The summer light always came in the windows early when we stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house — the house my grandfather built and where their seven children grew up. I would roll over and go back to sleep, and by the time I went downstairs, they were coming back from daily Mass. Grandma would have grocery bags hanging from her arms, and Grandpa would be carrying the milk jugs. Even from a young age I admired their devotion to the Church. I did not realize until years later what they must have faced bearing and raising Catholic children in the 1950s-1980s, for there was a 20-year gap from their oldest to their youngest.
This week the Church marks the anniversary of the release of Humanae Vitae with National NFP Awareness Week and the new celebration of World Grandparents Day on the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne. For me, these two events fit suitably together because in my grandparents’ marriage and that of my husband’s grandparents, I have seen the fruits of marriages that have matured to the true model of Christian marriage that respects the Church’s teaching on contraception.
When my husband and I were dating, we were both taken in by the relationships of both sets of our grandparents. In each of them we saw the love and devotion of a couple who had stayed faithful to the teaching of the Church for more than 50 years. We saw commitment and love that had deepened over the years of true sacrifice in a world that told them that this was not a sacrifice worth making. They have modeled for us that the use of periodic abstinence in conjunction with a method of natural family planning has the potential to help us overcome our fallen inclinations to objectify and use the other in marriage. When NFP is used well, we see our spouse as they truly are: a human person composed of both body and soul. We have seen this in the marriages of our grandparents and further in the marriages of the children whom they passed on these beautiful examples.
In Humanae Vitae,Section 9, Pope St. Paul VI highlighted several features of married love, all of which we have witnessed in the marriages of our grandparents. First, he said that married love was meant “above all” to be “fully human.” This is a love which encompasses both one’s body and soul. In faithfully following the teachings of the Church, the marriages of my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents grew to a more fully human level — where they cared for each other spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically. Their daily interactions reflect how they are “one heart and one soul.” It is more beautiful each time we see them, as they are all in their 90s and have been married for more than 65 years.
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