When Pope Paul VI wrote his prophetic Humanae Vitae 50 years ago, he no doubt prayed that the calamities he envisioned would not come to pass. That the culture has not heeded our Church’s teaching on human sexuality and human life has wrought consequences even the Holy Father could not have fathomed.
Responsible parenthood, as Pope Paul VI discusses it in HV, is a central teaching that governs sexual expression and intent in marriage. A husband and wife together pray, discuss and determine when and whether God is calling them to engage in activity that is powerful by nature. And, when God sends a new human life as a result of that human activity, responsible parenthood is no longer theoretical.
Responsible parenthood, narrowly understood as subjugating adult desires to God’s will and cooperating with your spouse as an equal partner at the moment of procreation, is just the beginning of the story, the absolute bare minimum. And while it can be a very difficult teaching to follow at times, there is a reason for this discipline at the beginning.
From the moment a child is conceived, there is a coordinated onslaught of cultural forces aiming at him or her—those very forces Paul VI fearfully envisioned. They pit spouses against each other, parents against children, and family against the world. These forces say there is no purpose, there is no plan, and there is no hope.
Responsible parenthood means a willingness to put the needs of your child before your own at every single turn. Them before us, always. The discipline begun in the bedroom spills over into every aspect of parenthood and sustains us in the tough times.
Parents are responsible for keeping their children safe and healthy in body, mind, and soul. This can mean bravely facing a fatal prenatal diagnosis and carrying the baby to term; it can mean courageously placing a child with adoptive parents because you know you are not able to care for your child; it can mean fleeing a perilous homeland to seek safety and opportunity for your children elsewhere; it can mean clinging to your children as you sleep in your car because you cannot afford rent; it can mean ferociously loving your child when he or she makes repeated and devastating personal choices.
Blessed be those parents whose burdens are lighter! With God’s grace, we realize that parenting for those of us so blessed carries its own responsibilities. As families, our ministry in the world is to raise children with an unshakeable belief in their createdness by an eternally-loving God. We teach them right from wrong, that reality is something they do not create on their own, and that their end goal is eternal life. We also realize that our children are called to change the world. Responsible parenthood means equipping them with the tools to engage, in charity, those with whom they disagree and a strong sense of empathy toward those whose lives are more difficult.
Today also, responsible parenthood means opening our hearts, and possibly our homes, to those in need. It means inviting our children to critically analyze civic policies and structures for their focus on supporting the family or tearing it apart. It means empowering our children to recognize that their gifts from God are meant to be used to build his Kingdom here on earth—a role that they can begin young, with our help. It means pointing out the moments of mercy and grace in our lives so children grow to know that God is in charge and that He is enough.
Raising children well in this culture is not for the faint of heart. The discipline needed at the beginning grows and becomes perfected along the way, put at the service of our children.
Finally, responsible parenting means banding together. It means building communities so our kids can develop friendships with people working toward the same goals and with the same values. Large families, small families, working parents, stay-at-home parents, single parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, couples experiencing infertility who parent in other ways—all focused on parenting responsibly as Paul VI outlined, as John Paul II so beautifully elucidated, and with an eye on intentional encounter, as Pope Francis encourages, we can together build communities where responsible parenthood is realized and our children thrive.
This piece was written by Kathleen Buckley Domingo, Office of Justice and Peace, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
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