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Pope Benedict XVI . . . The Legacy Of John Paul II On Marriage And Family

August 14, 2019 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

(Editor’s Note: Below is the address of Pope Benedict XVI to members of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family on the occasion of the institute’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Pope Benedict delivered this historic address on May 11, 2006 in the Hall of Blessings.
(Following the address are some quotations from John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, an apostolic exhortation dated November 22, 1981. Familiaris Consortio therefore also celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2006.
(Both texts are from Libreria Editrice Vaticana. All rights reserved.)

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Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I meet you today with great joy on this twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Pontifical Lateran University. I greet you all with affection and I thank you for the great affection that I have encountered. I warmly thank Monsignor Livio Melina for his kind words and also for his briefness. We will be able to read what he wished to say, while more time will be left for friendly exchanges.
The beginning of your Institute is connected with a singular event: On that day, May 13, 1981, my beloved Predecessor John Paul II suffered the well-known serious attack on his life during the Audience at which he was to have announced the creation of your Institute.
This event has special importance at this commemoration, which we are celebrating a little more than a year after his death. You have wished to emphasize it with the fitting initiative of a Congress on The Legacy of John Paul II on Marriage and Family: Loving Human Love.
You rightly feel that this legacy of yours is very special, since the vision that is one of the structural centers of his mission and reflections was addressed to you and you are its perpetuators: God’s plan for marriage and the family.
This bequest is not merely a collection of doctrines or ideas but first and foremost a teaching endowed with enlightening unity on the meaning of human love and life. The presence of numerous families at this Audience — therefore not only the students of the present and the past but above all the students of the future — is a particularly eloquent testimony of how the teaching of this truth has been received and has borne fruit.
As a young priest, Karol Wojtyla already had the idea of “teaching how to love.” It was later to fill him with enthusiasm when, as a young Bishop, he confronted the difficult times that followed the publication of my Predecessor Paul VI’s prophetic and ever timely Encyclical Humanae Vitae.
It was then that he realized the need for a systematic study of this topic. It was the basis of this teaching which he later offered to the entire Church in his unforgettable Catechesis on human love.
Thus, two fundamental elements were highlighted that in recent years you have sought to examine more deeply and that give novelty to your Institute as an academic reality with a specific mission in the Church.
The first element concerns the fact that marriage and the family are rooted in the inmost nucleus of the truth about man and his destiny. Sacred Scripture reveals that the vocation to love is part of the authentic image of God which the Creator has desired to impress upon His creature, calling them to resemble Him precisely to the extent in which they are open to love.
Consequently, the sexual difference that distinguishes the male from the female body is not a mere biological factor but has a far deeper significance. It expresses that form of love with which man and woman, by becoming one flesh, as Sacred Scripture says, can achieve an authentic communion of people open to the transmission of life and who thus cooperate with God in the procreation of new human beings.
A second element marks the newness of John Paul II’s teaching on human love: his original way of interpreting God’s plan precisely in the convergence of divine Revelation with the human experience. Indeed, in Christ, fullness of the Revelation of the Father’s love, is also expressed the full truth of the human vocation to love that can only be found completely in the sincere gift of self.
In my recent Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, I wanted to emphasize that it is precisely through love that “the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny” (n. 1) shines forth.
In other words, God used the way of love to reveal the intimate mystery of His Trinitarian life. Furthermore, the close relationship that exists between the image of God-Love and human love enables us to understand that: “Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice-versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love” (n. 11).
It is here that the duty incumbent on the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in academic structures overall stands out: to illumine the truth of love as a path to fullness in every form of human life. The great challenge of the new evangelization that John Paul II proposed with such enthusiasm needs to be sustained with a truly profound reflection on human love, since precisely this love is the privileged path that God chose to reveal himself to man and in this love he calls human beings to communion in the Trinitarian life.
This approach enables us also to overcome a private conception of love that is so widespread today. Authentic love is transformed into a light that guides the whole of life towards its fullness, generating a society in which human beings can live. The communion of life and love which is marriage thus emerges as an authentic good for society.
Today, the need to avoid confusing marriage with other types of unions based on weak love is especially urgent. It is only the rock of total, irrevocable love between a man and a woman that can serve as the foundation on which to build a society that will become a home for all mankind.
The importance of the Institute’s work in the Church’s mission explains its structure: In fact, John Paul II approved a single Institute but with different headquarters located on the five continents, for the purpose of offering a reflection that would display the riches of the one truth in the plurality of cultures.
This unity of vision in research and teaching, embracing the diversity of places and sensibilities, constitutes a value which you must safeguard, developing the riches embedded in each culture. This feature of the Institute has proven to be particularly suited to the study of a reality such as that of the marriage and family. Your work can express how the gift of creation lived in the different cultures was raised to a redeeming grace by Christ’s redemption.
To be successful in your mission as the faithful heirs of the Institute’s Founder, beloved John Paul II, I ask you to look to Mary Most Holy, Mother of Fair Love. The redeeming love of the Incarnate Word must be transformed into “fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 42), for every marriage and in every family.
I offer you all, dear teachers, students of today and yesterday and the staff in charge, as well as all the families who look up to your Institute, my most cordial good wishes, which I accompany with a special Apostolic Blessing.
(© Copyright 2006 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

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Following are some excerpts from John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, his apostolic exhortation dated November 22, 1981:
Since God’s plan for marriage and the family touches men and women in the concreteness of their daily existence in specific social and cultural situations, the Church ought to apply herself to understanding the situations within which marriage and the family are lived today, in order to fulfill her task of serving.
This understanding is, therefore, an inescapable requirement of the work of evangelization. It is, in fact, to the families of our times that the Church must bring the unchangeable and ever new Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as it is the families involved in the present conditions of the world that are called to accept and to live the plan of God that pertains to them. Moreover, the call and demands of the Spirit resound in the very events of history, and so the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family by the circumstances, the questions and the anxieties and hopes of the young people, married couples and parents of today.
To this ought to be added a further reflection of particular importance at the present time. Not infrequently ideas and solutions which are very appealing but which obscure in varying degrees the truth and the dignity of the human person, are offered to the men and women of today, in their sincere and deep search for a response to the important daily problems that affect their married and family life. These views are often supported by the powerful and pervasive organization of the means of social communication, which subtly endanger freedom and the capacity for objective judgment.
Many are already aware of this danger to the human person and are working for the truth. The Church, with her evangelical discernment, joins with them, offering her own service to the truth, to freedom and to the dignity of every man and every woman.

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The situation in which the family finds itself presents positive and negative aspects: The first are a sign of the salvation of Christ operating in the world; the second, a sign of the refusal that man gives to the love of God.
On the one hand, in fact, there is a more lively awareness of personal freedom and greater attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in marriage, to promoting the dignity of women, to responsible procreation, to the education of children. There is also an awareness of the need for the development of interfamily relationships, for reciprocal spiritual and material assistance, the rediscovery of the ecclesial mission proper to the family and its responsibility for the building of a more just society.
On the other hand, however, signs are not lacking of a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values: a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality.
At the root of these negative phenomena there frequently lies a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being.
Worthy of our attention also is the fact that, in the countries of the so-called Third World, families often lack both the means necessary for survival, such as food, work, housing and medicine, and the most elementary freedoms. In the richer countries, on the contrary, excessive prosperity and the consumer mentality, paradoxically joined to a certain anguish and uncertainty about the future, deprive married couples of the generosity and courage needed for raising up new human life: Thus life is often perceived not as a blessing, but as a danger from which to defend oneself.
The historical situation in which the family lives therefore appears as an interplay of light and darkness.

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Daily experience unfortunately shows that people who have obtained a divorce usually intend to enter into a new union, obviously not with a Catholic religious ceremony. Since this is an evil that, like the others, is affecting more and more Catholics as well, the problem must be faced with resolution and without delay. The Synod Fathers studied it expressly. The Church, which was set up to lead to salvation all people and especially the baptized, cannot abandon to their own devices those who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second marriage. The Church will therefore make untiring efforts to put at their disposal her means of salvation.
Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.
Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them, and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: If these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
Reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
Similarly, the respect due to the Sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.
By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.
With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance, and charity.
(© Copyright 2006 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

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