Here is a video of my fourth son, Adam, who is an up-and-coming independent musical artist! This is a song he wrote last fall entitled “Park Bench.” Enjoy!
By Christopher West
This July 25 marks 50 years since Pope Paul VI shocked the world when he issued his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) reaffirming the traditional Christian teaching against contraception. Although he was mocked and scorned globally – both from outside and, sadly, from within the Church – his words were prescient. He warned that a contracepting world becomes a world of rampant infidelity; a world where women and childbearing are degraded; a world in which governments trample on the rights and needs of the family; and a world in which human beings believe they can manipulate their bodies at will (see HV 17).
Is there any doubt that this is the world we live in now?
We will never climb out of the sexual confusion and gender chaos in which we are now immersed until we recognize that the modern disorientation of sex and the eclipse of the very meaning of gender began when we started rendering our genitals unable to generate. Based on its Greek root, the very word gender means “the manner in which one generates.” We see the same root in words like genesis, generous, genitals, progeny, genes, and genealogy. We no longer see the gender-generation connection today because we are viewing ourselves through condom-colored glasses: erase the manner in which one generates from the sexual equation and the very meaning of gender is eventually erased.
In a 1984 interview, the future Pope Benedict XVI predicted that we will atone in our day for “the consequences of a sexuality which is no longer linked to … procreation. It logically follows from this that every form of [genital activity] is equivalent. … No longer having an objective reason to justify it, sex seeks the subjective reason in the gratification of the desire, in the most ‘satisfying’ answer for the individual.” In turn, he observed that everyone becomes “free to give to his personal libido the content considered suitable for himself. Hence, it naturally follows that all forms of sexual gratification are transformed into the ‘rights’ of the individual.” From there, he concluded that people end up demanding the right of “escaping from the ‘slavery of nature,’ demanding the right to be male or female at one’s will or pleasure” (The Ratzinger Report, pp. 85, 95).
Again, is there any doubt that this is the world we now live in?
Tragically, there are people in high places of the Church who have not been paying attention to the painful lessons of history – nor to the extensive and gloriously illuminating reflections of Saint John Paul II on the theology of the human body. As the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s lifesaving encyclical approaches, they are raising their voices in a new wave of attacks against it. The operative language is that of “re-interpreting” Paul VI’s encyclical in order to keep it “dynamic” and “applicable” to “new realities.” But that is code for dissenting from it.
Perhaps you heard about a widely reported speech given by Father Maurizio Chiodi, a newly appointed member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, at a conference at the Gregorian University in Rome at the end of last year. Therein he argued that a proper development of Paul VI’s teaching on “responsible parenthood” can actually obligate a couple to use contraception. There are cases, he argued, that make the practice of natural family planning “impossible or impractical” and, hence, “other forms of responsibility must be found” that require “other methods of birth control.”
If we consider the teaching of Humanae Vitae only as a precept to be imposed on people’s weakness, we are, indeed, placing an “impossible” and “impractical” burden on people. As Saint John Paul II insisted, “Love and life according to the Gospel cannot be thought of first and foremost as a kind of precept, because what they demand is beyond man’s abilities. They are possible only as a result of a gift of God who heals, restores, and transforms the human heart by his grace.” Living according to the demands of the Gospel, then, is “a possibility opened to man exclusively by grace, by the gift of God, by his love” (Veritatis Splendor 23, 24).
The Church does not only lay down the demands of God’s law and then leave men and women to their own resources in attempting to carry it out. As Pope Paul VI stated very clearly in Humanae Vitae, the Church “also announces the good news of salvation, and by means of the sacraments flings wide open the channels of grace, which makes man a new creature, capable of following the design of his Creator … with love and true freedom, finding the yoke of Christ to be sweet” (HV 25).
Yes, human beings are weak and must contend with the strong pull of concupiscence (the disordering of our passions that resulted from original sin). As human experience attests, this makes following God’s law a real struggle. But it is precisely that struggle that urges the heart to cry out for God’s grace, and God’s grace is sufficient for us (see 2 Cor 12:9)! As Saint Augustine put it in a wonderful turn of phrase: “The law was given so that grace might be sought; and grace was given that the law might be fulfilled.”
“Re-interpreting” Humanae Vitae in light of human weakness may seem like the “kind” or “pastoral” thing to do, but in the end it empties the Cross of its power. Instead of saying, “By the power of Christ, come higher,” those who are re-interpreting Humanae Vitae are actually saying, “Sorry, Christ’s power is not available to you, so stay lower.” Instead of saying, “God’s grace is sufficient for you to fulfill his law,” those who are re-interpreting Humanae Vitae are saying, “In your case, we need to adjust God’s law according to your concrete possibilities.”
“But what are ‘the concrete possibilities of man’?” asks Saint John Paul II. “And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ?” He continues:
This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which ﬂows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit. (Veritatis Splendor 103)
This is one of the most potent proclamations of the power of the Gospel I’ve ever heard. And thanks be to God that I heard it! Thanks be to God that Saint John Paul II was bold enough to proclaim it!
We serve no one by watering down the truth. In fact, we keep people in their chains. What’s needed is not a re-interpretation of Humanae Vitae. What’s needed, as Pope Paul VI himself said, is a “total vision of man and of his vocation” in order to understand this teaching in all of its beauty and fullness (HV 7). And this is precisely what Saint John Paul II gave us in his marvelous Theology of the Body. If you want to be equipped to address today’s sexual chaos and gender confusion with clarity, insight, and compassion, take up a study of it. You will not be disappointed.
The Cor Project exists to help men and women learn, live, and share the Theology of the Body. To learn more, watch Christopher West’s short film here.
Christopher West, is a lecturer, best-selling writer and author of multiple audio and video programs which have made him the world’s most recognized teacher of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” He is founder and president of The Cor Project, a global membership and outreach organization devoted to helping men and women learn, live, and share the Theology of the Body in compelling, life-transforming ways.
Every year, on Epiphany Sunday, we bless our home with the saying “Christus Mansionem Benedicat: May Christ Bless this House,” and write with chalk on each of the lintels to outside doors. The letters CMB are an abbreviation of the Latin saying above, and they’re also the first letter of each of the names of the three wise men: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. To find out more about this beautiful tradition, click here.
One of my favorite Advent books and one that I read every year at this time is a book by Catherine Doherty called “Donkey Bells,” published by Madonna House Publications. I love to read this inspiring book curled up in a comfortable chair by the wood stove, a hot chocolate or apple cider beside me, Advent and Christmas music playing quietly in the background. This lovely book is filled with heartwarming stories, customs and traditions (such as the Advent wreath, baking, the blessing of the Christmas tree) and moving reflections for the season. It is a beautiful way for children, teens and adults to prepare their hearts for Christmas.
I love this story from Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas by Catherine Doherty
(Available as a paperback and e-book)
Donkey Bells (by Catherine Doherty)
It came to me, during these days of Advent, that I should share with you a custom which is not necessarily liturgical but which adds to the enjoyment of this lovely season. It has deep spiritual connotations; at least it did for our family, and for many others I knew when I was a young child.
When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that if I was good during this holy season of Advent, and offered my little acts of charity and obedience throughout Advent to the little Christ Child for a gift on his birthday, then sometime during Advent, at first very faintly and then quite clearly, I would hear bells. As she put it, the first church bells.
These were the bells around the neck of the little donkey that carried Our Lady. For mother explained that Our Lady carried Our Lord. She was the temple of the Holy Spirit, the first ‘church’ as it were, since Christ reposed in her. And the donkey, carrying Our Lady and sounding his bells as he walked, wore the first church bells.
Around the second week of Advent, mother wore a little bracelet that had tinkling bells. As she moved her hand I could hear them tinkle, and I got excited because I associated them with the donkey’s bells.
As young as I was, my imagination would build up a lot of little stories about the trip of Our Lady from Nazareth to Bethlehem — stories which I would share with my mother, and which would spur me on to further good deeds and little sacrifices.
During the third week of Advent, mother’s bracelet miraculously got many more bells on it. The sound grew louder and louder as Christmas approached. It was wonderful.
My brother and I used to listen. Mother’s bells were first around her wrist and then around her knee too. Then more bells, as it got closer to Christmas. We were really excited about them.
I introduced this little custom in Madonna House. During Advent, I wear a kind of bracelet that can be heard as I walk or move, in whatever room of the house I may be. The members of our family tell me that it spurs them on, even as it did me when I was a child, to meditate more profoundly on the mystery of Advent.
Here at Madonna House, we have begun in these last few years to make a collection of miniature donkeys — of wood, glass, ceramics, rope — you name it. And we have an album of Christmas cards (which we save from the many we receive) that depict the donkey in the manger scene.
The presence of the donkey and the ox in Scripture is symbolic of the prophets who foretold the Incarnation. And also of the fact that “the ox and ass know their Master’s voice, but Israel doesn’t know the voice of God” (Isaiah 1:3). So, you see, there is some spiritual foundation for my love for the donkey which brings such great joy to my heart.
I’m sure that, as a child, Christ rode on a donkey many times. And also as a man, of course. In Scripture we know of only two times: one was when the donkey carried Our Lady, who in turn carried God, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The other was when the donkey carried Christ into Jerusalem as the people laid palm branches before Him, proclaiming him king.
Let us think for a moment: What kind of animal is a donkey? It is a beast of burden, the animal of the poor. Once again, the immense theme of poverty is illustrated in an animal. God chose the humblest, the smallest in status, because among the animals the donkey is considered very low. So God is teaching us a lesson here — a lesson of humility, of poverty, and of simplicity.
Have you ever seen a newborn donkey? Well, every donkey has a black cross on its gray fur, a marking which is especially noticeable just after it is born from its mother’s womb. It gets less clear as the donkey matures, but still is visible. I share this fact with you to teach you to open your heart to the bells of the donkey that carried Our Lady and also God.
The breath of the donkey and the ox made the stable warm. So we meditate on several things at once: the poverty and humility of the donkey God chose, and which should be our poverty and humility; and the breath of our love, which should warm God in our neighbor constantly.
Let us remember that the donkey also had no room at the inn. Neither woman, nor man, nor donkey had a place at the inn. So they went to live in a poor stable that wasn’t too well prepared for animals, let alone as a decent habitation for human beings.
Now, another meditation comes to us. Think of the millions of people who are left homeless on our streets. Tragic is this situation. We, as apostles, must be very careful that we do not exclude anyone from the inn of our heart.
I pray that our heart, our soul, our ears will hear very clearly ‘the bells of the donkey,’ not only in Advent but throughout the year. For whoever who is pure of heart and childlike shall hear the bells of the donkey ring in their life.
(Creative Commons Licence Pass It On by Madonna House Publications is free to re-publish under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.)
If you have a favorite Christmas or Advent story, please feel free to share!
It’s often difficult focusing on Advent during the weeks leading up to Christmas when everyone in the secular world seems to be celebrating Christmas even before Advent begins. Here is a list of wonderful Advent books that help us to prepare during this beautiful time leading up to Christmas.
Sarah Reinhard’s book, Welcome Baby Jesus: Advent and Christmas Reflections for Families, is a beautifully-designed book and an ideal gift for those families who wish to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and to grow closer to Christ. I highly recommend this wonderful book to everyone!
I also enjoyed Joy to the World by Kathleen Basi. Great book for the entire family!
My all-time favorite Advent and Christmas book is called “Donkey Bells” by Catherine Doherty, foundress of Madonna House. This gem of a book is filled with stories, traditions, meditations and customs.
Beginning with the first day of Advent and continuing through the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, these selections from the immortal pen of Fulton J. Sheen encourage readers to explore the essence and promise of the season. Those looking to grow in their prayer life and become more attuned to the joy of Advent and Christmas will find a wonderful guide in this spiritual companion.
This is another book I read every Advent/Christmas. Beautiful meditations and quotes from Fulton Sheen.
An Advent book that my daughter-in-law introduced me to is Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen: Daily Scripture and Prayers together with Nouwen’s Own Words
It’s similar to the Fulton Sheen book above, but with Scripture and Prayers from Henri Nouwen.
The following is an excerpt from a website with interesting background information and many images to download: www.sancta.org
“After complying to the Bishop’s request for a sign, She also left for us an image of herself imprinted miraculously on the native’s tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay 478 years later and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin.”
Saint John Paul II named Our Lady of Guadalupe the patron saint of the unborn.
To read more about Our Lady of Guadalupe:
There are many ways to celebrate this feast. We usually celebrate by having fajitas and tacos. Although our kids are now adults, in past years, we celebrated by allowing them (youngest to oldest) to break open a pinata.
Happy Feast Day!