The Beatification of Pope Paul VI

By Chris Sparks

The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. - Eden Ahbez, Nature Boy

Pope Paul VI will always be remembered for at least two things: the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae that reiterated the Church's perennial ban on artificial contraception and being the Pope who finished the Second Vatican Council.

So when Pope Francis announced plans to beatify Pope Paul VI at the closing Mass of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family on Oct. 19, in the middle of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, all in the same year as the dual canonization of John Paul II (the pope of the family who implemented Vatican II) and John XXIII (the pope who called the Second Vatican Council in the first place) - well, it all seemed part of a larger message being sent by the Church to the faithful and the world.

What message is that?

Humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, Who is an eternal family of Persons in relationship of absolute, self-giving love.

So family matters hugely. Sexuality and marriage matter hugely, because they deal with the deepest roots and destiny of humanity - birth; love; self-sacrifice; how we enter the world and how we leave it; how we understand ourselves, each other, God, the created order (home or hostile?). Family is all about those from whom we took our body and blood, soul and humanity. It's about communities literally born out of love, the fecundity of self-donation demonstrated, lived out in newly named persons, newly named immortals who will all someday walk in the light of the Eternal Son, discovering a destiny of either beatitude or damnation for all eternity.

So Paul VI wrote an encyclical "On The Regulation Of Birth" because what could be more important, more basic, than a strong grasp of the true nature of being human and the purpose of our lives and loves? Birth is about the origins of each individual person, about who we look up to as interpreters of this world into which we have been born. As G. K. Chesterton wrote in Heretics:

The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap ... When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.

And in that fairy-tale, in that family, we get our bearings - what is right and wrong, good and bad, healthy or deadly, desirable or destructive? Where can we go? What can we do? Why? How come?

In that family, we are meant to first discern the image and likeness of God: in our parents, icons of the love of God; in our siblings, icons of Jesus our Brother. Through the life and loves of the family, we are to come to experience the communion between God and creation.

Now, of course, we suffer the consequences of original sin, and so many families struggle. God's grace awaits us in the sacraments to strengthen us and heal our wounded hearts, but He permits us to suffer and struggle in our families because the model family of God Almighty, the family from which all other families take their name, is characterized by absolute self-giving. As Mark Shea said in the first entry in this series, "[T]he family reflects the Blessed Trinity: the total self-donating love of the Father to the Son and the Son giving that all back to the Father. In family, we are to understand that our earthly love is a reflection of divine love, and we really need to be committed to that in concrete ways."

Our times of suffering are opportunities for sacrifice. Our sometimes demanding, sometimes needy families are opportunities for self-donation, for the exercise of the virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; of faith, hope and love. Our families are meant to be schools of prayer, of love, of communion with God and neighbor, loving these strangers into whose homes we are born, to whom we are meant to be related for all eternity.

And so the Church turns her attention to the family. She canonized Pope John XXIII who called Vatican II, which teaches us to live our faith in the modern world and offers teaching on marriage and the family. She canonized Pope John Paul II, the "pope of the family," according to Pope Francis, because of his immense quantity of wise, loving teaching on the theology of the body, marriage, human sexuality, and the family. She will beatify Pope Paul VI, the author of Humanae Vitae and the man who led the Church through the majority of Vatican II.

She opens up before us a great treasury of wise teaching and examples of holy lives lived in love. Take; read.

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. - Rom 12:2


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