On the occasion of the Year of the Family, decreed by the United Nations in 1994, Pope St. John Paul II wrote a “Letter to Families”, dated February 2, 1994, feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. This letter is a summary of the Church’s entire teaching on the family. The following are excerpts from this letter, which are always current, considering the forthcoming Synod on the Family:
The family constitutes the fundamental “cell” of society. But Christ—the “vine” from which the “branches” draw nourishment—is needed so that this cell will not be exposed to the threat of a kind of cultural uprooting which can come both from within and from without. Indeed, although there is on the one hand the “civilization of love”, there continues to exist on the other hand the possibility of a destructive “anti-civilization”, as so many present trends and situations confirm.
Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of “things” and not of “persons”, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used. In the context of a civilization of use, woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom of its members. To be convinced that this is the case, one need only look at certain sexual education programmes introduced into the schools, often notwithstanding the disagreement and even the protests of many parents; or pro-abortion tendencies which vainly try to hide behind the so-called “right to choose” (“pro-choice”) on the part of both spouses, and in particular on the part of the woman. These are only two examples; many more could be mentioned...
With good reason, then, the Church asks during the Rite of Marriage: “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church”?... Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity... all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization.
Certainly one area in which the family has an irreplaceable role is that of religious education, which enables the family to grow as a “domestic church”. Religious education and the catechesis of children make the family a true subject of evangelization and the apostolate within the Church. We are speaking of a right intrinsically linked to the principle of religious liberty.
Families, and more specifically parents, are free to choose for their children a particular kind of religious and moral education consonant with their own convictions. Even when they entrust these responsibilities to ecclesiastical institutions or to schools administered by religious personnel, their educational presence ought to continue to be constant and active.
What does the family as an institution expect from society? First of all, it expects a recognition of its identity and an acceptance of its status as a subject in society. This “social subjectivity” is bound up with the proper identity of marriage and the family. Marriage, which undergirds the institution of the family, is constituted by the covenant whereby “a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life”, and which “of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children”.
Only such a union can be recognized and ratified as a “marriage” in society. Other interpersonal unions which do not fulfil the above conditions cannot be recognized, despite certain growing trends which represent a serious threat to the future of the family and of society itself.
No human society can run the risk of permissiveness in fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family! Such moral permissiveness cannot fail to damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among people. It is thus quite understandable why the Church vigorously defends the identity of the family and encourages responsible individuals and institutions, especially political leaders and international organizations, not to yield to the temptation of a superficial and false modernity.
John Paul II