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The family as educator of human and Christian values

on Monday, 01 June 2009. Posted in Marriage & Family

Homily of Cardinal Bertone at the World Meeting for families in Mexico City

Cardinal Tarcisio BertoneHere is a translation of the homily given by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the closing Mass for the 6th World Meeting for Families, held in Mexico City, on January 18, 2009:

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord: The readings that have been proclaimed present us with the Word of God that enlightens and questions us. The first one, taken from the Book of Proverbs, speaks of the counsels from a father to his young son. This is a very appropriate aspect for this 6th World Meeting of Families, which has as a theme the family as educator in human and Christian values.

These paternal teachings refer to good conduct, ethics, human values, and they are the fruit of experience, reflection and good sense. They have concrete recommendations to avoid vice and practice virtue. The text we have heard, in its brevity, lingers only on cases such as drunkenness, gluttony, laziness and the lack of respect for elderly parents. In this regard, the sacred author indicates: "Consort not with winebibbers, nor with those who eat meat to excess; For the drunkard and the glutton come to poverty, and torpor clothes a man in rags. Listen to your father who begot you, and despise not your mother when she is old" (Proverbs 23:20-22). Nevertheless, in the Book of Proverbs as a whole, the panorama is much broader, as it also speaks of pride, arrogance, ire, vengeance, oppression of the poor, especially widows and orphans, prostitution, adultery, lies and deceit.

Virtues, on the other hand, are praised. The proclaimed text earnestly exhorts being wise, upright, just, honest and committed to good. "Hear, my son, and be wise, and guide your heart in the right way. (...) Get the truth, and sell it not -- wisdom, instruction and understanding" (Proverbs 23:19,23). Also in this aspect, the recommendations refer to many other virtues: humility, self-control, patience, loyalty, conjugal fidelity, friendship, forgiveness of enemies, laboriousness, sobriety, defense of the poor, generosity and hospitality.

The principle that regulates and provides a basis for ethical conduct is the fear of the Lord: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 9:10), that is, the authentic relationship with God, made of respect, adoration, obedience, trust. Something similar is also said in the passage of Scripture we have heard: "Let not your heart emulate sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the Lord always; For you will surely have a future, and your hope will not be cut off" (Proverbs 23:17-18).

Fear of the Lord impels the renunciation of sin and the fulfillment of his will, made concrete in moral norms. And as God only wants our good, to obey him, according to the Book of Proverbs, is the path to have success also in this world, that is, to have health, longevity, well-being, families united, descendants, and social honorability.

The responsorial psalm we have sung goes deeper in the same teaching: "Happy are all who fear the Lord, who walk in the ways of God. What your hands provide you will enjoy; you will be happy and prosper: Like a fruitful vine your wife (...) Like olive plants your children around your table" (Psalm 128:1-3). According to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the fear of the Lord, ethical values and moral norms, belong to the logic and the dynamism of life that tends to its plenitude. To accept them means to follow the direction of one’s human growth, being faithful to God and faithful to oneself.

This is a matter of values and norms known through experience and reflection, that is, through reason, and which, in being contained in the inspired texts are, at the same time, the Word of God. It is understandable that certain truths accessible to everyone, also to nonbelievers, would be confirmed by biblical revelation, since frequently reason, obscured by instincts and prejudices, does not judge correctly. As St. Augustine says: "God has written on tablets of stone the Ten Commandments that men no longer read on their hearts" (Commentary on Psalm 57:1). Right reason and faith are allies. Authentically human values are also Christian, for as the Apostle Paul exhorts: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).

The disciples of Jesus also respect the content and coherence proper to human values and activity, but the Christian message elevates these to a new and higher meaning; it integrates them in the filial relationship with God the Father and in the dynamism of faith, hope and charity. The center of the moral task of the Christian is the person of Jesus Christ, dialogue and communion with him, and through him, with the Father in the Holy Spirit. In this new relationship with the divine Persons, the practice of human values and moral norms is perfected, acquires new motivations and energies, the capacity of sacrifice in the following of the Crucified, joy and trust in the company of the Risen.

The Christian family places at the center of its attention the person of the Lord Jesus, it welcomes him into the home, prays and gathers around him, seeks to share his teachings, his sentiments, his desires, and to fulfill his will. Faith in his presence transforms all familial relationships and activities, exalts human values, creates a climate of communion and joy. A human climate and divine at the same time, as is evoked with excitement and enthusiasm in the text of the Letter to the Colossians that we have heard in the second letter:

"Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; (...) as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts. (...) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. (...) And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, be subordinate to your husbands. (...) Husbands, love your wives. (...) Children, obey your parents in everything. (...) Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged" (3:12-21).

Here is the "family as educator in human and Christian values." In this [family] many virtues are practiced, united and sublimated by charity; the words and the works of each day are animated by the Spirit of Jesus and oriented by the hearing of his Word. The roles of the spouses and the parents and children are maintained, but all share in loving each other and mutually serving each other.

All the members of the family are implied because all should participate in the development of human and Christian values. But we cannot forget the particular responsibility that corresponds to the parents. Their attitude regarding their children should be similar to that manifested by Mary and Joseph when, according to the narration we have heard in the Gospel, they found Jesus in the temple after having lost him.

Mary and Joseph look for him with unspeakable concern. "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety" (Luke 2:48). They love their son passionately, with all of their being.

So then, dear fathers and mothers, love your children and make them feel that they are loved and appreciated, respected and understood. Feeling loved gives rise to gratitude and trust in others, in themselves and in the love of the Heavenly Father; and it is a call to respond to love with love.

Mary and Joseph live in intimacy with Jesus; but his person and his behavior are a mystery also for them. "And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them" (Luke 2:49-50). Mary and Joseph intuit that Jesus does not belong to them; that he lives for his true Father who is God and places himself totally at the service of the mysterious divine project. Despite not understanding, they accompany him with respectful love and serve him with every solicitude.

Dear fathers and mothers, you also have to respect the personality and the vocation of your children. To educate them is to help them to develop their hidden potential and support them so they can be fully themselves according to the plan God has for their lives. Take care of them as a gift that has been entrusted to you, without being possessive. A famous poet wrote: "Your children are not yours... They come through you but they are not of you, and though they are with you, they don’t belong to you. You can give them your love, not your thoughts; they have their own thoughts. You can give lodging to their bodies, but not to their souls, because their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit even in a dream" (K. Gibran II, Prophet).

A good educative relationship involves tenderness and affection, and at the same time, rationality and authority. Both parents, the father and the mother, should be close to their children and cultivate dialogue with them. Dear fathers and mothers, be generous with your children, without being permissive; be demanding without being severe; be clear with them and do not contradict yourselves; know how to say yes or no in the right moment. Be coherent and given them a good example. Thus you can help your children to mature [with] a balanced personality, constructive and creative, solid and reliable, capable of confronting the challenges and the tests of life, which are never lacking.

Formation in human and Christian values requires a family founded in a monogamous matrimony and open to life; it requires a united and stable family. Spouses who, regardless of human weakness, seek with the grace of God to live ever more coherently in love as a total gift of one’s life from one to the other, build their house on rock (cf. Matthew 7:24-25); they make of their family a living Gospel; they build up the Church and civil society; they reflect in history the presence and the beauty of God who is one in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

May the Most Holy Virgin, Our Lady of Guadalupe, obtain this grace for Christian families, so that all the families of the world also benefit from it.

Oh Mary, Mother of beautiful Love, Mother of hope, Help of Christians, gather these humble supplications and give to all the families of the world that which they need to grow in sanctity, to be salt of the earth and light of the world, to be sanctuaries of life and love, of welcome and forgiveness, of human and Christian values. Amen.