Familiaris Consortio (The Family)

--III. Participating in the Development of Society

42. The Family as the first and vital cell of society

"Since the Creator of all things has established the conjugal partnership as the beginning and basis of human society," the family is "the first and vital cell of society" 105.

The family has vital and organic links with society since it is its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of service to life: It is from the family that citizens come to birth and it is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself.

Thus, far from being closed in on itself, the family is by nature and vocation open to other families and to society and undertakes its social role.

43. Family life as an experience of communion and sharing

The very experience of communion and sharing that should characterize the family's daily life represents its first and fundamental contribution to society.

The relationships between the members of the family community are inspired and guided by the law of "free giving." By respecting and fostering personal dignity in each and every one as the only basis for value, this free giving takes the form of heartfelt acceptance, encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service and deep solidarity.

Thus the fostering of authentic and mature communion between persons within the family is the first and irreplaceable school of social life, an example and stimulus for the broader community of relationships marked by respect, justice, dialogue and love.

The family is thus, as the synod fathers recalled, the place of origin and the most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society: It makes an original contribution in depth in building up the world, by making possible a life that is, properly speaking, human, in particular by guarding and transmitting virtues and "values." As the Second Vatican Council states, in the family "the various generations come together and help one another to grow wiser and to harmonize personal rights, with the other requirements of social living" 106.

Consequently, faced with a society that is running the risk of becoming more and more depersonalized and standardized and therefore inhuman and dehumanizing, with the negative results of many forms of escapism -- such as alcoholism, drugs and even terrorism -- the family possesses and continues still to release formidable energies capable of taking man out of his autonomity, keeping him conscious of his personal dignity, enriching him with deep humanity and actively placing him, in his uniqueness and unrepeatability, within the fabric of society.

44. The social and political role

The social role of the family certainly cannot stop short at procreation and education even if this constitutes its primary and irreplaceable form of expression.

Families therefore, either singly or in association, can and should devote themselves to manifold social service activities, especially in favor of the poor or at any rate for the benefit of all people and situations that cannot be reached by the public authorities' welfare organization.

The social contribution of the family has an original character of its own, one that should be given greater recognition and more decisive encouragement, especially as the children grow up, and actually involving all its members as much as possible 107.

In particular, note must be taken of the ever greater importance in our society of hospitality in all its forms, from opening the door of one's home, and still more of one's heart, to the pleas of one's brothers and sisters, to concrete efforts to ensure that every family has its own home as the natural environment that preserves it and makes it grow. In a special way the Christian family is called upon to listen to the apostle's recommendation. "Practice hospitality" 108 and therefore, imitating Christ's example and sharing in his love, welcome the brother or sister in need: "Whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" 109.

The social role of families is called upon to find expression also in the form of political intervention: Families should be the first to take steps to see that the laws and institutions of the state not only do not offend, but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family. Along these lines families should grow in awareness of being "protagonists" of what is know as "family politics" and assume responsibility for transforming society; otherwise families will be the first victims of the evils that they have done no more than note with indifference. The Second Vatican Council's appeal to go beyond an individualistic ethic therefore holds good for the family as such 110.

45. Society at the service of the family

Just as the intimate connection between the family and society demands that the family be open to and participate in society its development, so also it requires that society should never fail in its fundamental task of respecting and fostering the family.

The family and society have complementary functions in defending and fostering the good of each and every human being. But society -- more specifically the state -- must recognize that "the family is a society in its own original right" 111, and so society is under a grave obligation in its relations with the family to adhere to the principle of subsidiarity. The public authorities should take care not to take from families the functions that they can just as well perform on their own or in free associations; instead it must positively favor and encourage as far as possible responsible initiative by families. In the conviction that the good of the family is an indispensable and essential value of the civil community, the public authorities must do everything possible to ensure that families have all those aids -- economic, social, educational, political and cultural assistance -- that they need in order to face all their responsibilities in a human way.

46. The charter of family rights

The ideal of mutual support and development between the family and society is often very seriously in conflict with the reality of their separation and even in opposition.

In fact, as was repeatedly denounced by the synod, the situation experienced by many families in various countries is highly problematical if not entirely negative: Institutions and laws unjustly ignore the inviolable rights of the family and of the human person; and society, far from putting itself at the service of the family attacks it violently in its values and fundamental requirements. Thus the family, which in God's plan is the basic cell of society and subject of rights and duties before the state or any other community, finds itself the victim of society, of the delays and slowness with which it acts, and even of its blatant injustice.

For this reason the Church openly and strongly defends the rights of the family against the intolerable usurptions of society and the state. In particular the synod fathers mentioned the following rights of the family:

Acceding to the synod's explicit request, the Holy See will give prompt attention to studying these suggestions in depth and to the preparation of a charter of rights of the family to be presented to the quarters and authorities concerned.

47. The Christian family's grace and responsibility

The social role that belongs to every family pertains by a new and original right to the Christian family, which is based on the Sacrament of Marriage. By taking up the human reality of the love between husband and wife in all its implications, the sacrament gives to Christian couples and parents a power and a commitment to live their vocation as lay people and therefore to "seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God" 113.

The social and political role is included in the kingly mission of service in which Christian couples share by virtue of the Sacrament of Marriage, and they receive both a command which they cannot ignore and a grace which sustains and stimulates them.

The Christian family is thus called to offer everyone a witness of generous and disinterested dedication to social matters through a "preferential option" for the poor and disadvantaged. Therefore, advancing in its following of the Lord by special love for all the poor, it must have special concern for the hungry, the poor, the old, the sick, drug victims and those who have no family.

48. For a new international order

In view of the worldwide dimension of various social questions nowadays, the family has seen its role with regard to the development of society extended in a completely new way: It now also involves cooperating for a new international order, since it is only in worldwide solidarity that the enormous and dramatic issues of world justice, the freedom of peoples and the peace of humanity can be dealt with and solved.

The spiritual communion between Christian families, rooted in a common faith and hope and give life by love constitutes an inner energy that generates, spreads and develops justice, reconciliation, fraternity and peace among human beings. Insofar as it is a "small scale church," the Christian family is called upon, like the "large-scale church," to be a sign of unity for the world and in this way to exercise its prophetic role by bearing witness to the kingdom and peace of Christ, toward which the whole world is journeying.

Christian families can do this through their educational activity -- that is to say, by presenting to their children a model of life based on the values of truth, freedom, justice and love -- both through active and responsible involvement in the authentically human growth of society and its institutions, and supporting in various ways the associations specifically devoted to international issues.

--IV. Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Church

49. The family within the mystery of the Church

Among the fundamental tasks of the Christian family is its ecclesial task: The family is placed at the service of the building up of the kingdom of God in history by participating in the life and mission of the Church.

In order to understand better the foundations, the contents and the characteristics of this participation, we must examine the many profound bonds linking the Church and the Christian family and establishing the family as a "church in miniature" (ecclesia domstica) 114, in such a way that in its own way the family is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the church.

It is, above all, the Church as mother that gives birth to, educates and builds up the Christian family by putting into effect in its regard the saving mission which she has received from her Lord. By proclaiming the word of God the Church reveals to the Christian family its true identity, what it is and should be according to the Lord's plan: by celebrating the sacraments the church enriches and strengthens the Christian family with the grace of Christ for its sanctification to the glory of the Father: by the continuous proclamation of the new commandment of love the Church encourages and guides the Christian family to the service of love so that it may imitate and relive the same self-giving and sacrificial love that the Lord Jesus has for the entire human race.

In turn, the Christian family is grafted into the mystery of the church to such a degree as to become a sharer, in its own way, in the saving mission proper to the Church: By virtue of the sacrament Christian married couples and parents "in their state and way of life have their own special gift among the people of God" 115. For this reason they not only receive the love of Christ and become a saved community, but they are also called upon to communicate Christ's love to their brethren thus becoming a saving community. In this way, while the Christian family is a fruit and sign of the supernatural fecundity of the Church, it stands also as a symbol, witness and participant of the Church's motherhood 116.

50. A specific and original ecclesial role

The Christian family is called upon to take part actively and responsibly in the mission of the Church in a way that is original and specific by placing itself in what it is and what it does as an "intimate community of life and love" at the service of the Church and of society.

Since the Christian family is a community in which the relationships are renewed by Christ through faith and the sacraments, the family's sharing in the Church's mission should follow a community pattern: The spouses together as a couple, the parents and children as a family, must live their service to the church and to the world. They must be "of one heart and soul" 117 in faith, through the shared apostolic zeal that animates them and through their shared commitment to works of service in the ecclesial and civil communities.

The Christian family also builds up the kingdom of God in history through the everyday realities that concern and distinguish its state of life. It is thus in the love between husband and wife and between the members of the family -- a love lived out in all its extraordinary richness of values and demands: totality, oneness, fidelity and fruitfulness 118 -- that the Christian family's participation in the prophetic, priestly and kingly mission of Jesus Christ and of his church finds expression and realization. Therefore, love and life constitute the nucleus of the saving mission of the Christian family in the Church and for the Church.

The Second Vatican Council recalls this fact when it writes: "Families will share their spiritual riches generously with other families too. Thus the Christian family, which springs from marriage as a reflection of the loving covenant uniting Christ with the Church, and as a participation in that covenant will manifest to all people the savior's living presence in the world, and the genuine nature of the Church. This the family will do by the mutual love of the spouses, by their generous fruitfulness, their solidarity and faithfulness, and by the loving way in which all the members of the family work together" 119.

Having laid the foundation of the participation of the Christian family in the Church's mission, it is now time to illustrate its substance in reference to Jesus Christ as prophet, priest and king -- three aspects of a single reality -- by presenting the Christian family as (1) a believing and evangelizing community, (2) a community in dialogue with God, and (3) a community at the service of man.

A. A Christian family as a believing and evangelizing community

51. Faith as the discovery and admiring awareness of God's plan for the family

As a sharer in the life and mission of the Church, which listens to the word of God with reverence and proclaims it confidently 120, the Christian family fulfills its prophetic role by welcoming and announcing the word of God: It thus becomes more and more each day a believing and evangelizing community.

Christian spouses and parents are required to offer "the obedience of faith" 121. They are called upon to welcome the word of the Lord, which reveals to them the marvelous news -- the good news -- of their conjugal and family life sanctified and made a source of sanctity by Christ himself. Only in faith can they discover and admire with joyful gratitude the dignity to which God has deigned to raise marriage and the family, making them a sign and meeting place of the loving covenant between God and man, between Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church.

The very preparation for Christian marriage is itself a journey of faith. It is a special opportunity for the engaged to rediscover and deepen the faith received in baptism and nourished by their Christian upbringing. In this way they come to recognize and freely accept their vocation to follow Christ and to serve the kingdom of God in the married state.

The celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage is the basic moment of the faith of the couple. This sacrament, in essence, is the proclamation in the Church of the good news, concerning married love. It is the word of God that "reveals" and "fulfills" the wise and loving plan of God for the married couple, giving them a mysterious and real share in the very love with which God himself loves humanity. Since the sacramental celebration of marriage is itself a proclamation of the word of God, it must also be a "profession of faith" within and with the Church, as a community of believers, on the part of all those who in different ways participate in its celebration.

This profession of faith demands that it be prolonged in the life of the married couple and of the family. God, who called the couple to marriage, continues to call them in marriage 122. In and through the events, problems, difficulties and circumstances of everyday life, God comes to them, revealing and presenting the concrete "demands" of their sharing in the love of Christ for his church in the particular family, social and ecclesial situation in which they find themselves.

The discovery of and obedience to the plan of God on the part of the conjugal and family community must take place in "togetherness," through the human experience of love between husband and wife, between parents and children, lived in the spirit of Christ.

Thus the little domestic church, like the greater church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in the faith.

52. The Christian family's ministry of evangelization

To the extent in which the Christian family accepts the Gospel and matures in faith, it becomes an evangelizing community. Let us listen again to Paul VI: "The family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them. And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families and of the neighborhood of which it forms a part" 123.

As the synod repeated, taking up the appeal which I launched at Puebla, the future of evangelization depends in great part on the church of the home 124. This apostolic mission of the family is rooted in baptism and receives from the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage new strength to transmit the faith, to sanctify and transform our present society according to God's plan.

Particularly today the Christian family has a special vocation to witness to the paschal covenant of Christ by constantly radiating the joy and love and the certainty of hope for which it must give account: "The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come" 125.

The absolute need for family catechists emerges with particular force in certain situations that the Church unfortunately experiences in some places: "In places where anti-religious legislation endeavors even to prevent education in the faith, and in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, 'the Church of the home' remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis" 126.

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