This year marks the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul’s teaching document on the family. Alan Schreck explains why it remains of crucial importance today.
In the first years of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II directed his attention to what he perceived to be a critical challenge to the well-being and integrity of human society: the relationship between man and woman and the fruit of their human and sacramental union-marriage. John Paul’s Wednesday audiences on what has come to be called his ‘theology of the body’ were a necessary backdrop and foundation for his teaching on marriage and the family. The importance of this teaching already had been recognized by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council, who in writing the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (which the Bp. Karol Wojtyla helped to author), identified marriage and family as the first ‘urgent problem area’ to be addressed in Part II of the constitution.
The Council Fathers recognized that marriage and family is the foundation of human society. If that foundation fails, society collapses. The response to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the transmission of human life, Humanae Vitae (1968), was a clear indication that the Church’s long-standing teachings in this area were being subject to scrutiny and criticism, even within the Church. Pope John Paul II sought to present a thorough reasoned response to these issues, first, by developing his ‘theology of the body’, and then by calling a synod to discuss the family. One fruit of this synod is John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris Consortio – FG), issued November 22, 1981—almost thirty years ago at this writing.