Catherine Parish: Thank Paul VI for family joys

17 Sep 2008

By The Record

It was a privilege to be asked some weeks ago to provide an article based on my reflections about Humanae Vitae by our esteemed editor.


Paul VI


Unfortunately, virtually the same day as the editor’s phone call came, so did the flu. 
With five children going down like dominoes and then generously handing on their germs to me, we have just had five weeks of life in the raw.
And there, of course, in my first reflective moments, having finally got the children back to school and in between coughs and splutters of my own, is the crux of the matter. 
This is what Humanae Vitae means to me personally – missing being part of that lovely recent edition of The Record celebrating life and the 40th anniversary of the issuing of this significant and prophetic encyclical. 
Choosing to embrace and live out the teachings so explicity re-enunciated in that document, it means living the reality of true family life and embracing its ups and downs, including not having time to knock together 1500 words about the joys of marriage and family life because you are living through one of the downs.
It is Humanae Vitae that has taught me vividly that the Catholicism is not a philosophy, it is a way of life – these are not just words on a page, they are a way of living out actively God’s word in every aspect of our life.
Human life in its messy diversity, its inconvenience, its burdens, sorrows, pains and sufferings, is yet our glory. 
God Himself became one of us to show us this, that every breath we take is of eternal significance, from our first to our last. 
It is embracing the difficulties and surmounting the obstacles, accepting the sacrifices required to be faithful and obedient to God’s teaching, that shows we love.
God Himself became a man to show us that we don’t always understand God’s design for us, but we have to have the faith and the humility to let Him work his designs in and through us without always knowing why, or what the end will be.
Not that we have to be little browbeaten automatons.
On the contrary, we are asked by Him to bring every ounce of our free will, our intelligence, our understanding, our love – to bring everything we have, in short – to co-operating fully, and without placing human limit, with Him in the act of creating and nurturing human life.
It is a challenge thrown out to us, to say yes when you want to say no, requiring all your courage and then some, sometimes. 
And we can feel vindicated now, after 40 years, with the knowledge of what a prophetic document Humanae Vitae proved to be. 
Having children might have its burdens and tragedies, but so in such greater degree does avoiding having them.  Pope Paul VI, with the uncanny prescience of so many Papal documents, was right on the money with his predictions of what would happen if we ignored God’s law written on every human heart. 
It makes very interesting reading in the light of our current social ills.
The Pope succinctly and precisely predicts the human fallout from the separation of sex from love inherent in the use of artificial contraception. 
He pinpoints so much of the social breakdown we are now struggling to deal with – rampant divorce, promiscuity, lowered moral standards, sexual objectification and exploitation of the vulnerable (especially women), forced limitation of families by some governments. 
Broken families, broken lives, broken hearts.  
And this vigorous, unpredictable, uproarious, mad phenomenon called family life is not all burdens and suffering. 
Making a cup of coffee to help me think out this one, I rejoiced to be able to say (after the scream of disgust) “Why is there a Boobah’s head stuck in my coffee cup?” 
And not only because it meant my children were finally back to their frisky old selves again. 
Without our espousal as a married couple of the teachings in Humanae Vitae that question would never have been asked, for the perpetrator of that particular act would probably not be here.   
What joys we would have missed.