At the Marian Family Congress, Shrine of Torreciudad (September 8, 2007)
At the Marian Family Congress,
the Shrine of Torreciudad
My dear brothers and sisters:
We thank you, our triune God, and also you, Holy Mary, for the gift of being able to take part in this 18th Marian Family Congress, at the Shrine of Torreciudad.
We feel closely united, through the Communion of Saints, with all the families in Spain, and those throughout the world, as we beseech the abundant blessings of heaven for each home. The founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría Escrivá, taught us by his example to have an ardent love for our Mother, who will always be a sure recourse for us and for our families as we travel along the pathways of this earth. It is only natural that we go especially to the Virgin Mary and put these days under the protection of the Family of Nazareth, a close and perpetual model of the true family. But today we also have a reason for special joy; for we are celebrating with the whole Church the great feast of the Birth of the Mother of God.
The motto chosen for this year is The family, sanctuary of life. These words are very appropriate for today’s feast, because our Mother is the primary Sanctuary of Life. As the entrance antiphon in today’s Mass says, Mary is worthy of all praise, because “from you came forth the son of justice, Christ, our Lord.”
We are filled with joy because we are commemorating the coming into this world of Mary, the Mother of the one who is Life, with a capital letter. In God’s loving plans, Mary is the person who brought to joyful fulfillment what had been announced by the prophet: “the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and he shall be called Emmanuel.” Thus, Mary is also the door through which we attain Life, the path to grow in our love for Christ. Thank you Mother because, as St. Josemaría taught us, “With that word of yours—fiat, ‘be it done’—you have made us brothers of God and heirs to his Glory. —Blessed art thou!” “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” our Lord says (Jn14:6). And St. Augustine comments: “He is the Life because he has possessed it from all eternity with the Father (cf. Jn 1:4), and because he has made us, through grace, sharers in that same divine life” (De verb. Dom. Serm. 54). Here is where our certainty is grounded, despite the many difficulties that may arise during our passage through this world.
The apostle St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, writes “We know that in everything God works for the good with those who love him.” With a deep theological faith and hope, St. Josemaría summed this up in three words: omnia in bonum! For those who love God everything works for the good. We are not frightened by the abundance of evil. “God can do more!” He is all powerful, all merciful, ever faithful to his promises. He is, as St. John writes, a God who “loved us to the very end.” And so that we may never doubt it, St. Mathew ends the Gospel passage we have just read with the meaning of the name Emmanuel: “God with us.”
My dear families: Let us ask our Lady of Torreciudad that all the world’s families may learn to be sanctuaries of life. First, that they may accept joyfully, because it is a divine blessing, each daughter or son God sends them. I recall some words of my beloved predecessor Bishop Alvaro del Portillo: “Our Lord delights in large families, more necessary today than ever. With the ethos of material well-being—of selfishness—supported by a thousand unreasonable arguments, a propaganda campaign fostering fear of children has been skillfully organized. The rejection of the offspring God grants has taken root in many places, and in an especially alarming way in countries where hedonism reigns. The natural order has been perverted to give way to a defense of the instincts. Each one of you,” concluded Don Alvaro, “is confronted with a marvelous task. Ask God to bless you with a crown of children, in order to raise them as good sons and daughters of God.”
Let us also help families to accept and to increase, each day more ardently, the divine life that Jesus has brought us through the Redemption. And in a special way, let us urge them to ardently desire, and to beseech God insistently, that he call their children to serve him in whatever way he wants, through their sincerely Christian conduct. These are the greatest “treasures” that are “guarded” in homes.
You know very well that the family is indispensable for society and for the Church, because it is the setting where an integral formation and the transmission of the faith takes place. As Benedict XVI recalled, “Christian families are a crucial resource for education in the faith, for the building up of the Church ...as well as for acting as a Christian leaven in the cultural at large and in social structures.” Now, my dear sisters and brothers, when the true nature of the family and marriage, one man with one woman, is confronted with great dangers and menaces, we have an opportunity to make known, with our words and our deeds, the great importance of these fundamental truths.
Therefore, I insist, ask God for many offspring. But don't be satisfied with just bringing these children into the world. Continue giving your entire life, as you are doing now, for each one of them. Also give them your unfailing love and your supernatural outlook, so that they learn how to behave as good Christians, and therefore as good citizens. Never be satisfied with what you have already done, no matter how much it seems. Keep in mind what the Holy Father often stresses: “Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating children is the massive presence in our society and culture of relativism. Recognizing nothing as definitive, relativism leaves as the ultimate criterion only the ego and its whims. And under the guise of freedom, it becomes a prison for each one who falls prey to it, since it separates people from one another, locking each person within his or her own ‘ego.’”
One often hears it said that, in this day and age, raising children isn't easy. With a marked pessimism, some people claim that even when parents and brothers and sisters do everything they can, it still isn't possible to prevent at least one of the children from going astray; or they may add that it's almost a utopia when all the children end up leading morally upright lives. Don’t be discouraged. With God’s grace this can always be achieved. There are so many examples of homes in which, through persistent effort and Christian and human optimism, the sound "family atmosphere" that helps children to develop correctly is found.
In this context, I want to comment briefly on a particularly important point. If you want, as you certainly do, that your homes be sanctuaries of life, where that marvelous atmosphere is breathed, take very much into account Benedict XVI's words: “for an authentic work of educating, it is not enough to communicate a correct theory or doctrine. Something far greater is needed: the daily experience of being close to others that is proper to love, found especially in the family community.”
Therefore, if you want to attain this closeness with each daughter and son, dedicate the best of your time to them: “Your children are the most important thing—more important than your business or work or rest,” St. Josemaría stressed. Listen to them patiently; show them your trust; dialogue with them; have meals with them whenever you can—overcoming all the obstacles. Try to take part together in liturgical celebrations and family feasts; help them in their “day to day” lives. Through this daily family unity you will be the first ones to learn; and also, by your example (“parents teach their children mainly through their own conduct”), your children will grow in the virtues. You will come to appreciate how they mature, and how the older children “draw” the younger ones upward. You will thank God for your home, a true seedbed of life. And don’t forget that, as a reward for your generosity and dedication, they will be able to respond to their Christian vocation, in whatever form it takes in God’s plans.
Here I would like to pass on a wish that I carry deep in my heart: be eager for God to grant the gift of apostolic celibacy to your daughters or sons, if that is his will. See this always as something joyful, because it truly is. St. Josemaría said on one occasion: “And so a Christian who seeks to sanctify himself in the married state and is conscious of the greatness of his own vocation, spontaneously feels a special veneration and deep affection towards those who are called to apostolic celibacy. When one of his children, by God’s grace, sets out on this path, he truly rejoices.”
I also remind you that, as you carry out your work as mothers and fathers, you are not alone. You can count on the help of so many people who pray for you, and who are ready to help you in the task of educating young people. But above all, you can count on God’s help. Our Lord is always close to you. In this task of formation and the transmission of the faith, we should make use, first of all, of the supernatural means: prayer, assiduous conversation with our Lord, the reception of the sacraments. Pray, speak with God about your children. I will add what St. Josemaría often advised: “If I were to give advice to parents, I would tell them, above all, let your children see that you are trying to live in accordance with your faith...that God is not only on your lips, but also in your deeds; that you are trying to be loyal and sincere, and that you love each other and you really love them too.”
“God with us.” Christ himself has remained really present, “always, to the close of the age,” in the Holy Eucharist. He is the Bread of Life: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” Nourish and sustain your family life with this divine treasure, so that all its members will have life. Try to take part at least at Sunday Mass; and if you can go every day, all the better. And go to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, through brief visits, or accompany him from your home, from your place of work.
Act in such a way that your children can sense your faith in the real presence of Christ when you make a genuflection before the tabernacle; when you follow each part of the Mass with attention and devotion; and when you prepare with dignity and reverence, even in the way you dress, to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. Don Alvaro del Portillo said that our Lady, “to be worthy to become the Mother of God, was conceived without stain of original sin, preserved immune from any personal fault, no matter how slight, and enriched with every gift and grace through the Holy Spirit.” Mary was the first sanctuary of life.
My dear families, I repeat once more: Don't be afraid of life! God's strength is always far greater than any difficulties! And we have access to this strength above all in the Eucharist, as John Paul II stressed right from the beginning of his Pontificate. And he added: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.”
Let us go to the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth. May it be for everyone and for our homes a point of reference, an object of constant trusting prayer. And at the same time, may it be a model in our efforts to give witness to Christ and to bring, to those around us, the life of the children of God. Amen.