Letter from the Polish Bishops on the Family
|This year Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the teaching contained in this letter of the Polish bishops.|
It seems opportune to publish this letter, which was read in all the churches in Poland on the feast of the Holy Family, in this issue of The Fatima Crusader for two reasons. Firstly, this time of year is a good time to publish this message on the family, and it was during the Christmas season immediately after John Paul II was made Pope, that the letter was originally published by the Polish Bishops. Secondly, the family is the theme of this year’s Synod in Rome, and this letter of the Polish Bishops is not only applicable to their own people of Poland, but is applicable in these times to us here in North America as well.
In this year’s Synod, two hundred bishops from every country of the world met together under Pope John Paul II to discuss the Christian family and the problems it faces in the contemporary world. The family, that fundamental unit of both the Church and society, is enduring great stress today. Its very existence is being threatened — from within — by a weakening of the sense of the moral obligations of fidelity between spouses; from without, by permissive social attitudes towards contraception, divorce, concubinage and abortion.
We find in the letter of the Polish Bishops a clarity not often seen in documents issued today. There is an honest recognition of the faults of Christian spouses and a straightforward confrontation with the issue of contraception: “We repeat to you emphatically, recourse to contraceptive means is a serious sin which offends God, destroys the life of grace, closes access to the sacraments and wounds conjugal love very painfully.”
We publish the letter of the bishops of the Pope’s homeland for yet another reason. Poland is a country the faith of whose people remains vigorous in spite of calculated and determined persecution. In a recent issue of an international Catholic missionary magazine, we read that, unlike in other countries, even those that are free, the attendance of youth at Catholic religious instruction classes is almost 100% (i.e. almost all the elementary school children and high-school students voluntarily attend these classes). If we judge the tree by its fruits, we are forced to admit that there is something extraordinary about the Catholicism of the Poles and that we do not err in looking towards that land for guidance. The present Pope attributed the strong faith of his own people to the unity among the bishops: “That which in fact characterizes in a special manner the Polish episcopal conference is unity, that unity which is the source of spiritual power… The nation is well aware of this and nourishes towards the Polish episcopate a real and well-deserved trust.” The Pope adds: “Particularly for the reason of the unity among them, the Polish episcopate serves in a special manner the Church in Poland and also the universal Church.”
As we reported in The Fatima Crusader Issue number three, the Polish bishops themselves attribute the success of the Catholic Church in Poland to Our Lady.
One of the important works before the priests of the world it would seem is to re-proclaim and take measures to enforce the Church’s moral teaching on marriage, especially that teaching which is clearly given in Pope Paul’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae. As Catholic theology tells us, in matters affecting third parties or the common good, it is the duty in justice, of pastors as well as confessors, to not leave their people in ignorance about their obligations.
The magisterial teaching of Humanae Vitae was confirmed in a very recent discourse of Pope John Paul II. To the Indonesian bishops on their “ad limina” visit on June 7, 1980, the Holy Father said: “In the question of the Church’s teaching on the regulation of birth, we are called to profess in union with the whole Church the exigent but uplifting teaching recorded in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae which my predecessor Paul VI put forth by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ.” (L’Osservatore Romano, June 8, 1980) The following letter then is important to us all especially at this time as the Christian family cannot be restored to a state of health except on the basis of God’s law: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt. 19:17). On the health of the “domestic church” depends the well-being of the whole people of God.
It is said that we must be compassionate towards those who find this teaching difficult, and indeed we must be compassionate especially when the Cross of Christian duty is heavy. However compassion does not mean that we should misinform anyone, especially when misleading people in such a way endangers their eternal salvation. Such “compassion” would certainly be very cruel.
We must remember the words of Our Lord, “The truth will make you free”. So we must not deny the truth to the children of God. And furthermore, not only does contraception offend God, but it even seriously diminishes man’s temporal happiness. The Polish bishops point out that contraception “wounds conjugal love very painfully”. If a family is not built up according to God’s law planted in the hearts of all humans by their Creator, then that family cannot expect the fullness of God’s blessings.
This translation of the Polish Bishops’ letter is taken from the International review Christ to the World published with the Ecclesiastical Approval of the Vicariate of Rome (Cum Approbatione Ecclesiasticae Vicariatus).
Beloved parents, beloved brothers and sisters,
For years, we have addressed to you a pastoral exhortation on the Feast of the Holy Family. However, for the first time in the millenary history of our nation, we speak at a time when a son of Polish soil, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, has been raised to St. Peter’s See, taking the name of John Paul II. This event, such a happy one for Poland, takes on a special meaning for Polish families.1
The pontificate of John Paul II began at the moment when, in Poland, the evangelization of the family was undertaken by the whole Church, which made it its main pastoral task, according to a programme spreading over long years. This immense task was undertaken on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI of beloved memory, which encyclical is rightly called the magna carta of the family apostolate. Paul VI considered this field of the apostolate of the Church “as one of the most urgent responsibilities at the present time” (HV, 30). This marvelous coincidence of the election of a Polish Pope and the initiation in Poland of the family apostolate makes us aware of the urgent appeal that divine Providence makes to men, especially those who have chosen the way of family life.
Appeal to Holiness
|The Holy Family is the model for every Christian family.|
God wishes to renew the face of the earth through the family and in the family. It is up to you — members of families — to respond to this call. It is not only a question of being able, with the grace of the sacrament of marriage, to find a happy solution to everyday problems. It is a question of assuming with full knowledge of the facts responsibility for the Church of God and of inserting its framework in your families. It was to you that Paul VI made the following appeal: “Dear sons, the Church, whose living and active cells you are, gives through your homes a kind of experimental proof of the power of saving love, yielding her fruits of holiness. Sorely-tried families, happy families, faithful families, you are preparing for the Church and the world a new spring”.
The Polish bishops consider in all conscience that it is their duty to remind Polish families of this task, at a moment when Providence, through so many signs, confirms this appeal which is addressed to them.
In the first place, try with might and main to reactualize the miracle of the sacrament of marriage through which God consecrated you and made you capable of carrying out the duties of spouses and parents. Great forces have been put at your disposal, particularly the creating force of God the Father, the salutary force of the Son of God and the sanctifying force of the Holy Spirit. In your midst, as Master and best Friend, is Jesus Christ, Who is the head of every Christian family and Who Himself leads it to its eternal destiny. These gifts are always at your disposal. At any moment you have only to stretch out your hand to use them. We are surrounded by God's love all the time. You are always called to perfect holiness just as the heavenly Father is Himself perfect (cf LG, 11). You must have the courage to aim at this holiness, whatever the situation in which you find yourselves at present. For God, nothing is impossible. Even if your love has grown cold, if conflicts rend you, if a wall of hostility has been raised between you, divine power will sweep away all the obstacles if you allow it to act. We exhort you, therefore, to entrust yourselves to this omnipotence and, in every family without exception, to stretch out your hand to one another. Let the husband be reconciled with his wife, the wife with her husband, the children with their parents! Let the peace of God reign today in all the families to which our message arrives. We beg you in the name of the Prince of Peace whose birth in the human family we are now celebrating. To help you, God gives you His love in order that you may warm your hearts and make your families a center of love.
The family, through which God wishes to save the world today, must also be a center of life. Polish families have often sinned seriously against life, and yet God’s mercy is unfathomable. God has not deprived families of his confidence. He wants them to beget worshipers “in spirit and in truth”. He asks that, through them, the Church of God may develop and the number of heirs to Heaven multiply. That is why, in the name of the one Father from whom “all fatherhood comes”, we ask you: open your families to the gift of life. Do not fear any longer the birth of a child! Do not prevent it by dishonest means, even going so far as to commit the horrible crime of infanticide! You are called to populate the earth and subdue it. Show the world, which is looking attentively towards Poland, that the value of every child surpasses infinitely all material goods, and that true values are constructed only on the interior values of the human person and not on material wealth.
In his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, the late Pope Paul VI exhorted you to conjugal holiness (cf. n. 30). In more than one family, this holiness has been violated by contraceptive practices. Let it no longer be so! God does not want you to plan your families in an immoral way. The Church of Christ calls you all to responsible procreation. Far from being shocked by the gift of life, it is a question of knowing how to bring it into being in conformity with God’s will. Nevertheless, you cannot do this by violating divine laws and aiming a blow at human dignity. The Holy Spirit, from whom all truth comes, has let us know the mystery of the transmission of life in order that in marriage, every couple may decide according to God’s law.
The Church, an experienced mother, carefully teaches all her children who are preparing for married life that they must assume the duty of procreation responsibly. As you know, in several parishes, competent centers of conjugal consultation are at your disposal. Today no one can invoke ignorance to justify bad behavior. We repeat to you emphatically: recourse to contraceptive means is a serious sin which offends God, destroys the life of grace, closes access to the sacraments and wounds conjugal love very painfully.
Defend the holiness of your homes. Remember that Christ is present among you through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, constantly ready to help you. Obeying the laws which are engraved in your hearts, you live as God expects you. We recall here St. Paul’s fervent words: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. So glorify God in your body!” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Our Lady of Jasna Gora
Finally, very dear sons, we wish to express to you our conviction that the elevation to Peter’s See of John Paul II — whom we have the right to call the Pope of the Mother of the Church — is given to us by God as a sign. We must have special confidence in the Mother of the Church. We are in a time of increased Marian piety. Some weeks ago, in the whole of Poland, there began again the visiting of families with a copy of the image of Our Lady of Jasna Gora. Delegations of all the parishes received at Jasna Gora the book of the Gospels for these visits to families. Invite the image of Our Lady into your houses, entrust yourselves fully to the Virgin Mary in all confidence, submitting to Her the problems of your family life. The house that honors the Mother of God will be placed under Her protection and will be able to defend itself against all adversities. That is why we ask you with all our heart: entrust your families to the Mother of the Church. At least once a week gather round Her image for common prayer in the family. Look upon Her as your Mother. She will put right what is not going well in your lives, and She will make you capable of answering God's call. In fact, “none of those who have had recourse to Her protection have ever been known to have been abandoned”.
We wish for the renewal of our families with the help of the Mother of Christ who will prepare a new springtime for the Church, the nation and the whole world.
Your bishops, comforted by God’s power, in union with the Holy Father John Paul II, a son of a Polish family, bless you from the bottom of their hearts in the name of the heavenly Father, from Whom comes all life and all fatherhood in Heaven and on earth.
The 166th Assembly of the Polish Episcopate.
Warsaw, 28 November 1978.
Signed: The Cardinal Primate of Poland,
the Archbishops and the bishops
present at the Assembly.
(1) A couple of paragraphs at the beginning of this letter, referring to the beginning of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II have been omitted to save space. This omission does not detract from the substance of the message of the Polish Bishops’ letter.