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Pontifical Council for the Family


The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality:
Guidelines for Education within the Family

Alfonso Card. Lopez Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
+ Most Rev. Elio Sgreccia
Titular Bishop of Zama Minor
Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family

V: Paths of Formation Within the Family



48. The family environment is thus the normal and usual place for forming children and young people to consolidate and exercise the virtues of charity, temperance, fortitude and chastity. As the domestic church, the family is the school of the richest humanity. This is particularly true for the moral and spiritual education on such a delicate matter as chastity. Physical, psychological and spiritual aspects are involved in chastity, as well as the first signs of freedom, the influence of social models, natural modesty and strong tendencies inherent in a human being's bodily nature. All of these aspects are connected to an awareness, albeit implicit, of the dignity of the human person, called to collaborate with God and, at the same time, marked by fragility. In a Christian home, parents have the strength to lead their children to a real Christian maturation of their personalities, according to the measure of Christ, in his Mystical Body, the Church.

While the family is rich in these strengths, it also needs the support of the State and society, according to the principle of subsidiarity: "It can happen...that when a family does decide to live up fully to its vocation, it finds itself without the necessary support from the State and without sufficient resources. It is urgent therefore to promote not only family policies, but also those social policies which have the family as their principle object, policies which assist the family by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up children and for looking after the elderly...".

49. Aware of this and of the real difficulties that exist for young people in many countries today, especially when social and moral deterioration is present, parents are urged to dare to ask for more and to propose more. They cannot be satisfied with avoiding the worst that their children do not take drugs or commit crimes. They will have to be committed to educating them in the true values of the person, renewed by the virtues of faith, hope and love: the values of freedom, responsibility, fatherhood and motherhood, service, professional work, solidarity, honesty, art, sport, the joy of knowing they are children of God, hence brothers and sisters of all human beings, etc.

The Essential Value of the Home

50. In their most recent findings, the psychological and pedagogical sciences come together with human experience in emphasizing the decisive importance of the affective atmosphere that reigns in the family for a harmonious and valid sexual education, especially during the first years of infancy and childhood, and perhaps also during the prenatal stage, because children's deep emotional patterns are established in these phases. The importance of the couple's balance, acceptance and understanding is stressed. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on the value of a serene relationship between husband and wife, on the value of their positive presence (both father and mother) during these important years for the processes of identification, and on the value of a relationship of reassuring affection toward their children.

51. Certain serious privations or imbalances between parents (for example, one or both parents' absence from family life, a lack of interest in the children's education or excessive severity) are factors that can cause emotional and affective disturbances in children. These factors can seriously upset their adolescence and sometimes mark them for life. Parents must find time to be with their children and take time to talk with them. As a gift and a commitment, children are their most important task, although seemingly not always a very profitable one. Children are more important than work, entertainment and social position. In these conversations more and more as the years pass parents should learn how to listen carefully to their children, how to make the effort to understand them, and how to recognize the fragment of truth that may be present in some forms of rebellion. At the same time, parents will have to be able to help their children to channel their anxieties and aspirations correctly, and teach them to reflect on the reality of things and how to reason. This does not mean imposing a certain line of behaviour, but rather showing both the supernatural and human motives that recommend such behaviour. Parents will succeed better if they are able to dedicate time to their children and really place themselves at their level with love.

Formation in the Community of Life and Love

52. The Christian family is capable of offering an atmosphere permeated with that love for God that makes an authentic reciprocal gift possible. Children who have this experience are better disposed to live according to those moral truths that they see practiced in their parents' life. They will have confidence in them and will learn about the love that overcomes fears and nothing moves us to love more than knowing that we are loved. In this way, the bond of mutual love, to which parents bear witness before their children, will safeguard their affective serenity. This bond will refine the intellect, the will and the emotions by rejecting everything that could degrade or devalue the gift of human sexuality. In a family where love reigns, this gift is always understood as part of the call to self-giving in love for God and for others. "The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self-giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practised in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society".

53. Basically, education for authentic love, authentic only if it becomes kind, welldisposed love, involves accepting the person who is loved and considering his or her good as one's own; hence this implies educating in right relationships with others. Children, adolescents and young people should be taught how to enter into healthy relationships with God, with their parents, their brothers and sisters, with their companions of the same or the opposite sex, and with adults.

54. It must also not be forgotten that education in love is an overall reality. There will be no progress in setting up proper relationships with one person if at the same time there are no proper relationships with other people. As we have already mentioned, education in chastity, as education in love, is at the same time education of one's spirit, one's sensitivity, and one's feelings. The attitude toward other persons depends largely on the way spontaneous feelings for them are handled, the way some feelings are cultivated and others are controlled. Chastity as a virtue is never reduced to merely being able to perform acts conforming to a norm of external behaviour. Chastity requires activating and developing the dynamisms of nature and grace which make up the principal and immanent element of our discovery of God's law as a guarantee of growth and freedom.

55. Therefore, it must be stressed that education for chastity is inseparable from efforts to cultivate all the other virtues and, in a particular way, Christian love, characterized by respect, altruism and service, which after all is called charity. Sexuality is such an important good that it must be protected by following the order of reason enlightened by faith: "The greater a good, the more the order of reason must be observed in it". From this it follows that in order to educate in chastity, "self-control is necessary, which presupposes such virtues as modesty, temperance, respect for self and for others, openness to one's neighbour".

Also of importance are what Christian tradition has called the younger sisters of chastity (modesty, an attitude of sacrifice with regard to one's whims), nourished by the faith and a life of prayer.

Decency and Modesty

56. The practice of decency and modesty in speech, action and dress is very important for creating an atmosphere suitable to the growth of chastity, but this must be well motivated by respect for one's own body and the dignity of others. Parents, as we have said, should be watchful so that certain immoral fashions and attitudes do not violate the integrity of the home, especially through misuse of the mass media. In this regard, the Holy Father stressed the need "to promote closer collaboration between parents, who have primary responsibility for education, those in charge of the mass media at various levels and the public authorities, so that families are not left without guidance in such an important sector of their educational mission... In fact the presentations, content and programmes of healthy entertainment, information and education to complement that of the family and the school must be recognized. Unfortunately this does not change the fact that in some countries especially there are many shows and publications abounding in all sorts of violence with a kind of bombardment of messages that undermine moral principles and make it impossible to achieve a serious climate in which values worthy of the human person may be transmitted".

In particular, with regard to use of television, the Holy Father specified: "The life-style especially in the more industrialised nations all too often causes families to abandon their responsibility to educate their children. Evasion of this duty is made easy by the presence of television and of printed materials in the home. These occupy the time for children and young people. No one can deny the justification for this when the means are lacking, to develop and use to advantage the free time of the young and to direct their energies". Another circumstance that facilitates this is the fact that both parents are busy with their work, in and outside the home. "The result is that these young people are in most need of help in developing their responsible freedom. There is the duty especially for believers, for men and women who love freedom, to protect the young from the aggressions they are subjected to by the media. May no one shirk from this duty by using the excuse that he or she is not involved". "Parents as recipients must actively ensure the moderate, critical, watchful and prudent use of the media".

Legitimate Privacy

57. Respect for privacy must be considered in close connection with decency and modesty, which spontaneously defend a person who refuses to be considered and treated like an object of pleasure instead of being respected and loved for himself or herself. If children or young people see that their legitimate privacy is respected, then they will know that they are expected to show the same attitude towards others. This is how they learn to cultivate the proper sense of responsibility before God by developing their interior life and a taste for personal freedom, that makes them capable of loving God and others better.

Self-Control

58. All of this reminds us more generally of self-control, a necessary condition for being capable of self-giving. Children and young people should be encouraged to have esteem for, and to practise self-control and restraint, to live in an orderly way, to make personal sacrifices in a spirit of love for God, self-respect, and generosity towards others, without stifling feelings and tendencies, but channeling them into a virtuous life.

Parents as Models for Their Children

59. The good example and leadership of parents is essential in strengthening the formation of young people in chastity. A mother who values her maternal vocation and her place in the home greatly helps develop the qualities of femininity and motherhood in her daughters, and sets a clear, strong and noble example of womanhood for her sons. A father, whose behaviour is inspired by masculine dignity without "machismo", will be an attractive model for his sons, and inspire respect, admiration and security in his daughters.

60. This is also true for education in a spirit of sacrifice in families, subject more than ever today to the pressures of materialism and consumerism. Only in this way will children grow up "with a correct attitude of freedom with regard to material goods, by adopting a simple and austere life style and being fully convinced that ?man is more precious for what he is than for what he has'. In a society shaken and split by tensions and conflicts caused by the violent clash of various kinds of individualism and selfishness, children must be enriched not only with a sense of true justice, which alone leads to respect for the personal dignity of each individual, but also and more powerfully by a sense of true love, understood as sincere solicitude and disinterested service with regard to others, especially the poorest and those in most need". "This education is fully a part of the ?civilization of love'. It depends on the civilization of love and, in great measure, contributes to its upbuilding".

A Sanctuary of Life and Faith

61. No one can deny that the first example and the greatest help that parents can give their children is their generosity in accepting life, without forgetting that this is how parents help their children to have a simpler lifestyle. Moreover, "...it is certainly less serious to deny their children certain comforts or material advantages than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity and to realize the beauty of life at all its ages and in all its variety".

62. Lastly, we recall that in order to achieve these objectives, the family first of all should be a home of faith and prayer, in which God the Father's presence is sensed, the Word of Jesus is accepted, the Spirit's bond of love is felt, and where the most pure Mother of God is loved and invoked. This life of faith and "Family prayer has for its very own object family life itself, which in all its varying circumstances is seen as a call from God and lived as a filial response to his call. Joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, births and birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries of the parents, departures, separations and home-comings, important and far-reaching decisions, the death of those who are dear, etc. all of these mark God's loving intervention in the family's history. They should be seen as suitable moments for thanksgiving, for petition, for trusting abandonment of the family into the hands of their common Father in heaven".

63. In this atmosphere of prayer and awareness of the presence and fatherhood of God, the truths of faith and morals should be taught, understood and deeply studied with reverence, and the Word of God should be read and lived with love. In this way Christ's truth will build up a family community based on the example and guidance of parents who "penetrate the innermost depths of their children's hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface".




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