Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 11 Feb in St Peter’s Square:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After having reflected on the figure of the mother and the father, in this catechesis on the family I would like to talk about the child or, better, the children. I take my cue from a beautiful image of Isaiah. The Prophet writes: “your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be carried in the arms. Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and rejoice” (60:4-5a). It is a splendid image of the happiness that is realized in the reunion of parents and children, who walk together towards a future of freedom and peace, after a long time of privations and separation, when the Hebrews found themselves far from their homeland.
In fact, there is a close connection between the hope of a people and the harmony between generations. We should think of this well. There is a close connection between the hope of a people and the harmony between generations.The joy of children makes the hearts of their parents palpitate and re-opens the future. Children are the joy of the family and of society. They are not a problem of reproductive biology, or one of the many ways of fulfilling themselves, and much less so, are they a possession of their parents. No. Children are a gift: do you understand? Children are a gift. Each one is unique and unrepeatable and, at the same time, unmistakeably connected to his roots. In fact, according to God’s plan, to be a son and a daughter means to bear in oneself the memory and the hope of a love that has realized itself precisely by kindling the life of another original and new human being. And for parents, each child are unique, different, and diverse.
Allow me to recall a family memory. I remember my mother would tell us – we were five [children]-: “I have five children.” When they asked her: “Which one is your favourite, she would answer: “I have five children, like five fingers. [He shows his fingers to the crowd] If you hit this one, it hurts me; if you hit this other one, it hurts me. All five will hurt me. They are all my children, but they are all different like the finger on a hand.” And that is how the family is! Children are different, but they are all children.
A child is loved because he is a child: not because he is beautiful, or because he is like this or like that; no, it is because he is your child! Not because they think like me or fulfil my wishes.A child is a child: a life generated by us but destined to him, to his good, to the good of the family, of society and of the whole of humanity.
From here stems also the depth of the human experience of being a son and daughter, which enables us to discover the most gratuitous dimension of love, which endlessly amazes us. It is the beauty of being loved first: children are loved before they arrive. How many times I meet mothers in the square who show their bellies and ask me for a blessing…these children are loved before coming into the world. And this is free, this is love; they are loved before birth, like the love of God who always loves us first. They are loved before doing anything to merit it, before being able to talk or think, in fact, before coming into the world! To be children is the fundamental condition to know the love of God, who is the ultimate source of this authentic miracle. In the soul of every child, in as much as vulnerable, God puts the seal of this love, which is the basis of his personal dignity, a dignity that nothing and no one can destroy.
Today it seems more difficult for children to imagine their future. Parents – I referred to it in preceding catecheses – have perhaps taken a step backwards and children have become more uncertain about taking their steps forward. We can learn the good relation between generations from our Heavenly Father, who leaves each one of us free but never leaves us alone. And if we make a mistake, He continues to follow us with patience without diminishing His love for us.
Our Heavenly Father does not take steps backwards in his love for us, never! He always goes in front of us and if we can’t go forward, He waits for us, but he doesn’t go back. He wants His children to be courageous and to take their steps forward.
For their part, the children must not be afraid of the commitment to build a new world: it is right for them to desire that it be better than the one they have received! However, this must be done without arrogance, without presumption. One must be able to recognize the value of children, and parents must always be rendered honor.
The fourth Commandment asks children – and we are all children! – to honor their father and their mother (Cf. Exodus 20:12). This Commandment comes immediately after those that concern God Himself. In fact, it contains something sacred, something that is at the root of all other kinds of respect between men. And, added in the biblical formulation of the fourth Commandment is: “that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” The virtuous connection between the generations is guarantee of the future, and it is the guarantee of a truly human history. A society of children who do not honor their parents is a society without honor; when parents are not honoured, one loves their own honor! It is a society destined to fill itself with arid and avid young people. However, a society that is greedy with its generation, which does not like to surround itself with children, that considers them above all a worry, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society, because they do not want children, they don’t have children, the birthrate never reaches one percent. Why? Each one of us must think and respond. If a family that is full of children is regarded as if it were a weight, there is something that’s not right! The generation of children must be responsible, as the Encyclical Humanae vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VIalso teaches, but to have more children cannot become automatically an irresponsible choice. To not have children is a selfish choice. Life rejuvenates and acquires energies by multiplying itself: it is enriched, not impoverished! The children learn to take charge of their family, they mature in the sharing of their sacrifices, they grow in the appreciation of their gifts. The happy experience of fraternity animates the respect and the care of parents, to whom we owe our gratitude.
Many of you here present have children and we are all children. Let us do something, a minute of silence. Each one of us think in their hearts to their children – if you have them -; think in silence. And let us all think about our parents and thank God for the gift of life. In silence, those who have children, think of them, and everyone think about our parents. [Moment of silence] May the Lord bless our parents and bless your children.
May Jesus, the eternal Son, who was made a son in time, help us to find the way of a new radiation of this very simple and very great human experience, which is being children. In the multiplication of generation there is a mystery of enrichment of the life of all, which comes from God Himself. We must rediscover it, challenging the prejudice, and live it, in faith and in perfect joy. And I tell you: how beautiful it is when I pass among you and see the moms and dads who raise up their children to be bless. This is an almost divine gesture. Thank you for doing that!