Love and Responsibility
Wednesday 16th April - Edmund Adamus. Director of Pastoral Affairs, Diocese of Westminster.
How do we encourage a new generation of couples to embrace this prophetic visionary teaching of forty years ago? Perhaps in this age of having a right to be fully informed on everything, then the Church must lead the way in proclaiming the facts about the gift of fertility. That the human body is truly a gift and more specifically that of fertility, especially within the female cycle.
More has to be done at the grassroots and pastoral level to emulate effective models of making the teaching of natural fertility awareness more readily available. The lack of coherent leadership in the Church on this issue has had long term damage not just on couples but on the credibility of natural fertility regulation itself. While the world embraced a contraceptive mentality, factions of the NFP movement have argued among themselves creating an unhealthy atmosphere of competition and suspicion when all the time the spirit of unity to drive the vision ahead was so sadly missing. In 1982 Pope John Paul II himself seemed to call for amnesty.
Even our own Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales acknowledges somewhat begrudgingly in its report following the Listening 2004, My Family, My Church initiative: ‘Not Easy but Full of Meaning’ that;
The Italian Confederation of Natural Fertility Regulators founded in 1991, now has 18 diocesan sponsored fertility care and instruction centres across the country and could be a useful model to seriously consider adopting here in our own islands.However as a precursor to this, one must call for a new apostolic boldness or in the Greek, parresia. This gift was what the Apostles had, as soon as they received the Spirit at Pentecost. From that moment they were not the same men. They went out and spoke and proclaimed about the risen Christ with a new boldness, courage and tenacity. We must pray for this apostolic gift of confidence and fearlessness, especially on a subject that is so sensitive. St. Teresa of Avila had something profound to say on this subject:
Of course such leadership has to emanate from those with the responsibility of being the chief shepherd in our dioceses and again in the spirit of reconciliation and healing, there have been examples of how this can be achieved. Numerous forthright and inspiring pastoral letters expounding the wisdom of Humanae Vitae have come from individual bishops and whole conferences (especially in this anniversary year) but none has more emotional impact than the following statement issued by the Filipino Bishops of the Philippines several years ago.
This pastoral response to the crisis we face from the fall out of the ‘truce of ‘68’ is underpinned by the mantra which has stalked these past forty years, that of ‘follow your conscience.’ It is an incorrect statement because it is an incomplete statement since one can only follow one’s conscience when that conscience is truly fully informed.
We live in an age were there is expected to be an apology for many things and particular people are asked and expected to offer up that apology. Of more benefit would be a collective act of sorrow and repentance about the mistakes and confusion created in the Church in the 1960s and 70s 23 and let there be a collective apology about the way we could have done things better over the last forty years in relation to an authentic appreciation of sexuality and recognise that perhaps by the sin of omission, we have furthered the cause of the perverse sexual ideology behind the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
I believe, like John Paul, that for couples in particular, sex has to be liturgical, in other words by its very nature, self-sacrificing and complimentary to the worship in the Church. Theologically we need to explore the one flesh union, open to life, as a legitimate and powerful contributor to the worship of the People of God as an act of praise, thanksgiving and glorification whereby two souls who have come together as one are in the likeness of the Blessed Trinity in their mutual reciprocity.
Some time ago the Pontifical Council for the Family commissioned a series of essays in order to explore in greater depth the ‘Vademecum for Confessors concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life’ issued in February 1997. This culminated in the publication ‘Conjugal Morality and the Sacrament of Penance,-Reflections on the Vademecum for Confessors’(my translation) which although it was commissioned as a direct request of Pope John Paul II; it has sadly only been published in Italian and French. Thirteen contributions are published to further explore the relationship between the supernatural power of Eucharist and Penance with the spiritual dynamic and fecundity of matrimonial morality. In an essay by Fr. A Mattheus SJ on ‘The Christian Call to Holiness and Marital Love,’ there is a striking simile drawn between the one flesh union of husband and wife and the epiclesis [the invocation of the Holy Spirit] by the priest over the bread and wine on the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. The author argues that the Holy Spirit broods and descends upon the sexual union –open to life- of the spouses in like manner to the sanctification of the gifts on the altar. The faithful, fruitful, life-giving and total sexual love of spouses should evoke an odour of sanctity in the home (and therefore the Church) so the Holy Spirit blesses the altar of the matrimonial bed, the heart of the domestic church. Or, as Marc Cardinal Ouellet puts it:
We’ve tended to think as Catholics [and as a society] that the private nature of the marital act is exactly that; private. But on a much deeper level it is never really private because its personal reality and interpersonal dynamic and nature actually affects us all, particularly the Mystical Body of Christ. Authentic marital sexual intimacy is good, beautiful and holy and spouses need to hear and clergy need to teach this.24
In our context here in England and Wales (and this is not about liturgical revivalism) we would benefit greatly from rediscovering something of the tradition within the Sarum Rite of Marriage which existed from the 11th century onwards. The beautiful phrase, “with my body I thee worship” during the exchange of rings is worth reclaiming, so that in and through the liturgy something of the essence of what lies beneath the message of Humanae Vitae and certainly which underpins John Paul’s theology of the body is made more explicit. That is to say, true spousal sexual love is not idolising the other but acknowledging the presence of Christ in one’s spouse and that authentic marital love- making is a worshipful act in honour of God, in the Name of Christ who offers himself for his bride, the Church. It is sad that the Church in these islands lost sight of that heritage for in a significant way such a vision for the spouses pre-dates theology of the body. One might call it a primordial theology of the body. In 1993 the Bishops Conference of England and Wales submitted a revised Order of Christian Marriage to the Holy See which was subject to many amendments by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. As work is now underway to revise the same document again, it would be an ideal opportunity to revisit that ancient Sarum ritual and words, unique to Christianity in this country but which was a gift to the whole Church, including some Orthodox churches and could be again perhaps. And perhaps as it is still [though rarely] used in the Anglican Communion, might not this reclamation be a fillip to achieving Christian unity through matrimony? Such a renewed vision for spousal love would be very timely, especially when we remind ourselves of the recent post-synodal exhortation: Sacramentum Caritatis, where pope Benedict XVI calls for devoting ‘maximum pastoral attention’ n29 to marriage preparation but also in the light of such insightful comments below from the proceedings of the 2005 synod itself:
So it is a question of assisting those who are married and those preparing for marriage to seek and discover a new and fresh spirituality or dynamism about being open to life and expressing that in and through natural fertility awareness. In inviting couples as well as clergy and seminarians to adopt a sense of the liturgical in relation to spousal sexual love, one such analogy is the comparison between the liturgical calendar and the chart used by couples practising natural fertility regulation. (see appendix)
If one looks at a liturgical calendar with its designated colours marking out the various seasons, solemnities and feast days (e.g purple for Lent and Advent, green for hope in Ordinary time, red for feast days, holy days, martyrs and white for solemnities etc) and then look at a [typical] chart for a couple tracking their fertility on a daily basis; a visual pattern of spiritual similarity appears. Is it not a possible pedagogical tool to encourage couples who embrace and live Humanae Vitae with fertility awareness that sexual intimacy is a sacred (liturgical) act ? Perhaps we could say (spiritually and supernaturally speaking) the way we track our fertility can in some sense lead to a new, and deeper understanding of life in Christ as married couples and families because it is mystically tied in to and concordant with the rhythm of worship and praise in the Church’s year. Almost all couples who have charted or continue to chart their cycles know that it is a beautiful communication tool and enhances depth of dialogue and since this tends to be done last thing at night and at the end of the day, one could liken this process of completing the chart together as a kind of ‘compline’ for the spouses or at least a compliment to any form of night prayer that they are in the habit of making.
I believe this to be one way of rediscovering the lost heritage underpinning the phrase:
“With my body I thee worship.” This is important, not least because when Pope John Paul II visited Britain in 1982, he spoke of England having a ‘noble destiny’ in relation to its role on the world stage. When we reflect and look back on the emphasis which was laid on the union of the spouses in our Catholic Christian liturgical heritage, we can see how the rupture of the Church which occurred during the reign of Henry VIII centred so much upon the ecclesial, social and supernatural significance of what we understand matrimony to be. It therefore follows that one of the principal channels of restoration, healing and repair to the damage wrought by this division in Christ’s Body must be through the authentic and fruitful matrimonial love of spouses; whereby in fidelity to Humanae Vitae, they personally encounter the Person of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit in imitation of the creative love of the Heavenly Father.
We must not be surprised at the importance of this reality for marriage and family in the life of the Church and the world nor of the capacity which it has for real supernatural efficacy in saving souls. As John Paul II proclaimed “The family possesses and continues still to release formidable energies” (Familiaris Consortio) After all the theology of the domestic church goes right back to the example of Nazareth, it was expounded eloquently in the Patristic period, especially by St. John Chrysostom.25 Countless holy men and women have borne witness to it through millennia. It was, you might say, in embryonic form in terms of its doctrinal expression until it came to term in the encyclical, Casti Connubii of Pius XI and was brought to birth at the Second Vatican Council. It was immunised against all damage or threat to its health with the promulgation of Humanae Vitae and lovingly nurtured, nourished, clothed and fed by that great pope and father to the family, John Paul II. The intellectual development of the doctrine of domestic church continues principally, though not exclusively under the tutelage of the work of the Pontifical Council for the Family. It now must develop rapidly (for the sake of the Church and the world) from infancy and childhood to the energy and exuberance of youth under the wise but directive leadership of Benedict XVI and the inestimable value of the continuing work from the various sessions of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family around the world.
I stated at the beginning, that crucial to our renewed appreciation of the message of Humanae Vitae is having a sense of remembering some of its history in order to begin to collectively heal and seek forgiveness for the encyclical’s failure to impact pastorally. But what is also crucial is being ready to awaken to a new identity according to the mind of Christ (as St. Paul says). I do not believe it to be an accident that in this fortieth anniversary year of the encyclical, we also remember the twentieth anniversary of Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity of Women) August 15th and on 30th December there will be the twentieth anniversary of Christifidelis Laici (On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World.) It is especially edifying to see the effects of the specialist conference on Mulieris Dignitatem convened by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in February 2008. However an identity which requires particular and urgent attention and for which we are all responsible, in my view, is that of manhood, masculinity and not least fatherhood, both natural and spiritual. I don’t need to illiterate here the toxic affect in our culture on this divinely ordained role in the order of creation.26 Not since the rise of National Socialism in 1930s Germany has the political, juridical, medical and educational landscape been so effectively manipulated for social engineering against marriage and the family than in our own day. That is why it is so refreshing to see initiatives such as the Knights of Columbus www.fathersforgood.org where the website theme; “A Father’s Identity,” offers men resources on how to build a strong, loving and confident identity in a culture that does not value fatherhood or masculine virtues. Much has to be done to capture the heart and imagination of the Church and world behind the significance of the last verse of the Old Testament prophet Malachi:
The picture below is an allegorical sculpture (on the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuele II Rome) depicting the responsibility of the newly founded Italian Republic in 1905, with its principal task of defending the family against assault. The military figure in the middle is defending the couple to the left with the shield of truth crushing the enemies of that union of one man and one woman [holding their child] as the fundamental cell of society. The sword is broken in the right hand grip as if to remind us that the battle to preserve this union is not an easy one. Such a noble vision may have been a unanimous political aim among European nations and beyond in 1905 but not any more. Now instead of the figure of the state, the only thing that is protecting marriage, family and authentic human sexuality is the Church and not always robustly as She is capable of and ought to do. (Recently I pointed this statue out to some colleagues working in the area of natural family planning and they said the military figure in the sculpture, in reality reminded one more of St. Michael the Archangel)
We must never underestimate the enormity of what is at stake in this struggle of mortal combat against the one flesh union of husband and wife. But we must never forget either the magnitude of the Church’s capacity to defeat the enemies of this union through the magisterium and the fidelity of its members. 27
So let us look again at the encyclical Humanae Vitae in full recognition (for better for worse as they say in the marriage vow) of these last forty years. All validly married spouses are ‘married to Christ’ as Cardinal Ouellet says in his book quoted earlier. A marriage that successfully (but not without suffering) reaches forty years is deemed worthy of the ruby anniversary celebration. Forty, as we know has profound biblical significance but the ruby as a precious gem is an appropriate symbol for reflecting on the enduring prophetical nature of Humanae Vitae. The ruby gem is of particularly rich and deep colour. The reason being is that geologically it is apparently the gem that that has undergone the longest and most severe forms of pressure but which has not been crushed or annihilated. It would be difficult indeed to imagine any other papal teaching in the Church’s history which has undergone the longest and most severe pressure than that which is enshrined in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The prophecy of Pope Paul VI in 1968, not only to what was but that which had yet to pass, cannot now be questioned.28 Thanks to Pope John Paul II’s outstanding visionary wisdom on the beauty of sexual integrity in his theology of the body, we can hold this prophetic document of Humanae Vitae up to the light again. Look hard and we will see a colour that is richer, deeper and by virtue of the testimony of spouses faithful to the totality of its teaching, a gem that must become precious to us all. Let us not hold back from boldly proclaiming its wisdom.
Dedicated to my son Patrick, whose short life bore witness to the height and the depth of the Father’s love from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
23. In June of 2008 Human Life International invited priests around the world to sign an online pledge and allegiance to the truth of Humanae Vitae. A number of laicised priests (who had previously publicly dissented from the encyclical) took the opportunity to sign the pledge by way of reparation and sorrow for their disloyalty to an encyclical that they have since understood more clearly for its prophetic wisdom
25. “On returning home [from church], let us prepare two tables, one for food and one for the Word of God, whereupon the man should repeat the things that were said in church. Let the wife learn and the children hear; nor should the servants be deprived of this reading. Make of your home a church, because you are accountable for the salvation of your children and your servants.
John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis 6:2. Patrologica Graeca 54, p.607
26. “It cannot be assumed that men are bound to be an asset to family life, or that the presence of fathers in families is necessarily a means to social harmony and cohesion.” The Family Way: A New Approach to Policy Making. Harriet Harman MP and Patricia Hewitt MP Anna Coote. 1990 Institute for Public Policy Research.
27. Peter Gumpel SJ, The Encyclical That Infuriated Hitler. www.Zenit.org 4th April 2007 commemorating the 1937 encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge of Pius XI.
The Rule for Humanae Vitae marriage groups
Archives of the Pastoral Care of Families Department in the Krakow Archdiocese, Poland. (English translation)
1. The present Rule has emerged from pastoral experience as well as the experience of marriages within the orbit of these first experiences. Its creation coincides with the time when the Humanae vitae encyclical had just been published and sets out anew authentically Christian, hence evangelical, demands and challenges to marriages and the pastoral care of marriages. A group of marriages which decides to take on this Rule may call itself by the symbolic name of Humanae vitae.
2. The rule applies solely to marriages, not to individual spouses by themselves. The aim is that married couples should undertake to live it, not just the husbands or the wives by themselves without the involvement of their spouses.
3. The Rule essentially only requires spouses to live in accordance to those precepts of Christian morality which pertain to the commandments, not requiring them to live according to the evangelical counsels in the strict sense. Living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience in the strict sense is only possible for those with a vocation to the Religious life. However, since experience of married life shows that the observance of moral precepts proclaimed by the Church is not possible without a certain asceticism, marriages in Humanae vitae groups must think through and apply the spirit of the evangelical counsels in their lives.
4. The essential goal of Humanae vitae marriage groups is ongoing effort aimed at achieving such a spiritual integrity that the integral teaching of Christ the Lord on marriage and the family proclaimed by the Church may be implemented in their marriages with full understanding and love. The aim, therefore, is to forge the required spirituality, that is interior life, which will enable married and family life to be lived in a Christian way. Such a spirituality is not available in a ‘ready to live’ form like the spirituality of various religious orders, but must be worked out in an ongoing fashion. Forging such a spirituality is also a very important task for these marriage groups. The means to achieve this lies in the practise of that spiritual attitude described above (the spirit of the evangelical counsels) by the individual married couples within a group.
5. The second essential goal of such a group is apostolate. We will not determine what forms it may take here. Nevertheless, the marriages of a Humanae vitae group take upon themselves the obligation to a certain apostolate and first of all the obligation to constant prayer for other marriages and for the great cause of marriage and the family which is so important to the contemporary Church and the world. Again, both forms of apostolate and forms of prayer are subject to gradual forging out by the group.
6. It is left to the married couples concerned to decide if and in what time they may wish to commit themselves to the tasks laid out above by a special promise.
Liturgical Chart (sample)
Natural Fertility Regulation tracking chart (sample)
This article originally appeared in A Pure Heart Create for Me edited by Robert Colquhoun, Family Publications 2009. It is reproduced with the permission of the author and the book editor.
Copyright ©; Edmund Adamus 2009, 2011