Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Family: Searching for Fairest Love

In his 1994 Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II stated that "only the truth will prepare you for a love which can be called 'fairest love.' The contemporary family, like families in every age, is searching for fairest love." Pope Benedict, too, has made the family a central theme of his pontificate. As recently as his message on the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2008, the Holy Father said, "The natural family, as an intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman, constitutes "the primary place of 'humanization' for the person and society," and a "cradle of life and love." By examining the family, its origins, and status in society and under the law, we at the Center hope to address this multi-dimensional crisis and instill hope for the future of the family.

The weekend of November 6-8 welcomed over 400 scholars from Catholic, Christian, and secular institutions—as well as students and the intellectually curious—to Notre Dame’s McKenna Hall to discuss the fragile modern conception of “the family” and its implications for traditional family values in America and across the globe. John Finnis, Biolchini Family Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame and Oxford University, delivered the Thursday evening Josef Pieper Keynote Lecture, “On Retranslating Humanae Vitae.” Before presenting an in-depth and engaging analysis of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, he was introduced by longtime friend and colleague Gerard V. Bradley who expressed a hope for the eventual incorporation of American slang in the vocabulary of the native Australian, Brit-educated natural lawyer. The auditorium rang with laughter, and the busy weekend kicked off to an amiable and enthusiastic start.

The remainder of the weekend was filled with an astonishingly diverse range of presentations that would have needed to be spread out over two weeks if one was to attend each one. Unfortunately, as is the case every year, the conference attendants had to limit their choices. Some highlights of the numerous lectures were:

Thomas Hibbs’s engaging lecture on “The Family: The Crisis and the Romantic Temptation”; William Saunders’s reflections on marital union with regard to the Supreme Court and International Human Rights Law; Philip Bess’s architectural analysis of the Notre Dame campus and its potential to be a true Aristotelian polis; Monsignor Charles Brown’s discussion of the twenty-first century’s setting for family structure and ecclesiological progression; and Helen Alvaré’s thoughtful meditations on the Catholic view of the law directing intimate partnerships.

Each year the conference is complemented by two special liturgies, and this year was no exception. On Friday night the Notre Dame Filiae Mariae organized a Mass in the beautiful Alumni Hall chapel with Monsignor Charles Brown presiding.

The conference came to an enjoyable conclusion on Saturday night with a festive banquet where old and new friends had the opportunity to mull over these topics one last time. After dinner, David Solomon, Director of the Center, offered some thoughtful remarks on how to carry on fostering a healthier conception of the family within our communities.

This ninth edition of the Fall Conference provided a venue for discussion of one of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity—the family. It also celebrated in a special way the anniversaries of two important papal documents. In 2008, Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, enjoys its 20th anniversary, and Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae, celebrates its 40th anniversary. A conference devoted to the family was a perfect opportunity to reflect on the importance of these two documents.

This incredible event was made possible again by the generosity of the Strake Foundation, the Maas Family Endowment for Excellence and by a grant from Our Sunday Visitor, and we at the Center are especially grateful. We invite all of you to The Summons of Freedom: Virtue, Sacrifice, and the Common Good, the 10th anniversary edition of our Fall Conference which will take place November 12-14, 2009 in McKenna Hall here at Notre Dame. We look forward to seeing you all there!

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