Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Unity of the Family and Respect for Life

by Pope Saint John Paul II


The Holy Father's homily during the celebration of Mass on the Feast of St. Joseph, at the L. Liberati Stadium.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano

Publisher & Date

Vatican, March 1981

1. "Blessed are those who dwell in thy house (Lord), ever singing thy praise" (Ps 83 [84] :4).

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

After this morning's meeting at your place of work, we are now gathered in this large stadium to participate in the Eucharist. Once more I wish to express gratitude to you, because on the day on which the Church venerates St. Joseph, a just man", who worked in Nazareth at the carpenter's bench, I had the privilege of meeting you in one of the factories where there are the workbenches of so many men residing in Terni and in the neighboring localities. That meeting was centered on the great problem of human work, to which this day particularly directs our thoughts and our hearts.

I greet you here for the second time in a fuller circle: accompanied by your families, your wives and children, relatives, neighbors and acquaintances. Joseph of Nazareth, "a just man", whose solemnity permits us to look with the eyes of faith at the great cause of human work, is simultaneously head of the home and head of the family: of the Holy Family, just as each of you, my brothers and sisters, is a husband and father, a wife and mother, responsible for the family and for the home. There is a close connection between work and the family: between your work and your family. St. Joseph is, with a special right, the Patron Saint of this bond. And so it is a good thing that, after our morning meeting which saw us gathered round your workbenches, we are able to meet here to dedicate the Holy Mass of the Solemnity of St. Joseph to families. To every family and to all families.

I wish to invite more cordially precisely these families to the eucharistic community, which expresses our family unity with God, the Father of Jesus Christ and our Father--and at the same time manifests the reciprocal unity of men, especially those who constitute one family.

Illustrious martyrs of this region

2. The Eucharist manifests and realizes the family unity of the whole Church. To take part in the Sacrifice of Christ, to nourish herself on his Body and his Blood, the Church gathers as a family at the table of the Divine Word and at the table of the Lord's Bread.

Today, the whole Church of Terni, Narni and Amelia participates in a particular way in this solemn eucharistic assembly.

I wish to greet this Church cordially as the family of the People of God with the Bishop Santo Bartolomeo Quadri, who is its pastor, and with the whole presbyterium. I greet the members of the chapters, the educators of the seminary, the parish priests and their collaborators. I also greet the men and women religious of the orders and congregations, who are carrying out their work in the area, making their valuable contribution to the building up of the People of God. I address a respectful thought to the civil authorities, who wished to honor this celebration of ours with their presence.

I wish to reserve a word of greeting for the representatives of the parish of Castelnuovo di Conza, which was hit by the earthquake, and with whom the faithful of this land have commendably established a twinning of solidarity. I also greet with particular cordiality the lay people engaged in the apostolate, especially those who have agreed to take an active part in the various kinds of associations operating both at the diocesan and at the parochial level. And I greet the young, whom I see present in such large numbers: may they always succeed in keeping their hearts open to the values proclaimed in the Gospel, committing themselves to building on them a future more worthy of man. A greeting, finally, to all the faithful of the diocesan communities which, in the daily accomplishment of their family and social tasks, bear witness before their brothers and sisters to the strength of their Christian convictions.

The Churches of Terni, Narni and Amelia can pride themselves on ancient traditions of faith, sealed by the blood of illustrious martyrs: Valentine, Giovenale, Firmina are names well known to you, which evoke the memory of difficult times, in which adherence to Christ not infrequently involved the sacrifice of one's life. May the example of dauntless fortitude that your holy Patrons have left you as a lasting heritage be, for every child of this land, a constant incentive to that courageous consistency of life, without which it is impossible to feel and be truly Christians. Following the example of those ancient Christians who died for their faith, may you also be able to live your faith today!

Joseph of Nazareth

3. The reading of the Gospel according to St. Matthew invites us to meditate on a particular moment in the life of Joseph of Nazareth, a moment full of divine content and at the same time of profound human truth. We read: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:18). When we listen to these words, there come to mind those other well-known words which we recite daily, in the morning, noon and evening prayer: "The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary and she conceived of the Holy Spirit".

Through the Holy Spirit, the Son of God was conceived in order to become a man, the son of Mary. This was the mystery of the Virgin, who replied to the words of the Annunciation: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).

And so it happened: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14). And above all he came to dwell in the womb of the Virgin who remaining a virgin--became a mother: "she was found to be with third of the Holy Spirit" (MT 1:18).

This was Mary's mystery. Joseph did not know this mystery. He did not know that in her whose bridegroom he was, even though, in obedience to Jewish law, he had not yet received her under his roof, there had been fulfilled that promise of faith made to Abraham, of which St. Paul speaks in the second reading today. That is, that there had been fulfilled in her, in Mary of the family of David, the prophecy which the prophet Nathan had once addressed to David. The prophecy and the promise of faith, whose fulfillment was awaited by the whole People, the Israel of divine election, and the whole of humanity.

This was Mary's mystery. Joseph did not know this mystery. She could not transmit it to him, because it was a mystery beyond the capacity of the human intellect and the possibilities of human language. It was not possible to transmit it by any human means. It was only possible to accept it from God and believe. Just as Mary believed.

Joseph did not know this mystery and for this reason he suffered a great deal inwardly. We read: "Her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly" (MT 1:19).

But a certain night came when Joseph too believed. The word of God was addressed to him and the mystery of Mary, his bride and wife, became clear for him. He believed that, lo, the promise of faith made to Abraham and the prophecy that King David had heard had been fulfilled. (Both Joseph and Mary were of the family of David).

"Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (MT 1:20-21).

"When Joseph woke from sleep -- the Evangelist concludes -- he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him" (MT 1: 24).

4. We gathered here, hear these words -- and we venerate Joseph, a just man. Joseph, of the house of David, who loved Mary most deeply, because he accepted her whole mystery. We venerate Joseph in whom there is reflected more fully than in all earthly fathers the Fatherhood of God himself. We venerate Joseph who built the family house on earth for the Eternal Word just as Mary gave him a human body. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14).

From this great mystery of faith let us direct our thoughts to our homes, to so many couples and families. Joseph of Nazareth is a particular revelation of the dignity of human fatherhood! Joseph of Nazareth, the carpenter, the man of work. Think of that, you, precisely you men of work of Terni, Narni, Amelia and of the whole of Italy, the whole of Europe and of the whole world.

The family rests on the dignity of human fatherhood -- on the responsibility of the man, husband and father, as also on his work. Joseph of Nazareth bears witness to this for us.

Are not the words that God speaks to him: "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife" (MT 1:20), addressed to each of you? Dear brothers, husbands and fathers of a family! "Do not fear to take. . .". Do not give up! It was said at the beginning: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife" (Gen 2:24). And Christ adds: "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mk 10:9). The unity of the family, its stability, is one of the fundamental blessings of man and of society. At the basis of family unity there is the indissolubility of marriage -- if man, if society seek the ways that deprive marriage of its indissolubility and the family of its unity and stability, then they cut off, as it were, the very root of its health, and deprive themselves of one of the fundamental goods on which human life is built.

Dear brothers! May that voice which Joseph of Nazareth heard during that decisive night of his life always reach you, in particular when the danger of the destruction of the family looms up. "Do not fear to persevere"! "Do not give up"! Behave as that just man did.

Human fatherhood finds model in Joseph

5. Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary and that which is conceived in her (cf. MT 1:20). So God the Father says to the man with whom, in a way, he shared his fatherhood. God, dear brothers, in a sense shares his fatherhood with each of you. Not in the mysterious and supernatural way in which he did with Joseph of Nazareth . . . And yet every fatherhood on earth, every human fatherhood takes its beginning from him, and finds its model in him. Your human fatherhood, dear brothers, is always connected with motherhood. And what is conceived in the womb of the woman -- mother unites you spouses, husband and wife, with a particular bond that God the Creator of man blessed right "from the beginning". This is the bond of fatherhood and motherhood, which is formed from the moment when the man, the husband, finds in the motherhood of the woman the expression and confirmation of his human fatherhood.

Fatherhood is responsibility for life: for the life first conceived in the woman's womb and then born, in order that a new man, who is blood of your blood and flesh of your flesh, may be revealed. God who says: "do not abandon the woman, your wife", says at the same time: "receive the life conceived in her"! Just as he said to Joseph of Nazareth, although Joseph was not the blood father of him who was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary.

God says to every man: "accept the life conceived of you! Do not allow it to be suppressed!" God says this with the voice of his commandments, with the voice of the Church. But he says so above all with the voice of conscience. The voice of human conscience. This voice is univocal, in spite of everything that is done to prevent people from listening to it and to stifle it, despite everything that is done, that is, so that man and woman will not listen to this simple and clear voice of conscience.

Men of work, men of hard work know this simple voice of conscience. What they feel most deeply is precisely that bond which unites work and the family. Work is for the family, since work is for man (and not vice versa) -- and precisely the family, first and above all the family, is the specific place of man. It is the environment in which he is conceived, is born and matures, the environment for which he assumes the most serious responsibility, in which he fulfills himself daily, the environment of his earthly happiness and human hope. And so today, on St. Joseph's day, knowing the hearts of the workers, their honesty and responsibility, I express the conviction that precisely they will assure and consolidate these two fundamental goods of man and society: the unity of the family and respect for the life conceived under the mother's heart.

Blessings on your homes and families

6. "Blessed are those who dwell in thy house, Lord" (cf. Ps 83 [84], 4) I wish you happiness, dear brothers and sisters. I wish you that happiness that springs from a pure conscience. I wish you that happiness that the home offers. From the house of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Nazareth, from that modest workbench, joined to it, I draw in thought and in the heart a continuous line, as it were, as far as these modern work yards of industrial work in which you toil -- and I extend it further: to your homes, to your families. May the happiness that comes from God reign in them. May it be stronger than all the ordeals of life, from which man is never free on earth. And above all may man mature in your homes, in your families, according to the specific extent of his dignity.

Of the dignity given to him by Jesus of Nazareth . . . Jesus of whom people spoke as "the carpenter's son" (MT 13:55). While he was of the same substance as the Father, the Son of God became incarnate and was born as a man from the Virgin Mary of the Holy Spirit.

And he grew in Nazareth at Joseph's side. Under his watchful and solicitous eye.

Click here for a compilation of documents, prayers and novenas for St. Joseph available on Petersnet.

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