Letter to Families
Blessed Pope John Paul II
November 22, 1981
Blessed Pope John Paul II
November 22, 1981
The unity of the two
8. The Second Vatican Council, in speaking of the likeness of God, uses extremely significant terms. It refers not only to the divine image and likeness which every human being as such already possesses, but also and primarily to "a certain similarity between the union of the divine persons and the union of God's children in truth and love."
This rich and meaningful formulation first of all confirms what is central to the identity of every man and every woman. This identity consists in the capacity to live in truth and love; even more, it consists in the need of truth and love as an essential dimension of the life of the person. Man's need for truth and love opens him both to God and to creatures: it opens him to other people, to life "in communion," and in particular to marriage and to the family. In the words of the Council, the "communion" of persons is drawn in a certain sense from the mystery of the Trinitarian "We," and therefore "conjugal communion" also refers to this mystery. 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.
In marriage, man and woman are so firmly united as to become — to use the words of the Book of Genesis — "one flesh" (Gen 2:24). Male and female in their physical constitution, the two human subjects, even though physically different, share equally in the capacity to live "in truth and love." This capacity, characteristic of the human being as a person, has at the same time both a spiritual and a bodily dimension. It is also through the body that man and woman are predisposed to form a "communion of persons" in marriage. . . .
The sincere gift of self
11. After affirming that man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, the Council immediately goes on to say that he cannot "fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self." This might appear to be a contradiction, but in fact it is not. Instead it is the magnificent paradox of human existence: an existence called to serve the truth in love. Love causes man to find fulfillment through the sincere gift of self. To love means to give and to receive something which can be neither bought nor sold, but only given freely and mutually.
By its very nature, the gift of the person must be lasting and irrevocable. The indissolubility of marriage flows in the first place from the very essence of that gift: the gift of one person to another person. This reciprocal giving of self reveals the spousal nature of love. In their marital consent the bride and groom call each other by name: "I... take you... as my wife (as my husband) and I promise to be true to you... for all the days of my life." A gift such as this involves an obligation much more serious and profound than anything which might be "purchased" in any way and at any price. Kneeling before the Father, from whom all fatherhood and motherhood come, the future parents come to realize that they have been "redeemed." They have been purchased at great cost, by the price of the most sincere gift of all, the blood of Christ of which they partake through the Sacrament. . . .
It is the Gospel truth concerning the gift of self, without which the person cannot "fully find himself," which makes possible an appreciation of how profoundly this "sincere gift" is rooted in the gift of God, Creator and Redeemer, and in the "grace of the Holy Spirit" which the celebrant during the Rite of Marriage prays will be "poured out" on the spouses. Without such an "outpouring," it would be very difficult to understand all this and to carry it out as man's vocation. Yet how many people understand this intuitively! Many men and women make this truth their own, coming to discern that only in this truth do they encounter "the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6). Without this truth, the life of the spouses and of the family will not succeed in attaining a fully human meaning. . . .
Love is demanding
14. Love is true when it creates the good of persons and of communities; it creates that good and gives it to others. Only the one who is able to be demanding with himself in the name of love can also demand love from others. Love is demanding. It makes demands in all human situations; it is even more demanding in the case of those who are open to the Gospel. Is this not what Christ proclaims in "His" commandment? Nowadays people need to rediscover this demanding love, for it is the truly firm foundation of the family, a foundation able to "endure all things." According to the Apostle, love is not able to "endure all things" if it yields to "jealousies," or if it is "boastful... arrogant or rude." True love, St. Paul teaches, is different: "Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor 13:5-7). This is the very love which "endures all things." At work within it is the power and strength of God Himself, who "is love." (1 Jn 4:8, 16) At work within it is also the power and strength of Christ, the Redeemer of man and Savior of the world. . . .
The hymn to love in the First Letter to the Corinthians remains the Magna Charta of the civilization of love. In this concept, what is important is not so much individual actions (whether selfish or altruistic), so much as the radical acceptance of the understanding of man as a person who "finds himself" by making a sincere gift of self. A gift is, obviously, "for others": this is the most important dimension of the civilization of love.
We thus come to the very heart of the Gospel truth about freedom. The person realizes himself by the exercise of freedom in truth. Freedom cannot be understood as a license to do absolutely anything: it means a gift of self. Even more: it means an interior discipline of the gift. The idea of gift contains not only the free initiative of the subject, but also the aspect of duty. All this is made real in the "communion of persons." We find ourselves again at the very heart of each family. . . .
As we know, at the foundation of ethical utilitarianism there is the continual quest for "maximum" happiness. But this is a "utilitarian happiness," seen only as pleasure, as immediate gratification for the exclusive benefit of the individual, apart from or opposed to the objective demands of the true good.
The program of utilitarianism, based on an individualistic understanding of freedom — a freedom without responsibilities — is the opposite of love, even as an expression of human civilization considered as a whole. When this concept of freedom is embraced by society, and quickly allies itself with varied forms of human weakness, it soon proves a systematic and permanent threat to the family. In this regard, one could mention many dire consequences, which can be statistically verified, even though a great number of them are hidden in the hearts of men and women like painful, fresh wounds.