Pope Benedict Speaks About Marriage, Family and God’s Word
by David Gibson
Couples should remember when they experience the difficulties that arise in marriage and family life that God’s Word is a source of strong support for them, Pope Benedict XVI says in an apostolic exhortation released Nov. 11 titled “The Word of the Lord” (“Verbum Domini”).
The document is the pope’s response to the October 2008 assembly of the world Synod of Bishops, whose theme was “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” In one recommendation the synod accented the need to help couples recognize God’s Word as “a precious source of support.”
In the apostolic exhortation, the “word” refers to the Bible – to Scripture as a means of encountering God. But Pope Benedict, as did the synod, also focuses on the eternal Word of God, the “Word made flesh.” The pope wants readers of his new document to recognize that Christianity is the religion not of a written word that is mute, but of the incarnate, living Word.
Thus, Pope Benedict repeatedly mentions the dynamic dialogue God wants with people. It is of “decisive” importance that the word of God be presented “in its capacity to enter into dialogue with the everyday problems” people face, the pope says.
In his exhortation’s section on marriage and family life, Pope Benedict not only tells couples they can find support in God’s word, but states, quoting his predecessor Pope John Paul II, that “with the proclamation of the word of God, the church reveals to Christian families their true identity, what it is and what it must be in accordance with the Lord’s plan.”
That quotation comes from Pope John Paul II’s widely read 1981 apostolic exhortation on the family in the modern world titled “Familiaris Consortio.” Discussing what he meant by those words on the family’s identity, Pope John Paul explained that the Christian family is not only a “saved community,” but “a saving community” that serves others. He said:
— “By celebrating the sacraments, the church enriches and strengthens the Christian family with the grace of Christ for its sanctification.”
— And, by proclaiming continuously “the new commandment of love, the church encourages and guides the Christian family to the service of love.” Through such service, the family imitates and relives the “self-giving and sacrificial love that the Lord Jesus has for the entire human race.”
In light of all this, Pope Benedict urges that it “never be forgotten that the word of God is at the very origin of marriage (cf. Gn 2:24) and that Jesus himself made marriage one of the institutions of his kingdom (cf. Mt 19:4-8).” Jesus elevated “to the dignity of a sacrament what was inscribed in human nature from the beginning.”
But, Pope Benedict continues, today marriage “is in many ways under attack.” He says that “in the face of widespread confusion” about love’s meaning, along with “the rise of ways of thinking which trivialize the human body and sexual differentiation,” God’s word “reaffirms the original goodness of the human being, created as man and woman, and called to a love which is faithful, reciprocal and fruitful.”
Parenthood is addressed in this section of the exhortation. “The great mystery of marriage is the source of the essential responsibility of parents toward their children,” says the pope.
Spouses – “through their fidelity and the unity of family life” – become “the first to proclaim God’s word to their children,” Pope Benedict observes. And passing on and bearing witness “to the meaning of life in Christ” is “part of authentic parenthood.”
Spouses should be supported and assisted by the church community “in fostering family prayer, attentive hearing of the word of God and knowledge of the Bible,” Pope Benedict says. With these goals in mind, he recalls the synod’s hope that every household might have a Bible, keep it in a worthy place and use it for reading and in prayer.
Pope Benedict hopes “priests, deacons and a well-prepared laity” can provide “whatever help is needed” by parents in such matters.
Attention is called by Pope Benedict to the synod’s recommendation that “small communities of families” be formed in which “common prayer and meditation on passages of Scripture can be cultivated.” In one recommendation, the synod said small communities like this exist in many nations and are a source of strength to their members.
Finally, in this section Pope Benedict highlights synod observations related to “the role of women in relation to the word of God.”
The 2008 synod “paid special attention to the indispensable role” women play in the “family, education, catechesis and the communication of values,” Pope Benedict notes. The synod remarked on an ability among women “to lead people to hear God’s word, to enjoy a personal relationship with God and to show the meaning of forgiveness and of evangelical sharing.”
Pope Benedict speaks of women as “messengers of love, models of mercy and peacemakers.” Women, he says, can “communicate warmth and humanity in a world which all too often judges people according to the ruthless criteria of exploitation and profit.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.