Prayer, Penance and the Eucharist: Principal Sources of Spirituality for Married Couples

Author: Pope John Paul II

Prayer, Penance and the Eucharist Are Principal Sources of Spirituality for Married Couples

Pope John Paul II


At the general audience on Wednesday morning, 3 October, Pope John Paul II resumed his series of talks on marriage, speaking of the spirituality of married couples. Following is our translation of his address.

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.

Integral intention

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.

Difficulties present

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 vocation.

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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