His Eminence worked closely with Pope Paul VI following the release of historic encyclical
By Bill Brewer
Humanae Vitae, the widely followed encyclical by Pope Paul VI, whose teaching on conjugal love and responsible parenthood sparked a great deal of debate when it was published on July 25, 1968, was the subject of a special Mass celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali July 28 at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In his homily, Cardinal Rigali shared insight about Blessed Paul VI, who will be canonized a saint on Oct. 14. The cardinal said he accompanied the Holy Father on a papal trip to Asia and the Pacific Rim in November 1970, just two years after Humanae Vitae was published. In conversation on the trip with an archbishop who was a close collaborator with the Holy Father on the encyclical, the archbishop told Cardinal Rigali that Pope Paul VI spent much time in prayer and reflection about consultation he had received from people throughout the world as he was putting together the historic document.
“The pope had been very much absorbed in the preparation of the encyclical and had devoted to it profound thought,” Cardinal Rigali said.
“The archbishop then mentioned that, when Pope Paul had made his important decision and formulated the final text, he was supremely peaceful and serene in that decision, which he knew was so important for millions of people for years to come. He wanted the faithful to be able to understand the importance of the Church’s constant teaching about the procreative and unitive dimensions of marital love. Pope Paul VI was convinced that the Church must always be both compassionate and clear in presenting God’s commandments to His people,” Cardinal Rigali continued.
Cardinal Rigali relayed another more personal experience with Blessed Paul VI that illustrated the Holy Father’s compassion and concern about the family.
One evening in February 1977, Cardinal Rigali was meeting with the Holy Father in a private papal office. And as the pope, shouldering the responsibility of extending the love of Christ to millions of people in the Church around the world, was preparing to end a long day, he asked about the cardinal’s brother, Paul, who was dying of cancer at the age of 50.
“Some time previously I had asked the Holy Father to pray for Paul, and this night was another response to my request. At that time he had four questions: ‘How is Paul?’ ‘How is his wife holding up?’ ‘How are the children doing?’ And ‘What can I do?’ Pope Paul showed such profound compassion for one individual in his flock, my brother Paul,” Cardinal Rigali recalled.
Cardinal Rigali, praising the Holy Father, indicated it was that caring attention to family and the vocation of marriage that helped to inform his teaching in Humanae Vitae.
“In Humanae Vitae, Blessed Paul VI had words of special praise for married couples who assist other married couples in the challenges of their vocation. He said, ‘there comes to be included in the vast pattern of the vocation of the laity a new and most noteworthy form of the apostolate of like to like: it is married couples themselves who become apostles and guides to other married couples. This is assuredly, among so many forms of apostolate, one of those which seem most opportune today.”
The cardinal said that Blessed Paul VI likewise pointed out the importance of the ministry of priests, who are also able to do so much for married couples.
“To them he said, ‘In their difficulties may married couples always find, in the words and heart of a priest, the echo of the voice and love of the Redeemer,’” Cardinal Rigali said, adding that in speaking to bishops about the safeguard and holiness of marriage, the Holy Father told the bishops to consider this mission as one of their most urgent responsibilities at that present time.
“Fifty years later, these words are ever true and beautiful,” Cardinal Rigali said.
At the time Pope Paul delivered his encyclical, many western countries were grappling with the sexual revolution and calls for reproductive freedom without religious influence. The encyclical was immediately met by debate and charges that the Church was out of touch with modern society. History has shown the Holy Fathers’ teaching to be prophetic.
“We thank God for Blessed Paul VI and for his encyclical Humanae Vitae. We give thanks likewise for all the efforts made by God’s people to be faithful to the Church’s teaching and for the help offered by so many in support of this teaching,” Cardinal Rigali said.