Paul II - Theology of the Body
Prayer, Penance and the
Eucharist Are Principal Sources of Spirituality for Married Couples
General Audience, October 3, 1984
1. Referring to the doctrine
contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, we will try to further
outline the spiritual life of married couples. Here are the great
words of this encyclical:
"While the Church does indeed hand on to her children the inviolable
conditions laid down by God's law, she is also the herald of
salvation. Through the sacraments she flings wide open the channels
of grace through which man is made a new creature responding in
charity and true freedom to the design of his Creator and Savior,
experiencing too the sweetness of the yoke of Christ.
"In humble obedience then to her voice, let Christian husbands and
wives be mindful of their vocation to the Christian life, a vocation
which, deriving from their Baptism, has been confirmed anew and made
more explicit by the sacrament of Matrimony. For by this sacrament
they are strengthened and, one might also say, consecrated to the
faithful fulfillment of their duties; to realizing to the full their
vocation; and to bearing witness, as becomes them, to Christ before
the world. For the Lord has entrusted to them the task of making
visible to men and women the holiness, and the joy too, of the law
which unites inseparably their love for one another and the
cooperation they give to God's love, God who is the Author of human
life" (Humanae Vitae 25).
Morally evil act
2. By showing the moral evil of the contraceptive act and by
outlining at the same time a possibly integral framework for the
honest practice of fertility regulation, that is, of responsible
fatherhood and motherhood, the Encyclical Humanae Vitae creates the
premises that allow us to draw the great lines of the Christian
spirituality of the conjugal vocation and life, and likewise the
spirituality of parents and of the family.
It can further be said that the encyclical presupposes the entire
tradition of this spirituality, which is rooted in the biblical
sources already analyzed, by offering the opportunity to reflect on
them anew and to build an adequate synthesis.
It is well to recall here what was said about the organic
relationship between the theology of the body and the pedagogy of
the body. This "theology-pedagogy" already constitutes per se the
essential nucleus of conjugal spirituality. This is indicated also
by the above-quoted sentences from the encyclical.
3. Anyone would certainly read and interpret the Encyclical
Humanae Vitae erroneously who would see in it only the reduction of
responsible fatherhood and motherhood to mere "biological rhythms of
fertility". The author of the encyclical energetically disapproves
of and contradicts any form of reductive interpretation (and in such
a "partial" sense), and insistently reproposes the integral
intention. Responsible fatherhood and motherhood, understood
integrally, is none other than an important element of all conjugal
and family spirituality, that is, of that vocation which the cited
text of Humanae Vitae speaks about when it states that the married
couple must "realize to the full their vocation" (HV 25). The
sacrament of marriage strengthens them and, one would say,
consecrates them to its fulfillment (cf. HV 25).
In the light of the doctrine expressed in the encyclical, it is well
to become more aware of that strengthening power that is united to
the "sui generis consecration" of the sacrament of marriage.
Since the analysis of the ethical problem of Paul VI's document was
centered above all on the exactness of the respective norm, the
sketch of conjugal spirituality which is found there intends to
place in relief precisely those "powers" which make possible the
authentic Christian witness of married life.
4. "We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the
difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of
Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us,
the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life (cf. Mt
7:14). Nevertheless, it is precisely the hope of that life which,
like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong
in spirit, they strive to live sober, upright and godly lives in
this world (cf. Ti 2:12), knowing for sure that 'the form of this
world is passing away'" (cf. 1 Cor 7:31) (HV 25).
In the encyclical, the view of married life is marked at every step
by Christian realism. Precisely this helps more greatly to acquire
those "powers" which allow the formation of the spirituality of
married couples and parents in the spirit of an authentic pedagogy
of heart and body.
The awareness of that future life opens up a broad horizon of those
powers that must guide them through the hard way (cf. HV 25) and
lead them through the narrow gate (cf. HV 25) of their evangelical
The encyclical says: "For this reason husbands and wives should take
up the burden appointed to them, willingly, in the strength of faith
and of that hope which does not disappoint us, because God's love
has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has
been given to us" (cf. Rom 5:5) (HV 25).
By the Holy Spirit
5. Here is the essential and fundamental "power": the love planted
in the heart ("poured out into our hearts") by the Holy Spirit.
Consequently, the encyclical points out how the married couple must
implore this essential power and every other divine help by prayer;
how they must draw grace and love from the ever-living fountain of
the Eucharist; how "with humble perseverance" they must overcome
their deficiencies and sins in the Sacrament of Penance.
These are the means—infallible and indispensable—for forming the
Christian spirituality of married life and family life. With these,
that essential and spiritual creative power of love reaches human
hearts and, at the same time, human bodies in their subjective
masculinity and femininity. This love allows the building of the
whole life of the married couple according to that "truth of the
sign", by means of which marriage is built up in its sacramental
dignity, as the central point of the encyclical reveals (cf. HV 12).
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 8 October
1984, page 1
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