A Wise, Loving and Courageous Pastor
7/1/2018Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
Despite opposition, Pope Paul VI humbly promoted the Church’s teachings on marriage and human life
ON OCT. 14, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Pope Paul VI. Pope Paul was elected to the Chair of Peter in 1963, during the Second Vatican Council, and served until his death in 1978. He was responsible for advancing the teachings and reforms of the council, a daunting task which he implemented with wisdom, love and courage.
This saintly pontiff was first and foremost a follower of Jesus. He was a man of deep prayer and rigorous penitence. Steeped in culture, he was an intellectual who followed closely 20th-century developments in philosophy, theology and contemporary debates that helped pave the way for the council. He showed us a pastor’s heart in his profound encyclicals on authentic human and economic development and on the spread of the Gospel in today’s world.
When he issued the landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life, On the Regulation of Birth) in July 1968, Blessed Paul VI addressed the contemporary issue of birth control with the same wisdom, love and courage that characterized his entire life and ministry. Unfortunately, his prophetic teaching was greeted by many with hostility and today remains widely ignored. However, the time has come for people everywhere to discover what many faithful married couples have already discovered — namely, Pope Paul’s wise and loving teaching on the dignity of human life and on God’s plan for human love.
A deeper look at Humanae Vitae reveals that Paul VI did not merely reassert a ban on contraception — rather, he offered a teaching that opens the way for a virtuous respect for the gift of human life and the meaning of human sexuality. Writing in an era of rapid change and social upheaval, he acknowledged that people were grappling with new attitudes toward sexuality and that new methods of birth control had raised questions about the Church’s teaching. In fact, many urged the pope to change the Church’s teaching out of compassion for married couples. Many also said that relaxing this teaching would strengthen family life and make the Church’s mission of spreading the Good News more credible — empty claims that subsequent history has disproved.
Blessed Paul VI knew that shortcuts in matters such as human love, life, marriage and family lead to profound unhappiness and to terrible social consequences. He foresaw an increase in infidelity, the lowering of moral standards, lack of respect for life, lack of respect for women, and the breakdown of the family — all of which and more have come to pass. By contrast, the Church’s teaching respects the gift of human life and shows married couples how to relate to one another in a respectful, loving manner.
In Humanae Vitae, the Holy Father called upon married couples to form a loving union in the sight of God, a union that is open to the gift of new human life, a love that is total and faithful, a love that is ordered toward the procreation and formation of children in the loving setting of a family. He reminded Catholics and all people of goodwill of the Godgiven link between the unitive and procreative dimensions of human sexuality. He invited couples to consider morally licit ways to exercise responsible parenthood, rejecting unnatural forms of birth control that do not invite dialogue and cooperation.
Today, many people have awakened to the negative social consequences of the sexual revolution. But awareness is not enough. Evils such as the breakdown of the family cannot be overcome without a renewed appreciation for and practice of the virtues of chastity, modesty and self-control, together with deep respect for others. Pope Paul has shown us the way of wisdom, love and courage. Let us follow his lead.