The family as the image of God
The topic of today’s meeting is very beautiful and relevant. It is something we speak about continuously, with deep personal and existential significance for each one of us.
I am married and have three children. A few days ago, I celebrated 14 years of marriage and, thinking back on the years I’ve spent with my wife, I was filled with gratitude for the gift of the family. However, I still have open questions, expressed both in the dialogue between myself and my wife, and in conversation with our closest friends. We are discovering more and more that adherence to the values that are linked to the family cannot be taken for granted anymore, not only by the world and context in which we live, but also by ourselves.
The first question, since Fr. Massimo is playing at home, so to speak, I would like to pose to Cardinal Ruini. I’ll begin with a quote from Amoris Laetitia of Pope Francis: “The fruitfulness of the human couple is a living and effective “image”, a visible sign of his creative act” (AL 10). Shortly after, the Pope draws from a very beautiful section of a homily of John Paul II: “Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love” (Puebla, January 28, 1979). In the end, Francis concludes that “the family is thus not unrelated to God’s very being” (AL 11). Therefore, the first question that I will ask Cardinal Ruini is: what do we mean when we say that the family is an image of God?
Ruini. This question has two aspects: one that refers directly to God (what it means with regards to God), the other that makes reference to us (what this affirmation means for us).
Now, with regards to God: we all know that there is only one God, that God is one. Christians are rigorously monotheist, no less than the Jews. And yet, this God who is one is not a God who is alone. Not only because He created us, the angels and all living things, but because even in Himself, He is not alone. God is a unity of relations, a unity of love. This fundamental fact, that God Himself is, in Himself, relationship and love, has decisive consequences for the comprehension of the whole world and in particular of man, of man and woman, of that which we are.
A first consequence is that the meaning of life, differently from the proposal of modern culture, is not found in fighting and competition, but lies in love, in gift. The two great commandments of Christianity – “love God above all other things” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (cfr. Matt 22:37-40) – are not only a moral duty, the greatest duty of all Christians, but also an expression of the reality of things. We must act this way because reality is structured in this way. In other words – a bit more obtuse, but with the same meaning – morality corresponds to ontology, corresponds to the deep structure of reality. This is what has to do with God.
Let’s now pass to the second aspect, which refers to us. The family is the first, most elementary, most basic, concretization of this ultimate reality of love and of gift. At the base of all of it, there is a dual-sexual structure: “Man and woman He created them” (Gen 1:17). I will allow myself to say that it is folly, an insanity that is new and typical of our time, to want to overcome this duality of the masculine and the femminine, to want, in some way, to think that a human being’s being man and woman makes no difference. Man and woman have equal dignity, but in the family, there is a synthesis of the various dimensions of human love. In it, one can find eros-love, or, love as sexual attraction, and agape-love, or, love as gift, love that simply seeks the good of the other. In the family, one finds the transmission of biological life and the transmission of a human patrimony, of that patrimony that consists, above all, in the capacity to love. In the family, all of this must be transmitted: not only biological life, but that which is more specifically human.
We can affirm all of these things while also not falling into the risk of idealization. We must not idealize the family! The family has its own problems, its difficulties, its miseries, like all human realities. We know this all too well when we look at our own lives. The family comes with daily toil, toil in which we experience the need for the help of God, the help of grace. One can speak of “grace of state.” There is a grace of state that the Lord gives to spouses and that makes them experience the greatness and the beauty of the gift of God. I believe that we must take seriously not only the greatness of the gift of God, but also His beauty. In front of this greatness and this beauty, what attitude must we have? I would limit myself to two words: joy, being content with this gift; and, naturally, gratitude, knowing to thank. Only if one knows how to thank, can he or she truly become an adult, truly aware.
The family as vocation
Thank you, your Eminence. This answer introduces us in the best possible way to the profundity of the family and of the familial vocation.
The second question is, instead, tied to the theme of vocation. My experience of personal faith is marked by my friendship with persons who have chosen the path of virginity, many of whom are in the Fraternity of St. Charles. I have always looked with admiration at this choice, above all for its character of a dedicated and complete gift of life to Jesus and to the Church. Seeing how fascinating this dedication is, a question arises: is it possible, even in family life, to live out an equally complete dedication to the Church? Is it possible to live the vocation of the family with this wide horizon?
Camisasca. A great merit of Fr. Giussani is the forceful proposal of the experience of life as vocation, for all persons. In reality, he was hearkening back to something that had deep roots in the tradition of the Church, but that also, in certain epochs, such as the modern, had become obfuscated, through the false assumption that there were major league and minor league vocations. The Second Vatican Council, instead, underlined with great force the unity and uniqueness of vocations in a singular baptismal vocation. Not only Giussani, but also many founders of other movements began their communities beginning from this same conviction. The first task that we have is, therefore, that of helping men to understand that life is vocation.
What does it mean that life is vocation? It means that every life was called forth and is now inhabited by a voice, by a presence. We open, thus, to the theme of God, that, together with that of man, is one of the root themes of our historical moment. If these two questions are not faced – “Who is God?” and “Who am I?” – we are able to make no forward progress.
And so, vocation means that we do not come from nothing. There is Someone who has wanted us, who loved us before all time, even before our being was formed in the womb of our mother. He thought of us, wanted us and loved us. And now He accompanies us. He does not abandon us to be specks of dust in the universe, but He follows us, day after day. Unfortunately, today’s post-modern society excludes God from the horizon of the person and claims that man creates himself. Deep down, it thinks that man is God. So much so – as the Cardinal alluded to before – that the will of man arrives even to claim to be able to define his sexual identity as the fruit of a personal production, a personal choice. Reality no longer exists; what exists is just that which I choose to be in this moment.
On the contrary, speaking about vocation means putting God back in the display screen of life, so to speak. This is the only reasonable possibility because if I do come from nothingness, then I am also heading towards nothingness. Instead, if I come from a personal will, free and loving, then I am going towards this freedom and this love. Only in the dialogue with Him who made me can I discover who I am and what my life is worth. Our first task as Christians is to reawaken persons to the echo of God, who is present in every heart. The fact that we are in His image can never be canceled, never! Even in the experience most distant, most disfigured, most negative, there remains a light. Our task is to awaken and reawaken that light. I can say to you in all truth that in my years of priesthood, and even more in my years as bishop, I have seen persons who are desirous of being helped to rediscover that light of which I am speaking. It is not true that man is closed off to God. It is true that man is disoriented, enslaved by technology and by the invasiveness of cultural trends that govern the world; however, within him, there is a nostalgia for something to which he feels that he is called and which he does not know. For this reason, there are not major league vocations and minor league vocations. There is only one vocation: to discover why I am in the world, why I was wanted, why I was loved, why I am here. We all have this mission: to help each other to see the signs of God within the history of persons and to discover where they lead.
I will now speak more specifically about the familial vocation. It was already said that the vocation to the family is the constitutive vocation of the Church and of society. For this reason, in a certain sense, the family is the highest vocation, that which we priests must serve, if only because the family today is truly the front lines of the Church and of society. We priests must be the rear that brings food, that brings weapons – allow me to use this image – to those who are at the front, who reinvigorate those who are ahead, who have the highest task of generating and educating. We priests, too, obviously, have the task of generating and educating, but, more than any other, I repeat, the family is the front that is exposed and in need of help. For this reason, our priestly vocation must express itself in the help we give to families, in the way we encourage them, in the clarification we bring to their vocation, in the way we help stave off the deterioration of communities of families.
By itself, the family is destined, more often than not, to succumb beneath the forces that contradict it. Therefore, today more than ever, it is part of the familial vocation to encounter one another and to get to know other families, in order to be sustained, encouraged and helped in a dialogue about our vocation, about the education of children, about the relationship between affectivity and work and many other questions. I must say that this accompaniment of families has been one of the most beautiful, luminous and exciting aspects of my ministry in Reggio Emilia. For seven or eight years now, I have been meeting with a group of families who desire to face the questions of life together. Even in my pastoral visits in the diocese, wherever I have gone, I have encouraged the priests and the faithful to create communities of families, because this is part of our calling.
The challenge of education
Thank you, Don Massimo. Your expression “putting God back in the display screen of life” struck me. Those who have children know that today the screen is the totality of life and that getting kids away from the screen is difficult. This leads to a second question for Cardinal Ruini, which is on the topic of education.
One of the greatest concerns for us parents is how we are to face the education of children in a world that seems to have completely different views from Christian ideals. Certain times, the temptation in which we fall as parents is to think that the family must be a sort of isolated place, an environment that can remain protected against the insidiousness of the world. This, long term, can become something suffocating, especially for young people. Therefore, how is it possible to live the challenge of education in a world like that of today?
Ruini. This is a question that many parents ask themselves and that I have heard asked many times. And it is certainly a difficult question. I do not pretend to know how to respond in an exhaustive manner, but I will try to say a few things.
To educate, according to me, it remains fundamental to love. Only if parents truly love their children, in a full sense, will there be a chance that they will be able to educate them. I am referring to a very concrete thing: loving means seeking the good of the beloved. I speak of parents who are seeking the true good of their children, not the gratification that they can receive when they make them happy. This is a temptation, a risk that is run by many parents. They need the affection of their children – and I understand this! – and seek to attain it by keeping them happy. However, doing this, they fail to educate them.
The current cultural context does not favor us in this work, we must admit. In my view, without closure, a certain level of protection of children, especially when they are small, is right and needed. The parents always have the task of protecting their children. More than a protection in a negative sense, that is expressed in prohibitions – “Don’t do this”, “Don’t say that”, “Do not hang out there”, etc. – and which naturally provokes a feeling of rebellion in children, it is useful to have protection in a positive sense. Seeking, in other words, to insert our children in environments, in webs of relationships, where they can experience, above all, the beauty of the faith, where they can also make friendships that, then, will sustain them in the path of life. The friendships born when people are young are always good; they are an anchor of salvation, a strength within us.
I think that it is important to educate children to take initiative. Imparting, therefore, an education not so much in a passive sense, but rather in an active sense. Taking initiative means having an impact in the context in which we live, an impact, in a Christian sense, in the situations in which we find ourselves. In simple terms, we could say that we must educate them to be “apostles.” I had this experience as a boy. I often took initiative and this helped me a great deal, giving me courage and self-confidence, because I saw that the others, even teachers, respected me and took me seriously. This is a great educational task. When I worked with young people, I always sought to put them on this path.
We must be clear, in any event, that education has to do with freedom. It is education of freedom and education to freedom, and therefore, what is called “the risk of education” is unavoidable. It cannot be eliminated. There has always been this risk and today it is there in a particularly powerful way. Precisely for this reason, prayer is indispensable. Parents and educators must pray for the education of their children. Praying to entrust our children to the Lord, who loves our freedom and can engage with it from within. This is the great difference between God and man. We cannot engage the freedom of others directly; we can only do it from without. The Lord, instead, engages with it from within. It is the Lord who orients our freedom towards the good. In the great question of the relationship between the omnipotence of God and our freedom, between the grace of God and our freedom, we must always be aware that it is from within that grace works; it is the Interior Teacher who works in us and who naturally works in our children. For this reason, prayer has a completely particular value.
Thank you, your Eminence. Next to that of education, another theme that arouses preoccupation – not so much, or not only, looking at our children, but also thinking of ourselves and our weaknesses – is that of sexuality. This is a topic that, at times, there is a reluctance to speak about. In reality, it is one of the themes in which most one can feel the pressure of a different mentality, a mentality that is not Christian. In the Christian vision, there are values, such as continence and conjugal fidelity, that seem today completely surpassed, something to which one may adhere in a sort of masochistic compromise, which annuls the desires of the person. And so, I ask you, Don Massimo: is the teaching of the Church on sexuality still reasonable today?
Camisasca. Above all, I will take up what I said in the previous response: to arrive at sexuality, we must begin from the theme of “who am I?”. If I do not rediscover that I am the fruit of a gift, if I do not retain that the most important thing that I must do in life is to discover who I am, then it becomes very difficult to touch other aspects. How can one affirm and understand something that does not have the adequate framing to be understood? Life is discovery of oneself. In this sense, I like the ultimate novel of Daniele Mencarelli [Sempre tornare, Mondadori, Milano 2021; N.d.R.], in which a seventeen year old boy, after having run away from home, returns through a long journey of hitchhiking, in which he encounters many persons who, each in their own way, reveal something of himself.
The adventure of life is the discovery of ourselves and we must carry out this discovery in all of the dimensions of our personality. Among these, sexuality, our sexual identity, is one of the fundamental aspects. It does not have to do merely with our physiology or our psychology, but has to do with our personal destiny, including our relationship with God and with the truth. This journey must be undertaken step after step.
Today, the largest problem is that, with regards to seuality, young people are led to take too abbreviated paths. They are led to a response even before they are able to ask the questions. I think, for example, of the destructive influence of pornography, which creates in young people a disgust towards one’s own sexuality and towards one’s own sexual identity. It is the terrible discovery that sexuality means negativity, means ugly things, means being closed in oneself, betrayal of friends of others, that sexuality means, in the end, the impossibility of being happy. We need to help our young people to walk, step after step, a path of discovery of their sexuality, according to the experiences that a person can live when they are five, ten, or fifteen years old.
We must not avoid this theme. In front of a world for whom the anticipated exercise of sexuality seems to be everything, we must not fall into the risk of not speaking with young people about these themes. Unfortunately, I can say that many priests do not know how to face them; they are unprepared. Perhaps, they themselves do not have a mature awareness of who they are. In front of the questions of young people, in front of the last few years of ministry, I have encountered everywhere, in every parish, the young people of elementary and middle school. I spoke about this theme, above all with the middle school students, and many thanked me, because they do not know with whom to speak about them. They do not have the capacity nor the possibility, for obvious reasons of modesty, to speak about them with their parents. They do not have the possibility of speaking about them in a serious way with their friends, or else they will be considered second rate kids, or bigots. Often, they do not have the possibility of speaking with their priest. They have within them, then, a great question: why did God make me this way, if “this way” is bad? If it is an experience in which I experience myself as something negative, in which, after faking a smile in front of my companions, in reality, then, I closed myself in my room and cried about?
We must, as priests, as educators, and as parents, have a mature and balanced awareness of our sexuality. Then, we must find ways – that are not impossible to find – to speak about it with our young people. This, in fact, is the topic that young people have within themselves and of which they desire to speak with someone who is older.
Today, the topic of affective maturity and of steps towards it, is one of the principal themes within that determination of the person of which the Cardinal spoke so well and wisely. Why? Because it is a recapitulatory theme. Affective maturity, in fact, means a capacity of relating with reality and with others, a capacity to welcome the good and attention towards not being killed by the evil present in relations and relationships, while safeguarding their growth. We must create places of dialogue with our young people; however, we must do it within a global trajectory of education to the Christian life, of education to vocation, in which sexuality and affective maturity are not disconnected, are not the topic of the day, but are an experience that we are having in the fulfillment of ourselves. This, in fact, is the other danger: besides the danger of not speaking about sexuality, there is the danger of speaking about it simply with the logic with which the world speaks about it. Instead, we must help young people to discover their own sexuality and their own affective maturity within a complex and complete path towards the maturation of all of their personality, which is knowledge and love. We must help young people to see the profound interconnection between knowledge and love, to see that it is not possible to know if there is not love, to see that amor ipse notitia est, as the Medievals said: love is the apex of knowledge. Love means attraction. Love means respect. Love means implication with the other and, at the same time, knowledge of the particularity of the other. Our time, unfortunately, makes us consider relationships with others to be on par with relationships with objects. If, in fact, God no longer exists, in other words, if we are not the fruit of a gift, if the other is not the fruit of a gift and is not a gift for me, then, he or she is only an object that I can use and then leave behind. This is the reason for the multiplication of furtive and objectifying relationships between persons, in which the other often serves only as something to cause pleasure. It throws out the intrinsic connection between sexuality and affectivity. There are paths of knowledge in which affectivity and sexuality must implicate one another mutually. Man and woman cannot ever become objects in the arms of another “you”, because there is no “you” who can be an adequate response to my “I.” I am a relationship with the infinite, therefore, I could never become an object. The reality of God reenters continuously also within this journey of affective maturity, and of consideration of one’s own sexuality.
I’ll make a final consideration, a note bene: God loves risk. Making us as He made us, He placed us in a situation of risk. However, he knows that, if man recognizes his own relationship with Him, this risk is reasonable. It is only man who is truly at risk. It is man who becomes an object of the other and for the other. Man, when he lives authentic relationships with others, in other words, governed by the mystery of God, he can even experience the risk of his employing his own intelligence, his own affectivity, his own sexuality as something joyful.
Work and its value
Thank you, Don Massimo. “God loves risk.” I would like to use this beautiful expression to introduce to Cardinal Ruini the other difficulty: the problem of work. It is another theme, like that of sexualtiy and education, that occupies a fundamental part in the life of families and that risks becoming something absolute. Even here, we feel that we are in front of a paralyzing alternative, for which, on the one hand, there is an ideology of work that says that man must in every way affirm himself through his work and be a winner; on the other part, there is an experience of work that often focuses on its great difficulty and which is similarly unsatisfying. Many also have had the experience of losing their place of work. In the end, one tends to think that the alternative is between the man who is able to impose himself and the loser, the failure. This also introduces a series of difficulties in reconciling work and family. And so I ask you: what gives value to work and what allows us to put order between the sphere of the family and that of the family, between the necessity of the one and the other?
Ruini. I would like to make a premise. There are jobs, not few, about which one can be passionate. The person who does these jobs considers him or herself to be fortunate to do them and loves to do them, independently of other considerations. I think of an artist, who is full of joy in being able to express him or herself by painting or playing an instrument. I think of a doctor: I have a friend who works as a doctor and does not tire of it because he enjoys working to resolve the problems of his patients. Even I, as an old man, in a certain sense, continue to have this experience, not in work exactly, but in study. As we know, the ancients did not consider study to be work, but, rather, saw study as belonging to otium, to free time, and, therefore, to the free person who was not forced to work. But, today, this vision has been somewhat surpassed. Personally, I can testify that study, at times, becomes a great burden, especially when it is geared towards producing something, not just reading but thinking and producing. A great modern philosopher speaks about the toil of the concept.
I come, then, to the question: how do we face this problem? What gives value to work? Work, on the one hand, is a necessity for living, and, on the other hand, is a way of realizing oneself, perhaps the best way to realize oneself, as John Paul II underlined very well in his encyclical Laborem Exercens. These are two aspects, objective and subjective, that give value to work and that go together. There is no reason to feel shame about the first. We work out of necessity, to bring home the bacon. Many people work perhaps only for this reason, but this is already a positive aspect.
Then, certainly, work has its own risks. The word can become something totalizing, something that does not leave space for anything else, particularly, for the family. It is true, unfortunately! It happens many times. This goes, above all, for many women, because – let’s just say it – the weight of the family, at least on the practical level, falls principally on women and today women must also work and it is right that they work. However, it is a large problem also for many men. I have a dear friend who must work a great deal to support the family and the wife always says to him, “You are never around!” And he responds, “Yes, but I must do this to support our family!” Look, I do not have a solution to this problem but I think that the intention with which we work counts a great deal. One thing is if we work only to affirm ourselves, to make money, to climb the ladder, to be able to say “I’m a winner”; another is if, instead, we work hard to be of help to our family or to others, and therefore, with a rather altruistic intention. I believe that one can formulate a somewhat generic criterion, however, which can be useful in many circumstances: we must avoid, as much as possible, in the concrete circumstances of life, that work become totalizing, even if, to avoid this, we must pay a price in the sense of having less professional success. It is a countercultural proposal, certainly, but I also think it is realistic. If one accepts that work is something totalizing, he will never escape from it, and so we must avoid this. I say this also to myself. When I was a pastor in the diocese of Rome – in a certain sense, even that is work – I never rested. It is true that I do not have a family of my own, but I am aware that, in the end, allowing myself to be too immersed in my work, I was not able to give that which I could have given if I had been more free, more peaceful, more serene, if I had not been constantly anxious about everything that I had to do. Therefore, I would advise people who work to always have a certain degree of self-control in their work, to always have their hand close to the brake, so that work be an important dimension of life, but not its sole dimension. I would say the same thing for the family. Nothing should be totalizing, if not one thing, which is the relationship with God and a relationship of love with our neighbor. It is there that we can find our totality, and not in other things. If we see our totality in other things, we risk committing the sin of idolatry.
Camisasca. I would like to add a small thing, which comes from my experience in all these years of ministry: it is very important to decide together the steps to take. In work life, there are many decisions to make: changing companies, accepting a promotion, a new project, etc. It is absolutely decisive that husband and wife, involving their children when they are old enough, engage with one another in order to decide and to evaluate together. One of the greatest risks is that the other person, who could be either husband or wife, can say: “Oh, yes, but you made that decision by yourself! You made it, because it was more convenient for you in that moment. You were climbing the ladder, earning more; it is true, you were doing it for all of us, but the consequences were this, that and the other, etc.” The relationship between affectivity and work is one of the most important topics and also one of the most common in familial crises. Not only must husband and wife find the criteria to face these decisions together, but they also must reflect and engage with other families, hearing how they went about dealing with these matters, how they lived them, how they metabolized them, which teachings they gained from their past experiences.
I would like to add that we must not think that our children can grow without the time that we dedicate to them. A son who never had the possibility to wrestle in the grass with his father, or who was always put in front of the television or the Playstation, but who did not see his parents, will have grave difficulties later in life. Therefore, there is not only time that must be spent with a husband or wife, but also time that must be spent with children. It is an extremely important need, particularly today, because now, more than other times, children need the physicality of a father and a mother.
The fear of “forever”
Thanks to both of you for these answers. We will begin the last part of our meeting with two final questions. One I would like to ask Don Massimo, and it has to do with the word “definitive.” Pope Francis has repeated many times that ours is a culture of the transitory. Looking at our younger friends, but also looking at those of us who are already married, we realize that this word frightens us. The idea of making a difficult decision, the idea of that decision being forever, that marriage be for all of life, frightens us. It scares those of us who have already made the decision and scares those who still need to make it. How can we overcome this fear of the definitive, of the “forever”?
Camisasca. You are right. The principal cause of cohabitation – not the sole cause, but the principal – is precisely the fear of definitiveness, which is, in the end, fear of life. It is the fear that something unexpected could happen. So how can we face it? If what don Abbondio in The Betrothed said is true – and I think he had reasons for saying it – that one cannot give oneself courage, then, so too, one cannot give oneself faithfulness. Faithfulness to one’s vocation is a gift from God. It is a gift that must be asked for every day, that must be rediscovered everyday, experienced everyday. It is the same for fidelity in marriage.
I would like to underline, however, that it is not possible to be faithful when we are living by ourselves. When I speak to families, to whom a difficulty has befallen, sometimes major difficulties – like those difficulties of which Pope Francis speaks when he talks about plates being thrown, etc. -, I always say these are the difficulties of all families, perhaps not every day, but they do happen in every family. Let’s ask ourselves this question: who must face these situations? If we think of ourselves as alone, then we are already three-quarters finished. Solitude makes faithfulness almost impossible. It is only the strength of God that can make faithfulness possible. Fidelis Deus: it is He who is faithful and who gives us the strength to be faithful. Only by living His covenant with us can we become capable, in turn, of faithfulness, by His gift and by His grace.
Do not think that grace is something added on top like a package. Grace is a transforming force that enables us to see everything in a different way, to see aspects of reality that, by ourselves, we would have never glimpsed. Above all, it makes us capable of seeing the beauty and the value of the other. One of the fundamental reasons for the inability to be faithful is that the other, at a certain point, appears different to us than we had imagined them. Unfortunately, this happens very often. If we think that the other must be someone who corresponds to us in every possible way…everything comes apart in the end. Only if there is a Third, only if there is the faithfulness of God, are we capable of faithfulness, because we are capable of discovering that the other not only is different from how we had imagined, but that it is also beautiful and positive that it be this way, because he or she can offer us something that we had not expected and life opens unexpectedly before us. Consequently, prayer has great influence in the life of the couple. If two spouses never pray and never pray together, everything will be more difficult. Prayer is not only the path to reach the help of God, but also a path to reach a different way of looking at the other. Therefore, fidelity has much to do with whom we allow to enter every day into the display screen of our life.
Within a friendship
Thank you for this response. Don Massimo said that if we think of ourselves as alone, then faithfulness becomes impossible. This thought leads us to the final question, which I will pose to Cardinal Ruini. Even in the experience of my family, before the difficulties and the challenges which we spoke about before, the fact that we have a greater sphere of friendships, which welcomes us and sustains us, is the greatest help. How is it possible, then, to avoid falling into the picture that Don Massimo conjured for us, of two hearts under one roof, isolated from the rest of the village? How can we avoid closing the family in a sort of monad set apart from all others?
Ruini. I will limit myself to a few thoughts. We live in a cultural and social context that I would define anonymous or, as some say, liquid. A context, therefore, in which everything seems indifferent and in which there is a great risk of remaining alone. For this reason, the ties of friendship are particularly important, for all, not just for married couples. I would say that it is the same for a priest, in order to faithfully and joyfully live out his priesthood. Having ties of friendship: this is the way to escape from the anonymous, and to recover an authentic personal dimension.
We were saying before that work must not become one’s totality and that neither must the family. The romantic, but, ultimately, misguided, image to which Msgr. Camisasca made reference – “two hearts under one roof” – would mean making a couple’s relationship into something totalizing. The family, however, does not become more robust by closing in on itself. It could be their impression, or their hope, but it is an illusion that you become stronger by becoming more insular, more closed in on your own environment. On the contrary, the family becomes stronger by opening itself, by, in other words, strengthening friendships and communion with other families. And not only with other families, but in general with other human realities. When a family is capable of this, then it acquires maturity and solidity. Naturally, so that this does not just remain a pious desire, one must dedicate the time necessary to these friendships. And here we touch upon, unfortunately, a sore spot, because the world of today is a world in which there is always too little time. The feeling we often have is of not having enough time. Missionaries who have been in Africa told me about the enormous difference between the way that Africans perceive time and the way that we do. Africans have time in their lives, because they have a different conception, which I believe, in the past, was also our own, but by now has been left behind. We have forgotten that being lords of our time – and not slaves of our time – is of great value. This also goes for friendships. In the end, why do we lose so many friendships? If I look at myself, if I think back to my own history, I have had an enormous number of friends, so many friends, all around, perhaps too many. But, with many, the friendship faded because I did not want to dedicate much time to them, because I wanted to protect my own time. Perhaps I did well to do this, because I would have stretched myself too thin, but it is clear that we cultivate friendships only if we dedicate time to them.
I’ll end by returning to the problem of education and to that which Msgr. Camisasca was saying – which I share completely – which is that parents, to educate their children, must dedicate time to them. It is inevitable. My mother was a great educator for me because she gave me so much time and this time was gratifying for me. I did not realize how great this time was. My father gave me a little bit less time – he was a doctor and worked his nose to the bone – but I remember that when he returned in the evening, tired, from the time I was little, I would wait for him at the door and begin, as soon as he entered, to ask him one question after another. He had the patience, after a long day of work, to sit through an hour of my asking “Why? Why?”. And that hour was precious for me. For this reason, I owe so much to my parents.
I would like to express profound thanks to both Cardinal Ruini and Don Massimo. I felt like I was hearing the voices of two teachers, something which we need in our current day. Today, the discussion of the family is heavily ideological, and we hear many things said about the family, from one side or another. It seems at times that the position of the Church is that of an ideological minority which ideologically defends an outdated mentality. Today, I had the impression that this judgment is patently false. We have not heard an ideological defense; instead, we heard a proposal that we can sense is possible for each one of us.
St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome, November 7, 2021
Card. Cammillo Ruini, mons. Massimo Camisasca.