And now We turn in a special way to Our own sons and daughters, to those most of all whom God calls to serve Him in the state of marriage. 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 and 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 almost say, consecrated to the faithful fulfillment of their duties. Thus will they realize to the full their calling and bear 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 joy of the law which united inseparably their love for one another and the cooperation they give to God's love, God who is the Author of human life.
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 25
Reflection – I have been lagging a bit with the Humanae Vitae series, so thought I would just spend a few days this week wrapping up these final paragraphs. This is only the first half of p. 25, which is quite long. The second half acknowledges the fact that marriage is a very hard vocation, one with many struggles and obstacles in it.
But this first part truly does Christian husbands and wives to the greatness and majesty of their calling, a greatness and majesty that is inextricably bound up with obeying its inherent structures and the strictures that come with it—everything that HV has been about, in other words.
It is good to highlight the Pope’s summary of that structure and the law that it engenders, “that law which united inseparably their love for one another and the cooperation they give to God’s love, God who is the Author of human life.” This is beautiful—human love is united by the moral laws around fertility to the love of God which is always life-giving, always saying yes to life, yes to humanity, yes to you and to me. There is a terrible tragic deformity in a love into which the word ‘no’ has been introduced by the practice of contraception.
God does not love contraceptively. God does not love in a fashion that is fruitless, lifeless, contained within itself. The very love of the Trinity, that mystery beyond mysteries which none of us understand much, spills over into the creation of the universe. This is the nature of perfect love—it always spills over into a life-giving, creative act. We are finite human beings and cannot always create a new life with every act of nuptial love—indeed the woman’s body is specifically made not to do this—but to render the marital act a sterile, lifeless thing is to separate it, and the couple engaged in it, from the very heart of Love in God.
Of course the key thing here in this paragraph is that God is not absent, not remote from us and our struggles to do what He asks of us, indeed commands of us. His grace is continually pouring out on us, above all through the channels of the sacraments, the permanent fountain of grace which is baptism and confirmation, the steady flow of grace which is the sacrament of marriage, the banquet of grace above all graces which is the Eucharist, and the field hospital of grace which is the confessional. All of which, in a sense, flows out to the Church through the sacrament of the priesthood.
‘Grace’ is one of those strange mystery words that our religion is cluttered up with. What is grace? Can you taste it? Smell it? Feel it? Weigh it? Not really, not usually. But it is the core of our religion that God’s grace is a constant flow upon the whole world, that help from heaven and from Him is continually offered, continually given, continually pouring out like a heavy rain upon the earth, and wherever it finds an opening, entering. And wherever it enters, giving life, newness, strength, healing, encouragement.
If this is not true, there is nothing left of the Christian religion—the very heart and soul of it has been removed. We are not a people of the book, essentially, or a people of the institution or a people of the law. We are a people of the gift, the ongoing presence and work of God in our midst.
If it is true, then our whole life, the life of every baptized person, is configured around this heavenly presence and gift, and we cannot really understand, discuss, or live the demands of the Gospel without this configuration. God is the absolute center of our lives, or our lives are badly off kilter. And if our lives are so off-kilter and disordered, is it any wonder we find it so hard to obey Him and follow His laws?