Besides devotional support, couples also need the sound foundational teaching with which Christ’s Church is entrusted.
The contraceptive mentality in so prevalent and so deeply rooted in current society that it is presupposed by a majority of what is communicated in the mass media, in social services, in education, in politics and in the medical profession. While it is somewhat known that the Catholic Church does not approve of artificial contraception, very few know or understand the reasons for this. A majority of Catholics have been led to ignore, distort or dismiss Church teaching under the slogan of “follow your conscience.” Even those who attempt to teach Natural Family Planning in faithfulness to the Church often find themselves lonely or unsupported. The world pressures them to give up and buy into the contraceptive mentality that Natural Family Planning simply is not a viable option because it requires sacrifice and openness to life.
To a culture accustomed to quick sound bites and facile yet uncompromising expressions of opinion, it is not easy to find a manner of communicating the real significance of sexuality and the inseparability of life and love. Homilies, marriage preparation, religious education programs, and individual counseling can all be vehicles for this teaching, but they are not sufficient and are seldom supported by materials and curricula that treat this theme in any depth.
For this reason “Life-Giving Love” is a two day workshop presented by the Holy Spouses Province of the Oblates of St. Joseph. It is a Catholic course on sexuality and natural and responsible parenthood. It is presented all day Saturday and Sunday by Catholic couples and a priest, and is offered to married and engaged couples as well as interested individuals. The 1981 Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Familiaris Consortio, and The Catechism of the Catholic Church are the basic doctrinal sources used by the presenting team. After the majority of the eleven talks, the participants discuss the concepts in small groups and present a resumé of their discussions to the whole group. After three of the more personal talks, however, instead of group discussion the married or engaged couples present are led to dialogue between the two of them about their own manner of living out God’s plan in the intimacy of their marriage.
The first three talks present the basic catechetical principles of the human vocation to love in God’s image, either through marriage or virginity; the sacramental marriage covenant with its two essential and inseparable ends of union in love and openness to procreation; and the family’s call to be a communion of persons, a domestic church, in which children are valued and educated with love and responsibility. Talk four then exposes and summarizes the world’s trends that directly attack this plan of God.
In talks five and six, the presenting couples share more deeply their personal experiences that verify the Church’s teaching with respect to sexuality being a total self-giving, to abstinence being another expression of love, and to co-responsibility regarding the decision to have children.
The seventh talk conveys the Church’s teaching about responsible parenthood, the formation of conscience, sufficient and insufficient reasons for seeking to postpone another pregnancy, and moral and immoral means for doing so. Talk eight then shows how artificial contraception damages physical and emotional health, the relationship of the couple, the children, society, one’s soul, and the Church itself. In a parallel manner, through personal sharing and witness, the ninth talk presents the advantages of natural methods and abstinence at each of these same levels.
The tenth talk gives a very basic introduction to fertility appreciation methods of family planning and offers information on available classes. The final talk is on the Holy Spouses and the mission of family, and it issues a challenge to build a new world of faith and love by living our vocations.
The spiritual context of the workshop includes prayer and song, Mass together and an opportunity for confession. The dialogue questions for the couples challenge them to live in greater intimacy and to make moral and generous decisions regarding openness to life.
The Holy Spouses, Mary and Joseph, are the patrons and models for the Life-Giving Love workshop. The Holy Spouses image usually hangs over the presenting table. In the first talk it is explained that they are our patrons because their virginal love nurtured Jesus Christ, the greatest of all children. In talk five their virginity is presented as an expression of total self-giving. Their love as husband and wife is deeper than that of any other couple, so that they were chosen to form the home of love suitable for nurturing Jesus. In all this they are proof that at least in certain circumstances abstinence is indicated as the means for a husband and wife to express their love for each other.
Participants in the workshop are introduced to the Holy Spouses Rosary. They pray it in community at the end of both days and are given a prayer card of it to take home with the encouragement to pray it together. The final talk invites all couples present to make a commitment to enroll in the Holy Spouses Society.
Life-Giving Love is offered regularly in the California parishes of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bakersfield and of St. Joachim in Madera. Any couple, married or engaged, is welcome to attend. Any team of priest and couples wishing to come and participate, with a view to offering it in their own parish or diocese, will be welcomed and later given the materials needed.
The next English Weekends scheduled in Bakersfield (www.guadalupebakersfield.org) are: March 30-31, 2019; October 5-6, 2019; March 21-22, 2020; October 3-4, 2020.