On May 10 the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will beatify his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, this October at the conclusion of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family. The miracle that the Medical Commission of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has approved for Pope Paul has to do with the extraordinary healing of a preborn baby from California who was diagnosed with serious abnormalities. During prenatal exams, doctors projected that the abnormalities could result in severe brain damage and recommended the child’s termination.
Rejecting these naysayers’ diagnosis and their recommendation to kill her unborn baby, the heroic mother instead entrusted herself and the life of her developing baby to Almighty God through the intercession of Paul VI. Her unyielding trust must have bewildered, frustrated and amazed her doctors, family and friends. In spite of tremendous skepticism, she carried her baby to term and gave birth to a healthy baby, free from any health complications whatsoever.
Can you imagine the overwhelming joy and amazement that filled the delivery room? Now eighteen years old, her child remains completely healthy.
I find it somewhat ironic that Paul VI’s beatification is announced in the midst of a firestorm of controversy concerning the upcoming Synod on the Family. Reminiscent of the debate over Church teaching on contraception in the mid-1960s, some members of the hierarchy and laity are calling for change in the Church’s doctrine on marriage.
As if on cue, Paul VI returns to remind the faithful once again of the Church’s need to hold fast to the unchangeable truth entrusted to her concerning the sacredness and dignity of marriage between one man and one woman: That it is faithful, exclusive and open to life.
Pope Paul VI led the Church for fifteen years (1963-1978) during some very tumultuous times, and is mostly remembered for his 1968 encyclical, Humane Vitae. Against the recommendations of many Church authorities and theologians who proposed changing the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, the Holy Father instead reaffirmed the Catholic teaching on life, love and human sexuality, while bringing the unchanging truth of the doctrine into dialogue with the present.
“The transmission of human life,” he said, “is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.”
Reflecting on married love and responsible parenthood, Pope Paul VI reminded the Church that married love is “total.” Spouses give themselves to each other unconditionally.
Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all others, and this until death … Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare. (n. 9)
Paul VI also made four famous predictions in paragraph 17 about what would happen to marriage and society if the Church’s long-held teachings about contraception were ignored, and the dignity of the marital act in its unitive and procreative aspects separated: (1) an increase in conjugal infidelity; (2) “a general lowering of morality”; (3) men would cease respecting women in their totality and would cause them to treat women as “mere instruments of selfish enjoyment,” rather than cherished collaborative partners; and (4) unscrupulous governments would use contraceptives coercively against the weak and marginalized.
One only need consider as confirmation of Paul VI’s prophetic words the growing number of divorces across the globe; the steady decline of fertility rates; the obvious lowering of morality within society; marital and family violence; increase in sexual promiscuity and sexual diseases; trafficking of children; escalation of couples choosing to cohabitate; birth rates outside marriage skyrocketing; abortion as normative and utilized as birth control; acceptance and encouragement of homosexuality; pornography; and, as seen so diabolically now in China and around the globe, governmental coercion through population control policies.
Pope Paul VI understood the challenges, as well as the role of the Church during such times.
It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a ‘sign of contradiction.’ She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man. (n. 18)
What the Church should be discussing as it confronts the many issues affecting the family is how to unravel the damage we have caused by rejecting God’s will for marriage and family life.
Because the family is invaluable, we must safeguard, protect, foster and promote married life and the family as intended by its Creator. If we want to change the current direction and promote a healthy, vibrant society, then let’s return to the core teaching about the dignity of marriage between one man and one woman — faithful, exclusive and open to life.
Lowering expectations or catering to secular opinion will not resolve the plague affecting families and societies around the world. Only adherence to the truth will at least make possible a culture in which the family can flourish.