The second keynote of the Pastoral-Theological Congress, The Light of the Family in a Dark World, was delivered by Cardinal Robert Sarah, who prefixed his remarks by pointing out that he did not have an easy task. His talk covered several sections: the goodness of God’s creation, the fall from grace, and repentance and kerygma. This summary offers some of the main points.
The goodness of God’s creation: God is love and he who is infinitely perfect created man to make him share in his own blessed life. God commands light to break into the world in order to bring order out of chaos, light out of darkness. At the core of the image of God in which man is created lies relationship. God reveals the plurality of persons, the trinity, one in nature but distinct in persons, who live in perfect unity. Only perfect charity creates unity. God is the essence of the family which is love. God is like a family. Man was created for fellowship with God and with other human beings, in ways that reflect the Trinity. Distinctive yet united in love, love that is fruitful: ‘go forth and multiply’. The fall from grace: the first 11 chapters of Genesis help us see how darkness enters into the goodness of God’s creation, rupturing the natural world. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, listening to the catechesis of the devil: God wants to limit you, so fulfil yourselves as you think best. Sin generates death, ontological death as well as physical. Man exists insofar as God gives him life. If we accept through sin that God is not love then we deny that God loves us and we separate ourselves from him. Life loses its meaning. Adam and Eve hide from God, they begin accusing one another, they separate from each other, and so the first relationship begins to disintegrate. This is what sin does, it leaves us weakened. As a consequence of man separating himself from God, man separates himself from man. Violence progressively spirals out of control eg Cain and Abel, the great flood, the destruction of the Tower of Babel. If this situation is not broken out of we cannot feel the love of God, God and neighbour. In a world that has forgotten God, in which the faith in many places seems like a light in danger of being snuffed out forever. Even members of the church can be tempted to soften church teaching on marriage and family life.
Repentance and kerygma Genesis is the story of every man and woman. But God reaches out in mercy. In front of our sins God puts a limit, intervenes with his merciful love, his son and his spirit. This is why repentance is good news. The acceptance of the roots of sin in our hearts is wisdom. It’s the beginning of healing and makes us ready to receive the good news, the mercy of God as gift of God, as God’s work in our life, in a new creation. The kerygma has three elements:
- God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes will not perish. The initiative is God’s. God does not remain indifferent. Gods spirit for us. As St Irenaeus said, God became man so that man could become God
- Second, Jesus effects a union between God and man on the cross by pouring out his spirit upon us, pointing to the eternal covenant of marriage, it is consummated. Death entered the world through sin, yet we do not die since Jesus takes our place. God’s spirit comes to us.
- Third, by rising from the tomb Jesus opens heaven for us. Jesus intercedes for us with the father for all our needs. His spirit, the Holy Spirit, agent of charity, love to the end, is the gift to us to overcome all that seems humanly impossible, in relationship, faithfulness in marriage, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. A forgiving, caritas, self-giving love that makes a person go out of himself to love God and neighbour to the very end. Jesus broke the cycle of death.
Love in the dimension of the cross is the light that overcomes every darkness in human life. To love the other when he or she is different to me means to overcome death. This is not moralism. God’s grace comes before one’s duty. We reply to a divine initiative. Those wounded by personal sin and the sin of others, the divorced and separated, those cohabiting, those closed in on themselves, can mercifully find a place in the church for regeneration without any finger being pointed at them. This is the testimony that the Christian family is called to give. Jesus told his disciples that others would come to know him through a concrete sign. The love we have for each other. The family and every Christian are called to make visible such love to the end. In the early church the witness of the early Christians: “see how they love one another, until death.” The Spirit of the risen Christ overcomes every barrier. The Christian family is meant to spread its love to the world around it, it is the wellspring of faith, the faith needs a place where it is gestated, where it can grow, become a lived experience. From creation God chose the family to be this place. In the family the promises of God become real, the fidelity of God, a wellspring of hope. Family looks always to the future. The family carries the future, and is the custodian of the future. The future does not look bleak because in the family the future is built, a sign of hope. Family is called to live the mission in relationship. We learn in the family to live, serve one another. It’s the place where solitude, loneliness finds healing. The world today needs saints with heroic witness to defend the family. The family allows goodness to enter the world. Evil does not have the last word. God brings good from evil. This is how God has worked from the beginning of creation. May you be strengthened in power for all endurance, giving thanks to the father who has qualified you.