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Fr McGovern



                                                                                                     By Thomas J McGovern

We live at a time when traditional Church teaching on sexual morality is widely rejected or obscured. There is also much evidence to indicate that many Catholics ignore this teaching both inside and outside of marriage. Consequently preaching about chastity today is in many ways an exercise in rowing against the current. At the present time particular areas of the social environment are quite hostile to the living of this virtue, with the emphasis on an exaggerated sense of personal freedom rooted in a climate of permissiveness. It is not that this is a new challenge for preachers. Down through history the Church has always had to contend with the problem of sexual immorality. St Paul, and the Fathers of the Church after him, did not hesitate to use vigorous language to inculcate the virtue of chastity and to keep the early Christians away from immoral forms of entertainment common in their day. 1

            Man is endowed with a strong sexual instinct which with difficulty is amenable to control. It has also become abundantly clear that experiments in social engineering do not provide answers in this area. People are in fact rediscovering that only by the cultivation of a moral sense, in keeping with man’s dignity as a being made to the image and likeness of God, can the sexual dynamic be channelled towards its proper objective. Thus the priest has a particular responsibility to remind people that sexuality is a gift from God, and that what we do with it forms a very definite part of God’s plan for us in this life. It is his privilege to bring out in his preaching the fully positive and liberating implications of the Master’s affirmation ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’ (Mt 5:8). The regulation of the sexual instinct by the virtue of chastity is not a form of repression. On the contrary, it is a rational discipline which respects human dignity and which with the help of grace facilitates a human love that is faithful, fruitful and fulfilling.

            To preach convincingly about the virtue of chastity, the priest needs to be able to present coherent arguments from Christian anthropology and Sacred Scripture.   John Paul II in his extensive catechesis on the ‘nuptial meaning of the body’ developed these arguments with a depth and coherence which has rarely been attempted before. Any priest who takes the trouble to familiarize himself with this catechesis will have his Christian vision of man reaffirmed, and will be encouraged to present Christ’s teaching on chastity in a positive and confident way. 2

            We are reminded by Vatican II that all preaching ‘should be nourished and ruled by Sacred Scripture’. 3 Consequently familiarity with the biblical understanding of human sexuality is essential to give an integral presentation of God’s revelation in this area of Christian morality. Just about every expression of sexual activity is mentioned in the Old Testament, but the only form which is recognized as legitimate is that of marital intercourse within a lifelong covenant of love, a covenant which accepts both the sensuousness of the Song of Songs and the self-obligation of 1 Cor 13 as constitutive of married love. 4

Preaching programme

Since no particular virtue can be acquired in isolation, effective communication of the importance of, and the need for, chastity in the spiritual life requires that it be seen in the broader context of the Christian vocation in general. Indeed, the document of the Pontifical Council for the Family on sex education says that formation in chastity should always be given in the light of the universal call to holiness, either as vocation to marriage or as vocation to celibacy or virginity. 5

            Obviously the presentation of such a programme will be determined to some extent by the needs of particular congregations, their social and age structure, etc. Nevertheless, whatever the audience, a proper understanding and appreciation of chastity always requires effective evangelization in the programme of Christian living outlined by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, an appreciation of the importance of prayer and sacramental life for growth in holiness, the need for self-denial and its relationship to the Cross in our daily lives, and an elucidation of the Decalogue in the light of the words of the Master: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (Jn 14:15).

            The needs of the present time require that in preaching about chastity we do so with clarity. A great archbishop has said:

Today a vigorous recall is needed to the basic virtue of chastity. There must be new respect for the gift of human sexuality and for the laws of God which govern its use ... It is necessary to call things once again by their true names – fornication, adultery, lustful desires, immoral displays in cinemas, videos, etc. All these are a serious offence against human dignity. 6

Pastoral charity does not mean being silent in face of sin or error. Tolerance is an admirable virtue but it is never an excuse for turning a blind eye to particular practices or behaviour which undermine the teaching of Christ. A priest must be ready to unmask the euphemisms of our day which disguise immorality or indeed real crimes. A person may be in a ‘stable relationship’, or have a ‘partner’ in addition to a lawfully wedded spouse, or may ‘terminate a pregnancy’. But it is only when things are called by their real names – fornication, adultery, etc – as Christ described such acts, that people learn to face up to the moral demands of their lives as Christians. Priests need to be clear but also refined in their presentation; they have to teach positively but also with courage: ‘Proclaim the message, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it … But do all with patience and the intention of teaching’ (2 Tim 4:12).

            It is also necessary to approach this task with humility in the knowledge that we are all made of the same clay. Our efforts to live this virtue faithfully will give us the insight and understanding appropriate to persons and circumstances. Apart from the suggestions outlined above, Christian wisdom down through the centuries has indicated specific means by which the virtue of holy purity can be more easily acquired: practice of the virtue of temperance, guard of the heart and the senses, avoiding idleness and occasions of sin, living those other virtues which cluster around and protect chastity such as modesty, refinement in thought and conversations, rejection of temptations to vanity and pride, etc.

Chastity within marriage

While preaching about chastity in general has its own importance, from the perspective of marriage and family responsibilities it takes on a renewed significance. The theology of married love has been developed from rich scriptural sources and this has been reinforced by Catholic tradition. Nevertheless, the memory of historical tradition has been lost to many contemporary Christians.

            A subjective approach to marriage is a common feature of contemporary society, in the sense that the quality of the affective life of the partners often becomes the dominant measure for assessing everything related to marriage. Viewed, however, from a Christian perspective there are, of course, other, and deeper, factors which must also be given adequate consideration – the role of marriage in extending the kingdom of Christ, the responsibility of parents for transmitting the faith from one generation to the next, the contribution of children to the human and spiritual maturity of the parents.

            In a permissive society there is a tendency to assume that sexual gratification constitutes the greatest human fulfilment. To counteract this erroneous and selfish perspective there is a need to reaffirm the liberating and healthy joy that comes from service to others, from noble human ambitions and work well done, from family and friendships.  It is also necessary to emphasise that earthly happiness is not the only happiness open to man.

            Independently of subjective attitudes to marriage, it needs to be understood that marriage is of divine institution and serves particular purposes in God’s plan. The more people are aware of this, the better they will understand the nature of marriage and the expectations they can have of it. The Church teaches that ‘happiness in marriage is normally and in the long run more likely to depend on having and rearing children than on the mutual love between husband and wife, and its expressions’. This is because nature has designed married love to become family love, and thus ‘growth in love will normally be in function of growth in fruitfulness’. 7   

            To preach adequately about marriage it is not enough for the priest to be familiar with the theology and the pastoral aspects of the sacrament. He also needs to be able to articulate what Christian anthropology teaches us about marriage. John Paul II in his weekly catechesis on the theology of the body developed a rich Christian anthropology based on Scripture and the reality of the Incarnation. 8 As he graphically points out, consequent to the fact that the Word of God became flesh, ‘the body entered theology through the main door’. 9 In this sense the Incarnation is the source of the sacramentality of marriage. 10  

            The importance of the theology of the body is measured by the fact that, for most Christians, marriage is a vocation and a way to holiness. 11 Consequently the teaching of revelation on the body has to be the basis of the theology of vocation to marriage. This awareness of the transcendent meaning of the body is even more necessary today in a culture which is increasingly influenced by a utilitarian and materialistic way of seeing things. Modern science can supply a great deal of precise information about human sexuality. However, man has to have recourse to other sources to get to know the dignity of the human body and sexuality, primarily what the Word of God Himself has revealed about it. 12

            John Paul II, for the duration of his pontificate, and for many years before, dedicated his best energies to persuading us of the truth and the richness of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family. His constant attention to this theme was a consequence of his conviction that stable marriages and happy family life were essential to human well-being and that, if this objective was achieved, many other evils in society would be eradicated. After he completed his long series of talks on the theology of the body (1979-1984), he continued to give special attention to moral and pastoral questions related to marriage and the family. In his many journeys abroad, the affirmation of the Christian concept of the family was always high on his agenda. Indeed in 1984 he identified the defence of marriage and the family as his first pastoral priority, 13 because for him ‘the story of mankind and the history of salvation passes by way of the family’. 14 A fundamental part of his programme of evangelization was geared to making Christians rediscover once again the full implications of his exhortation: ‘Family, become what you are’. 15

            During his pontificate we saw the publication of several important documents on the family, including The Christian Family in the modern World [Familiaris consortio] (1981); the Charter of the Rights of the Family (1983); and the Letter to Families (1994). Familiarity with these writings of John Paul II will enable the priest draw on many rich insights to illustrate his preaching on this topic.

Purposes of marriage       

Up to the time of Vatican II the Magisterium of the Church spoke about a hierarchy in the ends or purposes of marriage. Thus it maintained that the procreation and education of children was the primary purpose of marriage – this was the objective, ontological basis and explanation of marriage as an institution. The secondary end was the mutual love and personal development of the spouses. However, the Vatican II constitution Gaudium et spes avoids this terminology and affirms of marriage that ‘its nature as an indissoluble compact between two people and the good of the children demand that the mutual love of the partners be properly shown, that it should grow and mature’. 16

In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, marriage is described as a covenant by which a man and woman establish a life-long partnership ‘which of its very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children’. 17 The same definition is repeated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 18 This is a development of the doctrine taught in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, and subsequently by Pius XI and by Pius XII. 19 Rather than a hierarchy of ends, the Church now defines marriage with two equal but interrelated primary ends: the good of the spouses and the transmission of life. As one noted canon lawyer has put it, ‘it is their mutual interdependence and inseparability which are now emphasized’. 20 

            This integrated statement of the ends of marriage reflects the Christian anthropology and personalism which are characteristic of the teaching of John Paul II, as well as of Vatican II. The rich theological and ascetical implications of this renewed vision of marriage have been well put by St Josemaría Escrivá, both from the institutional and vocational points of view:

It is important for married people to acquire a clear sense of the dignity of their vocation. They must know that they have been called by God not only to human love but also to a divine love through their human love. It is important for them to realize that they have been chosen from eternity to cooperate with the creative power of God by having and then bringing up children. Our Lord asks them to make their home and their entire family life a testimony to all the Christian virtues. 21          

            The personalist values inherent in this restatement of the purposes of marriage focus, as we have already seen, on the innate dignity of the individual made to the image and likeness of God. A consequence of this attitude is the mutual self-giving of the spouses through the marriage covenant which nurtures the growth of maturity, generosity, and the capacity to trust each other. In summary, each spouse becomes a means and a source of holiness for the other, facilitating the growth of those marital values reflected in the Song of Songs, the book of Tobit, and chapter five of the Ephesians.       

            Marriage as a ‘communion of persons’ is central to the doctrine of John Paul II on this area. 22 This, he says, can only be achieved by total self-giving, that sustained effort to suppress the selfish tendencies of the human soul which are constantly inclined to reassert themselves. In this context he has frequently repeated a phrase of Vatican II: ‘man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself’. 23 

Children and marriage

Clearly there is a direct connection between total self-giving in marriage and generosity in accepting the children God sends to spouses. The Church sees children as ‘the supreme gift of marriage’ 24, and affirms that it is in them marriage ‘finds its crowning glory’. 25 

            Yet nowadays there is a tendency to see children as a mixed blessing. Often they are considered more as a burden and a strain on material and psychological resources rather than as a gift from God. The loss of the Christian sense of the unique value of children in themselves, as well as a declining awareness of the contribution of children to healthy family relationships, has caused spouses to deprive themselves of the very means which God intended to enable them grow in love for each other. In the context of the current anti-child propaganda the priest has a serious duty to reaffirm the importance of the role of children from a human and Christian point of view. 26 There is a need to recover an awareness of the great blessing children are for parents, not only in terms of the joy they bring them but, more fundamentally, of the role children play in leading them to holiness. Every child is another reason for the couple to mature their love for each other, to grow in generosity, and to co-operate in the redemptive work of God. 

Preaching about Humanae vitae

When preaching about chastity and marriage, one of the great challenges is the presentation of the moral teaching of Humanae vitae. 27 Perhaps no other encyclical in the history of the Church has been the subject of such comment and controversy. Before it was published in 1968 there were a number of forces already pushing for its rejection. Vatican II presented people with changes which were profound and often confusing. A change in the teaching on artificial contraception was, according to some theologians, just another change. With the availability of the contraceptive pill in the sixties the ‘sexual revolution’ was in full swing, and media hype was producing a neurotic fear about ‘overpopulation’. For five years people had been led to believe by Vatican watchers and dissident theologians that the teaching would change. And so in 1968 when the Pope’s answer did finally come, and there was no change, many reacted with dissent and disbelief. 28

             Any suggestion that the encyclical was a provisional statement on the morality of contraception was conclusively dispelled by Pope John Paul II in his authoritative commentary on Humanae vitae. 29 The difficulties involved in teaching and accepting the doctrine of the encyclical were not underestimated by the Holy Father, but this does not in any way take away from its certainty:

In their effort to live their conjugal love correctly, married couples can be seriously impeded by a certain hedonistic mentality widespread today, by the mass media, by ideologies and practices contrary to the Gospel. This can also come about, with truly grave and destructive consequences, when the doctrine taught by the encyclical is called into question, as has sometimes happened, even on the part of some theologians and pastors of souls. This attitude, in fact, can instil doubt with regard to a teaching which for the Church is certain; in this way it clouds the perception of a truth which cannot be questioned. This is not a sign of ‘pastoral understanding’ but of misunderstanding the true good of persons. Truth cannot be measured by majority opinion. 30    

            In a world which has scant esteem for generosity in this area, and where trust in God's providence finds little practical echo, preaching the doctrine of Paul VI's encyclical requires faith and courage.

John Paul II and Humanae vitae : anthropological considerations           

To preach effectively about Humanae vitae it is essential to put it in context. One of the most important insights of Vatican II was the articulation of the fact that marriage is a divine vocation. 31 Pope John Paul II developed this theme during his visit to Ireland in 1979. ‘Married people’, he urged, ‘must believe in the power of the sacrament to make them holy; they must believe in their vocation to witness through their marriage to the power of Christ’s love’. 32 It is in this context that chastity in marriage has to be preached if it is to be truly meaningful to Christians of today. It demands on the part of the priest a deepening perception of the vocation of the laity who, John Paul II reminds us in the same homily, ‘are called to the heights of holiness’. 33 Otherwise there is the danger that priests will sell the laity short in relation to God’s expectation of them and the vocational dynamic that should inspire their lives. 34

            The priest should know how to present the Church’s attitude to human life as protective and affirmative of married love. Perhaps the most important point he has to get across at the present time is that the Church has an eminently positive approach to human love, sexuality and marriage, and that it is essentially pro-love and pro-life. 35 The Church reaffirms that no real contradiction can exist between fulfilling the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those which foster authentic conjugal love. 36 The teaching of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount and the Pauline doctrine taught in 1 Corinthians demonstrates a real awareness of the practical difficulties involved in being faithful to the Christian moral norms related to marital chastity. However, they are also a confirmation of man’s capacity to live this holiness of life by means of grace. 37

            Diligent priests will glean many new and penetrating insights from the writings of John Paul II for a more persuasive presentation of the teaching of Humanae vitae based on Scripture, Christian anthropology, and natural law. In 1984 he began a series of reflections on the encyclical in continuity with the addresses which he had begun in 1979 on the theology of the body. 38 In these fourteen addresses he applies the anthropological principles he had already developed to facilitate a deeper understanding of Paul VI’s document on the transmission of human life. He focuses particularly on the central affirmation of this encyclical, that is, on the inseparable connection established by God between the unitive and procreative significance of the marriage act. 39

            In a world which is invaded by a hedonistic philosophy, it is not sufficient, John Paul II tells us, that the teaching of Humanae vitae be faithfully and fully proposed. Deeply conscious of the intellectual and moral confusion of our times, he affirms that it is also necessary to demonstrate its deepest reasons. 40 Where these deepest reasons were to be found he had already outlined in Familiaris consortio when he called on theologians to ‘commit themselves to the task of illustrating ever more clearly the biblical foundations, the ethical grounds and the personalist reasons behind this doctrine’. 41 No-one has done more than John Paul II to explain the reasons for the moral teaching of the Church on human sexuality and procreation. Starting with the datum that man is made to the image and likeness of God he demonstrates how the use of contraceptives is opposed to the ‘full truth about man’. It is this truth about our human nature, our bodies, and especially our identity as persons, all reflecting God’s truth, which is the ultimate basis for the moral norms on marriage and procreation articulated in Humanae vitae. 42     

Scriptural basis

While there is no direct prohibition of contraception in Scripture, there are several converging themes in the moral teaching of the Bible which the priest can use to support his preaching on the encyclical: 43 

  • the exceptional value given to procreation – Christ himself pointed to the great joy which spontaneously follows childbirth;
  • the condemnation of all sexual acts, including onanism, that are not designed to protect the good  of procreation;
  • the likening of Christ’s relationship with his Church to that of a bridegroom with his bride – a union that is meant to be a fruitful relationship, one that will bring forth many sons and daughters for God; the scriptural affirmation of fecundity and fruitfulness.

            Once God had created man, male and female, to his own image and likeness, his first directive to them was: ‘Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’ (Gen 1:27). Fertility and fruitfulness are seen as part of the covenant that man has with God. When God renews his covenant with Noah and Abraham, he repeats the same mandate: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’ (Gen 9:1). Throughout the Old Testament fertility and family are portrayed as great goods, as evidence of faithfulness to God (cf. Gen 13:16; 17:6). Children are not viewed as a burden but as a sign of favour and wealth (cf. Ps 127).

            Scripture also repeatedly praises the good of marriage. In the Old Testament it is often compared to the relationship between God and the Chosen People. In so far as married couples are to image the relationship between Christ and his Church (cf. Eph 5:21-32), contraception would seem to be a violation of that unique image. ‘The value that Scripture puts on human life because of both its nature and its destiny, the view of God as author of life, the view of God as author of nature, and the understanding of God as an “unconditional” lover - all illuminate and enrich natural law arguments’ 44 against contraception.

            Even though this law is not found literally in Scripture, it is, John Paul tells us, fully in accord not only with the sum total of the moral doctrine contained in the Bible, its essential premises, and the general character of its content. It also integrates with that fuller context of the biblical anthropology which the Holy Father developed when speaking about the theology of the body 45

            In the light of the foregoing we can see that preaching about Humanae vitae has to be set in the broader context of the Christian life as a whole if its teaching is to be understood properly and appropriated at a personal level. Presenting this wider ascetical canvas in a preaching programme would require covering the following topics among others:

marriage as a divine vocation and a call to holiness;

how the sacramental grace of marriage enables couples overcome all the difficulties and challenges of married life together;             

fulfilment in marriage comes through generosity and self-giving in the little events of each day;

the procreation of children provides new members of the People of God who will be able to glorify the Trinity in eternity;

the blessings each new child brings, especially as a God-given means to provide a deeper bonding between the couple;

Christian life means having trust in the paternal providence of God to care for the needs of the future;

the weakness of our nature which requires to be healed by regular reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist;

generous acceptance of the Cross as a normal part of Christian living which brings its own rewards;

the need for daily prayer to see and accept God’s will.

If the scriptural, moral, and personalist arguments supporting Humanae vitae are outlined against this background, there is no doubt that consciences will be enlightened and opened to accept its teaching.

            In his Apostolic Letter profiling a pastoral programme for the Church for the new millennium, John Paul II said that such a programme had to be based on a rediscovery of ‘the full practical significance’ of the universal call to holiness proposed by Vatican II. 46 In the context of the demands of our Baptismal vocation, it would, he says

be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity … The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. 47

This, he continues, calls for a genuine ‘training in holiness’ adapted to people’s needs. 48 Priests, clearly, have a major role to play in this demanding enterprise. But, as always, the Pope encourages us to go forward with good hope, sharing the enthusiasm of the first Christians and counting ‘on the power of the same Spirit who was poured out at Pentecost and who impels us still today to start out anew, sustained by the hope “which does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5)’. 49                         

Contraception and conscience

Good intentions, however, are not enough to guide spouses in this matter of responsible parenthood – the objective moral criteria must also be used to bring their consciences into conformity with the law of God as taught by the Magisterium of the Church. 50 Those are considered ‘to exercise responsible parenthood who prudently and generously decide to have a large family, or who, for serious reasons and with due respect to the moral law, choose to have no more children for the time being or even for an indeterminate period’. 51 Thus the couple cannot act arbitrarily; on the contrary they ‘must act in conformity with God’s creative intention’ 52, on the basis of the ‘inseparable connection of the two significances of the conjugal act’. 53

            One of the chief responses to Humanae vitae after it first appeared was that Catholics were entitled to use contraception if their conscience allowed them. 54 Responsibility for preaching the demands of marital chastity has often been abdicated by priests by telling people to follow their conscience, without at the same time alerting them to the serious duty they have to form their conscience in accordance with the Church’s teaching to ascertain the moral implications of what one is doing. As a consequence, a new interpretation of the meaning of conscience has grown up among Catholics since the publication of Humanae vitae. For many, conscience has become separated from the teaching of the Church, so that individual opinion is the ultimate arbiter of right or wrong, the ultimate standard of morality. People feel justified in using contraceptives because they see the ‘good’ of their marriage relationship as taking precedence over the demands of Church teaching. This is a principle which is constantly advocated in the media about many aspects of morality. Consequently, it is essential that, in the light of John Paul II’s ground-breaking encyclical on the fundamentals of Christian morality (Veritatis splendor), people would be formed in a correct understanding of the authentic relationship between conscience and truth, and the consequences this has for the morality of human actions. 55  John Paul II sums up the essence of this teaching as follows:

Christians have a great help for the formation of conscience in the Church and in her Magisterium. As the Council [Vatican II] affirms: ‘in forming their consciences the Christian faithful must give careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. Her charge is to announce and teach authentically that truth which is Christ, and at the same time with her authority to declare and confirm the principles of the moral order which derive from human nature itself‘(Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae, 14). It follows that the authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of the conscience of Christians. This is so not only because freedom of conscience is never freedom ‘from’ the truth but always and only freedom ‘in’ the truth, but also because the Magisterium does not bring to the Christian conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather it brings to light the truths which it ought already to possess, developing them from the starting point of the primordial act of faith. The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience, helping to avoid it being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine proposed by human deceit (cf Eph 4:14), and helping it not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it’ (ibid., no. 64). See also CCC, 1777-85. 56

This is not a mere academic question – it has profound consequences for the stability and happiness of married life.

If we as priests work through Mary, Queen of the Family, we can be sure of the effectiveness of our efforts to help couples rediscover the true joy of married life based on generous cooperation with God’s creative power.       

Reverend Thomas J. McGovern, who is a priest of the Opus Dei prelature, works in Dublin. He holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarre, Pamplona, Spain. He is the author of Priestly Celibacy Today;  Priestly Identity: A study in the Theology of Priesthood,  and just this year, Generations of Priests. He has written several times for HPR, most recently in July 2002 (frthomasj.mcgovern@gmail.com).


1.  Cf., for example, the homilies of St John Chrysostom on the Book of Genesis (Homilies on Genesis, Vol I (nos. 1 -17), Vol II (nos. 18-45), Vol III (nos. 46-67), Catholic University of America Press, Washington 1986), and on St John’s Gospel, passim (Commentary on St John the Apostle and Evangelist, Vol I (nos. 1-47), Vol II (nos. 48-88), Catholic University of America Press, Washington 1960).

2.  This series of weekly addresses by John Paul II, which ran intermittently from 1979 to 1984, has been published in four volumes by St Paul Editions, Boston, as follows: Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis (1981); Blessed are the Pure of Heart: Catechesis on the Sermon on the Mount and the Writings of St Paul (1983); Reflections on Humanae Vitae: Conjugal Morality and Spirituality (1984); The Theology of Marriage and Celibacy: Catechesis on Marriage and Celibacy in the Light of the Resurrection of the Body (1986). These addresses are also available in one volume: The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, Boston, 1997.  

3.  Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, 21.                                                             

4.  Cf. John F. Kippley, ‘A Covenant Theology of Sex’, in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Aug-Sept 1983, p. 25.

5.  Cf. Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, 26 (8 December 1995).

6.  Archbishop. K McNamara (Dublin), ‘The Role of the Laity in the Church’ in Osservatore Romano, 12 May 1986.

7  Cf. Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness,  Dublin, 1990, pp 17-22.      

8.  Cf. footnote no. 2.

9.  John Paul II, Address, 2 April 1980, no.4.

10.  While still Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, John Paul II had developed his anthropology of marriage in Love and Responsibility, London, 1981(originally published in Polish in 1960).

11.  Cf.Vatican II Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes, 48, 50; Decree on the Lay Apostolate, Apostolicam actuositatem, 11; and John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio, 34 (22 Nov ember 1981).

12. Cf. John Paul II, Address, 2 April 1980, no.5.

13.  Cf. ibid.,  22 March 1984.

14.  John Paul II, Letter to Families, 23 (2 February 1994);  see also Familiaris consortio, 86.

15.  Familiaris consortio, 17.

16.  Gaudium et spes, 50.

17.  Code of Canon Law, 1055§1.

18.  Cf. no. 1601.

19.  Cf., for example, the encyclical Casti conubii of Pius XI (1931), Address of Pius XII, 29 October 1951.

20.  Cf. Cormac Burke, ‘Love and the Family in Today’s World’ in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, March 1995, p. 28.

21.  Conversations with Monsignor Escrivá, Manila 1977, no. 93.

22.  Cf. Familiaris consortio, 15.

23.  Gaudium et spes, 24.

24.  Ibid, no. 50.

25.  Ibid, no. 48.

26.  Cf. John Paul II, Homily in Washington D.C., 7 October 1979.

27.  Paul VI, Encyclical Humanae vitae ( 25 July 1968).

28.  Cf. Bishop John J Myers, ‘The Rejection and Rediscovery by Christians of the Truths of Humanae vitae’ in Trust the Truth: A Symposium on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Encyclical, ed. Russell Smith, Braintree, Mass. 1988, pp 65-78.  

29.  Cf. John Paul II, Reflections on Humanae vitae: Conjugal Morality and Spirituality, Boston 1984; a series of fourteen addresses delivered between 11 July and 28 November 1984. There are also very helpful commentaries on Humanae vitae in chapters 9 and 10 of Christian Marriage, (Pastoral Letter of Irish Hierarchy for Lent 1969), and in Human Life is Sacred, (Pastoral Letter, 1 May 1975), particularly paragraphs nos. 93-127.

30.   John Paul II, Address, 14 March 1988 (italics in original).

31.  Cf. Gaudium et spes, 48 and 50; see also Decree on the Lay Apostolate (Apostolicam actuositatem), no. 11; Familiaris consortio, 34.  

32.  The Pope in Ireland: Addresses and Homilies, Dublin , 1979, p. 80 (Homily in Limerick, on 1 October 1979).

33.  Ibid., p. 76

34.  Cf. Lumen gentium, 31, 40, 41. These ideas are powerfully developed by John Paul II in his Post-Synodal Exhortation, The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and the World (Christifideles laici), nos. 16 and 17, 30 December 1988.

35.  Cf. Charles M. Mangan, ‘The Homily that Never Was’, in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 1991, pp 67-70.  

36.  Cf. Humanae vitae, 20.

37.  Cf. John Paul II, Address, 25 July 1984, no. 6.

38.  Cf. Reflections on Humanae Vitae: Conjugal Morality and Spirituality, Boston, 1984.

39.   ‘The Church teaches as absolutely required that in any use whatever of marriage there must be no impairment of its natural capacity to procreate human life ... This particular doctrine, often expounded by the Magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act’ (Humanae vitae, 11 and 12).

40.  Cf. John Paul II, Address, 17 September 1983.

41.  Familiaris consortio, 31.

42.  Cf. John Crosby , ‘The Personalism of John Paul II as the Basis of his Approach to the Teaching of Humanae vitae’ in Janet Smith (ed.), Why Humanae vitae was Right: A Reader, San Francisco, 1993, pp 195-226.

43. Cf. Janet Smith, Humanae vitae: A Generation Later, Washington, 1991, p. 130.

44.  Smith, ibid., p. 134.

45.  Cf. John Paul II, Address 18 July 1984.

46.  John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Novo millennio ineunte, 30 (6 January 2001).

47.  Ibid., no. 31.

48.  Cf. ibid.

49. Ibid., no. 58.

50.  As Vatican II points out: ‘Married people should realize that in their behaviour they may not simply follow their own fancy but must be ruled by conscience – and conscience ought to be conformed to the law of God in the light of the teaching of the divine law. For the divine law throws light on the meaning of married love, protects it and leads it to a truly human fulfilment. Whenever Christian spouses in a spirit of sacrifice and trust in divine providence carry out their duties of procreation with generous human and Christian responsibility, they glorify the Creator and perfect themselves in Christ’ (Gaudium et spes, 50).               

51.  Cf. Humanae vitae, 10.

52.  Cf. ibid.

53.  Cf. ibid., no.12.

54.  While this was the reaction of a number of theologians, it was an argument which also found support in the initial responses of various Episcopal conferences e.g. those of France, Canada and Austria. However, subsequently both Canada and Austria repudiated their 1968 statements, suggesting that effectively it would be almost impossible for a Catholic to reject Humanae vitae in good conscience (cf. Smith, ibid., pp 148-160).

55. Cf. Veritatis splendor, published 6 August 1993, nos.54-64..   

56. Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendour, 64 (italics in the original). See also CCC, 1777-85.

The above article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

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This version: 15th December 2011

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