VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis said Wednesday that marriage is a vocation all believers are called to defend, specifically in terms of the complementarity of the union between a man and a woman.
In the account of creation, "man appears for a moment without woman, free and master, but he is alone, he feels alone," the Pope told attendees of his April 22 general audience.
"God himself recognizes that this reality is not good, that there is a lack of fullness and of communion, and because of this decided to create woman," Francis said, explaining that when the woman is finally presented to the man, "the man recognizes that only this creature, and only she, is part of him."
Man doesn't see woman as a mere replica or reflection of himself, the Pope noted, but immediately recognizes her as someone reciprocal and complimentary to him.
The woman, he said, "is not a 'replica' of the man; she comes directly from the creative act of God. The image of the 'rib' does not in any way express inferiority or subordination, but on the contrary, that man and woman are of the same substance and are complementary."
Francis spoke to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square for his general audience address, during which he continued his ongoing catechesis on the family.
In his speech, the Pope warned that the complementarity between men and women is frequently threatened by "the negative excesses of patriarchal cultures (and) multiple forms of 'machismo,'" or sexist attitudes.
He noted how the female body is often instrumentalized and commoditized in the current media culture.
While God initially placed his full confidence in Adam and Eve, the devil is the one who sowed seeds of suspicion and distrust in their hearts, leading them to disobey God and destroy the initial harmony of their relationship, he said.
"All of this has increased distrust and the difficulty of a full alliance between man and woman, who are capable of an intimate relationship of communion and respect for differences," the Pope continued.
Rather than being lived as a reciprocal union, marriage today has been marred by an "epidemic of distrust, of skepticism and even of hostility," he said.
At the same time, the procreative aspect of marriage has been "devalued, which is always a great loss for everyone. How important it is to revalue marriage and the family!"
When a stable and "fruitful" union between a man and a woman is lacking or underappreciated, it is the young who suffer most, Francis observed.
Despite all of our sins and weaknesses, our vocation "is to care for the covenant of marriage," which constitutes "a vital and energizing vocation, through which we cooperate with our heavenly Father, who himself always cares for and protects this great gift."
Pope Francis then turned to God's mercy, saying that the image of the Father's tenderness toward a sinful couple "leaves us open-mouthed with wonder" at how he safeguards his creation.
This image, he said, should inspire all believers to make a commitment to defend the "vital and energizing" vocation of marriage and to protect the sacred union that God willed for men and women.
Francis concluded his address by praying that Mary's example would teach all men and women of today to obey and be strengthened by the first harmony with which they were created and loved by God.