By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
The instrumentum laboris for the “III Extraordinary General Assembly” has been published and is entitled, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. As we study the document and prepare for the upcoming synod this fall, we also find ourselves in July, the anniversary month of Humanae Vitae, judged by many to be the signal document issued by Pope Paul VI, who is to be beatified also this fall in connection with the synod.
The central teaching of Humanae Vitae is that “every use of artificial contraception is a moral evil.” The document develops the Church’s teaching on God’s plan for marriage and family, such that every marital act must be open to new life. It is never possible to use artificial contraception without an anti-life will and thus any use of contraception vitiates the openness to life each and every time recourse is had to it in the physical union of man and woman.
The instrumentum laboris treats the issue of the openness to new life in part III, entitled “An Openness to Life and Parental Responsibility in Upbringing” under which we find chapter I, entitled “The Pastoral Challenges Concerning an Openness to Life.”
It is best to simply let the synod preparatory document speak for itself and so I quote it here:
“121. In recent decades, basic objections have arisen regarding the subject of a couple’s openness to life, which concerns the innermost qualities and aspects of life. In this regard, substantial differences exist between the Christian idea of life and sexuality and that of a highly secularized society. Pope Paul VI, in publishing the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, was well aware of the difficulties his statements could cause over time.
“He wrote, for example, in the document: ‘It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. An intensive, clamorous outcry is being raised against the voice of the Church which is made more intense by today’s 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” (Luke 2:34). 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’” (HV, n. 18).
Pope Paul VI courageously spoke out as a voice in the wilderness despite the “clamorous outcry” of which he spoke in faithfulness to his role as the voice of Christ in his day, sometimes standing nearly alone in witness to the truth. Today the Church clearly sees and appreciates the prophetic office of the Pope and the Church through his ministry. Pope Francis works from the basis of Paul’s teaching which faithfully transmits the Deposit of Faith which is handed on through Scripture and Tradition.
The instrumentum laboris makes clear an appreciation of Pope Paul’s prophetic Magisterium:
“122. The Encyclical Humanae Vitae certainly had a prophetic character in reiterating the unbreakable link between conjugal love and the transmission of life. The Church is called to proclaim the fruitfulness of love in light of that faith which ‘helps us grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person’” (Lumen Fidei, n. 52).
“Many of the difficulties highlighted in the responses and observations reveal the agonizing situation of people today when faced with the subjects of love, the generation of life, the reciprocity between man and woman and fatherhood and motherhood.”
Responsible parenthood remains a complex issue yet to be explored in all of its instantiations. Though Church teaching on marriage and family life is very clear, it must be applied to practical situations. This process of more effectively applying Church teaching to the concrete circumstances of individual families is the objective of Pope Francis in calling this third extraordinary synod on the family.
Please keep the Holy Father and our bishops in your prayers as they rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit who “leads us into all the truth.”
The Church’s concern for the family, where every human person is called to encounter and live God’s call to love and to be loved, is central to the mission of the Lord in His Church. Salvation is the highest law of the Church and thus the horizon of the family, where parents are the first and best teachers of the faith, must be illumined by a lived and vibrant faith. Grace builds on nature.
Living the faith begins with the witness of the parents and the manner in which they are custodians of the sacredness of every human life and the holy means entrusted to them by a loving God to be co-workers with Him in the stewardship of human life.
The full synod preparatory document is available online at the Vatican website, www.vatican.va.
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