Familiaris Consortio and the Family

Author: Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo


Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family

Speaking to NACF Families, Friday, March 22 1996, St James, Spanish Place, London

This version of the text is reproduced by the National Association of Catholic Families as part of its celebration of the visit of Cardinal Trujillo to Britain.

The Cardinal spent the first day of the visit with the NACF where he offered his encouragement and support to our families. His second and third days were spent in a major pro-life conference organized by SPUC.

I am so pleased to be with you this afternoon, with Catholic families who have come together from different parts of England to pray and celebrate what they are—the first living cells at society, each one making up a "Domestic Church in the Body of Christ".

First, I wish to thank Dr Tom Ward, the founder of the National Association of Catholic Families for inviting me to be with you today. Dr Ward has worked hard to establish and expand your Association in this country and elsewhere. He has also served faithfully in the European working group of Catholic Family Associations. I thank him for his untiring work.

Let me begin by explaining something about the Pontifical Council for the Family, of which I am the President. The central governing body of the Catholic Church based in the Vatican is the Roman Curia. The structure of the Curia is like a government, insofar as it includes various ministries known as "Dicasteries" The Pontifical Council for the Family is one of these Dicasteries.

On May 13th, 1981, on the very day that the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, shed his blood in Saint Peter's Square, he established the Pontifical Council for the Family to be, as it were, the Church's special ministry for the family. As well as Cardinals and bishops, our Council includes twenty-five married couples, from various nations, who are full Members. We have expert consultants to guide us and a permanent staff of collaborators.

According to the mandate received from the Holy Father, the Pontifical Council works mainly in two fields, for the family and family life. Our work includes many areas, such as marriage preparation, natural regulation of fertility, the struggle against abortion and euthanasia, questions of family rights and family policies etc. But all these interesting and challenging matters are seen in the light of the family, where you and I were formed.

The subject of the Holy Father's catechesis on the family is very wide, but first we have to understand what the word "catechesis" means. Catechesis is not simply learning about religion, it is a deeper form of religious education which leads to faith, to commitment to Christ and His Church.

When he teaches about the nature and mission of the family, the Holy Father is thus not simply offering us interesting information about the family. He is inviting us to deepen our faith by learning what the family really is in God's plan. He is calling every family to become what it is meant to be in God's plan.

I will first indicate the main sources where you can find his catechesis on the family and outline some major themes in his teaching. Then I want to say something to the children.

The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (see note) stands out at the very centre of the Holy Father's catechesis on the family. Another most useful and more recent source is the Holy Father's Letter to Families, his special gift to us in 1994, the Year or the Family. I know that this Association has re-published and widely promoted the Letter to Families (see note). It is a rich source of encouragement not only to parents but to all members of families. The Pope's addresses given at papal audiences often refer to the family, especially during 1994, the Year of the Family, when some of you came to Rome to the great Meeting with the Holy Father. Because marriage is the basis of family life, his rich catechesis on marriage given at public audiences over several years is an enduring source for authentic teaching on family life.

I have selected seven at the Holy Father's main themes in catechesis for your reflection, and also to encourage you to grow as strong Christian families.

1. The family is based upon marriage between a man and a woman.

Marriage is an essential part of God's plan, since he created the human person in his own likeness and male and female he created them (Gen. 2:24). God created men and women for mutual self-giving, for passing on the gift of life, for mutual help and support, for fidelity, and steadfast love. We must honour and support marriage.

In his rich catechesis on marriage, Pope John Paul II reminds us that God created people not to be alone in this world but to live in community with one another. The source of unity in married life is marriage. The sacramental bond of marriage is binding, as Jesus Christ taught us. (Cf. Matthew 19: 3-97; Genesis 3. 24).

Today we must work hard to ensure that marriage is taken seriously within society. If marriage is regarded as just a piece or paper very soon the family becomes a bunch of individuals, each going his or her own way a social disintegration. As I travel around the world, I see the tragic and costly social effects of family breakdown in many countries. These are only some practical reasons why easy divorce is an irresponsible policy. The children are the main victims.

2. The family is a community of life and love.

Our Holy Father keeps these two words together—life and love. In God's plan, proclaimed by Pope John Paul VI in Humane Vitae, having children, transmitting God's gift of human life, is meant to be a truly responsible fatherhood and motherhood, as the Holy Father puts it in the Letter to Families, 12. Love and life are never to be torn apart, which is very different from "planned parenthood" or "family planning". In Familiaris Consortio 4 and 32 we find a guide to what is at stake in this question of the gift of life and the gift of love.

However, the family is also a community of life and love in the way it exists and grows day by day. It is described as a "communion of persons" in Familiaris Consortio 15, that members of families are meant to communicate with one another, to be open, to trust, to share, to give. In this regard, it is very important to eat meals together—and to know when to switch off the television!

3. The family is the first living cell of society.

Here, in Familiaris Consortio 42, we are at the heart of the social teaching of the Church, which is so important in the Magisterium of Pope John Paul II. Some people imagine that society is a collection of individuals, That mistake seemed to pervade the dominant thinking at the United Nations Conferences at Cairo and Beijing. But when we think carefully, it is not true that society is a collection of individuals. Families make up society. Families produce, nourish and form individuals who will in turn go on to make new families. This is the natural cycle of society.

This is one reason why the Holy Father constantly warns us against individualism. A selfish individualism leads to the anti-life mentality as I will discuss tomorrow afternoon at Westminster Central Hall. But the healthy, natural, family is a strong antidote to selfish individualism. Everyone has to help everyone else in the family. I am sure that the children here help in the home. The first living cell of society learns how to become open to others by defeating selfishness. The Christian family serves the poor, the outcast, the lonely and the weakest ones. The Christian family serves other families.

4. The family is the domestic church.

This is the teaching of the Second Vatican council in Lumen Gentium, explained in Familiaris Consortio 49. In his Letter to Families the Holy Father bases the domestic church on the Great Mystery of Jesus Christ the Bridegroom of the Church, and the mutual self-giving of sacramental marriage. Family prayer and living Christ's new commandment of love are at the heart of this domestic church. Cf. Familiaris Consortio 59-64.

The domestic church is called to evangelize. The Holy Father strongly underlines evangelization both in Familiaris Consortio 51-54 and Letter to Families 16 I invite your Association to study what the new evangelization means here in Great Britain today. So many families need to be evangelized.

5. The family is the sanctuary of life.

This is how the Holy Father presented the family's role of defending life by welcoming and celebrating the Gospel of life. In Evangelium Vitae 92-94. The sanctuary of life is derived from seeing the family as the community of life and love, called to become a communion of persons who all serve life.

The family must meet the challenge of the culture of death in which we live today. In the Letter to Families 21 the Holy Father traces out the "proclamation of life" in the infancy Gospels, which should inspire families to defend human life. In Evangelium Vitae 94, he concentrates on elderly people, and how the sanctuary of life needs to be supported as it serves the elderly.

6. The family has its own rights—and duties.

In Familiaris Consortio 46, the Holy Father outlined some at the rights of the family that were later set out in detail in the Charter of the Rights of the Family, a most important guide, especially for parents today. In the Letter to Families 17, we find a deeper discussion of these rights in society, touching on such questions as the family and the nation, politics and the work of women,

In Rome, we recently held a meeting with world experts on the family and economy in the future of society, and these men and women of various faiths were strongly supportive of the Church's emphasis on the rights and role of the family. They responded positively to the need for families to associate, which is what you are doing through your national network (cf. Familiaris Consortio 72). The rights of the family will not be recognised and respected unless families work together.

7. The family must become what it is.

This is one of the most intriguing messages within the catechesis of the Holy Father in Familiaris Consortio. It is a paradox, at first sight, for how can something become what it is? What the Pope is saying is that the family must develop its full potential according to God's plan, for its own inner life as a community of persons based on marriage, for its service of life, for its wider role in society and for its life of faith within the Church (cf. Familiaris Consortio 17). Again we touch on the need for families to associate, for families to serve one another.

Finally, I want to talk to the children who are here today. The grown-ups can listen too.

Dear children, Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II loves you very much. Perhaps some of you have seen him. Is there anyone here who has seen the Pope? (a number of hands go up) Always love the Pope and follow his teachings, then you will be good Catholics.

One day, when you grow up, most of you will be called by Jesus to get married and to become mothers and fathers with your own family. Jesus will call some of you to be priests or religious sisters, and you will work for God's family, the Church. Whatever plans God has in store for you, I want you never to forget your parents and what they teach you. They love you, even when you misbehave. They always care for you, even when you forget to say "thank you". They are always there, even when you do not think about them. One day, I pray that you will be just like them in loving and caring for your children.

Never forget that you are Catholics. This means that you are different to other people, not better than others, but different. Do not be afraid to be different, because God has called you to be members of his special family, the Church. One day we hope to be gathered together with Jesus in heaven, and there we will all be one family.

Dear children, your greatest treasure and your most sure source of confidence is the love, the unity, the example and the witness of your parents. You have the essential right to be loved.