Pope Pius XII
SECTION ONE: Husband and Wife
Part I: The Sacrament and the Rite
1 First Audience for Newlyweds
2 The Sactifier of Marriage
3 The Teachings of the Liturgy
4 Guarantee of Holiness
5 Husbands and Wives Ministers of the Sacrament
6 The Priestood and Matrimony
7 The Treasures of Intimate Union with God
8 Marriage Gifts
PART II: Facing the Future
9 Three Cornerstones of Future Happiness
10 Hopes and Fears
11 The Teaching of Divine Providence
PART III: Learning to Live Together
13 Harmony of Souls
14 The Gospel and Domestic Peace
15 Forgetting Offenses
16 Heroism of Christian Husbands and Wives
17 An Open Heart
18 Collaboration Between Husband and Wife
PART IV: True Love and What It Means
19 Chastity in Marriage
20 The Canticle of Love
21 The Beauty of Christian Love
22 Pagan Love and Christian Love
23 The Meaning of Unity
24 Why Forever?
25 Estrangement of Hearts
26 Dangers to Unity
27 Forced Separations
PART VI: Fidelity in Marriage
28 The Beauty of Unity
29 Secretly Unfaithful
30 Fidelity Imperiled
31 Tests of Fidelity
SECTION TWO: Home and Family
PART VII: The Perfect Home
32 At the Cradle of Jesus
33 The Heavenly Queen
34 The Model of Nazareth
PART VIII: Establishing the Home
35 Every House a Temple
36 Sacred Alliance
37 What Is a Home?
38 The Role of the Wife
39 The Role of the Husband
40 Authority of Husband and Wife
PART IX: The Family
41 Founders of New Families
42 The Mystery of Fatherhood
43 The Husband’s Duties in the Home
44 Bright Sun of the Family
45 Parents and Children
46 God’s Portion
SECTION THREE: The Family and God
PART X: Holiness in the Family
47 Heavenly Nourishment
48 How to Cultivate Virtue
50 The Eternal Teaching of the Living Peter
51 Good Literature
52 Bad Reading
PART XI: Heavenly Patrons of the Family
53 Archangel Protector
54 St. Paul and the New Life
55 Heroes of Christian Charity
56 The Example of St. James the Great
57 We Are the Children of Saints
PART XII: The Family and Prayer
58 Cenacle of Prayer
59 Daily Audience with God
60 Praying Together
61 The Power of Prayer
62 The Family Rosary
The world will long remember Pope Pius XII for his sanctity, his deep feeling for humanity, his unflagging efforts toward world peace, his remarkable gifts of diplomacy, language and letters.
But there was another and strongly different Eugenio Pacelli who found time to address in audience scores of young newlyweds who came to seek his papal benediction on their marriages. ‘This is the Pius XII who is revealed in these pages.
This is a book which should be placed in the hands of every newly-married couple. It is a book to read and ponder over, cherish and be guided by, all through married life. Newlyweds will be inspired and uplifted by the beauty of the Holy Father’s explanation of the Sacrament; older couples will be touched and amazed at his insight into the practical problems of everyday marriage.
Dear Newlyweds is a book to turn to again and again as the joys of marriage are savored. At the same time, it is a sure guide as new difficulties arise—problems of discipline in the rearing of children, temptations against fidelity, relationships with elderly parents, even the problems involved in the necessary temporary separations of husbands and wives.
If every couple who attends a Cana or Pre-Cana Conference, if every couple active in couple-centered, social-action groups—Cana Family Action, the Christian Family Movement, Holy Family Guilds, Cana Clubs, among others—benefits by the kindly wisdom of Pius XII and, in turn, introduces its inspiration to other Christian couples, the result cannot but be happier, sounder, more truly Christian homes and families.
Rev. James F. Johnson Director, Family Life Apostolate Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey
During the first weeks of his remarkable pontificate, Pius XII innovated the practice of receiving in periodic special audiences newly-married couples from all walks of life who sought his Apostolic Benediction on their marriages.
In spite of the personal distress and deadly crises which beset him before and after the outbreak of World Warr II, the Pope obviously enjoyed meeting these young people and devoted extraordinary care to the brief talks which he prepared for them. As time went on, these allocutions became longer and better organized, so that by 1944, when overwhelming demands upon his strength and time finally forced their discontinuance, the seventy-nine discourses of Pius XII to his “dear newlyweds” constituted a body of counsel, guidance, and encouragement on marriage and family life unique in papal history.
Elimination of repetitive subject matter has reduced the number of talks here presented to sixty-two. Our only editing has been to excise introductory remarks or other passages germane only to the time or circumstances of the original audiences. The talks are grouped according to topic rather than to chronology. For reference purposes, however, the date of each has been indicated beneath its title. The footnote on the first page of each allocution refers to its place in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santita Pio XII, published by the Vatican Library in twenty volumes, our official Italian source.
It should be pointed out parenthetically that the bare texts, even in Italian, cannot begin to recapture the compelling effect of these allocutions as delivered by the Pope himself. His unusual ability to communicate affection and understanding was enhanced by a lively and engaging personality, rare gifts of oratory, a towering intellect, and an indefinable air of sanctity. These elements combined to give his words an attractiveness and intensity which cannot be imagined.
We are deeply indebted to the Right Reverend Monsignor Achille Lupi, formerly of the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, D.C. for his tireless efforts in procuring original documentation; to Right Reverend Monsignor John J. Cain for his continuing cooperation after the transfer of Monsignor Lupi; and to Reverend J. Edward Coffey, S.J. for his encouragement and help in Rome. We are sincerely grateful as well to Reverend James F. John, Director of the Family Life Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Newark, for his gracious introduction.
James F. Murray, Jr.
Bianca M. Murray
SECTION ONE – Husband and Wife
PART I – The Sacrament and Rite
FIRST AUDIENCE FOR NEWLYWEDS
April 26,1939; Vol. I, p.67
Your presence, dear sons and daughters, fills our heart with joy, for while it is always beautiful and consoling for the Holy Father to be among his children, it is particularly heartwarming to find ourself surrounded by these groups of newlyweds who come to make us partners in their joy and to receive a word of benediction and comfort.
And indeed, dear newlyweds, you should be comforted by the thought that the Divine Founder of the sacrament of Matrimony, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, chose to enrich it with an abundance of His heavenly favors. As you know, the sacrament of Matrimony signifies the mystical union of Jesus Christ with His spouse the Church, in which and from which must be born the adoptive children of God, legitimate heirs of the divine promises. And in the same manner that Jesus Christ enriched His mystical union with the Church with the most precious jewels of divine grace, He deigned also to enrich the sacrament of Matrimony with ineffable gifts.
These consist particularly of all those graces necessary and useful for the husband and wife in order to preserve and increase their mutual love and render it always more perfect and holy, to observe the required marital fidelity, to educate their children wisely by example and care, and to bear in a Christian manner the burdens imposed by this new state of life.
These things you have already understood, pondered and experienced, and if we remind you of them at this moment it is in order that in some way we too may share this solemn hour of your life and offer an ever more solid and secure basis for your holy joy.
May our good Lord grant that you never tarnish the grandeur of your state, but rather live always according to the high level and dignity of your sacred responsibilities.
Let the Apostolic Benediction which we impart with a full heart be a pledge of divine favors which we hope will accompany you in the joyous and sorrowful days of your life and always with you as an abiding reminder of our paternal benevolence.
2 THE SANCTIFIER OF MARRIAGE
May 3, 1939; Vol. I, p.89
Dear newlyweds, your presence calls to mind that event so delicate and at the same time so wondrous about which we read in the Gospel: the marriage at Cana in Galilee and the first miracle performed by Our Lord Jesus Christ, on that occasion.
Jesus present at a marriage feast together with His Most Blessed Mother and His first disciples! Certainly it was not without profound reason that the Divine Master so graciously deigned to accept such an invitation. There He was to give the first sign of His omnipotence in order to confirm His divine mission and sustain the faith of His first followers; and there Mary’s valid mediation before God for the benefit of mankind was to be made manifest for the first time.
But the good Master by His presence wished to impart as well a particular blessing to those most fortunate newlyweds and to sanctify and consecrate that nuptial union almost in the same way that Our Lord had blessed the progenitors of the human race at the time of creation. On that day of the marriage at Cana, Christ in His divine foresight embraced men of all future times, especially the children of his future Church, blessing their marriages and storing up those treasures of grace which He would pour out with divine largesse upon Christian spouses in the great sacrament of Matrimony instituted by Him.
Jesus Christ has blessed and consecrated your marriages too, dear husbands and wives, and this blessing which you have received before the holy altar you wish confirmed and ratified, as it were, at the foot of His Vicar on earth; therefore you have come to him. We impart this benediction with all our heart in the hope that it remain always with you and that it accompany you everywhere in the course of your life. It will remain with you if within the walls of your homes you will let Jesus Christ reign, His doctrine, His example, His precepts, His spirit; if Mary Most Holy—invoked, venerated and loved by you—is the queen, the advocate and the mother of the new family you are called upon to found; and if under the loving gaze of Jesus and Mary you live as Christian couples worthy of so great a name and so great a calling.
3 THE TEACHINGS OF THE LITURGY
July 5, 1939; Vol. I, p.231
Dear newlyweds, your beautiful and crowded assemblies around the common father are always welcome, the more so if they indicate that in your innermost heart you harbor, together with the desire to receive the benediction of the Vicar of Christ, the gentle thought of making us partners in your joy and in your wedding celebration.
When the contracting parties are properly disposed, as it is right to assume all of you have been, Christian marriage is truly an event surrounded with holy joy.
This disposition, together with the most precious effects inherent in the sacrament, we find eloquently expressed in the ceremonies with which the Church has surrounded it. For a few moments today we would like to recall them to your mind and present them for your consideration, dear Christian husbands and wives, so that the dignity and sanctity of the great sacrament of which you have been the ministers may appear ever more exalted in your eyes.
In this moving and expressive sacred rite, three principal features stand out: the first, the very essence, is mutual consent which, expressed in the words of the husband and wife and accepted by the priest and the witnesses, is, as it were, confirmed and ratified by the blessing and tradition of the ring, symbol of complete and unalterable fidelity.
All this takes place with a solemnity at once grandiose and simple: the bride and groom are kneeling before the altar of the Lord; they are in the presence of men, witnesses as well as relatives and friends, and in the presence of God who, invisibly surrounded by the angels and the saints, validates and sanctions the obligations solemnly vowed.
Then comes what we might call the instructive part of the marriage ritual: Paul, the great Doctor to the Gentiles, comes forward and in the Epistle of the Nuptial Mass firmly reminds the couple of the duties which they have mutually assumed, and recalls the nature of the sacrament, symbol of Christ’s mystical union with the Church.
Paul then reverently yields his place to the Master, and Jesus Himself in the Gospel of the Mass utters the great and definitive admonition: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6).
But in order that the impact of the great duties and grave responsibilities just assumed should not weigh too heavily upon them, the Church next prays for the newlyweds, imploring grace on the new family and remembering the rewards set aside even on earth for truly Christian husbands and wives.
There is an important detail in the liturgy of this Holy Mass: after the Pater Noster, the priest, turning towards the bride and groom, invokes the divine blessing upon them in a prayer which touches the innermost fiber of their hearts and overflows with moving wishes for the future.
The Mass then resumes and, with deliverance from evil, the celebrant asks for peace, the greatest good of life here on earth.
And we, taking up this prayer, mold it into our own good wish for newlyweds: peace, which means true Christian happiness. May all the days of your life be as happy as your wedding day and may they be gladdened by the smile of dear little ones, whom Our Lord will cause to grow like rosebuds in your garden, as tokens of your mutual love and heaven’s blessing.
We pray, finally, that if all your days do not unfold as happily as they did at first, they may at least be sustained by faith in God which is the only true solace for the evils of this world.
4 GUARANTEE OF HOLINESS
July 12, 1939; Vol. I, p.245
Among the groups of our dear children who appear so frequently before the Vicar of Christ, we always note with especial satisfaction the numerous couples of newlyweds.
Gifts beyond compare are these new Christian families, which have begun to exist through the power and by virtue of a great sacrament instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ to sanctify marriage, and with it the very roots of the family and consequently its blossoms and its fruits.
Dear newlyweds, think of what the catechism teaches and of what we wish to remind you in this audience: the Catholic family is based upon a sacrament. This means that we are concerned not only with a simple contract, a mere ceremony or external formality of some kind to mark an important date in life, but with a true and proper religious act of supernatural life, from which flows an almost undeniable right to obtain all graces, all divine assistance necessary and appropriate to sanctify married life, to perform the obligations of the conjugal state, to overcome its difficulties, to carry out its purposes and to achieve its highest ideals.
On His part God has become its Guarantor, elevating Christian marriage to a permanent symbol of the indissoluble union of Christ and His Church, so that we can declare that the Christian family, if it be truly and practically Christian, has a guarantee of holiness. Under this beneficial sacramental infusion, as under a providential dew, the children grow like tender shoots of the olive tree around the family home. There, love and mutual respect hold sway; there, children are expected and received as gifts of God and almost as sacred trusts to be guarded with solicitous care; there, if sorrows and trials befall, they produce neither despair nor resentment but the serene confidence that however long inevitable suffering may endure, it offers a providential means for purification and merit. “Behold, thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord” (Ps. 127:4).
These fruits can be gathered only in the Christian family. For, as sad and continuous experience unfortunately teaches, when the family is debased, remote from God and therefore deprived of divine blessings without which nothing can prosper, it is shaken to its very foundations and sooner or later is in danger of plunging to destruction and ruin.
You know all this, dear children, and therefore you have come to ask and receive the blessing of the Vicar of Christ; in this benediction you see as renewed and confirmed that which you felt descend upon you from heaven on your recent wedding day, and from it you expect additional energy and new assistance to give your families that profoundly Christian character which is the guarantee of virtue and holiness.
Turning your thoughts to the house which saw your birth, to the dear faces of those whom you first encountered in your childhood, and from there moving through the years and the happenings of life, whatever good you find in yourselves you feel that you owe in large measure to a wise father, a virtuous mother, a Christian family. From these sentiments of gratitude which you so vividly and sincerely feel towards Our Lord and towards those parents who were faithful to their mission, we are pleased to derive the good wish that your new families may be the same, and with paternal affection we ask the blessings of heaven upon them.
5 HUSBANDS AND WIVES MINISTERS OF THE SACRAMENT
March 5, 1941; Vol. III, p.43
Dear newlyweds, when you exchanged your sacred promises, crowning your inner joy by joining your hearts and lives before the priest at the foot of the altar, God’s minister responded by invoking heaven’s choicest blessings upon you, upon your indissoluble union, and upon your new home, some day to be gladdened by offspring, the dear rosebuds of your family garden.
Yet, however productive of divine favors these blessings may be, they do not constitute the essential source of God’s graces and gifts that will guide and sustain you in life’s journey. Towering above all benedictions imparted in the Name of the Lord rises the sacrament you have received in which God Himself has acted directly upon your souls to sanctify and fortify them for the difficult performance of your new duties. Are you perhaps unaware that in every sacrament the minister is merely an instrument in the hand of God? Yes, man also plays a part: he performs the symbolic ceremony, he pronounces the words which signify the actual grace of the sacrament; but it is God alone who produces this grace, and He avails Himself of man who, as His minister, acts in His Name, like the brush which the painter employs to transfer to color and canvas the image which is his mind. Hence it is that God is the principal cause, acting on His own power, while the servant or minister is only the instrument moved by the power of God in such a way that the grace, which the sacrament causes and confers, and which makes us partakers of the Divine Nature (St. Thomas Aquinas), is likened to an effect of the Divine Cause and not of the minister. And for this reason the spiritual power of the sacrament cannot be blemished by its minister; it is like the light of the sun, which is received even from those objects which it illumines (St. Augustine).
Now then, in the great sacrament of Matrimony, who has been God’s instrument producing the grace in your souls? Is it the priest perhaps, who has blessed you and joined you in wedlock? No. Rather does the Church prescribe that the husband and wife (save in certain exceptional cases), in order that their bond and their mutual obligations be valid and procure for them sacramental grace, declare and exchange vows before a priest who represents her as a qualified witness and who conducts the sacred ceremonies which accompany the marriage contract; but in his presence you yourselves have been constituted by God as ministers of the sacrament, you whom God uses to tighten your own indissoluble bond and to pour into your own souls the graces which keep you constant and faithful to your new obligations. To this great honor and dignity has He raised you! Does it not seem perhaps that from the very first step you took away from the sacred altar with the priest’s blessing, Our Lord wished you to begin and carry on the function of cooperators and instruments of His work, towards which He has opened and sanctified the way?
In the sacrament of Matrimony the reciprocal acceptance by both parties, the consent verbally expressed by you, was an external act which has drawn divine grace upon you; during your married life you will be instruments of the divine handwork in forming the material bodies of your children. You will summon into the flesh of your flesh the spiritual and immortal soul which God will create at your call, as He faithfully produced the grace at the call of the sacrament. And when your first-born sees the light of day, the new Eve will say again with the mother of the human race: “I have gotten a man through God” (Gen. 4:1). God alone can create souls; God alone can produce grace; but He will deign to make use of your instrumentality in drawing souls from nothingness, exactly as He did to lavish His graces upon you.
And in both instances of cooperation, before exercising His creative omnipotence God will wait for you to say “yes.” He who is Master of His power, who judges with tranquility and governs us with great clemency (Wis. 12:18), has no desire to treat you as inert or unreasoning implements like the brush in the hands of a painter (Dante); but He wishes you to undertake freely the act which He awaits in order to perform His creative and sanctifying work.
Therefore, dear sons and daughters, you stand before the Creator as ones chosen to prepare His ways, but free and inwardly responsible, because it will also depend on you whether there will cross the threshold of life those “simple souls that nothing know” (Dante), whom the limitless embrace of Infinite Love so ardently desires to call from nothingness to make them one day His elect partakers of eternal happiness in heaven; if not, alas, they will remain magnificent divine ideas which could !lave been rays of that Sun which illumines everyone who enters this world, but will never be more than shimmering flickers quenched by the indifference or selfishness of men. Were you not therefore freely united in the sacrament as its ministers before God to ask Him, freely and devoutly according to His command given to our first parents, for these souls which He is eager to entrust to you? Before the altar your free will alone can join you together in the ties of the sacrament of Matrimony; no other consent can substitute for yours. In the case of other, more necessary sacraments, when the minister is lacking, he can be supplied through the force of divine mercy, which will forego even external signs in order to bring grace to the heart. To the catechumen who has no one to pour water on his head, to the sinner who can find no one to absolve him, a loving God will accord, out of their desire and love, the grace which makes them His friends and children even without Baptism or actual confession.
But in the sacrament of Matrimony there can be no substitution of ministers as there can be no substitution of persons; here triumphs the incomparable grandeur of the greatest gift, freedom of the will, and the terrible responsibility given intelligent beings to be the masters of themselves, of their lives and the lives of others, to be the masters of lives that leap towards eternity, or to be able to arrest in flight other lives by rebelling against God.
If blind instinct assures the continuation of life even in irrational species, then what of the human race, the race of Adam, fallen, redeemed and sanctified by the Incarnate Word, the Son of God? When evil and heartless schemes of unnatural gratification endeavor to cut off the flowering of bodily life eager to blossom and grow, the Hand of the Almighty is stayed from calling into existence the smile of innocent souls who would have animated those bodies and transformed those limbs into instruments of grace and the spirit in order to share some day the reward of their virtue and eternal joy in the glory of the saints.
Dear newlyweds, being aware of the inviolable end of the sacrament you have received, you will prepare a cradle for the gifts of God’s omnipotence, even though Divine Providence will at times permit your most ardent hopes and prayers to remain unanswered, and the cradle so fondly prepared to remain empty. Moreover, you will surely see more than once generous souls inspired by grace to renounce the joys of the family in order to become mothers of larger hearts and higher supernatural fruitfulness. But in the beautiful and holy union of Christian marriage you have the faculty to transmit the force of life, not alone in the natural order but in the supernatural and spiritual order as well, together with the awesome power to stop life in its course.
While this power to transmit life exalts you in yourselves, it subjects you in its use to the divine law, the severity of which must not surprise you when invoked against those who, by contemptible acts, seek to change the true and lofty purpose of this power. They are afraid (Gen. 38:10); but you sincere Christian husbands and wives, being obedient to God, are not afraid, once you have understood the close collaboration between God and man in the transmission of life. To your minds illumined by faith it would indeed be inconceivable that God would permit man to violate with impunity the decrees of His providence and His governance concerning the marriage bond sanctioned on high from the very first day man and woman appeared on this earth, a bond raised by Christ to a great sacrament for the purpose of calling into being in this world souls destined by God to sanctify themselves in the struggle and victory over evil and to see Him, to love Him, and to praise Him in blessed eternity.
Dear newlyweds, lift your eyes towards heaven; in the sacrament of your marriage in which you have been the ministers, God has marked and laid out for you the road to salvation. He will always help you better to understand and respect that power which, although coming from Him, makes you the faithful instruments of His providence through the sublime office entrusted to you in the creative work of the Most Blessed Trinity.
6 THE PRIESTHOOD AND MATRIMONY
January 15, 1941; Vol. II, p.373
Have you ever considered, dear husbands and wives, that among the diverse states and callings of Christian life there are only two for which Our Lord has instituted a sacrament? The Priesthood and Matrimony. Without doubt you admire the vast company of religious orders and congregations of both men and women which reflect so much good and such glory upon the Church. And yet, though the profession of religious vows is a ceremony so moving and replete with profound and even sublimely nuptial symbolism, notwithstanding the generous praise with which Our Lord and the Church have exalted virginity and perfect chastity, and despite the position of eminence occupied by religious men and women who have consecrated their lives to God and the Catholic apostolate—this religious profession, we say, is not a sacrament.
On the other hand, even the most humble marriage, solemnized perhaps in a poor and remote little country church or in a plain and humble chapel in the working quarter, by a bride and groom who must return immediately to work, before a simple priest and in the presence of a few relatives and friends—this rite without ceremony or ostentation is exactly the same in its sacramental dignity as the magnificence of a solemn priestly ordination performed in a majestic cathedral, thronged with clergy and laity including the Ordinary of the diocese himself, resplendent in his pontifical vestments. Holy Orders and Matrimony, as you know, climax and conclude the enumeration of the seven sacraments.
But why has Our Lord given such a special place in His Church to the Priesthood and Matrimony? Certainly it would be rash on our part to ask the Creator the reasons for His actions or His preferences and say to Him: “Why have You done this?” Nevertheless, following the footsteps of the doctors and especially of St. Thomas, we are permitted to search out and savor the aptness and hidden harmony contained in divine thought and volition, so that we may place a more loving reliance upon them and raise ourselves to a higher concept of the grace received.
When the Son of God deigned to become man, the word of the Savior of the human race restored to its primal splendor the marriage bond of man and wife which human passions had degraded from its noble founding. He elevated it to a great sacrament by His union with His spouse the Church, our mother, made fruitful by His Divine Blood in which we are reborn through the word of faith and the saving waters. And to those who believe in His Name it gives the power of becoming the children of God: “Who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12-13).
In these solemn words of the Gospel of St. John we recognize a double paternity: the paternity of the flesh through the will of man and the paternity of God through the power of the spirit and divine grace; two paternities which, among Christian people, create and seal through the Priesthood and through Matrimony the fathers of the spirit and supernatural life, and the fathers of the flesh and natural life; two sacraments instituted by Christ for His Church to guarantee and perpetuate through the centuries the generation and regeneration of the children of God.
Two sacraments, two paternities, two fathers—partners who complement each other in the education of offspring, the gift of God, hope of the family, of the Church, of earth and of heaven. Here is the supreme concept of Priesthood and Matrimony, given us by the Church, seen by St. John as the Holy City, the new Jerusalem descending from heaven, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband (Apoc. 21:2). She rises, constructed through the centuries with living stones, baptized and sanctified souls, as the sacred liturgy sings, until that day at the end of time when she will ascend to unite herself to Christ in the joys of heaven’s eternal nuptials.
And who are the laborers who toil together in this slow construction? Above all the successors of the Apostles, the Pope and the Bishops with their priests, who smooth, set in place and cement the stones according to the design of the Architect, designated as they are by the Holy Ghost to raise up the Church of God (Acts 20:28). But what could they accomplish if they did not have at their side other workers who hewed the stones, cut them and shaped them as the edifice required? And who are these workers? They are the husbands and wives who give the Church the living stones and tend them with care; they are you, dear sons and daughters. Therefore, remember well that in the fatherhood and motherhood which face you, you must not be satisfied with your efforts at hewing and collecting the blocks of rough stones; in addition, you must trim them, prepare them, give them the form that will best permit them to fit into the structure. For this dual task God has instituted the great sacrament of Matrimony.
It is the clear doctrine of the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas that this sacrament, which has consecrated your union, makes you “the propagators and preservers of spiritual life in accordance with a ministry which is at the same time physical and spiritual,” which consists in “generating offspring and educating the divine worship.” As a matter of fact, always under the guidance of the priest, you are the first and closest educators and teachers of the children given and entrusted to you by God. In the erection of the Church, composed not of lifeless stones but of living souls, a new and heavenly life, you are, as it were, the spiritual precursors–priests yourselves–of the cradle, of infancy and of childhood, for which you must point the way to heaven.
Your place in the Church as Christian husbands and wives therefore is not merely to procreate children and offer living stones for the work of the priests, God’s highest ministers. The graces so abundantly lavished upon you by the sacrament of Matrimony have been granted not only to enable you to remain fully and constantly faithful to God’s law in the august moment of calling your children to life, and to face and bear with Christian courage the trials, sufferings and worries which frequently accompany and follow it. These graces have likewise been given you for sanctification, enlightenment and assistance in your physical and spiritual ministry because along with natural life it is your sacred duty as God’s instruments to propagate, preserve and help develop in the children He gave you the spiritual life infused in them by the waters of holy Baptism. Raise your newly-born not only in good health but with true spiritual nourishment as well; make of them living stones in the temple of God. By the grace of Matrimony you have been built as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, as St. Peter says (1 Pet. 2:2), for that priestly participation to which the wedding ring raised you at the altar. In the Christian formation of little souls, which Our Lord will entrust to you by breathing life into the bodies you have formed, there is reserved a role for you, a teaching role, to which you are not allowed to be indifferent and in which no one can fully substitute for you. In this holy formation you will undoubtedly seek the help of zealous priests and catechists, of those superb educators among men and women of the religious; but however great, precious and generous may be their assistance, they cannot release you from your own duties and responsibilities. How frequently Christian teachers deplore the difficulties, indeed sometimes the impossibilities, which they encounter as they strive to correct and supply in education of the children entrusted to them, matters that were clearly the duty of the family but which the family did not do at all or did badly. Safeguard for Our Lord, for His heavenly Jerusalem and for Mother Church, the little angels heaven will send you. Never forget that at the side of a cradle must stand two fathers and teachers, one natural and the other spiritual; never forget that the ordinary providence of God souls cannot really live as Christians and be saved outside of the Church and without the ministry of the priests chosen for this by the sacrament of Holy Orders, so also they cannot usually grow up as Christians outside of the family home and without the ministry of parents blessed and united by the sacrament of Matrimony.
Dear newlyweds! May our good Lord and Master Jesus Christ, Restorer of marriage as it was divinely formed in the beginning, infuse into your hearts an understanding and love of the incomparable mission entrusted to you in the Church through this sacrament and give you the nobility of spirit, the courage and the faith needed to remain always loyal to it.
7 THE TREASURES OF INTIMATE UNION WITH GOD
July 19, 1939; Vol. 1, p.257
The wishes usually extended to newlyweds are always and everywhere the same: wishes for happiness. This is intended to he the first and fullest expression of the feelings and desires of parents, relatives, friends and all who share their joy.
This is also the prayer with which the Church concludes the Nuptial Mass: “…that thou mayest preserve with lasting peace those whom thou hast joined in lawful union.”
This is as well the paternal wish which we customarily convey to newlyweds who come to Rome requesting the Apostolic Benediction, a benediction that is a pledge of heavenly favors, peace and happiness for all those dear children.
In extending it to you today, we would like to draw your attention to the exalted meaning of this profoundly Christian wish, this precious heritage left us by the Divine Master: “Pax vobis—peace be with you.”
Peace, source of true happiness, can come only from God, can be found only in God: “O Lord, thou hast made us for Thyself and our our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.” Because of this, absolute repose, complete and perfect happiness will be ours only in heaven in the vision of the Divine Essence. But even during; earthly life the fundamental condition of true peace and sound joy is loving and filial dependence on the Will of God. All that weakens, disrupts or destroys this conformity and union of wills is opposed to peace: first and above all, sin. Sin is disruption and disunion, disorder and anxiety, remorse and fear, and those who resist the Will of God do not have and cannot have peace—”Who hath resisted him and hath had peace?” (Job 9:4)—while peace is the happy heritage of those who obey the laws of God: “Those who love your law have great peace” (Ps. 118:165).
Upon this firmly established basis, Christian husbands and wives and parents find the generative principle of happiness and the keystone of peace in the family. In fact, the Christian family, eschewing selfishness and the quest for self-gratification, is filled with love and charity; though the fleeting attractions of the senses vanish, and the flowers of youthful beauty wither away one after another, and the deceptive fantasies of the imagination vanish as well, there will always remain between husband and wife, and between children and parents, the indestructible bond of hearts, immutable love, the great inspiration of family life, and with it happiness and peace.
On the other hand, whoever regards the sacred rite of Christian marriage as a mere external ceremony to be observed only because of custom, whoever approaches it with a soul not in God’s grace, thereby profaning the sacrament of Christ, dries up the fountain of supernatural graces which are destined in the marvelous design of Providence to seed the garden of the family and to bring to flower the blossoms of virtue together with the fruits of true peace and purest joy.
Families founded in sin run aground in the first gale, or else, like a ship abandoned to the mercy of the waves, drift towards doctrines which, through the very freedom they proclaim, lead to the worst kind of slavery. Those who debase the family will have no peace; only in the Christian family, obedience to the laws of the Creator and the Redeemer and aided by grace is there a guarantee of peace.
This, dear newlyweds, is the import of the paternal wishes which rush forth fervent and sincere from our heart: peace with God through reliance on His Will; peace with men through love of truth; peace with yourselves through victory over passions; a threefold peace which is the only true happiness possible to enjoy during our earthly pilgrimage.
8 MARRIAGE GIFTS
January 10, 1940; Vol. 1, p.475
During the solemn octave of Epiphany, the Church repeats in her liturgy the words of the Magi: “We have seen in the East the star of the Lord and we have come with gifts to adore him” (Mt. 2:2,11). Dear newlyweds, when you exchanged your vows before God at the foot of the altar, you too beheld a firmament filled with stars which brighten your future with radiant hopes; and now, to honor God and receive the benediction of His Vicar on earth, you have come here bringing rich gifts.
What are these gifts? We know full well that your luggage does not display the wealth which tradition and the art of centuries attribute to the three kings: a retinue of servants, richly caparisoned animals, rugs, rare perfume, and, as gifts for the Infant Jesus, gold, probably that of Ophir once valued by Solomon (III Kings 9:28), incense and myrrh—gifts received from God because everything any creature can offer is a gift of the Creator. You too, in Christian marriage, have received three precious gifts from God, enumerated by St. Augustine: marital fidelity (fides), sacramental grace (sacramentum), and the procreation of children (proles); three gifts which you in turn must offer to God, three gifts symbolized in the offerings of the Magi. Your fidelity is your gold, or rather a treasure better than all the gold in the world. ‘The sacrament of Matrimony gives you the means of possessing—indeed of increasing—this treasure; offer it to God so that He may help you to preserve it better. Gold, because of its beauty, its brightness and its stability, is the most precious of metals. Its value serves as a standard and measure for other riches. So also marital fidelity is the standard and measure of all happiness in family life. In Solomon’s temple, in order to avoid a disparity in the materials as well as to beautify the whole, there was nothing that was not covered with gold. Similarly, to assure the stability and splendor of marriage, the gold of fidelity must pervade and envelop it entirely. To preserve its brightness and beauty, gold must be pure. In the same way, fidelity between husband and wife must be complete and unblemished; once it begins to alter, then confidence, peace and happiness come to an end.
The prophet deemed it worthy of lament when gold became dim and lost its luster (Lam. 4:1), but even more lamentable are husbands and wives whose fidelity is tainted. Their gold, we would say with Ezechiel (8:19), has been changed into offal; the entire treasure of their harmonious accord degenerates into a dismal mixture of suspicion, doubt and reproach, ending all too frequently in irreparable evil. This is why your first offering to the newborn Babe must be the resolve of constant and watchful fidelity to your marriage vows.
The Magi also brought fragrant incense to Jesus. With gold they had honored Him as King; with incense they paid homage to His Divinity. You too, Christian husbands and wives, have a rich offering of gentle perfume to make to God, for which the sacrament of Matrimony affords you the necessary means. This perfume, which will diffuse a sweet fragrance throughout your entire life and which at the same time will render your daily works, however humble, capable of gaining you the intuitive vision of God in heaven, this incense, invisible but real, is supernatural grace. This grace, conferred upon you at Baptism, renewed in Penance, increased in the Eucharist, has been given to you by special right in the sacrament of Matrimony with additional help equal to your new responsibilities. And so you become even richer than the Magi. The state of grace is more than a gentle perfume, intimate and penetrating, which gives your natural life a heavenly aroma; it is a true elevation of your souls to the supernatural order, making you partakers of the Divine Nature (II Pet. 1:4).
What care you must therefore employ to preserve and indeed increase such a treasure! By offering it to God you do not lose it but rather you entrust it to its best and surest Guardian.
Finally, wishing to honor Jesus not only as King and God, hut also as man, the Magi offered him the gift of myrrh, that is to say, a kind of resinous gum which the ancients, particularly the Egyptians, made use of to preserve the remains of their loved ones. Perhaps you will be surprised that in this aroma we see the symbol of your third offering, the third gift of Christian marriage, which is the duty and the honor of procreation. See how the hereditary line is continued and extended in each new generation. Children are the living image—a kind of resurrection—of their forebears who extend their hand through today’s generation to clasp tomorrow’s. In them you will see a faithful copy of your progenitors living and acting again before your very eyes, often with the same facial features and similarity of character, especially in their traditions of faith, honor and virtue. In this sense, myrrh preserves, perpetuates and ceaselessly renews the life of a family. And so the family is like a tree with a stout trunk and luxuriant foliage of which every generation forms a branch. To assure the continuance of its growth is such an honor that the most noble and illustrious families are those whose genealogical trees extend their roots most deeply into ancestral soil.
It is certainly true that the performance of this duty, at times more than the two preceding obligations, has its difficulties. Myrrh, a substance that conserves and preserves, has a bitter taste; naturalists, beginning with Pliny, have taught this and the name itself implies as much. But this bitterness only increases its beneficial qualities. In the Old Testament we find it used as perfume (Cant. 3:6). “Its flowers are a symbol of pure and ardent love” (Cant. 1:12). In the Holy Gospel we read that the soldiers offered our crucified Lord a drink of wine mixed with myrrh (Mk. 15:23), a draught customarily given condemned men to lessen their pain.
There are other symbolisms upon which you may reflect. To mention only one, the undeniable difficulties created by numerous offspring, particularly in our times of high living costs and in families of modest means, demand courage, sacrifice, at times even heroism. But like the wholesome bitterness of myrrh, this passing tartness in marital duties will above all preserve husbands and wives from a serious sin, a deadly source of ruin for families and nations. Moreover, if faced courageously, these same difficulties guarantee them the preservation of sacramental grace and an abundance of divine assistance. Finally, they drive away from home and hearth those poisoned elements of disintegration such as pride, the constant pursuit of easy-living, and the false and vicious doctrine of voluntary birth control. And yet how many examples around you reveal natural sources of joy and mutual encouragement in the parents’ struggle to procure daily bread for a dear and numerous progeny brought into the world under God’s protection in the family nest!
Dear newlyweds, these are the treasures which you have received from God and which you yourselves can offer the Divine Babe—with the promise that you will courageously carry out the duties of your married life.
PART II: – Facing the Future
9 THREE CORNERSTONES OF FUTURE HAPPINESS
April 3, 1940; Vol. II, p.51
Moved by a sense of faith, dear newlyweds, you come here to invoke our Apostolic Benediction upon the springtime of your life on a day when the springtime of nature is lavishing her smiles upon you. And it is indeed a sense of faith that we would like to inspire by inviting you to listen for a few moments to what poets and artists call the song of spring around you and within you.
If three notes are all that is needed to set the tonal key of a ‘musical composition, the song of spring can be condensed for a Christian into three notes, the harmony of which puts his soul in tune with God Himself: faith, hope and charity.
Faith, as you know, is a theological virtue by which we believe in God whom we do not see with the eyes of our body; in His infinite goodness, which His justice at times conceals from shortsighted humankind; and in His omnipotence, which in the hasty conclusions of men appears to contradict His mysterious forbearance.
Now the faithful return of spring reminds you that although at times He seems to change, Almighty God is in reality unchangeable because He is eternal, that His dispositions occur each in its turn, that each of His designs is accomplished at the hour fixed by His divine providence. Yesterday, it was still winter, and everything in nature seemed dead; the sky was overcast and the mountains covered with snow; the sun was weak and dim. But all at once the sky brightens again; the storm winds subside; the sun becomes more radiant and beneath its warm rays life stirs anew in earth’s bosom. Thus the work of God never dies; there is no winter without a spring; what seems death in nature is only the prelude to rebirth.
Therefore, dear newlyweds, as the springtime of life opens for you, enter upon it with deep faith. in God and with firm confidence in His power and goodness. You may have trials. God Himself at certain moments will almost seem to leave you alone in the toils of trouble like a father who, hiding himself for a moment, enjoys measuring the strength of his own son. Like a father too, in His justice He will permit anguish of body or soul to purify you, offering it to you as a means of healing penitence. Clouds may invade today’s azure sky of your mutual love and obscure its splendor for a time. Revive then your trust in God; revitalize the faith in your vows, faith in sacramental grace, faith in the sweet appeasement of sincere and ready reconciliation, which in its own way is a kind of springtime too, since after the cold and the storm it ushers in the return of calm and understanding and peace.
To the lesson of faith spring adds that of hope. Although the sun stirs the sluggish soil and loosens the white cloak from the shoulders of the mountains, it does not yet enkindle the earth with the flame that will give it the full splendor of its adornment and the stupendous explosion of its fertility. The sap softens the trunks and stalks and opens the moist lips of new buds on the stems, but the trees do not yet toss their leafy tresses in the wind. Soon the nests will resound with bird-song. Life goes on! Hope—this joy of a happiness that is yearned for and expected, but as yet possessed only in the promise or the pledge, bursts forth through all creation in spring.
In the supernatural order hope, like faith, is a theological virtue, which means that it binds man personally to God. It does not yet lift the veil of faith to disclose to our eyes the eternal and divine object of heavenly contemplation. But it does bring to the soul that cooperates with grace the assurance of its future possession in the infallible promise of the Redeemer; of this it gives the pledge and prefigurement, in the Resurrection of God-made-man, which, too, came to pass in a blazing dawn of spring.
The song of hope is surely singing in this springtime of your hearts. To marry is, like doves in April, to build a nest. Now even the domestic abode, this nest of the new family, is often built only a little at a time with great effort and care, in the hollow of hard rocks or on a wind-shaken branch; but this work is carried on with joy because it is undertaken with hope. To found a family is not only to live for one’s self, to develop meaningfully within one’s self physical strength, spiritual faculties, supernatural qualities of the soul; it is to extend life, that say, it is to wish, as it were, to return to life and live again, despite time and death, in one generation after another, thrilled at the measureless vista unfolding through uncounted succesions of ages.
Unhappy indeed are those couples who have neither understood nor savored the sweetness of this hope! Unhappier still and culpable are they who contrary to the laws of the Creator restrict or even prevent this hope from entering the family nest! Perhaps too late they will recognize that, merely for some fleeting pleasure, they have opened in their homes the door to that Abyss from which all hope is barred.
Lastly, charity too sounds its note—one might say the dominant note—in the song of spring for it is above all a hymn or love. Love, true and pure, is the gift of self, it is the longing for total diffusion and donation which is the essence of goodness and through which God, Infinite Goodness, Charity itself, was moved to give of Himself in creation. This expansive power of love is so great that it has no limits. As from all eternity the Creator loves the creatures whom, by an omnipotent aspiration of His mercy, He wishes to call from nothingness to time and being—”Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee” (Jer 31:3)—so the Word Incarnate, come among men, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1).
Observe, dear sons and daughters, how this need to give and be given presently manifests and reflects itself in nature! “Air, water and earth with love are filled,” exclaims the poet (Petrarch), extolling the beauties of spring. Life expands, and its magnificence in giving of itself is only a faint image of God’s. But if such be the extent of divine bounty in the natural order, how much more marvelous is it in the order of grace, which for humankind surpasses all limits of its possibilities!
Listen then, dear husbands and wives, to your own heart. You will hear it sing the generous and selfless hymn, which yearns for the total gift of self. This imperious desire for mutual sacrifice will be satisfied in you only if the gift to each other, sanctioned by a sacred vow, is to be complete, unreserved, irrevocable, like the gift of yourselves which you must make to God. Charity is one; the bond interwoven between you in Christian marriage has something of the divine in its nature, like religion itself, and thus something of the eternal in its effects. Be faithful to it. Notwithstanding the trials, the clashes, the temptations, it is an ideal that may seem beyond human capacities, but which will become a supernatural reality if you cooperate with the grace of the sacrament which has been given to you precisely to strengthen your union in the Blood of the Redeemer, a union as indissoluble as that of Christ with His Church.
10 HOPES AND FEARS
June 19, 1940; Vol. II, p.145
Forty years ago, in a difficult hour for Christian society, although less agonizing than the present, our glorious predecessor Leo XIII in his encyclical Annum Sacrum recalled how when the Church was being persecuted under the yoke of the Caesars, the cross appeared on high to a young emperor, a sign of impending victory; and he added: “And now today we behold another symbol most auspicious and most divine: the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, surmounted by the cross and shining with magnificent splendor among the flames. In Him must all hopes be placed: from Him must be sought and from Him awaited the salvation of men.”
In the present world upheaval and in this month dedicated to the Sacred Heart, we repeat those words to you, dear newlyweds, who more than others must have faith in the future. Consecrate yourselves to this Divine Heart and rely upon Him for your salvation and your happiness!
God, who has created man to love and be loved by Him, has not only appealed to his intelligence and to his will, but to touch his heart He has Himself taken a heart of flesh. And since the most manifest sign of love between two hearts is the total giving of one to the other, Jesus deigned to offer man this exchange of hearts: He gave His on Calvary, He gives It every day thousands of times on the altar, and in exchange He asks the heart of man: “My son, give me thy heart!” (Prov. 23:26.) This universal call is particularly directed to the family because the favors which the Divine Heart grants the family are very special ones.
Man, the masterpiece of the Creator, is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Now in the family this image acquires, we might say, a peculiar likeness to the Divine Model because as the essential unity of the Divine Nature exists in three distinct Persons, consubstantial and coeternal, so the moral unity of the human family consists in the trinity of the father, the mother, and their children. Conjugal fidelity and the indissolubility of Christian marriage constitute a principle of unity which may seem contrary to the lower nature of man, but is in conformity with his spiritual nature; on the other hand, the commandment given to the first human couple, “Increase and multiply” (Gen. 1:22), making fecundity a law, assures to the family the gift of perpetuating itself through the centuries and places within it a kind of reflected eternity.
The great benedictions of the old law were promised and granted to the family. Noah was not saved alone from the deluge; he entered the ark with “his sons, his wife and the wives of his sons” (Gen. 7:7), and he came out safely with them, after which God blessed him and his descendants whom He ordered to increase and multiply and fill the earth. The promises solemnly made to Abraham were directed, as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatians (3:16), not to him alone but also to his progeny who were to possess the promised land and who would be multiplied until they would make the patriarch the father of many nations.
When Sodom was destroyed because of its wickedness and precisely because of its crimes against the family, the faithful Lot, warned by the angels, was spared with his daughters and sons-in-law. Heir to the promises and predilections of the Most High, King David sang of the divine mercy showered upon his posterity from generation to generation. For, after having taken him as a young shepherd while following his flock and having given him a great name and having freed him from all his enemies, the Lord announced that He would “make him a house,” that is to say, a family, and that He would take fatherly care of it: “When thy days shall be fulfilled and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will raise up thy seed after thee” (II Kings 7:8-12).
In the new law, new graces also have been lavished upon the family. The sacrament makes of marriage itself a means of mutual sanctification for husbands and wives and an inexhaustible source of supernatural assistance; it renders their union a symbol of that between Christ and His Church; it makes them collaborators in the creative work of the Father, in the redemptive work of the Son and in the illuminative and educative work of the Holy Ghost. Is this not indeed a true predilection of God, His Heart’s love, as the psalmist sings in seeing the design of the Divine Heart through all generations (Ps. 32:11)?
But this is not all. To Christian families this Heart grants and promises even more. Above all He wished to offer them a Model, as it were, more tangible and imitable than the sublime and inaccessible Trinity. Jesus, “Author and Perfecter of Faith,” who renounced human happiness and “for the joy set before him endured a cross, despising shame” (Heb. 12:2), nevertheless enjoyed the sweetness of family life at Nazareth. Nazareth is the family ideal because there, serene and gentle authority combined with a prompt and cheerful obedience, integrity with fecundity, work with prayer, human willingness with divine good will. This is the example and encouragement Jesus offers you! But for you heads of families in modern times, His Heart reserves even more explicit blessings. This Divine Heart is pledged to aid and protect families consecrated to Him whenever they find themselves in need. Alas, how much need, at times most dire, overwhelms families today! How much more threatens! Perhaps no one can say that he is without present adversity and misgiving for the future, besides which in a family each one’s peril becomes the concern of all, and peril to all increases each one’s anxiety.
Now more than ever, therefore, is the moment to resort to the Sacred Heart and to consecrate yourselves to Him with all that is dear to you. Entrust to Him the new home which you have founded and which waits only to be developed tranquilly, even amid the upheavals of the outside world. Entrust to Him the home which perhaps you have had to abandon, leaving behind your aged parents deprived of your aid in the future. Entrust to Him your homeland, whose soil was made fertile by the sweat and perhaps even by the blood of your forefathers, perhaps now asking that you too be generous in its service. Entrust to Him, as we do, our Holy Church, which has the promise of eternal life and knows that it will not fall under the assaults of hell, but who weeps like Rachel over her many Sons who are no more, over so many of her temples destroyed, over her priests blocked in the exercise of their ministry, over her countless poor souls, little sheep lost in the ruins of their ravaged folds or in the deserts of exile while the combined forces of guile and seduction plot to separate them from their only true Divine Shepherd.
Finally, entrust to the Sacred Heart all humanity—divided, torn and bloody humanity. Thousands of men have forgotten their Baptism, forgotten at times even the law graven by the Creator in the depths of each human conscience. May they find its trace once more with a sense of bewildered grief and, after their transgressions, come back to their own hearts again:”Remember this and be ashamed: return, ye transgressors, to the heart!” (Is. 46:8.) May they in this return to their own past and to the past of their forefathers remember that there is but one God and He is without equal. “Remember the former age, for I am God….Neither is there the like to Me” (Is. 46:9). But above all, looking with love upon the image of the Sacred Heart, may they remember that the one God without equal has made Himself equal to men, that He has a Heart like theirs wounded with love for them, that this Heart living in the Tabernacle is always ready to accept their repentance and their prayers, always open to shower upon them through the shedding of His own Blood the abundance of His graces which alone can cure all ills, dry all tears, and repair all ruin.
11 THE TEACHING OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE
January 8, 1941; Vol. II, p.367
For you, dear newlyweds, the present hour is like the joyous time of seeding fields made ready with loving care. Yet, however brightly your youthful innocence may sparkle, you have already learned enough in the school of experience and from a look at the world to know that the future lying before you, which we hope will he brimming with Christian happiness, will bestow upon you not pleasures and joys alone, and that, especially in these troubled times, it will not bring to pass without suffering your sublime mission of giving life to innocent children, gifts of heaven, of raising and instructing them in holy religion by word and example, destined as they are to be your own support and the bulwark of your country and to join you one day in eternal glory and happiness.
The farmer does not hesitate to face courageously the unpredictable eventualities of drought and frost, for he is aware that God’s merciful providence will be concerned for him and will not let fall those who serve and hope in Him, as he will not let starve the sparrows which swoop about the plow. You too know that the Lord will not permit you to be tempted beyond your power (I Cor. 10:13) and that patience has “its perfect work” (James 1:2). Do not doubt therefore that in His infinite goodness He will suit the trials to your strength, or better still, to the strength and comfort which He Himself will give you through His grace; and this faith in Him which is the source of hope in your hearts today will still be the support of your work tomorrow.
But this should not make you forget that even in the darkest moments the future might hold for you, you will not be without consolations and satisfactions. In the country, as you know, even winter does not pass without its joys. Is it not then that the family, dispersed during other seasons because of its work, regathers more frequently around the hearth? Is not this the time of long paternal and fraternal sessions during which hearts beat more in union with each other than ever, and, in conversations and silences more eloquent than words, souls probe each other more deeply and know each other more intimately in their affection and thoughts? Is it not then that the past, the present and the future enliven the memories and conversations of happy families?
So too for you, dear sons and daughters, in the most difficult moments that might ever befall you, the haven of comfort and consolation will be just as great. Do not fear. If, as strong and trusting Christians, you will accept afflictions too as coming from the Hands of God to perfect our virtue, these trials, instead of inciting reproach, complaints, discord and dissension, as unhappily occurs so often, will draw your hearts even closer together and will strengthen your love in sorrow, for love does not live without grief. Then you will know each other, you will speak to each other and you will understand each other better, you will support each other more steadily in the steps of life’s journey. Then the love which joins you, tempered in the fires of tribulation, will definitely grow stronger; nothing will any longer avail to separate two souls which have so valorously suffered and carried together the cross in union with Christ.
These thoughts, which come from the heart as our paternal remembrance for you, may perhaps seem austere in these days of your happiness. Yet in the light of the faith which has drawn you to us, they are the only source of true happiness, of that happiness which can only arise, exist or endure where the high purpose of this life is profoundly understood, accepted, loved; of a happiness less childish, less thoughtless, less frivolous, but more intimate, more solid and more secure since it is founded on the fullness of the Christian spirit which does not collapse before the winds of adversity and which makes joys and sorrows of this world the means of attaining a better life.
This is the spirit we ask of God for you, dear newlyweds, and for all those who are dear to you, while as a pledge of abundant graces and heaven’s gifts we impart, with all our heart, our paternal Apostolic Benediction.
May 7,1941; Vol. III, p.77
Dear newlyweds, life is perpetual in the succession and rotation of seasons which vary the course of the year and bring us back always again to spring. The day too has its seasons, emulating the year itself. Morning makes us think of spring, midday of summer, late afternoon of autumn, and eventide of winter. But the true spectacle of life’s rebirth is springtime, this happy season when nature smiles again, renewing her bright greenery, her woodland foliage, her blooming fields and gardens, her swaying, fruited branches, her birdsong and her warming sun which moves in brilliant majesty across the vault of heaven like the spouse of nature greeting, beautifying, coloring and germinating with its life-giving rays. Spring covers all the earth with her beautiful mantle and awakens in our souls a hymn of praise to the Creator who, in the book of nature, displays to us His goodness and His munificence, so that we ourselves may learn to renew in life our spirit and faith in Him.
Holy Mother Church has her springtime too, a springtime of repeated alleluias during her Eastertide liturgy like insistent invitations to joy: joy in the triumphal Resurrection of Christ, the virginal flower of the Blessed Mother, the divine lily in the crimson valley of the passion; joy in that springtime of the primitive Christian communities of whose moving events we have reread in the Acts of the Apostles, precursors and first fruits of the future spiritual rebirth of nations, flower and fruit of the conquests of the Catholic apostolate.
But you too are in the springtime of life and you are living in the springtime of the families which you have just founded, in the bliss of those first steps, wonderfully intimate for you both, scented with the perfume of hope for a thriving life around you like saplings at the foot of the olive tree, which God asks you to increase through your union, the most beautiful life on earth, the life of Christian souls.
Springtime of nature’s beauty, springtime of Easter joy, springtime of weddings. You are now enjoying this threefold spring; you are reveling in it almost as if the world around you is drawing together everything in your life for you. However, if you interrupt for a moment the sweet converse of your honeymoon and happen to read a paper, you will find in its columns another life and another world: operations of war, immense battles on land, at sea and in the air, but also magnificent examples of generosity towards those who suffer, of dedication, heroism and sacrifice.
In the midst of these dreadful upheavals, dear sons and daughters, you yourselves in a great and beautiful act of Christian faith have not been afraid to establish your new families, well knowing and believing that the unperturbed renewal of spring in the tumult of human events is neither mockery nor jest, nor the cold indifference of blind nature nor an empty fancy of foolish dreamers, but witness and proof to our senses of the reality of life and beauty reborn of that supreme and paternal “love which moves the sun and the stars,” whose abiding care never for an instant deserts the governance of the universe, and whose mercy controls and moderates the turmoil of humankind. Is not your faith really a reliance on the sovereign Hand of God, gentle and strong, watchful, alert, perpetually guiding the events of this world, great and small, sad and joyful? Learn the beautiful and lofty lesson God gives you in the threefold spring which you are living in these days and which confirms your trust.
It is not a childishly simple trust, fancying that spring will last forever, that its incomparable beauty will not fade, that its flowers will never wither, that torrid heat or cold or snow will never return. It is not a simplicity enamored of the present without a thought for the future, with no attempt to strengthen the soul, to prepare it and fortify it against the hardships and trials of the future.
It is not a listlessly indifferent trust, living from day to day and deluding itself with the dream that there will always be time to reawaken at the sound of the trumpet and protect oneself against the storm, that for now it is better to enjoy calm and carefree today’s life and the rays of today’s sun, however fleeting they may be.
It is not the trust of grim surrender to fatalism, uncaring in the conviction that against the blind onslaught of events nothing helps but to hunch one’s shoulders and fend off the blow as well as possible, seeking if anything to soften its shock by giving way like a ball which can be rolled and bumped on all sides without resistance and useless reaction.
What, then, is this trust? It is faith in God’s love, “and we have come to know, and have believed, the love that God has in our behalf” (I Jn. 4:16). Lift your spirit above the winds and tempests of earth. With all your soul you believe that the worldstream which sweeps us along in its storm, and bruises and stuns us, is not an unthinking flood and collision of blind forces unleashed by chance, but that however dark and baffling the raging torrent may be, the omnipotence of Infinite Love and Wisdom leads all, watches over all, and directs all to one goal where mercy pleads louder than justice.
You know that God has never forgotten the purposes of His work, the wisdom of which will be made manifest in heaven when in His vision we can retrace life’s path, marked by our bloody footprints and strewn with the flowers of His grace.
You know that there is no love on this earth—not that of a young mother, nor the mutual tenderness of newlyweds—that can even remotely approach the infinite love and affection with which God surrounds and embraces each and every one of our souls.
You know that while this Divine Love, in its eternal, majestic and magnificent design for the destinies of mankind and the world, imparts its watchful care to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, it has a special purpose for each of your souls, be it the most neglected and wretched in the eyes of men. It is a plan sketched and colored with such wise and tender care as you yourselves could never employ in preparing what is needed to receive, delight and embellish the arrival of those dear children whom you await with such joyous hope. No step or instant of your life’s journey, however humble and hidden it may be, has been left by God to the sport of fate or fortune; everything is willed or permitted in the light of a wise and powerful Goodness, which even turns evil into good; in every moment of your days, in the hours of your hardest toil, during your rest, during the oblivion of sleep, the watchful love of the Eye and Hand of God never ceases to sustain and guide and lead your lives and the lives of your children.
Each of you has faith in your mutual love, and you have entrusted life and happiness to each other. Place and maintain an even more vibrant and indestructible faith in God’s love for you, a faith raised beyond compare, triumphant and surpassing every throbbing heartbeat of any human love whatever.
You have given yourselves to each other; give yourselves together to God. Could you perchance safeguard your own happiness from now on by living each for himself, on your own, without worry or care for what your soul’s companion might think or desire? Certainly not. Still less can you assure a truly happy life together if you live only for your own pleasures outside the plan of God’s love for you, denying or ignoring what God wishes and expects of you.
Be guided by God. Let the commandments of Christian law, the guidance and counsel of the Church, and the will of Divine Providence illuminate your steps day by day on the journey of life. Trust in God, trust in the Redeemer; He has conquered the world. Do not expect extraordinary revelations of the divine plan for you. It will be revealed a little at a time in the sequence of events and in the daily occurrences of life. Believe in the divine love which has shown you the road to follow. Walk this road with righteousness and virtue, not capriciously nor in your own way; otherwise clashes and discord from the divine harmony will be inevitable. Your voice will be out of tune with the sweet song which God wishes to resound in your family. Is not this often the sad and secret reason why so many lives that began in radiant happiness ended in darkest misery? Do not act as capricious and willful children who squirm in the loving arms of their mother; do not imitate many of those who, like Pharaoh, grow stubborn and restless in the Hands of God and, instead of letting themselves be lovingly guided, reject His law and are deaf to the whisperings of His grace which impels them towards a more completely Christian life. From such attitudes will come disagreements, clashes, collapse, and ruin.
Dear newlyweds, this trusting faith in God’s love, this meek and heartfelt reliance on His guidance, obedience to His commandments and willing submission to the dispositions of His divine providence in your regard play a part, we are sure, in the purposes of married life which, with the priest’s blessing, you have just begun. But whence will you acquire such beautiful and necessary qualities? You will obtain them, preserve them and increase them only in the deep and limpid springs of living waters which bring eternal life, by diligent heed to the word of God, by learning always more thoroughly the teachings of the Church, by praying together morning and evening, by assisting at Holy Mass, by frequenting the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, in a word, by an active and virtuous Christian life. In this way, yes, today’s springtime will endure; it will flower and grow in your souls, ending only when transformed into a garland of resplendent blossoms in a summer that has no autumn or winter, forever delighting the blessed in heaven.
PART III – Learning to Live Together
13 HARMONY OF SOULS
November 22, 1939; Vol. I, p.393
While the ageless yet ever fresh hymn of Christian love still sings in your hearts, the Church today celebrates the feast of a young Roman, St. Cecilia, traditional patron of music. And for us it is an opportune occasion to say a few words to you on the importance of concord and constant harmony between husband and wife.
Perhaps you will think that it is useless to talk to you of harmony in these days when the perfect attunement of your hearts as yet knows no discord. But are you not aware that with use even the finest musical instrument goes out of key and must therefore be frequently tuned? This also happens to human wills whose good intentions are liable to slacken.
The first condition of harmony between husband and wife and of consequent domestic peace is a constant good will on both sides. Daily experience teaches us that in human disagreements, as the great Manzoni says, “Right and wrong are never divided by so clean a line that either side has only one or the other.” Although Sacred Scripture compares the wicked woman to a yoke of oxen that moves to and fro and by not being steady disturbs the work (Ecclus. 26:10), and likens the quarrelsome woman to a leaky roof in cold weather (Prov. 27:15), it observes as well that the wrathful man ignites quarrels (Ecclus. 28:11). Look around you and learn from the example of others that marital discord most frequently arises from failure of both parties to confide, to compromise and to forgive.
Thus you will learn the sweetness of harmony between husband and wife. “With three things,” says the Holy Book, “my spirit is pleased, which are approved before God and men: the concord of brethren, the love of neighbors, and man and wife that agree well together” (Ecclus. 25:1-2). Surely, dear newlyweds, with every means at your disposal you will protect this precious harmony against the perils of internal and external dissension—two perils above all: suspicions too quickly aroused and resentments too slowly allayed.
From the outside, the wicked jealousy of third parties, spawners of calumny, at times introduces a disturbing note of suspicion into the peaceful harmony of married life. Listen once more to the warning of Sacred Scripture: “The tongue of a third person hath cast out valiant women and deprived them of their labors. He that harkeneth to it shall never have rest” (Ecclus. 28:19-20). Cannot one instrument off-key ruin the harmony of a performance?
But brief discordance, which in a musical performance may offend or at times surprise the ear, becomes instead an element of beauty, when by skillful variations it ends in an expected chord. So it should be with the clashes or passing disagreements to which human weakness always exposes husbands and wives. These discords must be quickly resolved and there must sound again the friendly modulations of souls ready to pardon and thus to find once more that chord of instant compromise in that tonality of peace and Christian love which today enchants your young hearts.
The great Apostle St. Paul will tell you the secret of this harmony preserved or at least each day renewed in your household. If you are moved to anger, he warns against yielding to its temptations: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph. 4:26).
When the first shadows of evening invite you to reflection and prayer, kneel side by side before the crucifix, which will watch over your repose through the night. And together, with heartfelt sincerity, repeat: “Our Father who art in heaven—forgive us—as we forgive….” Then false notes of bad moods will be stilled, the discords will be transposed into perfect harmony, and your souls will resume together the canticle of gratitude to God who gave you to each other.
14 THE GOSPEL AND DOMESTIC PEACE
June 26, 1940; Vol. II, p.153
There can be no doubt that if we wish to emerge intact from the present crisis, society must be rebuilt on a more durable foundation, that is to say, more in conformity with the law of Christ, the first source of every true civilization. It is no less certain that if we wish to attain such a goal we must begin by making families Christian again, many of which have forgotten the practice of the Gospel, the love it demands and the peace it brings.
The family is the foundation of society. As the human body is composed of living cells which are not merely placed close to one another but by virtue of their continuing internal relationship constitute an organic whole, so too society is formed not of a conglomeration of individuals, sporadic beings who appear for an instant and then vanish, but of the economic community and the moral union of families which guarantee the cohesion and continuity of social relationships by handing down from generation to generation the precious heritage of one and the same ideal, one and the same civilization, and one and the same religious faith. St. Augustine recognized this fifteen centuries ago when he wrote that the family must be the basic element and like a building block of the city. And since each part is ordered to the purpose and perfection of the whole, be concluded from this that peaceful and well-ordered family life makes for good relationships among the citizens.
No one knows this better than those who strive to expel God from society and throw it into turmoil, who spare no effort to deny the family the observance or even the remembrance of divine law, who extol divorce and free love, and who impede the providential task entrusted to parents with respect to their children, instilling in husbands and wives a dread of the physical fatigue and moral responsibilities which accompany the glorious burden of a large family. We wish to warn you against such dangers and to recommend that you consecrate yourselves to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
What has been needed and is still needed if the world is to live happily and at peace is the Gospel’s spirit of sacrifice, and this spirit is lacking because as faith weakens, selfishness becomes predominant, and this destroys happiness together and makes it an impossibility. From faith arise compassion and fear of God which make men peaceful, the love of work which brings an increase of material wealth, justice which teaches and assures a fair distribution of such wealth, charity which diligently repairs the inevitable breaches of justice made by human passion. All these virtues presuppose a spirit of sacrifice which binds those who believe. “If anyone wishes to come after me,” says Jesus, “let him deny himself” (Mt. 16:24). On the other hand, among men as among nations, avarice on the part of individuals can never be consistent with the well-being of all. “Whence,” exclaims the Apostle St. James, “do wars and strife come among you? Is it not from this, from your passions, which wage war in your own members?” (James 4:1).
To find peace once more, mankind must therefore relearn what Christ and His Church have been preaching for centuries: to sacrifice their own ambitions and desires whenever they appear incompatible with the rights of others or with the community interest. Devotion to the Sacred Heart puts one on this sweet and sure path.
In the first place, the image of the Divine Heart surrounded by flames, crowned with thorns, pierced with a lance, reminds us how much Jesus loved men and suffered for them, that is, according to His own Words, “to the point of exhaustion and death.” Moreover, the lament uttered by the Savior for the faithlessness and ingratitude of men imprints an essential character of expiatory penance upon this devotion. Our great predecessor, Pius XI, has wonderfully clarified this in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor and in the prayer of the Liturgy for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, where he said that the devout homage of our piety must be accompanied by a worthy satisfaction for our sins. These two elements make the devotion to the Sacred Heart eminently suited to reestablish lost order, and with it, to prepare and promote the return of peace. The great work of Christ or, to speak with St. Paul, the work which God wrought in Him, was to reconcile the world to Himself; and His Blood, the last drops of which flowed from the Heart of Jesus on the cross, is the symbol of this new alliance, reforging between God and man the bonds of love that were broken by original sin.
Make this Heart, then, the King of your abode, and you will establish peace, all the more since He Himself, renewing and specifying the blessings of His heavenly Father upon faithful families, has promised that peace will reign in those homes consecrated to Him.
If only all men would heed this invitation and this promise! It is true that our two glorious predecessors, Leo XIII and Pius XI, as common fathers of Christianity and inspired guides of the human race on earth, have solemnly consecrated mankind to the Heart of Jesus. But how many souls still ignore—how many even despise—the fountain of grace that has been opened to them and kept so easily accessible. Do not be numbered among those careless or stubborn ones who shut the doors of their homes, their city and their nation to the King of Love and by doing so postpone the day on which a peaceful world will find true happiness! Would you by any chance close your window if you wished to send forth the dove with the olive branch like Noah in the ark? Now what the Sacred Heart promises and provides is more than a symbol; it is the reality of peace. Jesus asks you only to give Him your heart sincerely; this is the true consecration. Have the courage to do it. You will learn through experience that God will never allow Himself to be outdone in generosity.
Whatever may be the difficulties of life surrounding you today or tomorrow, you will no longer experience those setbacks and sorrows which lead to discouragement, for to be discouraged is to lose heart. But in place of a weak human heart you will now have a heart conforming to God’s own. Now you will see fulfilled for your family, for your country, for Christianity and for all humankind the promise of Our Lord to the prophet Jeremias: “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: because they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jet. 24:7).
15 FORGETTING OFFENSES
July 19, 1940; Vol II, p.169
As you know, dear sons and daughters, in the month of July the Church especially honors the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and in her liturgical prayer she implores the heavenly Father, “who constituted His only-begotten Son as Redeemer of the world and wished to be placated by His Blood,” to make us feel Its beneficial effect. For the mystery of this Divine Blood shed so generously is as inexhaustible as its source, and meditation upon the redemptive work—that is to say, of the most magnanimous of pardons—is more helpful and opportune now than ever.
Down through the centuries there has been seen in the visible world the terrifying sight not only of stains but even torrents of blood which spilled over ruined cities and devastated countrysides. Now blood shed by violence all too often breeds bitterness, and bitterness of the human heart is like a deep abyss which opens into another, just as one great wave follows another and one great calamity leads to another. On the other hand, look for a moment upon the world of souls. Here too rivers of Blood are flowing, but this Blood shed for love brings with it only pardon of wrongs. The Heart of the Man-God from which It pours is also an abyss—Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtue—but an abyss of virtue which in the depths of hearts calls only unto another abyss of sweetness and compassion. Since Christ offered His Blood for humanity, whoever believes in Him is immersed in an ocean of goodness and breathes in an atmosphere of pardon.
Have you ever seen the earth refreshed by a sudden shower towards sunset on a sultry summer day? Within a few moments cascades of water cool off the soil in the mountains and in the valleys; when the air begins to clear again and while the rainbow stretches its seven-colored ribbon across still gray skies, there rises from the humid ground a mist sweetened with the scent of growing things, like the warm breath of a great living organism eager to expand. In this perfume of water, Job tells us, the withered tree which seemed dead renews hope and soon reacquires the tresses of its foliage. This is a weak comparison to the benefits which fecundate the earth under the torrents of redemptive Blood. If the floodgates of heaven, open for forty days, were enough to submerge the earth, why would not the Divine Blood pouring forth for nineteen centuries from the Heart of Jesus on thousands of altars have inundated and almost impregnated the world of souls? Perhaps David had this beneficial effusion in mind when he spoke of an abundant rain reserved by God for his descendants. Rain, the essential condition for fertility in Palestine and God’s great reward for the observance of His commandments, symbolizes in this way, however imperfectly, the regeneration of the human race through the Blood of Christ.
On the other hand, it would certainly not be accurate to believe that the Old Testament had not already taught forgiveness of offenses. We can find there much wise and valuable counsel on this subject, especially for you, dear newlyweds. “Remember not any injury done thee by thy neighbor,” says Ecclesiasticus (10:6); and to forget them is sometimes even more difficult than to pardon them. Pardon them, therefore, first of all, and God will give you the grace to forget. But above all else, put aside the desire for revenge which Our Lord strongly condemned even in the old law: “Seek not revenge, nor be mindful of the injury of thy citizens” (Lev. 19:18). In other words, one might say today: Guard against displays of resentment towards your neighbors—that family which lives above or under or just opposite you, that property owner with whom you have a common wall, that businessman who is your competitor, that relative whose conduct embarrasses you. Holy Scripture even warns us: “Say not: I will do to him as he hath done to me; I will render to everyone according to his work” (Prov. 24:29). “He that seeketh to revenge himself, shall find vengeance from the Lord, and lie will surely keep his sins in remembrance” (Ecclus. 28:1). Indeed, how foolish for rancor to be found in a sinful soul, itself in such need of pardon! The sacred writer highlighted this sharp contrast: “Man to man reserveth anger, and cloth he seek remedy of God? He hath no mercy on a man like himself, and doth he entreat for his sins?” (Ecclus. 28:3-4).
Above all, since the new covenant between God and man was sealed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, the law of unremitting pardon and of changing rancor into love has become a general one. “Peter,” responded Jesus to the Apostle who asked him, not “seven times (must you pardon your brother) but seventy times seven” (Mt. 18:22), that is to say, the Christian must be ready without limitation or end to forgive offenses received from his neighbor.
And the Divine Master taught further: ‘And when you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, that your father in heaven may also forgive you your offenses” (Mk. 11:25). And it is not enough merely not to return evil for evil. “You have heard,” Jesus added, “that it was said: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor and shalt hate thy enemy.’ But I say to you: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Mt. 5:43-44). This is the Christian doctrine of love and forgiveness, a doctrine that at times requires grave sacrifices.
In these very days, for example, there is a danger that for many persons the noble and legitimate feeling of love for one’s country may degenerate into vindictive passion, into insatiable pride on the part of some or incurable resentment on the part of others. A Christian, loyally and courageously defending his native land, must nevertheless refrain from hating those whom he is obliged to combat. One sees on the battlefield those attached to the medical service, nurses and corpsmen, generously expending themselves upon the cure of the sick and wounded without distinction as to nationality. But must men reach the very threshold of death before they recognize that they are brothers? ‘This admirable, but rather delayed, charity is not enough; by meditating on the Gospel and practicing it, Christian peoples must at last acquire a sense of the brotherhood which unites them in a common redemption through the merits of the Blood of Jesus Christ and in this very Blood, which has become their drink, find strength, at times even heroic, for mutual pardon (which does not exclude the reestablishment of justice or of rights violated), without which a true and lasting peace will never be possible.
But we wish to turn our thoughts back to you, dear newlyweds In the journey which you have just undertaken will you not perhaps one day have to practice this forgetting of wrongs in a measure which some consider above human capacity? Such a case, although fortunately rare among husbands and wives who are truly Christian, is not impossible, since the world and the devil attack the heart whose impulses are very hasty and assail the flesh which is weak. But without going to these extremes, in ordinary daily life how many minor disagreements, how many slight clashes there are which can create a latent, sorrowful state of aversion between husbands and wives if a remedy is not found at once! Then too, between parents and children. Though authority is to be upheld and rights respected, though it is to be sustained by warnings or reprimand, or even when necessary by punishment, how deplorable it would be for a father or a mother to display even the least sign of resentment or personal revenge! Frequently this is enough to crush or destroy all confidence and filial affection in the hearts of children.
Dear sons and daughters, you should be ready every day to forgive wrongs received in family or social life, as indeed every day you will repeat on your knees before the image of the Crucified One, “Our Father…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt. 6:12). And if you do not see Christ visibly bow His Head towards you with a smile, His Brow crowned with thorns, you will know nevertheless, and you will believe with strong faith and absolute loyalty, that from the Divine Fountain, from the Hands and Feet of Jesus Our Savior, above all from His Heart, always open to you, the redemptive Blood will shed Its forgiving stream as fully on your souls as you yourselves have generously pardoned others.
16 HEROISM OF CHRISTIAN HUSBANDS AND WIVES
August 20, 1941; Vol. III, p.181
As we see such a numerous and devoted group of Christian newlyweds gathered around us, our spirit exalts and gives thanks to God from whom come the precious gifts of faith, hope and the special confidence granted you to rely on the divine benediction which our paternal love is happy to invoke on your persons and on your intentions. If the divine compassion for human misery will give strength and force to our prayer, then an omnipotent benediction will descend from God, for when He speaks, heaven and earth emerge from the void, the sun comes forth from darkness, and the world of living things rises from land and sea.
Then man himself is raised from the slime, formed by the Creator to receive, like breath from the Divine Mouth, an immortal soul and, with a companion made in his likeness and drawn from his side, to hear that blessing and command: Increase, multiply and fill the earth. But you, dear newlyweds, who believe in the Name of Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer, have been blessed in this Name at the altar, so that through you the multitude of God’s children may increase and the number of the elect be completed. It is to this high purpose, intended by God when He instituted marriage in the natural order and elevated it to the supernatural dignity of a sacrament, that Our Lord has deigned to call you by means of the holy, indissoluble bond which joins your hearts and your lives.
It is not surprising, therefore, that such a noble state demands a kind of heroism: extraordinary heroism in exceptional cases and ordinary heroism in daily life. It is this heroism, often hidden but no less admirable, which we intend to bring to your attention in a more particular way today.
As in the first centuries of Christianity, so too today in those countries of the world where religious persecutions rage from time to time openly or subtly—but severely nonetheless—the most humble among the faithful can find themselves from one moment to the next confronted by the dramatic necessity of choosing between their faith, which they have a duty to preserve intact, and their liberty, their means of livelihood, or even life itself.
But even in normal times, in the ordinary events and situations of Christian families, it sometimes happens that souls find themselves rudely confronted with the alternative of violating an absolute duty or exposing themselves to painful sacrifice and inescapable risks involving their health, their possessions, their family and social positions. They are constrained, therefore, to be and to show themselves heroic if they wish to remain faithful to their duties and abide in the grace of God.
When our predecessors of venerated memory, particularly the Supreme Pontiff Pius XI in his encyclical letter Casti Connubii, reviewed and reaffirmed the holy and inescapable laws of married life, they were perfectly aware that in many cases inviolate observance of these laws demanded true heroism of Christian husbands and wives. It may be a question of respecting the purposes of marriage as intended by God, or of resisting the burning and attractive temptations of passion or anxiety which entice a troubled heart to seek elsewhere what it has not found in lawful wedlock or what has not fully satisfied its expectations. It may be that, to avoid breaking or loosening the bond of the spirit or of mutual love, one comes to know how to forgive or forget an argument, an insult or even a grave shock. How many intimate dramas of bitterness and tribulation take place behind the curtain of daily life! How many heroic hidden sacrifices! How much agony of spirit to stay together and to hold fast as Christians to their place and duty!
And what strength of spirit is frequently required for this daily living itself, when every morning one must return to the same work, perhaps harsh and wearisome in its monotonous drudgery; when to make the best of it, one must tolerate with a smile, amiably and joyfully, mutual defects and differences that were never overcome, the disparities of taste, habits and ideas which all too frequently occur in ordinary married life; when in the midst of petty difficulties and incidents, often unavoidable, one must not become excited or spoil the calm and happy mood; when to cold indifference one must reply with a wise silence; when one must stifle a complaint in time, change and soften a word which, once uttered, would offend irritated nerves and diffuse a dark cloud in the family atmosphere. A thousand unimportant details, a thousand fleeting moments in daily life, each one of which is small enough, almost nothing, in its own right, but which in their continuity and totality end by becoming most irksome and which at the same time in most cases entwine and enchain, in mutual suffering, the peace and the joy of the home.
And yet the woman, the wife, the mother is to be the source, the nourishment and special bulwark of family joy and peace. Is it not she who fosters, conjoins and binds the father in the love of his children? Is it not she who almost encompasses the family within herself through her love, who watches over it, guards it, protects and defends it? She is the song of the cradle, the smile of the ruddy and lively or sick and weeping children, the first teacher who points their way to heaven, who places her sons and daughters on their knees before the sacred altars, who often inspires them with their most sublime thoughts and aspirations. Give us a mother who feels deep within her heart her spiritual as well as natural maternity and we will see in her the heroine of the family, the strong woman, whom you can praise in the song of King Lamuel in the Book of Proverbs: “Strength and beauty are her clothing, and she shall laugh in the latter day. She hath opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue. She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle. Her children rose up and called her blessed; her husband, and he praised her” (Prov. 31:25-28).
And let us sing still other praises of the mother and of the strong woman, the praise of heroism in grief, for frequently in the school of misfortune, affliction and suffering she is fearless, undaunted and resigned, even more so than a man because from love she learns grief. Look upon the pious women of the Gospel who follow Christ, ministering to His material wants, while on the road to Calvary they weep as they accompany Him even to the foot of the cross. The Heart of Christ is full of compassion at a woman’s tears. The weeping sisters of Lazarus knew this, as did the grief-stricken widow of Naim, and Magdalene sobbing at His sepulcher. Even today, in this bloody hour, who can say how many widows of Naim, how many mothers, know the goodness of the Redeemer who pours the balm of His comforting Words into their hearts—even though a fallen son is not restored to them: “Do not weep” (Lk. 7:13)?
Never doubt, dear newlyweds. Look with confidence upon the high ideal of heroism on the path of life which you have just begun. It has always been true that from little things one ascends the steps to greatness and that virtue is a flower which blossoms upon a mature stem which has been nourished by the diligent toil of each day. It is this daily heroism of faithfulness to the routine and common duties of everyday life which molds and prepares the soul, which raises and tempers it against the day when God will perhaps demand of it extraordinary heroism.
Do not look elsewhere fin the sources of such heroism. In the events of family life, as in all the circumstances of human existence, heroism has its basic roots in the profound and surpassing sense of duty, of that duty with which it is impossible to compromise or bargain and which must prevail over and above everything. This sense of duty is, for Christians, the conscious recognition of God’s sovereign dominion over us, of His sovereign authority and His sovereign goodness. It teaches us that God’s clear mandate will brook no arguments but imposes complete surrender. Above all else, it makes us understand that this Divine Will is the voice of an infinite love for us. In a word, this sense of duty is not abstract, nor a reaction to an inexorable, hostile and overpowering law which overwhelms freedom of human will or action. It responds to the exigencies of love, of an infinitely generous friendship, transcending and sustaining the multiform vicissitudes of our life in this world.
Such a powerful sense of Christian duty will grow and become strong in you, dear sons and daughters, through steadfast perseverance in your most humble tasks and daily obligations. The smallest sacrifices, the slightest victories over yourselves, will from day to day always strengthen and nourish the virtuous habit of paying no heed to impressions, impulses or dislikes which arise along the path of your life every time a duty calls or God’s will must be done. Heroism is not the fruit of one day, nor does it mature in a morning; great souls form and grow slowly in a gradual rise to greatness so that they may be ready, should the occasion arise, for the magnificent deeds and supreme triumphs which fill us with admiration.
17 AN OPEN HEART
November 12, 1941; Vol. III, p.255
What a great thing it is, dear newlyweds, when the hearts of a man and a woman unite in a common life to found a family. From the heart come the first desires, the first looks, the first words which cross the lips to meet and be exchanged with others arising from another heart while both open themselves to each other in a dream of domestic happiness.
But what is the heart? The heart is the source of life because in it the motion of life begins, proceeds, flourishes, matures, expands, ages and ends; but the heart also feels all the vicissitudes, all the alternatives and variations of life according to the emotions which excite its throbbing and beatings, agitating its fibers with conflicting sentiments of love or hatred, of desire or aversion, joy or sadness, hope or anguish, humility or pride, fear or courage, mildness or anger.
An open heart is a fountain of happiness in the common life of husband and wife, while a closed heart lessens their joy and peace. Do not be deceived in speaking of the heart; it is the symbol and image of the will. As the physical heart is the principle of all bodily movement, so the will is the principle of all spiritual motion since that which moves the intellect moves the subordinate faculties and passions and moves the external powers to the acts intended by the intellect and by the internal and external senses. Poor human heart, often inscrutable even to those who carry it in their breast! Who will ever know it? And yet many are studying to learn how to enter it, even in others, and to know its effects and its motions.
More than once renowned writers have represented in their stories, novels and dramas the moral state—paradoxical, at times even tragic—of an excellent husband and wife born and made to understand each other perfectly but who, not knowing how to open their hearts to each other, remain almost strangers in their life together and permit lack of comprehension and misunderstanding to rise and grow within them. Little by little, this disturbs and impairs their union and frequently starts them on the road to sad catastrophe. Such a spiritual condition of two married people unfortunately does not exist only in the imagination of novelists: this occurs in various degrees in real life, even among good Christians.
What is the cause of this? At times it is that condition of natural timidity which causes some men and women to feel an instinctive repugnance to revealing their intimate feelings or communicating them to anyone. On the other hand, it might be a lack of simplicity, born of vanity or of hidden, perhaps unconscious, pride; in other cases a defective education, excessively harsh and too external, may have habituated the soul to rum back upon itself and not to open or expose itself through fear of being wounded in its more profound and delicate sensibilities.
And yet, dear sons and daughters, this mutual trust, this reciprocal opening of the heart, this straightforward interchange and sharing of your thoughts, your hopes, your worries, your joys and your sorrows, is a necessary condition, an element—indeed an essential ingredient of your happiness.
In the face of your new duties, your new responsibilities, a purely external union of your lives will never suffice to give your hearts that active disposition required for the mission which God has entrusted to you, inspiring you to found a family so that you may remain in the benediction of the Lord, persist in His Will, and live in His love. For you to live in God’s love is to sublimate your love of each other to His love, which needs not only good will but that sovereign conjugal friendship of two hearts which are open to each other in wishing or not wishing the same things, and which move to embrace and unite ever more closely in that love by which they are animated and moved.
If you must mutually sustain each other hand in hand, side by side, to confront the material needs of life, one managing the family and assuring it by his work the necessary means for its support, the other caring for and watching over everything in the household, it is even more necessary that you compensate each other, that you sustain each other, and that you assist each other to overcome the moral and spiritual needs of your two souls and the souls of those dear little angels whom God will entrust to your care. Yet how will you be able to extend such mutual support and assistance to each other if your souls remain strangers, each jealously preserving its own secrets of business, of education and of contributions to your married life? Are you not almost two streams, rising like springs from two Christian families and flowing down the valley of human society to mingle their limpid waters and make fertile the garden of the Church? Are you not like two flowers which entwine their buds and in the shade of domestic peace open and speak in the idiom of their colors and in the profusion of their perfume?
We do not say that this reciprocal opening of hearts must be unlimited, that without restriction of any kind you must reveal to each other whatever has been on your mind or is on your mind now, or whatever fills your thoughts and occupies your attention. There are inviolable secrets which nature or a promise or a confidence require to remain closed and unspoken. Above all, both of you can become repositories of secrets which do not concern you. A husband who is a doctor, a lawyer, an officer, a civil servant, a management executive, will know and be in a position to know many things which professional secrecy does not permit him to communicate to anyone, not even his wife, and she, if she is wise and prudent, will display the proper trust, respect and admiration for his silence without doing anything or trying to pry. Remember that your personality and responsibilities are not suppressed by marriage. But even in those things which are most personal to you or which concern you, there can be a matter of confidence which it would be useless and dangerous to reveal, which could become harmful and even disturb the union instead of making it closer, more beautiful and happier. A husband and a wife are not confessors. Confessors are found in churches, in the tribunals of Penance. Because of their priestly character, they are raised to a higher sphere than family life itself—a sphere of supernatural reality. There has been imposed upon them the power of curing the wounds of the spirit, and they can receive any confidence and open their hearts to misfortune. They are the fathers, the teachers and the doctors of your souls.
However, apart from these personal and sacred secrets of interior and exterior life, you must place your souls together so as to fuse them into one. Is it not of supreme importance for two people who are engaged to be sure that their lives can be lived in accord and can be borne in complete harmony? If one of them is sincerely, profoundly Christian and the other—as, alas, can happen—believes little or nothing and cares little or nothing for religious duties and practice, you can understand that despite their mutual love there will arise between these two souls grave divergencies which will not be entirely harmonized except on that day when they will come to praise in the fullest sense the words of St. Paul: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband” (I Cor. 7:14).
On the other hand, in a home where a common ideal of life unites husband and wife, and both of them through sanctifying grace are children of God and dwelling places of the Holy Ghost, it becomes easy and pleasant to confide to each other the joys and sadness, hopes and fears, thoughts and plans for household management, for the future of the family, for the education of the children. Everything will be thought out between them, planned, provided for, and carried out in trusting accord. Then whenever necessary, mutual love and the Christian spirit will cause any discord to fade away and will transform it into health and strength to conquer doubts, natural timidity, and those inclinations and habits of isolation or introversion of spirit which easily create and foster discontent.
You will not recoil from the effort necessary to win victory because you will understand its importance. From the same love which gave rise to the desire for the intimate fusion of your souls, you will derive the zeal and the courage to make suitable adjustments of your tastes, your customs, your preferences and your natural bents, refusing to yield to the temptation of selfishness and indolence. Does not God’s providence, which has thus united you, ask all this of the generosity of your heart? Is not this what it asks of that true spirit of life together wherein each one adjusts himself to please his companion? Is not this surely in conformity with the divine purpose of your union wherein you make your interests those of your spouse?
Indifference or unconcern are perhaps the worst of the innumerable forms of selfishness. Nothing will make for better mutual confidence than an interest which is true, simple, sincere and cordial, felt and displayed for everything which is close to the heart of that spouse with whom you share your life. A career, a course of studies, that work, that office, that employment may not be yours, you who are wives, and of itself may mean nothing to you. But if it is the career, if they are the studies, if it is the work, the office, the employment of your husband for which he is so enthusiastic and at which he toils so long, to which he has linked his dreams of the future, his hopes of family and personal advancement, then could it be without importance and concern for you? And you husbands certainly have your serious professional preoccupations; nevertheless, considering the efforts of your wives to make the inside of your homes more comfortable and more tranquil, their ceaseless attempts to be always more pleasing to you in everything, their attentive solicitude for the education of the children, for charitable and social work, can you husbands remain indifferent, forgetful or even rude and grumbling?
But the new family you have just now begun is really the child of your two families which have raised you, educated you and taught you. In a certain way each of you has entered into the other’s family, a family which from now on is no longer a stranger to you. Rather you can call it your own because in that household you found your consort. Do not therefore neglect your relatives, that father, that mother who have given you their dear daughter or son; take part in all that interests them, in their joys and in their sorrows; adjust yourself to understand their ideas, their tastes, their mannerisms; show with genial affection the bond which unites you to them. Let your heart learn to open itself within that family as well and enter into a broad and trusting confidence of spirit and of feelings. What grief it will bring your husband or your wife if you hold yourself aloof and uncaring of those persons and that home which are his or hers!
An open heart has been hailed and extolled as the basis for a close bond of affection between two friends by all the writers who down through the centuries have described and sung the joys of friendship. In marriage, the ideal of the open heart forms the center of that sanctuary of peace and domestic joy which married life should be, where a heart opens itself to you and always gives you the opportunity of opening yours whatever may be the morning, the noon or the evening of your day, where the open heart is the fountain and nourishment of that happiness which, even more than in simple friendship, is enjoyed in Christian marriage lived in a Christian way.
May God, dear newlyweds, grant you. His grace to face with an ever more generous soul the small sacrifices which the full enjoyment of such happiness sometimes requires. This we will ask Him for you while from our hearts we impart our paternal Apostolic Benediction.
18 COLLABORATION BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE
March 18, 1942; Vol. IV p.1
In family life some duties are particularly the husband’s, others devolve upon the wife and mother; but the mother cannot separate herself completely from the work of her husband nor the husband from the worries of his wife. Whatever is done in the family should be in some way the fruit of collaboration, an action in some way common to both husband and wife.
What does cooperation mean? Does it mean perhaps the mere adding of two forces, each operating on its own, as when two locomotives pull an extra heavy train, combining their strength to move it? This is not true collaboration. On the other hand, the engineer and the fireman on either engine (as the engineer and his assistant in the modern electric locomotives) in a true sense cooperate materially and conscientiously to guarantee that it runs well. Each of them does his own work, but not without thinking of his companion, each adjusting his own action to what the other may need or expect of him.
Human cooperation must mean cooperation with the mind, with the will and with action. With the mind, because actually only intelligent creatures can cooperate among themselves and coordinate their free action. Whoever cooperates does not merely add his own energies to suit himself but adapts them to those of others in order to attain a common result. Thus cooperation consists in subordinating organically the particular work of one individual to a common thought, for a common end, so that all may be ordered to it and adapted. The common purpose will establish the same interest in everyone’s mind and will bind these minds in reciprocal affection, moving them to renounce their own independence so that they conform in every necessity which the attainment of that end requires. A common thought, faith and will are the roots of every true collaboration. The more intensely these three are at work and the more strongly they endure in action, the more fruitful and binding will be the collaboration.
From this you understand that cooperation, requiring the mind, will and action, is not always easy to accomplish with perfection. Together with this overall idea of the fusion and collaboration of energies, with this inner conviction of the goal to be attained, with this burning desire to reach it at any cost, cooperation assumes as well a mutual understanding, a sincere esteem, and the resolve to join with others in working for the same end, a broad-minded willingness to recognize and admit the inevitable differences between those working together, not holding them in contempt but profiting from them. Consequently there is required, moreover, self-denial by which one knows how to conquer oneself and give in, instead of foisting one’s own opinion on everyone or reserving always for one’s self the work which is most pleasing and suitable. One must be willing at times even to stay in the background and see the fruit of one’s own efforts lost, so to speak, in anonymity or recognized only faintly in the result of common action.
Yet, however difficult such harmonious and close cooperation may seem, it is indispensable for the good which God has intended in the family. The husband and wife are two as they walk side by side holding hands; they are bound with the link of the ring, a loving knot which even pagans did not hesitate to call the vinculum lugale (marriage bond). What is woman then if not the helpmate of man, she to whom God granted the sacred gift of bringing man into the world? She whose elder sister, “humble and higher yet than a creature, die finite end of eternal wisdom,” gave us the Redeemer of the human race, through whose first miracle she brought joy to the “marriage bond” at the wedding of Cana?
God has ordained that the father and mother cooperate towards the essential and primary purpose of the marriage bond, which is the procreation of children, in a collaboration freely understood and desired, submitting to whatever such a magnificent purpose may impose upon them by way of self-sacrifice. In this, the Creator almost makes the parents partakers of that supreme power with which He formed the first man from the slime of the earth, while reserving to Himself the infusion of aspirant vitae, the breath of immortal life, thereby making Himself the Supreme Collaborator of the parents’ work since He is the Cause of the action and acts in all who act (St. Thomas Aquinas). His joy is therefore yours, dear mothers, when forgetting all travail you exclaim joyfully upon the birth of a child: “A man is born into the world!” (Jn. 16:21.) Thus there is fulfilled in you that benediction which God had already imparted to our first parents in earthly paradise, and which He repeated after the deluge to Noah, the second parent of the human race: “Increase and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28; 8:17).
But in addition to the birth and well-being of the child in physical life, you must cooperate towards his education in spiritual life. In that tender soul the first impressions leave strong traces, and the principal end of marriage is not only to procreate children, but to educate them as well and raise them in the fear of God and in the faith. Thus in the cooperation which must pervade and animate everything in married life you will rediscover and enjoy that happiness which the grace of Divine Providence has prepared and seeded and fructified so well in the Christian family. Yet not even the thought and care of a baby whose birth has crowned and consecrated a couple’s marriage will be enough to make them cooperate automatically and spontaneously for the rest of their lives if the will or cordial effort at collaboration be lacking or lessened. From the will comes the resolve; from the resolve must flow the conviction of the need for collaboration. Is this need clearly understood by one who enters married life intending to maintain and jealously protect his own liberty and to sacrifice nothing of his own independence? Is this not rather courting dire conflicts, a daydream aggravating an impossible and fantastic situation in actual life together? It is best, therefore, to understand and accept together, sincerely and fully, with love and sacrifice and not only with resignation, such a fundamental condition of one’s chosen life. So embrace generously with courage and joy, as far as you can, that which will make for harmonious, courteous collaboration, even if it means giving up tastes, preferences, desires, and personal habits, even if it means the daily monotony of humble, obscure and burdensome work.
The will to cooperate. What does “will” mean? It means to wish and seek this cooperation; to love working together without waiting for it to be offered or sought or imposed; to take the lead, to know how to take the first step if necessary to get things underway; to seek from these first steps the opportunity for a vigorous follow-through and to persist with vigilant and intense care in searching out ways of actually linking your two activities without disheartenment or impatience over concurrence or assistance from the other party which might seem neither sufficient, nor responsive, nor proportionate to your own efforts. One must be always upheld by the resolve that no price can ever be considered too high in order to gain such desirable, indispensable and effective accord in working and striving for the good of the family.
One must be sincerely dedicated to cooperation. That dedication is not learned from books but taught by a heart which loves working together in the management of the household; it is reciprocal love, mutual concern and care for the family nest; it watches in order to learn, learns in order to act, and acts in order to lend a hand to one’s helpmate; in short, that dedication is the slow and mutual education and fashioning of married life which is necessary for two souls teaching each other how to strive for the attainment of a true and intimate collaboration. If before living together under the same roof each of these two souls has lived his own life and was only concerned for himself, if they come from families which, however similar, will never be identical, if each therefore brings to the family home habits of thought, of feeling, of action and of conduct which they can never at the outset fully and harmoniously adjust between themselves, then you can dearly see that in order to coordinate their efforts each must know the other more intimately than was possible during the engagement period. At every opportunity you must probe the virtues and defects, abilities and shortcomings of your partner, not to provoke criticism or argument or to extol yourself by seeing nothing but flaws in your life’s companion, but to be aware of what can be expected of him, of what perhaps may have to be supplied or offset.
Once there has been discovered the pace to which your own is to be regulated, then you must willingly assume the long labor of modifying, moderating and blending thoughts and habits. This is a labor which reciprocal love will perform unnoticed. Those transformations, changes and sacrifices will not be disturbing, nor will they unduly burden either party, but will be shared by both. In a spirit of love and confidence each thinks of the day soon to dawn when the joy of having attained perfect concord of two souls in mind, will and action, will gladden and lighten the well-being and happiness of the family.
All men in this world are pilgrims of God journeying towards Him along the road of the living; but along the hard-beaten path of married life the differences in character between the two who travel together often so changes the journey for one of them as to raise him, through the exercise of virtue, to the heights of sanctity. Whoever reads the life of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi is astounded at the differences in origin, temperament, education, disposition and taste which existed between her and her husband, the porter Dominic; nonetheless, she was marvelously reconciled and adjusted to a soul so greatly different from her own. May this heroic family mother obtain for each one of you, dear newlyweds, an abundance of those heavenly graces to help you attain and perfect in all your families such a dutiful and Christian cooperation in the service of God.
PART IV – True Love and What It Means
19 CHASTITY IN MARRIAGE
Perhaps you will think that the idea of unblemished purity is applied exclusively to virginity, the sublime ideal to which God does not call every Christian but only chosen souls. You know these souls, but even though you admire them you have not considered this to be your vocation. Without straining inwards the summit of total renunciation of earthly joys, you are following the ordinary way of the Commandments and have the rightful desire of surrounding yourselves with a glorious garland of children, the fruit of your union. And yet the marriage state, which God wished for the average man and woman, can and must have its own unblemished purity.
Unblemished in the eyes of God are those who faithfully and resolutely fulfill the obligations of their own state of life. God does not call all His children to the state of perfection, but invites each of them to the perfection of their own state: “You are therefore to be perfect,” Jesus said, “even as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). You know the duties of married chastity. ‘They require real courage, at times heroic courage, and a filial trust in Providence; but the grace of the sacrament was given you precisely to cope with these responsibilities. Therefore, do not let yourselves be led astray by pretexts which have unfortunately become fashionable or by examples which are sadly all too frequent.
Listen rather to the counsel of the Archangel Raphael to the young Tobias, hesitant to take the virtuous Sara as his wife: “Hear me, and I will show thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves and from their mind (over them the devil hath power)” (Tob. 6:16-17). And Tobias, illumined by this angelic exhortation, said to his young bride: “We are children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God” (Tob. 8:5). Never forget that Christian love has far higher purpose than fleeting gratification.
And finally listen to the voice of your conscience which repeats within you the order given by God to the first human couple: “Increase and multiply” (Gen. 1:22). In this way, according to the expression of St. Paul, “Let marriage be held in honor with all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Hebr. 13:4). Ask this special grace of the Blessed Virgin on her forthcoming feast day.
Ask it all the more since Mary was immaculate from the moment of her conception in order to become worthily the Mother of the Savior. For this reason the Church in her liturgy prays in this manner which echoes her teaching: “0 God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin didst prepare a worthy habitation for Thy son” (Prayer, Feast of the Immaculate Conception).
This Immaculate Virgin, who became a mother through another unique and divine privilege, can therefore understand both your desires for interior purity and your aspiration for family joys. The more your union is holy and free from sin, the more God and His Mother most pure will bless you until that day when the Supreme Good will gather forever in heaven those who on this earth loved each other in a Christian manner.
20 THE CANTICLE OF LOVE
October 23, 1940; Vol II, p.283
“God is love,” writes St. John (I Jn. 4:8). Substantial and Infinite Love, He delights eternally in the contemplation of His own infinite perfection, without desire and without being sated; and, since He is the only absolute Being, besides whom nothing exists, if He wishes to call other beings into existence He can do so only by calling them forth from His own perfection. Every creature, a more or less remote derivation of Infinite Love, is therefore the fruit of love and is in being only because of love. Within the nebulous chaos one day, a primal force of attraction—that is, a first symbol of love—grouped around a nucleus the cosmic elements which formed a star; then the attaction of this first one summoned a second; and, since in its turn still another came into being, the marvelous procession of worlds began its course around the firmament. But God’s masterpiece is man, and to this masterpiece of love He has given the power to love which irrational creatures do not possess. Man’s love is personal, that is, it is conscious; it is free, placed under the control of his responsible will; and this power of self determination is as Dante sings:
“Lo maggior don, che Dio per sua larghezza Fesse creando, ed all sua bontade Put conformato, e guel ch’Ei piu apprezza….” “The greatest gift that in largess God Creating made, and unto his own goodness Nearest conformed, and that which he doth prize most highly….” (Paradiso, Canto V, 19-21; Longfellow’s translation)
God, in creating man’s body and soul, had given man all that his human nature required; man’s desires were completely satisfied, but not God’s Will. As a further extension of His love, He gave man a new and superhuman gift: grace; grace which is an inscrutable miracle of God’s love, a marvel whose mystery human understanding cannot probe, and which man has called “supernatural,” humbly confessing that it is beyond his nature.
The fathers, doctors and saints of the Church have written ample treatises concerning this elevation of man to a higher life, but really, the little country boy says it just as well when he recites the sentence from his catechism, “Grace causes man to share in the life of God Himself.” After thousands, or tens of thousands, of years when, among these celestial bodies tirelessly drawn to each other in their measureless orbit of love, man discovers with astonishment the continuous series of creatures scaled above and below him; when scientific inquiry, engineering progress and speculative thought have rendered his intelligence as superior to our modern minds as ours now appears superior to the glimmers of the prehistoric age; then, perhaps, some genius, his soul enamored of God, will know how to translate into human terms something of the prodigality, so far hidden from us, of God’s love for the creatures of His predilection. But when this explorer of the spiritual and physical world, after having reached many sublime heights, stands upon that inaccessible and immaculate peak of grace, he will still find no better words to describe it than those three brief words spoken by the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter, “Divinae consortes naturae” (Grace makes us “partakers of the divine nature”) (II Pet. 1:4).
If even the affectionately moving beauty of purely natural love is such that the Lord compares it to the eagle teaching its young to fly by hovering above them (Dent. 32:11), human love is incomparably more noble because the spiritual part of man participates in it under the promptings of the heart, that delicate witness and interpreter of the union between the body and the soul which harmonizes the physical impressions of the one with the higher feelings of the other. This fascination of human love has been for centuries the theme inspiring admirable works of genius in literature, music, painting, and sculpture, a theme that is always old yet always new, which the ages have embellished with the most sublime and poetic variations without ever exhausting it.
But what new and unspeakable beauty is added to this love of two human hearts when its song harmonizes with the hymn of two souls vibrating with supernatural life! Here too the mutual exchange of gifts is confirmed; and then, with sensitive affection, with wholesome joys, with impulses of natural tenderness, with the happiness of spiritual union, the two beings in love find themselves together in the most intimate things they have, from the unsounded depths of their faith to the unattainable heights of their aspirations.
Such is Christian marriage, modeled, according to the famous expression of St. Paul upon the union of Christ with His Church (Eph. 5:22). In both, the gift of self is total, exclusive and irrevocable. In both, the groom is head of the bride, and she is subject to him as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22-23); in both, the mutual gift of self becomes the principle of growth and the source of life.
The eternal love of God caused the world and humanity to spring into being from nothing; the love of Jesus for His Church propels souls to supernatural life; the love of a Christian husband for his wife participates in these two divine acts because, in accordance with the Will of the Creator, man and wife prepare the dwelling place of the soul in which the Holy Spirit will live with His grace. In this way, through the mission providentially assigned to them, husband and wife are really the collaborators of God and His Christ; their very actions have something of the divine, and here too they may be called “Divinae consortes naturae“—partakers of the divine nature.
Should we wonder that these magnificent privileges should imply grave obligations? The nobility of divine adoption imposes on Christian husbands and wives many renunciations and many acts of courage so that the body may not restrict the soul in its ascent towards truth and virtue, and that its weight may not drag it towards the abyss. But since God never asks the impossible, and with the imposition of a precept He grants also the strength for its fulfillment, marriage, which is a great sacrament, brings, along with the duties that may seem beyond human capacity, assistance that is shown to be supernatural.
We are firmly convinced, dear husbands and wives, that this divine assistance will be given you because you fervently asked for it when, at the foot of the altar, you gave your hearts to each other forever.
21 THE BEAUTY OF CHRISTIAN LOVE
January 29, 1941; Vol. II p.381
On this day dedicated in the sacred liturgy to honor the good and great Bishop of Geneva, St. Francis de Sales, the veneration which the Church offers him extols not only his excellent virtues and ardent pastoral zeal, but pays homage as well to his knowledge and wisdom as a master of Christian life because of which he is suggested to Catholic journalists as their patron and model.
It seems to us, dear newlyweds, that the great doctor looks down today from heaven with his gentle gaze upon you gathered around us, bringing to our mind and lips for you those “Counsels” which he himself gave to married people in his incomparable work entitled Introduction to the Devout Life. In those pages he lives, he speaks, he teaches, he guides; he warns as a father, as a teacher and as your friend, for the woman Philothea, to whom the book was at first addressed, was the mother of a family, Madame de Charmoisy. Yet even in subsequent revisions the scope remains the same: to instruct persons who live in the world in order to make them love and share that dear devotion which is nothing other than the fullness of Christian law and life. This book of the gentle Bishop of Geneva, regarded by the saint’s contemporaries as the most perfect of its kind, was held in such esteem by our great predecessor, Pius XI, that he wrote that it should even today be in the hands of everyone.
Therefore we exhort you, dear husbands and wives, to read and reread these pages which are as delightful as they are sound. They should be one of your favorite readings, as they were for that colonel, the excellent father of a family, who, sent to the East during the World War, carried that little volume in his officer’s briefcase as a comforting companion in the difficult assignments and the dangers which awaited him.
But of the teachings of this great bishop we limit ourselves now to calling to mind for you his special counsels for married people and particularly the first which is the most important of all: “I exhort husbands and wives above all else,” says the saint, “to that mutual love which the Holy Ghost so strongly recommends to them in Holy Scripture.” What is this love which the devout master of Christian life teaches you? Is it perhaps simply an instinctive natural love, he writes, like that of a pair of turtledoves, or merely human love such as even the pagans knew and practiced? No, this is not the love which the Holy Spirit recommended to husbands and wives, but rather a love which, without renouncing the love which follows nature’s course, rises higher to become “all holy, all sacred, all divine” in its origin, in its end, in its advantages, in its form and in its substance. It is similar to the love which unites Christ to His Church.
A mutual affection born only of attraction to each other or even of mere pleasure for human gifts which you discover with so much satisfaction in each other is never enough, however beautiful and deep it may appear and resound in the intimacy of the devoted converse of newlyweds. Nor would it suffice for that union of your souls which the loving providence of God intended and desired in bringing you to each other. Only supernatural charity, the link of friendship between God and man, can tie a bond impervious to all shocks, all vicissitudes, and all of the inevitable trials of a long life together. Only divine grace can make you rise above all the little daily annoyances, all the differences in tastes and ideas which spring up like weeds from the roots of poor human nature. And is not this charity and grace the strength and virtue which you have sought in the great sacrament you have received? It is this divine charity—which is greater than hope and faith—that the world, society and the family truly needs!
Perhaps you may say, “Is not this holy, sacred and divine love something beyond our reach? Will a love so far above nature,” you may even ask, “still remain that truly human love which has thrilled our hearts, which our hearts seek, in which they find repose, the love which they need and are so happy to have found?” Be reassured. God does not destroy or change nature with His love but perfects it; and St. Francis de Sales, who knew the human heart so well, concluded his beautiful page on the sacred character of married love with this twofold counsel: “Husbands, nurture a tender, constant and heartfelt love towards your wives…and you, wives, love the husbands God has given you tenderly and with all your heart but with esteem and respect as well.”
Heartfelt and tender love, therefore, on both sides. “Love and fidelity,” he observed, “always generate intimacy and trust. For this reason the saints, both men and women, habitually made many demonstrations of affection in their marriages, demonstrations truly loving but chaste, tender but sincere.” And he cited the example of the great king, St. Louis, who was rigorous towards himself but tender in his love for his wife, who knew well how to bend his courageous and martial spirit “to those details required for the preservation of married love,” to those “little demonstrations of pure and genuine affection” which draw hearts so closely together and make married life so sweet. True Christian charity, devoted, humble and patient, which conquers and dominates nature, which ignores itself; and is at every moment solicitous for the good and happiness of others, will know best how to suggest and direct those little watchful attentions, those delicate displays of affection. It will keep them at the same time spontaneous, sincere and discreet so that they never become boresome but are always welcomed with pleasure and gratitude. Grace, which is the soul and source of this charity, will be your best guide and teacher in ascertaining almost by instinct the suitable occasion for such human and divine affection.
But the saint’s thought probed still more deeply into the secrets of the human heart. Speaking to husbands, he added constancy to tenderness and heartfelt love; speaking to the wives, he added respect and deference. Perhaps this was because he most feared inconstancy in the former and lack of submission in the latter. Or did he perhaps intend to draw to our attention the fact that in the husband the strength of the family head must be combined with tenderness towards the woman who is weaker and leans upon him? This is why he advises husbands to display complete consideration, “gentle and loving compassion,” towards their wives; and he reminds the wives that their love must be clothed with respect for him whom God has given them for their head.
Nonetheless, you can well understand that while love and tenderness must be mutual between husband and wife and must adorn them both, they are nevertheless two flowers of differing beauty, springing from such different roots as man and woman. In the man the root must be a fidelity, complete and inviolable, which does not permit the slightest blemish he would not tolerate in his own spouse, and which, befitting the head of the family, provides an open example of moral dignity and genuine courage in never swerving or retreating from the full performance of his duties. In the woman the root is a wise, prudent and watchful reserve which removes and cleanses the least shadow of anything that could obscure the splendor of a spotless reputation or endanger it in any way whatsoever.
From these two roots there grows as well that mutual trust which is the olive tree of perpetual peace in married life and in the flowering of its love, for is it not true that without trust love lessens, grows cold, freezes, dies out, or else it turns human hearts into ferment, explodes, shatters, tears and destroys them? “For this reason,” observed the holy bishop, “while I exhort you always to increase that reciprocal love which you owe to each other, be very careful that it does not turn into any kind of jealousy because it frequently occurs that, as the worm grows within the most exquisite and mature apple, so jealousy takes hold in the most devoted and ardent love, spoiling and corrupting its substance, leading gradually to disputes, discords and divorces.”
No. Jealousy, the smoke and weakness of the heart, does not occur where there burns a love which ripens and preserves the wholesome taste of true virtue. For “the perfection of love presupposes that one is certain of what one loves, while jealousy presupposes uncertainty.” Is this not the reason why jealousy, far from being a sign of the depth and true strength of love, reveals instead its base and imperfect aspects, descending to suspicions which wound innocence and cause it to shed tears of blood? Is not jealousy most often egoism in disguise, which debases love, and which is stripped of that true giving which is forgetfulness of self? It is stripped of that faith devoid of malice, but trusting and well-meaning, which St. Paul praised in Christian charity (I Cor. 13:4-7) and which even on this earth is the deepest and most inexhaustible source, as well as the surest teacher and guardian, of perfect married love, as the holy Bishop of Geneva so well described.
Dear newlyweds, we ask him to intercede with God, the Author of all graces and Principle of all true love, so that this union of your hearts, which is at the same time tender and supernatural, divine in its origin, yet intensely and warmly human in its higher manifestations, may be happy and tranquil and perpetually protected for you both; that it grow ever stronger as you advance in life; that you will know each other more intimately, that your mutual love will strengthen and solidify as it embraces your children who will be its crowning glory, the support of your toil, and a benediction of God.
22 PAGAN LOVE AND CHRISTIAN LOVE
July 30, 1941; Vol. III, p.161
While strolling through Rome, dear newlyweds, you must have been struck by the way in which, in this unique city in the world, the relics of its pagan past and the realities of its Christian past and present are mingled, combined and superimposed. More especially, in contrast to your mutual love as Christian spouses and your Christian families yet unborn, the ruins of the magnificent palaces and ancient temples must have called to mind the morals of Imperial Rome. Despite the splendor of its arts and literature, when the ancient integrity and austerity of life decayed, corruption spread to such an extent that the poet Horace was driven to exclaim:
“Our times, in sin prolific, first The marriage-bed with taint have cursed, And family and home; This is the fountain-head of all The sorrows and the ills that fall On Romans and on Rome. The ripening virgin joys to learn In the Ionic dance to turn And bend with plastic limb; Still but a child, with evil gleams, Incestuous loves, unhallowed dreams, Before her fancy swim.” (Horace, Songs 3, 6)
Shocked by such thoughts, your minds surely preferred to turn to the memories of those ancient Roman families, strong and austere, who forged the power and grandeur of the city which was mistress of the world. You pictured them as they live in the narrations of Livy, those rough fathers of families with absolute and undisputed authority, faithful custodians of the traditions of their tribes, totally dedicated to public service; and at their sides, nobly submissive, those irreproachable matrons, dedicated to the care of their homes, who, like Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, displayed their children as their most beautiful ornaments, their most precious jewels.
There could still be found, even in the Imperial Era, examples of families in which husbands and wives lived in happy accord and mutual preference of each other to self, families in which the virtues of a good wife deserved the greater praise just as the bad incurred heavier censure (Facials). Women who, even in those times of terror, were tried and put to death merely for having wept over the death of their children were nonetheless models of courage and sacrifice for their husbands. There were mothers who accompanied their fleeing sons, wives who followed their husbands into exile, chaste wives, such as Ostoria, whose elegy, “A woman of incomparable chastity,” is carved in a sarcophagus recently unearthed deep in the Vatican Grottos.
And yet, when you turn your eyes from these pagan families to those families whom you all know—greatly, magnificently Christian families—you feel instinctively that in the former something is lacking. It is something even stronger than the ancient strength of the Quirites; it is a more interior strength and at the same time warmer, more penetrating, better, and more profoundly human.
Is not this shortcoming the incurable ill of the pagan or semi-pagan societies? They failed to remain active and strong while preserving at the same time a truly human heart capable of true and pure affection and compassion. Look at those ancient Roman families whose austere qualities we have just now recalled. The day they came in contact with the delicacy and refinements of Greek or Oriental civilization and were seized by the lust for pearls and other precious stones and gold, they relaxed their discipline and in great numbers ran headlong towards that corruption of which the Apostle to the Gentiles was the indignant witness. The disappearance of rigid standards was not followed by a true love. “Without love, without mercy” (Rom. 1:24), as St. Paul characterized the pagan world of his time. Rather it was followed by the unleashing of the lowest passions which the great emperor Augustus, truly worried for the public good, sought in vain to hold in check through his laws—among which remain the Julian Laws—in order to restore to the family the strength and cohesion which only faith in Jesus Christ could bring back.
True affection without harshness and without weakness, true affection inspired and elevated by Christ, is what we can glimpse in those first families of converted Romans such as the Flavians and the Acilians at the time of the Domitian persecution; and we can admire its brilliant splendor around a St. Paula or a St. Melania.
But why go back to such distant centuries? There was seen in times closer to our own, in these very streets of Rome, another wife whose life is, or should be, well known to every mother of a family: Blessed Anna Maria Taigi. We do not intend to describe here her visions and the abundance of extraordinary gifts which God showered upon her. Look at her only as the wife of Dominic, the honest but rough and grouchy porter of Casa Chigi. She was always good and smiling. She would wait until the late hours of the night for her husband’s return, and when he arrived tired, impatient, angry at everything, she took care of him humbly and tenderly, putting up with everything, accepting everything with angelic sweetness. And yet she was firm in maintaining order among the numerous persons of her household and in curbing her husband’s habit of bad language. An energetic, provident housekeeper, she found a way even in her poverty to support, besides her own children, her mother and later on the families of her daughter and her daughter-in-law; and she was always able to be to all of them, even strange, difficult and rude characters, a loving daughter, a devoted wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother.
The secret of such a life? Always the same, the secret of all holy lives: Christ living and radiating, with His grace sovereign in a soul which docilely follows His inspirations and promptings. Our Lord alone has been able to implant in poor human hearts wounded and led astray by original sin, a love which remains pure and strong without stiffening or hardening, a love sufficiently spiritual to unshackle itself from the brute instincts of the senses and to master them, while at the same time preserving intact its warmth and delicate tenderness. He alone, by example and the interior acts of His Heart inflamed with love, has been able to fulfill the promise made long ago to Israel: “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezech. 36:26). He alone knows how to arouse and sustain in souls a true affection, tender and at the same time strong, because He alone by His grace can free them from that innate egoism which more or less unconsciously poisons purely human love.
And this is why, dear sons and daughters, we ceaselessly exhort you and all who come to ask our paternal benediction for their new families: always give first place in your homes to Christ, the Savior, the King, the Lord of your families, the Light which brightens them, the flame which warms and gladdens them, the omnipotent Custodian who will keep them in peace. This love which joins you and upon which God has wished to place the seal of His sacrament will last as long as it remains Christian, and, far from weakening or dissolving, it will become deeper and stronger as hand in hand you move together through life. Defend it against everything that might tend to paganize it. How many baptized souls, alas, know how to love each other only in a pagan way! Losing sight of the true purpose of their union which their faith had taught them, they exempt themselves from the severe but helpful and beneficial duties of Christian law and in this manner reach the point where they gradually change that marriage which Christ’s blessing had made so great and beautiful into a kind of vulgar partnership of pleasure and self-interest, slaying every vestige of true love within themselves.
It will not be this way with you, dear newlyweds. Your love will live and endure. It will fashion your happiness even in the midst of life’s inevitable difficulties because it will remain Christian and because you will never cease to preserve its interior strength by drawing on its true source in a profound spirit of faith, in a constant observance of the religious practices which the Church commands and counsels, and in an inviolable adherence to all the duties of your state.
PART V – Marriage Is Forever
23 THE MEANING OF UNITY
April 22, 1942, Vol. IV; p.43
Dear newlyweds, it will not be difficult for you to raise your minds to the high concept of the wedded life you have just begun if you thoughtfully re-read in your prayer book the moving ceremonies of marriage, where the sacred liturgy concerns itself entirely with the bond which from that moment conjoins the husband and the wife.
How many sweet thoughts and desires accompanied you to the holy altar! How many hopes and happy visions brightened your steps! But that bond is one and indissoluble. “Ego coniungo vos—I join you in the name of God,” said the priest, as authorized witness of the union which you have founded; and that bond, contracted by you through the consecration and power of a sacrament, has been placed under the protection and custody of the Church who inscribes your name in the great book of Christian marriages. And at the conclusion of the nuptial rites she turned to God with the invocation: “That this union made here, joined by Thy authority, may be preserved by Thy help.”
The marriage bond is one. Look at the earthly paradise, the first image of family paradise, where the first bond was fixed by the Creator between man and woman, the bond of which the Son of God Incarnate would one day say: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder; because they are no longer two but in the one flesh” (Mr. 19:6). In this union of our first parents in the garden of delights there is represented the entire human race, all the future course of generations who will fill the earth and struggle to conquer it, and with the sweat of their brow will master it and make it give them bread bathed in the bitterness of the first sin born of the forbidden fruit of Eden. Why did God bring man and woman together in paradise? Not alone so that they might watch over the garden of happiness, but also because—we will speak with the words of the great doctor of Aquinas—through marriage they were ordained for the purpose of generating and educating offspring as well as for a common family life.
In the unity of the marriage bond you see stamped the seal of indissolubility. Yes, it is a bond to which nature tends, but which is not necessarily caused by the principles of nature, since it is established through the exercise of free will. And yet, although the mere will of the contracting parties may tie the bond, the will cannot untie it. This is true not alone for Christian marriages but in general for every valid marriage that has been concluded on earth with the mutual consent of the parties. The “I do,” bursting forth from your lips at the bidding of your will, ties the marriage bond around you and links your wills together forever. Its effect is irrevocable. The sound, the audible expression of your consent, passes, but the consent itself is formally fixed; it does not pass. It is perpetual because it is the consent to the perpetuity of the bond, whereas a consent to live together as husband and wife for a certain time only would not constitute a valid marriage. The union ,of your consent is indivisible; and so there is no true marriage without inseparability, and there is no inseparability without true marriage.
Lift up your thoughts, dear newlyweds, and remember that marriage is not only an act of nature, but for Christian souls it is a great sacrament, a great sign of grace and of the sacred espousal of Christ with His Church, which He made His own, conquered by His Blood in order to regenerate to a new life of the spirit the children of men who believe in His Name, and who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God On. 1:12-13). The seal and the light of the sacrament transform the act of nature and give marriage a sublime honesty and nobility, including not only indissolubility but also every quality inherent in the sacrament.
But if the will of the spouses, joined by contract as they are, can no longer untie the marriage bond, can this be done by any authority higher than the husband and wife, any authority established by Christ to act in matters pertaining to the religious life of men? The bond of Christian marriage is so strong that, if it has reached its full maturity by the use of the conjugal right, no power on earth, not even ours, that of the Vicar of Christ, can rescind it. It is true enough that we can recognize and declare that a marriage contracted as valid was in reality invalid, by reason of some nullifying impediment, or essential flaw in consent, or defect in substantial form. We can also in certain cases and for grave cause dissolve marriages not having a sacramental character. Finally we are able, if there is a just and sufficient reason, to annul the bond of Christian husbands and wives, the “I do” pronounced by them at the altar, when it is established that the marriage has not been consummated. But once this has taken place, that bond remains protected from any human interference. For did not Christ restore marriage to that fundamental dignity which the Creator had given it at the dawn of the human race in paradise, to that inviolable dignity by which it is one and indissoluble?
Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of fallen humanity, did not come to take away, but to fulfill and restore, the divine law. He came as a Law-giver greater than Moses, as a Sage wiser than Solomon, as a Prophet above the prophets, to fulfill what had been predicted of Him, foretold like Moses, raised up from amongst the people of Israel, and upon whose Lips the Lord would place His Words, and those who did not listen would be cast out from God’s people. Therefore Christ, with His unchangeable Word, elevated man in marriage and restored the status of woman, who in centuries past had been debased to the level of slavery and whom the most austere censor of Rome had likened to “an unbridled nature in an untamed animal” (Livy). The Redeemer Himself had raised up in Himself, not man alone, but woman as well, taking His human Nature from a woman and holding up His own Mother, blessed among all women, as an immaculate mirror of virtue and grace for every Christian family across the centuries, crowned in heaven as Queen of the Angels and of the Saints.
By their presence, Jesus and Mary sanctified the marriage at Cana. There the Divine Son of the Virgin performed His first miracle, as if to demonstrate at the outset that He was beginning His mission in the world and in the Kingdom of God by the sanctification of the family and of marriage, the origin of life. There began the elevation of marriage, which was to rise in the supernatural world of outward signs which produce sanctifying grace, to the rank of a symbol of Christ’s union with the Church, an indissoluble and inseparable union nourished by that absolute and endless love which surges from the Heart of Christ. How could married love be or claim to be the symbol of such a union if it were deliberately limited, conditioned, dissoluble, if it were a flame of love only for a time? No, since it is raised to the holy and sacred dignity of a sacrament, imprinted and bound in such an intimate connection with the love of the Redeemer and the work of the Redemption, it can only be indissoluble and perpetual.
In the face of such a law of indissolubility, human passion in every age, chained and repressed in the free satisfaction of its inordinate appetites, has sought in every way to throw off its yoke. Passion sees in this law only a hard tyranny, arbitrarily weighing down conscience with an unsupportable burden, with a slavery repugnant to the sacred rights of the human person. It is true; a bond can at times constitute a burden, a slavery, like the chains which bind the prisoner. But it can also be a powerful aid and a sure guarantee, like the rope which binds the alpine climber to his companion during the ascent, or the ligaments which unite the parts of the human body, making its movements free and easy. This is clearly the case with the indissoluble bond of marriage.
This law of indissolubility will be understood as a manifestation of watchful motherly love, especially if viewed in that supernatural light in which Christ has placed it. In the midst of the difficulties, aggravations and lusts which life may strew in your path, your two souls, so inseparably joined, will not find themselves alone or disarmed; the all-powerful grace of God, the very fruit of the sacrament, will be constantly with you to support every faltering step, to sweeten every sacrifice, to comfort and console you during periods of the most difficult trials. If, to obey the divine law, it becomes necessary to cast aside the allurements of earthly joys glimpsed in moments of temptation, to forego the “remaking of your life,” the grace will still be there to remind you fully and forcefully of the teachings of faith that the only true life, which must never be imperiled, is in heaven, which is precisely what these sacrifices assure us, however punitive they may be. Like everything else in this life, these sacrifices are of a passing nature, destined simply to prepare you for the permanent state of the future life. It will be the more happy and radiant, as the inevitable afflictions in the journey here below have been accepted with greater courage and generosity.
“That is true,” you may be tempted to say, when everything Is smiling upon the path opening before you, “but does not our love for each other, of which we are so sure, guarantee the indestructible union of our hearts?”
Dear sons and daughters! Remember the admonition of the psalmist: “Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep vigil” (Ps. 126:1). Even this city of your present happiness, so beautiful and strong, can be kept intact only by God alone, with His law and His grace. All of it is merely human, and too fragile and precarious to depend upon itself, but fidelity to the divine Commandments will assure the inviolable constancy of your love and happiness through the vicissitudes of life.
24 WHY FOREVER?
April 22, 1942; Vol. IV, p.51
Dear newlyweds, when you gather here in the house of the common father, from whatever region you may come, you are never strangers to our heart which, like the immensity of divine goodness, knows no distinction of countenance or costume, of high lineage or humble birth, of race or of nation. We see you resplendent with the dignity of husbands and wives who have not only been signed by the mystical chrism which makes you and all the faithful, as St. Peter says, a holy people and a kingly your marriage, by your free and mutual consent, to the role of priesthood but who have been raised as well by the holy act of ministers of the sacrament of Matrimony. Marriage, since it represents the most perfect union of Christ with the Church, can only be indissoluble and perpetual.
But what is there in nature which speaks of this perpetuity? Since the action of grace does not change nature, but rather perfects it in every way, would grace perhaps find nature a hostile enemy standing in its path? No. The work of God is a marvel of delight; it is never out of tune with nature whose Author He is. This perpetuity and indissolubility demanded by the Will of Christ and the mystical significance of Christian marriage, is required by nature as well. Grace fulfills the longings of nature and gives it the strength to become what its higher faculties inspire it to be.
Ask your own hearts, dear newlyweds. They are inscrutable to others but not to you. If you call to mind the moment in which your own affection felt another’s love responding to it completely, does it not indeed seem that from that instant, until you pronounced together “I do” at the altar, you merely inched along from one hour to the other, with anxious hope and trembling expectancy at each step? Now your hope is no longer “a green bud” but is a rose in bloom, and your expectancy looks forward to other joys. Has your dream vanished? No, it has become a reality. What transformed it into the reality of union at the altar? It was love, which has not disappeared but which has remained and become stronger, more solid and firm and has caused you to exclaim: this love must remain always as it is now, intact, inviolate, forever!
If married love has its dawns and daybreaks, it need not know sunsets or seasons, cloudy days or sad ones, for love wishes to stay always young and steady in the wind’s gusts. And thus without realizing it you ascribe to your nuptial love, with holy jealousy, that characteristic which the Apostle Paul ascribed to charity when he exalted it by saying, “Charity never fails” (1 Cot 13:8). Pure and true married love is a limpid stream which by an act of nature gushes forth from the indestructible rock of fidelity, flows tranquilly among the flowers and brambles of life, until it disappears in the cavern of the tomb. The indissolubility of marriage is therefore the fulfillment of a pure and incorruptible impulse of the heart, of the “naturally Christian soul,” and it is dissolved only by death. In the next life there will be no marriages, but all men will live in heaven as angels of God. “For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married, but shall be as the angels of God in heaven” (Mt. 22:30). Yet, although married love in this particular aspect ends with the cessation of the purpose for which it was ordained on earth, nevertheless, insofar as it has operated in the souls of the husband and wife and has brought each of them more closely together in that greater bond of love which united their hearts with God and with each other, this love will continue to exist in the next life, precisely as the souls themselves, in which love dwelt here below, will continue to exist.
But the indissolubility of marriage is intended by nature for yet another reason because it is through this means that it must protect the dignity of the human person. Married life is a divine institution, rooted in human nature, consisting of the union of two beings formed in the image and likeness of God, who has called them to carry on His work of preserving and propagating the human race. This life together is extremely delicate and intimate. It makes the spouses happy. It ennobles and sanctifies their souls when it rises above purely physical considerations on the wings of mutual spiritual dedication and selflessness through a lively and deep-seated desire to belong totally to each other and to remain faithful to each other, in every event and circumstance of life, in good days and sorrowful, in sickness and in health, in youth and in old age, without limitations or conditions, until it pleases God to call them to eternity. This consciousness and these resolves exalt human dignity, marriage, and nature itself which finds itself and its laws respected; moreover, they exalt the Church since in this matrimonial union it perceives the glowing dawn of the first family instituted by the Creator and the high noon of its divine restoration in Christ. When this does not occur, marriage runs the danger of slipping into the mire of selfish desire which seeks nothing but its own satisfaction, ignoring the personal dignity and honor of one’s consort.
Take one look at modern society in those countries where divorce is prevalent and ask yourselves: does the world clearly understand and perceive the many instances wherein the dignity of woman has been outraged and offended, trampled on and corrupted and almost buried by shame and neglect? How many hidden tears have fallen on some thresholds and rooms, what groaning and pleading, how many desperate vows and cries have resounded in certain meetings in alleys and byways, on corners and in deserted passages? No, the personal dignity of the husband and wife, but above all that of the wife, has no greater defense or protection than the indissolubility of marriage.
It is a dismal error to believe that one can maintain, protect and improve the culture of women and raise their status without providing the unity and indissolubility of marriage as a basis. The Church, carrying out the mission received from her Divine Founder with massive and fearless deployment of holy and indomitable energy, has always affirmed and disseminated throughout the world the indissolubility of marriage. Praise and glorify her for having in this way so nobly contributed to the protection of the rights of the spirit against the impulses of the flesh in married life, and for preserving not only dignity of marriage, but the dignity of women and of the human person as well.
When the will is not firmly committed to the eternal and inviolable protection of the marriage bond, there begins to weaken and fail in the father, in the mother and in the children that sense of a sure and tranquil future, that steady feeling of unconditional trust, that tie of close and unchangeable interior and exterior unity (no matter what happens), on which the great and essential basis of family happiness is founded and fostered..
Perhaps you will ask why we extend such consequences to the children. Because they receive from their parents three things of supreme importance: being, sustenance and education, and because they need an atmosphere of happiness for their proper development. A serene childhood, harmonious formation and instruction are not conceivable without the unquestioned fidelity of the parents. Is it not true that the children nourish the bond of conjugal love? The rupture of this bond, therefore, becomes a cruelty towards them and a repudiation of their own blood, humiliation of their own name, shame upon themselves, a division of their hearts, and separaion from their brothers and sisters and family roof. It embitters heir youthful happiness and, what is most grave for the spirit, reates moral scandal. How many wounds in millions of young souls! How many cases of sad and pitiful ruin! How much implacable remorse imbedded in their consciences! Men who are spiritually sound, morally pure, happy and contented, of wholesome character and habits, in whom the Church and civil society place their hopes, do not come for the most part from homes torn by discord and shifting affections, but from families where the fear of God and inviolate marital fidelity reign supreme.
Whoever seeks the reasons for the moral upheaval and the poison which is corrupting a large segment of the human family today, will soon recognize that one of the most evil and culpable sources is the legislation and practice of divorce. The creations and laws of God always have a beneficial and powerful effect. When, however, human selfishness or malice interpose, causing disorder and turmoil, then the wholesome benefit disappears and there follows an incalculable amount of damage, almost as if indignant nature herself were revolting against man’s efforts. And who could ever doubt or deny that the indissolubility of marriage is a creation and law of God, a most solid bulwark for the family, for the grandeur of the nation, and for the defense of the homeland which will always find the shield and the arm of its fortune in the hearts of her gallant youth?
You, dear newlyweds, should thank the Lord for a fearless family in which you have had the privilege of growing to full maturity as Christians and Catholics surrounded by love of parents who fear God. In a period unfortunately characterized by such a wide deviation from the laws of God, deem it an honor and glory to develop, implement and profess during your entire life together the great ideal of marriage as it was established by Christ. In your daily prayer together lift up your hearts to God, so that He who has so graciously blessed the beginning of your married life may deign by the powerful aid of His grace to bring you to a happy ending.
25 ESTRANGEMENT OF HEARTS
June 17, 1942; Vol. IV, p.117
Although the sadness of the present hour is great, it does not sink so deeply into the depths of our hearts burning with faith and love as to suffocate them or extinguish in them the flame of Christian love which, dear newlyweds, has united your lives in joy—the same joy which has led you to Rome, the heart of the Church, in order to ask the paternal benediction of the Vicar of Christ upon your union as a seal of your sacred and indissoluble bond.
This is a holy joy which knows no limitations or reservations. And yet we are convinced in our mind that you did not cross the threshold of your parents’ home to set out side by side on your journey, inseparable unto death, without feeling deep emotion.
Surely at the moment of parting a tear glistened in your eye as you received the farewell kiss of your father and mother. In that kiss trembled all of the sweetest memories of your childhood and youth, and your heart surely felt the wound of the parting. And who could possibly blame you?
What husband or wife could feel jealous about this? Your love for each other, which is strong enough to sacrifice without hesitation the comforts of family life for your new life together, is not expected to deny or break every bond which nature weaves between parents and children.
Although God commands you to leave your father’s house, He has also laid down another command—to love and honor your parents—which does not contradict the first. In His sublime and wise design for the human race, that same God who enjoins upon children the duty of love and attachment towards those who gave them life, enjoins them as well to leave father and mother in order to cleave to their spouses, and in the same way He orders the wife to follow the husband through all of the vicissitudes of life. These two loves which God willed are so far from being opposed to each other that filial affection is one of the surest guarantees of married happiness and peace.
How much trust could you actually repose in the mutual union and faithfulness of those unfortunate people who neither see nor seek in Matrimony anything other than a means for shaking off and freeing themselves from the responsibilities of that sweet bond and gentle yoke of family life at home? Such a frame of mind, and there are many examples of it, brings shame and dishonor upon a young man or a young woman. It is a sad omen as well, for if they have not conducted themselves as respectful and affectionate children, they will not be any more faithful or virtuous as husbands and wives. They have been drawn towards each other not by any love stronger than family love, but by egoism of a low and evil character which does not yearn for true marriage but wishes to “live their own lives” side by side, sealing a silent pact—at times even an open one—of a conjugal love which is an unloving lie, a mutual independence under the guise of apparent union, a sterile and revocable thing. Are these the kind of marriages that can be consecrated by genuine Christian feeling and God’s blessing?
But you, dear newlyweds, are fortunate in following the divine law. You have understood its holiness and tasted its sweetness, and through the sacrament you have not hesitated before God and man to seal a pact of reciprocal giving of each other for life. It is a pact of devoted love to the point of sacrifice, to the point of forgetting yourself It is a pact of fruitful love which hopes to flower and bloom in a large and blessed family. Under God’s law, which proclaims the indissolubility of marriage, you have begun the way to your new life. Under that law you have sworn to continue on that way because you have accepted it not as a hard yoke but as a yoke of love, not as a restraint of your will but as a heavenly sanction of your mutual and unchangeable love, not as the imposition of spiritual servitude but as a divine guarantee and source of unshakeable faith against any danger that may undermine or threaten the solid rock of your union.
You are right to nourish this faith in yourselves, but it must be joined by humility and prudence under God’s protection.
The history of the family gives examples of young couples who, although they began their married lives with good intentions and the right frame of mind such as yourselves, with the passage of time permitted this intimate and tender union to be invaded by the corrupting worm which little by little devoured and took away the strength and freshness of their unity.
In like manner, those husbands and wives gradually came to conceive of the bond of matrimony as a servitude. They planned and finally sought, if not to break it, then at least to weaken it since for them it was no longer a bond of love. Should so many sad examples discourage you or perturb your happiness? No. The knowledge which you have of yourselves, the experience which you will acquire concerning the inconstancy and volatility of the poor human heart, will not lessen your confidence but will render it more discerning, more watchful, more humble, more prudent, less illusory, presumptuous, or false. It will open your hearts to receive with filial respect the paternal advice through which we wish to spare you from such marital distress by pointing out and clarifying for you the roots and causes of such a deplorable degeneration of married life, as well as the means of warding it off, safeguarding against it, or, if need be, stopping it in time.
Dear newlyweds, from what source does this change for the worse, this evolution, arise? Does it begin perhaps suddenly, as a caprice, or from the unexpected discovery of an incompatibility of character, from some tragic incident? Ordinarily, hearts which on their wedding day were so firmly and lovingly resolved to live together do not in this way undertake the journey towards that estrangement, that cold indifference which step by step leads from bad to worse, towards that antipathy, that moral alienation and separation which all too frequently is the prelude to an even more serious actual cleavage. Those caprices, those discoveries, those tragic incidents, which seem to have marked the beginning of this change, were actually nothing more than the occasion which disclosed and precipitated the break. Beneath the deceptive ashes smoldered the burning coals.
Fathom and sound the depths of those hearts. The conscious alienation, more or less apparent to outsiders or else veiled in the secrecy of the home, for the sake of jealously keeping up appearances, is almost always preceded by discord perhaps imperceptible at first to the spouses themselves, like the hidden crack in a beautiful alabaster vase. If their love had been total, if it had been absolute, if it had been that love which consists in the giving of one’s self, if it had known no other limits than the love of God, or better still, if that human love had been raised above the senses to rest on and be fused in a complete and common love of God, then truly no extraneous upheaval would have disturbed its harmony, no shock would have broken it, no clouds would have darkened its sky. Even in love we do not always escape grief. St. Augustine, with his usual vigorous language, says: “Where love reigns, suffering is absent or the suffering itself is loved.”
Who, therefore, has inflicted the invisible and often fatal wound upon that love, that holy union of souls? It is not necessary to search far. Search near by; search the hearts themselves. There is the enemy. There is the guilty one. Varied and subtle in its manifestations and appearances, it is pride, love of self, which is born with man, lives with him almost to his last breath.
But, you will say, must we therefore hate ourselves? Are we not prone by nature itself to love and seek our own good? Yes. Nature disposes man to love himself, but to seek that good which is reasonable and proper for him. Now reason teaches man and woman to seek not only their own individual good, but the good of the family, which in the marriage extends higher—to the good of the children. There is, dear newlyweds, a good and a bad low of self. Bad love of self is that pride which is a polite synonym for egoism but is no less pernicious. Man and woman are made by God. God made their nature but not its corruption. The corruption of nature came from the sin of Adam and Eve. We must love ourselves according to the nature made by God, not according to the corruption caused by our first parents, and we must love our souls and our bodies with that love of charity with which we love the things of God and God Himself, a love which expands and binds us to our spouse and to our neighbor. What is this love? It is the love that saves our souls, that saves the union of hearts in marriage and in the family. It is a love which becomes a hatred of corruption in the soul here on earth in order to protect it for eternal life according to the Word of Christ: “He who hates his life in this world, keeps it unto life everlasting” (Jn. 12:25).
In opposition to this holy and salutary love stands another love, a perverse love, and with such a love “he who loves his life, loses it” (Jn. 12:25). What love is this? It is the love of corruption. It is egoism, it is the love of self which is the source of all evil. It is because of this that the angelic St. Thomas says that “love of self is the root of all evil.” We cite this, dear newlyweds, as the greatest enemy of your union, as the poison of your sacred love. Two egoists despise self-sacrifice; they can never establish that firm friendship between two spouses in which their wills are united, in which everything is shared, joy and sorrow, pain and comfort, need and assistance. Pride disrupts life together. The egoism of the husband is not always equal to the egoism of the wife, but at times they are equally at fault.
Love of self is the great seducer of all human passions. The center of all our thoughts, desires and impulses, it frequently manages to set itself up almost as an idol which receives in homage a cult of beauty which pleases the eye, of harmony which soothes the ear, of sweets which delight the palate, of perfume which refreshes the nostrils, of softness which caresses the touch, and of praise and admiration which ensnare the heart.
Unruly love of self directs its thought, action and life to its own pleasure, advantage and convenience and follows improper appetites rather than reason or the impulse of grace, ignoring the command of duty to God and to its partner in marriage. But in married life, the indissoluble bond of matrimony requires that self-love be sacrificed to duty, to love of God which has elevated and consecrated the fusion of your hearts, and to love of children for whom you have received the benediction of the priest and of heaven. Dear wives, do not flee from that pain which, though it creases your brow for a moment, nevertheless leads you to the joy of the cradle where a baby’s cry quickens your heart, where a child’s lips seek your breast, where a tiny hand caresses you and an angelic smile is ecstasy.
Dear newlyweds, reconsecrate your love beside the cradle, sacrifice your self-love with all its dreams. Let your parental joy disperse its every cloud as the mists dissolve and vanish before the rising sun.
Your victory over pride, dear sons and daughters, is to be found in sacrifice which accompanies your daily life together, a sacrifice composed of joy and sorrow for which prayer and God’s grace will be your comfort and support.
26 DANGERS TO UNITY
July 8, 1942; Vol. IV, p.131
Dear newlyweds, today we propose to point out to you more in detail the evil aspects of self-love which, by its petty demands, tyrannies, and cruelties, is so directly contrary to those sublime virtues of generous good will, kindness and humility which Jesus so ardently offers for you to learn and imitate.
Petty demands of egoism. Self-love seems asleep when the thoughtful care of others, through duty or condescension, satisfies its inclinations, desires or needs. Prior to their marriage, husband and wife, almost without being aware of it, live on their father’s work and their mother’s care, since from infancy and childhood they were used to leaning upon their parents and everyone else at home. Now each of them, reflecting upon this, must forget himself a little in order to contribute to die common good. And now indeed they begin to understand how much work and effort it cost the father, how much continual self-denial inspired the mother’s care, and how easily an egoistic nature, if heeded, would leave to others the care and trouble of thinking about everything.
Can you not see how in this way an inordinate love of self insinuates itself into true love? As yet it is nothing more than a slight scratch, but a scratch nevertheless. Learn from the Heart of Jesus that generous sacrifice which moderates the demands of self-love with the condescending courtesy of affection.
Petty tyrannies of egoism. While true love leads to a noble and lofty identity of interests, self-love, on the other hand, makes this conformity consist in the complete submission and subordination of one party to the particular tastes or dislikes of the other. Yet self-love takes such little notice of this that if it wishes to make a gift or give pleasure, it will consult its own personal preferences rather than the tastes of the person to be pleased. An exchange of views which broaden the horizons of both parties gives way to arguments when the peremptory decrees of tyrannical self-love are quickly imposed. Yet, in the beginning, the scratch seems to be of no importance. The humility of the Heart of Jesus teaches you to dominate that pride which seeks always to prevail, even in minor disagreements, whereas to give in would be a considerable victory over egoism.
Petty cruelties of egoism. No one on earth is perfect. Frequently, during the engagement, love was blind; love did not see the defects or perhaps saw them as virtues. But self-love is all eyes; it observes and discerns the most minute imperfections, the most inoffensive quirks, even when it is in no way affected by them. The moment they cause the least displeasure or annoyance, the egoist reacts at once with a mildly ironic look, then with a slightly barbed remark, perhaps even with a touch of derision in the presence of others. No one suspects less than he the barb that is thrown or the wound it inflicts; as for him, he is irritated when others, even in silence, notice his own defects, however annoying they may be. Is this but another slight scratch? Certainly it is not that gentle bearing of kindness shown by the Heart of Jesus, whose love and understanding pardons so much in us.
Though egoism holds sway in one heart alone, the other wounded secretly, may remain in profound and submissive rectitude. But if egoism should rise up in both and confront each other, then comes tragic hostility and that stiff obstinacy which embodies love of self and love of one’s own opinion. Oh, how much wisdom there is in the reflections and counsel which The Imitation of Christ offers us: “Plenty of people are influenced in their actions by these undercurrents of self-seeking, without having any idea of it. All seems to go well with them, as long as everything turns out in accordance with their wishes, their plans; but when once their wills are thwarted, they lose their balance and get depressed in no time….You do well to cultivate patience in putting up with the shortcomings, the various disabilities of other people; only think how much they have to put up with in you! When you make such a failure of organizing your own life, how can you expect everybody else to come up to your own standards?”
It is true that differences in temperament and character, of themselves, should cause no surprise in two spouses who have united their lives. There are differences which cause no surprise when they appear because they do not go beyond the limits and norms of mutual accord. Thus it is that even very diverse characters often become marvelously reconciled and perfectly integrated. The difficulty begins the moment that one or perhaps both of them refuse to give in on futile questions in matters of mere taste or in completely personal wishes. This is the first crack. The eye cannot discern it, but at the slightest tap the sound of the vase is no longer the same. The crack widens. Arguments become more frequent and more heated. Even without a complete break, there remains only an exterior union rather than that fusion of two lives reaching deep into their hearts.
What will the children think or say? What a disaster for their souls and their love, if they witness such scenes! If there are no children at home, what a torment married life will become! Who can see or predict the end to which this road of self-love’s petty cruelties may lead?
From the drama and tragedy of certain families, dear sons and daughters, you have undoubtedly learned that history is a witness of time and a teacher of life, and you are preparing your souls against the danger of falling into such a fatal error or of permitting such a deplorable change in your hearts by taking firm and deliberate measures to arrest self-love and root it out if, by any mischance, you should feel it growing within you.
What are these measures? To determine and to learn from today on to renounce yourselves, to dominate and control your pride, finding love and joy in sacrifice and action in eager union with God, not only in matters of importance and in great adversity, but also in little things—those vexations, annoyances or troubles of daily life which are often no less difficult and painful to overcome. It would be still better if you made virtue a necessity, for virtue is a garment of goodness which is acquired by a repetition of good acts. Acquire the habit of patience, mutual forbearance, of pardoning each other’s shortcomings and defects. Then you will rise above love of self; your victory over yourselves will no longer be a renunciation but rather a gain. Then, almost by instinct or natural impulse, each of you will adopt as your own the opinions, tastes, and inclinations of the other; and these opinions, tastes, and inclinations, working in harmony, will be refined, adjusted, beautified, and enriched to the advantage of both, so that neither one nor the other will lose anything, and there will result instead that abundance of fruits which comes from that collaboration of which we have already spoken.
Of course, it is true that there is a limit to these concessions which pave the way to a community of thoughts and feelings between characters that are different. May God grant that you never undergo the sad experience! It is a limit marked out by duty, by truth, by morality, and by sacred rights. You understand that we allude in the first place to the sanctity of married life, to faith and to religious practice, and to the good upbringing of children. In such cases, firmness, if there be a conflict, is an absolute duty. But if these great and solemn principles are not at stake, and if your goodness leads you to consent joyously to those reciprocal concessions so conducive to peace in the family, it will be very difficult indeed for a conflict to occur and there will be no place for intransigent opposition.
Disputes will find even fewer opportunities or inducements to take root if couples, prior to marriage, instead of becoming engaged in too great haste and without careful thought, led on by completely secondary or external considerations or by baser motives, would take the time to know each other better and give heed to good advice, and if, in noting the differences of temperament of which we have just now been speaking, they would perceive that these are not incompatible. Under such conditions, whenever one spouse gave indications of any change or variation, however slight, in ideas, tendencies or affections, the heart of the other, by its unswerving devotion, its patient forbearance, its courteous and delicate regard, and by the power which prayer inspires, would easily be able to steady that perplexed, faltering will and bring him or her back to the marriage union.
The husband will observe in his wife the growth of seriousness and the disappearance of frivolity, nor, as the years go by, will he forget the saying of the prophet, “Despise not the wife of thy youth” (Mal. 2:15). The wife will see her husband’s faith, fidelity and love grow stronger and she will draw him to her with firm and loving devotion. Each will vie with the other in making the home such a peaceful, happy and pleasing abode that no thought will come of seeking repose or diversion or compensation elsewhere; nor will self-love, that sire of turmoil, undermine the order and tranquility of the family. The Heart of Jesus will reign there as Sovereign and will assure a true, intimate and indestructible happiness.
27 FORCED SEPARATIONS
July 15, 1942; Vol. IV, p.139
Dear newlyweds, those who see you coming out of the churches or wending your way to St. Peter’s to complete your pious pilgrimage by coming to ask our Apostolic Benediction, pause an instant to watch you. They have a smile of joy for you and a wish for happiness, and in your two hearts which beat as one for a new life they admire the faith and joy of the future. But in more than one of those who watch you and wish you well, that smile seems veiled by a shadow of anxiety.
And yet your hearts are not dreaming of worries or doubts. Since you are one by virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony, you move ahead on the journey of your new life indissolubly united until death, and you never wish to know any separation. This is the resolve of Christian spouses; this is their desire. Speaking recently to one of the groups which preceded you, we gave them fatherly advice as to how they might always keep the union of their love strong and tender, to safeguard it from human weakness, from which separation of hearts so frequently arises.
But even when hearts are firm, it is often other forms of separation which oppress and afflict them, less pernicious and bitter if you will, but no less painful in that they are not caused by one or the other party. These are forced separations, temporary forms of widowhood of greater or less duration. Think of this period of war and the various zones of battle on land, at sea and in the air. How many young couples have been separated by the call of the nation! How many wishing to be formally united in the Lord before being separated have advanced their wedding day while the husband, one might say, went directly from the altar to the field or headquarters! How many, whose hearts are nobly determined but nevertheless afflicted, await from one day to the next the summons to arduous duty! How many watch their distant exile or their imprisonment drag on indefinitely! These are separations that pierce the souls of husbands and wives, where true love wins battles no less glorious than those fought under arms.
But even in peacetime many are forced to undergo sudden separations, freely in a certain sense, but dictated or demanded by overpowering reasons, one’s profession, trade or sheer necessity, among others.
Their professions, in some cases true vocations and outpourings of talent, detain far from home for months at a time the pilot, the seaman, the colonist, the traveler, the explorer, the mining engineer and those seeking the outposts of civilization. Necessity, the imperious companion of life’s journey, often requires the earning of a family’s bread in an employment, posi tion, service or location where distance prohibits or impedes all but brief and infrequent visits home. And of course what an we say of the emigrant separated from his loved ones by die vastness of the ocean?
These separations are a painful topic. Why do you imagine that we speak of them to newlyweds? To darken your joys? disturb your sweet dreams of the future? Certainly not. But could your presence here make us forget the absent and separated ones who are suffering? Now you are experiencing the joy of being together at each other’s side. But your happiness—and ours at seeing you here together—must not fail or fear to arouse within you the compassionate remembrance of those who are deprived of such happiness. And besides—heaven save and protect you from it—could not these trials and separations befall you too some day? Do not feel offended if we consider it helpful today to give certain warnings and advice which, extending far beyond the walls of this room, reach out to those who with anguished hearts are so cruelly separated by circumstances and vicissitudes of life.
Trials, suffering, yes. But danger too. Danger that prolonged absence, gradually conditioning the soul to separation, may chill and dampen its love, according to that sad proverb: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Danger that while the lawful spouse is absent there may worm its way into an embittered soul the temptation to seek or accept illicit satisfactions of the heart or of the senses. Danger, in a word, of yielding to the open or concealed assaults of tribulation, emotions or self-interest.
Such danger is far removed from you now. At this moment the very thought that it could happen fills you with horror. Your heart seems so sure, so resolute, that you deem it inaccessible to temptation, stronger than flattery completely alert and on guard against the deceits of passion. Yet experience teaches that others have fallen, others who felt as secure as you do, who considered themselves equally unassailable. But that their souls might remain faithful, their wills stand unbroken, what a conflict raged in the depths of their hearts one day, one morning, one evening! What a struggle not to sink beneath the waves of distress, but to emerge victorious over passion! At the very edge of the abyss they experienced the terror of giddiness. Why, therefore, ignore the danger when we point it out to you only to help you defend yourselves against it, to ward it off and render it less harmful to you and your virtue?
Do not be surprised, therefore, if we tell you that this danger can arise from within yourselves, or, if it comes from without, can find your resistance weak. Does that sensitive and delicate heart, your source of chaste joys in wedded love, blessed and sanctified by God and the Church, lose its tenderness or its desire to love and be loved? It yearns for a particular union and a union of love (St. Thomas Aquinas). Hence, absence becomes bitterness, a sob of separation, a torment of the soul, a denial of the sweetness of pure love, a grieving and bewildered abandonment. And so, if the heart is not jealously and carefully protected, a hidden instinct will entice it and incline it to dream, to desire, to search for, perhaps even to taste—although still without actual infidelity or without going beyond the extreme limits of correct conduct—certain satisfactions or responses, or at least certain consolations, which leave it weaker and undecided, if not completely disarmed in the path of temptation. And temptation will come.
It will come in the guise of diversion, under the appearance of a remedy intended to distract from the sadness of absence but which, in reality, will distract from the absent one himself. Impure love is clever indeed. It will transform the feeling of a most chaste affection into a snare.,The bypaths of evil are generally found on both sides of the road of good intentions. Temptation will come from those around you; it will come with a laudable purpose and without suspicion, to console you, to comfort you; sincere compassion on the one hand, courteous gratitude on the other, will imperil your affections and imperceptibly influence and intensify them; material or moral interests of the home, of the children, of the absent one himself, will add their pressures, necessitating the resort to advice, support and assistance. This interplay between the most loyal and objective attentions and a sincere and honest trust, can open the door for love’s furtive entrance into your tender heart. ,
But, it can be asked, because of this fear must one break oft and exclude perfectly proper relationships, useful and necessary within the realm of duty? No. Nevertheless, one who knows where the danger lies should know how to avoid it and ward it off with the shield of a firm and generous love. Such love, ne doubt, displays a certain austerity and dignity of life, customs, manner and habits; in this conduct there will appear even to strangers the recognizable invisible presence of the absent one. St. Francis de Sales, speaking of attire—and the observation is valid for everything else—notes pointedly: “A married woman can and should adorn herself when she is with her husband if he so wishes; but if she does this when she is not with him, others would ask whose eyes she wishes to please by such special attention.” Did we not say a while back that this state of forced separation imposes a kind of temporary widowhood on those husbands and wives? Listen then, to the lesson of St. Paul to Christian widows. He places them on guard against too many relationships and visits, against idleness, against talkativeness, against gossip; on the contrary, he wishes them to dedicate themselves to the care of the family, the home, good works, and prayer, so that by their serious deportment they give no occasion for scandal (I Tim. 5).
If we have warned husbands and wives against these dangers, you can surely see our motive, considering the danger which could arise to the preservation of married fidelity. But although married love is a feeling which nature itself instills in the soul of a man or a woman, you must still remember and consider that nature must be regulated by reason. The man who controls his passions lives according to reason, while sacramental grace, elevating nature and perfecting it, rules over the passions themselves. Married couples should not forget that virtue is the middle way, equally distant from the two extremes. And so they will learn how to avoid excessive sentimentality that seeks strange and inordinate satisfactions and comforts away from home, and at the same time they will take care to cherish and conserve a lively, sure, constant and tender memory of each other.
But how and in what way can they preserve this precious bond of memory? They will preserve and defend it in every fiber of their being. In the home itself, everything will speak of the absent one; the walls will display pictures and documents of various events in his life—Baptism, First Communion, marriage, scholastic progress, testimonials of merit and work. The rooms will contain the holy pictures, the books, the dear and familiar objects. As for the one who lives far away, his small hidden room, his most obscure corner will appear to be brightened with portraits and memories of those left behind who are wishing and hoping and waiting for his return. In this secret and intimate atmosphere, in the silence of evening, the two separated hearts come together, reuniting their heartbeats in prayer, in that supernatural encounter where the protective eye of God watches over them both.
And yet the distance still remains. Who will conquer bitterness and space for them? Who in some way can draw the two hearts together? The exchange of letters, when possible, will be the mutual messenger of every confidence. How much comfort these letters bring to the heart! How they uplift the spirit! They make it possible for both parties to share every hour of the day, with its sunshine and its clouds; not only important matters and serious developments, but the little details of daily life are held in common; nothing is kept back except paltry embarrassments and annoyances which would run the risk of exciting needless worries usually magnified by distance. Legitimate apprehensions are, of course, communicated so that each may help the other in difficulty, just as true joys are communicated so that they may he shared and enjoyed together. Advice and opinions are exchanged, and above all they watch and work together in the upbringing of the children. In a word, each so describes his daily routine of life to the other that when they are reunited under the family roof it will seem to them they have never been apart.
Is not this type of correspondence much more than the simple recital of facts or events? Do you not recognize in the writing the characteristics of that hand which a thousand times squeezed your own? Do you not feel the presence of the mind and heart which entrust to the pen their thoughts and feelings? Thus the two meet each other again in such a way that they surmount distances and rise to those heights above the storms of life where one finds all consolation and all peace in mounting towards God who bestows joy as well as sorrow.
Now if God is, as He must be, the bond of your love, on His part He will seal it so solidly that nothing in the world will avail to weaken or break it. Listen then to what St. Francis de Sales says: “The first effect of this love is the indissoluble union of your hearts. If one grafts together two pieces of spruce, however thin the glue may be, the junction will be so strong that the pieces can be much easier broken in other places than at the point where they have been glued. But God conjoins husband and wife with His own Blood; therefore this union is so strong that it would be easier for the soul to separate itself from the body of one spouse or the other than it would be to separate the husband from his wife. Now this is not intended only as a union of the body, but of the heart, of affection, and of love.”
Remember, however, that although God raised the marriage bond to a sacrament, thus making it a source of grace and strength, He does not bestow perseverance through this means without your own constant cooperation by daily prayer, by mastery over your inclinations and affections (especially if you must live for some time far away from each other), and by intimate union with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of the strong—those strong who even at the cost of sacrifice and renunciation will preserve inviolate the chastity and fidelity of their married life.
No separation of time or place, dear newlyweds, should disturb the bond of your love. God has blessed it, God has consecrated it. Be faithful to Him. He will protect it and keep it unblemished and fruitful.
PART VI: Fidelity in Marriage
28 THE BEAUTY OF UNITY
October 21, 1942; Vol. IV, p.233
The pure light shining so brightly in your eyes, dear newlyweds, manifests to all the holy joy which floods your hearts and the happiness at having given yourselves to each other forever.
Forever! We dwelt upon this thought when we discussed the indissolubility of marriage before other young couples who preceded you here. However, far from having exhausted the subject, we have as yet scarcely scratched its surface. We would therefore like to go into it more deeply and intimately and speak about the jewel of fidelity between husband and wife. We shall limit ourselves today to an appreciation of its beauty and attraction.
As an indissoluble contract, marriage has the power to constitute and bind the husband and wife in a social and religious estate having a perpetual and legitimate character. But it is superior to all other contracts inasmuch as no power on earth—taking into consideration our previous explanations—can rescind it. It would be vain for one party to pretend to unbind himself. However violated, repudiated, or torn, the pact never relinquishes its hold. It continues to bind with the same force as on the day when the consent of the contracting parties sealed it before God. Not even the victim can be relieved of the sacred tie which unites him or her to a partner who has been unfaithful. That tie can be loosened, or rather broken, only by death.
Nevertheless, fidelity has a meaning infinitely sweeter and more delicate. Because the marriage contract unites the married couple in a social as well as a religious life, there must be determined the precise limits within which the contract applies. Likewise, there must be taken into consideration the possibility of coercion. These juridical provisions, which are, in a way, the material body of the contract, necessarily give it an almost cold and formal aspect. But fidelity is its heart and its true witness.
Although more demanding, fidelity changes into sweetness the rigor and austerity which juridical precision seems to impress upon the contract. More demanding, yes, because it deems unfaithful and a perjurer not only a person who attacks the indissolubility of marriage by divorce or other vain and ineffectual means, but also one who, without materially destroying the home he has founded, and while continuing to live with his partner in marriage, permits himself to form and maintain at the same time another and criminal relationship. It deems unfaithful and a perjurer anyone who, even without binding himself to an illicit relationship for any length of time, makes use of, even once, for someone else’s pleasure or for his own selfish or sinful gratification, a body over which—to use the expression of St. Paul (I Cor. 7:4)—only the legitimate husband or wife has the sole right. Even more exacting and more delicate than this strict natural fidelity is true Christian fidelity which extends its control even further: it rules and reigns, as a loving sovereign, over the entire expanse of love’s royal domain.
In fact, what is fidelity at all if not the religious respect of the gift which each of the spouses has given to the other, the gift of self, gift of body, of mind, of heart for the course of an entire life, with no reservation other than the sacred rights of God?
The freshness of blooming youth, her modest elegance, the spontaneity and delicacy of her ways, the inner goodness of her soul—all these good and beautifully attractive traits which form the indefinable fascination of the pure and innocent girl—have won the heart of the young man and have drawn him towards her with such an impulsion of chaste and ardent love that one would seek in vain in all nature an image which could equally express such exquisite charm. On her part, the girl loved the manly beauty, the proud and honest look, the firm and resolute step of the man upon whose strong arm she will place her soft hand walking at his side on the long, difficult journey of life.
In this radiant springtime love could exert its fascination on the eyes, give a glowing splendor to the most insignificant acts, veil or transfigure the most obvious imperfections. When the promise was turned into fact before God, the husband and wife gave themselves to each other in the natural but sanctified joy of their union, with the noble ambition of raising a family. Is this yet fidelity in all its splendor? No. It has not yet suffered its trials.
But the passing years have stolen some of the freshness from the beauty and the dreams of youth, giving in return a more austere and thoughtful dignity. The growing family has made more burdensome the weight which the father’s shoulders bear. Motherhood, with its cares, its sufferings and its risks, calls for and demands courage, for the wife on the field of honor in conjugal duty must show herself no less heroic than the husband on the field of honor in civic duty, where he makes the gift of his life to his country. And if distance, absence, forced separations or other delicate circumstances should intervene which oblige the husband and wife to live in continence, then, remembering that the body of each belongs to the other, they will accept without hesitation the requirements and consequences of this duty and will maintain with generous hearts and without weakness, the austere discipline which virtue imposes.
And when finally the onset of old age multiplies ailments and infirmities, bringing painful and humiliating deteriorations and the parade of miseries which without love’s strength and support would render repugnant those once attractive bodies, the husband and wife, with smiles on their lips, lavish on each other most delicate and tender care. This is fidelity in the mutual gift of bodies. During the first meetings, at the time of the engagement, often everything was enchanting; each gave the other, with sincerity and childlike illusion, a tribute of admiration which aroused knowing smiles in those who looked on. Do not pay too much heed to those little quarrels which, according to the Latin poet, are really a sign of love: “Love is poorly given, without battles.” There was a full and absolute union of ideas and feelings in the material and spiritual order, as well as the natural and supernatural, a perfect harmony of character. The expansion of joy and love gave to their conversations a freshness, a vivacity, an elan which made their spirits glow and gave a delightful gleam to the treasure of knowledge they might possess, a treasure at times modest indeed, but which everything conspired to enhance. This is attraction, this is enthusiasm, but not yet fidelity.
This period passes; the shortcomings soon appear, differences in character come to light and increase, perhaps even intellectual poverty becomes more evident. The fireworks are soon spent. Blind love opens its eyes and is disillusioned. This then, for true and faithful love, is the beginning of the trial and at the same time of its fascination. Blind no longer, it is completely aware of each of these failings, but it accepts them with patient affection, conscious as it is, with still greater insight, of its own defects. It moves on to discover and appreciate beneath the coarse exterior the qualities of judgment, good sense, and solid piety, rich treasures darkly hidden but of sound value. While eager to reveal and esteem these gifts and virtues of the spirit, love is no less able and alert in concealing from the eyes of others any gaps or dark spots in intelligence or knowledge, the peculiarities or asperities of character.
For any mistaken or untimely statements love seeks a favorable and friendly interpretation and is always happy to find one. Love is concerned with what is held in common and unites, not what divides, and is ready to rectify error or dissipate misunderstanding with such good grace that it never annoys or offends. Far from displaying its own superiority, love tactfully seeks counsel from its spouse, making it appear that if it has something to give it is also glad to receive.
Do you not see how in this way there is established between husband and wife a spiritual union, a practical and intellectual cooperation which permits them each to rise towards the truth, towards God? What else is this but fidelity in the mutual gift of their minds? Hearts are given to each other forever. It is the heart, the heart above all, which feels the impulse to unite. Upon the heart above all, disillusion, when it comes, pours its bitterness, for the heart is the most sensitive and yet the blindest element of love. And even when love survives the first trials of marriage intact, its sensitivity can diminish and at times even lose the flame of its ardor. Constancy and perseverance and love, in the daily giving of the gift of self, and, if need be, in prompt and complete forgiveness are the cornerstones of fidelity.
If from the beginning there was true love and not only a selfish search for sensual satisfaction, this unchangeable love of the heart remains always young, never overcome by the passing years. Nothing is so edifying and delightful, nothing so moving, as the sight of those venerable couples who on their Golden Wedding anniversaries display a love calmer but yet deeper, we would say, even more tender, than youth. Fifty years of their love have passed. Working, living, suffering, praying together, they have learned how to know each other better, to discover in each true goodness, true beauty, the true passion of a devoted heart, and to discern even better what gives pleasure to the other. Hence those exquisite attentions, those pleasant little surprises, those countless “mere nothings” which appear childish only to those who do not recognize the grandeur and beautiful dignity of an immense love. This is fidelity in the mutual gift of heart.
Happy you must be, dear husbands and wives, if it was or still is your privilege to witness such scenes among your grandparents. Perhaps as children you gently and lovingly played with them; but now, on your wedding day, your mind’s eyes have hovered over those memories with emotion and holy envy and with the hope of one day offering a similar scene to your own grandchildren. We sincerely hope so, and we ask God to grant you a long unfailing and joyous fidelity, while with all the effusion of our heart we impart our Apostolic Benediction.
29 SECRETLY UNFAITHFUL
November 4, 1942; Vol. IV, p.263
The law of the Divine Redeemer, which is a law of love, also protects and preserves true love and true fidelity. It is a law of love which is not confined to the detailed and formal provisions of a code, but penetrates the spirit, the heart, to the point of excluding even the sin of desire (Mt. 5:27-28).
Could there be, then, despite appearances, a secret infidelity hidden in the most intimate recesses of the heart? Without doubt, for out of the heart, says Our Lord, come evil thoughts and other iniquities (Mt. 15:19). And yet this sin of secret infidelity is unfortunately so frequent that the world pays no attention to it and the lulled conscience grows used to it, like the spell of an illusion.
However, true fidelity which has as its object and foundation the mutual gift not only of the bodies of the wedded couple, but their spirits and hearts as well, opposes and overcomes every deceptive charm. Is it not perhaps true that the least infraction of this exquisite and ardent fidelity, leads sooner or later to breakdowns of married life and happiness?
With the wedding ring as its symbol, fidelity is truly a most delicate virtue! Before it was formulated and taught by Our Lord, it had been carved by the Creator in the depths of honest hearts, as exemplified by Job’s famous saying that he had made a covenant with his eyes to refrain from any impure look.
Compare such an austere restriction, which is the prerogative of any soul that is its own master, with the conduct of so many Christians washed from birth in the waters of regeneration and raised in the glowing light of the Gospel. Like children accustomed to regarding the anguish of maternal solicitude as an exaggeration, they smile at the moral anxiety of their mother the Church. And yet she is not the only one to give thought to this; all serious persons, even those who are far from the Christian concept, utter a cry of alarm. Along the public roads, on the beaches, at entertainments, women and girls shamelessly expose themselves to impertinent and sensuous glances, to indecent solicitation and unseemly promiscuity. How violently the passions are aroused under such conditions and encounters! With the exception of the final step, the descent into formal infidelity—supposing that by some miracle they do not go this far—what difference would there be between such habits and the conduct of those unfortunates who openly cast aside all shame?
Unless we blame the decline of their sense of morality, we cannot understand how honorable men tolerate the bold looks and familiarities which their wives and fiancees permit other men or how a fiancé’s or a wife who values her dignity could stand for the husband’s or fiancees taking such liberties and intimacies with other women. Who does not see the last dying flame of honest feeling revolt and rise up against such grave outrages to the holy fidelity of chaste and legitimate love?
But we have said enough concerning these regrettable and disconcerting debasements. In the order of the spirit and the heart, discernment between good and evil is even more delicate. It is true that there are natural tendencies, blameless in themselves, for which present living conditions offer easy and frequent outlets. Whatever danger they may sometimes present, they do not, of themselves, offend fidelity. Nevertheless, we must warn you against any secretly sensual intimacies, against love that would be called platonic but which is all too frequently merely the prelude to, or discreet veil for, an affection less pure and licit.
As long as intellectual attraction is limited to sincere and spontaneous agreement on ideals, to the enjoyment and admiration of a soul’s grandeur and nobility, it is without reproach. Nevertheless, St. John of the Cross warns these same spiritual persons against deviations which could follow from this. Imperceptibly, the proper order of things is often turned about, so that an honest attraction for a person, arising from a similarity in thinking, habits or character, reaches a point, by unconscious consent, where a person harmonizes and conforms his own views and ideas to the views and ideas of the one he admires.
At first, one gives ground on trifling questions, then on more serious subjects—on matters of a practical nature, on more intimate topics of art and taste, then in the truly intellectual or philosophical field, and finally on religious and moral doctrine, to the point of renouncing one’s own personal criteria so that one thinks and judges only under the other’s influence.
Principles are subverted, norms of living are abandoned. While the human spirit naturally, and often to the point of excess, proudly adheres to its own opinions, how can one then explain such an easy submission and complete subjection to the ideas of another?
But at the same time that the spirit in this way comes gradually to be modeled on that of a stranger, each day it becomes more alienated from the soul of its lawful husband or wife. To everything the husband or wife thinks or says, one begins to react with an irresistible instinct to contradict, with irritation, with scorn. This feeling, unconscious perhaps but no less dangerous, indicates that the mind has been conquered and monopolized, that there has been delivered into the power of someone else the spirit which had been irrevocably given on the wedding day. Is this fidelity?
Guard against a subtle and misunderstood illusion. It could be that through the influence of a noble ardent soul, motivated by purest zeal, an intellectual attraction would become the dawn of a conversion; but more frequently than not it is dawn only. Rarely does the morning light brighten to midday. On the other hand, how many in this way have lost their faith and their Christian perception! Illustrious examples, even though they are rare indeed, seem sufficient to reassure some who imagine themselves a Beatrice or a Dante. In many cases, however, it develops that in their twofold blindness they tread upon the slippery edge of the road and both fall into the ditch.
Even supposing that the spirit was not, as has been said, the “dupe of the heart,” the heart, blind in its own right, is the spirit’s companion and does not hesitate in its onrush to drag the spirit along as well. Once the spirit gives way, the heart yields, but not without becoming unfaithful to the person to whom it was given in the beginning in an indissoluble bond.
The world is content to proclaim as faithful the wife who has not physically committed a fault, to boast of her magnificent fidelity because, perhaps by heroic sacrifice, but only human heroism, she continues to live without love at the side of the husband to whom she had joined her life, while her heart, her whole heart, belongs definitely, passionately to another. More saintly and austere is the morality of Christ! One may try to exalt the nobility of a pretended union of hearts chastely joined “as the stars and the palms,” to wrap this passion in the cloud of empty religiosity, which is only nonsense nourished by poetry and novels, not by the Gospel or by the Christian bond. They may try to fool themselves into continuing this love in lofty serenity, but nature, after original sin, is not so receptive to conceited aphorisms of deluded spirits. Fidelity was already violated by the illicit passion of the heart.
Young husbands and wives, guard against these illusions! Illumined by the Divine Light, under the protection of Marc Mother Most Pure, love each other in a holy way, drawing ever closer your lives, your spirits and your hearts.
30 FIDELITY IMPERILED
November 18, 1942, Vol. IV; p.277
It is so beautiful to see the perfect happiness of a wedded couple which, far from lessening through the years, grows more reasonable, more calm, in its force, its mutual dedication and harmony, until old age when it expands radiantly beyond life into heaven, that we feel duty bound to warn you against certain dangers, certain indiscretions, perhaps unnoticed and not understood, which might compromise the solidity of wedded happiness or at least throw a pall of anxiety over its exquisite tenderness.
It is not necessary to have a broad knowledge of and experience in history and family affairs to know how frequent are the lamentable downfalls which have toppled and destroyed a love that was good and sincere at its origin, and, even more, to understand those weaknesses, as flighty as passion, whose wounds, even after pardon, even after amends, leave stinging scars within both hearts. We propose to speak to you not so much of the path by which one gradually descends into sin, into the very depths of the abyss, but rather of the indiscretions and misfortunes through which a faithful spouse, without knowing it, opens a dangerous road to that path—indiscretions and misfortunes which we can reduce to three categories: frivolity, excessive austerity, jealousy.
Frivolity is a particular danger during the first months, before the smiles and whimperings of babies come to mature the spirit of the parents, but frequently it continues much longer when lack of character favors and sustains it much more than the ardor of youth. In the pleasantly cultivated and fostered illusion that matrimony makes everything lawful, the husband and wife permit themselves at times the most imprudent liberties.
A husband has no scruples about taking his wife to scandalous and even condemnable entertainment, intending to afford her harmless enjoyment, thinking perhaps to initiate her in this way to the experience of life. A wife who is not endowed with that fervently serious Christianity which assures sincerity of character, allows herself more often than not to be swept along unresisting. If she shows even a semblance of opposition, she is inwardly pleased if her objections are unavailing. If before marriage her innocence has been protected and preserved, rather than truly formed and carved in the depth of her soul by the vigilance and solicitude of Christian parents, you will find her accepting willingly, even if a bit embarrassedly, in order to satisfy a certain curiosity, without clearly perceiving the impropriety and danger involved. If, on the other hand, her childhood was worldly, dissipated, she will consider herself fortunate to be able to free herself—honestly, she thinks, inasmuch as she is with her husband—from that modicum of restraint which her tender years had heretofore imposed.
From daring spectacles and entertainments, frivolity passes on to laxity of judgment and conscience with respect to reading. In such matters, besides the attraction of which we have spoken, an even more subtle allure enters on the scene. This is the love described in novels, which seems to be so like the undoubtedly legitimate feelings which husband and wife experience for each other. The novelist, and his hero and heroine, speak with such animation, in such ardent and exquisite that slip which led to the fall. He does not know that conjugal love, from the moment it begins to lose its healthy serenity, its strong affection, its holy fecundity, and resembles selfish and profane love, is easily tempted to seek full enjoyment elsewhere.
No less imprudent are those husbands who, to please their wives and satisfy their own vanity, encourage them to abandon themselves to all the caprices and boldest extravagances of fashion in dress or way of life. Ill-advised young women, thrown into adventure, perhaps do not have the least idea of the dangers to which they expose themselves and others. You need seek no further for the origin of numerous scandals which amaze so many. However, those who reflect on the ways of evil are not amazed nor are those wise friends whose vehement warnings against the dangerous paths were not heeded!
Virtue stands in between; from the extreme of excessive compliance, one may fall into the opposite extreme of excessive severity. The case is undoubtedly rare but not without some examples. Exaggerated severity which would transform the home into an abode of sadness without light or joy, without holy and healthy recreation, without wide horizons of action, could produce the same disorders as frivolity. Who does not foresee that the more rigorous the restrictions, the more violent will be the risk of a reaction? The victim of this tyranny—man or woman, perhaps the oppressor himself—will be tempted at one time or another to terminate married life. But if the ruinous effects of frivolity frequently open one’s eyes and lead one back to better advice and greater seriousness, the pitfalls caused by exasperating severity are, on the other hand, customarily ascribed to a lack of sufficient rigor, and so the situation is made ever more austere and increases the very evil which in turn produces the reaction which provokes it.
Far from these two extremes, excessive compliance and excessive severity, let there reign among you moderation which is nothing else but the virtuous sense of balance and fitness. Let the husband yearn and delight to see his wife dress and comport herself with decent elegance conforming to his means and social standing, encouraging and pleasing her, if need be, by some thoughtful gift, by loving praise and compliments face and charm. Let the wife in turn banish from the house everything unseemly or her grthat could offend Christian eyes or a sense of beauty, as well as any severity that would depress the heart. Let them both enjoy reading, even together, beautiful, good and useful books that instruct them and broaden their knowledge of facts and developments and widen the scope of their own art or work, that inform them of the course of events and keep them strong and better indoctrinated in their own faith and virtue. Let them willingly, with discretion, allow themselves healthy and decent amusements which afford relaxation and keep them happy, reading and entertainment that will furnish continuing and welcome nourishment for their private conversations and discussions. Let each of them be pleased to see the other excel in professional or social activities, in making himself well liked by his geniality and graciousness among their mutual friends; and let them never seek to overshadow each other.
Finally, a great pitfall to be avoided is jealousy, which can arise from frivolity as well as from severity. This is a most dangerous snare for fidelity. That incomparable psychologist, St. John Chrysostom, wrote with masterful eloquence: “Nothing that can be said of this evil will ever fully describe its gravity. Once a man begins to suspect the woman he loves above all things else on this earth and for whom he would willingly give life itself, in what then can he find comfort? But if the man is agonized by these evils, even when they are without foundation or reason, the poor unhappy wife is even more gravely tormented. He who should be her comforter and support in all her sufferings shows her only cruelty and hostility….A soul so overcome and stricken by this disease is ready to believe anything, to accept all accusations, without distinguishing truth from falsity, and is more inclined to listen to one who confirms his suspicions than to one who would dispel them. Her going, her coming, her words, her glances, her least sigh, everything is suspect; and the poor woman must support it all in silence; chained, as it were, to the marriage bed, she cannot permit herself a step, a word or a sigh without having to render account to the servants themselves.”
Would not such a life become almost intolerable? Is it therefore surprising that when the light and support of true Christian virtue is lacking, one seeks to escape and to flee from it, with the consequent shipwreck of fidelity?
The Christian spirit, young husbands and wives, is joyous without frivolity, serious without excessive severity, not wildly suspicious, but confident in mutual affection founded on love of God; it will assure your mutual, sincere and perpetually sacred fidelity. This is the wish we extend to you and which we pray God to accept and actuate while with all our heart we impart our paternal Apostolic Benediction.
31 TESTS OF FIDELITY
December 9, 1942; Vol. IV, p.303
Speaking recently of the pitfalls which at times beset the fidelity of young husbands and wives, we warned them against indiscretions which they might easily commit. But such dangers are actually only occasions of trial; and today, dear newlyweds, we intend to discuss the trials and difficulties of fidelity, while at the same time we reflect upon the sorrows which accompany fidelity and upon the temptations which give rise to these sorrows. These trials, without any fault on the part of those whom they strike, can come from a failure or indiscretion of one party; they can just as easily arise without the least fault of either party. At any rate, from these trials, as from all permitted by the mysterious designs of Providence, it is always possible, through grace and virtue, to emerge greater and stronger.
Do not be surprised if we discuss with you those trials for which one spouse is responsible. It is not that we have any doubts about you; on the contrary, we are confident that your Christian lives, your humble prudence, united with prayer, will obtain for you from God the grace to preserve, persevere and grow in the holy state of mind in which you find yourselves today. But we rely on you as our loving messengers, as heralds of comfort and peace to others, for we hope that you will carry afar the echo of our words. May they be of some consolation and support for those who are living through an ordeal! May you yourselves, whenever in the course of your life you encounter others in similar difficulty, become angels of help and comfort, to cure and soothe wounded hearts, to uplift discouraged souls from the depths of their agony or from the violence of temptation! What a work of charity you will perform by aiding them!
The first of these trials, and the most painful, is betrayal. Alas, it is not rare! It is true that between a mere superficial and transitory flirtation and desertion of the family and home, there are many and various phases, but even the slightest deeply wounds a loyal heart which had given itself fully and without reserve. And besides, it is always a first step down a slippery slope; on the other hand, it inclines the offended and disillusioned husband or wife to temptation, perhaps being even a pretext for the first step in his or her own descent. And if one lacks the strength to withstand the ordeal and triumph over it, he himself falls lower, and all the elements of tragedy are present.
But if an initial moment of bewilderment leads to infidelity, and if there follows an attachment which gradually becomes more intimate, and if, lastly, the unfaithful one far from his family leads a carefree life or has founded an illegitimate family, the ordeal reaches its climax. It is the climax of suffering and temptation, in a widowhood sadder than death, which neither affords the consolation of tears over a beloved tomb nor allows the possibility of establishing a new home. The life is shattered, but not extinguished; it goes on, a dreadful trial. And yet how great the stature of the husband or wife who endures it with dignity and holiness! You must admire that woman, that mother, great and. heroic in her affliction, who must raise and educate the family alone! But perhaps deeper and more bitter is the anguish of the father who cannot give a second mother to his children who are still small and need fondling in place of the one who abandoned them. Oh, how the heart bleeds to think that these little ones, as they grow up, will eventually understand their misfortune, even before it is necessary to reveal to them the moral collapse of a father or mother who lives far from them!
What a horrible temptation to put an end to such a life or to begin a different life in a different home! Nonetheless, while a storm rages in the heart, the lighthouse of stern duty stands firm on the shore of life, its bright beams searching the conscience and enjoining it to remain faithful to its part of the reciprocal oath which the other party has violated and trampled upon. In some cases the guilty spouse does not destroy the family home, but his infidelity, especially if it is combined with harsh and rude conduct, makes life together ever more difficult and almost intolerable. Without doubt, although the marriage bond remains firm, the law in certain cases permits the innocent spouse to separate. But except when the danger of scandal, the overriding interests of the children, or other grave cause prevent it, love, which endures all things, invites and urges us to a silent forbearance that may win back the wandering heart. How many times reconciliation might have been possible in this way! A temporary alienation would have been followed by correction, repentance, and redemption of the past through an exemplary life that would have caused everything to be forgotten. On the other hand, if Christian love does not win out, if the innocent party is obdurate, a soul that may be about to repent, or has already repented, finds itself thrust back into an even deeper abyss than the one from which it was seeking to emerge. Such cases of supreme pardon actually do occur!
It sometimes occurs, as you well know, that a husband who was always faithful to his beloved wife, returning home after a long absence, perhaps as a prisoner of war, sees the smile or hears the cry of one of those children who are truthfully but sadly called “tragic.” He is moved to pity; after a moment of hesitation and internal struggle he draws near, bends over the cradle, and kisses the brow of the child, it too an innocent victim. He accepts it as his own. Certainly duty does not oblige one to go this far. It might even be that in some cases reason would advise against such an act, but one cannot pass over such heroes of charity and fidelity without admiration.
Another unfortunately even more frequent trial to which fidelity is exposed derives from the failure of one of the spouses to acknowledge the sanctity of marriage obligations. Out of fear of the multiplication of family burdens, of exhaustion, of suffering, of risk (at times exaggerated), or from the incomparably more futile fear of losing the shape of one’s own elegant figure, of narrowing the margin of one’s life of pleasure and freedom, through coldness of heart, or meanness, bad humor or through misunderstood virtue, one spouse refuses himself to the other, or does so only after giving vent to his unhappiness or misgivings. Obviously we are not speaking here of the sinful agreement of both spouses to exclude the blessing of children from their home.
Such a trial is very difficult for a husband or wife anxious to fulfill his own duty; and when it is renewed and prolonged, when it becomes permanent or, so to speak, definitively decreed, there easily arises from this the temptation to seek some illicit compensation elsewhere. The Apostle St. Paul expressly says this: “Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again lest Satan tempt you because you lack self-control” (I Cor.7:5).
Nevertheless, if trials oppress the spirit, one must emerge from them victorious. Unhappy indeed is the one who succumbs! He ought to have struggled and prayed. “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mt. 26:41). Yet, despite this, his will has been overcome. Besides struggling and praying, has he done all that he should and could have done? There still remains something great and beautiful to be done. That husband or wife who is loved, and to whom one’s own life is bound, is a priceless soul, and this soul is in danger. Indeed, it is worse than endangered because it habitually lives in a state of mortal sin from which it cannot rise without repentance and the resolve to carry out its duty in the future. And must not one take it to heart to do everything, absolutely everything and at all costs, to save that soul? Is not this one of the prime duties of fidelity and the most urgent of the apostolate? A difficult apostolate, but one which a powerful and pure love would make fruitful. Without doubt it requires constancy, a kind and patient energy. It requires persuasion and prayer, many suppliant and trusting prayers. But it also requires love, an incessant, delicate, tender love, ready for any sacrifice and any concession that is not against good conscience, a love eager to satisfy, to anticipate any desire—even a harmless whim—in order to win back the lost heart and return it to the path of duty.
Perhaps some may say that even all this effort does not always succeed. But even if it only succeeds once, it would be well worth while to attempt it resolutely. Until this effort is made, wholeheartedly, in every way, with perseverance, it cannot be said that everything has been done; and unless everything has been done one has no right to despair of success. It is a soul, a priceless soul! And even if a victory is not achieved over the obstinacy or the pusillanimity of the guilty one, the struggle will make one’s own soul stronger, so that despite the ordeal, it can maintain its own unfailing fidelity.
We have already noted that forced separation of husbands and wives is one of the enemies of indissoluble union; now we must also include it as one of the tests of fidelity. Although neither husband nor wife is at fault, this is a dangerous and difficult test. We advert to this again today, briefly, to point out a particular form of these separations, a partial separation unknown to outsiders but equally serious and painful. We mean illness and infirmities which impose, often for long periods of time, a complete continence while the couple continue to live together, to love each other as on the very first day, desiring to live a Christian life. In such cases, strong love and active faith are needed to preserve the unblemished perfection and exquisite tenderness of fidelity. Then one must watch, struggle, pray and fortify the heart, the soul and the senses with the divine Nourishment of Holy Communion. Then the spirit must be uplifted towards the ideal of true and noble love, incomparably higher than poor human love which is always more or less selfish.
What really is this hour of trial? It is a time when married love is merged with and sublimated to neighborly love towards one lying injured on the road to Jericho, in order to aid him, to make him well, to comfort him, to love him as yourself. What neighbor is closer than the husband to the wife or the wife to the husband? Then each becomes the Good Samaritan to the other, while this loving assistance, care and prayer for each other becomes a new seal of fidelity sworn in the presence and love of God. Grace can never be denied to one who thus rises up, struggles, prays and lives in God. We pray Our Lord to spare you such trials; but if His loving providence should decide otherwise, we beg Him not to permit you to be tempted beyond your strength, and with the temptation to give you a way out that you may be able to bear it.
SECTION TWO – Home and Family
PART VII – The Perfect Home
32 AT THE CRADLE OF JESUS
January 3, 1940; Vol. I, p.463
The Church in this Christmas season asks you to contemplate a woman and a man bending tenderly over a newborn Babe. As you meditate upon the mystery of Christmas, think therefore of the feelings of Mary and Joseph; seek above all to enter into their hearts and to share their sentiments. In this way, notwithstanding the infinite difference between the birth of Jesus, the Word Incarnate, Son of the Most Pure Virgin, and the human birth of the little being to whom you will give life, you can with confidence take as your models these ideal spouses: Mary and Joseph.
Look at the cave of Bethlehem. Is this perhaps a suitable dwelling even for humble workmen? Why these animals, why these rough travel sacks, why this absolute poverty? In the intimate sweetness of their little house at Nazareth, is this what Mary and Joseph had dreamed of for the birth of Baby Jesus? Perhaps for many months Joseph, using bits of wood from the countryside, had been sawing, smoothing, polishing and decorating a cradle with a wicker top. And Mary, as we can imagine, trained from childhood in the temple to a woman’s work, had, like every woman who hopes soon to become a mother, cut, embroidered and decorated with some pleasing design the coverlets for the Hope of Gentiles!
And now, instead, they are not in their own little house, nor among friends, nor even in a common hotel; they are in a stable! To obey the edict of Augustus, although aware that the long-awaited Babe was about to come into the world, they had undertaken an arduous journey in the deep of winter. And they knew, too, that this Infant, the virginal Fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit, belonged to God before He belonged to them. Jesus Himself, twelve years later, had to remind them of this; the business of the Heavenly Father, the Sovereign Lord of all men and all things, must come before thoughts of the love, however pure and ardent, of Mary and Joseph. And this is why that night in a damp, wretched cave, they knelt in adoration before the Divine Infant, laid in a hard manger instead of in a comfortable cradle, and wrapped in swaddling clothes instead of fine garments.
You too, dear young husbands and wives, have had, are having and will have, sweet dreams for the future of your children. Sad indeed are those parents who do not! But take care that your dreams are not exclusively earthly and human! Before the King of Heaven, who shivered on the straw and whose first utterance, like that of all men who come into this world, was a cry, Mary and Joseph saw, with an interior light that brightened material reality as well, that the babe most blessed by God is not necessarily the one who is born to riches and comforts. They understood that the opinions of men do not always conform to God’s. They felt deeply that everything which happens on earth yesterday, today, tomorrow, is not the result of accident, or of good or bad luck, but results from a long and mysterious chain of events ordained or permitted by the providence of the Heavenly Father.
Dear newlyweds, try to profit from this sublime lesson! Kneel before the cradle of Baby Jesus, as you used to do so innocently in your childhood, and ask Him to instill in you the great supernatural thoughts which filled the heart of His foster father and His Virgin Mother in Bethlehem. In the dear little beings who, we hope, will come to gladden your new home, before they become the pride of your maturity and the support of your old age, may you find out not only the tender limbs, the pleasant smile, and the eyes which reflect the image of your face and the very feelings of your heart, but above all a soul created by God, a precious trust confided to you by Divine Goodness. By educating your children in a deeply and courageously Christian life, you will give them and yourselves the greatest guarantee of a happy existence in this world and a joyous reunion in the next.
33 THE HEAVENLY QUEEN
May 10, 1939; Vol. I, p.113
Dear children, undoubtedly you wish to give the new families you have been called to establish a character essentially and profoundly Christian, and a solid basis for well-being and happiness. Well then, let us point out to you how this is the happy consequence of devotion to Mary. Mary has many titles under which she may be considered patroness of Christian families, and these families have as many reasons to hope for special help from her.
Mary knew the joys and sorrows of family life, its sad and happy events, the fatigue of daily toil, the distress and grief of poverty, the anguish of separation. But she also experienced all of the ineffable joys of family life, brightened by the pure love of a most chaste spouse and by the smile and tenderness of a Son who was at the same time the Son of God.
Because of this, the Most Blessed Mary, out of her merciful heart, will have pity on your families’ need and will extend to them the comfort they long for amid the inevitable sufferings of our present life; and by the same token, under her maternal gaze she will render the sweetnesses of family life even purer and more serene. So much the more will she help because the holy Virgin not only knows the grave needs of families from her own experience, but, as the mother of pity and mercy, she actually wishes to come to their aid.
Those married couples are holy and indeed blessed who begin their new state of life by resolving upon filial and confident devotion to the Mother of God, establishing their new family on this indestructible foundation of piety, to be instilled and transmitted as a precious heritage to the dear children whom God will grant them. But do not forget, dear newlyweds, that devotion to the Madonna, if it is to be true and secure and thus bring precious fruits and copious grace, must be animated by the imitation of the very life of her whom you honor.
The divine Mother is above all a most perfect model of domestic virtue, of that domestic virtue which must beautify the state of Christian marriage. In Mary is the purest and most faithful love towards her most chaste spouse, love formed of sacrifice and tender care; a complete and continuing submission to the duties of the family and the home, of her spouse, and above all, of the dear Child Jesus; humility, manifest in the loving submission to St. Joseph, in the patient resignation to the dispositions of Divine Providence which so many times were so burdensome and difficult; affability, charm and charity towards all those who drew near to that little house in Nazareth.
Dear husbands and wives, may your devotion to Mary become a spring always flowing with heavenly favors and true joy, as a pledge of which we now impart our heartfelt paternal blessing.
34 THE MODEL OF NAZARETH
April 10, 1940; Vol. II, p.63
As we receive you, dear newlyweds, how could we fail to think of St. Joseph, the most chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary,
patron of the Universal Church, whose solemn feast the sacred liturgy celebrates today? If all Christians have reason to rely on the protection of this glorious patriarch, certainly you have a special right to claim him.
All Christians are children of the Church. This holy and tender mother gives to souls in Baptism that mysterious participation in Divine Nature called grace, and, after having caused their rebirth to supernatural life in this way, she does not abandon them but obtains for them, through the sacraments, the nourishment to maintain and develop that life. Thus she can be compared to Mary, Our Lady, from whom the Word took His human Nature and who then sustained and nourished His life by her maternal care. Now in every child of the Church, Christ must be formed. Each one must strive to grow “to perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
But who will watch over this Mother and this Jesus? You already know him who, nearly twenty centuries ago, was called to be the spouse of Mary, the foster father of Jesus, the head of the Holy Family. What dedication he brought to the fulfillment of this divine mission! How we would like to know all the details! But this favorite vessel of divine trust, who was to serve as a veil for the twofold mystery of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth, seemed to pass his earthly life almost hidden in shadow. And yet those brief and infrequent Gospel passages which speak of him suffice to show what St. Joseph was as head of the family, what a model and what a special patron he is for you young husbands and wives.
As the most faithful custodian of the precious gift entrusted to him by God, Mary and her Divine Child, he provided first of all for their material well-being. When, in obedience to the edict of Augustus, he left to enscribe his name on the census roll in the City of David, called Bethlehem, he did not wish to leave alone at Nazareth his Virgin Spouse who was about to become the Mother of God. In the absence of more detailed Gospel texts, devout souls love to picture in a more intimate way the care which he lavished on her, then later on the newborn Babe. They see him swing open the heavy door of the inn, already filled, similar to the khan of the modern village in the East, then resort in vain to relatives and friends. They see him finally, refused on all sides, exert every effort to give at least a semblance of order and cleanliness to the cave.
Now the tiny Hands of little Jesus are trembling, and Joseph is holding them between his manly hands to warm them. A little later, having learned from the angel that his treasure was being threatened, “he took the Child and His Mother by night” (Mt. 2:14) through sandy trails, and, clearing briars and stones from the path, he led them into Egypt. There he worked hard to support them. Carrying out a new order from heaven, probably several years later, he led them back, undergoing the same difficulties, into Galilee, to the city of Nazareth. There he taught Jesus, the Divine Apprentice, how to handle the saw and the plane, and he went to work even away from home, returning each evening to rejoin the two loved ones awaiting him on the threshold with a smile and with whom he took his place at the little table for their frugal meal.
The most urgent concern of the father of a family is to provide his wife and children with their daily bread. Oh, the anguish of watching your loved ones waste away because there is nothing in the cupboard and nothing in the purse!
Divine Providence led Joseph of old by the hand when he was betrayed and sold by his brothers, to become first a slave, then overseer and lord of the land of Egypt, and support of his family. Likewise Providence led the second Joseph to that same country where he arrived completely destitute, without knowing the inhabitants, the customs, or the language. Despite all this he returned safe and sound with Mary active and well, and Jesus growing in wisdom and age and grace. This same Providence displays the same compassionate goodness, the same unlimited power today. But we fear that men are forgetting the words of Our Lord in the Gospel: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given to you besides” (Mt. 6:33). Give God courageously and loyally what He has a right to expect from you: every possible personal effort, the obedience due Him as Supreme Lord, trust in Him as the Best of Fathers. Then you will be able to count on what you can expect from Him and what He promised you when He said: “Look at the birds of the air; look at the lilies of the field; and do not be anxious about tomorrow!” (Mt. 6:28, 31).
Knowing how to ask God for what one needs is the secret of prayer and its power, and again this is another lesson which St. Joseph teaches us. The Gospel, it is true, does not tell us exactly what prayers were recited in the little house of Nazareth. But the faithfulness of the Holy Family in the observance of religious practice is explicitly attested to, if indeed it were ever necessary. For example, St. Luke tells us that Jesus went with Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem for the Pasch, following the custom.
It is easy and delightful, therefore, to imagine the Holy Family in Nazareth at the usual hour of prayer. In the golden dawn purple twilight of Palestine, on the little rooftop of their small white house, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are on their knees, turned towards Jerusalem. Joseph, as the head of the family, recites the prayer, but it is Jesus who inspires it while Mary joins her sweet voice to the solemn tones of the holy patriarch!
As future heads of families, meditate upon this example and imitate it. Too many are forgetting it today. In confident recourse to God, you will find not only the supernatural blessing but the best assurance for that “daily bread” so anxiously, so laboriously, and sometimes so vainly, sought.
Almost as delegates and representatives of the Father in heaven “from whom all Fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its name” (Eph. 3:15), ask that since He has given you of His tenderness, He may give you also of His strength to bear the dear but often heavy burden of family care.
PART VIII – Establishing the Home
35 EVERY HOUSE A TEMPLE
November 15, 1939; Vol. I, p.389
Think of everything which, since infancy, that one word has meant to your heart: home! All your love was there, centered on a father, a mother, brothers and sisters. One of the greatest sacrifices which God asks of a soul, when He calls it to a higher state of perfection, is that of leaving home. “And everyone who has left house…for my name’s sake…shall possess life everlasting” (Mt. 19:29).
Now for you, too, you who walk in the ordinary way of the Commandments, a new and imperious love one day sounded its call: “Leave the house of your father,” it said to each one of you, “because you must found another house that will be yours.” From that moment your ardent desire has been to find, and to establish, that which for you will be “home.”
And so, as Holy Scripture tells us, “The chief thing for a man’s life is water and bread, clothing and a house” (Ecclus. 29:27). To have no home, to be without a roof and without a fire, as, unfortunately, so many unhappy ones are, is not this perhaps the supreme symbol of wretchedness and misery?
And yet, you surely remember that Jesus, our Savior, although He knew the sweetness of a family home under the humble roof at Nazareth, nevertheless during His apostolic life wished to be a Man without a home. “The foxes,” He said, “have dens, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Mt. 8:20).
Reflecting upon this example of the Divine Redeemer, you will accept more easily the conditions of your new life, even if they should not correspond at once or in all respects to what you have dreamed.
At any rate, you young brides especially, leave no stone unturned to make your own dwelling intimate and congenial and peaceful, in the harmony of two hearts loyally faithful to their vows and then, if God wishes, in a joyous and glorious garland of children. Ages ago, Solomon, disenchanted and conscious of the vanity of earthly riches, said: “Better is a dry morsel with joy than a well-stocked house with strife” (Prov. 1 7: 1 ).
But do not forget that every effort will be vain if you do not find happiness at your own fireside, if God does not build the house with you, to dwell in it with His grace. You too must, as it were, “dedicate” this “basilica,” that is, you must consecrate to God, invoking the Blessed Virgin and your patron saints, your little family temple, where mutual love must be the benevolent monarch and where the divine commands will be faithfully observed.
With this wish for true Christian happiness, and as a pledge of divine favors, we impart to you, dear newlyweds, our heartfelt paternal Apostolic Blessing.
36 SACRED ALLIANCE
November 8, 1939; Vol. I, p.365
Marriage indeed imposes new obligations. Up to now, many of you have lived under the paternal roof, without responsibilities of your own, limiting yourselves, according to your age and strength, to helping a beloved father and mother who assured you a place at the family table and fireside. Now, instead, you have founded a new family for which you will be responsible before God and man. See to it that from the very first day your home is manifestly Christian—that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is its King, that the image of the Crucified Savior and of the Most Gracious Virgin Mary have the place of honor there.
By this you not only reveal to the eyes of all that God is served in your dwelling and that visitors and friends, as well as yourselves, must banish from that house everything that could violate His holy law—indecent talk, falsehoods, quarrels, willful failings. You also remind yourselves that Jesus and Mary are the most constant and beloved witnesses, almost participants, of the events of your family—its joys, which we hope will be numerous, and its grief and trials, which will surely occur, for you, like everyone else in the world, will have your moments of sadness.
Perhaps at this moment you are living in a sweet dream, but what dream can withstand the realities of daily life? The grace of the sacrament fortifies you against the inevitable disillusionments and difficulties inherent in married life. In every circumstance of your life, sad or joyful, the great task of Christian marriage remains always the same. For you as Christians, marriage is not a purely natural alliance, or a merely human agreement; it is a contract in which God has a place, and the only place suitable for Him is the first place. You have been united before His altar not only to lighten the burden of life for each other, but also to collaborate with God Himself in the continuation of His creative redemptive work. In accepting and blessing your promises, God has at the same time conferred upon you a special grace to facilitate the fulfillment of these new and special obligations.
37 WHAT IS A HOME?
January 27, 1943; Vol. IV p.375
The joy we always experience in receiving the young husbands and wives who come to ask our benediction arises, among other reasons, from the hope we derive in reflecting upon the vast and holy work which God entrusts to them: to restore and promote a strong and healthy society, motivated by a deeply practical Christian spirit and feeling. Is not the vocation to found a home what He really asks of them?
Home! How many times, dear newlyweds, especially since you have thought of marriage after your engagement, has this word resounded in your ears in the chorus of felicitations and good wishes from your relatives and friends! How many times has it risen spontaneously from your hearts! How many times has it filled you with ineffable sweetness, embodying an entire dream, an entire ideal, an entire life! A word of love, a magic word, which all good souls understand and delight to hear, whether they be tasting its actual intimacy, or whether they be thinking of it painfully at great distance, in absence, in prison, or whether they joyously greet the hope of its quick return!
And yet perhaps this very magic easily leads us to conceive of the home in a vague way, as if it were wrapped in a rosy and gilded cloud. This morning, therefore, we would like to have you probe its meaning. An accurate concept will detract nothing from its poetry; rather will it better reveal its beauty, its grandeur and its fruitfulness.
But this beautiful name must be merited by fulfilling two conditions: concentration of heat and radiation of light. Surely it is not a home where the only satisfaction of young husbands and wives consists in going out of the house as often as possible and where they are discontented without holidays, visits, journeys, vacations, and worldly or more than worldly amusements. No. A dwelling that is neglected, cold, deserted, silent, dark, and without the serenity and bright warmth of family living, is not a home. Nor are those dwellings true homes if they are too closed up, barred and almost inaccessible, as if they were prisons or solitary hermitages, where light and heat can neither enter from outside nor radiate outward.
And yet, an intimate home is so beautiful if it radiates! May yours be like this, dear sons and daughters, in the image and likeness of the home of Nazareth! There was never a home more intimate but at the same time more cordial, more lovable, more peaceful in poverty, or more radiant; why does it not live on even now and illumine all Christian society by its radiation? To the degree in which it is forgotten, you see, to that degree the world grows dark and cold. But what are these rays which must originate in your home and there find the power to expand into broad flashes of light and heat? Like those which emanate from the sun, they vary in an infinite range of colors and gradation—some brighter, others warmer. They are the graces and the attractions of the spirit, of the heart, and of the soul; we call them qualities, gifts, talents. The qualities are the treasures of a two-fold ancestral heritage; the talents have been acquired by work, energy and struggle; the most precious are the gifts, those virtues mysteriously infused into human nature by the gracious love of the Holy Ghost and increased by the practice of Christian life.
Until yesterday your two families were still strangers to each other. Each family had its own traditions, its own memories, its own particular traits of spirit and heart which gave it its own character; each had its own relationships among parents and friends. And now, on the day of your marriage, your two hearts are joined in a new harmony which will extend through your descendants but which has already begun to resound around you. Enriched by this two-fold heritage, you take pleasure in your combined personal attainments. The events and encounters of your domestic, professional and social lives, your conversations, your reading, your studies in literature, in science and art, perhaps even in philosophy, and above all in religion, bring you a most worthwhile return in your hours of intimacy, like bees, heavy with nectar, returning to the hive. And in your confidences you can distill the sweetest honey, nourishing yourselves and sharing it, perhaps even unconsciously, with all who come in contact with you.
In your daily relationships and the needful meeting of minds which is attained through innumerable little concessions and innumerable little victories, you will acquire and raise to a higher level all the moral virtues: strength and mildness, enthusiasm and patience, frankness and tact. They will unite you in an evergrowing love, will place your imprint on the education of your children, and will give your dwelling a fascinating attraction which will never cease to radiate to the social circle which you frequent or which surrounds you.
These should be the virtues of a family home. In Christian husbands and wives and in Christian families, these are sanctified and elevated to a supernatural order and are therefore incomparably superior to all natural capacities, for when you became children of God there were instilled in your souls, through grace, faculties of a divine order which no purely human effort, however heroic, would be able to generate even in the lowest grade.
38 THE ROLE OF THE WIFE
February 25, 1942; Vol. III, p.377
You are entering joyously upon the path of married life; the priest has blessed the union of your hearts. We too bless you with the same good wishes for grace and comfort which the Church’s prayer invoked upon you for a happy home. But from the threshold of your home look around you at the numerous families you know or whom you have known or whose stories you have heard retold, families close by or far away, humble families or important ones. Have all the marriages which founded these families been happy? Are all the families tranquil and at peace? Have all the couples lived up to their hopes or their first glowing expectations? It would be vain to imagine so. Families are often afflicted by troubles even if they are not sought, even if no motive or occasion is given to attract them. “Misfortunes,” says the great Christian novelist Manzoni, “very often come because some motive is given them; but the most cautious and innocent conduct is not enough to hold them off; and when they come, through fault or not, trust in God sweetens them and makes them useful for a better life.”
The most unhappy married lives are those in which the law of God is seriously violated by one or even both of the parties. But although these offenses are the most deadly source of family misfortune, we do not wish to dwell upon them today. We are thinking rather of those couples who conduct themselves properly, who are faithful to the basic duties of their state, but who are nonetheless unhappy in their marriages, who feel angry, ill at ease, a sense of alienation, coldness, shock. Whose fault and responsibility is this anxiety and vexation?
There is absolutely no doubt that a wife can do more than a husband to make a happy home. The prime role of the husband is to provide a living and prepare the future for the family and the home in those matters which affect him and the children in that future. The woman’s role encompasses those countless, ceaseless details, those imponderable daily attentions and cares which create the atmosphere of a family, and, depending on whether they are properly performed or not, make the home either healthy, attractive, and comfortable, or demoralized and unbearable. A wife’s activities in the home must always be the work of “the valiant woman” so highly praised in Holy Scripture, the woman in whom “the heart of her husband trusteth” and who will “render him good and not evil, all the days of her life” (Prov. 31:11-12).
Is it not an ageless truth—a truth rooted in the very physical conditions of a woman’s life, an inexorable truth proclaimed not only by the experience of distant centuries but also of those more recent in our era of consuming industrialization, of seeking for vindication, of competitive sport—that the woman makes the home and takes care of it and that the man can never replace her in this? This is the mission which nature and her union with man has imposed upon her for the good of society itself. Entice her away, lure her far from her family with one of those many attractions that vie to overcome and conquer, and you will see the woman leave her family hearth untended. Without this fire, the atmosphere of the home grows cold. For all practical purposes the home will cease to exist and will be transformed into a precarious refuge of a few hours. The center of daily life will move elsewhere for the husband, for herself, and for the children.
Now whether they wish it or not, the husband and wife who are determined to remain faithful to the duties of their way of life can erect the magnificent edifice of happiness only on the solid foundation of family life. But where will you find true family life without a home, without a visible focal point to encompass, anchor and sustain this life, to deepen and develop it, to cause it to bloom? Do not say that the home exists materially from the moment the two hands are joined and the newlyweds have the same room, under the same roof, in their apartment or dwelling, be it large or small, rich or poor. No. The material house is not enough for the spiritual edifice of happiness. The material house must rise to a more wholesome level, and the living and vivifying flame of the new family must leap from the earthly hearth. This will not be the work of a day, especially if one does not dwell in the home already prepared by preceding generations, but rather—as is most frequently the case today, at least in the cities—in a temporary residence, simply rented from someone else.
To create, therefore, little by little, day by day, a true spiritual home, will be the crowning work of the one who has become “the mistress of the house,” she whom “the heart of her husband trusteth.” Whether the husband be a workman, a farmer, a professional man, a man of letters, a scientist, an artist, a clerk or an executive, it is inevitable that most of the time his activities take him away from home, or, if at home, he confines himself for long hours in the silence of his office away from the center of the family. For him the focus of the family will become the place where, at the end of his day’s work, he can refresh his physical and moral powers in calm repose and serene joy. For the woman, on the other hand, the house usually remains the center of her principal activity, and, little by little, however poor it may be, she will make that house a home. It will become an abode of peace and joy beautified not by furniture or decorations like a hotel, without personal style or taste or character, but by reminders in the furnishings or on the walls of the events of the life together—the tastes, the ideas, the joys and sufferings shared, traces at times visible, other times almost imperceptible, from which with passage of time the physical home will draw its soul. Its entire soul, however, will be the feminine hand and touch with which the wife will make every corner of the home attractive, if only by care, order and cleanliness, with everything ready and in place for use when needed or desired.
God has endowed woman more than man with a sense of grace and good taste, with the gift of making the simplest things pleasant and welcome precisely because, although she is formed like man to help him and to constitute the family with him, she was born to spread kindness and sweetness in her husband’s home and to see to it that their life together is harmonious, fruitful and fully developed.
And when in His goodness Our Lord blesses the wife with the dignity of motherhood, the cry of the newborn babe will neither disturb nor destroy the happiness of the home. It will instead increase it and raise it to that divine glory where the angels of heaven shine and whence descends a ray of life which conquers nature and regenerates the children of men into sons of God. This is the sanctity of the nuptial bed! This is the sublime nature of Christian motherhood! Here is the salvation of the married woman! The woman, as the great Apostle Paul proclaims, will save herself through her mission as a mother, as long as she continues “in faith and love and holiness with modesty” (I Tim. 2:15). You can understand now that “godliness is profitable in all respects, since it has the promise of the present life as well as of that which is to come” (I Tim. 4:8), arid since it is, as St. Ambrose explains, “the foundation of all virtues.”
A cradle consecrates the mother of the family, and many cradles sanctify and glorify her in the eyes of her husband, her children, the Church and her country. Foolish indeed, ignorant of themselves, and unhappy are those mothers who complain when a new child clings to them and asks to be fed at the fountain of their breasts! To complain against God’s blessing which embraces and enlarges the home is to imperil the happiness of the family. The heroism of motherhood is the pride and glory of the Christian wife. In the desolation of a home without the joy of these little angels of God, her loneliness becomes a prayer and plea to heaven and her tears join with the sobs of Anna who at the door to the temple begged the Lord for the gift of her Samuel.
Therefore, dear newlyweds, raise your thoughts constantly to a consideration of your responsibilities in order to achieve the serene bliss of married life, for you are surely well aware of its grave and serious side.
39 THE ROLE OF THE HUSBAND
April 8, 1942; Vol. IV, p.27
The human family is the last, sublime prodigy from the hand of God in the natural universe, the last and crowning wonder of the visible world on the seventh and final day of creation. He formed man and woman and led them to the garden of paradise which He had planted and prepared so that they might cultivate and watch over it and exercise dominion over the birds of the air, the fishes of the sea and the beasts of the earth.
This is the regal grandeur which man still bears, even after his fall, and which lifts him above the world to contemplate the firmament and the stars, to brave the oceans, to walk upon the earth and master it and eke his living from it.
Perhaps you wives, aware of what we have said concerning the woman’s responsibility for happiness in the family home, felt in your hearts that such a responsibility should not devolve upon her alone but should be reciprocal and should include the husband no less than the wife. And there surely came to your minds the case of more than one woman whom you know, or of whom you have heard, an exemplary wife dedicated to the care of the family to the limit of her strength but who, after years of married life, must still cope with rude, indifferent selfishness—perhaps even violence—on the part of her husband, a selfishness which, instead of diminishing, has increased over the years. These heroic mothers of families are daughters of Eve, yes, but strong women generously imitating the second Eve, Mary, who crushed the tempting serpent’s head and climbed sorrowful Calvary to the foot of the Cross. We have not forgotten her.
The husband’s duty to his wife and children, arising first and foremost from his responsibility for their lives, chiefly involves his profession, his art or his craft. With his professional work he must provide their food, the necessary means for a secure livelihood, and adequate clothing. His family must feel safe and happy under the protection he provides through his labor and foresight.
The situation of an unmarried man is completely different from that of a man with a wife and children to support. He frequently meets with attractive but hazardous undertakings which offer the hope of great profit, but which easily lead down unsuspected paths to disaster. Dreams of fortune deceive the mind more often than they fulfill expectations. Moderation of the heart and its dreams is a virtue which never does harm, for it is the daughter of prudence. Hence, a married man, even though there are no other moral problems involved, ought not to go beyond proper limits imposed by his obligation not to endanger, without very grave reasons, the security of his wife and children, those already born and those to come.
It would be different if circumstances beyond his power and control jeopardized the happiness of his family, as so often happens in periods of great political and social upheaval which engulf millions of homes throughout the world in mournful floods of fear, misery and death. However, in deciding upon action or inaction in a venture of risk, he must always ask himself: Can I assume this responsibility in view of my family?
A married man is morally bound not only to his family but to society as well. Loyalty in the exercise of his profession, art or craft; trustworthiness upon which his superiors may place unconditional reliance; correctness and integrity in conduct which earn the trust of all who deal with him—are these not outstanding social virtues? These fine virtues constitute the defensive rampart of domestic happiness and peaceful family existence, the security of which, according to God’s law, is the first duty of a Christian father.
We could add that since the reputation and public esteem of a husband affects the honor and standing of a wife, the man, out of respect for her, should strive to surpass his equals and distinguish himself in his own field. Generally, every woman wants to be proud of her life’s companion. A husband is therefore to be commended who, out of noble feelings and love for his wife, spares no effort to do his best in his work and, as far as he is able, to accomplish outstanding results.
If by worthily and honestly improving himself through his profession or work, a man brings honor and consolation to his wife and children—since the children’s pride is their father—the man must likewise remember how much it means to family happiness if he always demonstrates in his thinking, his conduct and his speech consideration and esteem for his wife, the mother of his children. The wife is the sun and the sanctuary of the family, the refuge of the tearful child, the guide of older ones, comforting them in their grief, calming them in doubts, giving them faith in the future. She is the sweet mistress of the household. The consideration which you heads of the family bear her may be discerned in your faces, your looks, your voices, and from your greetings and conduct. May it never occur, as is sometimes said, that married couples are distinguished from the unmarried by the indifferent, inconsiderate, even downright discourteous and rude behavior of the man towards the woman. No, the behavior of a husband towards his wife must always be characterized by that natural and dignified attention and cordiality which marks a God-fearing, well-adjusted man who understands the inestimable good effect which mutual respect between husbands and wives has on the children. The father’s respect for the mother is an incentive to the children to look upon their mother, and the father himself, with respect, veneration and love.
But a man’s contribution to the happiness of the home cannot be limited to considerate regard for his life’s companion; it must go further and seek to appreciate and recognize the work and effort which she silently and assiduously dedicates to making the home more comfortable, pleasant and gay. With what loving care a young woman has planned to celebrate, as happily as her circumstances permit, the anniversary of her wedding to the young man who was to become the companion of her life and happiness and who now is about to return home from his office or factory. Look at the table, gladdened and beautified with delicate flowers. She planned everything herself, taking special care to select whatever pleases him best. But when the husband arrives, he is late, gloomy and preoccupied, worn out from long hours of work, perhaps more difficult than usual, irritable because of unexpected difficulties. The happy and affectionate greeting falls on deaf ears and evokes no reply. He never even notices the table so lovingly arranged; he merely observes that the meal especially prepared to make him happy is overcooked, and he complains, without thinking that it was because of his own delay and the long wait. He eats hurriedly, having to go out again, he says, immediately after dinner. As soon as dinner is over, the poor young woman, who had dreamed of a delightful and memorable evening together with him, finds herself alone in the empty room and needs all her faith and courage to fight her tears!
Such scenes are frequent enough in everyone’s lifetime. A principle enunciated by the great philosopher Aristotle states that a man’s viewpoint is conditioned by what he himself is. In other words, things appear proper or not according to one’s natural disposition or to the passions which move one, and you see how even the innocent passions, such as business affairs and events, as much as the emotions, cause us to change ideas and tendencies, to forget propriety and responsibilities, and to overlook kindness and courtesy. Doubtless the husband could offer as his excuse exhaustion from overwork, aggravated by disappointments and annoyances. But does he think that his wife never becomes fatigued nor encounters problems? Love, true and deep, in one or the other, ought to be and show itself stronger than boredom or fatigue, stronger than changes in weather or season, stronger than the shifting personal moods and the intervention of unexpected misfortune. We must master ourselves no less than external problems, without giving up or becoming their prey. One must learn to brighten the countenance of reciprocal love with a smile, a thank you, an appreciation of affection and courtesy, and by giving joy to those who work for us.
Therefore when you men come home, where conversation and repose restore your strength, do not be quick to seek out little defects inevitable in every human endeavor; seek rather all that is good, great or small, which is offered you as the fruit of difficult efforts, solicitous care and affectionate feminine attention to make your home, however modest it may be, a little paradise of happiness and joy. Do not make the mistake of acknowledging or loving these good things only in the depths of your minds and hearts. No, bring it to the surface and show it openly, particularly to the one who has spared no effort to procure it for you, and whose best and sweetest reward will be a loving smile, a gracious word, a pleased look, in which she will perceive your complete appreciation.
40 AUTHORITY OF HUSBAND OVER WIFE
September 10, 1941; Vol. III, p.189
A few days ago, dear newlyweds, in the sight of God and in the presence of the priest, as ministers of the great sacrament which you received, by your free and solemn exchange of vows, you pledged an indissoluble life together. In that sacred act you felt in your souls that you were in a state of perfect equality so that the marriage contract was concluded by you in full independence, as between persons having strictly equal rights. Your human dignity was revealed in all the grandeur of its free will.
But in that very moment you founded a family, and every family is a living society. Every well-ordered society requires a head; all authority in a head comes from God. Therefore, even the family you founded has a head clothed by God with authority over the woman given to him as a helpmate to establish its first nucleus, and then over the children who with the Lord’s blessing will come to enlarge and gladden it like saplings around the trunk of an olive tree.
Yes, the authority of the head of the family comes from God, as there came from God to Adam the dignity and authority of the first head of the human race, endowed with all the gifts that were to be handed down to his progeny. For this reason Adam was formed first and then Eve; and Adam, St. Paul tells us, was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and was in sin. Oh, what harm was done by Eve to the first man, to herself, to all her children and to us, by her curiosity to look upon the beautiful fruit of earthly paradise and by her conversation with the serpent! And so God said that besides her countless anxieties and sufferings, she would be subject to her husband. Dear Christian wives and mothers, never allow yourselves to yield to the desire to usurp the scepter of the family. Let your scepter be the scepter of love given you by the Apostle to the Gentiles: attaining salvation through the procreation of children, provided you continue in faith, and love and holiness and modesty (I Tim. 2:15).
Sanctified by grace, husbands and wives are equally and immediately united with Christ. In fact, those who have been baptized in Christ and have put on Christ, writes St. Paul, are all children of God, nor is there any difference between man and woman because all are one in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the situation in the Church and in the family is different inasmuch as they are visible societies. And for this reason the same Apostle warns: “I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor. 11:3). Just as Christ, as man, is subject to God, so every Christian is subject to Christ of whom he is a member, and so too the woman is subject to the man with whom, by virtue of marriage, she has become “one flesh.” The great Apostle felt the necessity of recalling this truth and this fundamental fact to the converts at Corinth who because of numerous ideas and customs of the pagan world might easily have forgotten or misunderstood or distorted these things. Would he not perhaps feel the same need for these warnings if he were to speak to many Christians of this very day? Is there not in our times an unhealthy atmosphere of renascent paganism?
Present living conditions resulting from today’s economic and social status, due to the custom in the professions, arts and crafts of accepting men and women in workshops, offices and various employments, tend to engender and introduce on a practical scale a broad parity between the activities of a woman and those of a man, so that husbands and wives very often find themselves in a situation that almost approaches equality. Frequently a husband and wife practice similar professions and contribute an almost equal amount to the family budget through personal effort. Yet because of this same work they come to lead lives quite independent from each other.
Meanwhile, how are the children whom God sends them to be cared for, protected, educated, and instructed? You see them—we would not say abandoned—but very frequently entrusted to strange hands from their first years, formed and guided more by others than by their own mother who is far away from them practicing her profession. Is it any wonder that the sense of family authority begins to weaken and, as it loses hold, gradually disappears entirely, since the father’s control and the mother’s care are inadequate to create a happy and loving family life?
And yet the Christian concept of marriage which St. Paul taught his disciples at Ephesus, as well as at Corinth, could not be more open and explicit: “Let wives be subject to their husbands as to the Lord; because a husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church….But just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and delivered himself up for her….Let each one of you also love his wife just as he loves himself; and let the wife respect her husband” (Eph. 5:22-25, 33).
What is this doctrine and teaching of Paul, if not the teaching of Christ? In this way the Divine Redeemer was to restore what paganism had overthrown. Neither Athens nor Rome, beacons of civilization which shed great natural light on family relationships, ever succeeded through lofty philosophical speculations or wise legislation or severe censure in giving woman her true place in the family.
In the Roman world, notwithstanding the respect and dignity which surrounded the mother of a family, she was, according to the ancient law of the Quirites, juridically subject to the complete and unlimited power of her husband, or of the “father of the family,” who had complete dominion in the home. But in the centuries which followed, all the family laws of the ancients fell into disuse, that iron discipline lapsed, and woman became practically independent of any authority of the husband.
Doubtless there remained noble examples of wives and excellent mothers, but in contrast to such worthy characters was an ever growing number of women, especially in high society, who refused and opposed the duties of motherhood because they were attracted to employments and pursuits which until then had been reserved for men alone. With the increase in divorces, the family gradually collapsed. Feminine morals and affections deviated from the straight and virtuous path to such an extent as to evoke from Seneca the well-known caustic comment: “Is there any longer a woman ashamed of breaking up her marriage, when illustrious and noble ladies count their ages not by the number of consuls, but by the number of husbands; and who divorce in order to marry and marry merely to divorce?”
Women exert great power over men. Remember that Eve, after she was seduced by the serpent, gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, and Adam ate it. The reestablishment in the family of a structure indispensable for its unity and its happiness, and the restoration at the same time of conjugal love to its true and original grandeur, was one of the greatest achievements of Christianity, from the day when Christ stated to the Pharisees and to the world: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6).
This essential order of nature, inherent in the unity of marriage, has been marked by Divine creative Providence with distinctive qualities, intimately interdependent, which He wished to confer upon man and woman. “Yet neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man in the Lord” (I Cor. 11:11), exclaimed St. Paul. Man has the principal place in this unity—strength of body, the gifts necessary for the work which must provide and guarantee the support of the family. To him indeed was said: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Gen. 3:19). For woman, God has reserved the suffering of childbirth, the labor of nursing and early upbringing of children, for whom the finest care of strangers will never take the place of the affectionate solicitude of motherly love.
But while firmly sustaining this dependence of the wife on her husband, sanctified in the first pages of Revelation, the Apostle to the Gentiles recalls that Christ, filled with compassion for us and for women, sweetened any taste of bitterness still remaining in the depths of the old law. Through His divine union with the Church, which He “conjoined by sacred blood,” He showed how the authority of the head and the submission of the wife can, without losing anything, be transformed by the power of love, a love which imitates the bond which unites Him to His Church. He showed how constancy of command and respectful obedience can and must, in an active and mutual love, achieve selflessness and a generous reciprocal gift of each other. From this, peace in the home arises and is consolidated. Peace, defined by St. Augustine as the “well-ordered concord of those in the family who rule and those who obey,” is the flower of order and love. This should be the model of your Christian families.
You husbands have been clothed with authority. In your home each of you is the head, with all of the duties and responsibilities which this entails. Do not therefore be doubtful or hesitant in the exercise of that authority; do not shrink from those duties nor flee from those responsibilities. Do not let idleness, carelessness, selfishness or distractions cause you to lose your grasp on the ship’s rudder of your home, entrusted to your hands. But towards the wife you have chosen as your life’s companion, what delicacy, what respect, what affection you must display in every exercise of your authority, be it happy or sad! Let your commands, adds the great Bishop of Hippo mentioned a moment ago, be as gentle as good advice; and from this advice, obedience will draw encouragement and strength. In a Christian home where one lives through faith and is still a pilgrim from the heavenly city, even those who command serve those whom they appear to command, for they do not command through any desire to rule but to advise, not through pride of authority but through thoughtful foresight.
Take the example of St. Joseph. Before him he saw the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, who was better, holier, more sublime than he. A sovereign respect caused him to venerate her as Queen of Angels and Men, the Mother of his God; and yet he remained and acted in his post as head of the Holy Family, nor was he ever found wanting in any of the supreme obligations which this role imposed upon him.
And you, dear wives, lift up your spirits. Do not merely accept or submit to this authority of your husband under which God has placed you in the orderly operation of nature and grace. You should love it willingly and sincerely with the same respectful love you have for Our Lord’s authority, the source of all true power of leadership. We know very well how the concept of equality—competition in studies, at school, in sciences, in sports and games—arouses a sense of pride in many feminine hearts, and perhaps your hidden sensitivity as modern, independent young women will find it difficult to accept the dependence of home life. Many around you will claim that this is unjust; they will urge you to assume an even more independent role for yourself, insisting that you are absolutely equal to your husband, indeed in many respects his superior. Do not become another Eve, allowing yourself to be diverted, by these insidious, tempting and deceitful ideas, from the only path that can lead you to true happiness here on earth.
The greatest independence to which you have a sacred right is the independence of a soul that is staunchly Christian in the face of evil. As a matter of duty, your mind and heart call out a warning when you are asked to do anything against the unalterable precepts of divine law, or the incontestable duties of Christian women, wives or mothers. You must preserve and defend respectfully, calmly, affectionately but without compromise the inalienable and sacred independence of your conscience. There are at times in today’s world instances of heroism or victory of which only God and the angels are the secret and invisible witnesses.
As for the rest, if you are asked to sacrifice a whim or a personal preference, however legitimate, be happy that these slight deprivations will be rewarded by earning for you each day more of that heart which was given to you, by continuously increasing and strengthening the innermost union of ideas, of feelings, and of will which alone can sweeten and lighten the lofty mission of raising the children entrusted to you, a mission which would be gravely menaced by any disharharmony between you. In the family, as in any association of two or more persons working towards the same end, it is indispensable that there be an authority to protect, guide and uphold its unity in an effective way. You ought therefore to love that bond which unites, even if on the path of life one must lead and the other must follow; you ought to love it with all the love you bring to your home.
PART IX – The Family
41 FOUNDERS OF NEW FAMILIES
May 24, 1939; Vol. I, p.137
We are truly happy and profoundly moved that you have come before us, dear husbands and wives, after having sanctified and consecrated your love in the nuptial blessing and deposited at the foot of the altar the promise of an ever more intensely Christian life.
From now on you must feel yourselves doubly obliged to live as true Christians. God requires of husbands and wives that they be Christian spouses and Christian parents.
Until yesterday, you were children of the family, subject to the obligations expected of children; but from the instant of your marriage you became founders of new families, as many families as there are couples of newlyweds surrounding us.
Here are new families destined to sustain a future lost in the mysteries of Divine Providence; destined to supply civil society with good citizens anxious to procure for society itself that safety and security for which, perhaps never more than now, it feels so great a need; destined, as well, to nourish the Church of Jesus Christ, for it is from new families that the Church expects new children of God, obedient to her most sacred laws; destined, finally, to prepare new citizens for the heavenly homeland when this earthly life shall have come to an end.
But you can hope for this great good which you are called upon to accomplish in your new state of life only if you will live as Christian spouses and parents.
To live a Christian married life means to perform faithfully, in addition to all the ordinary duties of every Christian and every child of the Catholic Church, the special obligations of the married state. The Apostle St. Paul, writing to the first Christian husbands and wives in Ephesus, emphasized their reciprocal duties and summed them up forcefully as follows: “Let wives be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord, because a husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church.” “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and delivered Himself up for her.” “And you, 0 fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but rear them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 5:2225; Eph. 6: 4).
In reminding you, dear husbands and wives, of the observance of these duties, we extend every good wish and we impart that blessing you have come to ask of the Vicar of Christ.
42 THE MYSTERY OF FATHERHOOD
March 19, 1941; Vol. III, p.15
Your faith does not err when it sees the Pope above all else as a father; yet, however great this universal and spiritual fatherhood may be, it is merely a dim reflection of that supreme, transcending and infinite Fatherhood which St. Paul, the Doctor to the Gentiles, adored, kneeling before the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ: “For this reason I bend my knees to the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its name” (Eph, 3:14-15).
What else is fatherhood if not communication of being, and, still more, putting into that being the mysterious ray of life? God is the father of the universe. “God is the Father from whom are all things” (I Cor. 8:6). God is the Father who created the heavens, the sun, the stars that shine in His sight and bespeak His glory; God is the Father who formed and fashioned this earth, who planted its flowers and forests, who filled and multiplied the birds’ nests in the air, the hidden schools of fish and the patterned coral of the sea, the flocks of sheep, the droves of cattle, lairs of wild beasts, and dens of roaring lions coiled to spring on their prey; all this varied and immense life is the product of God’s love, directed, sustained, enveloped in its growth and development by His paternal providence.
But Fatherhood rises even higher in the act of creation; to vegetable or animal life it communicates the superior life of intelligence and love. Angels are also children of God. Pure spirits, unburdened by flesh, sublime images of the Trinity which they contemplate and love, angels in their own way partake of the Divine Fatherhood; as St. Thomas teaches, one illumines and perfects the other with the light of the intellect, making himself the father of the other, like the teacher who is father of his pupil and always communicates new stimuli to the life of the mind.
Man is also the son of God, conscious and loving image of the Trinity. He is a spirit united with matter, and if God has made him something less than angels, as a father he is in a certain sense greater than the angels. They can only transmit the luminous activity of their own intelligence, while man renders to God his cooperation in the creation and very infusion of this intelligence in his children, by generating the body which receives it.
Remember, dear husbands and wives, the great day when man and his helpmate were created. Facing the supreme act of joining spirit to matter, the Divine Trinity seems to take counsel with Itself and say: “Let us make man to our image and likeness.” But if God takes a bit of slime to fashion the first man, the first human life, you see on the other hand how He wishes and intends that first life to be propagated and multiplied. No longer from inert slime, but from the living side of man, is the second life drawn, a life that becomes his help-mate—woman, a new ray of intelligence and love, Adam’s collaborator in the transmission of life, formed from him and continuing in his likeness through all his descendants and posterity. And when God, in bringing Eve to Adam and giving her to him, proclaimed the supreme command, the source of life, “Increase and multiply,” does it not seem to you that the Creator transferred to man himself His own august privilege of Fatherhood, thus placing before him and his helpmate the right to allow to flow into mankind the cresting waters of the river of life gushing forth from His own love?
But the infinite love of God, which is charity, has ever more lofty means of giving forth its light and flame by communicating, as a Father, a life similar to His own. Angels and men are children of God and they reveal this in the image and likeness which, in the natural order of simple creatures, they have received from Him. But God possesses an even more sublime Fatherhood, generating children through adoption and grace in an order which is higher than human and angelic nature and which makes them partake of and associate in the Divine Nature itself, inviting them to share His own happiness in the vision of His Essence, in that inaccessible light where, to the children of grace, He unveils Himself, and to share the innermost secret of His incomparable Fatherhood, together with the Son and the Holy Ghost. In this supreme light reigns God Himself, the Creator, the Sanctifier, the Glorifier, and out of love for the last of His intelligent creatures, He regenerates him from a child of wrath, because he is born of his guilty ancestor Adam, and causes him to be reborn here on earth, of water and the Holy Ghost, as a child of grace, a brother of Christ, a new unblemished Adam. He makes man co-heir of His glory in heaven; hence He wishes that for this glory and supernatural life, as well as for natural life, man himself, cooperating with God, should be the father of its transmission and its preservation and its perfection.
This, dear sons and daughters, is the incomparable mystery into the heart of which your marriage leads you. Enter as into a sanctuary of the Most Blessed Trinity, filled with respect, with filial fear and confident love, with a sense of your responsibilities and the grandeur of the duty which you have to perform. You too will have to pronounce the words, “Let us make man to our image and likeness,” words that are both divine and human, intertwined upon your lips and in your breast. Reflect upon these words of fatherhood, God’s and yours: your children in your image and your likeness. Yes, your children will be in your image, exactly like yourselves, by means of the human nature, which you, begetting them, will communicate to them.
But will they be in your likeness through supernatural life as well? We have no doubt that you will be solicitous to obtain for them that Baptism which regenerated you yourselves in God’s Eyes as children of grace and heirs of heaven, even though to open the doors of paradise for your little angel will require pain or sacrifice of your faith and love. Raise them in the faith, in fear and love of God; transmit to them that wisdom of life which makes one a Christian and which leads and guides him along the path of virtue amid the dangers of so many insidious enemies of youth.
Be their model in the journey to goodness, and always be such that your children need only liken themselves to you, and be praised as being in your image, in order for them to respond fully to God’s designs in giving them, through you, a life like yours. May they find the light of their way by watching you, by imitating you, and by remembering, when some day you will no longer be at their side, your warnings and advice, evidenced and confirmed by a complete fulfillment of all the duties of Christian life, the delicate and inner sense of uncompromising, unshakeable faith and confidence in God which you exhibited under the most difficult trials. May they remember a mutual love grown ever deeper through the years, a helpful and charitable goodness devoting itself to every misfortune.
Your children will expect much from your careful vigilance over their first steps and the first awakening and opening of their minds and hearts. Even though you entrust them later on to teachers worthy of your confidence as Christian parents, you will never cease to help them by your counsel and encouragement. But louder than any words will be the voice of your example, an example which will continue for many years to be a mirror reflecting your practical life before their eyes, in and out of the family circle, an example which they will probe and judge with the terrible clarity and relentless penetration of their youthful curiosity.
How beautiful and worthy of remembrance is the blessing Raguel gives young Tobias when he learns whose son he is: “A blessing be upon thee, my son, because thou art the son of a good and most virtuous man” (Tob. 7:7). Old Tobias was no longer rich in valuable possessions, and Our Lord had sorely tried him through the misfortune of exile and blindness. But he was rich in better things, in the admirable example of his virtue and the wise counsel he gave his son. We, too, live in difficult times. Perhaps you will not always be able to provide for your children the pleasant and beautiful life you dream of for them, nor will you be able to make them comfortable and contented with good things you would like to obtain for them, other than daily bread which, with the help of Divine Providence, we are sure will not be lacking.
But more than earthly possessions, which even for the powerful and the epicures can never change this valley of tears into a paradise of delight, it is your obligation to give your children and heirs even finer things: the wealth of faith, an atmosphere of hope and charity, inspiration for a courageous and constant Christian life. The fulfillment of your sacred duty as fathers and mothers, conscious of the grandeur of the fatherhood you have received from heaven, will cause them to grow and prosper and be your comfort before God and men.
43 THE HUSBAND’S DUTIES IN THE HOME
April 15, 1942; Vol. IV, p.35
Dear newlyweds, how marvelous it is when we contemplate all of creation, seeing before us the surpassing variety of inanimate materials such as minerals and soil, the immense vegetable kingdom, grass, flowers, and fruit, the crops and trees, or the vast animal empire which is found in the air and the sea, the mountains, the plains and the forests. Amid this variety you notice how even in the same species, individuals differ characteristically among themselves in strength, beauty, color and shape. And when Our Lord blesses you with children you will discern those dissimilar inclinations which distinguish boys from girls and which, in other ways, differentiate a man and a woman in the life which God prepares for them.
So too, in married life, the man is the head of the woman and ordinarily excels her in strength and vigor. This distinction, however, does not humiliate her spirit, for however often she undertakes apparently slight tasks, in reality her attainments are great and powerful because of her responsibility in creating a happy family life, thus meriting her husband’s gratitude.
Nevertheless, however cordial this gratitude may be, you men can and must do more. Your dominance as head of the family does not consist alone in performing the activities required by your profession, your craft, or your particular field in or out of the home. You also have an active role to play in the home itself which is the proper domain of your wife. You, who are endowed with greater strength and often more dexterity with tools and implements, will find a time and place to work on many odd jobs around the house which should be done by the husband rather than the wife. They will not be the same as the work you do in your office, factory or laboratory, nor will they lower your dignity. You will be sharing responsibilities with your wife who is often overladen with work and worry; you will be lending a friendly hand to lift a burden which will be helpful to her and a diversion and change of pace for you.
Cultivate an orchard or a garden if you are fortunate enough to have one; beautify it by improving or rearranging little things from time to time. These tasks surely belong more properly to you than to your wife. And, generally, whenever anything to be done requires strength, be good and thoughtful and prudent enough to do it yourself. What could be more deplorable or repugnant to Catholic sensibilities than to meet in a Christian environment anything even remotely resembling a once too familiar sight among peoples not yet illumined and softened by the divine mystery of Nazareth: a wife bent under a heavy load like a beast of burden, walking ahead of her husband who follows her and watches, smoking tranquilly!
In the past, one of the great social benefits was the custom by which even the man’s work was done at home. This united husband and wife in a common effort, side by side, in the same house near their children. But technical progress, the enormous expansion of factories and offices, the vast increase in the use of machinery has made such work very rare nowadays, except in some country places, and has often separated husband from wife and kept parents far from their children for many hours of the day.
But however demanding may be the work which keeps you men so far from your loved ones most of the day, we do not doubt that the fervor of your affection will always result in interest and skillful effort in performing those little chores at home to earn the family’s gratitude. Even more, such efforts show that your fatigue and desire to rest is overcome by a willingness to participate, even in a small way, in the common effort to derive greater enjoyment from your home.
Yet hard times come to every family, times that mingle joy and sorrow, difficulties and disappointments, misfortunes and tears; times of birth, sickness, and struggle. Then, of course, there is much more to do. Then the woman cannot possibly cope with her manifold duties, now more burdensome and urgent. Then everyone at home must do his best, even the young ones; but the first work must be done by the father, the head of the family, who in critical moments will have to set the example, through his help, knowledge and foresight, giving of himself promptly and without reserve.
In these times a father’s wisdom and dignity will be seen in his vigorous and efficient action in governing the family. Prepare and strengthen your minds and hearts for these important and inevitable trials, dear husbands, for the future which awaits you will surely be no different from the common future of every home. Inform and guide yourselves from the example of others and also from the ordinary experience of daily life. Within your home never attempt to calculate, measure or compare what is tiring and fatiguing, to determine who does the most work or who dedicates the most time and energy. True love never measures or compares; it gives of itself, always reckoning as too little whatever it does for those it loves. What The Imitation of Christ says of divine love can be applied to a profound and holy married love: “Love is unrestrained; it knows not fatigue; it desires more than it can do and nothing is impossible for it. It essays everything and completes and perfects many things which one without love lacks or overlooks.” Nor should you be surprised that the Apostle to the Gentiles, although his mind and heart were filled with the love of Christ, exalting it above prophecy, above mysteries and faith in miracles, above languages and sciences, above generosity to the poor and martyrdom, did not hesitate to compare the love of husbands for their wives to the love of Christ towards His Church.
Yes, love your wives! You owe them the duty of love as a higher and more necessary gift, for in this gift resides the claim to conjugal chastity and family peace; in this love fidelity is strengthened, children are glorified, and the sacrament which united husband and wife in the image of God remains forever inviolable. Sanctify your wives by your example anc1 virtue; encourage them to imitate you in doing good and in leading a religious life, in assiduous application and fortitude in the face of the hardships and severe suffering always at hand in human life. Can a husband ever forget the burden and suffering, sometimes even the danger and sublime sacrifices, which his wife endures in motherhood, which brings him the joy of being a father? Where instinct and maternal love have caused her to accept everything unstintingly, a husband’s conjugal love together with his paternal love will not permit him to be lax in his own dedication.
Dear men, turn your eyes to Nazareth; go into that small and modest dwelling. Look at that carpenter, most holy guardian of the divine secrets, who by the sweat of his brow provided for the family that was humble, yet higher than the Caesars in Rome; see with what devotion and respect he helps and venerates that Mother, his immaculate and unblemished Spouse. Look at the so-called “carpenter’s son,” Virtue and omnipotent Wisdom itself, who made heaven and earth and without whom nothing was made, just as no one can do anything without Him; yet He did not disdain to subject Himself to Mary and Joseph in performing the little duties at home and in the workshop. Look at this incomparable model of family sanctity, this spectacle of wonder and adoration for all the choirs of angels. May this sight preserve in your heart those feelings of gratitude and the desire to give lovingly of self which, in their daily manifestations, will form your generous collaboration for the good and peace of the home. If, in professional life, you consider it a point of honor not to shirk any responsibility which devolves upon you, so in your Christian life let your conscience be equally frank and noble by assuming fully and lovingly your share of participation in the care of the edifice of your family happiness.
44 BRIGHT SUN OF THE FAMILY
March 11, 1942; Vol. II, p.383
For the rest of your life, dear newlyweds, you will carry with you, as a comforting and happy augury, the memory of your father’s house and his Apostolic Benediction. It will accompany you on the journey you have just begun, under divine protection and with countless joyous hopes, in these turbulent times, striving towards the goal you can barely glimpse through the darkness of the future.
But your hearts are not afraid of darkness; the eagerness and hardihood of youth spurs you on. As you walk in step along the same path of life, united in your minds and hearts, the tranquility of your spirit is not disturbed, but rather renewed and expanded. You will be happy within your own home; you find no darkness; there your family has its own sun, your wife.
Yes, the wife and mother is the sun of the family. With generosity and devotion, with constant readiness, she watches over and provides for everything that helps to make life happy for her husband and children. She radiates light and warmth. It is usually said that a marriage is successful when each spouse strives from the beginning to insure not his own, but his partner’s, happiness. Although this noble sentiment concerns both parties, it is the chief virtue of the wife, who is born with a mother’s instinct, a heartful of wisdom—that wisdom which returns joy for bitterness, dignity and respect for humiliation, like the sun which dispels the morning mists at daybreak and gilds the clouds at sunset.
The wife is the sun of the family, with her bright look and the warmth of her words which sweetly pierce the soul, move and soften it, raise it above the tumult of the passions, welcome the husband to the delights of family conversation after a long and hard day at the office, in the field or the factory. Her eyes flash a world of meaning, and one word bespeaks a world of affection. Looks and words that dance up from a mother’s heart create the paradise of childhood, always radiating goodness and kindness even when they admonish or rebuke, for the more sensitive a child’s soul, the more profoundly he accepts the dictates of love.
The wife is the sun of the family by reason of her natural candor, her dignified simplicity, and her serious Christian bearing, as well as her dedication and rectitude, her restrained but gracious conduct and tastes. Delicate, refined, charming, tactful, she has the grace of an exotic yet simple flower that opens its leaves to receive and reflect the colors of the sun. If you only knew what profound feelings of love and gratitude such an image of wife and mother arouses and imprints upon the heart of the father of the family and upon the children! May the guardian angels of that house, who listen to prayers, shower heaven’s perfumes on such a home of Christian happiness!
But what happens if the family is deprived of this sun? What if the wife continuously, on every occasion, even in the most intimate relationships, complains of how many sacrifices married life is costing her? Where is her gentle affection when excessive discipline and uncontrolled anger, or annoying indifference smother in the children any feelings of joy and comfort at their mother’s side, when the harsh voice of her scolding and recriminations sadly disturbs and embitters a devoted family life? Where is that tender love and generosity when, instead of creating an atmosphere of welcome peace in the home, by her natural simplicity and tidiness, she poisons the air by being a restless, nervous and demanding woman of fashion? Is this the spreading of healthful rays of sunshine, or is it rather the chilling of the family garden with the freezing winds of sunset? Who could be surprised then if the husband, finding nothing at home to attract him, to keep him and comfort him, stays away as much as he can, thereby provoking the wife and mother to do the same, unless indeed the wife’s disappearance has not already provoked the husband’s? And so both of them, with grave spiritual danger and harm to the entire family, become used to seeking elsewhere the quiet repose and pleasure not found in their own home. In such a state of affairs, and beyond all doubt, the unfortunate children suffer most!
Dear wives, this is where your responsibility for family harmony and happiness can lead. It is your husband’s role to provide for your home, and it is your role to arrange its comfort and well-being to assure the serenity of your two lives. For you this is not only a role of nature but a religious duty as well, an obligation of Christian virtue, the practice and merit of which will win you an increase in the love and grace of God.
“But,” one of you may say, “this demands a life of sacrifice.” But not of sacrifice alone. Do you believe that anyone here on earth can enjoy true and lasting happiness without earning it by some privation or denial? Where, in any corner of this world, can the full and perfect happiness of earthly paradise be found? Do you think that perhaps your husband too does not make sacrifices, often numerous and difficult ones, to provide an honorable living for his family? It is precisely these mutual sacrifices, borne together for the good of all, which give to married love and family happiness the cordiality and stability, the holy depth and exquisite nobility which are rooted in the mutual respect of the husband and wife and which exalt them in the love and gratitude of their children. If a mother’s sacrifice is more severe and painful, virtue from on high will soften it. Through her own sacrifice a woman learns compassion for the sufferings of others. Love for the happiness of her own home does not remain enclosed within her; the love of God, which exalts her through her sacrifice, opens her heart to compassion and makes her holy.
“But,” someone may still object, “the structure of modern society—labor, industry, and the professions—drives a great number of women, even after marriage, to leave the family and enter business and public life.” We are not unaware of this, dear daughters. It is extremely doubtful that such a state of affairs constitutes truly a social ideal for a married woman. Nevertheless one must recognize the fact. Divine Providence, however, always watchful in His governance of humanity, has instilled into the spirit of the Christian family superior resources which help mitigate the harshness of such a social system and overcome its inherent dangers. Have you ever noticed that when religious feeling and faith in God form the basis of the family life, the sacrifice of a mother who, in addition to her own household duties, must work hard every day to provide for her family not only preserves but actually increases her children’s veneration and love for her and wins even more gratitude from them for her worries and hardships? If this be the case in your marriage, place complete confidence in God, who always helps those who fear and serve Him. Try to intensify the attentions and redouble the love you can lavish on your dear ones during the time you can devote to them, not only to guarantee an indispensable minimum of true family life, but also to leave implanted in the hearts of your husband and children a glowing warmth of comfort during the hours when you yourself are away.
And you husbands who are placed by God at the head of your wives and your families must, while working for their support, also assist your wives’ efforts to accomplish their holy, lofty and often exhausting mission; you must cooperate with them by that love and care which uses two hearts with the same strength and the same love.
We conclude by offering to the Holy Family of Nazareth an ardent prayer for each and every one of your families so that you, dear sons and daughters, may achieve your own goal by imitating Mary and Joseph, educating and raising Christian children as living members of Christ who are destined one day to enjoy with you the eternal happiness of heaven.
45 PARENTS AND CHILDREN
September 24, 1941; Vol. III, p.199
The family which you have so joyfully and hopefully founded before the priest at the altar will develop and grow, dear newlyweds, within a firm, twofold bond, which unites and binds closely together under one roof the husband and wife to each other and the parents to their children.
The first cry from the cradle is a thrill for the parents, and their relatives and friends share their joy. At the dawn of that first life the father’s authority also makes its first appearance, and then the mother’s. They recognize and quickly perform the duty of bringing the infant to Baptism so that it may become a child of God, that its original sin may be cleansed, that it may receive a life of grace and that the doors of paradise may be opened for it. For of little children “is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14). How this thought must ennoble a father who glories in his faith in Christ, and comfort a mother who yearns for the salvation of her children! In this way every child who receives the seal of divine adoption and quaffs at the fountain of supernatural waters is like a traveler who begins in the Church the journey of life along the uncertain and perilous paths of the world.
What, then, will this child be? (Lk. 1:66). Children are like reeds shaken by the wind; they are flowers from which even the softest breezes pluck some petals; they are untouched flower-beds deep within which God has placed seeds of goodness. But the senses and thoughts of the human heart, prone to evil from childhood, lie in wait for them, “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I Jn. 2:16). Who will strengthen these reeds? Who will protect these flowers? Who will cultivate these flower-beds and make the seeds of goodness grow despite the wiles of evil? First of all, the authority which rules the family and the children: your authority, dear parents.
Fathers and mothers frequently complain these days that they can no longer make their children obey. The little ones are unruly and listen to no one. Growing children spurn all guidance. The older boys and girls accept no advice, turn a deaf ear to all warnings, are concerned with winning games and contests and bent upon having their own way in everything, believing that they alone fully understand the needs of modern life. In short, it is stated, the new generation is not normally disposed (there are many beautiful and lovable exceptions!) to submit to parental authority. And what is the reason for this unruly attitude? The reason generally given is that today children very often no longer possess that sense of submission and respect due to parents; in the fiery atmosphere of youthful arrogance in which they live, everything conditions them to reject all deference towards their parents and so they lose it; everything they see and hear around them combines to increase, enflame and aggravate their natural, untamed inclination to independence, their disdain for the past, and their eagerness for the future.
If we were speaking now to children or young people, we would like to examine and consider the causes of their disobedience. But since we are addressing you newlyweds, who have just begun to exercise parental authority, we wish to direct your attention to another aspect of this important subject.
The normal exercise of authority depends not only on those who must obey but also in great measure on those who have to command. To put it more clearly, the right to possess authority and give orders is one thing; it is something else again to possess that moral preeminence which constitutes and enhances effective, active and efficient authority, and which succeeds in imposing it upon others and obtaining their obedience. The first right is conferred upon you by God by the very act which makes you parents. The second prerogative must be acquired and preserved; it can be lost just as it can be increased. Therefore, the right to command your children will have little or no effect upon them if it be not combined with that power and personal authority over them which guarantees that you will be truly obeyed. How and by what reliable means can you acquire, preserve and enlarge this moral power?
God gives some people the natural gift of command, a gift of knowing how to impose their wills upon others. It is a precious gift. It is often difficult to say whether it is to be found entirely in the spirit or largely in the personality, in the presence, in words, looks or expressions. But it is nevertheless an awesome gift. If you possess it, do not abuse it in dealing with your children; you would risk closing and barring their hearts with fear and making them slaves instead of loving children. Temper this power by an expansion of love which is responsive to their love, and by a patient, gentle, thoughtful and encouraging goodness. Listen to the plea of the great Apostle St. Paul: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, that they may not be discouraged” (Col. 3:21). You parents should remember that strictness is meritorious only when the heart is gentle.
To combine gentleness with authority is to triumph in that struggle in which you are engaged as parents. For everyone in authority, the fundamental condition of ruling well over others is to rule well over yourselves, your own passions and moods. Any authority at all is strong and respected only when those subject to it feel that its exercise is being directed by reason, by faith and by a sense of duty, for then the subordinates feel that their duty must respond to the duty of the one in authority. If the orders or reprimands which you give your children are issued on the spur of the moment from a fit of impatience, from blind or illfounded feelings, it is inevitable that they will often seem arbitrary, confusing, perhaps even unjust and inopportune. One day you will be unreasonable, demanding and inexorably severe towards those poor children. The next day you will stand for anything. You will begin by refusing them some little thing, and then a moment later, weary of their crying and sulking, you will give in to them with demonstrations of affection, anxious to put an end once and for all to a scene which is getting on your nerves.
Why not learn to master your bad moods and your whims, to control yourselves, since you are trying to control your children? If at any moment you do not feel that you are altogether in control of yourselves, postpone until later, at a better time, the rebuke or punishment which you feel to be necessary. Your punishment will have a far different effect, a more authoritative and instructive influence, if your spirit is firm but undisturbed, rather than excited by poorly-controlled emotions.
Do not forget that children, even the youngest of them, are all eyes in observing and noting things, and they will instantly recognize a change in your mood. From earliest infancy, when they are scarcely able to distinguish their mother from other women, they are quick to learn what power an outburst of crying or other antics has over weak parents, and in their roguish innocence they have no qualms about taking advantage of them. Be on guard, therefore, against everything that could diminish your authority over your children. Take care not to weaken this authority by falling into the habit of continuous nagging and insistent advice which only annoys them in the end; they become so used to it that they pay no attention whatever.
Guard against deceiving your children with false or implausible reasons or explanations, given capriciously to save yourself from embarrassment or from answering annoying questions. If it doesn’t seem good to you to reveal the real reasons for some order or fact, then it would be better for you to appeal to their faith in you and their love for you. Never falsify the truth; if need be, say nothing. You cannot begin to imagine what distress and what crises can arise in those little souls the day they discover that their natural credulity has been abused.
Be careful, too, not to allow the least sign of disunion to appear between you, or any difference in the way each of you treats your children. They quickly learn how to use their mother’s authority against the father’s or the father’s against the mother’s, and they can hardly resist the temptation to take advantage of these differences in order to satisfy their own whims. Take care, finally, not to wait until your children are grown up before exerting your authority over them carefully and calmly, but at the same time firmly and frankly, not giving in to any display of tears or temper. From the very earliest days, from the cradle, from the first glimmer of reason, see to it that they experience the touch of a loving and gentle but wise, prudent, vigilant and energetic hand.
Let your authority be without weakness but arising out of love, saturated with love and sustained by love. Be your children’s first teachers and first friends. If a parent’s love—one that is Christian in every way, and not more or less unconsciously selfish satisfaction—truly inspires your orders, your children will feel this and they will comply from the bottom of their hearts without needing many words, for the language of love is more eloquent in the silence of action than in the sound of speech. A glimpse of a thousand little signs, an inflection of the voice, an imperceptible gesture, a faint expression of the face, a nod of approval, will show them better than any explanations how much love motivates a prohibition which vexes them, how much good will is concealed in a suggestion which disturbs them; and then their minds will accept a word of authority not as a heavy burden or hateful yoke to be thrown off as quickly as possible, but rather as a supreme manifestation of your love.
And with love, example must go hand in hand. How can children, who imitate so readily by their very nature, learn to obey if they see their mother always complaining and paying no attention to their father’s orders, or if within their home they hear continual disrespectful criticism of all authority, or if they observe that their parents are the first to ignore the Commandments of God and of the Church? See to it instead that they have before their eyes a father and mother who by their speech and action set an example of respect for legitimate authority and of constant fidelity to their own duties. From this edifying sight they will learn, better than from the most studied exhortation, what true Christian obedience really is and how they themselves ought to practice it towards their parents. Rest assured, dear newlyweds, that good example is the most precious patrimony you can give or bequeath your children. It is an indelible vision of a treasure of works and deeds, of words and advice, of pious acts and virtuous undertakings which will forever be impressed upon their minds and memories as one of their dearest and most moving recollections. It will recall and bring back your living presence to them in hours of doubt or uncertainty between good and evil, between peril and victory. In those dark moments when the sky blackens, you will reappear to them on a bright horizon to direct their journey along the path you trod long before, a journey you accomplished through work and suffering which is the price of happiness on earth and in heaven.
A dream, perhaps? No. The life you are beginning with your new family is not a dream; it is a path you tread, clothed with a dignity and authority which should be a school and an apprenticeship for those of your own blood who will follow you.
May Our Heavenly Father, who by calling you to share the grandeur of His fatherhood has communicated to you His authority as well, deign that you exercise it in imitation of His wisdom and love!
46 GOD’S PORTION
March 25, 1942; Vol. IV, p.9
Today we would like to recall to the minds of newlyweds, and of all married couples everywhere, an old saying. It is a saying which has always exalted Christian families and wives. This saying is that there is “a portion for God” in the family supper, which Jesus sometimes wishes to have set aside for Himself, as a Friend, or, so to speak, as One in need.
In the beautiful book of Tobias, inspired by God to teach men the virtues of domestic life, it is related that on a certain feast day, when a great dinner had been prepared in the house, Tobias said to his son: “Go, and bring some of our tribe that fear God, to feast with us” (Tob. 2:2). And at one time it was the pious and loving custom in many Christian families, especially in country places, to set aside on solemn occasions a portion of the meat for any poor person whom God might send and who would thus share in the common joy. And thus in certain places it used to be called “a portion for God.”
Who knows, some day Our Lord might also come to your home when your table is gladdened by your exuberant sons and daughters, their eager, serious faces reflecting hidden thoughts of and affections for a life and a journey that leads them to the angels. Jesus who blessed your union, who will make your nuptial bed a fruitful one, will pass perhaps, in an hour known only to Him, to knock at the door of one of your homes, just as one day, on the banks of Lake Tiberius, he called the two sons of Zebedee to follow him, just as in Bethany He left Martha at her household duties and received Mary at His feet, to hear and enjoy those words which the world never knew. It is He who said to the Apostles: “The harvest indeed is abundant, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest, to send forth laborers into his harvest” (Mt. 9:37). He, the Redeemer, who contemplates the immense field of souls redeemed by His Blood, walks ceaselessly through the world, past the thresholds of countryside and city, along the shores of lakes and seas, whispering to His chosen ones the secret inspiration of His grace, the “Come and follow me” of the Gospel. He calls them to clear and till the untilled land and to reap the grain that is ready for harvest.
The field of Christ, His vineyard, is the living image of God’s people. The pastors of the Church must cultivate this field; the universal Church must tend this vine, which, according to St. Gregory the Great, will produce, from the just Abel until the lastborn of the elect at the end of the world, as many saints as it grows branches. You know, dear sons and daughters, that this Church is indeed the field of our solicitude as Vicar of Christ, so His zeal and prayer, His love and grief become our love, our grief, our zeal and our prayer. And so we feel driven by the “love of Christ” which “impels us” (II Cor. 5:14); at the same time the remarkable progress of human ingenuity, shrinking the distances across the land, sea and sky, almost seems to make our globe smaller and narrower.
As we constantly watch for new roads by which the Gospel may be preached among distant peoples who are still pagans, as we long for a closer apostolate among distressed, disturbed souls perhaps unconsciously hungering for the divine guidance of eternal truth, one of the greatest sorrows of our heart is to know how insufficient to meet the need is the number of generous ones whom we are able to send to their aid. Who knows whether one of heaven’s elect, a lost Christian or an unbelieving pagan, may not in God’s design be joined to the word and ministry of one of the children Our Lord will give you? Who can fathom the depths of Our Lord and Savior’s plan “who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4)?
Think for a moment, dear sons and daughters. It is from the family founded, in accordance with the Divine Will, on the lawful union of a man and a woman that Christ and the universal Church draw forth the ministers and apostles of the Gospel, the priests and missionaries who shepherd Christian peoples and span the seas to enlighten and save souls.
If the Divine Master comes and asks you for “God’s portion” that is, for one of the children He will deign to give you, in order to make him or her His priest, His religious, or His nun—what will you do? What will you reply when they affectionately confide to you the holy desire placed in their souls by His loving whisper, “Will you?”
Oh, we beg you, in God’s name, do not prevent this soul by any brutal or selfish action of yours from heeding the divine call. You cannot perceive the dawns and twilights of the divine sun on the horizons of a young heart, its anxieties and zeal, its desires and hopes, its enthusiasm and despondency. The heart contains depths inscrutable even to a mother and father; but the Holy Ghost, who “helps” our weakness, “pleads for us with unutterable groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows what the spirit desires” (Rom. 8:26-27).
Undoubtedly parents have the right—in certain cases even the duty—to make sure that a desire for the priestly or religious life is not a flight of fancy or a sentimental yearning for a beautiful dream away from home, but a serious, thoughtful, supernatural deliberation, examined and approved by a wise and prudent confessor or spiritual director. But to impede the attainment of such a desire by imposing arbitrary, unjustifiable and unreasonable delays would be a struggle against the designs of God. It would be worse yet for one to pretend to tempt, try or strengthen the solidity and firmness of the desire by useless, dangerous and daring tests which would not only run the risk of unsettling and discouraging the vocation but which might even jeopardize the soul itself.
As true Christians you feel within you the grandeur and sublimity of faith in the divine government of families and of the Church, and if God some day were to do you the honor of receiving one of your sons or daughters into His service, you would know how to appreciate the value and privilege of such a grace for you and for your family. It is a great gift from heaven which enters your home. It is a flower which stems from you, watered by heavenly dew, exhaling a virginal perfume which you offer in homage to the Lord, at His altar, so that a life consecrated to Him and to souls may open. For those who respond justly to the divine invitation, there is no more beautiful nor more truly happy life to be lived on earth; it is a life which becomes a fountain of blessings for you and for your family.
We can picture this son or daughter you have given to God, prostrate before Him, invoking upon you an abundance of heavenly favors in return for the sacrifice asked of your love when you offered your child to God. How many offerings, how many prayers will rise for you and for their brothers and sisters! Each day these prayers will accompany your steps, your actions, and your need; they will become more fervent in moments of distress and sorrow; they will follow you and comfort you throughout your life, to your last breath and even beyond, in that world which is entirely and only God’s.
Do not believe that hearts given entirely to Our Lord and His service will love you less. The love of God neither repudiates nor destroys nature, but perfects it and raises it to a higher level where love of Christ and human love encounter each other, where Christ’s love sanctifies the love of a human heart and together they are united into one. Do not worry if the dignity and austerity of priestly or religious life requires the renouncing of some manifestations of filial affection. This affection is not lessened or chilled, but those very renunciations will give it greater intensity and scope and free it from all selfishness and human division, while only God will share those hearts with you.
Intensify your love of God and your true spirit of faith, dear husbands and wives, and do not fear the gift of a holy vocation descending from heaven upon your children. To one who believes and loves his faith deeply, it is truly a comfort and proud happiness, upon entering a Church or religious house, to see his own son at the altar, in priestly vestments, offering the bloodless Sacrifice and commending his father and mother to God. It is a consolation which thrills the very fiber of a mother’s being to see her daughter, a spouse of Christ, serving and loving Him in the hovels of the poor, in hospitals, asylums, schools, in the missions and even on battlefields and in the shelters for the wounded and the dying. Glorify God and thank Him for having selected from your family the heroes and heroines to serve Him. You should join with many Christian parents who implore God to take “His portion” from their beautiful families and who are even ready to offer Him the only flower of their hopes.
Sursum corder. You must raise ever higher your spirit and its purpose. Like the families who set aside “a portion for God” out of the good things received from Him, you should above all else be sure that your ambitions for a beautiful vocation for one of your children are motivated by the thought that all spiritual abundance comes to you from Christ, through His Church, through His priests and through His religious.
What zealous care for you, for your children, and for your happiness resides in the heart of the devoted priest who visits you and who undertakes all that you entrust to him! From what family has that priest come? How did he come to you? Who sends him? Who has infused within him his fatherly love for you, his words and friendly advice? The Church sends him,
Christ sends him. Must it be only the others who give their sons and daughters to God so that we may receive and be assured of the continuation of so many spiritual benefits? Your proud patriotism would surely never allow you to stand aside and permit the full burden of sacrifice for the growth and grandeur of your native land to fall upon others. And where would your Christian pride be if you sought to withdraw from the honor of collaborating, cooperating and assisting, not only by material offerings but also by the gift of the most precious of God’s children, in the exaltation and propagation of the faith and of the Catholic Church—in a word, in the fulfillment of its divine mission on earth for the souls of your brothers? Help the spouse of Christ, dear husbands and wives; help Christ, the Savior of mankind, even with the children of your blood; help us, His unworthy Vicar. In our heart we hold all men as if they were sons, both the lambs who are gathered in one fold and the sheep who have gone astray. We must show all the way, the truth and the life, which is Christ. Raise your sons and daughters in the faith which conquers the world. Do not suffocate in their souls the spirit which comes from heaven; implant that faith not falsely but sincerely; give them the kind of faith which the Apostle Paul was certain he had found in his favorite disciple Timothy, as it was in Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (II Tim. 1:5). Do not be selfish with God. Give Him that portion of the blessing which He might ask from your home.
SECTION THREE – The Family and God
PART X – Holiness in the Family
47 HEAVENLY NOURISHMENT
June 7, 1939; Vol. I, p.167
As we are about to invoke heaven’s abundant blessings upon you, dear newlyweds, it is gratifying to think that for most of you—indeed we would like to say for all of you—the wedding ceremony had its culmination in the reception of the Holy Eucharist, according to the devout custom of Christian marriages. At any rate, taking advantage of the happy occasion of the feast of Corpus Christi, which the Church celebrates tomorrow, we wish to remind you, dear children, that Holy Communion is a most efficacious means of conserving the beneficial effects of the grace received from the sacrament of Matrimony.
Every Christian soul needs the Eucharist. According to the words of Our Lord, Jesus Christ: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life” (Jn. 6:54-55).
The Eucharist therefore has the effect of nourishing the soul’s sanctifying and vivifying union with God, of preserving and strengthening spiritual interior life, and of assuring the faithful during the journey and struggle on this earth that they will not lose that life conferred upon them by Baptism.
With these precious gifts Jesus Christ wishes to enrich souls in Holy Communion, and blessed are they who, following the promptings of their love, know how to avail themselves of such an effective means for sanctification and well-being!
But Christian spouses and parents who are aware of the grave responsibilities they have assumed and who are determined to live up to them seriously, particularly need this help.
As its basis, the family needs above all the intimate union, not of bodies alone but of souls, a union consisting of mutual love and peace. Now the Eucharist, according to the beautiful expression of St. Augustine, is a symbol of union, a bond of love, “signum unitatis vinculum caritatis,” and therefore unites and almost fuses hearts together.
To bear the burdens, the trials, the common sorrows which no family, however well-ordered, can escape, strength is needed each day. The Eucharist is a source of strength, of courage, of patience, and the gentle joy which it diffuses in well-disposed souls makes them feel a serenity which is the most precious treasure of family life.
We picture with joy, dear children, how you will return to your cities, your towns, your parishes and give the beautiful and edifying example of approaching the Eucharistic Table often, returning from Church to bring Jesus within the walls of your home, and, with Jesus, goodness itself.
48 HOW TO CULTIVATE VIRTUE
April 14, 1943; Vol. V, p.27
Dear newlyweds, of all the treasures which you have brought to each other and which you jointly offer to beautify your home and hand down to children and generations yet unborn, none so enriches, nourishes and adorns home and family life as the treasure of virtue, both naturally good tendencies inherited from your parents and forefathers and transformed into virtue through repeated acts, and supernatural virtues received at the baptismal font to which your parents themselves brought you after your birth.
These virtues, which are customarily compared to flowers —lily of purity, rose of love, violet of humility—must be cultivated in the home and for the home.
But at this point certain poorly or superficially instructed persons, or those who are simply idle and anxious only to spare their every effort, ask you: Why should we so exhaust ourselves to cultivate these virtues? Being supernatural, virtues are a gratuitous gift of God; what need have they, therefore, of man’s work, and what effect can we have on them, since they are acquired by divine disposition and we have no power whatever over it?
This is poor reasoning. You yourselves sense it very well. You will respond with St. Paul: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace in me has not been fruitless” (I Cor. 15:10). Certainly God alone infuses in the soul the essentially supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity; He alone grafts the virtue of Christ upon natural virtues, communicating His divine life to them and making them at the same time supernatural virtues. But who would ever think that such divine flowers would be comparable to poor, artificial flowers of paper or of silk, lifeless flowers without perfume or fecundity? The latter, it is true, do not wither; they remain exactly as they have always been. They do not die; to die they would have had to be alive in the first place. On the contrary, the natural flowers of our garden are far more delicate; wind shrivels them, frost chills them, they are sensitive to too much or too little sun or rain. The gardener must take special care to protect them. He must cultivate them.
Similarly—because earthly matter is never a perfect image of things divine—even the supernatural flowers with which the heavenly Father adorns the cradle of the newborn babe, require solicitous care lest they die; they need even more care in order to grow and produce their fruits. But His natural flowers in the gardens of this world enjoy this superiority: however they may be exposed to death, they are nevertheless destined to immortal life, to an indefinite increase in splendor, where their fruitfulness will not be sadly and inevitably followed by death, and where they will grow until it pleases the divine Gardener to gather them in order to beautify and perfume the garden of paradise for all eternity.
How then must these virtues be cultivated? In the same way as flowers. These flowers must be protected against the causes of death; their blooming and their growth must be assisted. An informed and able botanist can even transfer to them the qualities and beauty of other species of flowers. And it is the same in the cultivation of virtues, which are supernatural flowers.
Have you not, young husbands, from the day of your engagement to that of your marriage, offered flowers to your fiancée—colorful or simple flowers, cut and placed in vases of clear water where, despite everything, they soon died? Then you would bring her fresh ones. Tomorrow at home, in a corner of the garden, or in a humble windowsill flower box, move a bit of earth, drop a seed there and cover it over. Then, with an almost anxious curiosity, you await the appearance of a tiny green shoot, the stem, the leaves, the smile of the first bud, and finally the opening of the flower. With what care you will protect it!
Certainly God does not deny His grace even to an unbeliever. On the contrary, Lord and Master of His gifts, He can bestow it upon him for acts of virtue which can even be extraordinary. But in the normal order of His providence, a truly virtuous life develops and flowers into full maturity if it is carefully cultivated, for by Baptism virtues have been infused into the soul of the child where, as in good soil, they will develop progressively.
The same God who created the earth and its principles of growth, the sun that illumines and warms the plant, the rain and the dew which moisten it, has created human nature as well—the soul which it unites to the body formed in the maternal womb—and this nature is a terrain rich with good tendencies and inclinations. He puts into this nature the light of intelligence, warmth, and the vigor of free will and sentiment. But in this soil, under this light and heat, He places the hidden seeds of supernatural virtue, animating them with divine life, and He will send the sun, rain and dew of His grace so that the practice of virtues, and virtue itself, proceeds and develops. However, it is still necessary that the work of man cooperate with the gifts and the action of God. And above all, from the first instant, the child must be educated by the father and the mother; after that, the personal cooperation on the part of the child himself is needed as he passes through adolescence to manhood.
If the parents’ cooperation with the creative power of God in order to give life to a future heir of heaven is one of Providence’s most admirable designs to honor humanity, their cooperation in molding a Christian is more admirable still. This cooperation is so real and efficacious that a Catholic author was able to write a delightful book on the mothers of saints. What parents worthy of the name would fail to appreciate such a great honor and to cooperate with it?
But even in yourselves, or perhaps especially in yourselves, you must cultivate virtue. Your mission and your dignity require it. The greater the perfection and holiness of the parents’ souls, the richer and more delicate in each instance will be the education they impart to their children. Children are “like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade” (Ps. 1:3).
Dear newlyweds, what influence will your habits and customs of life exert over your children who will be watching from the moment of birth? Do not forget that example works upon these little creatures even before the age when they can understand the lessons received from your lips. But even supposing that God by exceptional favors supplies the deficiency in education, how could there truly be family virtues in a home where, while they grow in the heart of the child, they wither and fade in the heart of the father or the mother?
Now the gardener has a twofold duty: to place the plant in such a way that it derives benefit and not harm from external conditions, and to work upon the earth and the plant itself in order to assist its growth, its flowering and its fruitfulness.
Therefore you have the duty to preserve the child and yourself from everything that might jeopardize your honest Christian way of life and that of your children, from everything that could obscure or weaken your faith and theirs, or becloud the purity and brightness and freshness of your soul and theirs. How we must pity those who have no conscience for these responsibilities, who do not think of the evil they do to themselves and to the innocent creatures whom they have brought into this world! They underestimate the danger of so much improper reading, entertainment, relationships, and habits, and forget that some day the imagination and sensuality of an adolescent will revive in its spirit and heart whatever was glimpsed through the uncomprehending eyes of its childhood! It is not enough to persevere; one must go deliberately towards the sun, towards the light and heat of Christ’s doctrine, to seek the dew and the rainfall of His grace in order to receive from it life, growth and strength.
But there is still more. If it had not been for original sin, God would have commanded the father and mother of the family, as He did our first parents, to till the soil, to cultivate flowers and fruits, in such a way, however, that the work would have been pleasant and not burdensome to man. But this sin, so often forgotten and practically or deliberately denied, has made the work austere. Nature, like the soil, must be worked with the sweat of the brow; one must toil incessantly to weed and uproot evil inclinations and vicious seeds and to combat harmful influences; one must remold or revamp—that is to say, rectify—deviations even of the best tendencies; in some cases, one must overcome inertia and apathy in the practice of some virtues while controlling or regulating natural proneness and spontaneity in the exercise of others, so as to assure a harmonious augmentation of them all.
This is a task for every instant of our lives. It extends to the performance of our daily labors and it gives them their only worthwhile value, together with their beauty, their allure and their fragrance. May your home, thanks to your care, become like that of the Holy Family at Nazareth, an intimate garden where the Divine Master loves to come and gather lilies. May there descend upon it like a dew, His fruitful blessing, as a pledge of which we impart our heartfelt paternal Apostolic Benediction.
May 5, 1943; Vol. V, p.51
The flowering of human life in the family, dear newlyweds, is a great mystery of God and nature which enfolds the expected baby in a shroud of secrecy and places him between two worlds, the visible world of nature and the invisible world of God, who created both nature and the immortal soul which gives life to all men. Some months from now, if it so pleases Our Lord, the home you have founded will be brightened by a new joy, your infant smiling in the cradle, the first fruit of your love.
You will be thrilled to see that little face. You will ask each other what those little eyes are looking for, what they desire. They seek and desire you, and something even higher as well; they are searching and longing for God. And then the parish church, which witnessed your exchange of marriage vows, will see the young father of the family bringing the infant with him.
The priest will ask the baby: ‘What have you come to ask the Church of God?”
The godfather will respond for him: “Faith.”
“And what does faith give you?”
With this dialogue begins the solemn rite of Baptism, which cleanses the child from original sin, infuses sanctifying grace within him, and by the garment of faith endows him with virtue and makes him a son of God and of Christ’s spouse, the visible Church.
What a powerful treasure is faith! All the treasures of the world are not able to prolong our poor earthly life, which arches like an arrow aimed at a target; but faith, through its precious gifts to the son of man become the son of God, prepares and procures eternal life! And what is this eternal life? It is the unfailing life of the spirit which will revivify even the body turned into dust; it is knowledge of the intimate and sanctifying secrets of Divinity. As the Redeemer of the world said on the eve of His Passion, speaking to the Heavenly Father: “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Him whom thou has sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn. 17:3). But what kind of knowledge is this? Can human reason, by its own power, arrive at a knowledge of God? Certainly it can, for the heavens bespeak His glory, and from created things we can rise to a knowledge of the Creator and the perfections of His Divine Nature. And yet Christ also said: “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27). It is true that reason can know God well, and the knowledge to which it can attain is the very highest—sublime among all human science and wisdom; but it is not yet that cognition which probes the interior of God, such as the Eternal Son enjoys and they to whom He reveals it understand. And yet this treasure of divine knowledge, which is beyond the grasp of faith, is understood by faith. Let us examine this more closely.
Revelation is above all God’s fatherly confiding of His secrets to man—secrets of His nature and His life, of His perfections, of His wonders, His works, His designs. Do you fully understand all that this “confidence” embodies—love, tenderness, trust, generosity? Was not the first great proof of affection which you young husbands and wives gave each other an exchange of confidences? Knowing each other, telling each other the important and trivial things of your past life, your least anxieties, your noblest aspirations for the future, the history, traditions and memories of your families—are not these the most frequent topics of your affectionate conversations? You will tirelessly repeat them and continue to discuss them and you will never be able to exhaust them, because they flow from the love of an overbrimming heart, and the dark day when this flow ceases will mean that the source is no more. Among these memories of your past, you will recall the time when your father and mother, regarding you as already “grown up,” shared with you their thoughts, their affairs and interests, their work, the worries and suffering they bore striving to prepare a more beautiful life which they hoped and planned for your future. For you that intimacy was a ray of joy. You understood the love that inspired it and you felt proud to have become the confidants of your parents.
Dear young couples, raise your ideals even higher. God espouses souls as well; is not Jesus Christ the Spouse of His Church, and the Church His beloved spouse, made His own by His own Blood, repository and custodian of His divine secrets and desires? See how this God of infinite goodness lowers Himself to confide in us so that He may raise us up to Him. Immense Majesty, Lord, Creator, sovereign Master, infallible Judge, most generous Rewarder, He deigns to make us, His children, participants in His designs and His delightful treasures, revealing them to us and showering them upon us even though we are not fully able to understand everything. He uses the sweetest and dearest names which we hear in the family; He calls us children, brothers, friends, and wishes to appear as father, mother and spouse, wonderfully loving and jealous of our good and our happiness. Listen to the Savior speaking to His Apostles: “No longer do I call you servants, because the servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends because all things that I have heard from my father I have made known to you” On. 15:15). What affection from the God of truth! And still there are men so unworthy of the light, so hostile to all higher knowledge that is revealed, so insensible to every sign of love, so proud of poor human reason, that they deny and reject what they call the yoke of faith! Poor night birds, lurking in the darkness of their hidden nest and feeling sorry for the soaring eagle whose eye is fixed motionless upon the midday sun!
If there were only the supreme fact of God revealing His secrets to His creatures, what a marvel Revelation would be! Who would have the privilege of listening to a God of Revelation, and not be moved by it and feel proud of it? Whoever studies nature with right reason, learns great truths about the Creator. But if the same only-begotten Son of God, without whom was made nothing that was made, were to become our mortal Brother and Teacher, and speak to us of His Father and of the intimacy of the divine life which He shares with Him and which is inaccessible to the human intellect, what joy this would excite in those spirits seeking and yearning for the truth! Well, that very God who created everything has deigned to make Himself known to man by means of His very own Son. Wherefore the beloved disciple of Christ exclaimed: “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him” On. 1:18). Yes, it is a fact, a wonder, a lesson, a revelation; but it is only the beginning and the prelude of more marvelous facts and spiritual transformations in the regeneration of man raised to share the divine nature.
Although we have come into being from the eternal depths of divine wisdom, it is not yet apparent what we will become; what we were and what we are in time, will be completed in the eternity of tomorrow. As children of God, transformed into His living likeness, we will contemplate Him face to face as He is in His glory. If this is not yet visible in us during the course of our mortal life, nevertheless from now on, with faith and God’s grace, we are already children of God not in name only but in fact. “We should be called children of God and such we are…. Now we are the children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that, when he appears, we shall be like to him, for we shall see him just as he is” (I Jn. 3:1-2). Thus spoke St. John the Apostle to the faithful of the early Church. Revelation, God’s confiding in us, is therefore at the same time a promise which for us is a hope. We faithfully await its fulfillment in eternal life; but until now, in this present life, it has shown us—given us, as it were—a foretaste of the image and beauty of His sublime idea and His design, given it to us as a pledge of that faith which is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen (Hebr. 11:1). What indeed is faith, if it is not belief in what we do not see?
“The deep things, which here I scan
Distinctly are below from mortal eye
So hidden they have in belief alone
Their being; on our credence, hope sublime Is built; and, therefore substance, it intends.” (Dante)
Since God’s love for us could not await the illumination of broad daylight, it allows itself to be glimpsed in the dawn of Revelation. You freethinkers who do not believe in God’s love for us, you poor deliberately blind ones walking with eyes closed into the shadows and darkness of death, do not feel sorry for us Christians, for if we do not yet contemplate the sun while we are on this earth, at least we are moving towards it in a bright sunrise, a smiling dawn, in the hope of seeing it soon in its brilliant midday radiance that knows no sunset. We follow Christ, we believe in Him, we believe that He is the Word, the Utterance, the Son of God, the Light illuminating every man that comes into this world. But He is not heeded; darkness does not wish to receive Him, for the children of darkness flee from the sun and prefer the night to the daylight.
This Son of God, descended from heaven to bring us the truth which so exalts us, asked Himself sadly one day if, when He returns, He will still find faith upon the earth. These words of Christ seem hard to men without faith; but Peter, in the name of all the faithful of the past, present and future, protested his faith and his faithfulness without which there is only the confusion of ignorance and ruin of moral standards: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast words of everlasting life” On. 6:61-69). Everlasting life is the life which Christ has revealed to man to lift up his immortal spirit above the material from which he was made. As the body is the veil of the soul, so also the word of faith is the veil of Divine Truth which covers its brilliance bursting forth from the secrets of Eternal Wisdom, glimpsed in fleeting flashes as the source of all beauty.
Even for those who possess only the thorough answers of the catechism, the word of Revelation speaks the truth of God. Raising the spirit incomparably above the coarse conception of the pagan gods, above the noble yet inadequate concepts of divinity conceived by the minds of Plato or Aristotle or Cicero, above the ancient, sacred but incomplete revelation which God made to His chosen people, the message of Christ, Teacher of His people and of all nations, revealed the Living God. It revealed Him not in a cold solitude but in the infinite happiness of His mind and His fruitful love, in the splendor of His ineffable Trinity. The message of Christ is a sublime message of incomparable light which shows us God, who by a simple act of His Will—not to obtain anything for Himself, but to manifest the inexhaustible diffusion of His goodness—created the universe with all its wonders. He lavished upon immense nature the instinct, laws and urges which guide its development in diverse ways, sowing the seeds of life on earth and everywhere, in order to prepare for man, the last arrival, a happy abode in which to dwell before ascending into glory and blessedness in the joys of his Lord.
But the truth about man declared to us by Revelation is at once sad and comforting. God had endowed him with precious supernatural preternatural gifts, and man fell from the mysterious participation in Divine Nature. Yet God in His paternal tenderness did not abandon him and decided to restore him to his lost dignity. And this is the marvelous story of the ineffable human Redemption: this is the Son of God made man, become our Brother, our Guide, our Friend, our Model and Master of truth and virtue, our Bread of Eternal Life. The God-man who expired on a cross rose again from the tomb, ascended into glory as our Advocate before the Father to prepare for us here on earth our eternal abode of happiness, sending into the world the Holy Ghost, Spirit of the infinite love of God the Creator and Redeemer, to dwell within us, Soul of our soul, Life of our life, Voice of our prayer, Breath of our desires. ‘What more? Our Savior left on earth His Church, the spouse of His Blood, the unfailing depository of His infallible Word and the dispenser of His healing mercy in order to preserve men from error, to lift them up again from every fall, to strengthen them in the good and true way, to comfort them in grief and at the sunset of their lives.
What will there be for us beyond our sunset? Revelation tells us of our future and our destiny; it tells us that we will be judged, and by whom? By the same Savior who died to give us life, by that Son who appointed His Mother as our mother and as advocate and irresistible intercessor before Him. Revelation promises the remission of sin if we repent; it promises that our body, victim of so much misery, unruly companion and insidious tyrant of the soul, will rise from the dust to which it must return, to rejoin the soul in immortality, in a life of overpowering happiness, as long as no obstinate refusal of salvation forever closes the door of the Lord’s joys.
Faith always lights the path of salvation. It is a lamp shining in a dark place which with hope and love guides, sustains and fortifies the will on the journey towards good and virtue, which is also our journey, dear newlyweds. It bathes marriage and the family in a light and warmth in comparison with which the purely natural and earthly concept of that sacred bond seems to emit nothing but a cold shadow and a dim glow. You who are united in Christian marriage through faith and Baptism, are children of God not like Christ, the Son of God, who was generated from eternity by the Father in the same Divine Nature, but children through adoption, regenerated by the grace of the Holy Ghost in the waters of salvation.
The husbands to whom you young brides have given your consent before the altar are brothers of Christ and coheirs of eternal glory. And the brides to whom you young husbands have given your hands are sisters of Mary, and for love of the Mother of God must be respected by you. You have been called to help each other, to guide each other and lean upon each other on the pilgrimage to heaven and the eternal homeland. The children whom God will grant you do not have a different destiny from yours; as they are born, the baptismal waters await them to make them equal to you as sons of God and future citizens of heaven. Even if a newborn baby were to die immediately after birth and Baptism, do not consider the mother’s hopes, grief and sufferings to have been in vain. Sorrowing mother, groaning at the loss of your little son, do not weep over his tiny body. You are crying for an angel of paradise who smiles upon you from heaven and who for all eternity will be grateful to you for the life of happiness it will enjoy before the Face of God, where it awaits you, its brothers and its family. Are not these the supreme comforts of faith, the great truths which relieve the pain of the rough and sorrowful journey of this world, the hopes which do not fail at the blessed portal of eternity? Increase your faith, dear newlyweds, not only for yourselves, yes, but also for your children. Be their first teachers by word and by example.
Happy is that home so illumined by these divine truths that it lives in them, and radiates them, and discerns in every sunset that occurs within its walls, the flame of an everlasting dawn.
What more beautiful, more sublime and sacred wishes, what better prayer could we send up for you to Our Heavenly Father?
50 THE ETERNAL TEACHING OF THE LIVING PETER
January 17, 1940; Vol. I. p.487
There exists in Rome an ancient and pious practice, which even the most illustrious personages have more than once performed, for newly married couples to make a devout visit to the Patriarchal Basilica of the Vatican, to repeat their Catholic beliefs and to implore perseverance in the faith for their new homes. And you, dear sons and daughters, through a particularly happy coincidence, have come here on the very eve of the day on which the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Rome.
The chair is a seat, somewhat raised and rather solemn, from which a master teaches. Look then upon the chair from which the first Pope spoke to the earliest Christians, just as we speak to you now, admonishing them to be on guard against the devil who goes about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Pet. 5:8), exhorting them to be strong in their faith and not to be led astray by the errors of false prophets (II Pet. 2:1). This teaching of Peter continues in his successors, and will continue, unchanged, for all time, for this is the mission given by Christ Himself to the head of the Church.
To show the universal and infallible character of this teaching, the seat of the spiritual primacy has been fixed in Rome, after a providential preparation. God Himself, as our great predecessor St. Leo I observed, saw to it that people were united in one empire, of which Rome was the head, so that from her the light of truth, revealed for the salvation of all nations, might be more effectively diffused to all its members.
The successors of Peter, mortals like all men, pass on more or less rapidly. But the primacy of Peter will endure forever through the special assistance promised it when Jesus charged him to strengthen his brethren in the faith. Whatever may have been the name, however he may look, whatever may be the human origin of each Pope, it is always Peter who lives in him. It is Peter who directs and governs; it is Peter above all who teaches and spreads across the world the light of emancipating truth. It was this which caused a great sacred orator to say that God established an eternal chair in Rome: “Peter lives in his successors; Peter always speaks from his chair” (Bossuet).
Here, then, is the grave warning—we have already referred to it—which he directed to the Christians of his day: “False prophets were among the people, just as among you there will be lying teachers….Since you know this beforehand, be on your guard, lest carried away by the errors of the foolish, you fall away from your own steadfastness” (II Pet. 3:17).
At times you may hear those around you slight religion as unessential or even harmful, compared with the preoccupations of material life. Perhaps in your presence there will be extolled religious sentimentality without dogma; errors and opinions will be affirmed contradicting what the catechism has taught you concerning marriage, its unity and its indissolubility. You will hear it said that Christian marriage imposes on husband and wife obligations which are excessive and impossible to fulfill. Impossible, yes, if one relies on human power alone; but for this reason the sacrament has given you divine power, preserving it through the state of grace. God demands nothing that is beyond this supernatural power, present in and cooperating with you: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), exclaimed the Apostle to the Gentiles. “Yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (I Cor. 15:10).
Do not be afraid of your duties, then, however burdensome they may appear. Remember that day when Peter, the fisherman of Galilee, without human assistance, after having founded the church of Antioch and traveled through many regions, came to establish his chair and that of his successors in Rome. He was, according to the metaphor of St. Leo the Great, like a man entering a forest of fierce beasts, or sailing upon a sea raging in the crosscurrents of paganism, all of which converged upon the city from every corner of the empire. Yet, notwithstanding this, he walked upon this sea with a greater assurance than he had upon Lake Genesareth, for by this time his faith was divinely strengthened.
Ask St. Peter to give you this strong faith. Then even your obligations as Christian husbands and wives will not seem too arduous. On the contrary, you will perform them joyfully, heeding in the mid-twentieth century the teaching which the first Pope imparted to the married couples of his day: “Let wives be subject to their husbands; so that even if any do not believe the word, they may without word be won through the behavior of their wives, observing reverently your chaste behavior….Husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives considerately, paying honor to the woman as to the weaker vessel, as coheir of the grace of life” (I Pet. 3:1,7). Nothing will protect you better from empty desires for change, from fickle inconstancy and from dangerous experiences than the knowledge that you are forever united to each other in a state of life you have chosen freely.
51 GOOD LITERATURE
July 31, 1940; Vol. II, p.193
The first man who desired to communicate his thoughts to other men in a form more lasting than the sound of fleeting words, carved conventional signs on the walls of a cavern, perhaps with rough flint, and determined and explained their meaning. Thus he invented writing and the art of reading at the same time. To read is to enter the minds of others through more or less complicated graphic signs. Now since “the thoughts of the just are judgments: and the counsels of the wicked are deceitful,” it follows that some books, like some words, are sources of light, strength, intellectual and moral freedom, while others bring only snares and occasions of sin. This is the teaching of Holy Scripture (Prov. 12:5-6). Therefore there is good and bad reading as there are good and bad words.
However, a word is often like a flash of lightning. On a stormy night it can help the traveler find the right path again; on the other hand, even on the safest journey, it can electrocute one who is careless. This is the effect of a good or bad word. A book works less rapidly but its effect lasts longer. It is a flame that can smolder beneath the ashes or burn like a dim night-light and then immediately reignite, with good or evil effect. It can be a sanctuary lamp, always ready to lead the faithful, who draw near, to the holy Tabernacle and its Divine Guest; or it can be a volcano whose terrible eruptions throw entire cities into desolation and death. You desire pleasant conversations, wise and comforting words; you rightly detest cursing and wicked talk. Therefore, look for good books and despise bad ones.
Dear sons and daughters, reflect for a moment and search out sincerely whence comes that which is best in you. Why do you believe in God, in His Son who became incarnate for the Redemption of the world, in His Mother Mary whom He made your mother? Why do you obey His Commandments, why do you love your parents, your country, your neighbor? Why are you resolved to found a house where Jesus is the King, where you can hand down the family treasure of Christian virtue to your children? Surely because faith has been infused in you by holy Baptism; because your parents, your pastor, your schoolteachers by word and example have taught you to do good and avoid evil. But search your memories even further. Among the best and most important memories you will probably find some good book: the catechism, Bible history, the Holy Gospel, the Roman Missal, the parish bulletin, The Imitation of Christ, the life of one saint or another. You will see in your mind’s eye one book above all, perhaps not the most beautiful, nor the richest, nor the most learned, but one whose pages one night suddenly attracted you. Your heart beat faster; your eyes, perhaps, became wet with tears. At that moment, under the invisible influence of the Holy Ghost, a profound impression was inscribed on your soul which, notwithstanding the years and the more or less daily defections, can still serve as a guide for your journey towards God.
If the youngest of you, particularly, have not yet had such an experience, probably some day you will feel the thrill when, having found in a cluttered bookcase or an old closet some little book from your youth, you rediscover with emotion on its yellowed pages, like a faded flower from the garden of your childhood, that edifying story, that maxim, that devout prayer which you have left buried under the dust of duties and cares of daily life but which will at once recover the perfume, the taste, the vivid coloring which at one time delighted and fortified your soul.
This is one of the great advantages of a good book. The friend whose wise suggestions and just reproach you disdained will abandon you. But the book which you abandon remains faithful. Time and again forgotten and rejected, it is always ready to give you once more the help of its teaching, the healthful bitterness of its reprimands, the clear light of its counsels. Listen, then, to its advice, discreet and direct. The often-merited reproof which it levels at you, the often-forgotten duty which it recalls, these things it has said to many others before saying them to you; but it will not reveal your name to anyone else. As you sit under the silent lamp, your eyes fixed upon the book while it admonishes and comforts you, no one will hear its voice but your own heart alone.
52 BAD READING
August 7, 1940; Vol. II. p.201
When a boy temporarily leaves his family during the summer for a vacation in the mountains or at the seashore, his father considers it unnecessary to tell him, “Son, don’t carry a snake in your little valise, and if you see one on your hikes be careful not to pick it up with your bare hand to examine it.”
Nevertheless, fatherly love requires that we give this kind of advice to you. In our last audience we briefly explained the benefits of good literature; today we wish to remind you of the danger of bad reading. The Church has never ceased to raise its voice against this danger, but despite these helpful warnings many Christians ignore or even dispute its gravity.
You must therefore convince yourselves that there are bad books, bad for everyone, like those poisons against which no one is immune. As the flesh of every man is subject to weaknesses and the spirit is ready to rebel, so also such reading constitutes a danger for everyone. The Acts of the Apostles relate that during the preaching of St. Paul in Ephesus, many who had followed vain and superstitious rites brought their books and burned them publicly; the value of these writings on magic, which were reduced to ashes, was found to be more than 50,000 pieces of silver (Acts 19:19). Later on, in the course of the centuries, the Roman Pontiffs published a catalogue or Index of books, which are forbidden reading to the faithful, with a clear warning at the same time that many others, although not expressly named, fall under the same ban because they are harmful to faith and morals. Who could be surprised at such a prohibition on the part of those who are the guardians of the spiritual health of the faithful? Even civil society wisely legislates preventive measures against the harmful effects of toxic substances in the industrial and domestic economy, and controls carefully the sale and use of poisons, particularly the more noxious ones.
If we remind you of this grave duty it is because of the increase of the evil, facilitated now by the ever-growing capacity for literary production, as well as the freedom many allow themselves to read anything. Of course there cannot be freedom to read everything, any more than there can be freedom to eat or drink everything we have at hand, such as cocaine, for example, or prussic acid.
Dear newlyweds, this fatherly advice is intended especially for you. Most of you are at an age and in a situation where the mind finds great delight in romantic novels, and your numerous desires find gratification in a happiness which at times is purely imaginary, while stern reality is softened in sweet dreams. Surely it is not objectionable for you to savor the fascinating stories of pure and healthy human affection; Sacred Scripture itself offers similar scenes which have preserved their idyllic freshness throughout the centuries, such as the meeting of Jacob and Rachel, the engagement of the young Tobias, the story of Ruth. There have also been greatly talented authors who have written good and wholesome romances; it is enough to mention our own Manzoni. But beside these pure flowers what a teeming growth of poisonous plants there is in the vast kingdom of imaginative works! Now the latter, being more accessible and visible, are plucked far too frequently, and because their perfume is penetrating and intoxicating, it is more willingly inhaled.
“I am no longer a child,” says a young woman, “and I know life; therefore I have the desire and right to know it even better.” But the poor thing does not realize that her language is the language of Eve, face to face with the forbidden fruit; and does she think perhaps that to know love and experience life it is necessary to examine all its abuses and deformities?
In the same way, a young man says, “I am no longer a child, and at my age sensuous descriptions and voluptuous scenes no longer mean anything.” Is he sure of this? If true, this would be an indication of unconscious perversion resulting from reading already indulged in, like certain legends of Mithridates, King of Pontus, who grew, prepared, and experimented with poisonous herbs to which he wished to become immune; hence the word mithridatism.
But you young men and women must not believe that if you allow yourselves sometimes in secret to lapse into the reading of harmful books, their poison has no effect on you; rather must you fear that this effect, when it is not immediate, is even more pernicious. In the tropical countries of Africa there is a species of harmful insect known as the tsetse fly, whose bite does not bring instant death but a simple, passing, local irritation. Yet it innoculates deadly tropines in the blood. By the time the evil symptoms are clearly manifest, it is sometimes too late to apply any remedial medications known to science. In like manner, impure images and harmful thoughts which a bad book will produce in you seem at times to enter your mind without causing, as it were, any noticeable wound. Thus you will be easily fooled, not understanding that in this way death enters the abode of the soul through the window of the eye if you don’t react promptly and decisively. The soul, like an organism stupefied by sleeping sickness, will slide slowly into mortal sin and enmity with God.
Indeed, the danger of bad reading, under certain aspects, is more harmful than bad company because it is capable of rendering itself prodigiously more intimate. How many girls or young women, alone in their rooms with a popular little book, allow it to speak to them crudely about things they would never permit others even to whisper in their presence, or allow it to describe scenes which they would not for anything in the world wish to enact either as participants or victims! Alas, they are but preparing themselves to do so tomorrow! Other Christian men or women, who from infancy have trod the righteous path, complain of an unexpected increase of temptations within them before which they feel progressively weaker. Perhaps, if they were to examine their consciences sincerely, they would have to acknowledge they had read a sensual novel, perused an immoral magazine, or looked at improper pictures! Poor souls, can they truly and logically complain that a flood of muck threatens to engulf them when they themselves opened the dikes of a poisonous ocean?
Moreover, dear newlyweds, since you are now preparing your future and are asking, among other divine favors, the benediction of fertility on your union, remember that the souls of your children will be reflections of your own. Surely you are firmly resolved to educate them as Christians and to instill in them only the best principles. This is a magnificent resolution, but will it always be enough? Alas, at times it occurs that Christian parents who have employed every precaution in the education of a son or a daughter, and who have kept them away from dangerous pleasures or bad companions, suddenly find that, at the age of eighteen or twenty, they have become victims of wretched and even scandalous downfall. The good seed which they had sown was thus ruined by cockel. What enemy did this evil? At their very fireside, in this little paradise, the tempter, the astute one, secretly gained entrance and found the corrupting fruit already picked, ripe to offer those innocent hands. A book carelessly left on the father’s desk, which undermined his son’s baptismal faith, a novel forgotten on the mother’s sofa or dressing table, that has blackened the purity of her daughter’s First Communion. It is unfortunate that the evil, discovered with alarm, is the more difficult to cure, for the stain imbedded on an unblemished virgin soul is so stubborn.
But in addition to writings which promote impiety and bad conduct, we cannot fail to mention others that disseminate lies and foment hatred. A lie, abominable in the eyes of God and detested by every just man, becomes even worse when it spreads calumny and sows discord among brothers. As those anonymous maniacs whose pens dipped in gall and slime cause the collapse of happiness in home life and family unity, so also certain publications seem bent upon destroying brotherly relations between sons of the same heavenly Father in the great family of nations. This work of hatred is carried on at times in books and even more often in newspapers.
If a writer, under pressure and in the haste of his daily work, errs by accepting inaccurate information, or if he expresses an unfair opinion, this can appear to be, and often actually is, carelessness rather than fault. He must nevertheless realize that similar lapses or carelessness, particularly in periods of acute tension, can suffice to arouse grave repercussions. Would God that history may never record a war provoked by a skillfully disseminated lie!
If a journalist who is conscious of his mission and his responsibility has published an error, he feels an obligation to retract it. He is bound, in respect to the thousands of readers who may be influenced by his writings, not to ruin in them or for them the sacred patrimony of emancipating truth and pacifying charity which nineteen centuries of Christianity have laboriously brought the human race. It has been said that the tongue has slain more men than the sword. In the same way the publication of lies can become as lethal as tanks or bombers.
The Gospel of the Transfiguration of Our Lord relates how the Divine Master began to reveal His glory to the three privileged apostles by drawing them away from the others and taking them with Him to the top of a high mountain. If you wish your home to be favored as well by God’s blessing, by the special protection of His Heart, and by the grace of peace and unity promised to those who honor It, draw yourself away from the crowd by rejecting reprehensible and perverse publications. Seek good in this as in everything, live continually in God’s sight and in the observance of His law, and you will make your home an intimate Tabor where the malaria of the lowlands will not reach and where you will be able to say with St. Peter: “Master, it is good for us to be here.”
PART XI – Heavenly Patrons of the Family
53 ARCHANGEL PROTECTOR
May 8, 1940; Vol. II, p.107
In the ranks of the saints whom she venerates, the Church offers to the faithful patrons for various states and ages of life. Of course you know this, dear newlyweds; but perhaps you will be somewhat surprised at hearing us invoke upon you today the protection of Holy Michael the Archangel, whose apparition the Church commemorates today, and for whom at first sight you perhaps feel only a sense of reverent fear.
Sacred art depicts him with the severe countenance of a warrior who crushes the demon. Following Holy Scripture, which calls Michael one of the chief Princes of heaven (Dan. 10:13), and leader of the angelic hosts against Satan (Apoc. 12:7), the liturgy presents him under these very same aspects. When he descends from heaven, the sea rages and the earth trembles; when he raises the cross of salvation as a standard of victory, he hurls the rebellious spirits from the heavenly fortress (Roman Breviary, May 8).
But a man and woman who leave father and mother to undertake the mysterious journey of life together seem likely to fear more than others this defender of God’s rights. As such, in fact, He reminds them almost instinctively of the cherubim, armed with a flaming sword, who expelled the first human couple from terrestrial paradise (Gen. 3:24).
And yet, although this fear has some semblance of reason, the grounds for trust and hope are even stronger. At the very hour of that initial tragedy of humanity, while our first parents were going off into the chill and gloomy mists of ariathema, a light cloud, like that which the prophet Elias would some day see, was already appearing on the horizon, heralding the salutary dew of the great pardon. At this moment Michael and the hosts of faithful angels glimpsed the marvel of the Divine Incarnation and of the Redemption of the human race. Far from envying, as proud Lucifer had done, humanity’s honor in the hypostatic union, and obeying the one and only Lord according to his name and his motto—”Who is like God”—heand all the good angels adored the Incarnate Word (Heb. 1:6). And so he never ceased loving men for whom he experiences an almost fraternal compassion and, however much Satan strives to cast them into hell, so much the more the Archangel labors to bring them back to the paradise they lost.
To conduct souls to the eternal glory of God is the task which liturgy and tradition attribute to Holy Michael. “Behold the Archangel Michael,” says today’s Divine Office, “Prince of the angelic hosts, whose veneration is a fountain of blessings for the people and whose intercession leads to the kingdom of heaven. Archangel Michael comes with a multitude of angels; to him God has entrusted the souls of the saints so that he may lead them to the joys of paradise.” And in the Offertory of the Mass for the Dead, the Church petitions Our Lord: “Let these souls not fall into darkness but let the standard-bearer Michael bring them into the holy light.”
You must not think that this “Provost of Paradise,” whom God has constituted as Prince of all souls to be saved, waits until the hour of death to manifest his goodness to mankind. How dear, then, his patronage ought to be to you, husbands and wives, in order to help you receive into this world the souls for which you will prepare a physical abode in obedience to the law of the Creator! And after this, Holy Michael will continue to assist you in your mission, taking care of you and your children.
Surely the invocation of the great Archangel as protector of health and patron of the sick is a very ancient devotion. All of you on your way here could see the massive edifice of Hadrian and at its top the bronze statue from which the famous mausoleum takes the name Castel Sant’ Angelo. This statue seems from that pinnacle to watch over the life and health of the people of Rome and to remind them how, nearly 1350 years ago—that is to say, in the year 590—when plague desolated the city, Pope St. Gregory the Great, in solemn procession with the clergy and populace, pleading for an end to the scourge, according to tradition saw the Archangel Michael appear on the monument flashing his sword as a sign that the divine punishment was over. You, therefore, dear sons and daughters, who already glimpse among family joys its duties and worries as well, should ask Holy Michael to keep from your homes the anxieties which children’s ill health, threats of epidemics, or actual crises cause to the hearts of parents.
But the Church invokes the Archangel above all as protector of the health of souls, far more precious than bodily health, and always threatened by the contagion of evil. Of course the Church is sure that the powers of evil will not prevail against her; but she also knows that, especially for the preservation of Christian life in individual persons and in individual ,countries, she must implore divine assistance and that God uses angels as His ministers. This is why every morning at the end of Holy Mass the priest prays with the faithful: “Holy Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle….Cast into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls!” Rarely has such a need appeared more urgent than today. The world, poisoned by lies and disloyalty, wounded by excesses of violence, in losing peace has lost its moral sanity and joy. Although after original sin the world could no longer be a paradise, at least it could and should remain a sojourn of brotherly accord among men and nations. Instead, the inferno of war enflames some countries and threatens to invade others.
Our heart is moved especially for you, dear sons and daughters, and for so many other newlyweds in every nation who unite their destinies in this tragic springtime. Who can escape a shudder of horror while watching, even from a distance, the terrible specter of war lengthen its shadow over these young homes smiling with hope? But if human powers seem ineffective at this moment promptly to reestablish a just, loyal and lasting peace, mankind can always implore the intervention of God. Our Lord has placed His Most Blessed Mother Mary as mediatrix between God and men. May this “Mother most amiable,” this “Virgin most powerful,” this “Help of Christians,” whom we invoke with greater fervor and anxiety in the present month of May, and today most particularly under the title of Queen of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii, deign to reunite under the mantle of her love, in the peace of her smile, her children now so cruelly divided! And as the Church sings this very day in Sacred Liturgy, may “the Angel of Peace, Michael, descend from heaven upon our home and, as a messenger of peace, thrust into hell wars, cause of so many tears.”
54 ST.PAUL AND THE NEW LIFE
January 24, 1940; Vol. I, p.493
Last week, dear sons and daughters, we received the newlyweds gathered here on the eve of the day dedicated to the commemoration of the Chair of St. Peter in Rome. You have come to us on the eve of another feast, the conversion of St. Paul, as if Providence has wished once more to join these two great Apostles, always united in the veneration rendered them by the Church, and who, according to the expression of St. Leo the Great, are like the two brilliant eyes of the mystical body of which Christ is the head.
The great lessons of St. Paul, particularly those concerning marriage, cannot be expounded in a brief discourse, and so we shall limit ourselves to certain points taken from his conversion.
Saul of Tarsus, who had taken part in the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr, and was a fierce persecutor of the infant Church, armed with full powers from the high priest, betook himself to Damascus to arrest as many Christians as he might find, both men and women, and to bring them in chains to Jerusalem. But, as he drew near to that city, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, and falling to the ground he heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” “Who art thou, Lord?” he answered. And the Lord said to him: “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.” At the same time Saul, trembling and dazed, lost his sight. But after three days the disciple Ananias was sent to him by God, and immediately there fell from his eyes a kind of scales, figures of the veils of ignorance and passion which had blinded him until then, and Last week, dear sons and daughters, we received the newlyweds gathered here on the eve of the day dedicated to the commemoration of the Chair of St. Peter in Rome. You have come to us on the eve of another feast, the conversion of St. Paul, as if Providence has wished once more to join these two great Apostles, always united in the veneration rendered them by the Church, and who, according to the expression of St. Leo the Great, are like the two brilliant eyes of the mystical body of which Christ is the head.
The great lessons of St. Paul, particularly those concerning marriage, cannot be expounded in a brief discourse, and so we shall limit ourselves to certain points taken from his conversion.
Saul of Tarsus, who had taken part in the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr, and was a fierce persecutor of the infant Church, armed with full powers from the high priest, betook himself to Damascus to arrest as many Christians as he might find, both men and women, and to bring them in chains to Jerusalem. But, as he drew near to that city, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, and falling to the ground he heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” “Who art thou, Lord?” he answered. And the Lord said to him: “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.” At the same time Saul, trembling and dazed, lost his sight. But after three days the disciple Ananias was sent to him by God, and immediately there fell from his eyes a kind of scales, figures of the veils of ignorance and passion which had blinded him until then, and with this he regained his sight. Saul the persecutor no longer existed; he had become Paul the Apostle.
The first lesson which we can draw from this miracle is that we should never despair of the conversion of a sinner even if he be an avowed enemy of God and the Church. This is what Saul had been, as appears from his own testimony: “For I formerly was a blasphemer, persecutor and a bitter adversary” (I Tim. 1:13). “You have heard of my former manner of life…how beyond all measure I persecuted the Church of God, and ravaged it” (Gal. 1:13). And yet of this same man God was later to say: “This man is a chosen vessel to me, to carry my name among nations and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
Without entering into the secrets of divine predilections, it is permissible to think that this signal and gratuitous grace was like an answer from Our Lord to the prayers of the protomartyr Stephen and the first Christians who, exactly carrying out the precepts of Jesus, did good to those who hated them and prayed for those who calumniated them. Prayer for sinners has always continued to work its beneficial wonders in the Church. How many devout wives and mothers have experienced its effects! How many Christian women have brought back to God a husband completely hostile or more often indifferent to or careless in religious practices! How many mothers, like St. Monica, with their tears and entreaties have obtained the return to God of an Augustine! This is how the Lord asks that we prepare the way for His graces of conversion.
But the story of Saul the persecutor offers a second useful lesson for Christian husbands and wives. Why is it that this young man of alert mind, sound judgment, iron will and ardent spirit was not one of the first to follow Jesus? Why was he in the beginning the pitiless enemy of all that he was later to love, to preach and to defend to the death? Here again he himself gives us the answer. Being a Pharisee, and a son of Pharisees, a fanatic proponent of the traditions of his forefathers, he acted in unbelief through ignorance. The hatred of Saul was therefore the fruit of ignorance and error, and this ignorance and error were in turn the fruits of a false education. He had imbibed, first from his parents, then from his teacher Gamaliel, the rigidly formalistic and sectarian spirit which the Pharisees of old
had infiltrated, like a withering poison, into the divine law and sublime prophecies of the Old Testament. From them he had thus inherited an implacable and preconceived hatred against everything that might pose a threat to the carefully contrived scaffolding of their sophistry.
Such are the results of an education that is simply defective, even from its beginnings. Christian husbands and wives, think in time about your duties as educators. Look around you at the throngs of children who are exposed through deplorable negligence to the dangers of bad reading, indecent shows, unwholesome companions, or those whom blind affection rears in an inordinate love of comfort or frivolities, in the practical neglect if not contempt of the great moral laws: the duty of prayer, the necessity for sacrifice and victory over the passions, the essential obligations of justice and charity towards our neighbor.
The third lesson which St. Paul the Convert imparts to you is contained in his very words: “His grace in me has not been fruitless” (I Cor. 15:10). That is, I have cooperated with the divine grace.
Recovering from the prodigious shock received at the gates of Damascus, Paul might have believed that this lightning stroke would suffice to transform him once and for all from persecutor to Apostle.
But no. To achieve its full effect, the grace of God requires the free and diligent cooperation of our personal will. Even though Saul was completely converted and called to the apostolate, he remained three days in prayer and fasting without leaving Damascus. Only then did he go to the Holy City to see Peter and remain with him for fifteen days. He was now ready for apostolic action, that is to say, for a work which was always to be a cooperation between his will and divine grace. “Gratia dei mecum—the grace of God within me” (I Cor. 15:10).
And so neither should you believe that to guarantee perseverance in your vocation, that is to say, in your marital duties, or to assure happiness in your domestic life, it is enough, as the saying goes, to receive “a bolt from the blue.” Even at the level of natural affection, experience teaches that a proven similarity of beliefs, traditions and ideals is of greater and better worth than a sudden “love at first sight.” Like fireworks which enchant us on a summer night, love born of an emotional explosion can easily die with it and be quickly reduced to vain and acrid smoke. On the other hand, true and abiding love, like the fire in the hearth, requires careful attention, constant vigilance, and is kept going not only by the great logs which burn silently and slowly under the hot ashes, but also by the tiny twigs which bring brightness and the happy crackling of their sparks.
How can the grace of the sacrament of Matrimony live and work in you if both of you do not exercise diligent care to nourish and cultivate it within yourselves? What will become of your days and your nights if they are not consecrated to God by prayer? Why, unfortunately, is there so much unfaithfulness, even among Christian husbands and wives, why so many misfortunes, so many shipwrecked marriages? Why, after the sincerity of vows exchanged at the altar, are so many bonds violently and painfully broken? And even if it does not reach this point, how many young couples who swore lifelong love for each other soon find themselves pulled hither and yon by their ever-recurring selfishness, by taking quick offense, and by hasty and suspicious jealousies? How many husbands and wives, still young and recently brimming over with momentary joy, were then unexpectedly disillusioned? From them, as from Paul, “scales fall from their eyes,” scales of their own fleeting dreams, and they now live oppressed by a burden of obligations, undertaken thoughtlessly and without the help of prayer!
No. You, dear sons and daughters, will not be numbered among these unhappy ones, as long as you do not leave unanswered in your souls the inner invitation to prayer, the appeals of grace, the nobly sovereign and austere voice of duty, the sweetly hinting echo of family tradition, and the tenacious and persuasive insistence of personal conscience.
55 HEROES OF CHRISTIAN CHARITY
July 17, 1940; Vol. I, p.177
In some countries it is the custom to celebrate each year a “Goodness Week” or “Charity Week.” If this custom should be extended to the entire great Christian family, one of the times most appropriate for it would be perhaps the second half of July since, according to the calendar of the universal Church, the saints whose feasts occur in the three days immediately following today are marvels of goodness; they are Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul and Jerome Emiliani.
All three have admirably put into practice the golden rule of charity, but its luster has reflected in a special way on each of them. Camillus dedicated himself chiefly to the sick, the incurable and the dying. Vincent, the great organizer of charity, dedicated himself to the wretched, to derelicts of every sort, and founded various charitable associations of men and women, among which you all know the Daughters of Charity with their winged coifs, white as innocence, as wide as love and as fluttering as enthusiasm. Jerome concerned himself particularly with the unfortunate children of the poor, with unloved orphans abandoned in the streets and deprived of everything. All three suffered with those who were suffering and, forgetful of their own grief, shared the sorrows of others in order to lighten their burdens.
We confine our remarks, which must necessarily be brief, to the first of the three saints we have named, urging you, dear sons and daughters, to follow his brilliant example by caring for the sick and the infirm who may be near you.
The word infirm, from the Latin word infirmus—not firm, not stable—means a person without strength, unsteady. In almost every family there are generally two principal categories of weak persons who have perhaps a greater need for care and affection: children and aged.
Instinct instills love for the young even in irrational animals; why, therefore, should it be necessary to inculcate it in you newlyweds and future Christian parents? Yet it can occur that an excessive severity, a lack of understanding, may raise a kind of barrier between the hearts of children and their parents. St. Paul said: “To the weak I became weak….I became all things to all men, that I might save all” (I Cor. 9:22). Knowing how to become little with the little ones, children with children, without compromising paternal or maternal authority, is a remarkable quality.
Then, too, it is always best in the family circle to show the aged that respect, that tranquility—indeed, we would wish to say those loving attentions—which they require. The aged! At times perhaps, unconsciously, one reacts harshly to their little necessities, their innocent fancies, wrinkles which time has etched in their souls like those which line their faces, but which should earn them even greater respect from others. It is easy to form the habit of reproaching them for what they are no longer able to do, instead of reminding them, as they deserve, of all they have done. One may perhaps smile at their lapses of memory and not always recognize the wisdom of their judgment. One may search their tear-dimmed eyes in vain for the spark of enthusiasm, failing to see the light of resignation in which the desire for eternity is already aglow.
Fortunately, these aged whose feeble steps hesitate on the stairs, whose trembling white heads nod slowly in the corner of the room, are very often a grandfather or grandmother, or indeed a father or mother, to whom you owe everything. To them, whatever your age may be, you are bound, as you well know, by the fourth Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Ex. 20:12).
Surely you will not be among those ungrateful children who neglect their aged parents and who in turn often find themselves abandoned when age leaves them helpless.
When we speak of compassion towards the infirm, we ordinarily think of persons of all ages, afflicted by physical illness, temporary or chronic. The example of St. Camillus particularly inspires you to assist these cases. The fire of his zeal spread far beyond the hospitals; without waiting for the sick to come to him, he himself went to their homes to help and comfort them. At that time, as in every century, there were afflicted in many homes: the blind, the lame, paralytics, and the sick, feverstricken, tubercular, cancerous. Are these not among us even today?
Dear newlyweds, if God spares your family from sickness—and we pray that He will, from the bottom of our heart—then remember all the more the miseries of others and dedicate yourselves, as best you can, and as much as your duties permit, to works of assistance and charity.
In the garden of mankind, since it is no longer called paradise on earth, there has grown, and always will grow, one of the most bitter fruits of original sin: pain. Instinctively man abhors and avoids it; he would like to stifle even the memory and sight of it. But since, in the Incarnation, Christ “emptied” Himself, taking the nature of a slave (Phil. 2:7), since it pleased Him to choose “the weak things of the world…and put to shame the strong” (I Cor. 1:27), since “Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endured a cross, despising shame” (Hebr. 12:2), since He revealed to man the meaning of pain and the inner joy of giving oneself to those who suffer, the human heart has discovered within itself unsuspected depths of love and compassion. Brute force, it is true, remains the uncontested mistress of irrational nature in the pagan souls of today, like those whom the Apostle St. Paul, in his day, called “without affection”—that is, without heart—and “without mercy”—that is, without compassion towards the poor and the weak. But for true Christians, weaknesses become a claim to respect and infirmity a claim to love, for charity, in contrast to self-interest and egoism, does not seek itself but gives itself. The more a person is weak, miserable, needy and anxious to receive, so much the more does he appear as an object of special favor in charity’s kindly eyes.
During the sixteenth century, when Saint Camillus lived, the organization of Christian charity had not yet reached the development which we are able to admire today. During his dissipated youth, Camillus was admitted to the Hospital of St. James in Rome to be cured. However, in order to earn the privilege of a long sojourn in the charitable hospice, he sought to be taken on as an attendant; but his passion for gambling made him so forgetful of his duties that later he was discharged, for, as his biographers narrate, “After trials and retrials he was deemed to be incorrigible and completely unsuited as a hospital orderly.” Yet he was the very man whom divine grace was later to make the founder and the model of the “Ministers of the Sick,” that is, the new religious order which would have as its special mission the care of the sick, assistance to those contagiously ill, material and spiritual aid to the dying, not for a meager salary but for the love of Christ suffering in the infirm and with the sole hope of eternal reward.
When he was about seventeen years old, an annoying sore appeared on the instep of his right foot which gradually changed into a deep, purulent and incurable ulcer spreading to his entire leg. But it did not prevent him from devoting almost forty years to the relief of every kind of affliction, traveling for his foundations, rushing assistance to victims of calamities in one city or another, walking the streets of Rome or entering private houses, climbing the steepest stairs, staff in hand and thinking of nothing but charity.
He called this terribly painful sore the first mercy of God—the first, because it was followed by other very painful infirmities which were likewise accepted as evidence of divine goodness. It is a uniquely Christian concept to regard pain as a sign of God’s love and a source of grace. To help His disciples understand this, Jesus Christ did not merely impose upon them the precept of love as His essential commandment, nor content Himself with suggesting as a model the Good Samaritan who interrupted his own journey to assist an unknown man whom he found half dead on the street. Our Lord knew and experienced in His own Most Sacred Flesh the entire gamut of human suffering. Indeed He wished to identify himself with all the suffering members of the human race. His disciples are to see His Divine Face, His Adorable Wounds, in all human flesh whitened by fever, rotted by leprosy, or consumed by cancer; and if this fetid or bloody flesh is repulsive to our nature, they are to place their own lips upon it in a lingering kiss of mercy and love, as St. Camillus, St. Elizabeth, St. Francis Xavier and many other saints have done, for they know that in the last day Our Lord will say to them: “The infirm, the sick whom you have visited and aided, was I.” “I was sick and you visited me” (Mt. 25:36).
Dear sons and daughters, may you also participate in works of mercy through charity, prayer, sacrifice and effective cooperation, and thus assure yourselves of a friendly and loving reception some day by the Supreme Judge who will open the gates of heaven for you to the splendors of eternity!
56 THE EXAMPLE OF ST. JAMES THE GREAT
July 24,1940; Vol. II, p.185
After the Tabernacle, where Our Lord Jesus Christ lives, truly present though invisible; after the Holy Sepulcher, which preserves the traces of His passage on this earth; after Rome, which safeguards the glorious tombs of the Princes of the Apostles, there is perhaps no place where such great numbers of devoted pilgrims have gathered over the centuries as the historic capital of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, where, according to an ancient tradition, the relics of the Apostle St. James the Great are to be found. And since his feast is celebrated tomorrow, we would like to repair in spirit with you today, dear sons and daughters, to that famous shrine in order to gather some useful lessons for you.
If we were to journey on foot, following paths still visible in various countries of Europe, over which plodded the pilgrims of the Middle Ages, dressed in sackcloth and leaning on their staffs, the duration of the trip would permit us to re-read the pious chronicles which adorn the life of the saint with so many details. However, for a purely spiritual voyage it is enough to read the Holy Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, brief commentaries and yet sufficient to show that St. James began well, he continued for a time less successfully, but then he resumed and finished very well indeed.
He began well. The Gospel compresses into a few lines the call which Jesus addressed to him and to John, and their reply: “And immediately they left their nets and their father and followed Him” (Mt. 4:21-22). This seems little, but in reality it is a great deal, for James and his brother as well, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat rocking on the lake shore while their fishing nets were stretched out drying on poles, sank forever beneath the waters of the lake their affection for the past and placed their hopes for the future unconditionally in the hands of the Divine Master.
You too, dear newlyweds, must give yourselves to God without delay in the new life to which you have been called. Beginning today, you should seriously assume the grave obligations which it imposes. Take care not to continue living in a way which is perhaps carefree and lighthearted, undisciplined or idle for you men, frivolous or lackadaisical for you young women. Expend all your energies towards the duties of this new state. The time has passed when young girls often entered matrimony almost without understanding it. But unfortunately there are still instances in which certain young couples believe that they can allow themselves at the outset a period of moral liberty, enjoying their rights while ignoring their duties. This is a grave sin which provokes divine wrath and is a source even of temporal unhappiness, the consequences of which should instill fear in everyone. If a duty is not performed or is disdained in the beginning, it is gradually ignored or neglected more and more until it is almost completely forgotten, and with it the joys which its courageous observance brings. And when the thought finally recurs and regrets arise, one sometimes discovers, with futile tears, that it is too late. A couple unfaithful to their mission have nothing left but to wither hopelessly in the desert of their sterile egoism.
A good beginning is not everything; salvation of the soul is promised only to those who persevere. St. James, with his impulsive generosity, had begun well; in a few passages the Gospel shows how he continued. He was the object of a special preference on the part of Jesus, whose love never changes. He, his brother, John, and Peter, their neighbor and co-worker, formed a trio upon which Jesus conferred special favors. They alone saw His goodness particularly manifest itself when He brought back to life the daughter of Jairus, His glory in the Transfiguration, His sadness and obedience in the agony of Gethsemani. But it was precisely there that James was unfaithful to his Divine Master! Yet he had sincerely loved Him and had followed Him with enthusiasm. It was not without reason that Our Lord had given the nickname “sons of thunder” to the two sons of Zebedee. Their good mother, ambitious like many others, one day had dared to ask Jesus for a preferential position for her sons in His kingdom. When Jesus asked them, “Can you drink of the cup of which I am about to drink?” both of them replied in good faith, ‘We can” (Mt. 20, 20-23). 0 James! At least your brother John, the Apostle of Love, will be present on Calvary; but where will you be then? The desertion began in Gethsemani when the three beloved Apostles drew upon themselves this sorrowful complaint from the Master, “Could you not then watch one hour with Me?” And Jesus added: “Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation!” (Mt. 26:40-41.)
Praying and watching are thus necessary to preserve the generosity of initial fervor. If you have imitated the good beginning of St. James, profit from this second lesson to seek the secret of perseverance in watchfulness and prayer. Certainly most children in our Catholic countries learn this at an early age. How easy it is to forget it! There are some young men who think that in the world, beginning at a certain age, prayer is a kind of incense, the scented smoke of which, like certain fashionable perfumes, is better left to the women. Others will sometimes go to Mass when they feel like it, but apparently consider themselves too big to kneel down and not mystical enough, as some say, to receive Holy Communion. And there are even some young women who have been carefully educated by their parents or by the good Sisters, and who yet believe that once they are married they are exempt from the most elemental norms of prudence; reading, entertainment, dances, dangerous distractions, all are permitted to them.
In a truly Christian family the husband knows that his soul is of the same nature and no less fragile than that of his wife and their children; he therefore joins with them in daily prayer, and, just as he enjoys seeing them around him at the family table, so he would not fail to go with them to the Eucharistic Table. Even before she bears the responsibilities of educating her children, a woman says to herself as she will some day say to them, “Whoever plays with fire will be burned” and “He that loveth danger shall perish in it” (Ecclus. 3:27). She listens to divine wisdom which proclaims that the virtue of prudence makes a woman a special gift of God to her husband. And she cannot, without shuddering, think of the grave admonition of Scripture, alluded to in the Old Testament, explicitly formulated in the New Testament, that unbridled love of the world is enmity to God.
The third lesson of St. James is his death. Even here the scriptural narration is brief: “Herod the King…killed James the brother of John with the sword.” All that the Apostle had done after the resurrection of Christ—his travels, his labors for the salvation of souls—receive no special mention. But from reading this text one can deduce that St. James indeed drank the chalice which Jesus had predicted and which he had generously accepted: he died a martyr! On the other hand, his weakness in having deserted during the sad hours of the Passion was pardoned and forgotten by the Redeemer. The very evening of His glorious Resurrection, Jesus, appearing to His disciples, spoke to them not words of bitter reproach but a greeting filled with love: “Peace be to you!” (Jn. 20:19.)
However serious the sins of men may be, the Heart of Jesus, a living Fountain of His redemptive Blood, remains always open to them. At the first moment of the Passion, all the disciples abandoned Jesus and fled (Mt. 26:56). But all were pardoned—all except one who, not daring to entrust himself to the Heart of Jesus, closed the opening to mercy with a fatal halter. Even if you should be guilty of all the sins of the world, you must not add to them still another in not admitting that God’s goodness is even greater than your sins and capable of pardoning them. Prompt and generous in the fulfillment of your duties, faithful in watchful prayer over yourselves, make your own the humble plea of the priest in Holy Mass before Communion: “0 Lord Jesus… who…hast by Thy death given life to the world, deliver me by this Thy most sacred Body and Blood from all of my sins and from every evil. Make me always cling to Thy commandments and never permit me to be separated from Thee.” No, never, never; neither in this world nor in eternity!
57 WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF SAINTS
November 6, 1940; Vol. II, p.295
You have come, dear newlyweds, to ask, our benediction on your hope-filled future in these first days of November when the faithful everywhere, guided by the call of Holy Mother Church, wend their way with their tears and prayers towards that corner of consecrated ground where memories of the past repose.
The remembrance of our dear dead, although it revives the pang of separation in every heart, nevertheless leaves no bitterness in souls made serene by faith. Even for you, at the moment when you are founding a family, it is good and wholesome to think of those who have opened life’s path for you and who handed down your heritage of Christian virtues. And while you recall their faded countenances as you perhaps saw them in your childhood or as you have piously imagined them, you could repeat to each other, with pride and confidence, what young Tobias said to his wife: “We are the children of saints” (Tob. 8:5).
You are certainly aware that Holy Liturgy closely unites the commemoration of the faithful departed to the solemn feast day of All Saints. This union places in sharp relief the consoling dogma of the Communion of Saints, that is to say, of the spiritual bond which intimately conjoins all souls living in a state of grace with Our Lord and with one another. These souls are divided into three groups: first, those already crowned in heaven who form the Church Triumphant; secondly, those detained in Purgatory for their complete and definitive purification who constitute the Church Suffering; and finally the pilgrims still here on earth, who compose the Church Militant. Thus the Feast of All Saints may be considered in certain respects the Feast of Three Churches. In the Prayer of the Mass of that day, God’s goodness is invoked through the merits of all the saints. “Omnium sanctorum tuorum merita sub una tribuisti celebritate venerari.” Now there are merits in all three churches: merits glorified in the Church Triumphant; merits acquired and incapable of increase or loss, but which still await their reward, in the Church Suffering; merits acquired and capable of increase, but of complete loss as well, in the Church Militant. The Feast of All Saints, then, is like a great family day for all souls in the state of grace.
This consideration ought to bear particularly on you newlyweds who have taken leave of a beloved family, which was your own until now, to form a new one which will be a continuation of the first and, if God wishes—and we ask it of Him on your behalf—the beginning of a long series of others.
Perhaps you think that on All Saints Day the Church intends merely to glorify at one time all those for whom she has decreed the honors of the altar. Such a day would then be like an annual recapitulation of the Roman Martyrology. And in reality it is indeed this; but it is much more. In fact, when Pope Boniface IV, in the year 609 or 610, purified the ancient Pantheon in Rome which had been donated to him by the Emperor Foca, he dedicated that temple to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the martyrs and instituted a holy day to be celebrated every year in their honor. But in the following century, Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to “Our Lord Jesus Christ, to His Holy Mother, to the Holy Apostles, to all the Holy Martyrs and Confessors, and to all the just and perfect who repose throughout the world.” Finally Gregory IV extended the celebration of the feast to all saints of the universal Church.
All saints. What does this mean? Ordinarily, it means first of all the heroes of Christianity, those who by a final and definitive pronouncement of the infallible teacher are declared to have been received into the Church Triumphant, and whose veneration is authorized in the Church Militant. Your models and special patrons are surely among them. Every Christian family turns its eyes almost instinctively to the Holy Family of Nazareth, and a particular title is attributed to them, imploring the protection of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. But after them, numerous men and women have become sanctified in family life, such as the husband and wife Saint Chrysanthus and Saint Dania, martyrs under the Emperor Numerian. There are in heaven wonderful fathers of families, like St. Ferdinand III, King of Castile and Leon, who piously raised his fourteen children, heroic mothers such as St. Felicitas of Rome who, according to the Acts of her martyrdom under the Emperor Antoninus, watched with her own eyes while her seven children were slain amid atrocious torments, until she herself was beheaded. This most courageous mother, St. Peter Chrysologus tells us, walked among the pierced bodies of her children, happier than if she were among the dear cradles of her sleeping babes, for with the interior vision of faith she perceived martyrs’ palms wherever there were wounds, as many heavenly rewards as there were torments, as many crowns as there were victims.
Nevertheless, since each saint has his own feast day during the year, it may be said that the Church in the solemnity of All Saints Day intends much more than a simple comprehensive remembrance of them all. This is particularly so in regard to the Church Triumphant, for in heaven, beside the great conquerors resplendent in the light of their canonizations or their simple beatifications, there are multitudes of souls unknown on earth but blessed in the Beatific Vision. That their number surpasses all human reckoning is evidenced in the Apocalypse by the Apostle St. John, who had seen their glory: “After this I saw a great multitude which no man could number…standing before the throne and before the lamb, clothed in white robes and with palms in their hands,” and these elect, without a distinct name, were “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” (Apoc. 7:9). Here you have some idea of the family in which “we are the children of saints.”
Do you not have some grandparent or perhaps even closer relatives in those glorious ranks? Raising your eyes and soul to heaven in these days, you can see there in your mind’s eye, eternally happy in heaven, many whom you loved and many more who, generation after generation, implanted in their descendants that faith which you now wish to transmit to others. What strength and consolation for you to think that even though they have left this earth, they have not forgotten you; that they continue to love you with the same affection but with an incomparably greater comprehension of your needs and power to satisfy them; and that their smile of benediction will descend from heaven like an invisible ray of grace on each new cradle of their posterity.
It is true, of course, that you cannot be absolutely certain of their definitive glorification, since we must be completely pure in order to be admitted to the eternal and unveiled contemplation of that God who found imperfections in the angels themselves! Even that venerated grandfather whose life, in your eyes, appeared so worthy and meritorious, even that good grandmother whose toilsome days ended with such a calm and pious death, are perhaps not yet in heaven. But without vain presumption and with firm and trusting reliance upon the divine promises made for faith and the work of a truly Christian life, you can at least seek them in the place of supreme purification, Purgatory. Then you can experience serene joy at the thought that those loved ones are already sure of their eternal salvation, preserved from sin and from the occasions of sin, from worry, from infirmity and from all of the miseries of this earth.
Therefore, considering the sufferings which will end when they are cleansed from their stains, your devotion and affection will make you listen to their voices pleading for your prayers, as Job in the depths of his afflictions implored the compassion of his friends. Then you will understand why it is that although the joy of the Feast of All Saints extends over an octave in Sacred Liturgy, prayer for the Church Suffering continues for the entire month of November which is especially dedicated to this merciful assistance. If then you ask the protection of the saints in heaven, do not fail, by prayer, almsgiving and above all by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to assist your dear ones who are still in Purgatory, so that they in turn, as we piously believe, may intercede for you, and, once admitted to the fountain of all grace, can direct its wholesome waters on all of their descendants.
What can we say now of the saints of the third Church, that is, those who are still struggling upon earth? Remember, dear sons and daughters, that they do exist and that you can be among them if you want to be. According to the etymological and larger sense of the word, sanctity is the state of a person or thing deemed inviolable and sacred. Thus Cicero spoke of the “sanctity of mothers,” the sanctity of those universally respected wives and mothers, the Roman matrons. In an even higher sense, in the Old Testament, the Lord said to the children of His people: “Be ye holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). And adding to the precept the help necessary to carry it out, He added: “I am the Lord that sanctifies you” (Lev. 20:8).
In the New Testament, to be holy means to have been consecrated to God in Baptism and to remain in the state of grace, that completely interior supernatural life which alone, in the eyes of Our Lord and the angels, separates men into two profoundly different classes: one deprived of sanctifying grace, and the other raised to this mysterious but actual participation in Divine Life. And so it is that in many passages of the New Testament the early Christians are designated by the name “saints.” Thus, for example, St. Paul accuses himself before his conversion of having cast into prison a great number of saints (Acts 26:10). The same Apostle writes to the faithful in Ephesus: “You are citizens with the saints and members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:191, and he begged those in Rome to look after the needs of the saints (Rom. 12:13).
These saints on earth have their merits too, which can benefit other men and the souls in Purgatory. But Mother Church knows well that the merits of the living are precarious, and if some of her children on earth have been, until now, powerful advocates for their brothers, they, like everyone else still struggling in this world, continually need intercession themselves. For this reason she concludes her Prayer on the Feast of All Saints as follows: ‘We beseech thee that, since so many are praying for us, thou wouldst pour forth upon us the desired abundance of thy mercy.
“We are children of saints!” Dear sons and daughters, you must therefore be convinced that your young family can and ought to be a holy family, that is, inviolably united to God by grace. Inviolably, because that same sacrament which requires indissolubility of the marriage bond confers upon you a supernatural strength against which, if you so desire, temptations and seductions cannot prevail. The treacherous insinuations of daily boredom, habitual weariness, the need for novelty and change, the thirst for dangerous experience, the attractions of forbidden fruit—these will have no power against you if you persevere in the state of grace by vigilance, struggle, patience and prayer.
United to God, you will be saints and your children will be saints after you because, washed in the redemptive Blood of Christ from the time of your Baptism, you have consecrated or doubtless will consecrate your family home to the Divine Heart, whose image will watch over you day and night.
PART XII – The Family and Prayer
58 CENACLE OF PRAYER
March 27, 1940; Vol. II, p.43
During this Easter week, dear sons and daughters, we do not believe that we could receive you with a more affectionately paternal greeting than that extended by Jesus Himself to His disciples gathered in the Cenacle on the evening of the Resurrection: “Pax vobis—Peace be to you” (Jn. 20:19).
Dear newlyweds, for you life is opening like a flowered path. But you surely know that although this path now leads you through the flowers of spring and across verdant valleys, it will also bring you, as everyone, rough climbs, dangerous slopes and perhaps even stormy weather. Have, therefore, your own Cenacle, a refuge of retreat and of prayer, in your own home.
There, after the most difficult days, you will find repose in fidelity to your promises and the perfect union of your souls. There, “persevering together,” you will live under the protection of Mary, whose image will reunite you each evening for prayer.
Better still, all your personal and family life can become an incessant prayer, “persevering united in prayer.” The Apostleship of Prayer gives you the means, through the Morning Offering. Like a magic wand in fairy tales, which turns everything that it touches into gold, this Offering made by Christians in the state of grace, and through which one offers all his work to God for the great needs of the Church and for souls, can raise even the smallest and most modest actions to supernatural acts of the apostolate. The farmer at his plow, the clerk in his office, the businessman at his desk, the housewife in her kitchen can become, as we have already said, collaborators of God, who waits for them and performs with them the humble work required by their state in life.
Dear children, when Jesus in the silence of the Cenacle pronounced the words, “Peace be to you,” the Apostles were trembling with fear, even behind closed doors. The peace which at that time they were unable to enjoy in their refuge, but which they would subsequently proclaim to the ends of the earth, accompanied them in their journeys, in their trials and in their martyrdom. For them it was not to be a silver-winged dove cooing sweetly in scented branches, but a halcyon which does not nest during storms but which, when it takes flight from the crests of the billows to the top of the shipmast, symbolizes to the terrified sailors the vanity and futility of man’s efforts and anxieties when left to himself, and the power and joyous serenity of a weak creature who has abandoned himself to his Creator.
Will the human race ever understand this lesson and seek, by a trusting return to God, the reconquest of that peace, the thought of which dominates our minds and hearts like the insistent memory of a lost happiness? Many people today have lost peace because their prophets or their rulers are estranged from God and from His Christ. Some, purveyors of an anti-religious policy and culture, closing themselves inside the pride of human reason, have barred the door to the very idea of the divine and the supernatural, expelling the Creator from creation and removing from schools and halls the image of the Divine Crucified Master, eliminating from national, social and family institutions every mention of the Gospel, even though they cannot stamp out its profound effects. Others have fled far from Christ and His peace, discounting centuries of glorious, brotherly civilization to steep themselves in the shadows of ancient paganism and modern idolatry.
Would that they might recognize their error and understand that Christ the Savior, notwithstanding the defections, the denials and the outrages, remains now and always at their side, with Hands outstretched and Heart open, ready to say to them, “Peace be to you,” if they themselves, sincere and trusting, would fall at His Feet with that cry of faith and love, “My Lord and My God!”
59 DAILY AUDIENCE WITH GOD
April 17, 1940; Vol. II, p.71
We are always delighted, dear sons and daughters, to see young newlyweds gathered around us to ask the Apostolic Benediction; it is always a kindly and moving experience for us to impart it and to observe with what filial piety it is received. Some of you are Romans; others come from more or less distant regions. All of you, upon returning to your homes and for the rest of your lives, will doubtless have engraved upon your hearts the memory of the day when you had an audience with the Pope.
The true and proper reason for your joy is that in the Pope, whoever he may be, you see God’s representative here on earth, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the successor of Peter, whom Our Lord constituted as the visible head of His Church, giving him the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power to bind and to loose (Mt. 16:18-19). Here, as it were, your senses assist your faith; what you see and hear confirm what you should believe. Of course, it is not Jesus Christ in person who appears before you, as the crowds of Palestine saw Him on the shores of Lake Tiberius or Mary and Martha saw Him in their house at Bethany. Nevertheless, when you draw near the Pope it is not without reason that you have the impression of finding yourselves carried back nearly twenty centuries ago to the side of the Divine Nazarene. In the voice of the Pope you seem to hear the Word of the Redeemer, and indeed down through the centuries the Pope has always been its living echo. When he raises his hand above you in benediction, you know that this poor hand is like a transmitter of heavenly assistance and favors for you. Lastly, when you feel the Pope’s heart beating near your own, you are not wrong if you perceive in the attitude, words and gestures which the Lord inspires within him, something of the inner feelings and emotions of the Heart of Jesus, for Jesus Christ placed in His Vicar a share of His saving and merciful love for souls when He said to him: “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep” (Jn. 21:15-17).
But remember, dear sons and daughters, that in another very real, even though less physical way, you may often be admitted to an audience with that good and powerful God whose place the Pope holds on this earth.
The most real and intimate encounter with God is in Holy Communion, by which Jesus gives Himself to you, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. You have not only the right but the duty to partake of this Divine Repast at least once a year during Eastertime. But, if you truly love the most adorable Savior, if you firmly believe in His Eucharistic Presence and power, if you wish to console Him for the suffering caused His Heart by the impiety of the wicked and the indifference of the lukewarm, you will receive Holy Communion more frequently —every month, for example, on the First Friday, or every Sunday, or even every day if you can.
God offers you another audience every day and every night in nature, that is to say, in creation itself, living or inanimate, rational or irrational, which surrounds you. Can you, for example, open your eyes without recognizing in nature the power and goodness of the Creator? Have you not, at one time or another, looking upon the sublimity of mountain peaks or the immensity of the sea, felt within yourselves some spark of that flame which burned in St. Francis of Assisi when he made the Umbrian countryside echo with the Canticle of Brother Sun? In the reciprocal action of the elements and the forces of nature—air, water, fire, electricity—which obey laws so harmonious and constant that they are one of the surest guides for human science, do you not feel the Creator unveiling His infinite wisdom to you?
Of course we know that to converse with God through the contemplation of His creatures is not within the grasp of all men. Consequently, another means has been given them, easy and familiar, for presenting to Him their requests and hearing His Words. This divine audience to which you are invited and admitted at all times and where God has promised to refuse nothing you will ask Him, properly and devoutly, is simple prayer—personal and interior prayer above all.
Prayer, in the first place, is to bring ourselves into the presence of Our Lord. To seek God, to find Him, all you need to do is retreat within yourselves in the morning, in the evening or at any moment of the day. If you are happily in the state of grace, you will see in the depth of your soul, through the eyes of faith, Almighty God, ever present as an immensely good Father ready to receive your requests and even to tell you what He expects of you. On the other hand, if you have unfortunately lost grace, look honestly within yourselves just the same. You will find God present as a Judge, but a merciful judge ready to pardon, or better still, as the Father of the prodigal who opens His Arms and Heart to you as long as you prostrate yourself truly repentant, confessing, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee” (Lk. 15:20-21). How many souls have saved themselves from obstinacy in sin, from hardness of heart, and from eternal perdition by a brief examination of conscience each evening! How many owe their salvation to daily prayer!
But you will not always enjoy these blessed moments of recollection alone. Dear newlyweds, you have not wished to come even to the papal audience without each other. Go as a family, so to speak, to the audience with the good God. Remember the words of the Savior in the Gospel: “If two of you shall agree on earth (and are not these two who must agree, to be found in a special way in husband and wife whom God has joined together?) to ask anything, it shall be done for them by My Father Who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together for My sake, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:19-20). Did you mark this well? just as the Vicar of Christ is in your midst at this very moment, so Christ Himself, although invisible, is present in your midst when you pray together. Then the senses too can come to the aid of faith, and external reality can increase interior piety.
Fathers and mothers of the future, before long the sight of your little angels on earth kneeling beside you, with their tiny hands clasped and their pure eyes fixed on the image of Mary, will call to your mind the memory of your own childhood, of the pure joy of an innocent heart and its ease in conversing with God. Christian husbands and wives, in kneeling side by side before the Divine Majesty and surrounded by your children, you will utter with greater faith the suppliant plea: “Our Father . . . give us this day our daily bread, for this entire family whom we present to You as living witness of our fidelity to Your laws.” You will say as well, even if your voice should tremble slightly, “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us—the clashes, the arguments.” Finally, for you heads of families, the sight of your wife, after a day of courageous work, carefully gathering together the dear pledges of your mutual love and entrusting their sleep to heavenly guardians, will be a reminder that in heaven above there is for all Christians an infinitely tender Mother ready to help her children, especially at the sunset of this swift day of life, and then you will say with a feeling of sweet hope, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” And thus you will pass into sleep more peacefully.
These, dear sons and daughters, are some of the spiritual fruits which you can derive from intimate and daily audience with God. Remembering the cares which in the present tumultuous world of our days weigh heavily upon the heart of the Pope, give your prayers a truly Catholic tone. Pray with the Church and for the Church. Pray that all men may heed the anguished appeals and fervent exhortations of our paternal love, that they may remember that they are all children of God and that they may find once more that feeling of universal brotherhood which is the necessary basis for agreement among nations and for that peace for which everyone yearns.
60 PRAYING TOGETHER
February 12, 1941; Vol. II, p.395
Dear newlyweds, seeing you gathered around us gives great comfort and hope to our heart, for in our eyes you are a group of newborn Christian families on whom Our Lord is pleased to pour the plentiful graces you implored at the foot of the altar as the priest blessed your union. Your invocation, which was thus united to that of God’s minister, was a prayer. With prayer, therefore, you have begun your new life together.
Will you continue to pray, to invoke the Heavenly Father, Source of all fatherhood in the order of nature and grace? Yes, the token of the promise is your presence here, asking our paternal benediction on your new home, to confirm the priest’s prayer and your prayer, and to increase their strength throughout the entire course of your lives.
St. Francis de Sales, whose Counsels for Married People we have already discussed, gives a delightful touch to the subject of prayer which we would like to offer for your consideration today.
“The greatest and most fruitful union of husband and wife,” he writes, “is attained through pious devotion, in which each should seek to outdo the other. There are certain fruits, such as the quince, which because of the bitterness of their juice are unpleasant unless sweetened; there are others, such as cherries and apricots, which are tender and delicious but which cannot be kept unless they are preserved. Therefore wives should desire their husbands to be sweetened with the sugar of devotion, since a man without devotion is a stern, rude and coarse animal; and husbands should wish their wives to be devoted, for without devotion a woman is very fragile and inclined to lose or tarnish her virtue.”
Devotion is a great virtue, the safeguard of all others! But its most beautiful and ordinary act is prayer which, for man who has a body and soul, is the daily bread of the soul just as material bread is the daily nourishment of the body. And in the same way that union gives strength, so praying together has a greater effect on the Heart of God. Thus it is that Our Lord has particularly blessed all who pray together, saying to His disciples: “I say to you further, that if two of you shall agree on earth about anything at all for which they ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:19-20). But who could be more truly and fully united in prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, than those upon whom holy Matrimony has impressed the living and permanent image of the sublime union of Christ Himself with the Church, His beloved spouse, born on Calvary from the opening of His Side?
It is therefore a great and fruitful union, dear newlyweds, which places you side by side, kneeling before God, Who has given you to each other, asking Him to preserve, increase and bless the fusion of your lives. All Christians, even though they pray by concentrating privately, must also make room in their lives for prayer in common, which reminds them that they are brothers in Christ and must save their souls not in isolation but by helping one another. More importantly, your prayer should not separate you like hermits and drive you into solitary meditation so that you are prevented from being together frequently before God at His altar! And where will your hearts, your minds and your wills be drawn together and united more deeply, more strongly and more securely, than in the act of praying together where the same divine grace will descend to harmonize your thoughts, your actions and your desires? How it must delight the angels to see a husband and wife in prayer, raising their eyes to heaven and invoking upon themselves and their hopes the protecting Hand and Gaze of God!
In Holy Scripture few scenes can equal the moving prayer of Tobias and his young wife Sara: aware of the danger menacing their happiness, they placed all their trust in God’s presence above; raising themselves from the depths of the flesh, they inspired each other by remembering that, as children of saints, it did not become them to be joined together “like heathens who know not God” (Tob. 8:4-5).
Like Tobias and Sara, you too know God, who always makes the sun rise, even though veiled, on the morning of your life. However filled and cluttered with activities your days may be, find a way to set aside at least a moment to kneel together and start off the day by lifting up your hearts to the Heavenly Father to ask His help, aid and benediction. In the morning, at the moment when your daily work insistently summons you and keeps you apart until midday, perhaps even until evening, or when after a hurried lunch you exchange a glance and a word or two before taking leave of each other, never forget to recite together at least a simple Our Father or Hail Mary, and thank heaven for the food it has given you. The long and perhaps burdensome day will separate you from each other, but, close to each other or far apart, you will always be in God’s sight. Your hearts, impelled by common devotion, should rise towards Him in whom you will remain united and who will watch over you and your happiness.
And when evening falls, and the day’s hard toil is ended, and you are finally together again at home, happily enjoying a little of each other’s company and exchanging the news of the day, in those delightful and precious moments of intimacy and repose, give God His rightful place as well. Do not be afraid; God will not become troublesome and disturb your pleasant intimacy. On the contrary, He who has already been listening to you and has prepared these moments for you in His Heart, will make them, as a watchful Father, sweeter and more comforting than ever.
In the name of Our Lord, dear newlyweds, we beg you to do everything to preserve intact the beautiful Christian family tradition of reciting evening prayers together, of gathering together at each day’s end the entire household to implore God’s blessing and to honor the Immaculate Virgin of the Rosary with their praises. In the beginning, just the two of you; then, as soon as you have taught them to join their tiny hands, the little ones whom Providence shall entrust to you, and also those whom Our Lord has placed at your side to help with housework—the domestics and other helpers who are your brothers in Christ and who need God. Even though the harsh and inexorable demands of modern life do not afford the possibility of extending this pious interval of blessing and thanksgiving to Our Lord, or adding, as our fathers loved to do, the reading of a brief life of the saint of the day, at least preserve this moment, however brief, which you dedicate to God together, praising Him and presenting to Him your petitions, your needs, your burdens and your present and future worries.
This devout Christian practice need not transform the home into a church or an oratory; it is a sacred prompting of souls which feel within themselves the power and life of faith.
Even in ancient, pagan Rome, the home had its shrine and altar dedicated to the household gods, which, particularly on festive days, was adorned with garlands of flowers, where sacrifice and supplications were offered. It was a cult blemished by the errors of polytheism, but the memory of it should embarrass many Christians who, despite their Baptism, find in their house neither the place for an image of the true God, nor the time in the twenty-four hours of the day to gather around it in family homage! For you, dear sons and daughters, who feel in your souls a Christian fervor kindled by the grace of holy Matrimony, the center of your entire life should be the crucifix, or the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus reigning in your home, calling you each evening before Him, and in whom you will find the staff of your hopes, comfort in your grief, for even the longest day in human life is never complete, serene or cloudless.
But so that you may vie with each other in devotion, we will show you an even higher road which leads you out from your abode into what in the highest sense is your Father’s House, your dear parish church. There is the source of heaven’s blessings; there the God who has sanctified your union and who has showered countless graces upon you, is waiting for you; there is the altar around which the faithful gather for solemn Mass and to which the Church, the spouse of Christ, solemnly invites you. You should assist at Mass together as frequently as you can; and it will be an edifying sight each time—and may it be very frequent!—when, in the most profound of all devotions together, you move towards the Holy Table to receive the Body of Our Lord, that Most Sacred Body, the strongest bond of union among all Christians who eat of It and who, as members of Christ, live of His life. It will divinely accomplish in you the complete fusion of your souls at the highest spiritual level. And how you will thrill with indescribable joy when you can make room between you for the head of a bright-eyed little angel raising itself up at your side to receive on its innocent lips the white Host which you have already taught him contains the Presence of his dear Jesus! Your joy will increase and multiply time and again as new Baptisms regenerate other little ones and their hearts grow ready to share this Divine Feast with you.
Of course, the difficulties and necessities of life will not always give you the opportunity to kneel together before the sacred altar. Frequently each of you will be obliged to perform these acts of Christian piety alone; at other times perhaps your duties and at the present hour the exigencies of war may impose long separations upon you. But what better meeting place could there be for your hearts torn by such separation than Holy Communion in which Jesus Himself reunites you across all distances within His own?
As young married couples, looking out on the future from the altar and the blessing of your holy Matrimony, you dream of bright and rosy dawns for many years ahead. St. Francis de Sales concludes his counsel to married people with an invitation for them to celebrate their wedding anniversary by receiving fervent Holy Communion together. It is such wise advice that we cannot refrain from repeating it and recommending it to you as well. Returning to the altar where you exchanged your vows, you will rediscover yourselves and you will reenter your own souls. And the graces of this union in Christ will guarantee endurance and solid strength for your feelings and resolutions of mutual trust and of intimate and unchanging affection. The unreserved gift of yourselves to each other will strengthen and brighten in your minds and hearts the fidelity of the first days of your life together in Our Lord’s plans those graces must continue to strengthen and sustain your entire pilgrimage here below.
61 THE POWER OF PRAYER
July 2, 1941; Vol. III, p.139
Nothing gives us greater confidence as we pray than personal experience with the power of prayer, when a loving Providence has granted our request fully and generously. But to us, as to the martyrs, it is said that Providence gives peace in its own time. Many feel their confidence severely shaken by delays in seeing their prayers answered, nor can they resign themselves to the fact that God seems deaf to all their supplications. No, never lose your faith in the God who created you, who loved you before you could love Him, and who has made you His friends. Is it not perhaps through friendship that the loved one harkens to the desire of the one who loves precisely to the extent that he wishes him to be good and perfect? Does not God love His creatures? And is not love itself actually the act of wishing well to someone? And does not the good of a creature derive entirely from Divine Goodness?
Have trust in God. Divine grace never comes too late, and yet divine grace does seem to come too late for many who pray. What they ask for seems good to them, seems useful and necessary and worthwhile, not only for their bodies but even for their souls or for the souls of their loved ones. They pray fervently for weeks, for months, and their prayers are still unanswered. Good health to carry on her family duties has not yet been given to a mother. A son, a daughter, whose conduct is endangering his or her eternal salvation, has not yet returned to a better way of life. Material hardships which trouble and disturb the parents seeking to earn a living for their children appear to grow more threatening and harsh rather than to abate. The whole Church sends up its prayers across the world to obtain the end of a calamity which oppresses the great human family, and yet peace with justice, so ardently desired and urgently pled for and which seems so necessary for the good of men and their souls, somehow has not yet been granted.
Under the stress of this kind of thinking, many begin to look with surprise at the holy altars before which they pray and perhaps even remain shocked and perplexed at hearing Sacred Liturgy constantly recall and proclaim the promises of the Divine Savior: “All things whatever you ask for in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Mt. 21:22). ‘Ask, and it shall be given you….For everyone who asks, receives” (Mt. 7:7-8). “Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do….Amen, Amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it to you” (Jn. 14:13; 15:16; 16:23). Could the Savior’s promises be more explicit, clearer or more solemn? In view of this, might there not be some attempts to regard these promises as a bitter deceit when God remains silent before your requests?
But God does not nor can He lie. He will keep His promises. He will do what He said. Lift up your minds, dear sons and daughters, and listen to the teachings of the great Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas as he explains why our prayers are not always answered by God: “God grants the wishes of a rational creature to the extent that what he asks is good. But it sometimes occurs that what is asked is not truly good but merely an apparent good, and is actually a real evil. Hence this prayer cannot be answered by God. Thus it is written: ‘You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss’ (James 4:3). You wish and pray for something which seems good, but God sees far better than you what it is that you are seeking.” “It sometimes occurs,” the same holy Doctor adds, “that one in friendship must refuse the request of a friend because he knows that it will harm him or because the opposite would be better for him; thus sometimes a doctor will refuse a patient’s request, knowing that it would not help him to regain his health. And since God examines the requests given him in prayer in the light of the love which He bears for a rational creature, it should come as no surprise if sometimes He does not answer the requests of those whom He loves so that He can instead do something else that will be better for them.” Thus he did not remove the “thorn in the flesh” given St. Paul—it was probably some annoying physical infirmity—even though he asked Him three times, in order that it preserve his humility. In this way the great Apostle was not granted his wish as such, in that he was not freed from the infirmity which afflicted him, but his wish was granted for his better good, in that Our Lord, promising to afford him the grace to reach an even greater and more desirable goal, answered him in an even more perfect way.
St. Augustine warns, “Be on guard, ye men of faith, and listen carefully to what the Divine Master teaches: ‘When you seek something you desire, do not ask for it in any way but in My Name. ‘And what is His Name? Jesus Christ! Christ means king, Jesus means savior. Certainly we cannot be saved by any king but by the Savior King; therefore anything we ask contrary to our best interest we do not ask in the Name of the Savior. And He is the Savior not only when He does what we ask, but when He does not. For in not doing that which He knows we are asking for against our own good, He shows Himself a Savior even more. Is He not the Divine Doctor of eternal health? He knows what will save us and what will harm us. He is not only the Savior but the Good Master as well. In order to do what we ask of Him in the prayers taught us, He indicated what we ought to ask for, to the extent of warning us not to request in the Master’s Name anything contrary to the rules of His teaching. Jesus, Savior and Master that He is, knows the best time: thus whenever we ask anything in His Name, He does not always grant it at the time we pray, but He grants it in His own good time. And so what is postponed is not being denied us.”
In the Name of Jesus, therefore, we offer our prayer to God, for there is no other Name given to men on this earth which can save us. It is the Name which gives validity and effectiveness to our petitions before God, and which is the reason why good intentions effectuate what God in His providence has ordained that we should obtain by prayer. This does not change in any way the immutable order which He has established, but fulfills it, inasmuch as the providential order of God has linked the granting of what we ask to the prayer which we offer Him. For this reason St. Alphonsus Liguori once said that those who pray save themselves, those who do not pray damn themselves. To assert that it is not necessary to pray in order to obtain a favor from God because the order of His providence is unchangeable, would be the same—as the angelic St. Thomas observes—as saying that it is not necessary to walk in order to go somewhere or to eat in order to be nourished. All these things would evidently be absurd.
And so we see, dear newlyweds, how the power of prayer is joined to its necessity and how not all prayers which rise to God are made in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and for this reason not all of them are answered. Therefore, ask the Redeemer, renewing the request of the Apostles: “Lord, teach us how to pray” (Lk. 11:1). May your prayer rise to Him like incense and your upraised hands be like an evening oblation and may His divine grace descend upon you and your new families like the dew of Hermon which fell upon the mountains of Sion (Ps. 133:3)!
62 THE FAMILY ROSARY
October 16, 1940; Vol. II, p.255
We welcome you with all our heart, dear newlyweds, whom the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary seems to have brought to us in this month consecrated to her. We like to imagine her as certain privileged saints have seen her, nodding towards you with a smile, to offer you that simple and devout object which, in a chain of pliable and light links, calling to mind only a slavery of love, unites its decades of little beads, filled with an invisible supernatural stimulus, while, for your part kneeling before her, you promise to honor her, offering her as often as possible, under every aspect of family life, the tribute of your piety.
The Rosary, according to the very etymology of the word, is a crown of roses, beautifully representing among all people an offer of love and a symbol of joy. But these roses are not those with which the heathens foolishly adorn themselves, as Holy Scripture says (Wisd. 2:8). “Let us crown ourselves with roses,” they exclaimed, “before they be withered.” The flowers of the Rosary never wither; their freshness is ceaselessly renewed by the hands of those devoted to Mary, while diversity of age, country and language gives those living roses their variety of color and perfume.
You have taken part in this universal and timeless Rosary since childhood. Your mothers taught you to run the Rosary beads slowly through your childish fingers while at the same time pronouncing the simple and sublime words of the Our Father and the Hail Mary. A little later, on the occasion of your First Communion, you were consecrated to your heavenly Mother, reciting with a fervor innocently intensified by the delicate beauty of its white beads, the Rosary given you as a remembrance of that great day. How often since then have you renewed your twofold offering to Jesus and His divine Mother before the Eucharistic Tabernacle or in the Sodality of Mary! And now in the sacrament of Matrimony, celebrated in this month dedicated to Mary, it seems to us that all your future life will be like a garland of roses, a Rosary, the continuous and harmonious recital of which began when at the foot of the altar you joined your hearts bound together by the new and more serious duties which you freely contracted to perform through your marriage blessed by God.
In fact, your sacramental “I do” has something of the Our Father about it in the duties which it implies: sanctifying God’s name together in obedience to His law (Thy will be done), establishing His kingdom in your family home (Thy kingdom come), pardoning each other’s offenses and shortcomings every day (and forgive us… as we forgive others), fighting temptation (and lead us not into temptation), avoiding evil (but deliver us from evil), and above all the resolute and confident “Thy will be done” with which you advance into the mysterious future. That “I do” is also a kind of reflection of the Hail Mary, for it opens a new fountain of grace for you, of which “Mary full of grace” is the sovereign dispenser, and which is the dwelling of God within you (the Lord is with thee). It is a special pledge of blessings not only for you but also for the fruits of your union, a new promise of remission of sins during life and of material assistance in the final hour (now and at the hour). Therefore, by remaining faithful to the duties of your new state of life, you will live in the spirit of the Holy Rosary, and your days will unfold like a continuous chain of acts of faith and love towards God and Mary over the years, which we hope will be numerous and rich with heavenly favors.
But a Rosary, dear sons and daughters, also means that the mysteries of your future will not always consist of joy alone; they will sometimes bring providential suffering as well. It is the law of every human life, as of every stem of roses, that flowers are mixed with thorns. You are now living the joyful mysteries, and we hope that you will long enjoy their delights, for happiness is promised to “the man who fears the Lord,” and “greatly delights in His commands” (Ps. 111:1). It is promised to the meek, to the merciful, to the pure of heart, to the peacemakers (Mt. 5:4-9), and you will strive to be all these things. Above all you will hope that Providence, whose secret designs attracted you to each other, will pour out upon your home the benediction promised to the patriarchs, sung by the prophets, and exalted by the Church in the marriage liturgy—the joyous blessing of fertility, “the joyful mother of children” (Ps. 112:9).
As you have received and will receive joys—those of today and those of tomorrow—with loving gratitude and wise moderation, so too you will receive in a spirit of faith and submission the sorrowful mysteries of the future, when their hour comes. Mysteries? This is a name which man frequently gives to grief, for although he does not usually seek a justification for joys, he seeks blindly on the other hand for the causes of his misfortunes, and his suffering is twice as great when he cannot discover the reason here on earth. The Virgin of the Rosary, who is also the Virgin standing on Calvary, will teach you to stay erect under the Cross, however dark its shadow may be, so that from the example of this “Sorrowful Mother” and “Queen of Martyrs” you may understand that the designs of God are infinitely beyond the comprehension of men, and even though they may break our hearts, they are inspired by the most tender love for our souls.
Can you expect and must you desire the glorious mysteries as well, in the Rosary of your life? Yes, if we mean glory which faith alone can perceive and enjoy. Men often stop at these smoking shrines of fame, which they discuss among themselves with highsounding words or deeds. To receive praise, to be famous, this is what glory means to them. “Glory is frequently the fame of being praised by someone,” wrote Cicero. But men often pay no heed to the glory which only God can give, and so, according to the word of Our Lord, they have no faith: “How can you believe,” the Redeemer said to the Jews, “who receive glory from one another, and do not seek the glory which is from the only God?” (Jn. 5:44). The glory of the world withers like the flower of the field, exclaimed Isaiah; and through the mouth of the same prophet the God of Israel announced that He would humble the great ones of the earth. What then will Jesus do, God Incarnate, who declared Himself to be “humble of heart” and who never sought His own glory?
Lift up your eyes, therefore, or rather, with the eye of faith and the light of the Holy Scriptures, look into the depths of your own souls. “It is a great glory,” the Holy Ghost will tell you, “to follow the Lord” (Ecclus. 23:38). In a family where God is honored, “Children’s children are the crown of old men: and the glory of children are their fathers” (Prov. 17:6). The clearer your eyes will be, dear young mothers of tomorrow, the more will you see the dear little beings entrusted to your care as souls destined to glorify with you the only Object worthy of all honor and all glory. Then, instead of losing yourselves, like so many others, in ambitious daydreams at a baby’s cradle, you will bend devoutly over the fragile heart that has just begun to beat, and without useless worrying you will think of the mysteries of his future, and you will entrust him to the love—more maternal and ever more powerful than your own—of the Virgin of the Rosary.
In this way the Holy Rosary teaches you that the Christian’s glory is not attained on his earthly pilgrimage. Examine all the mysteries, joyful and sorrowful, from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion; they show, as if in ten pictures, the entire life of the Savior. The glorious mysteries begin only on Easter Day, and from then on they never cease, neither for the Risen Jesus who ascends to the right hand of His Father and sends the Holy Ghost to preside over the growth of His kingdom to the end of time, nor for Mary, assumed into heaven on the glowing wings of the angel, who receives the eternal crown from the hands of the Heavenly Father.
So it will be for you, dear sons and daughters, if you remain faithful to the promises made to God and to Mary and if you will loyally observe the duties which you have assumed towards each other. Do not be ashamed of the Gospel; and at a time when many weak and vacillating souls permit themselves to be overcome by evil, do not imitate their bewilderment, but triumph over evil, according to St. Paul’s advice, by doing good.
Thus the Rosary of your life, continued through a chain of years which we hope will be long and blessed for you, will have its happy ending when the veil of the mysteries will be withdrawn for you in the luminous and eternal glorification of the Holy Trinity: “Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. Amen!”
© Sarto House
This item 12716 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org