An encyclical is the highest and most serious form of teaching from the Holy Father. When the Pope issues an encyclical and speaks on matters of faith and morals, Catholics believe he is divinely inspired and therefore infallible.
Titled Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), the encyclical was reportedly authored mainly by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was still working on it at the time of his abdication and it strongly reflects the theological style of Francis’ predecessor. In his introduction, Pope Francis wrote that he merely “added a few contributions of my own.”
Section 52, on Faith and the Family, calls the family the “first setting in which faith enlightens the human city.”
“I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage," the Pope says. "This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.
“Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person.”
The encyclical strong links the traditional definition of marriage with the sanctity of human life so it speaks about both subjects as intrinsic gifts from the creator.
Here's how the Vatican describes it:
The Encyclical then considers those areas illuminated by faith: first and foremost, the family based on marriage, understood as a stable union between man and woman. This is born of the recognition and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation and, based on love in Christ, promises “a love for ever” and recognises love as the creator that leads to the begetting of children.
Then, youth; here the Pope cites the World Youth Days, in which young people demonstrate “the joy of faith” and their commitment to live faith solidly and generously. “Young people want to live life to the fullest”, writes the Pope. “Encountering Christ … enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives”. And again, in all social relations, by making us children of God, indeed, faith gives new meaning to universal brotherhood, which is not merely equality, but rather the common experience of God’s paternity, the comprehension of the unique dignity of each person.
A further area is that of nature: faith helps us to respect it, to “find models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift”. It teaches us to find just forms of government, in which authority comes from God and which serve the common good; it offers us the possibility of forgiveness that leads us to overcome all conflict. “When faith is weakened, the foundations of humanity also risk being weakened”, writes the Pope, and if we remove faith in God from our cities, we will lose our mutual trust and be united only by fear. Therefore we must not be ashamed to publicly confess God, because faith illuminates social life.
Another area illuminated by faith is that of suffering and death: Christians are aware that suffering cannot be eliminated, but it may be given meaning; it can be entrusted to the hands of God who never abandons us and therefore become “a moment of growth in faith”. To he who suffers, God does not give reasons to explain everything, but rather offers His presence that accompanies us, that opens up a threshold of light in the shadows. In this sense, faith is linked to hope. And here the Pope makes an appeal: “Let us refuse to be robbed of hope, or to allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress”.Click here for the entire encyclical.