Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from Bl. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. It draws an important connection between life and marriage and uses a phrase we’ve visited before: “human ecology“.
Bl. Pope John Paul II: “The first and fundamental structure for “human ecology” is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person. Here we mean the family founded on marriage, in which the mutual gift of self by husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny.
. . .
It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life — the gift of God — can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.
– Centesimus Annus, no. 39, bold emphasis added
In his May 18 column for the archdiocesan newspaper The Tidings, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles reflected on the meaning and importance of marriage, especially for children. His words were timed to anticipate the seventh annual World Meeting of Families, which will take place in Milan, Italy from May 30 to June 3, 2012. In his column, Archbishop Gomez made use of an uncommon-sounding concept called “human ecology,” a phrase used by both our current and former popes. The Archbishop writes,
“We need to restore the vital sense of what Pope Benedict and Blessed John Paul II before him called the ‘human ecology.’ We need to help our brothers and sisters see that the family rooted in marriage is the natural sanctuary of life and civilization.”
In Pope Benedict’s encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father explained “human ecology” by describing the “book of nature” as “one and indivisible”: “it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development” (no. 51). In other words, just as “environmental ecology” brings to mind the interconnectedness of all of creation, such that damaging or ruining one aspect affects the whole, the phrase human ecology highlights the organic interconnectedness of the human person in his own identity and lifespan (conception to natural death) as well as his built-in relationship to other persons, particularly to his father and mother, and to creation as a whole.
Archbishop Gomez goes on to highlight the crucial importance that marriage plays in the life of children, who are the “supreme gift” of marriage (Gaudium et Spes, 50):
“Children have a right to grow up in a home with the mother and father who gave them life and who promised to share their lives forever. They have a right to be born in a family founded on marriage. Where they can discover their true identity, dignity and potential. Where they can learn in love the meaning of truth, beauty and goodness.”
Because of the need children have for their own mother and father, whenever possible, the Archbishop laments the fact that “our debates today [about marriage] are focused only on adults and their desires for their relationships. There is very little concern for children.” He goes on saying, “This is sad. Because they will be the ‘subjects’ of all our social experiments. They will bear the consequences of all our new ways of defining what it means to be ‘married’ or to be ‘parents’ or to be a ‘family’.”
Respecting the human ecology inherent in each and every human person, and in the communion of all of us together, means respecting the foundational bonds between father, mother, and child, as well as the importance of marriage as the foundation on which the family is built.
Read Archbishop Gomez’s entire article: “The ‘human ecology’ of marriage and family”
Check out this new website filled with resources about the meaning of marriage: Marriage Ecosystem. From the home page:
Marriage is like an ecosystem. An ecosystem is a functional unit consisting of living things in a given area, linked together in a particular way. One of the wonderful things about an ecosystem is how it can be perceived as a unit, with each creature contributing to the welfare of the entire system. If one of the species dies in an ecosystem, the entire ecosystem is affected.
This critical social institution is more than the sum of many parts. When one part is removed or altered, the entire ecosystem begins to wobble and threatens to collapse. It plays a stabilizing role in society, both in people’s day to day lives and also in our society as a unit. We hope by reading our site, you will understand why we call it an ecosystem. We also hope you’ll understand why it’s important to treat it as we might treat any other ecosystem: with respect, care, and appreciation (emphasis original).
This train of thought – marriage as an ecosystem – is reminiscent of the concept of “human ecology” used by Pope Benedict in his encyclical 2009 Caritas in Veritate. There, the Holy Father writes:
There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when “human ecology” is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits.
. . .
It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development (no. 51, emphasis added).
Pope Benedict has spoken of “human ecology” elsewhere, for example in his 2007 message for the World Day of Peace:
Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a “human” ecology, which in turn demands a “social” ecology. All this means that humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology (no. 8).
The thread running through the Holy Father’s words – and through the concept of marriage as an “ecosystem” – is that the realities of creation (including men, women, and the particularly human sphere of action called “culture”) are deeply and fundamentally interconnected. Ignoring, overlooking, or misunderstanding one part has vast implications for the whole of reality.