Marriage and the Family

By Maurice Healy

In marking the beginning of the New Year, Pope Benedict XVI returned to the themes of marriage and family and their importance to humanity, as he repeated the Second Vatican Council’s description of the family as “the primary living cell of society.” “The natural family, founded on marriage between a man and a woman, is the cradle of life and love and the first and indispensable teacher of peace,” the pope said at a St. Peter’ s Basilica Mass, Jan. 1.

In a commentary released earlier for the World Day of Peace, which the Church marks on Jan 1, Pope Benedict said, “The natural family, as an intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman, constitutes the primary place of humanization for the person and society, and a cradle of life and love. The family is therefore rightly defined as the first natural society, a divine institution that stands at the foundation of life of the human person as the prototype of every social order.” Throughout his papacy, Pope Benedict has addressed the concerns of marriage and family many times. For example, speaking to a diocesan group last June at the Vatican, the pope said that, contrary to what many people think today, marriage is not a “casual sociological construction,” but a reflection of the truth about the human person, the meaning of life and the relationship of human beings with the God who created them out of love and for love.

“Human sexuality is not something that exists alongside our being a person, but belongs to it.”

~ Pope Benedict XVI

The pope said a lifelong pledge of fidelity between a man and a woman and the openness to having children also are a reflection of the identity of the human person as an “indissoluble” unity of body and spirit.

“Man is a soul which expresses itself in the body and a body that is given life by an immortal spirit,” the pope said.

“The body of man and of woman has, then, a theological character that is not simply corporeal, and that which is biological in the human person is not simply biological, but is an expression and fulfillment of our humanity,” Pope Benedict said.

“Human sexuality is not something that exists alongside our being a person, but belongs to it,” he said.

When a man and a woman say “yes” to each other, they are pledging their entire being to one another: body and soul. Saying “yes” implies using one’ s freedom to make a choice and a commitment, he said.

“The greatest expression of freedom is not the search for pleasure without ever making a true decision; rather, it is the ability to make a decision about a definitive gift in which freedom, freely given, finds its fullest expression,” the pope noted.

“The various modern forms of the dissolution of marriage — like free unions, ‘ trial marriages’ and the pseudo marriage between persons of the same sex — are expressions of an anarchic freedom,” he said.

What many people today think of as freedom is a way of acting based on the idea that each person should do whatever he or she wants, whenever he or she wants, paying no attention to what it means to have been created male and female and called to love completely and responsibly, the pope said.

Just as understanding the full meaning of human sexuality requires an acknowledgment of the human vocation to love, so the true meaning of parenthood can be grasped only when seen in the light of love, Pope Benedict said.

The pope said it is “contrary to human love, to the profound vocation of man and of woman, to systematically close their union to the gift of life and, even worse, to suppress or tamper with the life about to be born.”

Pope Benedict said the Church’ s obligation to help build strong families must not stop with defending marriage, preparing engaged couples and helping married couples in crisis.

The fundamental role of parents to educate their children in the faith, in morality and in good citizenship also is under attack today, he said.

“A particularly insidious obstacle to education today,” he said, “is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism, which recognizes nothing as definitive, leaving as the ultimate standard only the individual and his or her desires.”

The pope said that without guidance a person’ s individuality and desires end up “being a prison,” rather than freedom.

Maurice Healy is Director of Communications for the San Francisco Archdiocese and Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of Catholic San Francisco.

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