We are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of civilization itself. The statement that civilization has become, in some areas, a “civilization of death” is being confirmed in disturbing ways. Was it not a prophetic event that the birth of Christ was accompanied by danger to his life? Yes, even the life of the One who is at the same time Son of Man and Son of God was threatened. It was endangered from the very beginning, and only by a miracle did he escape death.
I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every fatherhood and motherhood is named, “that he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man” (Eph 3:16). I willingly return to these words of the Apostle, which I mentioned in the first part of this Letter. In a certain sense they are pivotal words. The family, fatherhood and motherhood all go together. The family is the first human setting in which is formed that “inner man” of which the Apostle speaks. The growth of the inner man in strength and vigour is a gift of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
In our own times this treasure has been examined in depth in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Perceptive analyses were developed in the many addresses given by Pope Pius XII to newlyweds, in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI, in the speeches delivered at the Synod of Bishops on the Family (1980) and in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. I have already spoken of these statements of the Magisterium. If I return to them now, it is in order to emphasize how vast and rich is the treasure of Christian truth about the family. Written testimonies alone, however, will not suffice. Much more important are living testimonies. As Pope Paul VI observed, “contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he listens to teachers it is because they are witnesses”. In the Church, the treasure of the family has been entrusted first and foremost to witnesses: to those fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who through the family have discovered the path of their human and Christian vocation, the dimension of the “inner man” (Eph 3:16) of which the Apostle speaks, and thus have attained holiness. The Holy Family is the beginning of countless other holy families. The Council recalled that holiness is the vocation of all the baptized. In our age, as in the past, there is no lack of witnesses to the “gospel of the family”, even if they are not well known or have not been proclaimed saints by the Church. The Year of the Family is the appropriate occasion to bring about an increased awareness of their existence and their great number.
What I offer, then, is an invitation: an invitation addressed especially to you, dearly beloved husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. It is an invitation to all the particular Churches to remain united in the teaching of the apostolic truth. It is addressed to my Brothers in the Episcopate, and to priests, religious families and consecrated persons, to movements and associations of the lay faithful; to our brothers and sisters united by common faith in Jesus Christ, even while not yet sharing the full communion willed by the Saviour; to all who by sharing in the faith of Abraham belong, like us, to the great community of believers in the one God; to those who are the heirs of other spiritual and religious traditions; and to all men and women of good will.
May the Holy Family, icon and model of every human family, help each individual to walk in the spirit of Nazareth. May it help each family unit to grow in understanding of its particular mission in society and the Church by hearing the Word of God, by prayer and by a fraternal sharing of life. May Mary, Mother of “Fairest Love”, and Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, accompany us all with their constant protection.