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FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO: THE FAMILY IN THE MODERN CHRISTIAN WORLD

Br. Paolo J. Herrera, OATH


BSEd-RVE III

Introduction

The era of the 1980’s was a tumultuous time for the family. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s-
70’s had its effects felt during this time with the proliferation of divorce and separations (both
legally-sanctioned and otherwise), and the indiscriminate promiscuous lifestyle, especially
prevalent among young people and urban professionals. As a result of this, there was a rise of
broken families and the loss of a sense of values among majority of them.

The Church, as a family of God here on earth, has taken notice of these problems. Not being
blind and deaf to the cries of the world, it has taken the initiative to study the relevance of the
Christian family in what seems to be a fast and evolving world. What is the family in the eyes of
God and the Church? How can the family survive in this confusing era wherein the values of
family life are being broken and trampled upon? How can the Church help the family, and
safeguard it against destruction? These are questions that circulate in the mind of Holy Church.

The Apostolic Exhoration of Pope St. John Paul II entitled “Familiaris Consortio” (On the role
of the Christian Family in the modern world) was given to the Catholic World on the Solemnity
of Christ the King, November 22, 1981. The document is a result of a synod of bishops that the
Holy Father convened in 1980. Most of the content of the encyclical – as expressed by the Holy
Father – is a fruit of the “profound interest of the Church in the family” (Familiaris Consortio 2,
hereafter FC), especially in connection with evangelization to the person as part of his integral
growth towards Christian maturity.

This paper is aimed towards addressing some issues and concerns regarding the family as
envisioned by the apostolic exhortation, and provides some opinion regarding them. The issues
at hand can be summarized into the following: the family as based upon man and woman; the
family as the Domestic Church; the family as the sanctuary of life; and finally, the rights and
duties of the family.

“Male and Female He created them” (cf. Gen. 1:27)

The truth of scripture, as the inspired word of God, relays to us that God has created man and
woman in His image and likeness. The Doctors of the Church in expounding this biblical truth,
has expressed that just as it is the attribute of God to create, man and woman was created in order
to partake in this attribute, in His image and likeness. The apostolic exhortation expresses the
truth that man and woman are created in love and for love: calling them to Himself through and
for it. The document is clear: “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation,
and thus, the capacity and the responsibility to love, and communion.” (FC 11) In this premise,
man and woman create another life through and for love: in imitation of their creator, and in
response to their responsibility as man and woman. This is the main idea of the whole concept of
the Church’s clear stand that there are only two genders: male and female. To distort this idea is
to distort the original plan of God: that we become partakers of His creating mission to love and
for love and communion, as the exhortation points out.

Furthermore, it points out that the sexual act is not only a biological act. It has a deeper, more
supernatural connotation: “It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the
love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.” Love,
as the primordial vocation of each man and woman, is the supernatural element of the sexual act.
But not the love that is selfish, or superficial. “The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it
were not the sign and fruit to a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including
the temporal dimension is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the
possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving
totally.”

The family can teach us a thing or two about selfless giving. If the father, in his capacity as a
father, in his attribute as a man (a true man!), would be willing to forego his personal comfort
and freedom for the sake of his wife and children, even to the point of depriving himself of his
needs, is surely a testament to the love that is present, that is evident in the union between
himself and his wife. Is this not what the Holy Family is: a communion of love between Joseph,
Mary, and sanctified by Jesus? The good Saint Joseph, in his esteemed, supernatural love for the
Immaculate Virgin, would forego of his own honor to be partaker of the drama of salvation
unfolding before his eyes. This is true manhood. This shows that men, in their truest essence,
will sacrifice themselves, and give themselves totally to those whom they love.

We can never discount the honest intentions of those with clear consciences but possess twisted
viewpoints of love. Alas, it is the destruction of the real meaning of the sexual act that has
produced so many errors concerning sexuality. In today’s world, we can now hear of those who
find intimacy and sexual pleasure with that of the same sex, or those who would chose to identify
themselves with genders that are not their own. And this has already impacted our society in
which it has become an arena for political grandstanding and money-making initiatives. Clearly,
the primordial call to love and create for and through love has vanished.

“Continuing daily in one accord, breaking bread” (Acts 2:46)

The Church in her Dogmatic Constitution envisions families as a miniature church, the “Ecclesia
Domesticus” (Domestic Church). The reason for this allusion between the Church as a universal
entity established by God and the family as Mother Church’s miniature is rooted in the following
words from the encyclical: “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 covenant of love, the Church encourages and guides the Christian family to the
service of love, so that it may imitate and relieve the same self-giving and sacrificial love that the
Lord Jesus has for the entire human race.” (FC 49, emphasis added).

In other words, the Church enriches families to be domestic churches through three elements:
firstly, the Church gives out the family’s real identity through the proclamation of the Word of
God; secondly, the sacraments sanctifies the family to be a communion of love; and lastly, the
proclamation of the new covenant of love (i.e. between man and God through the blood of the
Cross) encourages families to live out the commitment to live in communion with each other in
total self-giving and mutual love. This is materialized in the living out of the Christian life of the
family. It centers in the sacramental life of the family, wherein they receive the Word of God in
the Holy Mass, and form which the Church as Mother and Teacher provides the family with the
ideal atmosphere of sharing and giving; just as the Word is given out to us and shared with one
another. Moreover, the reception of the Sacraments, particularly the grace of the forgiveness of
sins through the Sacrament of Penance; and the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of Jesus in
the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, enrich us and makes the family holy and fortified with graces
necessary to live out a truly Christian life. Finally, every day the Christian family lives out the
love of Christ to each member of the family. The self-giving of Christ in His love for Holy
Church is exemplified in the total self-giving of husband and wife to each other, and their
unconditional love to their children. The Church on the other hand is modeled by the filial love
and obedience of children to their parents, being subject to them in all things for their own good.

Today, it is a rarity to see families going to Mass together, praying the rosary together, and living
out an exemplary Christian life. The latter is a result of a frequent expression of the former two.
When a family receives the Bread of the Word and the Bread of Christ’s Body and Blood, they
are filled with grace to live out an exemplary Christian life. Furthermore, a family dedicated to
their commitment to prayer as a family provides good example to each other; they show that the
family is reliant to the providence of God, and that the family is centered upon the grace of God
in their daily undertakings.
“Choose life that both you and your seed may live.” (Deut. 30:19)

The Apostolic Exhortation anchored on the encyclical of Pope Bl. Paul VI entitled “Humanae
Vitae”. In this encyclical, it addresses the issues of human life and population growth: issues that
also places questions in the minds of those who are in the middle of the sexual revolution of the
60’s – the time when this encyclical was promulgated. The encyclical states: “love between
husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new life.” (Humanae Vitae 11).
This was also one of the resolutions declared by the Synod fathers in 1980.

Pope St. John Paul II expresses the doctrine of the Church regarding life in these words from the
apostolic exhortation: “But the Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and
suffering, is always a splendid gift of God’s goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness
which casts a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life, she sees the
splendor of that “Yes”, that “Amen”, who is Christ Himself. To the “No” which assails and
afflicts the world, she replies with this living “Yes”, thus defending the human person and the
world from all who plot against and harm life.” (FC 30)

Human Life always has dignity, regardless of its circumstances. The Church has always sought
to express this even in the midst of criticism from those who think otherwise. The Church speaks
of materialism and secularism as the cause of these oppositions to the Church’s stand for Life.
These are ideologies which plague our society today because of the lack of moral foundation.
This is where the family, as a sanctuary of life, comes in the picture. The Family as the safeguard
of life comes both ways: internally and externally. On one hand, it comes internally as the
original vocation of the family is to be open to life. Considering this, it is not proper to say that
the family should refuse to produce life simply because of the fabricated troubles the world tries
to use as an argument for population control. To think of this is absurd. If the family is open to
the creation of life by means of the sexual act (of course done in virtue and not out of lust) then
life finds its home in the midst of the family. On the other hand, it comes externally because of
its commitment to love that is totally self-giving. The essence of procreation stems from the
consent of the husband and wife who love each other and is willing to give themselves to one
another. The consequence of this love is the fulfilment of the original role of the husband and
wife, which is to create a family, a nucleus of society.

It is pitiable to behold these days of the aggressive war against life. Abortion has risen in
numbers in different parts of the globe, and other forms of disregard and sacrilege against life
takes its place in many societies. Not only children are unwanted, but also the elderly and the
weak. Euthanasia has become an easy way out, a good disposal procedure for those who are no
longer beneficial to society. Along with these problems is the rise of suicide in many countries,
most evidently in developed countries. Many people take their own lives because they feel
unloved, uncared for, unimportant in the lives even of those they love. They resort to the ultimate
reset button: that of killing themselves.

What does the family have to do with this? A lot. The family is supposed to be the cradle for the
sanctity of life. It all boils down to the love that is shared in the family, and the war against life is
a war between love and apathy. If mothers only love the children in their wombs, they will not
resort to abortion. If we only learn to love and appreciate the elderly, the mentally and
physically-handicapped, and the ill and dying, we will have no need for euthanasia. If only those
who would commit suicide would feel that they are loved and cared for and appreciated by their
families, then no one would escape using the noose of the blade. God originally created the
human family to be a testament of love not only to each other but to all peoples. Families are
born out of love and the dedicated self-giving of one to the other. This is the premise of the
sanctity of life being safeguarded by the family.

“All things pass under heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1)

The Apostolic Exhortation has provided a charter of the Rights of the Family, as a
materialization of the Synod’s denunciation of the abuses against the family. The Synod has seen
the injustices that are done against families in different parts of the world, and this charter is
given to all families in order that injustices may be eradicated and prevented.
The charter, which is seen in No. 46 of the document, provides the following rights for families:

1. The right to exist and progress as a family regardless of the circumstances in life;
2. The right to exercise responsibility regarding transmission of life and education of
children;
3. The right to the intimacy of the conjugal and family life;
4. The right of stability of the bond of marriage;
5. The right to profess one’s faith and to propagate it;
6. The right to bring up children according to the family’s own traditions and values;
7. The right, especially of the sick and the poor, to obtain physical, social political and
economic stability;
8. The right to housing suitable to living family life in a suitable way;
9. The right to expression and representation before authorities;
10. The right to form associations with other families and institutions in order to fulfil the
family’s role suitably;
11. The right to protect minors from drugs, alcoholism, pornography, and other vices;
12. The right to wholesome recreation
13. The right of the elderly to a worthy life and a worthy death; and
14. The right to emigrate as a family in search for a better life.

As much as there are rights for families, the Church also expressed the obligations of families as
part of their responsibilities in all aspects of life. (FC 47) This obligation stems out from the
Sacrament of Marriage, wherein a man and a woman assume the role of husband and wife
respectively through the vows they profess to each other. As such, they form the nucleus of
society, and it is their responsibility to be of service both to the Church and society by fulfilling
the obligations proper to them as a family.

The Church calls families to live their vocations, i.e. to fidelity in their state of life. The Church
also calls families to be engaged in the temporal affairs of the society and ordering them
according to God’s designs, as a fulfilment of their role as laypeople seeking the Kingdom of
God here on earth. This is part of the mission of the laity to be partakers of the mission of Jesus
Christ to be prophet, priest and king. The Church also calls families to be engaged with those in
the lower strata of society by having preferential option for them. This can be materialized
through charity work initiated by them or by participating in the Church’s efforts to alleviate the
suffering and the poor from their current situation.

On a spiritual level, families are tasked to live out a Christian life, obedient to the precepts of
Jesus Christ and of His Church. Parents have the moral obligation to teach their children the
Catholic Faith and to immerse them in the culture of the Church through participation in the
liturgical life of the Church. They also have the obligation to instill virtue upon their children, as
well as the cultural and societal values that will make them good citizens and Christians.
Children have an obligation to foster filial love to parents and to obey them. They are obliged to
do well in their endeavors and give good honor to their parents.

Conclusion

The Apostolic Exhortation that has been the subject of this paper is more relevant today than
ever. In our current state, the world has lost its value for the traditional form of the family, and
thereby, losing the virtues that has been instilled from the formation and dynamics of Christian
family life. This document gives a glimpse of the Church’s desire for the families to be leavens;
agents of change in this world where the concept of family is being thrown away. I believe that it
is only right that every family be made aware of the beauty and sense of the apostolic
exhortation.

As a Religious Education major, I believe that I can bring the message of Familiaris Consortio
to my future students, as in the future, they will also be forming their own families. From them
will come the future of our society, and I envision a society that is founded on Christian moral
principles. The Kingdom of God is in the love that families profess as their vocation to live in
communion with one another.