Families that make an (environmental) difference

Below a text from Pope Benedict XVI delivered in Milan for the 7th World Meeting of Families. The core of his speech centered on holiness and family life, and the challenges for modern faithful families. But certainly, among the benefits of a united, holy and prayerful family was the improvement of the environment. Since every human person is born from communion into a family, dependent on others, families affect us all. The environmental impacts of how families live their lives on a daily basis can be immense. A utilitarian mentality on the other hand, that can guide family life, can bring among other things the degradation of the environment. Finally, the Pope also stressed the importance of the Sunday as the Lord’s day, which can be a day of “closeness to nature” – a great sign of the reciprocity spoken of in another address on the environment.

“In the Book of Genesis, God entrusts his creation to the human couple for them to guard it, cultivate it, and direct it according to his plan (cf. 1:27-28; 2:15). In this indication of Sacred Scripture we may recognize the task of man and woman to collaborate with God in the process of transforming the world through work, science and technology. Man and woman are also the image of God in this important work, which they are to carry out with the Creator’s own love. In modern economic theories, there is often a utilitarian concept of work, production and the market. Yet God’s plan, as well as experience, show that the one-sided logic of sheer utility and maximum profit are not conducive to harmonious development, to the good of the family or to building a just society, because it brings in its wake ferocious competition, strong inequalities, degradation of the environment, the race for consumer goods, family tensions. Indeed, the utilitarian mentality tends to take its toll on personal and family relationships, reducing them to a fragile convergence of individual interests and undermining the solidity of the social fabric.

One final point: man, as the image of God, is also called to rest and to celebrate. The account of creation concludes with these words: “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it” (Gen 2:2-3). For us Christians, the feast day is Sunday, the Lord’s day, the weekly Easter. It is the day of the Church, the assembly convened by the Lord around the table of the word and of the eucharistic Sacrifice, just as we are doing today, in order to feed on him, to enter into his love and to live by his love. It is the day of man and his values: conviviality, friendship, solidarity, culture, closeness to nature, play, sport. It is the day of the family, on which to experience together a sense of celebration, encounter, sharing, not least through taking part in Mass. Dear families, despite the relentless rhythms of the modern world, do not lose a sense of the Lord’s Day! It is like an oasis in which to pause, so as to taste the joy of encounter and to quench our thirst for God.


For the same event the Pope had a question and answer session with families from all over the world, touching on subjects such as technology, economy, commitment, hope and the  stresses of daily life. One beautiful response came to the question of fidelity and commitment to each other – an answer that can be applied to our environmental responsibility as well -it must mature into a new wine.

falling in love is a wonderful thing, but perhaps it does not always last for ever: it is a feeling which does not remain indefinitely. So it is clear that the progression from falling in love to engagement and then to marriage requires a number of decisions, interior experiences. As I said, this loving sentiment is a wonderful thing, but it has to be purified, it has to undergo a process of discernment, that is, reason and will have to come into it. Reason, sentiment and will have to come together. In the Rite of Marriage, the Church does not say: “Are you in love?” but “Do you wish?” “Have you decided?” In other words, falling in love has to become true love by involving the will and the reason in a deeper journey of purification which is the journey of engagement, such that the whole person, with all his or her faculties, with the discernment of reason and strength of will, says: “Yes, this is my life”. I often think of the wedding-feast of Cana. The first wine is very fine: this is falling in love. But it does not last until the end: a second wine has to come later, it has to ferment and grow, to mature. The definitive love that can truly become this “second wine” is more wonderful still, it is better than the first wine. And this is what we must seek. Here it is important that the “I” and the “you” are not alone, but that the parish community is also involved, the Church, the circle of friends. All this – the right degree of personal maturity, communion of life with others, with families who support one another – is very important, and only in this way, through this involvement of the community, friends, the Church, the faith, God himself, can a wine emerge that will last for ever. I wish you well!

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