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Making Marriage Amazing

A prophetic pope spoke of the need for sacramental fullness

By Jason Godin

(Pope Francis beatified Pope Paul VI in October 2014, and called his predecessor “prophetic” with the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. In this fourth of a series of articles, Associate Editor Jason Godin looks closely at this often misunderstood document on life and love.)

The state of being whole or complete. Richness or intensity of flavor, sound or color. Whatever way you choose to define it, fullness starts with senses directed toward the natural world and all that it contains. But as Pope Paul VI outlined in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, fullness remains incomplete, especially for married couples, without openness to new life found in the sacraments.

Baptismal Identity

In the third part of Humanae Vitae, Paul VI calls upon Christian husbands and wives to recall their roots and, in the process, the true identity of their marriage. He proposes that they “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” (25, italics added).

To reject Satan, all his works and empty promises. To believe in God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. For Paul VI, baptismal vows must be more than mere words echoed each Easter by the faithful. They’re a call to conversion for married couples to renew and live every day, with patience, perseverance and in ways that focus on “who we are” just as much as “where we are” and “where we’re going.”

Eucharistic Fount

The Holy Father next draws attention to the aid offered by the very source and summit of the Catholic faith. He asks married couples to “implore the help of God with unremitting prayer and, most of all, let them draw grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist” (25, italics added).

It is no accident that the pope employed the image of a life-giving fount when turning to the epicenter of Catholic life. A brief glance at the index pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church show why. The words associated with the Eucharist display attributes and activities that husbands and wives should strive to realize together: commitment, communication, endurance, participation, presence, purpose, sacrifice, significance, structure, thanksgiving and unity.

Reconciliation Recipe

Lastly, Paul VI takes on the greatest obstacle to fullness: “If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather they must, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance” (25, italics added).

Penance is known as the sacrament of conversion, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation (cf. CCC, 1423-1424). For the Holy Father, it is also a recipe for the fullest form of marriage. In the sacrament, we turn back to God, and rebuild a relationship with Love. We admit guilt, assume responsibility and accept the possibility of a new beginning. We receive forgiveness and a lesson in leadership, one that heals as it opens us up to live more like Christ, with mercy toward all.

“I think of Blessed Paul VI,” Pope Francis confided to families gathered at the Mall of Asia Arena during his recent trip to the Philippines. “In a moment of that challenge of the growth of populations, he had the strength to defend openness to life.” All marriages must model such openness to life if we’re to walk in mercy with the bruised and broken. We must exercise a patient tenacity that will guide us safely through the contemporary cultural headwinds so dangerous to marriage. Knowing our weakness, in the final analysis, we must turn to the sacraments, with an appreciation of their truth and the fullness only they can supply.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.