At the Marian Family Conference, Shrine of Torreciudad, Spain (Sept. 4, 2004)

My dear families:

This year, I once again have to thank God for the gift of being able to celebrate this Fifteenth Marian Family Conference with all of you who have come to this shrine of our Lady of Torreciudad from so many parts of Spain and neighboring countries.

We are here—in our Lady’s house and surrounded by the beloved memory of St. Josemaría Escrivá—as witnesses to the Gospel of the family and of life.

We are here by the grace of the Holy Spirit to glorify God the Father through Christ, who renews his redeeming sacrifice in the Holy Mass. He, the Lord of heaven and earth, acts unceasingly in human history through the Church, of which we form part. In the responsorial Psalm we have praised God, in the words of Mary, for the great things he has done for mankind (cf. Lk 1:50-53). The greatest of all, of course, is the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who makes himself truly present in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Body and Blood, which he gives us as the bread of life and the drink of salvation so that we might form in Christ a single body and a single spirit; that is to say, so that in the middle of the world we might become holy and an effective leaven of holiness.

We are gathered today in Torreciudad to renew in ourselves these truths of faith, and to proclaim that marriage is also a great sacrament (Eph 5:32), an efficacious sign of God’s presence in the world and a manifestation of the indefectible love with which Christ loves his Church and makes her fruitful. We have come to reaffirm, with Pope John Paul II, that “in the Christian vision of marriage, the relationship between a man and a woman—a reciprocal relationship that is total, unique and indivisible—responds to the original design of God”; a design often “confused in history by man’s ‘hardness of heart,’ but which Christ came to restore to its original splendor, revealing what God wanted ‘from the beginning’” for the good of mankind.[1]

Yes, my sisters and brothers, my daughters and sons, we are celebrating this Fifteenth Marian Conference as an unequivocal expression of our commitment to “set forth with fidelity the truth about marriage and the family,”[2]as we have received it from God. Through his Vicar on earth, our Lord calls upon us to give life to society with the perennial teachings of the Church, for “there are many cultural, social and political factors that are contributing to a crisis that is ever more evident in the family,” and that at times can lead to undermining “the very concept of the family.”[3]

We are not here to lament this situation. But, as John Paul II[4] and the bishops of Spain[5] have expressly pointed out, the signs of this obscuring of human dignity and of the holiness of marriage in the consciences of so many of our fellow citizens are clearly visible.

Faced with this scenario affecting millions of people in Spain and throughout the world, the theme chosen for this year’s Conference is especially meaningful: The Christian family, hope for the world.

Dear families, have the joyful certainty of this reality: you are the hope of the Church and of the world. God is counting on our fidelity, joined to that of so many other persons, in order to illumine this world of ours. He is relying on you, in the words of St. Josemaría, “to drown evil in an abundance of good” and to bring to the world once more the saving message of the Gospel.

We Christians don’t consider ourselves better or more virtuous than others. But today, as always, we are called by God’s grace to be the salt and light of the world (cf. Mt 5:13-14), the leaven of society (cf. Mt 13:33), and thus to revitalize culture and society with Christ’s love and truth. Our Lord urges us day by day to be an example to many who are wavering, to show them the beauty and attractiveness of our faith, the divine meaning of human love, and therefore of faithful and indissoluble marriage, the greatness of the vocation to marriage as a path to holiness, the joy of motherhood and fatherhood as a sharing in the paternity and maternity of God, through which he enriches the human family and makes it grow. And when God does not send children to a couple who truly desire them, this is another way of blessing them, so they can be open in a special way to a broader, spiritual paternity and maternity.

This is not, I’ve just said, a moment for lamentation, but rather for the joyful affirmation of our faith, for a constant apostolic dedication, filled with optimism. “Rejoice O daughter of Zion, for I am coming to dwell within you” (Zech 2:14), we heard in the first reading. This prophecy of Zechariah, which announced the salvation of the human race, was fulfilled in a small house in Nazareth, a home illumined by Jesus and by the holy and ordinary life of Mary and Joseph. And he made that home, his home on earth, a model for all families of all times. A model of faithful, chaste and fruitful love, with a spiritual fruitfulness that extends to all generations. Rejoice O daughter of Zion, for I am coming to dwell within you, our Lord repeats today, reminding us that he wants to dwell also in us and in all homes, in order to extend his mercy to the faithful from generation to generation (Lk 1:50).

Therefore I ask you, with Pope John Paul II, not to close the doors of your life and your home to Christ. Open them wide! Let the Light that dissipates all darkness enter into your souls and your homes.[6] If we struggle, the light of faith and Love[7] will enable us to give coherent witness to the truth about marriage and the family: about its unity and indissolubility; about the authentic love of spouses, open always to life: don’t fear the arrival of more children; about fidelity in the midst of sorrows and joys; about generosity and refinement in mutual dealings; about self-forgetfulness and dedication to one’s children and to the service of society.… Welcome into your heart the divine Light, so that all these realities that make up married and family life—almost always ordinary things and without any apparent splendor—may shine in your home with all their human and supernatural depth, making it a true “domestic church,” a channel of holiness and apostolate.

St. Josemaría will help you to make these perennial teachings on the family a reality in your own lives. His preaching is filled with examples overflowing with Christian sense and common sense, valid for all times. I can’t resist passing on to you one of his spontaneous reflections: “To those of you who are married, my best wishes. But I tell you: Don’t let your love wither; strive to be always young, keeping yourselves entirely for each other. You should come to love one another so much that you love even your spouse’s defects, so long as they do not offend God.”[8]

And on another occasion, he advised a father: “Love your wife very much, with all your soul. Strive to educate your children well; strive to work for them, seeking to please God and to help your country. If you do so, you will be worthy of being called a loyal man and a Christian. There is no contradiction between these two duties, because they are fused together, like the strands of cord that, twisted together, form a strong rope.”[9]

And why is this granted me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Lk 1:43). Yes, my dear brothers and sisters and my children, we too, like St. Elizabeth, should marvel that our Mother brings us her Son. For in spite of our weaknesses, errors and sins, he has come into the world to save us, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons, and thus you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir (Gal 4:5-7).

Our inheritance is Christ himself and the kingdom of holiness and grace that he established by his coming into the world. By having recourse to the founts of that grace—especially the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, together with prayer—and striving to acquire the formation needed to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you (1 Pet 3:15), each of your homes will be a radiating hearth of charity, truth and peace in the middle of the world; a cradle of children of God; a sowing of vocations in the footsteps of Christ and for the service of the Church in apostolic celibacy; and the source of new Christian families who will transmit life and faith to future generations.

If you always stay close to our Lord, he will make you “shamelessly apostolic,”[10] filled with understanding and effectiveness, in order to undertake the immense task of the new evangelization of families that the Church has to carry out. One by one, family by family, you will reach thousands of persons and homes, showing them the human and supernatural greatness of the vocation to marriage.

Let us pray and get others to pray for these essential truths about human love, marriage and the family. At the same time, each of us should consider how we can positively influence our surroundings through a far-reaching personal apostolate of friendship and confidence. (This is another way of praying!) We will spread positive, clear ideas about doctrine, always calmly, with respect for those who think differently, because firmness is not incompatible with charity.

The desire to defend marriage and the family leads also to love for one’s country, which we love as good citizens. This right and duty is not limited to the strictly religious or spiritual terrain because, as you know, the family, a community of life and of love,[11] is the fundamental and essential cell of society. By protecting it you provide a great benefit to your homeland, and you help those who govern to take into account the legitimate desires of their citizens, whom they should never ignore, and whom they have to serve honestly, in the sincere search for the common good that makes authority legitimate.

Let us end by invoking once more our Lady of Torreciudad. Sub tuum praesidium confugimus “We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessities.” Take us by the hand, O Mary; intercede before God for our families and for all the world’s families. Make us faithful apostles of your Son so as to carry out, closely united to the Pope and all the pastors of the Church, the evangelization of society. And bring us in the end to Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb. Amen

[1] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 6 -I-2001, n. 4 7.

[2] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa,29 -V I-2003, n. 9 0.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cf. Ibid.

[5] Cf. Pastoral Instruction The Family, Sanctuary of Life, no. 94.

[6] Easter Vigil, Easter prayer.

[7] St. Josemaría, The Way, no. 1.

[8] St. Josemaría, Notes taken in a get-together, November 18, 1972, in Hogares luminosos y alegres, pp. 20-21.

[9] St. Josemaría, Notes taken in a get-together, October 28, 1972, in Hogares luminosos y alegres, pp. 21-22.

[10] St. Josemaría, Letter February 14, 1974, no. 9.

[11] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, no. 48.

Romana, n. 39, July-December 2004, p. 180-183.

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