Sunday, October 26, 2014

Our Spiritual Fathers


Some people live under the sign of their horoscope.  But what if, as Catholics, we are spiritually linked to the Holy Father who was pontiff when we were born?

My gut intuition is that our spiritual Holy Fathers have something personal to say to each of their sons and daughters.  So do you know who was pope when you were born?  Do you have a favorite saying or inspirational passage from your spiritual Holy Father?  Are you a Pius XII, a John XXIII, or a Paul VI Catholic (like me)--or are you part of the "Catholic boomer" generation, born during the epic papacy of John Paul II?  Wherever each of us falls demographically, we are blessed to be on an incredible run of holy Holy Fathers, so we can rest assured that they are interceding on our behalf.

Maybe our spiritual Holy Fathers complement the work of our earthly fathers and our baptismal Godfathers, supplementing where there were deficiencies or failures and reinforcing where there were solid foundations laid for us.  In honor of the recent beatification of Pope Paul VI, I'd like to share some "gratitude attitude" for his ongoing role in my life.

After guiding the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion, Paul VI stood courageously and prophetically on at least three major issues which have helped shape who I am:

  1. A voice for Christian non-violence.  Paul VI's call before the United Nations, "No more war. War never again!", has been echoed by his papal successors.  With the horrors of the bloodiest century in human history in mind, Paul VI realized the potential for destruction posed by ever-escalating military capabilities.  He saw this threat as a failure for humanity.  Having become bumper sticker favorite, his most famous half-quote on the topic bears brief mention.  After all, "If you want peace, work for justice," is best understood when the second half is included, "If you want justice, defend life"!  This call to defend life without waging war awaits men and women with the creativity to work for authentic justice and peace, for all those who are most vulnerable.
  2. A visionary for evangelization.  Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi, "Evangelization for our Times," served as a springboard the New Evangelization.  Elaborating on Vatican II's universal call to holiness and to mission, one of its most powerful phrases still rings out:  "The Church exists in order to evangelize."  Implied, of course, is the deep anthropological insight that the human person longs to be evangelized.  We are a people on mission to others who, like ourselves, need a personal encounter with Jesus' saving love.
  3. A "white martyr" for marriage and the family.  Paul VI courageously defended Vatican II's inspired teachings on marriage and the family (see Gaudium et Spes, nn. 47-52).  Largely vilified for defending the Council's rejection of artificial birth control and its vision that marital love requires a complete gift of self, the following passage from Humanae Vitae (n. 17) merits honest self-examination by societies which have rejected God's vision for human sexuality, marriage and the family.  After predicting the some of the logical consequences of separating procreation from sexual union--a general lowering of moral standards and the objectification of sexual partners, Paul VI warns of political and social consequences:

    "Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife."
These societal predictions from 1968 are stunning, given implicit and explicit one-child policies in Asia, widespread legal acceptance of abortion as a solution for unwanted pregnancies, and our nation's ongoing tug-of-war regarding the HHS mandate. 

On a personal note, I am grateful for having had a college professor with the courage to make her students debate and discuss this "hot button" encyclical from Paul VI.  My own children--Paul VI's spiritual grandchildren--are a sign that his teaching will continue to bear much fruit for generations to come.  Although many Catholics have made decisions regarding this important topic without having had a chance to review the Church's holistic and life-affirming vision, John Paul II's subsequent "theology of the body" built on Paul VI's insights and continues open many hearts and minds. 

In closing, if you are open to praying to your spiritual Holy Father for wisdom and guidance at key points of your faith journey, I guarantee he's waiting to intercede on your behalf.  After all, when we recite the Creed and profess belief in the "communion of saints," we affirm our faith in these intimate inter-generational relationships.  For we know that there is a "cloud of witnesses" who continue to urge us onward.

Blessed Paul VI, pray for us--