“One day you will thank God and me for Humanae Vitae” were the words of ‘Blessed’ Pope Paul VI in 1978, exactly one month before he died. It’s worth recalling these words as we ponder on the last two weeks in the life of the Church in the light of extraordinary happenings and running commentary on the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome. Why? Because it closes on Sunday with the Mass of the Beatification of Pope Paul VI, who spoke so often and so beautifully about the ‘little church’ of the home modelled on the indescribable beauty of the relationship between Jesus Mary and Joseph.
But also because among the many things he taught in his papacy, the famous encyclical “On Human Life” has probably been the least read and most misunderstood teaching document in Church history. So why not take about an hour or so of your time this weekend and read it as a spiritual exercise to mark the end of the Synod? Ideally, read it together with your spouse or as a family, taking turns to read sections aloud. Then ask yourself, “Is there anything Pope Paul predicted would happen back in 1968 in relation to the family that hasn’t happened?” But hasn’t there been an ‘earthquake,’ a ‘seismic shift’ this last week in the form of the relatio interim report of the synod discussions about things like contraception, divorce and remarriage, same sex unions, etc? Not if you take the view proposed by Professor Robert George in his article here.
“The relatio” says George, “is raw material […] which will prepare for next year’s discussion, which may provide fodder for a document by the Pope. So it’s conducive to something preparatory to something (possibly) advisory.” To which George concludes [and technically I agree], “It has no teaching authority whatsoever.” But it has certainly stirred debate and thought on marriage, family and life in general and hence my suggestion to go back to an original [relatively contemporary] source – in Church history terms – and rediscover the irreformable truth of Humanae Vitae.
In a 1974 address to the Teams of Our Lady, a marital spirituality movement, Blessed Paul VI referred to marital sexuality as “sacred power.” As we ponder on this insight spare a thought and prayer for the 17 couples who will be experiencing the diocesan enrichment programme this weekend (visit www.smartloving.org), we pray that they may be renewed in this power for each other and in Christ. Also, try and spare a moment to learn of the beautiful new resource produced by the group, Two in One Flesh, and its scripture resource for married couples endorsed this week by the Pontifical Council for the Family in Rome.
But for all of us, whoever we are, and whatever our circumstances, I think the last two weeks brings fresh perspective on those immortal words of the Great Pope of the Family, St John Paul II in 2002:
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”
– Edmund Adamus
Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life – Diocese of Westminster
**** and a final thought for this weekend from Cardinal George Pell…. ****