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  • Mary Shivanandan

Living Humanae Vitae

Updated: Jun 8, 2018

By Christine M. White.

In the introduction of the encyclical Humane Vitae, Pope Paul VI wrote,

“The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.”
I found it fitting that as I sat down to write this post, my two-year-old son came up to me and said, “Mom, I want to tell you a story…” and so, before beginning my work, I listened attentively to all the things he wanted to tell me in that moment. And I thought to myself, this is the essence of living Humanae Vitae.

At our wedding Mass, I remember being struck by one of the questions that the celebrant asked us before we exchanged our vows, “Will you accept children lovingly?” Well, yes of course! We talked about that extensively before we were married. We didn’t have a number in mind or any other set plan, but we both wanted a family. At the time, it seemed like a simple question requiring a simple answer, yes or no. However, over the years I have stopped to reflect on the question and have come to realize that it is more complex than I originally thought.

What has changed since our wedding day is that I have come to understand that the question requires more than a just a one-time answer. Instead, it is a daily question, requiring a daily answer. In the 12 plus years we have been married, we have had five pregnancies, three children on earth, one in Heaven, and one currently on the way. Each one with different circumstances accompanying them for sure, but they were all welcomed and loved.

However, the acceptance of children in marriage is not simply an acceptance of a pregnancy – while that is important – it is more specifically an acceptance of a soul that is entrusted to you and your spouse. Being a parent means that you are constantly striving to say “yes” to the needs of the children entrusted to you. To provide for their physical, spiritual, and educational needs is a part of that “yes.” Taking the time to listen to them and respond to them in a meaningful way is certainly another part. To allow the moments of connection, relationship, teaching and love, especially when there are so many other things to do, is also a part of the true act of sacrificial love and acceptance of the children that you have said “yes” to.


But what about the difficult times? How are we able to say, “Yes” in the real moments of struggle every day? In Mary Shivanandan’s book, The Holy Family Model Not Exception, we are reminded that the Holy Family is the perfect model for every family to follow when navigating the daily struggles of family life.

“Suffering accompanied [Mary] and the Holy Family from the moment of the conception of Jesus in her womb. The gospels of Matthew and Luke recount the suffering surrounding Mary’s pregnancy, from the dilemma facing Joseph (Mt. 1: 18-19) to birth in a stable because there was no room at the inn (Lk 2: 7). This was followed by the slaughter of the innocents by Herod, the flight into Egypt and another uprooting with the return to Nazareth (Matt. 2: 7-18). Luke tells of the loss of the child Jesus for three days and the anxiety of his parents: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (Lk 2:48). These are the sufferings and vicissitudes that can happen to any family and call for endurance, patience and trust in God and each other.”

The struggles and sufferings that each individual family will endure are as varied as the clouds in the sky. The much-needed encyclical, Humanae Vitae gives us the moral guidelines for responsible parenthood. The Holy Family gives us the example of how to navigate these struggles in our own families giving us the courage to say “yes” every day. What hope that gives to us all!

Christine is a wife and mother and works part-time as an independent communications and marketing consultant. A graduate of the University of Dallas, where she studied Theology. She resides in Falls Church, Virginia with her husband and four children.

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