Proclaiming the Splendid Truth of the Family

Author: Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo

Proclaiming the Splendid Truth of the Family

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


The following address was delivered in English by Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, at the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars' 27th Anniversary Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., on 24 September.

Ten years ago, in 1994, the Year of the Family was convoked by the United Nations, after some unexpected events and opposition from certain nations and groups. The Holy Father immediately saw the importance of such an event and with much interest welcomed the initiative.

The Year of the Family in the Church, as we know, was celebrated with great jubilation, dynamism and hope. The Holy See not only made itself present in the various stages of the United Nations' preparations and in the different programmes that were held, but also, within the Church, encouraged numerous activities in many Episcopal Conferences, Dioceses, parishes, apostolic movements, nongovernment organizations, etc.

It commissioned the Pontifical Council for the Family to extensively plan theological reflections and pastoral animations of wide repercussions.

'Year of the Family'

The United Nations was grateful for all the Church's support. The Holy Father's close accompaniment was continuous, and his efforts were a unique stimulus and inspiration for all.

It was furthermore necessary to guide certain concepts and directions in something that was without doubt historical, but which was also challenging, given that certain tendencies showed the need for fundamental clarifications regarding the concept itself of family founded
on marriage, which ran the risk of losing its core and its meaning.

We could not leave to oblivion certain themes that came up especially during the preparation of the Cairo Conference on population and development.

One problem that came up ever since the beginning stages of the preparation for the Year of the Family was the attempt to consider families, in the plural, and to avoid the use of the singular, the family. That was the goal: to impose an unacceptable interpretation that evaded the model of the family willed by God, in this natural institution that should be recognized without reluctance and with all the consequences as the basic unit of society.

The use in the plural of the families opened the doors to diverse and capricious concepts of families, dissipating its "truth".

In certain parliaments and institutions, tendencies were already being announced that in these last 10 years would introduce remarkable conceptual ambiguities, giving rise to serious confusion in the philosophical, juridical, anthropological and cultural realms, the effects of which are now evident.

This was, in broad strokes, the context that the Church has always wanted to underline. The Year of the Family was in itself a positive event; but it required particular attention and reflection, since in certain milieus even within the Church there were signs of less profound insight and coherence regarding the truth of the family.

Reflection on the family

This was the context, I think, in which the Holy Father thought out and formulated the Letter to Families. It represented a special gift for the Church, and carried the date of 2 February 1994. It was a privileged occasion to echo with great force the proclamation of this Good News, of this Gospel, of this "splendid news".

It would be good to say something about the literary genre of this most important Document of great impact, and which is part of the radiant triptych of his Magisterium: the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, the Letter to Families and the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

I have thought that a document of similar value and depth could have been an encyclical. The Holy Father wanted it to be a "Letter", which we usually cite as "Gratissimam Sane", and with which he knocks with fatherly hope on the doors of our homes.

The Letter begins thus: "Dear Families! The celebration of the Year of the Family gives me a welcome opportunity to knock at the door of your home, eager to greet you with deep affection and to spend time with you".

The first Document of the triptych, as I have just mentioned, is the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. It was the first of his Pontificate and corresponded to the Bishops' Synod on the Family.

This has been the literary genre for documents based on the Bishops' Synods: the Holy Father gathers the propositions presented to him by the Bishops, and after careful elaboration and profound study presents them to the Church.

Perhaps, and this is just my personal perception, the Holy Father did not wish that by using the genre of an "Encyclical", the immense value of the cited Document would sort of be diffused. Thus, he preferred to call it a "Letter". The name "Encyclical" was used for Evangelium Vitae out of consideration for the Cardinals' desire that the proclamation and defence contained in the Document they requested from the Pope would have a special significance, due to the special meaning and transcendence of its theme.

The Holy Father has also called other documents "Letters".

Within the subject we are dealing with, we also find the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, dated 15 August 1988. To a great extent it tackles the theme of the woman, who is spouse, mother, daughter and sister, and who performs an important task in society, without this important quality being opposed but rather integrated into a vocation to which she is fittingly called. The eminent dignity of the woman should be acknowledged and fully respected.

In the same Year of the Family, on 13 December 1994, the Holy Father John Paul II wrote the Christmas Letter to all children, Ad Paucos Deis, brief, full of love and tenderness towards those who are the centre of the home, object of the tenderness and care of their parents, by way of a simple dialogue.

On 29 June 1995, he wrote the Letter to Women of the whole world, A Ciascuna di Voi.

'Patrimony of humanity'

With the date of 22 October 1983, we have the Charter of the Rights of the Family of the Holy See, which had been requested during the Synod dedicated to the Family. It is a valuable instrument of dialogue which considers the family as a subject in which all other members are integrated, with their rights and duties, within the recognition due it by the State.

The Holy Father formulated the Letter to Families, the volume and importance of which were appreciated. Being closely related with Familiaris Consortio, but without in the least becoming its repetition, he treats questions of great importance, with the focus, experience and richness of his work in the Church.

Gathering the historical challenges faced by the family, which he would later call "patrimony of humanity", he profoundly reflects on the "splendid news" of its identity in the reciprocal gift that spouses exchange in their total self-giving. Explaining the demands of this reciprocal self-giving by the spouses in marriage, which is the foundation of the family, and the characteristic values dealt with in Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae, he reflects on conjugal love, which is faithful, exclusive, lasting until death and open to the gift of life.

This Letter does not only penetrate questions of greater relevance today, but also by dealing with openness to life it adequately prepares and treats themes falling under proclamation and respect for life, which anticipated the historical Encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

Some thought that a new document would no longer be necessary, since the `` had made a complete consideration of serious questions such as abortion and other attacks against human life that increased at an alarming rate.

Luckily the Successor of Peter did not listen to such insinuations, even as he formulated his rich teachings and defence against abuses against life that were explicitly requested from him by the Cardinals in the Extraordinary Consistory that took place from 4 to 7 April 1991. Their vote was unanimous, asking him "to reaffirm with the authority of the Successor of Peter the value of human life and its inviolability, in the light of present circumstances and attacks threatening it today" (Evangelium Vitae, n. 5).

Family-life link

What I have called a triptych abundantly shows how family and life are inseparable, and how the domestic Church is at the same time the sanctuary of life and its cradle, and how human procreation forms an essential part of the mission of marriage. This explains why in the pastoral field the Pontifical Council for the Family normally has as participants in the Episcopal Conferences the Commission on Family and Life, and how the Pontifical Academy for Life in another domain and the Dicastery for the Family (Pontifical Council for the Family) should work closely with each other, each in its own sphere and at the service of the Successor of Peter.

Let us now see some aspects of the Letter to Families that have particular importance.
I do not wish to extend too much in this occasion to make a more complete presentation.
I would like to point out once more the great value of Gratissimam Sane, which has notably nourished the reflections of theologians and pastoralists, of the Commissions in Episcopal Conferences and Dioceses, parishes and apostolic movements that work with great dynamism.

Meaning of conjugal love

Gratissimam Sane has a notable anthropological depth. Its reflection reveals the profound
value of the concept of the truth about man, marriage, the family. It has contributed a lot to
the thought regarding the value and meaning of conjugal love, beginning from the reciprocal
self-giving of the spouses and its demands.

Its brilliance takes it roots from the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and more
concretely from the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, and from the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. It also receives influence from the Encyclical VeritatisSplendor. It additionally bases itself on Gaudium et Spes, "Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family" (Part II, Chap. I).

The Conciliar principle which is without doubt most often cited in the Magisterium of the Holy Father on marriage and the family and which appears often in the Letter to Families is the following: "man... is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself", and that he "cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 24).
It is thus the reflection on "the gift", the reciprocation of the spouses in offering or giving themselves, that of the children, who are God's gifts, the most precious gifts to the parents, to the family and to society.

The concepts of the Church as the family of God, of human society as family of the peoples, that have characterized the continental Synods, especially the Synod on Africa, find in this Letter a rich inspiration (cf. especially Ecclesia in Africa, n. 6; Ecclesia in Asia, n. 13; Ecclesia in America, n. 32).

The Letter assumes and qualifies the uneasy dimension of the challenges that family and life face, without forgetting the progress made in the different fields and the great number of marriages that give living witness. The atmosphere of hope dominates in the face of a crisis that presents its objectivity.

Family pillar of society

The divine plan on marriage and the family, fundamental pillar of society and of the Church that has to found a "civilization of love", is in stark contrast from a destructive anti-civilization that takes the form of many tendencies and situations that in fact threaten "a kind of cultural uprooting", which is the greatest danger that should be exposed, and a kind of progressive dehumanization in the name of "modernization", and which
is supported by a secularism bordering with neopaganism,

The crisis that has been increasing in the last decade is manifested in evil laws, which reveal the attitude of not a few members of parliament. Such a phenomenon is a crisis: "Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound 'crisis of truth'?" (Gratissimam Sane, n. 13).

Romano Guardini forewarned of this phenomenon which he described as a disease of the soul, precisely because the soul without the truth is sick and gives rise to an inhuman man.
The Pope's diagnosis is realistic and worrying: "A crisis of truth means, in the first place, a crisis of concepts" (ibid., n. 13). John Paul II continues: "Do the words 'love', 'freedom', 'sincere gift', and even 'person' and 'rights of the person', really convey their essential meaning"? (ibid.).

As an effort to respond to such grave confusion, the Pontifical Council for the Family has come up with the Lexicon: Ambiguous and Discussed Terms on Family, Life and Ethical Questions. The book has been published in Italian and Spanish, and will be soon out in French; steps have recently been initiated for the publication of the English edition.
It frees the truth imprisoned by a "culture" that, having lost its values, leads to a defeat in terms of true humanity, and which obliges in us a passion for the truth.

The Encyclical Veritatis Splendor had to examine the foundations themselves of moral truth. Not a few allow themselves to be seduced by a false science and think they serve the Church by surrendering to all sorts of pressures and hiding the demands.

Have we not seen such behaviour in the ethical relativism that slips into the adjusted interpretations not only of Humanae Vitae, but also of the concepts of contraception, contragestation? The definitions of family and life are changed.

This Letter warns that today we consider that man, unique and unrepeatable, cannot be separated from this way, the family. He comes to the world through the family and "owe[s] to the family the very fact of his existing as an individual" (Gratissimam Sane, n. 2).

Thus, "when he has no family, the person coming into the world develops an anguished sense of pain and loss, one which will subsequently burden his whole life" (ibid.). It is the proof that cannot be hidden: only through the family can man integrally humanize himself. It is an irreplaceable institution.

That is why "the Church considers serving the family to be one of her essential duties" (ibid.). One must go to what is central, essential. Otherwise, one is ruined.

To keep silent, not to announce the Gospel of the family and life or to soften it through an incoherent political position, is to contribute to the defeat of man, whose future would be removed from hope.

The family is and has always been considered the first and fundamental expression of the social nature of man. Its essential nucleus has not been changed, not even today. The family constitutes the smallest and primordial human community (cf. Gratissimam Sane, n. 7).

A number of clarifications that have been incorporated into the habitual language of theologians and pastoralists in this priority action of the Church come from Gratissimam Sane.

Man and woman: 'one flesh'

Emphasis and reflections on the truth of the Gospel and of life have been considered. These have been placed on guard, along the line of Familiaris Consortio, with regards to new problems that have been seriously burdening a certain crumbling of the structure and identity of the family. This has occurred within the immense surprise regarding new hostilities from certain tendencies that manifest a torment of the cultural uprooting stated above, of forgetting the existence of a natural law and of its demands, of the eclipse of a concept of the dignity of the person, that brings about a certain dismantling of that which should be a community of persons and thus the first human society (cf. ibid., n. 7).

This stable community of love and life, built upon the pact of marriage, "is brought to completion in a full and specific way with the procreation of children: the 'communion' of the spouses gives rise to the 'community' of the family" (ibid.). The personal communion of the "I" and "you" opens itself up through human procreation towards the most noble task of paternity and maternity, which is made through the permanent fidelity in mutual self-giving.
Conjugal love brings along with it "the truth of the person", its rational and free being, eminent image of God who has his roots and is deduced from the mystery of the Trinitarian "We".

"The family, which originates in the love of man and woman, ultimately derives from the mystery of God. This conforms to the innermost being of man and woman, to their innate and authentic dignity as persons" (ibid., n. 8).

In conjugal love, uniting themselves in "one flesh", their union takes place "in truth and love" (ibid.). Man is called from conception and birth, as a new being, to regard himself as a person, and is destined to express the plenitude of his humanity (cf. ibid., n. 91).

The family fulfils itself in the process of conjugal love from which new life arises as a common good of the same family and of humanity (cf. ibid., n. 11). There is not even a minimal opposition between love among spouses, that is due reciprocally, and being instruments of God's love in procreation.

The children's new life is not limited to a merely biological level, but implies an integral procreation that demands the true education of children.

How far this is from a minimalist vision, from a sort of alteration that transforms integral human procreation into production, in an almost technical language, that does not fail to hide the fact that a person is conceived as an object, as a thing, and that the personal loving
encounter is subject to a technical mediation with the illicit modes of "assisted fecundity". In this way the self-giving and encounter of bodies and spirits are replaced by dehumanizing technical advances, in the drama of those who desire a child as if it were a right at all cost.

How far is what we really are from the concept of de facto unions, in its different versions, which in such juridical fiction rob marriage of its identity. How can we conceive of the family apart from a genuine concept of "gift"?
"The family is indeed — more than any other human reality — the place where an individual can exist 'for himself' through the sincere gift of self" (ibid., n. 11). What some attempt to introduce still remains a caricature, in a profound dehumanization, sustained in a false concept of law and of that which is discrimination, of that which is the ideology of "gender".

Men, women in the Church

It is bitterly surprising that. God's plan is changed, that the complement between man and woman is changed through this odd position that was never known in the various cultures and religions. How can we explain why some government leaders and members of parliament see a progress, a gain, of freedom, democracy, in a superficial hypothesis that does not contemplate man and woman as they are and how God has wanted them to be?

A Document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was necessary. I refer to the recent "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World", dated 31 May of this year. The concepts of "opposition between men and women", and of course, of "gender", have as a consequence a "harmful confusion regarding the human person, which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family" (Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women, n. 2).

As to the ideology of "gender", "The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels" (ibid.).

"Its deeper motivation must be sought in the human attempt to be freed from one's biological conditioning. According to this perspective, human nature in itself does not possess characteristics in an absolute manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like, since they are free from every predetermination linked to their essential constitution" (ibid., n. 3).

The social influence, cultural evolution, an arbitrary concept of freedom, would replace the plan of God which is full of love and wisdom, regarding the complementarity of the sexes. This Document cites the "Letter to Families" several times.

A community of persons is in opposite poles with the inhuman "community" of things, which is the destruction of the whole concept of what is marriage.

We are victims of ethical relativism, of utilitarianism denounced in the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

"Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of 'things' and not of 'persons', a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used. In the context of a civilization of use, woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom of its members" (Gratissimum Sane, n. 13).

The situation cannot be more alarming: "It is evident that in this sort of a cultural situation the family cannot fail to feel threatened, since it is endangered at its very foundations" (ibid.).

Sex made banal, sex education with models that give rise to a false anthropology, love converted into egoism: are they not a tremendous threat to society? And these are the ways of life that many wish to impose!

To work for the family is to liberate society from a profound dehumanization. "Within a similar anthropological perspective,... man... ceases to live as a person and a subject. Regardless of all intentions and declarations to the contrary, he becomes merely an object" (ibid., n. 19).

Since "modern rationalism does not tolerate mystery" (ibid.), man becomes a reality unknown to himself (cf. ibid.), an incognito, and rushes to his own ruin.

Another aspect that is of certain originality in the Letter to Families is the deepening of the meaning of subject in the community of the family.

The family can be atomized or separated into the members composing it. This is proper of an individualistic form of thinking and leaves its traces in some legislations. It is the doubt raised in the Convention of the Rights of the Child itself of the United Nations, which in some points does not remove such conditioning.

The family is not taken as a whole, truly as a community, but rather children are considered separately from the parents. This is the temptation when one removes children from the environment of their parents in their sexual education, for example, and when one considers their problems without relying on those who have given them life.

Furthermore, in the relationship between the family and the state, respect due the family and its relative independence is lost, and thus the family is invaded, is "colonized". This is well-known in totalitarianisms and in the phenomena of privatization, considered elsewhere (see my article, Familia y Privatización, in Lexicón. Términos ambiguos y discutidos sobre familia, vida y cuestiones éticas).

The family would no longer be of great public interest, protected by laws, but a phenomenon reduced to the private sphere, to the whims of the spouses. Its public and political dimensions, central in social life, have to be preserved.

The family "expects a recognition of its identity and an acceptance of its status as a subject in society" (Gratissimum Sane, n. 17).

"As a community of love and life, the family is a firmly grounded social reality. It is also, in a way entirely its own, a sovereign society, albeit conditioned in certain ways" (ibid.).

At this point the Letter to Families treats the Charter of the Rights of the Family, dated 1983, which maintains its ardent relevance. Formulated by the Holy See, its great importance for dialogue and for legislatures has been proven.

Some rights refer to the family, others to life (cf. ibid.). It consolidates the family institution in national and international communities with an "almost organic" link.

The family contributes to the nation's cultural patrimony and emanates its own culture and language, which helps the family and the nation find its spiritual sovereignty.

As we have indicated earlier, this Letter is a cry and a protest against the attacks against the dignity of human life and an anticipation of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

Family as centre of life

The family is in the midst of a decisive combat for a humanity with a face that is, we repeat, human.

"The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family.... The family is placed at the centre of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death.... To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man" (Gratissimum Sane, n. 23).

Just a few more words before concluding these lines. In this historical combat the family maintains a strong current of energy, which is seen in the millions and millions of homes that splendidly give their witnessing. With extraordinary dynamism, the movements, parishes and the force of the good abound.

There is an immense reaction to give a soul to the world from the faith, for the family, source of humanization.

The Holy Father insistently convokes us to prayer, and for this reason he directs himself to all families, regardless of the diversity and complexity of the cultures (cf. ibid., n. 4), to ask for a new sending of the Spirit, so that by virtue of his love he may be infused into their hearts (cf. ibid.).

He invites us to discover the Lord in ourselves. To this end the Pope dedicates the whole of the second chapter, "The Bridegroom is with You".

This splendid truth of the family moves us to joyfully announce it to the world, thus sowing the hope of life and the family in the Lord, who is victorious.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
3 November 2004, page 8

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