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  • Mary Shivanandan

Holiness vs. Humanness



Some years ago, my daughter had the privilege of attending a private Mass with Pope John Paul II.  Afterwards there was a receiving line.  I asked her if the pope was not a very holy man.  She said in reply that he was very human.  When I asked a second time, she reiterated that she experienced him as very human.  Her insistence on his humanity set me thinking about the true meaning of holiness.

...the heart of man and woman is prey to concupiscence; and concupiscence urges freedom not to consent to the authentic demands of married love

In my book, Holy Family Model Not Exception I link the “universal call to holiness” found in Vatican Council II’s Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (39) with Humanae Vitae, Paul VI's controversial encyclical on responsible parenthood.  In fact, the book devotes a whole chapter to the relation in light of the Holy Family, model for both consecrated celibacy and the family as domestic church. Both Humanae vitae (9) and Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 49) stress that marital acts are eminently human, and St. Paul VI speaks of loving in a human manner.  “The real difficulty,” says John Paul II “is that the heart of man and woman is prey to concupiscence; and concupiscence urges freedom not to consent to the authentic demands of married love.”


So how is obeying the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood both holy and more human at the same time?  And how does the Holy Family reveal both in spite of the fact that St. Joseph had no conjugal intercourse and there was only one child in the Holy Family?  To do justice to the question one would have to begin by reading my book, which, of course, is desirable.  Suffice it to say that the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of Mary brought a new understanding of the holiness of the human person made in the image of God, and brought a new capacity to live it.  Created as a free being, however, man and woman can choose to reject these truths.  It is so much easier to use hormonal contraception in marriage but does it, in fact, bring true freedom?

If man lets his instincts rule, so that he does not truly possess himself, he cannot give himself

St John Paul II, in his analysis of the nature of man and marriage, harks back to the same Gaudium et Spes, this time no. 24, in which man can only find himself through sincere self-giving in the manner of the Trinitarian Persons, especially of the Son in dying on the cross for us.  If man lets his instincts rule, so that he does not truly possess himself, he cannot give himself.  Both Mary and Joseph gave themselves totally to each other, although in a manner that neither of them expected, as Joseph would have expected a large family like the Patriarchs and Mary did not expect any children.  For both, God’s will was paramount in their lives. 


Only by following the path of Mary and Joseph and seeking God’s will for family size as well as  endorsing methods to achieve it put forth by the encyclical, Humanae vitae, (when there is a need to limit births)  will it be both holy and more human, a true domestic church.


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