|In the Heart of the Church
Children and Make Them Feel That They Are Loved"
Homily for the 6th World Meeting for Families
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
January 18, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord:
1. To all the beloved of God, called to be holy. Grace to you and
peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7).
With these words from the Apostle St. Paul, as the Church is
celebrating the bimillennium of his birth, I want to transmit to all
of you the affection and spiritual closeness of His Holiness
Benedict XVI, whom I have the honor of representing as pontifical
legate in this 6th World Meeting of Families.
I greet with special sentiments of fraternal communion Cardinal
Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family,
sincerely thanking him and his collaborators for the exquisite and
efficient diligence with which they have prepared this initiative
that gathers families from all over the world in this beautiful
nation. I want to recognize as well Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo,
who we entrust to the mercy of God, and who with so much zeal
oversaw the preceding World Meetings of Families, also setting under
way the path of preparation of the present gathering.
I greet with affection and gratitude, also in the name of the Holy
Father, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop primate of
Mexico, for the care and great pains with which, together with his
diocesan community, he has finalized the celebration of this World
Meeting. And I cannot fail to mention also with gratitude the
intense work carried out by the organizing committee of this great
gathering, presided over by Monsignor Jonás Guerrero Corona,
auxiliary bishop of Mexico, and the dedication of the numerous
volunteers who have generously collaborated, as well as the kindness
with which so many families of this city have opened their houses
and their hearts to other families come from afar to participate in
this marvelous ecclesial event.
I greet with affection the cardinals, the brothers in the episcopate
and the delegations that have come from so many parts of the world,
thus giving witness to the determination with which the local
Churches are working for the promotion of family ministry in
distinct parts of the world.
I direct my cordial and respectful greeting to the authorities
present in this Eucharistic celebration thereby showing the vital
importance of the family for the present and future of society.
It is to be noted as well the enthusiasm and conviction with which
priests, men and women religious and other pastoral ministers give
themselves to the promotion and apostolate of and with families.
Thank you, very especially, to the families gathered here in this
great liturgical assembly, around the Lord Jesus and under the
maternal gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In a little while, the
spouses here present will renew their conjugal covenant and the
blessing of the Lord will descend on them to revive the sacramental
grace of matrimony.
2. 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
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
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"
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
[Translation by Kathleen Naab]
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