St. Raymond de Penafort on Love (The Love Project, Day 7)

Raymond of PenafortToday is the feast day of St. Raymond of Penafort.  St. Raymond was a 12th century Spanish canon lawyer and co-founder of the Order Our Lady of the Rescue of Captives, and founded several schools of Oriental languages in order to convert the Moors. He dedicated much of his life both in service to the Church — especially in the development of the sacrament of penance — but also in service of those enslaved and forgotten.

When I Googled St. Raymond today, I wound up on the website of a parish named after him, on which there was posted an apt quote from “Humanae Vitae” on the nature of married love.

“Conjugal love reveals its true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme origin, God, who is love…This love is first of all fully human… It is not, then, a simple transport of instinct and sentiment, but also, and principally, an act of the free will, intended to endure and to grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one only heart and one only soul, and together attain their human perfection.” (par. 8-9).

A bit further on, this document identifies four characteristics of authentic Christian marriage: It is entered into freely, as a complete and total gift of self, in complete fidelity, and is ordered toward fruitfulness (either biological or spiritual).

Have you ever read Humanae Vitae? Consider doing it this week. You can read it in its entirety online here.

Note: Tomorrow’s link is on the main page — 20 of the most famous love stories in history and literature. My favorite is Abelard and Heloise . . . Which is yours?

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Family “the Catholic Way”

40 Years of Life ... and Counting

40 Years of Life ... and Counting

This week is the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s letter pertaining to marriage and family life. Most people associate this encyclical with birth control (specifically, the Church’s teaching against the use of artificial birth control … ). And yet, there is much more to it.

This week at “Mommy Monsters” I’m doing a series of posts that reflect on what I consider to be the highlights of HV, including:

A husband who loves his wife will never force himself on her (whether overtly in sexual assault, or passively by whining and nagging), and will moderate his passions out of love and concern for his wife’s wellbeing. (I was tempted to staple this particular paragraph to the forehead of a non-Catholic relative who once informed me that he and his wife had tried to prevent pregnancy “the Catholic way,” and she promptly got pregnant.)

If the Church loves babies, why is it against in vitro?

Civil authorities have both the right and responsibility to protect the most basic building block of all society: the human family, as well as marriage.

That a married couple who experience intimacy as God intended will both help each other get closer to heaven (no kidding) and permit themselves the opportunity to become “co-creators with God” in raising up new life.

*  That science and technology have a proper order, to be used to diagnose and even treat underlying causes of infertility — but may never replace the loving embrace of a husband and wife, according to natural law.

Would you like to read this wonderful letter? Click here!

Adoption: Is It God’s Natural Plan?

This week I will be posting reflections themed in honor of the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, which we began yesterday here.

In marriage we are called to imitate the self-giving, fruitful love of God in a lifelong union marked by charity and fidelity. Marriage was created by God for a dual purpose, which is described in paragraph 8 of the document:

“Marriage, then, is far from being the effect of chance or the result of the blind evolution of natural forces. It is in reality the wise and provident institution of God the Creator, whose purpose was to effect in man His loving design. As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives. “

Through marriage, then, we not only prepare one another for heaven, but participate as co-creators (in the case of biological parenting) and co-redeemers (in the case of adoptive parenting) in the formation of those young souls.

By “co-redeemers,” I am not suggesting that adopted children are more flawed or sinful than children raised by their natural parents (it is not their fault that their parents are unable to care for them). Rather, adoption is the process by which a child who cannot be raised according to the natural order (in the loving embrace of their natural parents, a man and woman joined for life in the sacrament of matrimony) can begin to experience in his or her adoptive family the love and security that is the natural right of every child.

In one sense, adoption is never God’s first choice for a child. He set the universe to run according to certain principles, called “natural law,” and when that plan is disrupted suffering is inevitable. Sadly, it is often the child who suffers most. This suffering is compounded for couples who are unable to conceive, who must grieve and reconcile themselves to the reality of their situation. In both cases, adoption is no magic pill, and cannot wipe away the circumstances that made the adoption necessary.

And yet, love is the most powerful force in the universe. When we choose to open ourselves to that love, and to imitate that love the God who adopted us as His children (see Galatians 3:25-4:7), we begin the process of healing that leads us closer to the perfection God always intended.

Worship in the Shadowlands


July 25, 2008 marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most eloquent and (in some circles) controversial of encyclicals, Humanae Vitae. Penned by Pope Paul VI shortly after the convocation of the Second Vatican Council, this letter examined the Church’s ongoing teaching on the purpose of marriage within the natural order of God’s design. Specifically, it upheld the dignity of both men and women, especially within the vocation of marriage, and elevated marital love to nothing less than a sacred act.

This week I will reflect upon several of my favorite passages from this important document, which you may read in its entirety by clicking here. And so we begin …

“Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife.” Humane Vitae #13

The other day as I was watching Shadowlands, the love story of C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy Davidson, I was struck by the hospital scene in which Lewis marries Joy, who was fast losing her battle with cancer.

Sitting together on the bed, Joy promises to “love, honor, and obey…” and Lewis vows, “With this ring, I thee wed; with my body, I thee worship…”

Perhaps at no other time have I been so struck by the fact that the sacrament of matrimony in a very real way mirrors — was always intended to reflect, in fact — the union of love that is the very nature of God, as well as the love of Christ and His Bride, the Church.

At that moment in the movie, the meaning of “worship” is distilled with uncommon clarity. “With my body, I thee worship” does not mean, “I will give myself to you because it feels good.” It does not even mean, “I will make you feel as good as can, for as long as I can.”

No, it goes much deeper than that. At the moment he professed his vows, Lewis must have understood that chances were excellent that (due to his wife’s rapidly deteriorating health) they would never consummate their union. Rather, he was consigning himself to a lifetime of suffering alongside his wife, taking her burden as his own. He would take her into his home. Raise her son. And when the time came, he would entrust her back to God having loved her courageously, knowing from the start that it would likely hurt like hell.

And yet, he chose to love … knowing that love is the only thing in this world stronger than death, stronger than hell itself. And in making that choice, C.S. Lewis discovered what it was to be fully human, and learned through experience what up to that time he had known only in theory: the endlessly compassionate and inscrutible love of God. It is a love that does not spare us suffering, but walks alongside us all the way.

What is worship?

For many Christians, this image of worship as sacrificial self-giving too often stops at the church door. Too often “worship” is comprised of songs I like, people I want to be with (most of whom are a lot like me), and the particular spin on the Scriptures that makes me feel good (or at least doesn’t demand too much from me). To worship is to go away “feeling fed.” And if I don’t “experience God” in one church, I’ll either move on to the next church or stop going altogether.

And so they walk away from the sacraments because they don’t “feel” anything, feeding their passions rather than their souls. And the angels weep.

We see it in marriages, too. “With my body, I thee worship” is taken to mean “I’ll make you feel good as long as you appeal to me, and as long as it makes me feel good, too.” No wonder the divorce rates are so high! Women can no longer bring themselves to “submit” … and men have forgotten what it is to “worship.”

I do not say these things lightly. Right now I am struggling to know how to help a friend whose husband is clearly mentally ill. He is hurting her, and hurting their children as well. She was never far from my thoughts as I watched Shadowlands, and saw with fresh clarity the pain that is the “shadow” of love. She is suffering … just as my friend MJ’s grieving husband is suffering. Love does not always feel good … and yet, we are called to love nevertheless. Called to give. Called to hope.

We are called to worship.