Reflections by the Holy Father: Engagement, Family Life and Divorce

On June 3, 2012 Pope Benedict carefully reflected on the decision to marry as something more than the act of falling in love: "The emotion of love must be purified. It must undertake a journey of discernment in which the mind and the will also come into play…. In the rite of Marriage the Church does not ask whether you are in love but whether you want, whether you are resolved. In other words, falling in love must become true love; it must involve the will and the mind in a journey (which is the period of engagement) of purification, of greater profundity so that it is truly all of man, with all his capacities, with the discernment of reason and the force of will, who says: 'Yes, this is my life'.”  

On the subject of divorce, the Holy Father lamented "this is one of the great causes of suffering for the Church today, and we do not have simple solutions…. Naturally, one very important factor is prevention. This means ensuring that, from the beginning, the act of falling love is transformed in a more profound and mature decision. Another factor is that of accompanying people during marriage, to ensure that families are never alone but find authentic company on their journey. We must tell people in this situation that the Church loves them, but they must see and feel this love". 

In its attitude toward those who are divorced, the Pope held the local church responsible, saying it "must do everything possible so that such people feel loved and accepted, that they are not 'outsiders' even if they cannot receive absolution and the Eucharist. They must see that they too live fully within the Church…. The Eucharist is real and shared if people truly enter into communion with the Body of Christ. Even without the 'corporeal', consumption of the Sacrament, we can be spiritually united to Christ".  

Furthermore, the divorce must "have the chance to live a life of faith ... to see that their suffering is a gift for the Church, because they also help others to defend the stability of love, of Marriage… theirs is a suffering in the community of the Church for the great values of our faith". 

Then in his homily the same day, the feast of the Holy Trinity, Pope Benedict reminded the faithful that “It is not only the Church that is called to be the image of One God in Three Persons, but also the family, based on marriage between man and woman…. God created us male and female, equal in dignity, but also with respective and complementary characteristics, so that the two might be a gift for each other, might value each other and might bring into being a community of love and life. It is love that makes the human person the authentic image of God. Dear married couples, in living out your marriage you are not giving each other any particular thing or activity, but your whole lives. And your love is fruitful first and foremost for yourselves, because you desire and accomplish one another’s good, you experience the joy of receiving and giving. It is also fruitful in your generous and responsible procreation of children, in your attentive care for them, and in their vigilant and wise education. And lastly, it is fruitful for society, because family life is the first and irreplaceable school of social virtues, such as respect for persons, gratuitousness, trust, responsibility, solidarity, cooperation. Dear married couples, watch over your children and, in a world dominated by technology, transmit to them, with serenity and trust, reasons for living, the strength of faith, pointing them towards high goals and supporting them in their fragility….   

"Your vocation is not easy to live, especially today, but the vocation to love is a wonderful thing, it is the only force that can truly transform the world. You have before you the witness of so many families who point out the paths for growing in love: by maintaining a constant relationship with God and participating in the life of the Church, by cultivating dialogue, respecting the other’s point of view, by being ready for service and patient with the failings of others, by being able to forgive and to seek forgiveness, by overcoming with intelligence and humility any conflicts that may arise, by agreeing on principles of upbringing, and by being open to other families, attentive towards the poor, and responsible within civil society. These are all elements that build up the family. Live them with courage, and be sure that, insofar as you live your love for each other and for all with the help of God’s grace, you become a living Gospel, a true domestic Church. 

"I should also like to address a word to the faithful who, even though they agree with the Church’s teachings on the family, have had painful experiences of breakdown and separation. I want you to know that the Pope and the Church support you in your struggle. I encourage you to remain united to your communities, and I earnestly hope that your dioceses are developing suitable initiatives to welcome and accompany you". 

He went on to say "We may recognize the task of man and woman to collaborate with God in the process of transforming the world through work, science and technology…. In modern economic theories, there is often a utilitarian concept of work, production and the market. Yet God’s plan, as well as experience, show that the one-sided logic of sheer utility and maximum profit are not conducive to harmonious development, to the good of the family or to building a more just society, because it brings in its wake ferocious competition, strong inequalities, degradation of the environment, the race for consumer goods, family tensions. Indeed, the utilitarian mentality tends to take its toll on personal and family relationships, reducing them to a fragile convergence of individual interests and undermining the solidity of the social fabric. 

"One final point: man, as the image of God, is also called to rest and to celebrate. The account of creation concludes with these words: ‘And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it’. For us Christians, the feast day is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the weekly Easter. It is the day of the Church, the assembly convened by the Lord around the table of the Word and of the Eucharistic Sacrifice…. It is the day of man and his values: conviviality, friendship, solidarity and culture, closeness to nature, play, and sport. It is the day of the family, on which to experience together a sense of celebration, encounter, sharing, not least through taking part in Mass. Dear families, despite the relentless rhythms of the modern world, do not lose a sense of the Lord’s Day!" 

"Family, work, celebration: three of God’s gifts, three dimensions of our lives that must be brought into a harmonious balance…. In this regard, always give priority to the logic of being over that of having: the first builds up, the second ends up destroying. We must learn to believe first of all in the family, in authentic love, the kind that comes from God and unites us to Him".