25th Anniversary of Familiaris Consortio

Marking the 25th Anniversary of Familiaris Consortio

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo
President, Pontifical Council for the Family

The path to life: 'The road starts here and leads to Home'

The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio was published on 22 November 1981. It goes without saying that it was of great importance for the pastoral care of the family and of life, which by their nature are inseparable realities (cf. Familiaris Consortio, n. 28).

The Exhortation relates to the Synod of Bishops of 1980, at the end of which the Synod Members presented to the Holy Father John Paul II the approved proposals on the subject, The role of the Christian family in the modern world. The topics that the Papal Document treated are the result of the full and dedicated study that was a feature of those weeks of open dialogue and sweeping perspectives, looking at the future of marriage and the family, a future that will be decisive for the future of humanity and the Church (cf. ibid., nn. 75; 86).

It is thanks to the insight of John Paul II that the Synod, whose Relator Generalis was the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was convoked. The Cardinal's enlightened, dynamic action and coordination skill regarding both the deliberations and the drafting of Familiaris Consortio are well known to all.

Today, during his Pontificate, although the profound truths on which the family is founded have remained the same, it is faced by a striking range of challenges from a mindset that even puts the human being at stake — the great truth about man created by God's love, his reality and his vocation.

Humanity: total gift of self

The indissoluble love of a man and a woman (cf. Familiaris Consortio, nn. 11; 13; 17; 50), who form "one flesh" in that community of life (totius vitae) which is marriage, forms the foundation of the family with its traits of exclusivity, faithfulness, stability until death and openness to life.

On this indispensable foundation, Familiaris Consortio goes to the heart of the identity of marriage and of the duties that must enliven the Church in her intra-ecclesial pastoral reality and her strong and effective relations with society, in order to promote its integral common good and safeguard its fundamental fabric.

Today, all this risks being shipwrecked unless the family is given concrete support as the foundation and pillar as well as the essential cell of society. Familiars Consortio recalls this truth with courage and hope. It risks being imprisoned by a secularization which, by driving God out of the world, drains human society of its strength and value, thereby weakening the sense of the human being, as Pope Benedict XVI has often recalled.

In the majority of parliaments in America and Europe and on other continents, the relationship of the family with society is becoming problematic because laws prove iniquitous when they lose the humanum, with heavy consequences for the peoples and indeed, for democracy itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, nn. 43, 45).

Familiaris Consortio should be reread in the light of a profound sense of the humanum and in the radicality and linearity of the gift of self that must be total: "Consequently, sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another... concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.

"The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving.... If the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally. This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility..." (n. 11).

A place of authentic love

"The only 'place' in which this self-giving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage" (ibid.).

"Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter — appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul" (Familiaris Consortio, n. 13).

With this premise, doctrine, theology, and pastoral care received a new and impressive vigour at the very heart of true anthropology. It lies at the root of openness to life, which caused people to describe the Encyclical Humanae Vitae as a "truly prophetic proclamation" (cf. Familiaris Consortio, n. 29).

This reality has been forcefully repeated particularly in the teaching of the recent Pontiffs. Today too, the totality of the spouses' mutual self-giving, as a gift of the Lord in the truth of Marriage as a Sacrament, must always be present in order to avoid a superficial escape into subjectivism or into an improperly conceived form of conscience.

The conscience must be correctly formed: "That teaching, often set forth by the Magisterium of the Church, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning" (Humanae Vitae, n. 12; cf. Familiaris Consortio, n. 19).

The invitation to spread the attractive and stupendous reality of marriage and the family, which embraces millions and millions of faithful couples, should be combined with the prophetic warnings and stances that constitute a series of affirmatives by the Magisterium, from the dignity of the person to the beauty of conjugal love, from responsibility to the rights of God, of the family and of peoples.

The person's human development is only possible within the family, where people are formed, and in other milieus such as the school, parish and movements; however, it must always take place in collaboration with the family.

Complying with the principle of subsidiarity and for its own good, the State must help the family and recognize that this irreplaceable community has indisputable sovereignty, as anterior and superior,1 in a certain way, to the political community itself and to its organization.

Today's alarming changes

Familiaris Consortio could not have foreseen the current political changes, nor the ambiguous and unacceptable concepts of the family that are contrary to the value of a natural institution created by God.

Today, the true nature of marriage between a man and a woman and particularly the respect due to human procreation, which views children as a very precious gift to be discovered and protected, are not properly appreciated.

Twenty-five years ago, Familiaris Consortio could not have foreseen the de facto unions of our time and the privatization of the family, with the loss of its social significance. Ideological pressures, fairly widespread today, risk seriously compromising the very concept of law, justice and people's rights.

Pope Benedict XVI continues to highlight through his Magisterium the dramas of the present time, concerning which, as he has already said, negotiation is impossible. I would like to underline briefly certain elements of the Holy Father's words that spur us to keep alert and persevere in bearing the consistent witness to which the Lord invites us.

The tragedy of dehumanization, already clearly perceptible at the time of Familiaris Consortio, has revealed an anthropology that breaks up the unity of the person as a living body and spirit incarnate at the risk of trivializing the very meaning of human sexuality, involved in a form of immature selfishness and incapable as such of true giving.

The consequences of this "dehumanization" on marriage and the family, on married couples and their children and on society, were then not well known.

Indeed, there was hostility to the family and to life. A "mentality" closed to marriage came into being (cf. Letter to Families, n. 19) and to the integral reality of human beings and couples, almost as if they were condemned in married life to be unfaithful, to break their promises. Subsequently, there was talk with worrying alarm of a sick society (cf. ibid., n. 20).

What can be described as "conceptual obscurity" spread. These were the effects of secularization, which was to lead to the current situation despite the presence of the liberating announcement of the one true family model, capable of knowing the grandeur of a conjugal love open to the gift of children.

These were the first signs of a "disjointed" world, a "culture of dissociation", as several famous authors have recently recalled.2

General tasks

In response to this phenomenon, which is a disturbing challenge, Familiaris Consortio gives an articulate and unified answer focused on the reality of the gift and of total self-giving. whose splendid roots reach to the mystery of God and of the Incarnate Word.

From this light the family receives the "mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God's love for humanity and the love of Christ for the Church, his bride" (Familiaris Consortio, n. 17).

Thus, probing "the unique riches of the family's mission and prob[ing] its contents, which are both manifold and unified", the Synod highlighted four general tasks for the family:

1) forming a community of persons;
2) serving life;
3) participating in the development of society; and
4) sharing in the life and mission of the Church" (cf. ibid.).

Integral, consistent response

John Paul II entrusted this task to the Pontifical Council for the Family as a "sign of the importance that I attribute to pastoral care for the family in the world, and at the same time... an effective instrument for aiding and promoting it at every level" (cf. Familiaris Consortio, n. 73). The relationship between the four tasks also protects pastoral care from a dangerous "dislocation".

To counter the widespread "anti-life" mindset and hostility to the family, the Church's proclamation of the "splendid gift" is offered in order "to [see] the splendour of that 'Yes', that 'Amen', who is Christ himself. To the 'No' which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living 'Yes', thus defending the human person and the world from all who plot against and harm life" (Familiaris Consortio n. 30).

"The Church is called upon... to defend [human life] against all attacks, in whatever condition or state of development it is found" (ibid.).

Consequently, there are two complementary aspects: the announcement and the denouncement-defence to which we are called, starting with a unitary and anthropological vision. The then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote on "The anthropological dimensions of the challenge" and the responses necessary to overcome it:

"In this situation, two opposite erroneous forms of conduct are possible. On the one hand, the temptation to seek refuge in an attitude disposed to minimize and deny the gravity of what has happened, the radicality of subversion. The fear of ghettoization can lead to an ideology of adaptation, with which the presence of Christian specificity in the world is lost.

"On the other hand, there is the danger of resignation, of the withdrawal of Christians exclusively to within their own sphere, with the motivation that Christians should not impose their own ethos upon others; in democracy, only what is backed by the opinion of a majority could then become law. This proposal is only partly true; thus, if it is absolutized, it comes to mean the dissolution of the concept of law in general.

"Objective law and objective injustice exist; legislation that truly desires to lay down the law must be oriented to this law inherent in the essence of the human being. Yet, obviously, law can become unrecognizable. Societies can become blind to law in vast areas....

"For this reason, Christians must not be too quick to leave society to itself: it is their duty to fight for recognition of the fundamental values that are the premise for the true establishment of law; it is their duty to fight for a 'just law'.

"This task concerns all Christians — the Pope, Bishops, priests, Religious and lay people in their different competences, each one in his own way; only by undertaking together this service to law, this service to man, can we carry out this task properly....

"It is impossible to give up analyzing negative developments and pointing out absolutely clearly the dangers that threaten us. Above all, it is important at the same time that it is not only the 'no' of the moral message of faith that emerges. By its nature, the Christian faith is a great and radical 'yes'; everything in it that is presented as a 'no' is merely the defence of the 'yes' against those denials of life that are camouflaged as rights to freedom but are actually ways of death".3

In this time of confusion new strength is necessary, new strength which through the Gospel of the family and of life can ask the world questions and open hearts to hope.


1 Cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics VIII, 12.

2 In his book Creato per amare, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra denounces "the culture of separation". "It began by a separation within the person of the body from the human person.... The body does not enter the constitution of the person.... The immediate effect of the expulsion from the person's constitution of his body ( = the body is not the person) has been the person's depersonalization....

"This first separation has given rise through logical necessity to two further separations: of sexuality from love and of procreation from sexuality" (op. cit., pp. 43-44, Ed. Cantagalli, Siena, 2006).

Xavier Lacroix's concern at "la dissociation entre conjugalité et parentalité" is similar. Applied to the family, it leads to "dissociation" between sexuality and procreation, "entre procreation et parenté, entre parenté et parentalité, entre parentalité et conjugalité, entre conugalité et famille". This void of relations with the parents is more burdensome with regard to parenthood, which the author says "est la principale victime de la fragilisation du lien conjugal" (art. cit., pp. 233-234, in Quel avenir pour la famille?, Bayard 2006.

3 J. Ratzinger, La via della fede, Ed. Ares 1996. In his first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI treats the theme of true love, of true self-giving.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 January 2007, page 6

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