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Pope's Response to Priests on the Family

"We Can Learn From Married People Because of Their Suffering"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 29, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a Vatican translation of the fourth of Benedict XVI's five answers to as many questions posed by priests of the Diocese of Albano during a meeting Aug. 31.

The meeting took place at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, which is located within the diocese. The Pope's first three responses appeared in recent days on Catholic Online.

* * *

Father Angelo Pennazza, parish priest in Pavona:

Your Holiness, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that "Holy Orders and Matrimony are directed toward the salvation of others. ... They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God" (No. 1534). This seems to us truly fundamental, not only for our pastoral action but also for our way of being priests.

What can we priests do to express this proposal in pastoral praxis and, according to what you yourself have just reaffirmed, to communicate positively the beauty of marriage which can still make the men and women of our time fall in love? What can the sacramental grace of spouses contribute to our lives as priests?

Benedict XVI:

Two tremendous questions! The first one is: How is it possible to communicate the beauty of marriage to the people of today? We see how many young people are reluctant to marry in Church because they are afraid of finality; indeed, they are even reluctant to have a civil wedding.

Today, to many young people and even to some who are not so young, definitiveness appears as a constriction, a limitation of freedom. And what they want first of all is freedom. They are afraid that in the end they might not succeed. They see so many failed marriages. They fear that this juridical form, as they understand it, will be an external weight that will extinguish love.

It is essential to understand that it is not a question of a juridical bond, a burden imposed with marriage. On the contrary, depth and beauty lie precisely in finality. Only in this way can love mature to its full beauty. But how is it possible to communicate this? I think this problem is common to us all.

For me, in Valencia -- and Your Eminence, you can confirm this -- it was an important moment not only when I talked about this, but when various families presented themselves to me with one or more children; one family was virtually a "parish," it had so many children! The presence and witness of these families really was far stronger than any words.

They presented first of all the riches of their family experience: how such a large family truly becomes a cultural treasure, an opportunity for the education of one and all, a possibility for making the various cultural expressions of today coexist, the gift of self, mutual help also in suffering, etc.

But their testimony of the crises they had suffered was also significant. One of these couples had almost reached the point of divorcing. They explained that they then learned to live through this crisis, this suffering of the otherness of the other, and to accept each other anew. Precisely in overcoming the moment of crisis, the desire to separate, a new dimension of love developed and opened the door to a new dimension of life, which nothing but tolerating the suffering of the crisis could reopen.

This seems to me very important. Today, a crisis point is reached the moment the diversity of temperament is perceived, the difficulty of putting up with each other every day for an entire life. In the end, then, they decided: Let us separate. From these testimonies we understood precisely that in crises, in bearing the moment in which it seems that no more can be borne, new doors and a new beauty of love truly open.

A beauty consisting of harmony alone is not true beauty. Something is missing, it becomes insufficient. True beauty also needs contrast. Darkness and light complement each other. Even a grape, in order to ripen, does not only need the sun but also the rain, not only the day but also the night.

We priests ourselves, both young and old, must learn the need for suffering and for crises. We must put up with and transcend this suffering. Only in this way is life enriched. I believe that the fact the Lord bears the stigmata for eternity has a symbolic value. As an expression of the atrocity of suffering and death, today the stigmata are seals of Christ's victory, of the full beauty of his victory and his love for us. We must accept, both as priests and as married persons, the need to put up with the crises of otherness, of the other, the crisis in which it seems that it is no longer possible to stay together.

Husbands and wives must learn to move ahead together, also for love of the children, and thus be newly acquainted with one another, love one another anew with a love far deeper and far truer. So it is that on a long journey, with its suffering, love truly matures.

It seems to me that we priests can also learn from married people precisely because of their suffering and sacrifices. We often think that celibacy on its own is a sacrifice. However, knowing the sacrifices married people make -- let us think of their children, of the problems that arise, of the fears, suffering, illnesses, rebellion, and also of the problems of the early years when nights are almost always spent sleeplessly because of the crying of small children -- we must learn our sacrifice from them, from their sacrifices. And at the same time we must learn that it is beautiful to mature through sacrifices and thus to work for the salvation of others.

Father Pennazza, you correctly mentioned the Council which says that marriage is a sacrament for the salvation of others: first of all for the salvation of the other, of the husband and of the wife, but also of the children, the sons and daughters, and lastly of the entire community. And thus, priesthood too matures in the encounter.

I then think that we ought to involve families. Family celebrations seem to me to be very important. On the occasion of celebrations it is right that the family, the beauty of families, appear. Even testimonies -- although they are perhaps somewhat too fashionable -- can in some instances truly be a proclamation, a help for us all.

To conclude, I consider it very significant that in St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, God's marriage with humanity through the incarnation of the Lord is achieved on the cross, on which is born the new humanity: the Church.

Precisely from these divine nuptials Christian marriage is born. As St. Paul says, it is the sacramental concretization of what happens in this great mystery. Thus, we must learn ever anew this bond between the cross and the Resurrection, between the cross and the beauty of the Redemption, and insert ourselves into this sacrament. Let us pray to the Lord to help us proclaim this mystery well, to live this mystery, to learn from married couples how they live it in order to help us live the cross, so that we may also attain moments of joy and of the Resurrection.

[Translation of Italian original issued by the Holy See; adapted]

© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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