Question 63



3)   This is the Time for Putting Good Theory into Practice 

Once we know God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family, then the question arises: “How do we put this plan into practice?  Is it doable?”  We know that God never expects the impossible from us.  We know that His plan for us as bodied-persons is a good plan, with our best interests in mind.  We know that if God’s plan is to become a reality in people’s lives, then it must be taught, explained, defended when necessary, and encouraged.  It can only be proposed; and never imposed.  The Church must use the same approach to people that her Lord used.  She must appeal to the good will, the intelligence, and the best interests of her people. 

But where is this happening?  The Holy See has provided good teaching documents, and has fulfilled its obligations as a teacher for the universal Church.  But where have these documents been comprehensively taught and implemented?  Most people have never heard sermons on the values advocated in Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio.  Most clergy feel inadequate and seriously unprepared to speak about these values.  This means that our moral leaders and spiritual guides are mute, and the people languish for not hearing the plan of God.   Catholics contracept and seek sterilizations as frequently as their counterparts in secular society.  They divorce as frequently.  Many Catholic babies are aborted. 

The time has come, and is overdue, for seminaries to provide future priests and deacons with the tools they need to become effective preachers and teachers of God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family.  Excellent writings and resources are available.  Good insights into a valid Christian anthropology abound.  The harms of sterilization and contraception are documented, while the benefits of NFP are clearly evident.  Ways of articulating the values of Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio are available. 

This requires that seminaries and houses of formation recognize and reject all forms of dissent from the sexual ethic of the Church.  It requires that the books of dissenting moral theologians be exposed for their errors, and then dismissed.  It means that the moral principles taught by the Magisterium will be proposed and the rationale supporting these principles be explained to the students.  It means that the moralists and professors themselves in the seminaries are thoroughly grounded in the teaching and thinking of the Church. 

But it is insufficient to concentrate only upon the next generation of pastors and moral guides.  We cannot wait for them to replace an older clergy whose theological formation in these areas was sorely deficient.  Clergy conferences for present pastors need to be provided on the theme “How to Preach God’s Plan for Marriage and Spousal Love from the Pulpit.”  Bishops must take an active role in the on-going formation of their clergy. 

Most medical doctors and nurses do not understand God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family, because they never took courses in Catholic medical ethics.  A way must be found to correct this situation by providing these values to Catholics in the medical profession. 

Youth groups and catechetical programs, as well as Catholic private schools have many opportunities to announce and explain God’s plan for us as bodied-persons.  Young people are coping with the discovery of their sexuality, and naturally search for the meaning of these powerful drives.  If they are presented with God’s plan, and have it explained well, then these young people can become apostles to their peers by sharing with them what they have discovered for themselves.  They have the capacity to counteract the powerful forces that influence the secular culture. 

4)  The Division of Labor, and the Role of the Lay Apostolate 

Retrieving and implementing God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family is a Herculean task.  But there are many resources and helpers to draw upon.  This is a collaborative effort; the full burden does not fall upon the backs of any one group.   No one should feel that they would be overwhelmed by the weight of this project. 

There is a division of labor here.  The clergy and religious comprise only one tenth of one percent of the Church.  The laity comprises 99.9 percent of the Church.  We must think in these terms.  The vast majority of the labor for shaping the secular culture with the values of the Gospel will come from the laity.  This is the role of the lay apostolate.  They will also be the major artisans of a Catholic culture that will embrace God’s plan. 

The clergy has a very small, but extremely crucial, role to play.  They are to teach God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family.  They do this by teaching the moral principles that are firmly rooted in the Gospels.  They must retrieve the ability to teach morality from the pulpit, in the confessional, and in the private counseling.  Proclaiming God’s plan, and explaining its intrinsic goodness, is the task of the ordained minister.  They speak with a God-given authority when they announce the Gospel of marriage, spousal love and family. 

Then the laity assumes their role.  The laity receives God’s plan and then will find ways to implement this teaching and these values into the fabric of daily life.  They are to bring these values to their marriages, their families, their neighborhoods, communities and to the broader public.   Married couples will teach young couples preparing for marriage.  Well-trained couples will teach other couples the methodology of NFP.  Large segments of time must be given to the teaching of NFP, but then there are so many eligible couples to draw upon to become teachers.  Every couple who enjoys a good marriage wants to help newly weds discover what they have discovered.  When complications arise with the use of NFP, and the interpretation of charting, then trained Catholic nurses and doctors will lend their expertise to couples.  Marriage counselors, and coaching couples, will assist young couples through their difficulties in the early years of their marriage. 

The essential components to the retrieval of God’s plan are already in place.  There are several national providers of NFP, who provide training of teachers, publish journals, and do research in NFP.  The Pope Paul VI Institute trains doctors and nurses in the advanced techniques of naprotechnology, and how to address the various medical complications associated with responsible parenthood.  Many dioceses have family life directors and NFP coordinators who facilitate the training and distribution of NFP teachers.  Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body is a powerful tool for helping men and women to understand the richness of God’s plan for us as bodied persons.  Some Catholic high schools and colleges are promoting these teachings with enthusiasm.  The priests of NFP Outreach offer their resources to dioceses throughout the USA, and elsewhere in the world.  There are now seven Pope John Paul II Institutes for Marriage and the Family located throughout the world.  These institutes offer advanced degrees to young men and women who will assume leadership positions in diocesan chanceries and parish ministries for the family. 

Cordially yours, 

Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB