Pope Francis on marriage and family life:
Catechesis on the family
Dear Brothers and Sisters: Continuing our catechesis on the family, we now reflect
on the beauty of Christian marriage, that sacrament which builds up the community
of the Church and society. Marriage has been inscribed in creation’s design by God,
and, by his grace, countless Christian men and women have lived married life fully.
Marriage is an act of faith in God’s plan for humanity and an act of selfless love.
Saint Paul tells us that married love is an image of the love between Christ and his
Church; a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, by giving himself
completely for her. When a man and a woman marry in the Lord, they participate in
the missionary life of the Church, by living not only for themselves or their own
family, but for all people. Therefore the life of the Church is enriched through every
marriage which shows forth this beauty, and is impoverished when marriage is
disfigured in any way. A couple which faithfully and courageously lives the grace of
this sacrament assists the Church in offering the gifts of faith, hope and love to all
people, and helps others to experience these gifts in their married lives and their
families. May married couples live this mystery ever more fully, trusting in God’s
tenderness and the Church’s maternal care.
The dignity of marriage
Following last Wednesday’s catechesis on God’s original plan for man and woman
as a couple, the Pope spoke at today’s general audience about marriage, recalling
that Jesus’ first miracle took place during the wedding at Cana, when He
transformed water into wine and thus ensured that the celebrations could take place.
“This fact reminds us of Genesis, when God completed His creation with his
masterpiece: man and woman”, he said. “And Jesus began His miracles with this
masterpiece, in marriage. … Thus Jesus teaches us that the masterpiece of society
is the family: the man and the woman who love each other. … Since that time, many
things have changed but that ‘sign’ of Christ contains a message that remains valid”.
“Nowadays it does not seem easy to describe marriage as a celebration that is
renewed over time, in the different seasons in the entire life of spouses. It is a fact
that fewer people marry. Instead, in many countries the number of separations is
increasing, while the number of children is in decline. The difficulty of staying
together – both as a couple and as a family – leads to bonds being broken with
increasing frequency and rapidity. … In effect, many young people are led to give up
the plan of an irrevocable bond and a lasting family. There is a kind of culture of the
provisional: everything is temporary, and it seems that nothing is permanent”.
For this reason, the Pope continued, one of the questions we must face nowadays is
why young people do not choose to get married, and seem to have little confidence
in marriage and in the family. “The difficulties are not only of an economic nature,
although these are very important”, he observed. “Many people believe that the
change that has taken place in recent decades was set in motion by the
emancipation of women. But this argument is not valid either. It is an insult, a form of
misogyny that seeks to subjugate women. If men behave in this way, we are like
Adam, when God asked him who had eaten the fruit of the tree, and he said that the
woman gave it to him”.
“In reality, almost all men and women would prefer emotional security in the form of
a solid marriage and a happy family … but, for fear of failure, many do not even want
to think about it. … Perhaps it is precisely that fear of failure that is the greatest
obstacle to receiving the word of Christ, Who promises His grace to the matrimonial
union and to the family”. However, “marriage consecrated by God preserves that
bond between man and woman that God has blessed ever since the creation of the
world; and it is a source of peace and good for all married and family life. For
example, in the early times of Christianity, this great dignity of the bond between
man and woman defeated an abuse considered to be entirely normal in those times,
that is, the right of husbands to repudiate their wives, even for the most specious and
humiliating reasons. The Gospel, the Gospel that announces this sacrament, ended
this culture of habitual repudiation”.
“The Christian seed of radical equality between spouses must bear new fruit today”,
emphasised the Holy Father. “The witness of the social dignity of marriage will
become persuasive, the witness of reciprocity between husband and wife, of
complementarity. .. And as Christians we must become more demanding in this
respect. For example, in decisively supporting equal pay for equal work: inequality is
a scandal. Why is it taken for granted that women should earn less than men? No!
They have the same rights. At the same time, the maternity of women and the
paternity of men should be recognised as a richness that remains valid, especially
for the benefit of children. Equally, the virtue of hospitality in Christian families today
retains a crucial importance, especially in situations of poverty, degradation and
“Do not be afraid of inviting Jesus to the wedding celebrations! And also His Mother
Mary!” exclaimed Pope Francis. “Christians, when they marry ‘in the Lord’, are
transformed into an effective sign of God’s love. Christians do not marry only for
themselves: they marry in the Lord in favour of all the community, of society as a
Man and woman, complementary and of the same divine substance
Pope Francis dedicated his catechesis at today’s Wednesday general audience to
the second chapter of Genesis, in which we read that God created man as the
culmination of all Creation and placed him in a beautiful garden so that he could
cultivate it. “The Holy Spirit, who inspires all the Bible, suggests for a moment the
image of man alone, without woman”, said the Pontiff. “And it suggests the thought
of God, almost the sentiments of God as He watches him, as He observes Adam
alone in the garden: he is free, he is the master, but … he is alone. And God sees
that this is not good; it is a lack of communion, a lack of fullness. ‘It is not good that
the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’”.
When after presenting all the other creatures, God finally presents woman to Adam,
“the man joyfully recognises that creature, and only her, to be part of him: ‘bone of
my bones and flesh of my flesh’. Finally there is reflection, reciprocity. The woman is
not a replica of man; she comes directly from God’s gesture of creation. Indeed, the
image of the ‘rib’ does not imply inferiority or subordination, but on the contrary, that
man and woman are of the same substance and are complementary. And the fact
that, again in the parable, God forms woman while man is sleeping, underlines that
she is in no way a creation of man, but of God”.
God’s trust in man and woman, to whom He entrusts the earth, is generous, direct
and full. “He trusts them. But here there is the evil one who introduces suspicion,
incredulity and distrust into their minds. And finally, they arrive at the point of
disobeying the commandment that protects them. They give in to the delirium of
omnipotence that contaminates everything and destroys harmony”.
“Sin generates diffidence and division between man and woman. Their relationship is
undermined by a thousand forms of abuse and subjection, of deceptive seduction
and humiliating arrogance, including the most tragic and violent. History bears their
traces. Let us think, for instance, of the negative excesses of patriarchal culture.
Think of the exploitation and commodification of the female body in the media in
contemporary culture. But let us also think of the recent epidemic of distrust,
scepticism and even hostility that is spreading in our culture – starting in particular
from a comprehensible diffidence on the part of women – with regard to the alliance
between man and woman that is able, at the same time, to refine the intimacy of
communion and safeguard the dignity of difference”.
“If we do not find a wave of sympathy for this alliance, able to protect new
generations from distrust and indifference, the children who come into the world will
be increasingly rooted in it”, warned the bishop of Rome. “The social devaluation of
the stable and generative alliance of man and woman is certainly a loss for all. We
must restore honour to marriage and the family”.
“The stewardship of this alliance of man and woman, even if they are sinners and
wounded, confused and humiliated, distrustful and uncertain, is therefore for us as
believers a demanding and exciting vocation. The account of creation and sin, at the
end, offers us a beautiful image: ‘And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife
garments of skins and clothed them’. It is an image of tenderness towards the
couple, sinners as they were, that leaves us speechless. It is an image of the
paternal protection of the human couple. God Himself cares for and protects His
finest creation”, concluded the Pope.
The complementarity between man and woman
Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the family by dedicating this morning’s
general audience to the difference and complementarity between man and woman,
recalling first of all that the Book of Genesis insists that both are the image and
semblance of God. “Not only man as such, not only woman as such, but rather man
and woman, as a couple, are the image of God. The difference between them is not
a question of contrast or subordination, but instead of communion and generation,
always in the image and semblance of God”.
“Experience teaches us that for the human being to know him- or herself well and to
grow harmoniously, there is a need for reciprocity between man and woman”, said
the Pope to the thirty thousand faithful present in St. Peter’s Square. “When this
does not happen, we see the consequences. We are made to listen to each other
and to help each other. We can say that, without mutual enrichment in this
relationship – in terms of thought and action, in personal relationships and in work,
and also in faith – the two cannot even fully understand what it means to be a man
and a woman”.
“Modern and contemporary culture has opened up new spaces, new freedoms and
new depths for the enrichment and understanding of this difference. But it has also
introduced many doubts and much scepticism. I wonder, for example, if so-called
gender theory is not an expression of frustration and resignation, that aims to cancel
out sexual difference as it is no longer able to face it. Yes, we run the risk of taking
step backwards. Indeed, the removal of difference is the problem, not the solution.
To solve their problems in relating to each other, men and women must instead
speak more, listen more, know each other better, value each other more. They must
treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship. With these human bases,
supported by God’s grace, it is possible to plan a lifelong matrimonial and family
union. The marriage and family bond is a serious matter for all, not only for believers.
I would like to encourage intellectuals not to ignore this theme, as if it were
secondary to our efforts to promote a freer and more just society”.
“God has entrusted the earth to the alliance between man and woman; its failure
makes our emotional life arid and obscures the heaven of hope. The signs are
already worrying, and we can see them. I would like to indicate due points, among
many, that I believe must concern us with greater urgency”.
“Undoubtedly we must do far more in favour of women, if we want to strengthen to
the reciprocity between men and women. Indeed, it is necessary for a woman not
only to be listened to, but also for her voice to carry real weight, recognised authority,
in society and in the Church. The way in which Jesus Himself regarded women, in a
context that was far less favourable than our own, casts a powerful light illuminating
a road that takes us far, on which we have travelled only a short distance. It is a road
we must travel with more creativity and boldness”.
He added, “a second point relates to the theme of man and woman created in God’s
image. I wonder if the crisis of collective trust in God, that is so harmful to us, that
causes us to ail with resignation to incredulity and cynicism, is not also connected to
the crisis in the alliance between man and woman. In effect, the biblical account, with
the great symbolic fresco of earthly paradise and original sin, tells us precisely that
communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple, and the
loss of trust in the heavenly Father generates division and conflict between man and
“This leads to the great responsibility of the Church, of all believers, and above all of
Christian families, to rediscover the beauty of the Creator’s plan that inscribes the
image of God also in the alliance between man and woman. The earth is filled with
harmony and trust when the alliance between man and woman is lived well. And if
men and women seek this together between them and with God, without doubt they
will find it. Jesus explicitly encourages us to bear witness to this beauty, which is the
image of God”, concluded the Pontiff.