforts to live according to the Gospel,
they are mindful of Jesusa words: aAs you did it
to one of the least of these my brethren, you did
it to me (Mt 25:40)a. In a very real way, their lives
express what is asked of us all: aWhen you give
a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends
or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return, and you
be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the
poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you
will be blesseda (Lk 14:12-14). You will be blessed! Here is the secret to a happy family.
184.a By their witness as well as their words,
families speak to others of Jesus. They pass on
the faith, they arouse a desire for God and they
205
aCf. Catechesis (16 September 2015): LaOsservatore
Romano, 17 September 2015,A p. 8.
206
a Catechesis (7 October 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 9
October 2015,A p. 8.

140

reflect the beauty of the Gospel and its way of
life. Christian marriages thus enliven society by
their witness of fraternity, their social concern,
their outspokenness on behalf of the underprivileged, their luminous faith and their active hope.
Their fruitfulness expands and in countless ways
makes Godas love present in society.
Discerning the body

185.a Along these same lines, we do well to take
seriously a biblical text usually interpreted outside
of its context or in a generic sense, with the risk
of overlooking its immediate and direct meaning, which is markedly social. I am speaking of
1 Cor 11:17-34, where Saint Paul faces a shameful
situation in the community. The wealthier members tended to discriminate against the poorer
ones, and this carried over even to the agape meal
that accompanied the celebration of the Eucharist. While the rich enjoyed their food, the poor
looked on and went hungry: aOne is hungry and
another is drunk. Do you not have houses to
eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church
of God and humiliate those who have nothing?a
(vv. 21-22).
186.a The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who
approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not
wound that same Body by creating scandalous
distinctions and divisions among its members.
This is what it means to adiscerna the body of
141

the Lord, to acknowledge it with faith and charity
both in the sacramental signs and in the community; those who fail to do so eat and drink judgement against themselves (cf. v. 29). The celebration of the Eucharist thus becomes a constant
summons for everyone ato examine himself or
herself a (v. 28), to open the doors of the family
to greater fellowship with the underprivileged,
and in this way to receive the sacrament of that
eucharistic love which makes us one body. We
must not forget that athe amysticisma of the sacrament has a social charactera.207 When those
who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and
suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is
received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the
Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.
Life in the wider family

187.a The nuclear family needs to interact with
the wider family made up of parents, aunts
and uncles, cousins and even neighbours. This
greater family may have members who require
assistance, or at least companionship and affection, or consolation amid suffering.208 The
a Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25
December 2005), 14: AAS 98 (2006),A 228.
208
a Cf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 11.
207

142

individualism so prevalent today can lead to
creating small nests of security, where others
are perceived as bothersome or a threat. Such
isolation, however, cannot offer greater peace
or happiness; rather, it straitens the heart of a
family and makes its life all the more narrow.
Being sons and daughters

188.a First, let us think of our parents. Jesus
told the Pharisees that abandoning oneas parents
is contrary to Godas law (cf. Mk 7:8-13). We
do well to remember that each of us is a son or
daughter. aEven if one becomes an adult, or an
elderly person, even if one becomes a parent, if
one occupies a position of responsibility, underneath all of this is still the identity of a child.
We are all sons and daughters. And this always
brings us back to the fact that we did not give
ourselves life but that we received it. The great
gift of life is the first gift that we receiveda.209
189.a Hence, athe fourth commandment asks
childrena| to honour their father and mother
(cf. Ex 20:12). This commandment comes immediately after those dealing with God himself. Indeed, it has to do with something sacred,
something divine, something at the basis of
every other kind of human respect. The biblical formulation of the fourth commandment
a Catechesis (18 March 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 19
March 2015,A p. 8.
209

143

goes on to say: athat your days may be long in
the land which the Lord your God gives youa.
The virtuous bond between generations is the
guarantee of the future, and is the guarantee of
a truly humane society. A society with children
who do not honour parents is a society without
honoura| It is a society destined to be filled with
surly and greedy young peoplea.210
190.a There is, however, another side to the
coin. As the word of God tells us, aa man leaves
his father and his mothera (Gen 2:24). This does
not always happen, and a marriage is hampered
by the failure to make this necessary sacrifice and
surrender. Parents must not be abandoned or ignored, but marriage itself demands that they be
alefta, so that the new home will be a true hearth,
a place of security, hope and future plans, and
the couple can truly become aone flesha (ibid.).
In some marriages, one spouse keeps secrets
from the other, confiding them instead to his or
her parents. As a result, the opinions of their
parents become more important than the feelings and opinions of their spouse. This situation
cannot go on for long, and even if it takes time,
both spouses need to make the effort to grow in
trust and communication. Marriage challenges
husbands and wives to find new ways of being
sons and daughters.
a Catechesis (11 February 2015): LaOsservatore Romano,
12 February 2015,A p. 8.
210

144

The elderly

191.a aDo not cast me off in the time of old
age; forsake me not when my strength is spenta
(Ps 71:9). This is the plea of the elderly, who
fear being forgotten and rejected. Just as God
asks us to be his means of hearing the cry of the
poor, so too he wants us to hear the cry of the
elderly.211 This represents a challenge to families and communities, since athe Church cannot
and does not want to conform to a mentality of
impatience, and much less of indifference and
contempt, towards old age. We must reawaken
the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation,
of hospitality, which makes the elderly feel like
a living part of the community. Our elderly are
men and women, fathers and mothers, who came
before us on our own road, in our own house,
in our daily battle for a worthy lifea.212 Indeed,
ahow I would like a Church that challenges the
throw-away culture by the overflowing joy of a
new embrace between young and old!a213
192.a Saint John Paul II asked us to be attentive
to the role of the elderly in our families, because
there are cultures which, aespecially in the wake
of disordered industrial and urban development,
have both in the past and in the present set the
a Cf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 17-18.
a Catechesis (4 March 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 5
March 2015,A p. 8.
213
a Catechesis (11 March 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 12
March 2015,A p. 8.
211
212

145

elderly aside in unacceptable waysa.214 The elderly help us to appreciate athe continuity of
the generationsa, by their acharism of bridging
the gapa.215 Very often it is grandparents who
ensure that the most important values are passed
down to their grandchildren, and amany people
can testify that they owe their initiation into the
Christian life to their grandparentsa.216 Their
words, their affection or simply their presence
help children to realize that history did not begin with them, that they are now part of an ageold pilgrimage and that they need to respect all
that came before them. Those who would break
all ties with the past will surely find it difficult
to build stable relationships and to realize that
reality is bigger than they are. aAttention to the
elderly makes the difference in a society. Does
a society show concern for the elderly? Does it
make room for the elderly? Such a society will
move forward if it respects the wisdom of the
elderlya.217
193.a The lack of historical memory is a serious shortcoming in our society. A mentality that
can only say, aThen was then, now is nowa, is
214
a Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 27 (22
November 1981): AAS 74 (1982), 113.
215
a Id., Address to Participants in the aInternational Forum on
Active Aginga (5 September 1980), 5: Insegnamenti III/2 (1980),
539.
216
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 18.
217
a Catechesis (4 March 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 5
March 2015, p. 8.

146

ultimately immature. Knowing and judging past
events is the only way to build a meaningful future. Memory is necessary for growth: aRecall the
former daysa (Heb 10:32). Listening to the elderly
tell their stories is good for children and young
people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods
and their country. A family that fails to respect
and cherish its grandparents, who are its living
memory, is already in decline, whereas a family
that remembers has a future. aA society that has
no room for the elderly or discards them because
they create problems, has a deadly virusa;218 ait is
torn from its rootsa.219 Our contemporary experience of being orphans as a result of cultural
discontinuity, uprootedness and the collapse of
the certainties that shape our lives, challenges us
to make our families places where children can
sink roots in the rich soil of a collective history.
Being brothers and sisters

194.a Relationships between brothers and sisters
deepen with the passing of time, and athe bond
of fraternity that forms in the family between
children, if consolidated by an educational atmosphere of openness to others, is a great school of
freedom and peace. In the family, we learn how to
live as one. Perhaps we do not always think about
a Ibid.
a Address at the Meeting with the Elderly (28 September
2014): LaOsservatore Romano, 29-30 September 2014, p. 7.
218
219

147

this, but the family itself introduces fraternity into
the world. From this initial experience of fraternity, nourished by affection and education at home,
the style of fraternity radiates like a promise upon
the whole of societya.220
195.a Growing up with brothers and sisters makes
for a beautiful experience of caring for and helping
one another. For afraternity in families is especially radiant when we see the care, the patience, the
affection that surround the little brother or sister
who is frail, sick or disableda.221 It must be acknowledged that ahaving a brother or a sister who
loves you is a profound, precious and unique experiencea.222 Children do need to be patiently taught
to treat one another as brothers and sisters. This
training, at times quite demanding, is a true school
of socialization. In some countries, where it has
become quite common to have only one child, the
experience of being a brother or sister is less and
less common. When it has been possible to have
only one child, ways have to be found to ensure that
he or she does not grow up alone or isolated.
A big heart

196.a In addition to the small circle of the couple and their children, there is the larger family,
220
a Catechesis (18 February 2015):A LaOsservatore Romano,
19 February 2015, p. 8.
221
a Ibid.
222
a Ibid.

148

which cannot be overlooked. Indeed, athe love
between husband and wife and, in a derivative
and broader way, the love between members of
the same family a between parents and children,
brothers and sisters and relatives and members
of the household a is given life and sustenance
by an unceasing inner dynamism leading the family to ever deeper and more intense communion,
which is the foundation and soul of the community of marriage and the familya.223 Friends
and other families are part of this larger family,
as well as communities of families who support
one another in their difficulties, their social commitments and their faith.
197.a This larger family should provide love
and support to teenage mothers, children without parents, single mothers left to raise children,
persons with disabilities needing particular affection and closeness, young people struggling
with addiction, the unmarried, separated or widowed who are alone, and the elderly and infirm
who lack the support of their children. It should
also embrace aeven those who have made shipwreck of their livesa.224 This wider family can
help make up for the shortcomings of parents,
detect and report possible situations in which
children suffer violence and even abuse, and
223
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 18: AAS 74 (1982), 101.
224
a Catechesis (7 October 2015):A LaOsservatore Romano, 8
October 2015), p. 8.

149

provide wholesome love and family stability in
cases when parents prove incapable of this.
198.a Finally, we cannot forget that this larger
family includes fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law
and all the relatives of the couple. One particularly delicate aspect of love is learning not to view
these relatives as somehow competitors, threats
or intruders. The conjugal union demands respect for their traditions and customs, an effort
to understand their language and to refrain from
criticism, caring for them and cherishing them
while maintaining the legitimate privacy and
independence of the couple. Being willing to
do so is also an exquisite expression of generous
love for oneas spouse.

150

CHAPTER SIX

SOME PASTORAL PERSPECTIVES
199.a The dialogue that took place during the
Synod raised the need for new pastoral methods.
I will attempt to mention some of these in a very
general way. Different communities will have
to devise more practical and effective initiatives
that respect both the Churchas teaching and local
problems and needs. Without claiming to present a pastoral plan for the family, I would now
like to reflect on some more significant pastoral
challenges.
Proclaiming the Gospel of the family today

200.a The Synod Fathers emphasized that Christian families, by the grace of the sacrament of
matrimony, are the principal agents of the family
apostolate, above all through atheir joy-filled witness as domestic churchesa.225 Consequently, ait
is important that people experience the Gospel
of the family as a joy that afills hearts and livesa,
because in Christ we have been aset free from sin,
sorrow, inner emptiness and lonelinessa (Evangelii
Gaudium, 1). As in the parable of the sower
(cf. MtA 13:3-9), we are called to help sow seeds;
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 30.

225

151

the rest is Godas work. Nor must we forget that,
in her teaching on the family, the Church is a
sign of contradictiona.226 Married couples are
grateful that their pastors uphold the high ideal
of a love that is strong, solid, enduring and capable of sustaining them through whatever trials
they may have to face. The Church wishes, with
humility and compassion, to reach out to families and ato help each family to discover the best
way to overcome any obstacles it encountersa.227
It is not enough to show generic concern for the
family in pastoral planning. Enabling families to
take up their role as active agents of the family
apostolate calls for aan effort at evangelization
and catechesis inside the familya.228
201.a aThis effort calls for missionary conversion by everyone in the Church, that is, one that
is not content to proclaim a merely theoretical
message without connection to peopleas real
problemsa.229 Pastoral care for families aneeds
to make it clear that the Gospel of the family
responds to the deepest expectations of the human person: a response to each oneas dignity and
fulfilment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This consists not merely in presenting
a set of rules, but in proposing values that are
clearly needed today, even in the most secularized
a Ibid., 31.
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 56.
228
a Ibid., 89.
229
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 32.
226
227

152

of countriesa.230 The Synod Fathers also ahighlighted the fact that evangelization needs unambiguously to denounce cultural, social, political
and economic factors a such as the excessive
importance given to market logic a that prevent
authentic family life and lead to discrimination,
poverty, exclusion, and violence. Consequently,
dialogue and cooperation need to be fostered
with societal structures and encouragement given to lay people who are involved, as Christians,
in the cultural and socio-political fieldsa.231
202.a aThe main contribution to the pastoral
care of families is offered by the parish, which is
the family of families, where small communities,
ecclesial movements and associations live in harmonya.232 Along with a pastoral outreach aimed
specifically at families, this shows the need for aa
more adequate formation... of priests, deacons,
men and women religious, catechists and other
pastoral workersa.233 In the replies given to the
worldwide consultation, it became clear that ordained ministers often lack the training needed to
deal with the complex problems currently facing
families. The experience of the broad oriental
tradition of a married clergy could also be drawn
upon.
a Ibid., 33.
a Ibid., 38.
232
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 77.
233
a Ibid., 61.
230
231

153

203.a Seminarians should receive a more extensive interdisciplinary, and not merely doctrinal,
formation in the areas of engagement and marriage. Their training does not always allow them
to explore their own psychological and affective
background and experiences. Some come from
troubled families, with absent parents and a lack
of emotional stability. There is a need to ensure
that the formation process can enable them to
attain the maturity and psychological balance
needed for their future ministry. Family bonds
are essential for reinforcing healthy self-esteem.
It is important for families to be part of the seminary process and priestly life, since they help to
reaffirm these and to keep them well grounded
in reality. It is helpful for seminarians to combine time in the seminary with time spent in parishes. There they can have greater contact with
the concrete realities of family life, since in their
future ministry they will largely be dealing with
families. aThe presence of lay people, families
and especially the presence of women in priestly
formation, promotes an appreciation of the diversity and complementarity of the different vocations in the Churcha.234
204.a The response to the consultation also
insisted on the need for training lay leaders who
can assist in the pastoral care of families, with
the help of teachers and counsellors, family and
a Ibid.

234

154

community physicians, social workers, juvenile
and family advocates, and drawing upon the
contributions of psychology, sociology, marital
therapy and counselling. Professionals, especially those with practical experience, help keep
pastoral initiatives grounded in the real situations
and concrete concerns of families. aCourses
and programmes, planned specifically for pastoral workers, can be of assistance by integrating the premarital preparation programme into
the broader dynamic of ecclesial lifea.235 Good
pastoral training is important aespecially in light
of particular emergency situations arising from
cases of domestic violence and sexual abusea.236
All this in no way diminishes, but rather complements, the fundamental value of spiritual direction, the rich spiritual treasures of the Church,
and sacramental Reconciliation.
Preparing engaged couples for marriage

205.a The Synod Fathers stated in a number of
ways that we need to help young people discover the dignity and beauty of marriage.237 They
should be helped to perceive the attraction of
a complete union that elevates and perfects the
social dimension of existence, gives sexuality
its deepest meaning, and benefits children by
a Ibid.
a Ibid.
237
a Cf. Relatio Synodi 2014, 26.
235
236

155

offering them the best context for their growth
and development.
206.a aThe complexity of todayas society and
the challenges faced by the family require a greater effort on the part of the whole Christian community in preparing those who are about to be
married. The importance of the virtues needs
to be included. Among these, chastity proves
invaluable for the genuine growth of love between persons. In this regard, the Synod Fathers
agreed on the need to involve the entire community more extensively by stressing the witness of
families themselves and by grounding marriage
preparation in the process of Christian initiation
by bringing out the connection between marriage, baptism and the other sacraments. The
Fathers also spoke of the need for specific programmes of marriage preparation aimed at giving couples a genuine experience of participation
in ecclesial life and a complete introduction to
various aspects of family lifea.238
207.a I encourage Christian communities to recognize the great benefit that they themselves receive from supporting engaged couples as they
grow in love. As the Italian bishops have observed, those couples are aa valuable resource
because, as they sincerely commit themselves
to grow in love and self-giving, they can help
a Ibid., 39.

238

156

renew the fabric of the whole ecclesial body.
Their special form of friendship can prove contagious and foster the growth of friendship and
fraternity in the Christian community of which
they are a parta.239 There are a number of legitimate ways to structure programmes of marriage
preparation, and each local Church will discern
how best to provide a suitable formation without
distancing young people from the sacrament.
They do not need to be taught the entire Catechism or overwhelmed with too much information. Here too, ait is not great knowledge,
but rather the ability to feel and relish things
interiorly that contents and satisfies the soula.240
Quality is more important than quantity, and
priority should be given a along with a renewed
proclamation of the kerygma a to an attractive
and helpful presentation of information that
can help couples to live the rest of their lives
together awith great courage and generositya.241
Marriage preparation should be a kind of ainitiationa to the sacrament of matrimony, providing couples with the help they need to receive
the sacrament worthily and to make a solid beginning of life as a family.
239
a Italian Bishopsa Conference, Episcopal Commission
on Family and Life, Orientamenti pastorali sulla preparazione al
matrimonio e alla famiglia (22 October 2012), 1.
240
a Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, Annotation 2.
241
a Ibid., Annotation 5.

157

208.a With the help of missionary families, the
coupleas own families and a variety of pastoral
resources, ways should also be found to offer a
remote preparation that, by example and good
advice, can help their love to grow and mature.
Discussion groups and optional talks on a variety
of topics of genuine interest to young people can
also prove helpful. All the same, some individual meetings remain essential, since the primary objective is to help each to learn how to love
this very real person with whom he or she plans
to share his or her whole life. Learning to love
someone does not happen automatically, nor can
it be taught in a workshop just prior to the celebration of marriage. For every couple, marriage
preparation begins at birth. What they received
from their family should prepare them to know
themselves and to make a full and definitive
commitment. Those best prepared for marriage
are probably those who learned what Christian
marriage is from their own parents, who chose
each other unconditionally and daily renew this
decision. In this sense, pastoral initiatives aimed
at helping married couples to grow in love and in
the Gospel of the family also help their children,
by preparing them for their future married life.
Nor should we underestimate the pastoral value
of traditional religious practices. To give just
one example: I think of Saint Valentineas Day; in
some countries, commercial interests are quicker
to see the potential of this celebration than are
we in the Church.
158

209.a The timely preparation of engaged couples by the parish community should also assist
them to recognize eventual problems and risks.
In this way, they can come to realize the wisdom
of breaking off a relationship whose failure and
painful aftermath can be foreseen. In their initial enchantment with one another, couples can
attempt to conceal or relativize certain things and
to avoid disagreements; only later do problems
surface. For this reason, they should be strongly
encouraged to discuss what each expects from
marriage, what they understand by love and commitment, what each wants from the other and
what kind of life they would like to build together.
Such discussions would help them to see if they
in fact have little in common and to realize that
mutual attraction alone will not suffice to keep
them together. Nothing is more volatile, precarious and unpredictable than desire. The decision to marry should never be encouraged unless
the couple has discerned deeper reasons that will
ensure a genuine and stable commitment.
210.a In any event, if one partner clearly recognizes the otheras weak points, he or she needs
to have a realistic trust in the possibility of helping to develop the good points that counterbalance them, and in this way to foster their human
growth. This entails a willingness to face eventual sacrifices, problems and situations of conflict; it demands a firm resolve to be ready for
this. Couples need to be able to detect danger
159

signals in their relationship and to find, before
the wedding, effective ways of responding to
them. Sadly, many couples marry without really
knowing one another. They have enjoyed each
otheras company and done things together, but
without facing the challenge of revealing themselves and coming to know who the other person
truly is.
211.a Both short-term and long-term marriage
preparation should ensure that the couple do not
view the wedding ceremony as the end of the
road, but instead embark upon marriage as a lifelong calling based on a firm and realistic decision
to face all trials and difficult moments together.
The pastoral care of engaged and married couples should be centred on the marriage bond,
assisting couples not only to deepen their love
but also to overcome problems and difficulties.
This involves not only helping them to accept
the Churchas teaching and to have recourse to
her valuable resources, but also offering practical
programmes, sound advice, proven strategies and
psychological guidance. All this calls for a pedagogy of love, attuned to the feelings and needs
of young people and capable of helping them
to grow interiorly. Marriage preparation should
also provide couples with the names of places,
people and services to which they can turn for
help when problems arise. It is also important to
remind them of the availability of the sacrament
of Reconciliation, which allows them to bring
160

their sins and past mistakes, and their relationship itself, before God, and to receive in turn his
merciful forgiveness and healing strength.
The preparation of the celebration

212.a Short-term preparations for marriage
tend to be concentrated on invitations, clothes,
the party and any number of other details that
tend to drain not only the budget but energy and
joy as well. The spouses come to the wedding
ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are
about to take. The same kind of preoccupation
with a big celebration also affects certain de facto unions; because of the expenses involved, the
couple, instead of being concerned above all
with their love and solemnizing it in the presence
of others, never get married. Here let me say a
word to fiancA(c)s. Have the courage to be different. Donat let yourselves get swallowed up by a
society of consumption and empty appearances.
What is important is the love you share, strengthened and sanctified by grace. You are capable of
opting for a more modest and simple celebration
in which love takes precedence over everything
else. Pastoral workers and the entire community
can help make this priority the norm rather than
the exception.
213.a In their preparation for marriage, the couple should be encouraged to make the liturgical
celebration a profound personal experience and
161

to appreciate the meaning of each of its signs.
In the case of two baptized persons, the commitment expressed by the words of consent and the
bodily union that consummates the marriage can
only be seen as signs of the covenantal love and
union between the incarnate Son of God and his
Church. In the baptized, words and signs become an eloquent language of faith. The body,
created with a God-given meaning, abecomes
the language of the ministers of the sacrament,
aware that in the conjugal pact there is expressed
and realized the mystery that has its origin in
God himself a.242
214.a At times, the couple does not grasp the
theological and spiritual import of the words
of consent, which illuminate the meaning of all
the signs that follow. It needs to be stressed that
these words cannot be reduced to the present;
they involve a totality that includes the future:
auntil death do us parta. The content of the
words of consent makes it clear that afreedom
and fidelity are not opposed to one another; rather, they are mutually supportive, both in interpersonal and social relationships. Indeed, let us
consider the damage caused, in our culture of
global communication, by the escalation of unkept promises... Honouring oneas word, fidelity
to oneas promises: these are things that cannot be
a John Paul II, Catechesis (27 June 1984), 4:A Insegnamenti
VII/1 (1984), 1941.
242

162

bought and sold. They cannot be compelled by
force or maintained without sacrificea.243
215.a The Kenyan Bishops have observed that
amany [young people] concentrate on their wedding day and forget the life-long commitment
they are about to enter intoa.244 They need to be
encouraged to see the sacrament not as a single
moment that then becomes a part of the past
and its memories, but rather as a reality that permanently influences the whole of married life.245
The procreative meaning of sexuality, the language of the body, and the signs of love shown
throughout married life, all become an auninterrupted continuity of liturgical languagea and
aconjugal life becomes in a certain sense liturgicala.246
216.a The couple can also meditate on the biblical readings and the meaningfulness of the
rings they will exchange and the other signs that
are part of the rite. Nor would it be good for
them to arrive at the wedding without ever having prayed together, one for the other, to seek
Godas help in remaining faithful and generous,
243
a Catechesis (21 October 2015):A LaOsservatore Romano, 22
October 2015, p. 12.
244
a Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lenten
Message (18 February 2015).
245
a Cf. Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Casti Connubii (31
December 1930): AAS 22 (1930), 583.
246
a John Paul II, Catechesis (4 July 1984), 3,
6:A InsegnamentiA VII/2A (1984), pp. 9, 10.

163

to ask the Lord together what he wants of them,
and to consecrate their love before an image of
the Virgin Mary. Those who help prepare them
for marriage should help them experience these
moments of prayer that can prove so beneficial.
aThe marriage liturgy is a unique event, which
is both a family and a community celebration.
The first signs of Jesus were performed at the
wedding feast of Cana. The good wine, resulting from the Lordas miracle that brought joy to
the beginning of a new family, is the new wine
of Christas covenant with the men and women
of every age... Frequently, the celebrant speaks
to a congregation that includes people who seldom participate in the life of the Church, or who
are members of other Christian denominations
or religious communities. The occasion thus
provides a valuable opportunity to proclaim the
Gospel of Christa.247
Accompanying the first years of married life

217.a It is important that marriage be seen as a
matter of love, that only those who freely choose
and love one another may marry. When love is
merely physical attraction or a vague affection,
spouses become particularly vulnerable once this
affection wanes or physical attraction diminishes.
Given the frequency with which this happens, it
is all the more essential that couples be helped
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 59.

247

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during the first years of their married life to enrich and deepen their conscious and free decision
to have, hold and love one another for life. Often the engagement period is not long enough,
the decision is precipitated for various reasons
and, what is even more problematic, the couple
themselves are insufficiently mature. As a result,
the newly married couple need to complete a
process that should have taken place during their
engagement.
218.a Another great challenge of marriage
preparation is to help couples realize that marriage is not something that happens once for all.
Their union is real and irrevocable, confirmed and
consecrated by the sacrament of matrimony. Yet
in joining their lives, the spouses assume an active
and creative role in a lifelong project. Their gaze
now has to be directed to the future that, with the
help of Godas grace, they are daily called to build.
For this very reason, neither spouse can expect
the other to be perfect. Each must set aside all
illusions and accept the other as he or she actually is: an unfinished product, needing to grow, a
work in progress. A persistently critical attitude
towards oneas partner is a sign that marriage was
not entered into as a project to be worked on
together, with patience, understanding, tolerance
and generosity. Slowly but surely, love will then
give way to constant questioning and criticism,
dwelling on each otheras good and bad points,
issuing ultimatums and engaging in competition
165

and self-justification. The couple then prove incapable of helping one another to build a mature
union. This fact needs to be realistically presented to newly married couples from the outset,
so that they can grasp that the wedding is ajust
the beginninga. By saying aI doa, they embark
on a journey that requires them to overcome all
obstacles standing in the way of their reaching
the goal. The nuptial blessing that they receive
is a grace and an incentive for this journey. They
can only benefit from sitting down and talking to
one another about how, concretely, they plan to
achieve their goal.
219.a I recall an old saying: still water becomes
stagnant and good for nothing. If, in the first
years of marriage, a coupleas experience of love
grows stagnant, it loses the very excitement that
should be its propelling force. Young love needs
to keep dancing towards the future with immense
hope. Hope is the leaven that, in those first years
of engagement and marriage, makes it possible
to look beyond arguments, conflicts and problems and to see things in a broader perspective.
It harnesses our uncertainties and concerns so
that growth can take place. Hope also bids us
live fully in the present, giving our all to the life
of the family, for the best way to prepare a solid
future is to live well in the present.
220.a This process occurs in various stages
that call for generosity and sacrifice. The first
powerful feelings of attraction give way to the
166

realization that the other is now a part of my life.
The pleasure of belonging to one another leads
to seeing life as a common project, putting the
otheras happiness ahead of my own, and realizing
with joy that this marriage enriches society. As
love matures, it also learns to anegotiatea. Far
from anything selfish or calculating, such negotiation is an exercise of mutual love, an interplay
of give and take, for the good of the family. At
each new stage of married life, there is a need
to sit down and renegotiate agreements, so that
there will be no winners and losers, but rather
two winners. In the home, decisions cannot
be made unilaterally, since each spouse shares
responsibility for the family; yet each home is
unique and each marriage will find an arrangement that works best.
221.a Among the causes of broken marriages
are unduly high expectations about conjugal life.
Once it becomes apparent that the reality is more
limited and challenging than one imagined, the
solution is not to think quickly and irresponsibly
about separation, but to come to the sober realization that married life is a process of growth,
in which each spouse is Godas means of helping
the other to mature. Change, improvement, the
flowering of the good qualities present in each
person a all these are possible. Each marriage is
a kind of asalvation historya, which from fragile beginnings a thanks to Godas gift and a creative and generous response on our part a grows
167

over time into something precious and enduring.
Might we say that the greatest mission of two
people in love is to help one another become, respectively, more a man and more a woman? Fostering growth means helping a person to shape
his or her own identity. Love is thus a kind of
craftsmanship. When we read in the Bible about
the creation of man and woman, we see God
first forming Adam (cf. Gen 2:7); he realizes that
something essential is lacking and so he forms
Eve and then hears the man exclaim in amazement, aYes, this one is just right for me!a We can
almost hear the amazing dialogue that must have
taken place when the man and the woman first
encountered one another. In the life of married
couples, even at difficult moments, one person
can always surprise the other, and new doors can
open for their relationship, as if they were meeting for the first time. At every new stage, they
can keep aforminga one another. Love makes
each wait for the other with the patience of a
craftsman, a patience which comes from God.
222.a The pastoral care of newly married couples must also involve encouraging them to be
generous in bestowing life. aIn accord with the
personal and fully human character of conjugal
love, family planning fittingly takes place as the
result a consensual dialogue between the spouses, respect for times and consideration of the
dignity of the partner. In this sense, the teaching
of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (cf. 1014) and
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the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (cf.
14I3/4 2835) ought to be taken up anew, in order to
counter a mentality that is often hostile to life...
Decisions involving responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of conscience, which is
athe most secret core and sanctuary of a person.
There each one is alone with God, whose voice
echoes in the depths of the hearta (Gaudium et
Spes, 16). The more the couple tries to listen in
conscience to God and his commandments (cf.
Rom 2:15), and is accompanied spiritually, the
more their decision will be profoundly free of
subjective caprice and accommodation to prevailing social moresa.248 The clear teaching of
the Second Vatican Council still holds: a[The
couple] will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into
account both their own welfare and that of their
children, those already born and those which the
future may bring. For this accounting they need
to reckon with both the material and the spiritual
conditions of the times as well as of their state in
life. Finally, they should consult the interests of
the family group, of temporal society and of the
Church herself. The parents themselves and no
one else should ultimately make this judgment
in the sight of Goda.249 Moreover, athe use of
methods based on the alaws of nature and the
a Ibid., 63.
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 50.
248
249

169

incidence of fertilitya (Humanae Vitae, 11) are to
be promoted, since athese methods respect the
bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them and favour the education of an authentic freedoma (Catechism of the Catholic Church,
2370). Greater emphasis needs to be placed on
the fact that children are a wonderful gift from
God and a joy for parents and the Church.
Through them, the Lord renews the worlda.250
Some resources

223.a The Synod Fathers observed that athe
initial years of marriage are a vital and sensitive
period during which couples become more aware
of the challenges and meaning of married life.
Consequently, pastoral accompaniment needs to
go beyond the actual celebration of the sacrament (Familiaris Consortio, Part III). In this regard, experienced couples have an important role
to play. The parish is a place where such experienced couples can help younger couples, with
the eventual cooperation of associations, ecclesial movements and new communities. Young
couples need to be encouraged to be essentially
open to the great gift of children. Emphasis
should also be given to the importance of family
spirituality, prayer and participation in the Sunday Eucharist, and couples encouraged to meet
regularly to promote growth in their spiritual life
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 63.

250

170

and solidarity in the concrete demands of life.
Liturgies, devotional practices and the Eucharist
celebrated for families, especially on the wedding
anniversary, were mentioned as vital factors in
fostering evangelization through the familya.251
224.a This process takes time. Love needs time
and space; everything else is secondary. Time is
needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely,
to share plans, to listen to one other and gaze in
each otheras eyes, to appreciate one another and
to build a stronger relationship. Sometimes the
frenetic pace of our society and the pressures of
the workplace create problems. At other times,
the problem is the lack of quality time together,
sharing the same room without one even noticing the other. Pastoral workers and groups of
married people should think of ways to help
young or vulnerable couples to make the most
of those moments, to be present to one another,
even by sharing moments of meaningful silence.
225.a Couples who have learned how to do this
well can share some practical suggestions which
they have found useful: planning free time together, moments of recreation with the children,
different ways of celebrating important events,
shared opportunities for spiritual growth. They
can also provide resources that help young married couples to make those moments meaningful
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 40.

251

171

and loving, and thus to improve their communication. This is extremely important for the
stage when the novelty of marriage has worn off.
Once a couple no longer knows how to spend
time together, one or both of them will end up
taking refuge in gadgets, finding other commitments, seeking the embrace of another, or simply looking for ways to flee what has become an
uncomfortable closeness.
226.a Young married couples should be encouraged to develop a routine that gives a healthy
sense of closeness and stability through shared
daily rituals. These could include a morning
kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to
welcome each other home, taking trips together
and sharing household chores. Yet it also helps
to break the routine with a party, and to enjoy
family celebrations of anniversaries and special
events. We need these moments of cherishing
Godas gifts and renewing our zest for life. As
long as we can celebrate, we are able to rekindle
our love, to free it from monotony and to colour
our daily routine with hope.
227.a We pastors have to encourage families to
grow in faith. This means encouraging frequent
confession, spiritual direction and occasional retreats. It also means encouraging family prayer
during the week, since athe family that prays together stays togethera. When visiting our peopleas homes, we should gather all the members
of the family and briefly pray for one another,
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placing the family in the Lordas hands. It is also
helpful to encourage each of the spouses to find
time for prayer alone with God, since each has
his or her secret crosses to bear. Why shouldnat
we tell God our troubles and ask him to grant
us the healing and help we need to remain faithful? The Synod Fathers noted that athe word of
God is the source of life and spirituality for the
family. All pastoral work on behalf of the family must allow people to be interiorly fashioned
and formed as members of the domestic church
through the Churchas prayerful reading of sacred
Scripture. The word of God is not only good
news in a personas private life but also a criterion
of judgement and a light in discerning the various challenges that married couples and families
encountera.252
228.a In some cases, one of the spouses is not
baptized or does not want to practice the faith.
This can make the otheras desire to live and grow
in the Christian life difficult and at times painful. Still, some common values can be found and
these can be shared and relished. In any event,
showing love for a spouse who is not a believer,
bestowing happiness, soothing hurts and sharing
life together represents a true path of sanctification. Love is always a gift of God. Wherever
it is poured out, it makes its transforming presence felt, often in mysterious ways, even to the
a Ibid., 34.

252

173

point that athe unbelieving husband is consecrated
through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husbanda (1 Cor 7:14).
229.a Parishes, movements, schools and other
Church institutions can help in a variety of ways
to support families and help them grow. These
might include: meetings of couples living in the
same neighbourhood, brief retreats for couples;
talks by experts on concrete issues facing families,
marriage counselling, home missionaries who
help couples discuss their difficulties and desires,
social services dealing with family problems like
addiction, infidelity and domestic violence, programmes of spiritual growth, workshops for
parents with troubled children and family meetings. The parish office should be prepared to
deal helpfully and sensitively with family needs
and be able to make referrals, when necessary,
to those who can help. There is also the contribution made by groups of married couples that
provide assistance as part of their commitment
to service, prayer, formation and mutual support.
Such groups enable couples to be generous, to
assist other families and to share the faith; at the
same time they strengthen marriages and help
them to grow.
230.a It is true that many couples, once married,
drop out of the Christian community. Often,
however, we ourselves do not take advantage of
those occasions when they do return, to remind
them of the beautiful ideal of Christian marriage
174

and the support that our parishes can offer them.
I think, for example, of the Baptism and First
Holy Communion of their children, or the funerals or weddings of their relatives or friends.
Almost all married couples reappear on these
occasions, and we should take greater advantage
of this. Another way of growing closer is by
blessing homes or by bringing a pilgrim image
of Our Lady to houses in the neighbourhood;
this provides an opportunity for a pastoral conversation about the familyas situation. It could
also be helpful to ask older married couples to
help younger couples in the neighbourhood by
visiting them and offering guidance in the early
years of marriage. Given the pace of life today,
most couples cannot attend frequent meetings;
still, we cannot restrict our pastoral outreach to
small and select groups. Nowadays, pastoral care
for families has to be fundamentally missionary,
going out to where people are. We can no longer
be like a factory, churning out courses that for
the most part are poorly attended.
Casting light on crises, worries and difficulties

231.a A word should also be said about those
whose love, like a fine wine, has come into its
own. Just as a good wine begins to abreathea
with time, so too the daily experience of fidelity
gives married life richness and abodya. Fidelity
has to do with patience and expectation. Its joys
and sacrifices bear fruit as the years go by and the
couple rejoices to see their childrenas children.
175

The love present from the beginning becomes
more conscious, settled and mature as the couple
discover each other anew day after day, year after
year. Saint John of the Cross tells us that aold
lovers are tried and truea. They aare outwardly
no longer afire with powerful emotions and impulses, but now taste the sweetness of the wine
of love, well-aged and stored deep within their
heartsa.253 Such couples have successfully overcome crises and hardships without fleeing from
challenges or concealing problems.
The challenge of crises

232.a The life of every family is marked by
all kinds of crises, yet these are also part of its
dramatic beauty. Couples should be helped to
realize that surmounting a crisis need not weaken
their relationship; instead, it can improve, settle
and mature the wine of their union. Life together
should not diminish but increase their contentment; every new step along the way can help
couples find new ways to happiness. Each crisis becomes an apprenticeship in growing closer
together or learning a little more about what it
means to be married. There is no need for couples to resign themselves to an inevitable downward spiral or a tolerable mediocrity. On the
contrary, when marriage is seen as a challenge
that involves overcoming obstacles, each crisis
a CA!ntico Espiritual B, XXV, 11.

253

176

becomes an opportunity to let the wine of their
relationship age and improve. Couples will gain
from receiving help in facing crises, meeting challenges and acknowledging them as part of family life. Experienced and trained couples should
be open to offering guidance, so the couples will
not be unnerved by these crises or tempted to
hasty decisions. Each crisis has a lesson to teach
us; we need to learn how to listen for it with the
ear of the heart.
233.a Faced with a crisis, we tend first to react
defensively, since we feel that we are losing control, or are somehow at fault, and this makes us
uneasy. We resort to denying the problem, hiding or downplaying it, and hoping that it will go
away. But this does not help; it only makes things
worse, wastes energy and delays a solution. Couples grow apart and lose their ability to communicate. When problems are not dealt with,
communication is the first thing to go. Little
by little, the athe person I lovea slowly becomes
amy matea, then just athe father or mother of
my childrena, and finally a stranger.
234.a Crises need to be faced together. This is
hard, since persons sometimes withdraw in order
to avoid saying what they feel; they retreat into
a craven silence. At these times, it becomes all
the more important to create opportunities for
speaking heart to heart. Unless a couple learns
to do this, they will find it harder and harder as
time passes. Communication is an art learned
177

in moments of peace in order to be practised in
moments of difficulty. Spouses need help in discovering their deepest thoughts and feelings and
expressing them. Like childbirth, this is a painful
process that brings forth a new treasure. The
answers given to the pre-synodal consultation
showed that most people in difficult or critical
situations do not seek pastoral assistance, since
they do not find it sympathetic, realistic or concerned for individual cases. This should spur us
to try to approach marriage crises with greater
sensitivity to their burden of hurt and anxiety.
235.a Some crises are typical of almost every
marriage. Newly married couples need to learn
how to accept their differences and to disengage
from their parents. The arrival of a child presents new emotional challenges. Raising small
children necessitates a change of lifestyle, while
the onset of adolescence causes strain, frustration and even tension between parents. An
aempty nesta obliges a couple to redefine their
relationship, while the need to care for aging parents involves making difficult decisions in their
regard. All these are demanding situations that
can cause apprehension, feelings of guilt, depression and fatigue, with serious repercussions on a
marriage.
236.a Then there are those personal crises that
affect the life of couples, often involving finances, problems in the workplace, emotional, social
and spiritual difficulties. Unexpected situations
178

present themselves, disrupting family life and requiring a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. In resolving sincerely to forgive the other,
each has to ask quietly and humbly if he or she
has not somehow created the conditions that led
to the otheras mistakes. Some families break up
when spouses engage in mutual recrimination,
but aexperience shows that with proper assistance and acts of reconciliation, through grace,
a great percentage of troubled marriages find a
solution in a satisfying manner. To know how
to forgive and to feel forgiven is a basic experience in family lifea.254 aThe arduous art of reconciliation, which requires the support of grace,
needs the generous cooperation of relatives and
friends, and sometimes even outside help and
professional assistancea.255
237.a It is becoming more and more common to
think that, when one or both partners no longer
feel fulfilled, or things have not turned out the
way they wanted, sufficient reason exists to end
the marriage. Were this the case, no marriage
would last. At times, all it takes to decide that
everything is over is a single instance of dissatisfaction, the absence of the other when he or
she was most needed, wounded pride, or a vague
fear. Inevitably, situations will arise involving human weakness and these can prove emotionally
overwhelming. One spouse may not feel fully
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 44.
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 81.

254
255

179

appreciated, or may be attracted to another person.
Jealousy and tensions may emerge, or new interests that consume the otheras time and attention.
Physical changes naturally occur in everyone.
These, and so many other things, rather than
threatening love, are so many occasions for reviving and renewing it.
238.a In such situations, some have the maturity
needed to reaffirm their choice of the other as their
partner on lifeas journey, despite the limitations
of the relationship. They realistically accept that
the other cannot fulfil all their cherished dreams.
Persons like this avoid thinking of themselves as
martyrs; they make the most of whatever possibilities family life gives them and they work patiently at strengthening the marriage bond. They
realize, after all, that every crisis can be a new
ayesa, enabling love to be renewed, deepened
and inwardly strengthened. When crises come,
they are unafraid to get to the root of it, to renegotiate basic terms, to achieve a new equilibrium and to move forward together. With this
kind of constant openness they are able to face
any number of difficult situations. In any event,
while realizing that reconciliation is a possibility,
we also see that awhat is urgently needed today
is a ministry to care for those whose marital relationship has broken downa.256

a Ibid., 78.

256

180

Old wounds

239.a Understandably, families often experience
problems when one of their members is emotionally immature because he or she still bears the
scars of earlier experiences. An unhappy childhood or adolescence can breed personal crises
that affect oneas marriage. Were everyone mature
and normal, crises would be less frequent or less
painful. Yet the fact is that only in their forties
do some people achieve a maturity that should
have come at the end of adolescence. Some love
with the selfish, capricious and self-centred love
of a child: an insatiable love that screams or cries
when it fails to get what it wants. Others love
with an adolescent love marked by hostility, bitter
criticism and the need to blame others; caught up
in their own emotions and fantasies, such persons expect others to fill their emptiness and to
satisfy their every desire.
240.a Many people leave childhood without
ever having felt unconditional love. This affects
their ability to be trusting and open with others.
A poor relationship with oneas parents and siblings, if left unhealed, can re-emerge and hurt
a marriage. Unresolved issues need to be dealt
with and a process of liberation must take place.
When problems emerge in a marriage, before
important decisions are made it is important to
ensure that each spouse has come to grips with
his or her own history. This involves recognizing
a need for healing, insistent prayer for the grace
181

to forgive and be forgiven, a willingness to accept
help, and the determination not to give up but
to keep trying. A sincere self-examination will
make it possible to see how oneas own shortcomings and immaturity affect the relationship. Even
if it seems clear that the other person is at fault, a
crisis will never be overcome simply by expecting
him or her to change. We also have to ask what
in our own life needs to grow or heal if the conflict is to be resolved.
Accompaniment after breakdown and divorce

241.a In some cases, respect for oneas own dignity and the good of the children requires not
giving in to excessive demands or preventing a
grave injustice, violence or chronic ill-treatment.
In such cases, aseparation becomes inevitable.
At times it even becomes morally necessary, precisely when it is a matter of removing the more
vulnerable spouse or young children from serious injury due to abuse and violence, from humiliation and exploitation, and from disregard
and indifferencea.257 Even so, aseparation must
be considered as a last resort, after all other reasonable attempts at reconciliation have proved
vaina.258
257
a Catechesis (24 June 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 25
June 2015, p.A 8.
258
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 83: AAS 74 (1982), 184.

182

242.a The Synod Fathers noted that aspecial
discernment is indispensable for the pastoral
care of those who are separated, divorced or
abandoned. Respect needs to be shown especially
for the sufferings of those who have unjustly
endured separation, divorce or abandonment,
or those who have been forced by maltreatment
from a husband or a wife to interrupt their life
together. To forgive such an injustice that has
been suffered is not easy, but grace makes this
journey possible. Pastoral care must necessarily
include efforts at reconciliation and mediation,
through the establishment of specialized counselling centres in diocesesa.259 At the same time,
adivorced people who have not remarried, and
often bear witness to marital fidelity, ought to be
encouraged to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their present
state of life. The local community and pastors
should accompany these people with solicitude,
particularly when children are involved or when
they are in serious financial difficultya.260 Family breakdown becomes even more traumatic and
painful in the case of the poor, since they have
far fewer resources at hand for starting a new
life. A poor person, once removed from a secure family environment, is doubly vulnerable to
abandonment and possible harm.

a Relatio Synodi 2014, 47.
a Ibid., 50.

259
260

243.a It is important that the divorced who have
entered a new union should be made to feel part
of the Church. aThey are not excommunicateda
and they should not be treated as such, since they
remain part of the ecclesial community.261 These
situations arequire careful discernment and respectful accompaniment. Language or conduct
that might lead them to feel discriminated against
should be avoided, and they should be encouraged to participate in the life of the community.
The Christian communityas care of such persons
is not to be considered a weakening of its faith
and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage;
rather, such care is a particular expression of its
charitya.262
244.a A large number of Synod Fathers also
aemphasized the need to make the procedure
in cases of nullity more accessible and less time
consuming, and, if possible, free of chargea.263
The slowness of the process causes distress and
strain on the parties. My two recent documents
dealing with this issue264 have simplified the procedures for the declarations of matrimonial nullity. With these, I wished ato make clear that the
261
a Catechesis (5 August 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 6
August 2015, p. 7.
262
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 51; cf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 84.
263
a Ibid., 48.
264
aMotu Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (15 August
2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 9 September 2015, pp. 3-4; cf. Motu
Proprio Mitis et Misericors Iesus (15 August 2015): LaOsservatore
Romano, 9 September 2015, pp. 5-6.

bishop himself, in the Church over which he has
been appointed shepherd and head, is by that
very fact the judge of those faithful entrusted
to his carea.265 aThe implementation of these
documents is therefore a great responsibility for
Ordinaries in dioceses, who are called upon to
judge some cases themselves and, in every case,
to ensure the faithful an easier access to justice.
This involves preparing a sufficient staff, composed of clerics and lay persons who are primarily deputed to this ecclesial service. Information,
counselling and mediation services associated
with the family apostolate should also be made
available to individuals who are separated or couples in crisis. These services could also include
meeting with individuals in view of the preliminary inquiry of a matrimonial process (cf. Mitis
Iudex, art. 2-3)a.266
245.a The Synod Fathers also pointed to athe
consequences of separation or divorce on children, in every case the innocent victims of the
situationa.267 Apart from every other consideration, the good of children should be the primary
concern, and not overshadowed by any ulterior
interest or objective. I make this appeal to parents who are separated: aNever ever, take your
265
aMotu Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (15 August
2015), Preamble, III: LaOsservatore Romano, 9 September 2015,
p. 3.
266
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 82.
267
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 47.

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child hostage! You separated for many problems
and reasons. Life gave you this trial, but your
children should not have to bear the burden of
this separation or be used as hostages against the
other spouse. They should grow up hearing their
mother speak well of their father, even though
they are not together, and their father speak well
of their mothera.268 It is irresponsible to disparage the other parent as a means of winning a
childas affection, or out of revenge or self-justification. Doing so will affect the childas interior
tranquillity and cause wounds hard to heal.
246.a The Church, while appreciating the situations of conflict that are part of marriage, cannot fail to speak out on behalf of those who are
most vulnerable: the children who often suffer in
silence. Today, adespite our seemingly evolved
sensibilities and all our refined psychological
analyses, I ask myself if we are not becoming
numb to the hurt in childrenas souls... Do we feel
the immense psychological burden borne by children in families where the members mistreat and
hurt one another, to the point of breaking the
bonds of marital fidelity?a269 Such harmful experiences do not help children to grow in the maturity needed to make definitive commitments.
For this reason, Christian communities must not
268
a Catechesis (20 May 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 21
May 2015, p.A 8.
269
a Catechesis (24 June 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 25
June 2015, p.A 8.

186

abandon divorced parents who have entered a
new union, but should include and support them
in their efforts to bring up their children. aHow
can we encourage those parents to do everything
possible to raise their children in the Christian
life, to give them an example of committed and
practical faith, if we keep them at armas length
from the life of the community, as if they were
somehow excommunicated? We must keep from
acting in a way that adds even more to the burdens that children in these situations already have
to bear!a270 Helping heal the wounds of parents
and supporting them spiritually is also beneficial
for children, who need the familiar face of the
Church to see them through this traumatic experience. Divorce is an evil and the increasing
number of divorces is very troubling. Hence,
our most important pastoral task with regard
to families is to strengthen their love, helping to
heal wounds and working to prevent the spread
of this drama of our times.
Certain complex situations

247.a aIssues involving mixed marriages require particular attention. Marriages between
Catholics and other baptized persons ahave
their own particular nature, but they contain numerous elements that could well be made good
use of and developed, both for their intrinsic
a Catechesis (5 August 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 6
August 2015, p. 7.
270

187

value and for the contribution that they can
make to the ecumenical movementa. For this
purpose, aan effort should be made to establish cordial cooperation between the Catholic
and the non-Catholic ministers from the time
that preparations begin for the marriage and
the wedding ceremonya (Familiaris Consortio, 78).
With regard to sharing in the Eucharist, athe
decision as to whether the non-Catholic party
of the marriage may be admitted to Eucharistic
communion is to be made in keeping with the
general norms existing in the matter, both for
Eastern Christians and for other Christians, taking into account the particular situation of the
reception of the sacrament of matrimony by
two baptized Christians. Although the spouses in a mixed marriage share the sacraments of
baptism and matrimony, eucharistic sharing can
only be exceptional and in each case according to the stated normsa (Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 25
March 1993, 159-160)a.271
248.a aMarriages involving disparity of cult
represent a privileged place for interreligious dialogue in everyday lifea| They involve special
difficulties regarding both the Christian identity of the family and the religious upbringing
of the childrena| The number of households
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 72.

271

188

with married couples with disparity of cult,
on the rise in mission territories, and even in
countries of long Christian tradition, urgently
requires providing a differentiated pastoral care
according to various social and cultural contexts. In some countries where freedom of
religion does not exist, the Christian spouse is
obliged to convert to another religion in order
to marry, and, therefore, cannot celebrate a canonical marriage involving disparity of cult or
baptize the children. We must therefore reiterate the necessity that the religious freedom
of all be respecteda.272 aAttention needs to be
given to the persons who enter such marriages, not only in the period before the wedding.
Unique challenges face couples and families in
which one partner is Catholic and the other is
a non-believer. In such cases, bearing witness
to the ability of the Gospel to immerse itself in
these situations will make possible the upbringing of their children in the Christian faitha.273
249.a aParticular problems arise when persons
in a complex marital situation wish to be baptized. These persons contracted a stable marriage
at a time when at least one of them did not know
the Christian faith. In such cases, bishops are
called to exercise a pastoral discernment which is
commensurate with their spiritual gooda.274
a Ibid., 73.
a Ibid., 74.
274
a Ibid., 75.
272
273

189

250.a The Church makes her own the attitude of the Lord Jesus, who offers his boundless love to each person without exception.275
During the Synod, we discussed the situation
of families whose members include persons
who experience same-sex attraction, a situation
not easy either for parents or for children. We
would like before all else to reaffirm that every
person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought
to be respected in his or her dignity and treated
with consideration, while aevery sign of unjust
discriminationa is to be carefully avoided,276 particularly any form of aggression and violence.
Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance
they need to understand and fully carry out
Godas will in their lives.277
251.a In discussing the dignity and mission of
the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, aas
for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage,
there are absolutely no grounds for considering
homosexual unions to be in any way similar or
even remotely analogous to Godas plan for marriage and familya. It is unacceptable athat local
Churches should be subjected to pressure in
a Cf. Bull Misericordiae Vultus, 12: AAS 107 (2015), 407.
a Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358; cf. Relatio
Finalis 2015, 76.
277
a Ibid.
275
276

190

this matter and that international bodies should
make financial aid to poor countries dependent
on the introduction of laws to establish amarriagea between persons of the same sexa.278
252.a Single-parent families often result from
athe unwillingness of biological mothers or fathers to be part of a familyI3/4 situations of violence, where one parent is forced to flee with the
childrenI3/4 the death of one of the parentsI3/4 the
abandonment of the family by one parent, and
other situations. Whatever the cause, single parents must receive encouragement and support
from other families in the Christian community,
and from the parishas pastoral outreach. Often
these families endure other hardships, such as
economic difficulties, uncertain employment
prospects, problems with child support and lack
of housinga.279
When death makes us feel its sting

253.a At times family life is challenged by the
death of a loved one. We cannot fail to offer
the light of faith as a support to families going
through this experience.280 To turn our backs on
a grieving family would show a lack of mercy,
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 76; cf. Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to
Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (3
June 2003), 4.
279
a Ibid., 80.
280
aCf. ibid., 20.
278

191

mean the loss of a pastoral opportunity, and
close the door to other efforts at evangelization.
254.a I can understand the anguish felt by those
who have lost a much-loved person, a spouse
with whom they have shared so much. Jesus
himself was deeply moved and began to weep
at the death of a friend (cf. Jn 11:33, 35). And
how can we even begin to understand the grief
of parents who have lost a child? aIt is as if
time stops altogether: a chasm opens to engulf
both past and futurea, and aat times we even go
so far as to lay the blame on God. How many
people a I can understand them a get angry with
Goda.281 aLosing oneas spouse is particularly difficulta| From the moment of enduring a loss,
some display an ability to concentrate their energies in a greater dedication to their children
and grandchildren, finding in this experience of
love a renewed sense of mission in raising their
childrena|. Those who do not have relatives to
spend time with and to receive affection from,
should be aided by the Christian community with
particular attention and availability, especially if
they are poora.282
255.a Ordinarily, the grieving process takes a
fair amount of time, and when a pastor must
accompany that process, he has to adapt to the
a Catechesis (17 June 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 18
June 2015, p. 8.
282
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 19.
281

192

demands of each of its stages. The entire process is filled with questions: about the reasons
why the loved one had to die, about all the things
that might have been done, about what a person
experiences at the moment of death. With a sincere and patient process of prayer and interior
liberation, peace returns. At particular times, we
have to help the grieving person to realize that,
after the loss of a loved one, we still have a mission to carry out, and that it does us no good
to prolong the suffering, as if it were a form of
tribute. Our loved ones have no need of our
suffering, nor does it flatter them that we should
ruin our lives. Nor is it the best expression of
love to dwell on them and keep bringing up their
name, because this is to be dependent on the past
instead of continuing to love them now that they
are elsewhere. They can no longer be physically
present to us, yet for all deathas power, alove is
strong as deatha (Song 8:6). Love involves an intuition that can enable us to hear without sounds
and to see the unseen. This does not mean imagining our loved ones as they were, but being able
to accept them changed as they now are. The
risen Jesus, when his friend Mary tried to embrace him, told her not to hold on to him (cf. Jn
20:17), in order to lead her to a different kind of
encounter.
256.a It consoles us to know that those who
die do not completely pass away, and faith assures us that the risen Lord will never abandon
193

us. Thus we can aprevent death from poisoning
life, from rendering vain our love, from pushing
us into the darkest chasma.283 The Bible tells us
that God created us out of love and made us in
such a way that our life does not end with death
(cf. Wis 3:2-3). Saint Paul speaks to us of an
encounter with Christ immediately after death:
aMy desire is to depart and be with Christa (Phil
1:23). With Christ, after death, there awaits us
awhat God has prepared for those who love
hima (1 Cor 2:9). The Preface of the Liturgy
of the Dead puts it nicely: aAlthough the certainty of death saddens us, we are consoled by
the promise of future immortality. For the life
of those who believe in you, Lord, is not ended but changeda. Indeed, aour loved ones are
not lost in the shades of nothingness; hope assures us that they are in the good strong hands
of Goda.284
257.a One way of maintaining fellowship with
our loved ones is to pray for them.285 The Bible tells us that ato pray for the deada is aholy
and piousa (2 Macc 12:44-45). aOur prayer for
them is capable not only of helping them, but
also of making their intercession for us effectivea.286 The Book of Revelation portrays the
283
a Catechesis (17 June 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 18
June 2015, p. 8.
284
a Ibid.
285
a Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 958.
286
a Ibid.

194

martyrs interceding for those who suffer injustice on earth (cf. Rev 6:9-11), in solidarity with
this world and its history. Some saints, before
dying, consoled their loved ones by promising
them that they would be near to help them.
Saint Therese of Lisieux wished to continue doing good from heaven.287 Saint Dominic stated
that ahe would be more helpful after deatha|
more powerful in obtaining gracesa.288 These
are truly abonds of lovea,289 because athe union
of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in
the Lord is in no way interrupteda| [but] reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goodsa.290
258.a If we accept death, we can prepare ourselves for it. The way is to grow in our love for
those who walk at our side, until that day when
adeath will be no more, mourning and crying
and pain will be no morea (Rev 21:4). We will
thus prepare ourselves to meet once more our
loved ones who have died. Just as Jesus agave
back to his mothera (cf. Lk 7:15) her son who
had died, so it will be with us. Let us not waste
a Cf. Therese of Lisieux, Derniers Entretiens: Le acarnet
jaunea de MA"re AgnA"s, 17 July 1897, in Oeuvres ComplA"tes, Paris,
1996, 1050. Her Carmelite sisters spoke of a promise made by
Saint Therese that her departure from this world would be alike
a shower of rosesa (ibid., 9 June 1897, 1013).
288
a Jordan of Saxony, Libellus de principiis Ordinis
Praedicatorum, 93: Monumenta Historica Sancti Patris Nostri Dominici,
XVI, Rome, 1935, p. 69.
289
a Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 957.
290
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 49.
287

195

energy by dwelling on the distant past. The better we live on this earth, the greater the happiness we will be able to share with our loved ones
in heaven. The more we are able to mature and
develop in this world, the more gifts will we be
able to bring to the heavenly banquet.

196

CHAPTER SEVEN

TOWARDS A BETTER EDUCATION
OF CHILDREN
259.a Parents always influence the moral development of their children, for better or for worse.
It follows that they should take up this essential
role and carry it out consciously, enthusiastically,
reasonably and appropriately. Since the educational role of families is so important, and increasingly complex, I would like to discuss it in
detail.
Where are our children?

260.a Families cannot help but be places of support, guidance and direction, however much they
may have to rethink their methods and discover
new resources. Parents need to consider what
they want their children to be exposed to, and
this necessarily means being concerned about
who is providing their entertainment, who is entering their rooms through television and electronic devices, and with whom they are spending
their free time. Only if we devote time to our
children, speaking of important things with simplicity and concern, and finding healthy ways for
them to spend their time, will we be able to shield
them from harm. Vigilance is always necessary
197

and neglect is never beneficial. Parents have to
help prepare children and adolescents to confront the risk, for example, of aggression, abuse
or drug addiction.
261.a Obsession, however, is not education. We
cannot control every situation that a child may
experience. Here it remains true that atime is
greater than spacea.291 In other words, it is more
important to start processes than to dominate
spaces. If parents are obsessed with always
knowing where their children are and controlling
all their movements, they will seek only to
dominate space. But this is no way to educate,
strengthen and prepare their children to face
challenges. What is most important is the ability
lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy. Only
in this way will children come to possess the
wherewithal needed to fend for themselves and
to act intelligently and prudently whenever they
meet with difficulties. The real question, then, is
not where our children are physically, or whom
they are with at any given time, but rather where
they are existentially, where they stand in terms
of their convictions, goals, desires and dreams.
The questions I would put to parents are these:
aDo we seek to understand awherea our children
really are in their journey? Where is their soul,
a Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
November 2013), 222: AAS 105 (2013), 1111.
291

198

Gaudium

(24

do we really know? And above all, do we want
to know?a.292
262.a Were maturity merely the development of
something already present in our genetic code,
not much would have to be done. But prudence,
good judgement and common sense are dependent not on purely quantitative growth factors, but
rather on a whole series of things that come together deep within each person, or better, at the
very core of our freedom. Inevitably, each child
will surprise us with ideas and projects born of
that freedom, which challenge us to rethink our
own ideas. This is a good thing. Education includes encouraging the responsible use of freedom to face issues with good sense and intelligence. It involves forming persons who readily
understand that their own lives, and the life of
the community, are in their hands, and that freedom is itself a great gift.
The ethical formation of children

263.a Parents rely on schools to ensure the
basic instruction of their children, but can
never completely delegate the moral formation
of their children to others. A personas affective
and ethical development is ultimately grounded
in a particular experience, namely, that his or her
parents can be trusted. This means that parents,
a Catechesis (20 May 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 21
May 2015, p. 8.
292

199

as educators, are responsible, by their affection
and example, for instilling in their children trust
and loving respect. When children no longer
feel that, for all their faults, they are important to
their parents, or that their parents are sincerely
concerned about them, this causes deep hurt
and many difficulties along their path to maturity. This physical or emotional absence creates
greater hurt than any scolding which a child may
receive for doing something wrong.
264.a Parents are also responsible for shaping
the will of their children, fostering good habits and a natural inclination to goodness. This
entails presenting certain ways of thinking and
acting as desirable and worthwhile, as part of a
gradual process of growth. The desire to fit into
society, or the habit of foregoing an immediate
pleasure for the sake of a better and more orderly life in common, is itself a value that can
then inspire openness to greater values. Moral
formation should always take place with active
methods and a dialogue that teaches through
sensitivity and by using a language children can
understand. It should also take place inductively,
so that children can learn for themselves the importance of certain values, principles and norms,
rather than by imposing these as absolute and
unquestionable truths.
265.a Doing what is right means more than
ajudging what seems besta or knowing clearly
what needs to be done, as important as this is.
200

Often we prove inconsistent in our own convictions, however firm they may be; even when
our conscience dictates a clear moral decision,
other factors sometimes prove more attractive
and powerful. We have to arrive at the point
where the good that the intellect grasps can take
root in us as a profound affective inclination, as
a thirst for the good that outweighs other attractions and helps us to realize that what we consider objectively good is also good afor usa here and
now. A good ethical education includes showing a person that it is in his own interest to do
what is right. Today, it is less and less effective
to demand something that calls for effort and
sacrifice, without clearly pointing to the benefits
which it can bring.
266.a Good habits need to be developed. Even
childhood habits can help to translate important
interiorized values into sound and steady ways of
acting. A person may be sociable and open to
others, but if over a long period of time he has
not been trained by his elders to say aPleasea,
aThank youa, and aSorrya, his good interior disposition will not easily come to the fore. The
strengthening of the will and the repetition of
specific actions are the building blocks of moral
conduct; without the conscious, free and valued
repetition of certain patterns of good behaviour, moral education does not take place. Mere
desire, or an attraction to a certain value, is not
201

enough to instil a virtue in the absence of those
properly motivated acts.
267.a Freedom is something magnificent, yet
it can also be dissipated and lost. Moral education has to do with cultivating freedom through
ideas, incentives, practical applications, stimuli, rewards, examples, models, symbols, reflections, encouragement, dialogue and a constant
rethinking of our way of doing things; all these
can help develop those stable interior principles
that lead us spontaneously to do good. Virtue
is a conviction that has become a steadfast inner
principle of operation. The virtuous life thus
builds, strengthens and shapes freedom, lest we
become slaves of dehumanizing and antisocial
inclinations. For human dignity itself demands
that each of us aact out of conscious and free
choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way
from withina.293
The value of correction as an incentive

268.a It is also essential to help children and
adolescents to realize that misbehaviour has
consequences. They need to be encouraged to
put themselves in other peopleas shoes and to
acknowledge the hurt they have caused. Some
punishments a those for aggressive, antisocial
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 17.
293

202

conduct - can partially serve this purpose. It is
important to train children firmly to ask forgiveness and to repair the harm done to others. As
the educational process bears fruit in the growth
of personal freedom, children come to appreciate that it was good to grow up in a family and
even to put up with the demands that every process of formation makes.
269.a Correction is also an incentive whenever
childrenas efforts are appreciated and acknowledged, and they sense their parentsa constant, patient trust. Children who are lovingly corrected
feel cared for; they perceive that they are individuals whose potential is recognized. This does
not require parents to be perfect, but to be able
humbly to acknowledge their own limitations
and make efforts to improve. Still, one of the
things children need to learn from their parents
is not to get carried away by anger. A child who
does something wrong must be corrected, but
never treated as an enemy or an object on which
to take out oneas own frustrations. Adults also
need to realize that some kinds of misbehaviour
have to do with the frailty and limitations typical
of youth. An attitude constantly prone to punishment would be harmful and not help children
to realize that some actions are more serious
than others. It would lead to discouragement
and resentment: aParents, do not provoke your
childrena (Eph 6:4; cf. Col 3:21).
203

270.a It is important that discipline not lead to
discouragement, but be instead a stimulus to further progress. How can discipline be best interiorized? How do we ensure that discipline is
a constructive limit placed on a childas actions
and not a barrier standing in the way of his or
her growth? A balance has to be found between
two equally harmful extremes. One would be to
try to make everything revolve around the childas
desires; such children will grow up with a sense
of their rights but not their responsibilities. The
other would be to deprive the child of an awareness of his or her dignity, personal identity and
rights; such children end up overwhelmed by
their duties and a need to carry out other peopleas wishes.
Patient realism

271.a Moral education entails asking of a child
or a young person only those things that do not
involve a disproportionate sacrifice, and demanding only a degree of effort that will not lead to
resentment or coercion. Ordinarily this is done
by proposing small steps that can be understood,
accepted and appreciated, while including a proportionate sacrifice. Otherwise, by demanding
too much, we gain nothing. Once the child is
free of our authority, he or she may possibly
cease to do good.
272.a Ethical formation is at times frowned upon,
due to experiences of neglect, disappointment,
204

lack of affection or poor models of parenting.
Ethical values are associated with negative images
of parental figures or the shortcomings of adults.
For this reason, adolescents should be helped to
draw analogies: to appreciate that values are best
embodied in a few exemplary persons, but also realized imperfectly and to different degrees in others. At the same time, since their hesitation can
be tied to bad experiences, they need help in the
process of inner healing and in this way to grow
in the ability to understand and live in peace with
others and the larger community.
273.a In proposing values, we have to proceed
slowly, taking into consideration the childas age
and abilities, without presuming to apply rigid
and inflexible methods. The valuable contributions of psychology and the educational sciences
have shown that changing a childas behaviour involves a gradual process, but also that freedom
needs to be channeled and stimulated, since by
itself it does not ensure growth in maturity. Situated freedom, real freedom, is limited and conditioned. It is not simply the ability to choose what
is good with complete spontaneity. A distinction
is not always adequately drawn between avoluntarya and afreea acts. A person may clearly
and willingly desire something evil, but do so
as the result of an irresistible passion or a poor
upbringing. In such cases, while the decision is
voluntary, inasmuch as it does not run counter to
the inclination of their desire, it is not free, since
205

it is practically impossible for them not to choose
that evil. We see this in the case of compulsive
drug addicts. When they want a fix, they want
it completely, yet they are so conditioned that at
that moment no other decision is possible. Their
decision is voluntary but not free. It makes no
sense to alet them freely choosea, since in fact
they cannot choose, and exposing them to drugs
only increases their addiction. They need the
help of others and a process of rehabilitation.
Family life as an educational setting

274.a The family is the first school of human
values, where we learn the wise use of freedom. Certain inclinations develop in childhood
and become so deeply rooted that they remain
throughout life, either as attractions to a particular value or a natural repugnance to certain ways
of acting. Many people think and act in a certain
way because they deem it to be right on the basis
of what they learned, as if by osmosis, from their
earliest years: aThatas how I was taughta. aThatas
what I learned to doa. In the family we can also
learn to be critical about certain messages sent
by the various media. Sad to say, some television
programmes or forms of advertising often negatively influence and undercut the values inculcated
in family life.
275.a In our own day, dominated by stress and
rapid technological advances, one of the most
important tasks of families is to provide an
206

education in hope. This does not mean preventing children from playing with electronic devices,
but rather finding ways to help them develop
their critical abilities and not to think that digital
speed can apply to everything in life. Postponing desires does not mean denying them but simply deferring their fulfilment. When children or
adolescents are not helped to realize that some
things have to be waited for, they can become
obsessed with satisfying their immediate needs
and develop the vice of awanting it all nowa.
This is a grand illusion which does not favour
freedom but weakens it. On the other hand,
when we are taught to postpone some things until the right moment, we learn self-mastery and
detachment from our impulses. When children
realize that they have to be responsible for themselves, their self-esteem is enriched. This in turn
teaches them to respect the freedom of others.
Obviously this does not mean expecting children to act like adults, but neither does it mean
underestimating their ability to grow in responsible freedom. In a healthy family, this learning
process usually takes place through the demands
made by life in common.
276.a The family is the primary setting for socialization, since it is where we first learn to relate to others, to listen and share, to be patient
and show respect, to help one another and live as
one. The task of education is to make us sense
that the world and society are also our home;
207

it trains us how to live together in this greater
home. In the family, we learn closeness, care and
respect for others. We break out of our fatal selfabsorption and come to realize that we are living
with and alongside others who are worthy of our
concern, our kindness and our affection. There
is no social bond without this primary, everyday,
almost microscopic aspect of living side by side,
crossing paths at different times of the day, being
concerned about everything that affects us, helping one another with ordinary little things. Every
day the family has to come up with new ways of
appreciating and acknowledging its members.
277.a In the family too, we can rethink our habits of consumption and join in caring for the environment as our common home. aThe family
is the principal agent of an integral ecology, because it is the primary social subject which contains within it the two fundamental principles
of human civilization on earth: the principle of
communion and the principle of fruitfulnessa.294
In the same way, times of difficulty and trouble
in the lives of family life can teach important lessons. This happens, for example, when illness
strikes, since ain the face of illness, even in families, difficulties arise due to human weakness. But
in general, times of illness enable family bonds
to grow strongera| An education that fails to
encourage sensitivity to human illness makes the
a Catechesis (30 September 2015): LaOsservatore Romano,
1 October 2015, p. 8.
294

208

heart grow cold; it makes young people aanesthetizeda to the suffering of others, incapable of
facing suffering and of living the experience of
limitationa.295
278.a The educational process that occurs between parents and children can be helped or
hindered by the increasing sophistication of
the communications and entertainment media.
When well used, these media can be helpful for
connecting family members who live apart from
one another. Frequent contacts help to overcome
difficulties.296 Still, it is clear that these media
cannot replace the need for more personal and
direct dialogue, which requires physical presence
or at least hearing the voice of the other person.
We know that sometimes they can keep people
apart rather than together, as when at dinnertime
everyone is surfing on a mobile phone, or when
one spouse falls asleep waiting for the other who
spends hours playing with an electronic device.
This is also something that families have to discuss and resolve in ways which encourage interaction without imposing unrealistic prohibitions.
In any event, we cannot ignore the risks that
these new forms of communication pose for
children and adolescents; at times they can foster
apathy and disconnect from the real world. This
atechnological disconnecta exposes them more
a Catechesis (10 June 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 11
June 2015, p. 8.
296
a Cf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 67.
295

209

easily to manipulation by those who would
invade their private space with selfish interests.
279.a Nor is it good for parents to be domineering. When children are made to feel that
only their parents can be trusted, this hinders an
adequate process of socialization and growth in
affective maturity. To help expand the parental relationship to broader realities, aChristian
communities are called to offer support to the
educational mission of familiesa,297 particularly
through the catechesis associated with Christian
initiation. To foster an integral education, we
need to arenew the covenant between the family and the Christian communitya.298 The Synod
wanted to emphasize the importance of Catholic schools which aplay a vital role in assisting
parents in their duty to raise their childrena|
Catholic schools should be encouraged in their
mission to help pupils grow into mature adults
who can view the world with the love of Jesus
and who can understand life as a call to serve
Goda.299 For this reason, athe Church strongly
affirms her freedom to set forth her teaching and
the right of conscientious objection on the part
of educatorsa.300
a Catechesis (20 May 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 21
May 2015, p. 8.
298
a Catechesis (9 September 2015): LaOsservatore Romano,
10 September 2015, p. 8.
299
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 68.
300
a Ibid., 58
297

210

The need for sex education

280.a The Second Vatican Council spoke of the
need for aa positive and prudent sex educationa
to be imparted to children and adolescents aas
they grow oldera, with adue weight being given
to the advances in the psychological, pedogogical
and didactic sciencesa.301 We may well ask ourselves if our educational institutions have taken
up this challenge. It is not easy to approach the
issue of sex education in an age when sexuality
tends to be trivialized and impoverished. It can
only be seen within the broader framework of
an education for love, for mutual self-giving. In
such a way, the language of sexuality would not
be sadly impoverished but illuminated and enriched. The sexual urge can be directed through
a process of growth in self-knowledge and selfcontrol capable of nurturing valuable capacities
for joy and for loving encounter.
281.a Sex education should provide information
while keeping in mind that children and young
people have not yet attained full maturity. The
information has to come at a proper time and in
a way suited to their age. It is not helpful to overwhelm them with data without also helping them
to develop a critical sense in dealing with the onslaught of new ideas and suggestions, the flood
of pornography and the overload of stimuli that
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration
on Christian Education Gravissimum Educationis, 1.
301

211

can deform sexuality. Young people need to realize that they are bombarded by messages that
are not beneficial for their growth towards maturity. They should be helped to recognize and
to seek out positive influences, while shunning
the things that cripple their capacity for love. We
also have to realize that aa new and more appropriate languagea is needed ain introducing children and adolescents to the topic of sexualitya.302
282.a A sexual education that fosters a healthy
sense of modesty has immense value, however
much some people nowadays consider modesty a
relic of a bygone era. Modesty is a natural means
whereby we defend our personal privacy and prevent ourselves from being turned into objects to
be used. Without a sense of modesty, affection
and sexuality can be reduced to an obsession with
genitality and unhealthy behaviours that distort
our capacity for love, and with forms of sexual
violence that lead to inhuman treatment or cause
hurt to others.
283.a Frequently, sex education deals primarily
with aprotectiona through the practice of asafe
sexa. Such expressions convey a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of
sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy
to be protected against. This way of thinking
promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 56.

302

212

acceptance. It is always irresponsible to invite
adolescents to toy with their bodies and their
desires, as if they possessed the maturity, values,
mutual commitment and goals proper to marriage. They end up being blithely encouraged to
use other persons as an means of fulfilling their
needs or limitations. The important thing is to
teach them sensitivity to different expressions of
love, mutual concern and care, loving respect and
deeply meaningful communication. All of these
prepare them for an integral and generous gift
of self that will be expressed, following a public
commitment, in the gift of their bodies. Sexual
union in marriage will thus appear as a sign of an
all-inclusive commitment, enriched by everything
that has preceded it.
284.a Young people should not be deceived into
confusing two levels of reality: asexual attraction
creates, for the moment, the illusion of union,
yet, without love, this auniona leaves strangers as
far apart as they were beforea.303 The language
of the body calls for a patient apprenticeship in
learning to interpret and channel desires in view
of authentic self-giving. When we presume to
give everything all at once, it may well be that we
give nothing. It is one thing to understand how
fragile and bewildered young people can be, but
another thing entirely to encourage them to prolong their immaturity in the way they show love.
a Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, New York, 1956, p. 54.

303

213

But who speaks of these things today? Who is
capable of taking young people seriously? Who
helps them to prepare seriously for a great and
generous love? Where sex education is concerned, much is at stake.
285.a Sex education should also include respect
and appreciation for differences, as a way of helping the young to overcome their self-absorption
and to be open and accepting of others. Beyond
the understandable difficulties which individuals
may experience, the young need to be helped
to accept their own body as it was created, for
athinking that we enjoy absolute power over our
own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that
we enjoy absolute power over creationa| An appreciation of our body as male or female is also
necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In
this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts
of another man or woman, the work of God the
Creator, and find mutual enrichmenta.304 Only by
losing the fear of being different, can we be freed
of self-centredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their
own bodies and to avoid the pretension ato cancel out sexual difference because one no longer
knows how to deal with ita.305
a Encyclical Letter Laudato Sia (24 May 2015), 155.
a Catechesis (15 April 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 16
April 2015, p. 8.
304
305

214

286.a Nor can we ignore the fact that the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as
male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements
having to do with temperament, family history,
culture, experience, education, the influence of
friends, family members and respected persons,
as well as other formative situations. It is true
that we cannot separate the masculine and the
feminine from Godas work of creation, which is
prior to all our decisions and experiences, and
where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. But it is also true that masculinity
and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husbandas way of being
masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wifeas
work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or
some aspects of raising children does not make
him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be
helped to accept as normal such healthy aexchangesa which do not diminish the dignity of
the father figure. A rigid approach turns into an
overaccentuation of the masculine or feminine,
and does not help children and young people to
appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in
the real conditions of matrimony. Such rigidity,
in turn, can hinder the development of an individualas abilities, to the point of leading him or
her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership. This, thank God, has
215

changed, but in some places deficient notions
still condition the legitimate freedom and hamper the authentic development of childrenas specific identity and potential.
Passing on the faith

287.a Raising children calls for an orderly process of handing on the faith. This is made difficult by current lifestyles, work schedules and the
complexity of todayas world, where many people
keep up a frenetic pace just to survive.306 Even so,
the home must continue to be the place where we
learn to appreciate the meaning and beauty of the
faith, to pray and to serve our neighbour. This
begins with baptism, in which, as Saint Augustine
said, mothers who bring their children acooperate in the sacred birthinga.307 Thus begins the
journey of growth in that new life. Faith is Godas
gift, received in baptism, and not our own work,
yet parents are the means that God uses for it to
grow and develop. Hence ait is beautiful when
mothers teach their little children to blow a kiss
to Jesus or to Our Lady. How much love there
is in that! At that moment the childas heart becomes a place of prayera.308 Handing on the faith
presumes that parents themselves genuinely trust
God, seek him and sense their need for him, for
a Cf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 13-14.
a Augustine, De sancta virginitate 7,7: PL 40, 400.
308
a Catechesis (26 August 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 27
August 2015, p. 8.
306
307

216

only in this way does aone generation laud your
works to another, and declare your mighty actsa
(Ps 144:4) and afathers make known to children
your faithfulnessa (Is 38:19). This means that we
need to ask God to act in their hearts, in places where we ourselves cannot reach. A mustard
seed, small as it is, becomes a great tree (cf. Mt
13:31-32); this teaches us to see the disproportion
between our actions and their effects. We know
that we do not own the gift, but that its care is
entrusted to us. Yet our creative commitment is
itself an offering which enables us to cooperate
with Godas plan. For this reason, acouples and
parents should be properly appreciated as active
agents in catechesisa| Family catechesis is of
great assistance as an effective method in training
young parents to be aware of their mission as the
evangelizers of their own familya.309
288.a Education in the faith has to adapt to each
child, since older resources and recipes do not
always work. Children need symbols, actions and
stories. Since adolescents usually have issues with
authority and rules, it is best to encourage their
own experience of faith and to provide them
with attractive testimonies that win them over by
their sheer beauty. Parents desirous of nurturing
the faith of their children are sensitive to their
patterns of growth, for they know that spiritual
experience is not imposed but freely proposed.
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 89.

309

217

It is essential that children actually see that, for
their parents, prayer is something truly important. Hence moments of family prayer and acts
of devotion can be more powerful for evangelization than any catechism class or sermon. Here
I would like to express my particular gratitude to
all those mothers who continue to pray, like Saint
Monica, for their children who have strayed from
Christ.
289.a The work of handing on the faith to children, in the sense of facilitating its expression and
growth, helps the whole family in its evangelizing
mission. It naturally begins to spread the faith to
all around them, even outside of the family circle.
Children who grew up in missionary families often become missionaries themselves; growing up
in warm and friendly families, they learn to relate
to the world in this way, without giving up their
faith or their convictions. We know that Jesus
himself ate and drank with sinners (cf. Mk 2:16;
Mt 11:19), conversed with a Samaritan woman
(cf. Jn 4:7-26), received Nicodemus by night (cf.
Jn 3:1-21), allowed his feet to be anointed by a
prostitute (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and did not hesitate
to lay his hands on those who were sick (cf. Mk
1:40-45; 7:33). The same was true of his apostles,
who did not look down on others, or cluster together in small and elite groups, cut off from
the life of their people. Although the authorities harassed them, they nonetheless enjoyed the
218

favour aof all the peoplea (Acts 2:47; cf. 4:21, 33;
5:13).
290.a aThe family is thus an agent of pastoral
activity through its explicit proclamation of the
Gospel and its legacy of varied forms of witness,
namely solidarity with the poor, openness to a
diversity of people, the protection of creation,
moral and material solidarity with other families, including those most in need, commitment
to the promotion of the common good and the
transformation of unjust social structures, beginning in the territory in which the family lives,
through the practice of the corporal and spiritual
works of mercya.310 All this is an expression of
our profound Christian belief in the love of the
Father who guides and sustains us, a love manifested in the total self-gift of Jesus Christ, who
even now lives in our midst and enables us to
face together the storms of life at every stage. In
all families the Good News needs to resound, in
good times and in bad, as a source of light along
the way. All of us should be able to say, thanks
to the experience of our life in the family: aWe
come to believe in the love that God has for usa
(1 Jn 4:16). Only on the basis of this experience
will the Churchas pastoral care for families enable
them to be both domestic churches and a leaven
of evangelization in society.
a Ibid., 93.

310

219

CHAPTER EIGHT

ACCOMPANYING, DISCERNING
AND INTEGRATING WEAKNESS
291.a The Synod Fathers stated that, although
the Church realizes that any breach of the marriage bond ais against the will of Goda, she is
also aconscious of the frailty of many of her childrena.311 Illumined by the gaze of Jesus Christ,
ashe turns with love to those who participate in
her life in an incomplete manner, recognizing
that the grace of God works also in their lives by
giving them the courage to do good, to care for
one another in love and to be of service to the
community in which they live and worka.312 This
approach is also confirmed by our celebration of
this Jubilee Year devoted to mercy. Although she
constantly holds up the call to perfection and asks
for a fuller response to God, athe Church must
accompany with attention and care the weakest
of her children, who show signs of a wounded
and troubled love, by restoring in them hope and
confidence, like the beacon of a lighthouse in a
port or a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way or who are
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 24.
a Ibid. 25.

311
312

221

in the midst of a storma.313 Let us not forget
that the Churchas task is often like that of a field
hospital.
292.a Christian marriage, as a reflection of the
union between Christ and his Church, is fully
realized in the union between a man and a woman
who give themselves to each other in a free,
faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each
other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become
a domestic church and a leaven of new life for
society. Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a
partial and analogous way. The Synod Fathers
stated that the Church does not disregard the
constructive elements in those situations which
do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage.314
Gradualness in pastoral care

293.a The Fathers also considered the specific
situation of a merely civil marriage or, with due
distinction, even simple cohabitation, noting that
awhen such unions attain a particular stability, legally recognized, are characterized by deep
affection and responsibility for their offspring,
and demonstrate an ability to overcome trials,
a Ibid., 28.
a Cf. ibid., 41, 43; Relatio Finalis 2015, 70.

313
314

222

they can provide occasions for pastoral care with
a view to the eventual celebration of the sacrament of marriagea.315 On the other hand, it is a
source of concern that many young people today
distrust marriage and live together, putting off
indefinitely the commitment of marriage, while
yet others break a commitment already made and
immediately assume a new one. aAs members of
the Church, they too need pastoral care that is
merciful and helpfula.316 For the Churchas pastors
are not only responsible for promoting Christian
marriage, but also the apastoral discernment of
the situations of a great many who no longer live
this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with
these persons is needed to distinguish elements
in their lives that can lead to a greater openness
to the Gospel of marriage in its fullnessa.317 In
this pastoral discernment, there is a need ato
identify elements that can foster evangelization
and human and spiritual growtha.318
294.a aThe choice of a civil marriage or, in
many cases, of simple cohabitation, is often not
motivated by prejudice or resistance to a sacramental union, but by cultural or contingent situationsa.319 In such cases, respect also can be shown
for those signs of love which in some way reflect
a Ibid., 27.
a Ibid., 26.
317
a Ibid., 41.
318
a Ibid.
319
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 71.
315
316

223

Godas own love.320 We know that there is aa continual increase in the number of those who, after
having lived together for a long period, request
the celebration of marriage in Church. Simply to
live together is often a choice based on a general
attitude opposed to anything institutional or definitive; it can also be done while awaiting more
security in life (a steady job and steady income).
In some countries, de facto unions are very numerous, not only because of a rejection of values
concerning the family and matrimony, but primarily because celebrating a marriage is considered too expensive in the social circumstances.
As a result, material poverty drives people into
de facto unionsa.321 Whatever the case, aall these
situations require a constructive response seeking to transform them into opportunities that
can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel. These couples need to be welcomed and guided patiently
and discreetlya.322 That is how Jesus treated the
Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:1-26): he addressed
her desire for true love, in order to free her from
the darkness in her life and to bring her to the
full joy of the Gospel.
295.a Along these lines, Saint John Paul II proposed the so-called alaw of gradualnessa in the
knowledge that the human being aknows, loves
a Cf. ibid.
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 42.
322
a Ibid., 43.
320
321

224

and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growtha.323 This is not a agradualness of
lawa but rather a gradualness in the prudential
exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who
are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or
fully carry out the objective demands of the law.
For the law is itself a gift of God which points
out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace,
even though each human being aadvances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts
of God and the demands of Godas definitive and
absolute love in his or her entire personal and
social lifea.324
The discernment of airregulara situations 325

296.a The Synod addressed various situations
of weakness or imperfection. Here I would like
to reiterate something I sought to make clear to
the whole Church, lest we take the wrong path:
aThere are two ways of thinking which recur
throughout the Churchas history: casting off and
reinstating. The Churchas way, from the time of
the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been
the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatementa| The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm
323
aApostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22
November 1981), 34: AAS 74 (1982), 123.
324
a Ibid., 9: AAS 74 (1982), 90.
325
a Cf. Catechesis (24 June 2015): LaOsservatore Romano,
25 June 2015, p. 8.

225

of Godas mercy on all those who ask for it with
a sincere hearta| For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitousa.326 Consequently, there is a need ato avoid judgements
which do not take into account the complexity
of various situationsa and ato be attentive, by
necessity, to how people experience distress because of their conditiona.327
297.a It is a matter of reaching out to everyone,
of needing to help each person find his or her
proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by
an aunmerited, unconditional and gratuitousa
mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here
I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation
they find themselves. Naturally, if someone
flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the
Christian ideal, or wants to impose something
other than what the Church teaches, he or she
can in no way presume to teach or preach to
others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17). Such
a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion. Yet even
for that person there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in
a Homily at Mass Celebrated with the New Cardinals (15
February 2015): AAS 107 (2015), 257.
327
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 51.
326

226

social service, prayer meetings or another way
that his or her own initiative, together with the
discernment of the parish priest, may suggest.
As for the way of dealing with different airregulara situations, the Synod Fathers reached a
general consensus, which I support: aIn considering a pastoral approach towards people
who have contracted a civil marriage, who are
divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping
them understand the divine pedagogy of grace
in their lives and offering them assistance so
they can reach the fullness of Godas plan for
thema,328 something which is always possible by
the power of the Holy Spirit.
298.a The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety
of situations, which should not be pigeonholed
or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no
room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity,
generous self giving, Christian commitment, a
consciousness of its irregularity and of the great
difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The
Church acknowledges situations awhere, for serious reasons, such as the childrenas upbringing,
a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 25.

328

227

to separatea.329 There are also the cases of those
who made every effort to save their first marriage and were unjustly abandoned, or of athose
who have entered into a second union for the
sake of the childrenas upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their
previous and irreparably broken marriage had
never been valida.330 Another thing is a new union arising from a recent divorce, with all the suffering and confusion which this entails for children
and entire families, or the case of someone who has
consistently failed in his obligations to the family. It
must remain clear that this is not the ideal which
the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family.
The Synod Fathers stated that the discernment
of pastors must always take place aby adequately
distinguishinga,331 with an approach which acarefully discerns situationsa.332 We know that no
aeasy recipesa exist.333
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 84: AAS 74 (1982), 186. In such
situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility
of living aas brothers and sistersa which the Church offers them,
point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ait
often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of
the children suffersa (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council,
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes, 51).
330
a Ibid.
331
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 26.
332
a Ibid., 45.
333
a Benedict XVI, Address to the Seventh World Meeting
of Families in Milan (2 June 2012), Response n. 5: Insegnamenti
VIII/1 (2012), 691.
329

228

299.a I am in agreement with the many Synod
Fathers who observed that athe baptized who
are divorced and civilly remarried need to be
more fully integrated into Christian communities
in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding
any occasion of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which
would allow them not only to realize that they
belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but
also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it. They are baptized; they are
brothers and sisters; the Holy Spirit pours into
their hearts gifts and talents for the good of all.
Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires
discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practised in the liturgical, pastoral,
educational and institutional framework, can be
surmounted. Such persons need to feel not as
excommunicated members of the Church, but
instead as living members, able to live and grow
in the Church and experience her as a mother
who welcomes them always, who takes care of
them with affection and encourages them along
the path of life and the Gospel. This integration
is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children, who ought to be considered
most importanta.334
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 84.

334

229

300.a If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned,
it is understandable that neither the Synod nor
this Exhortation could be expected to provide
a new set of general rules, canonical in nature
and applicable to all cases. What is possible is
simply a renewed encouragement to undertake
a responsible personal and pastoral discernment
of particular cases, one which would recognize
that, since athe degree of responsibility is not
equal in all casesa,335 the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the
same.336 Priests have the duty to aaccompany [the
divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching
of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.
Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should
ask themselves: how did they act towards their
children when the conjugal union entered into
crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned
party; what consequences the new relationship
has on the rest of the family and the community
of the faithful; and what example is being set for
young people who are preparing for marriage. A
a Ibid., 51
a This is also the case with regard to sacramental
discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular
situation no grave fault exists. In such cases, what is found in
another document applies: cf. Evangelii Gaudium (24 November
2013), 44 and 47: AAS 105 (2013), 1038-1040.
335
336

230

sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy
of God which is not denied anyonea.337 What we
are speaking of is a process of accompaniment
and discernment which aguides the faithful to an
awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum,
contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on
what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given
that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris
Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind
from the Gospel demands of truth and charity,
as proposed by the Church. For this discernment
to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for
the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search
for Godas will and a desire to make a more perfect response to ita.338 These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can
quickly grant aexceptionsa, or that some people
can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for
favours. When a responsible and tactful person,
who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church,
meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging
the seriousness of the matter before him, there
can be no risk that a specific discernment may
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 85.
a Ibid., 86

337
338

231

lead people to think that the Church maintains a
double standard.
Mitigating factors in pastoral discernment

301.a For an adequate understanding of the
possibility and need of special discernment in
certain airregulara situations, one thing must
always be taken into account, lest anyone think
that the demands of the Gospel are in any way
being compromised. The Church possesses a
solid body of reflection concerning mitigating
factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer
simply be said that all those in any airregulara
situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are
deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved
here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject
may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding aits inherent valuesa,339 or
be in a concrete situation which does not allow
him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. As the Synod Fathers
put it, afactors may exist which limit the ability to
make a decisiona.340 Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace
and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one
of the virtues well;341 in other words, although
someone may possess all the infused moral
339
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 33: AAS 74 (1982), 121.
340
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 51.
341
a Cf. Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 65, art. 3 ad 2; De Malo,
q. 2, art. 2.

232

virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence
of one of them, because the outward practice of
that virtue is rendered difficult: aCertain saints
are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far
as they experience difficulty in the acts of those
virtues, even though they have the habits of all
the virtuesa.342
302.a The Catechism of the Catholic Church
clearly mentions these factors: aimputability and
responsibility for an action can be diminished or
even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress,
fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other
psychological or social factorsa.343 In another
paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to
circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length aaffective immaturity,
force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety
or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpabilitya.344 For
this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about
the imputability or culpability of the person
a Ibid., ad 3.
a No. 1735.
344
a Ibid., 2352; Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980), II:
AAS 72 (1980), 546; John Paul II, in his critique of the category
of afundamental optiona, recognized that adoubtless there can
occur situations which are very complex and obscure from a
psychological viewpoint, and which have an influence on the
sinneras subjective culpabilitya (Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio
et Paenitentia [2 December 1984], 17: AAS 77 [1985], 223).
342
343

233

involved.345 On the basis of these convictions, I
consider very fitting what many Synod Fathers wanted to affirm: aUnder certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while upholding a general rule,
it is necessary to recognize that responsibility
with respect to certain actions or decisions is not
the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while
taking into account a personas properly formed
conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken
are not necessarily the same in all casesa.346
303.a Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the
Churchas praxis in certain situations which do
not objectively embody our understanding of
marriage. Naturally, every effort should be made
to encourage the development of an enlightened
conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of oneas pastor, and
to encourage an ever greater trust in Godas grace.
Yet conscience can do more than recognize that
a given situation does not correspond objectively
to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can
also recognize with sincerity and honesty what
for now is the most generous response which
345
a Cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts,
Declaration Concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful
Who are Divorced and Remarried (24 June 2000), 2.
346
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 85.

234

can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself
is asking amid the concrete complexity of oneas
limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In
any event, let us recall that this discernment is
dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages
of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.
Rules and discernment

304.a It is reductive simply to consider whether or
not an individualas actions correspond to a general
law or rule, because that is not enough to discern
and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life
of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always
recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and
learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment:
aAlthough there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the
more frequently we encounter defectsa| In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not
the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only
as to the general principles; and where there is the
same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally
known to alla| The principle will be found to fail,
according as we descend further into detaila.347 It
is true that general rules set forth a good which
can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their
formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all

a Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 4.

347

235

particular situations. At the same time, it must be
said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of
a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That
would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but
would endanger the very values which must be
preserved with special care.348
305.a For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that
it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those
living in airregulara situations, as if they were
stones to throw at peopleas lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Churchas teachings, asitting on the chair
of Moses and judging at times with superiority
and superficiality difficult cases and wounded
familiesa.349 Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that
anatural law could not be presented as an already
established set of rules that impose themselves a
priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source
of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisionsa.350 Because of
a In another text, referring to the general knowledge of
the rule and the particular knowledge of practical discernment,
Saint Thomas states that aif only one of the two is present, it
is preferable that it be the knowledge of the particular reality,
which is closer to the acta: Sententia libri Ethicorum, VI, 6 (ed.
Leonina, t. XLVII, 354.)
349
a Address for the Conclusion of the Fourteenth Ordinary General
Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (24 October 2015): LaOsservatore
Romano, 26-27 October 2015, p. 13.
350
a International Theological Commission, In Search of
a Universal Ethic: A New Look at Natural Law (2009), 59.
348

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forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it
is possible that in an objective situation of sin a
which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully
such a a person can be living in Godas grace, can
love and can also grow in the life of grace and
charity, while receiving the Churchas help to this
end.351 Discernment must help to find possible
ways of responding to God and growing in the
midst of limits. By thinking that everything is
black and white, we sometimes close off the way
of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of
sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that aa small step, in the midst of great
human limitations, can be more pleasing to God
than a life which appears outwardly in order,
but moves through the day without confronting
great difficultiesa.352 The practical pastoral care
of ministers and of communities must not fail to
embrace this reality.
306.a In every situation, when dealing with
those who have difficulties in living Godas law
to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis
must be clearly heard. Fraternal charity is the
a In certain cases, this can include the help of the
sacraments. Hence, aI want to remind priests that the
confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an
encounter with the Lordas mercya (Apostolic Exhortation
Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013],
1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist ais not a prize
for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for
the weaka (ibid., 47: 1039).
352
a Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24
November 2013), 44: AAS 105 (2013), 1038-1039.
351

237

first law of Christians (cf. Jn 15:12; Gal 5:14). Let
us not forget the reassuring words of Scripture:
aMaintain constant love for one another, for love
covers a multitude of sinsa (1 Pet 4:8); aAtone
for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your
prosperity may be prolongeda (Dan 4:24[27]);
aAs water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sinsa (Sir 3:30). This is also what
Saint Augustine teaches: aJust as, at the threat of
a fire, we would run for water to extinguish ita|
so too, if the flame of sin rises from our chaff
and we are troubled, if the chance to perform a
work of mercy is offered us, let us rejoice in it,
as if it were a fountain offered us to extinguish
the blazea.353
The logic of pastoral mercy

307.a In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I
would point out that in no way must the Church
desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage,
Godas plan in all its grandeur: aYoung people
who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the sacrament of marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be
sustained by the grace of Christ in the sacrament
and by the possibility of participating fully in the
a De Catechizandis Rudibus, I, 14, 22: PL 40, 327; cf.
Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013),
194: AAS 105 (2013), 1101.
353

238

life of the Churcha.354 A lukewarm attitude, any
kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to
the Gospel and also of love on the part of the
Church for young people themselves. To show
understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller
ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to
the human being. Today, more important than
the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort
to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their
breakdown.
308.a At the same time, from our awareness of
the weight of mitigating circumstances a psychological, historical and even biological a it follows
that awithout detracting from the evangelical
ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal
growth as these progressively appeara, making
room for athe Lordas mercy, which spurs us on
to do our besta.355 I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves
no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe
that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of
human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly
expressing her objective teaching, aalways does
what good she can, even if in the process, her
a Relatio Synodi 2014, 26.
a Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
November 2013), 44: AAS 105 (2013), 1038.
354
355

Gaudium

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shoes get soiled by the mud of the streeta.356
The Churchas pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Churchas
teaching, must also help them to treat the weak
with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements. The Gospel itself
tells us not to judge or condemn (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk
6:37). Jesus aexpects us to stop looking for those
personal or communal niches which shelter us
from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and
instead to enter into the reality of other peopleas lives and to know the power of tenderness.
Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicateda.357
309.a It is providential that these reflections
take place in the context of a Holy Year devoted
to mercy, because also in the variety of situations
affecting families athe Church is commissioned
to proclaim the mercy of God, the beating heart
of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the mind and heart of every person. The
Bride of Christ must pattern her behaviour after
the Son of God who goes out to everyone without exceptiona.358 She knows that Jesus himself
is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of the
ninety-nine. He loves them all. On the basis of
this realization, it will become possible for athe
a Ibid., 45.
a Ibid., 270.
358
a Bull Misericordiae Vultus (11 April 2015), 12: AAS 107
(2015): 407.
356
357

240

balm of mercy to reach everyone, believers and
those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God
is already present in our midsta.359
310.a We cannot forget that amercy is not only
the working of the Father; it becomes a criterion for
knowing who his true children are. In a word, we
are called to show mercy because mercy was first
shown to usa.360 This is not sheer romanticism
or a lukewarm response to Godas love, which always seeks what is best for us, for amercy is the
very foundation of the Churchas life. All of her
pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness which she shows to believers; nothing in
her preaching and her witness to the world can
be lacking in mercya.361 It is true that at times
awe act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the
house of the Father, where there is a place for
everyone, with all their problemsa.362
311.a The teaching of moral theology should
not fail to incorporate these considerations, for
although it is quite true that concern must be
shown for the integrity of the Churchas moral
teaching, special care should always be shown to
emphasize and encourage the highest and most

a Ibid., 5: 402.
a Ibid., 9: 405.
361
a Ibid., 10: 406.
362
a Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
November 2013), 47: AAS 105 (2013), 1040.
359
360

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central values of the Gospel,363 particularly the primacy of charity as a response to the completely
gratuitous offer of Godas love. At times we find
it hard to make room for Godas unconditional
love in our pastoral activity.364 We put so many
conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the
worst way of watering down the Gospel. It is
true, for example, that mercy does not exclude
justice and truth, but first and foremost we have
to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and
the most radiant manifestation of Godas truth.
For this reason, we should always consider ainadequate any theological conception which in the
end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and,
especially, his mercya.365
312.a This offers us a framework and a setting
which help us avoid a cold bureaucratic morality
in dealing with more sensitive issues. Instead, it
sets us in the context of a pastoral discernment
a Cf. ibid., 36-37: AAS 105 (2013), 1035.
a Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed
beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of
penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that
it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly
pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching
of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new
fall ashould not prejudice the authenticity of the resolutiona
(Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum on the occasion of the Course on
the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary [22 March
1996], 5: Insegnamenti XIX/1 [1996], 589).
365
a International Theological Commission, The Hope
of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized (19 April
2007), 2.
363
364

242

filled with merciful love, which is ever ready to
understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above
all integrate. That is the mindset which should
prevail in the Church and lead us to aopen our
hearts to those living on the outermost fringes
of societya.366 I encourage the faithful who find
themselves in complicated situations to speak
confidently with their pastors or with other lay
people whose lives are committed to the Lord.
They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they
will surely receive some light to help them better
understand their situation and discover a path to
personal growth. I also encourage the Churchas
pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight
and their point of view, in order to help them live
better lives and to recognize their proper place in
the Church.

a Bull Misericordiae Vultus (11 April 2015), 15: AAS 107
(2015), 409.
366

243

CHAPTER NINE

THE SPIRITUALITY OF MARRIAGE
AND THE FAMILY
313.a Charity takes on different hues, depending
on the state of life to which we have been called.
Several decades ago, in speaking of the lay apostolate, the Second Vatican Council emphasized
the spirituality born of family life. The Council
stated that lay spirituality awill take its particular
character from the circumstances ofa| married
and family lifea,367 and that afamily cares should
not be foreigna to that spirituality.368 It is worth
pausing to describe certain basic characteristics
of this specific spirituality that unfolds in family
life and its relationships.
A spirituality of supernatural communion

314.a We have always spoken of how God
dwells in the hearts of those living in his grace.
Today we can add that the Trinity is present in
the temple of marital communion. Just as God
dwells in the praises of his people (cf. Ps 22:3), so
a Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam
Actuositatem, 4.
368
a Cf. ibid.
367

245

he dwells deep within the marital love that gives
him glory.
315.a The Lordas presence dwells in real and
concrete families, with all their daily troubles
and struggles, joys and hopes. Living in a family
makes it hard for us to feign or lie; we cannot
hide behind a mask. If that authenticity is inspired by love, then the Lord reigns there, with
his joy and his peace. The spirituality of family
love is made up of thousands of small but real
gestures. In that variety of gifts and encounters
which deepen communion, God has his dwelling
place. This mutual concern abrings together the
human and the divinea,369 for it is filled with the
love of God. In the end, marital spirituality is
a spirituality of the bond, in which divine love
dwells.
316.a A positive experience of family communion is a true path to daily sanctification and mystical growth, a means for deeper union with God.
The fraternal and communal demands of family
life are an incentive to growth in openness of
heart and thus to an ever fuller encounter with
the Lord. The word of God tells us that athe
one who hates his brother is in the darkness, and
walks in the darknessa (1 Jn 2:11); such a person
aabides in deatha (1 Jn 3:14) and adoes not know
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 49.
369

246

Goda (1 Jn 4:8). My predecessor Benedict XVI
pointed out that aclosing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to Goda,370 and that, in the
end, love is the only light which can aconstantly
illuminate a world grown dima.371 If only we
alove one another, God abides in us and his love
is perfected in usa (1 Jn 4:12). Since athe human
person has an inherent social dimensiona,372 and
athe first and basic expression of that social dimension of the person is the married couple and
the familya,373 spirituality becomes incarnate in
the communion of the family. Hence, those who
have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel
that the family detracts from their growth in the
life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which
the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of
mystical union.
Gathered in prayer in the light of Easter

317.a If a family is centred on Christ, he will
unify and illumine its entire life. Moments of
pain and difficulty will be experienced in union with the Lordas cross, and his closeness
will make it possible to surmount them. In the
darkest hours of a familyas life, union with Jesus
in his abandonment can help avoid a breakup.
a Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2015),
16: AAS 98 (2006), 230.
371
a Ibid., 39: AAS 98 (2006), 250.
372
a John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988), 40: AAS 81 (1989), 468.
373
a Ibid.
370

247

Gradually, awith the grace of the Holy Spirit, [the
spouses] grow in holiness through married life,
also by sharing in the mystery of Christas cross,
which transforms difficulties and sufferings into
an offering of lovea.374 Moreover, moments of
joy, relaxation, celebration, and even sexuality can
be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the
resurrection. Married couples shape with different daily gestures a aGod-enlightened space in
which to experience the hidden presence of the
risen Lorda.375
318.a Family prayer is a special way of expressing and strengthening this paschal faith.376 A few
minutes can be found each day to come together
before the living God, to tell him our worries,
to ask for the needs of our family, to pray for
someone experiencing difficulty, to ask for help
in showing love, to give thanks for life and for
its blessings, and to ask Our Lady to protect us
beneath her maternal mantle. With a few simple
words, this moment of prayer can do immense
good for our families. The various expressions
of popular piety are a treasure of spirituality for
many families. The familyas communal journey
of prayer culminates by sharing together in the
Eucharist, especially in the context of the Sunday rest. Jesus knocks on the door of families, to
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 87.
a John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Vita Consecrata (25 March 1996), 42: AAS 88 (1996), 416.
376
a Cf. Relatio Finalis 2015, 87.
374
375

248

share with them the Eucharistic supper (cf. Rev
3:20). There, spouses can always seal anew the
paschal covenant which united them and which
ought to reflect the covenant which God sealed
with mankind in the cross.377 The Eucharist is the
sacrament of the new covenant, where Christas
redemptive work is carried out (cf. Lk 22:20).
The close bond between married life and the
Eucharist thus becomes all the more clear.378 For
the food of the Eucharist offers the spouses the
strength and incentive needed to live the marriage
covenant each day as a adomestic churcha.379
A spirituality of exclusive and free love

319.a Marriage is also the experience of belonging completely to another person. Spouses
accept the challenge and aspiration of supporting one another, growing old together, and in
this way reflecting Godas own faithfulness. This
firm decision, which shapes a style of life, is an
ainterior requirement of the covenant of conjugal lovea,380 since aa person who cannot choose
to love for ever can hardly love for even a single
a Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 57: AAS 74 (1982), 150.
378
a Nor should we forget that Godas covenant with his
people is expressed as an espousal (cf. Ez 16:8, 60; Is 62:5;
Hos 2:21-22), and that the new covenant is also presented as a
betrothal (cf. Rev 19:7; 21:2; Eph 5:25).
379
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11.
380
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 11: AAS 74 (1982), 93.
377

249

daya.381 At the same time, such fidelity would
be spiritually meaningless were it simply a matter of following a law with obedient resignation.
Rather, it is a matter of the heart, into which
God alone sees (cf. Mt 5:28). Every morning,
on rising, we reaffirm before God our decision
to be faithful, come what may in the course of
the day. And all of us, before going to sleep,
hope to wake up and continue this adventure,
trusting in the Lordas help. In this way, each
spouse is for the other a sign and instrument of
the closeness of the Lord, who never abandons
us: aLo, I am with you always, to the close of the
agea (Mt 28:20).
320.a There comes a point where a coupleas
love attains the height of its freedom and becomes the basis of a healthy autonomy. This
happens when each spouse realizes that the other is not his or her own, but has a much more
important master, the one Lord. No one but
God can presume to take over the deepest and
most personal core of the loved one; he alone
can be the ultimate centre of their life. At the
same time, the principle of spiritual realism
requires that one spouse not presume that the
other can completely satisfy his or her needs. The
spiritual journey of each a as Dietrich Bonhoeffer
nicely put it a needs to help them to a certain
a Id., Homily at Mass with Families, Cordoba, Argentina (8
April 1987), 4: Insegnamenti X/1 (1987), 1161-1162.
381

250

adisillusionmenta with regard to the other,382
to stop expecting from that person something
which is proper to the love of God alone. This
demands an interior divestment. The space
which each of the spouses makes exclusively for
their personal relationship with God not only
helps heal the hurts of life in common, but also
enables the spouses to find in the love of God
the deepest source of meaning in their own lives.
Each day we have to invoke the help of the Holy
Spirit to make this interior freedom possible.
A spirituality of care, consolation and incentive

321.a aChristian couples are, for each other, for
their children and for their relatives, cooperators
of grace and witnesses of the faitha.383 God calls
them to bestow life and to care for life. For this
reason the family ahas always been the nearest
ahospitalaa.384 So let us care for one another, guide
and encourage one another, and experience this
as a part of our family spirituality. Life as a couple is a daily sharing in Godas creative work, and
each person is for the other a constant challenge
from the Holy Spirit. Godas love is proclaimed
athrough the living and concrete word whereby
a man and the woman express their conjugal
a Cf. Gemeinsames Leben, Munich, 1973, p. 18. English:
Life Together, New York, 1954, p. 27.
383
a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on
the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11.
384
a Catechesis (10 June 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 11
June 2015, p. 8.
382

251

lovea.385 The two are thus mutual reflections of
that divine love which comforts with a word, a
look, a helping hand, a caress, an embrace. For
this reason ato want to form a family is to resolve
to be a part of Godas dream, to choose to dream
with him, to want to build with him, to join him
in this saga of building a world where no one will
feel alonea.386
322.a All family life is a ashepherdinga in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a
mark on the life of others; with Paul, we can say:
aYou are our letter of recommendation, written
on your heartsa| not with ink, but with the Spirit
of the living Goda (2 Cor 3:2-3). Each of us is
a afisher of mena (Lk 5:10) who in Jesusa name
acasts the netsa (cf. Lk 5:5) to others, or a farmer
who tills the fresh soil of those whom he or she
loves, seeking to bring out the best in them. Marital fruitfulness involves helping others, for ato
love anybody is to expect from him something
which can neither be defined nor foreseen; it is
at the same time in some way to make it possible
for him to fulfil this expectationa.387 This is itself
385
a John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 12: AAS 74 (1982), 93.
386
a Address at the Prayer Vigil of the Festival of Families,
Philadelphia (26 September 2015): LaOsservatore Romano, 28-29
September 2015, p. 6.
387
a Gabriel Marcel, Homo Viator: prolA(c)gomA"nes A une
mA(c)taphysique de laespA(c)rance, Paris, 1944, p. 66. English: Homo
Viator. An Introduction to a Metaphysics of Hope, London, 1951,
p. 49.

252

a way to worship God, who has sown so much
good in others in the hope that we will help make
it grow.
323.a It is a profound spiritual experience to
contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God
and to see Christ in them. This demands a freedom and openness which enable us to appreciate
their dignity. We can be fully present to others
only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting
all else. Our loved ones merit our complete attention. Jesus is our model in this, for whenever
people approached to speak with him, he would
meet their gaze, directly and lovingly (cf. Mk
10:21). No one felt overlooked in his presence,
since his words and gestures conveyed the question: aWhat do you want me to do for you?a (Mk
10:51). This is what we experience in the daily
life of the family. We are constantly reminded
that each of those who live with us merits complete attention, since he or she possesses infinite
dignity as an object of the Fatheras immense love.
This gives rise to a tenderness which can astir in
the other the joy of being loved. Tenderness is
expressed in a particular way by exercising loving
care in treating the limitations of the other, especially when they are evidenta.388
324.a Led by the Spirit, the family circle is not
only open to life by generating it within itself, but
a Relatio Finalis 2015, 88.

388

253

also by going forth and spreading life by caring for
others and seeking their happiness. This openness
finds particular expression in hospitality,389 which
the word of God eloquently encourages: aDo not
neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawaresa (Heb
13:2). When a family is welcoming and reaches out
to others, especially the poor and the neglected, it is
aa symbol, witness and participant in the Churchas
motherhooda.390 Social love, as a reflection of the
Trinity, is what truly unifies the spiritual meaning
of the family and its mission to others, for it makes
present the kerygma in all its communal imperatives. The family lives its spirituality precisely by
being at one and the same time a domestic church
and a vital cell for transforming the world.391
*a*a*
325.a The teaching of the Master (cf. Mt
22:30) and Saint Paul (cf. 1 Cor 7:29-31) on marriage is set a and not by chance a in the context of the ultimate and definitive dimension
of our human existence. We urgently need to
rediscover the richness of this teaching. By
heeding it, married couples will come to see
the deeper meaning of their journey through
a Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 44: AAS 74 (1982), 136.
390
a Ibid., 49: AAS 74 (1982), 141.
391
a For the social aspects of the family, cf. Pontifical
Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine
of the Church, 248-254.
389

254

life. As this Exhortation has often noted,
no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and
mature in the ability to love. This is a neverending vocation born of the full communion of
the Trinity, the profound unity between Christ and
his Church, the loving community which is the
Holy Family of Nazareth, and the pure fraternity
existing among the saints of heaven. Our contemplation of the fulfilment which we have yet to attain also allows us to see in proper perspective the
historical journey which we make as families, and
in this way to stop demanding of our interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions
and a consistency which we will only encounter in
the Kingdom to come. It also keeps us from judging harshly those who live in situations of frailty.
All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and
every family must feel this constant impulse. Let
us make this journey as families, let us keep walking
together. What we have been promised is greater
than we can imagine. May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that
fullness of love and communion which God holds
out before us.
Prayer to the Holy Family
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love;
to you we turn with trust.
255

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again experience
violence, rejection and division;
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in Godas plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Graciously hear our prayer.
Amen.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peteras, during the
Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, on 19 March,
the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, in the year 2016,
the fourth of my Pontificate.

INDEX
The Joy of Love [1-7] . . . . . . . . .

3

Chapter One

IN THE LIGHT OF THE WORD [8] . 7
You and your wife [9-13] . . . . . . .
Your children are as the shoots of an
olive tree [14-18] . . . . . . . . .
A path of suffering and blood [19-22] . .
The work of your hands [23-26] . . . .
The tenderness of an embrace [27-30] . .

8

11
15
17
19

Chapter Two

THE EXPERIENCES
AND CHALLENGES OF FAMILIES [31] 23
The current reality of the family [32-49]
Some challenges [50-57] . . . . . . . .

23
40

Chapter Three

LOOKING TO JESUS: THE VOCATION OF THE FAMILY [58-60] . . . 47
Jesus restores and fulfils Godas plan [61-66]
The family in the documents of the Church
[67-70] . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The sacrament of Matrimony [71-75] . .
Seeds of the Word and imperfect
situations [76-79] . . . . . . . . .

The transmission of life and the rearing
of children [80-85] . . . . . . . . .

48
52
54
59
62

257

The family and the Church [86-88] . . .

67

Chapter Four

LOVE IN MARRIAGE [89] . . . . . 71
Our daily love [90] . . . . . . . . . . 71
Love is patient [91-92] . . . . . . . . 72
Love is at the service of others [93-94] . . . 74
Love is not jealous [95-96] . . . . . . . 74
Love is not boastful [97-98] . . . . . . . 76
Love is not rude [99-100] . . . . . . . 77
Love is generous [101-102] . . . . . . . 79
Love is not irritable or resentful [103-104] . . 80
Love forgives [105-108] . . . . . . . . 81
Love rejoices with others [109-110] . . . . 84
Love bears all things [111-113] . . . . . 84
Love believes all things [114-115] . . . . . 86
Love hopes all things [116-117] . . . . . 87
Love endures all things [118-119] . . . . . 89
Growing in conjugal love [120-122] . . . 90
Lifelong sharing [123-125] . . . . . . . 92
Joy and beauty [126-130] . . . . . . . . 95
Marrying for love [131-132] . . . . . . . 98
A love that reveals itself and increases [133-135] 99
Dialogue [136-141] . . . . . . . . . 102
Passionate love [142] . . . . . . . . .
The world of emotions [143-146] . . . . .
God loves the joy of his children [147-149] . .
The erotic dimension of love [150-152] . . .
Violence and manipulation [153-157] . . .
Marriage and virginity [158-162] . . . . .

105
106
108
110
112
117

The transformation of love [163-164] . . 121

258

Chapter Five

LOVE MADE FRUITFUL [165] . . . 125
Welcoming a new life [166-167] . . . .
Love and pregnancy [168-171] . . . . . .
The love of a mother and a father [172-177] .
An expanding fruitfulness [178-184] . . .
Discerning the body [185-186] . . . . . .

125
127
130
136
141

Life in the wider family [187] . . . . . .
Being sons and daughters [188-190] . . . .
The elderly [191-193] . . . . . . . . .
Being brothers and sisters [194-195] . . . .
A big heart [196-198] . . . . . . . .

142
143
145
147
148

Chapter Six

SOME PASTORAL PERSPECTIVES [199] 151
Proclaiming the Gospel of the family
today [200-204] . . . . . . . . . .
Preparing engaged couples for marriage
[205-211] . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The preparation of the celebration [212-216] .
Accompanying the first years of married
life [217-222] . . . . . . . . . . .
Some resources [223-230] . . . . . . .
Casting light on crises, worries and difficulties [231] . . . . . . . . . . .
The challenge of crises [232-238] . . . . .
Old wounds [239-240] . . . . . . . .
Accompaniment after breakdown and divorce
[241-246] . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Certain complex situations [247-252] . . .

151
155
161
164
170
175
176
181
182
187

259

When

death

makes

us

feel

its

sting

[253-258] . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
Chapter Seven

TOWARDS A BETTER EDUCATION
OF CHILDREN [259] . . . . . . .

197

Where are our children? [260-262] . . . 197
The ethical formation of children [263-267] 199
The

value of correction as an incentive

[268-270] . . . . . . . . . . . . . 202
Patient realism [271-273] . . . . . . . 204
Family life as an educational setting [274-279] 206
The need for sex education [280-286] . . 211
Passing on the faith [287-290] . . . . . 216
Chapter Eight

ACCOMPANYING, DISCERNING AND
INTEGRATING WEAKNESS [291-292] . 221
Gradualness in pastoral care [293-295] .

222

The discernment of airregulara situations
[296-300] . . . . . . . . . . . . . 225
Mitigating factors in pastoral discernment
[301-303] . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
Rules and discernment [304-306] . . . . 235
The logic of pastoral mercy [307-312] . . 238

260

Chapter Nine

THE SPIRITUALITY OF MARRIAGE
AND THE FAMILY [313] . . . . . . 245
A

spirituality of supernatural communion

[314-316] . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gathered in prayer in the light of Easter
[317-318] . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A spirituality of exclusive and free love
[319-320] . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A spirituality of care, consolation and
incentive [321-325] . . . . . . . . .
Prayer to the Holy Family . . . . . . . .

245
247
249
251
255

VATICAN PRESS