Bernardo M. Villegas
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John Paul II on Family

           As the Catholic world eagerly awaits the canonization of John Paul the Great (possibly some time in the first half of 2014), it would be beneficial to the whole of humanity to recall what he said about the Christian family in an Apostolic Exhortation he wrote almost at the beginning of his papacy.  Writing about "The Christian Family in the Modern World," the soon-to-be-saint presented the only formula to prevent whole countries from becoming extinct as they commit demographic suicide through an irreversible contraceptive mentality or through the redefinition of marriage to include same sex marriages that are by definition unable to transmit new life.   Although he was writing about the Christian family, the ideas contained in the document can be understood by all men and women of good will.

          In the section entitled "Serving Life," he referred to the first book of Genesis which  narrates the creation of this world: "With the creation of man and woman in his own image and likeness, God crowns and brings to perfection the work of his hands:  he calls them to a special sharing in his love and in his power as Creator and Father, through their free and responsible cooperation in transmitting the gift of human life:  'God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and till the earth and subdue it.'"  It is very obvious that the order of the command has a logical sequence:  first populate the earth and only then can you till and subdue it.  Already we are seeing whole countries, even those who have not yet reached high levels of development like China and Thailand, who are having difficulties subduing their respective territories because they are beginning to suffer from labor shortages as a consequence of not being able to multiply the number of their people because of a widespread contraceptive mentality.

          John Paul II states clearly that "the fundamental task of the family is to serve it, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator--that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person...Fecundity is the fruit and the sign of conjugal love, the living testimony of the full reciprocal self-giving of the spouses."  He then quotes from Gaudium et Spes,  a document of the Second Vatican Council:  "While not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim:  that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour, who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day."  These words are already being echoed by some governments in those parts of the world that are suffering from a severe case of the demographic winter.  Unfortunately, such campaigns to encourage larger families have only limited success because of the combination of a deeply-rooted contraceptive mentality and a consumerist lifestyle which assigns the highest priority to accumulating earthly goods.

          As the Catholic Church celebrates the Year of Faith which will end on November 24, 2013, it is fitting that we remind ourselves that "the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of my predecessor Paul VI, expressed above all in Humanae Vitae, have handed on to our times a truly prophetic proclamation, which reaffirms and reproposes with clarity the Church's teaching and norm, always old yet always new, regarding marriage and regarding the transmission of life....the Synod's Fathers made the following declaration at their last assembly:  'This Sacred Synod, gathered together with the successor of Peter in the unity of faith, firmly hold what has been set forth in the Second Vatican Council and afterwards in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, particularly the love between husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to life."  I hope that those still alive today among the more than five million Filipinos who gathered in and around the Luneta in 1995 when Pope John Paul II visited us for the last time will prepare for his canonization by taking to heart his message on the family. We owe it to future generations of Filipinos to make sure that conjugal love will always be open to life.  We cannot and should not fall into the trap of the demographic winter that is wreaking so much havoc on the advanced countries of the world.  For comments, my email address is