Repect for the Work of God

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General Audience, November 21, 1984

1. On the basis of the doctrine contained in the Encyclical Humanae vitae, we intend to trace an outline of conjugal spirituality. In the spiritual life of married couples there are at work the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the "gift of piety," that is, the gift of respect for what is a work of God.

2. This gift, together with love and chastity, helps to identify, in the sum total of married life, that act in which, at least potentially, the spousal meaning of the body is linked with the procreative meaning.

It leads to understanding, among the possible "manifestations of affection," the singular, or rather the exceptional, significance of that act: its dignity and the consequent serious responsibility connected with it. Therefore, the antithesis of conjugal spirituality is constituted, in a certain sense, by the subjective lack of this understanding which is linked to contraceptive practice and mentality. In addition to everything else, this does an enormous harm from the point of view of man's interior culture. The virtue of conjugal chastity, and still more the gift of respect for what comes from God, mold the couple's spirituality to the purpose of protecting the particular dignity of this act, of this "manifestation of affection" in which the truth of the "language of the body" can be expressed only by safeguarding the procreative potential.

Responsible fatherhood and motherhood means the spiritual appraisal—conforming to truth—of the conjugal act in the knowledge and in the will of both spouses, who in this "manifestation of affection," after considering the interior and external circumstances, especially the biological ones, express their mature readiness for fatherhood and motherhood.

3. Respect for the work of God contributes to seeing that the conjugal act does not become diminished and deprived of the interior meaning of married life as a whole—that it does not become a "habit"—and that there is expressed in it a sufficient fullness of personal and ethical content, and also of religious content, that is, veneration for the majesty of the Creator, the only and the ultimate depositary of the source of life, and for the spousal love of the Redeemer. All this creates and enlarges, so to speak, the interior space for the mutual freedom of the gift in which there is fully manifested the spousal meaning of masculinity and femininity.

The obstacle to this freedom is presented by the interior constriction of concupiscence, directed to the other "I" as an object of pleasure. Respect for what is created by God gives freedom from this constriction; it frees from all that reduces the other "I" to a mere object: it strengthens the interior freedom of the gift.

4. This can happen only through a profound appreciation of the personal dignity of both the feminine "I" and the masculine "I" in their shared life. This spiritual appreciation is the fundamental fruit of the gift of the Spirit which urges the person to respect the work of God.

From this appreciation, and therefore indirectly from that gift, all the "affectionate manifestations" which make up the fabric of remaining faithful to the union of marriage derive their true spousal meaning. This union is expressed through the conjugal act only in given circumstances, and it can and it must be manifested continually, every day, through various "affectionate manifestations" which are determined by the capacity of a "disinterested" emotion of the "I" in relation to femininity and, reciprocally, in relation to masculinity.

The attitude of respect for the work of God, which the Spirit stirs up in the couple, has an enormous significance for those 'affectionate manifestations," since side by side with it there is the capacity for deep satisfaction, admiration, disinterested attention to the "visible" and at the same time the "invisible" beauty of femininity and masculinity, and finally a deep appreciation for the disinterested gift of the "other."

5. All this determines the spiritual identification of what is male or female, of what is "corporeal" and at the same time personal. From this spiritual identification there emerges the awareness of the union "through the body," in safeguarding the interior freedom of the gift.

Through the "affectionate manifestations" the couple help each other remain faithful to the union; and at the same time these "manifestations" protect in each of them that "deep-rooted peace" which is in a certain sense the interior resonance of chastity guided by the gift of respect for what is created by God.

This gift involves a profound and universal attention to the person in one's masculinity and femininity, thus creating the interior climate suitable for personal communion. Only in this climate of the personal communion of the couple does there rightly mature that procreation which we describe as "responsible."

6. The Encyclical Humanae vitae enables us to trace an outline of conjugal spirituality. This is the human and supernatural climate in which—taking the "biological" order into consideration and, at the same time, on the basis of chastity sustained by the "gift of piety"—is formed the interior harmony of marriage, in respect for what the encyclical calls "the twofold significance of the conjugal act" (HV 12). This harmony means that the couple live together in the interior truth of the "language of the body." The Encyclical Humanae vitae proclaims the connection between this "truth" and love inseparable.

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