Pope Gregory the Great: Advice to the Married

121814Every now and again when I write on Holy Matrimony, especially the Church’s more staunch biblical teachings (indissolubility, no contraception, etc.), someone will inevitably write in with a kind of sneer and wonder at or even laugh at a celibate man advising married people about marriage. To be sure, inner experience of something has its place, but so does external observance. I remember as a youth that my swimming coach, who was out of the water, would often correct us if our form was wrong, and advise us on how to adjust it to swim better and faster. His perspective from out of the water gave him an understanding that even I, an experienced swimmer in the water, could not have. I might think my form was perfect, but he could see that it was not.

Similarly, priests and other celibates (such as religious) DO have something to teach about marriage. What we teach is not better than the advice of married people, but it is different; it is given from a different perspective. From our position, sometimes we can see things about Holy Matrimony that even the married have trouble seeing. Further, it is to be hoped that priests and religious are also well-versed in the Biblical teaching on Matrimony and family life and can offer the benefit of our study of God’s Word and our relationship with the Author of Holy Matrimony.

With that introduction, I would like to present some of the teaching of Pope St. Gregory the Great and his advice to the married. For spiritual reading, I am currently finishing up his Pastoral Rule, which contains this teaching. Since he is a priest and Bishop, his advice is less on practical things (such as communication, conflict resolution, etc.) and more at the level of theology and priorities. And yet it does have very practical importance. The following excerpts are taken from his Pastoral Rule (III.27) and are presented in bold, italics.

My own comments appear in red text.

Those who are joined in marriage should be advised that, as they mutually consider what is good for their spouse, they should be careful that when they please their spouse, they do not displease their maker. In other words, they should conduct their affairs in this world without relinquishing their desire for God … They should remain aware that their current situation is transitory and what they desire is permanent.

And in this is the heart of St. Gregory’s advice: God comes first. And even if a spouse may pressure one to forsake what God teaches, or to neglect to pray or attend to sacred duties, let that one with charity and confidence withstand any temptation to negligence of or disobedience to God. Pleasing God is more important and more required than pleasing one’s spouse. And while these two are not necessarily or even usually in conflict, when they are, God must be preeminent.

St. Gregory also reminds that Matrimony is of this world and therefore transitory, while the things of God remain forever. We frequently forget this and focus instead on passing things, joys, and troubles, and forget or minimize the things of the life to come, which have greater significance since they are permanent.

Such an insight is focused on seeing not only marriage’s joys in their proper and passing perspective, but also its sorrows and difficulties. “Trouble don’t last always.” And in this is a remedy that helps to endure difficulties and to see beyond the crosses to the glory that waits and endures.

[Though] as [the married] cannot completely abandon the temporal things [they] can desire union with the eternal … therefore, the married Christian should not give himself entirely to the things that he now possesses, or else he will fall completely from that which he ought to hope … St. Paul expresses this well and so simply saying for he who has a wife should act as though not having one. [In other words he means that] he who enjoys the consolation of the carnal life through his wife, but does so in such a way that his love for her does not divert him. He also has a wife as though not having one, who understands that all things are transitory. 

Here, too, while the love of one’s spouse and the goods of marriage are not necessarily, or even usually, in conflict with the desire for eternal things, nevertheless the married must not fail to consciously work to keep these desires connected and to not allow worldly desires to eclipse or attenuate the desire for heavenly things.

This happens in other areas beyond marriage, too. For example, we have attained great comfort in the modern age with electricity, running water, entertainment, good food in abundance, etc. And sadly, there is a pronounced diminishment today for spiritual things and the things of Heaven. Even many Christians in their so-called spiritual life and prayers, pray more and longer for better finances, improved health, and worldly things than they do for holiness and even Heaven.

Thus the joys of this world and those of matrimony ought to be seen as a mere foretaste of far greater glories to come for which we must more truly long.

The married should be advised that they endure with mutual patience those things that occasionally bring displeasure and that they exhort one another to salvation … They should be advised that they not worry themselves so much about what they must endure from their spouse, but consider what their spouse must endure on account of them. For if one really considers what must be endured on his account, it is all the easier to bear the things of others.

It is so easy to list the sins and shortcomings of others. But every spouse should begin by saying, “My marriage is not perfect because I am in it … I am a sinner and I married a sinner, knowing he was a sinner … I am living in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and I myself have a fallen nature.”

The patience that Pope Gregory reminds us of is a reference to the Cross. And the Lord tells us that we must be willing to endure the Cross or we cannot be His disciples. Frankly, people often lay the heaviest crosses on those whom they love. This is because they care about them.

And love brings vulnerability. The word “vulnerabilty” is rooted in the Latin word “vulnera” meaning “wound.” Thus to be vulnerable is to be able to endure wounds out of love. And patience is rooted in the Latin word “patior” meaning “to suffer.” Hence patience bespeaks a capacity or willingness to suffer on account of others.

The married should be advised to remember that they come together for the purpose of producing children, but when they become immoderately enslaved by intercourse, they transfer the occasion for procreation to the service of pleasure … Thus St. Paul, skilled in heavenly medicine writes “Concerning the things you wrote to me, it is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman, but on account of fornication, let everyone have his own wife and every woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:1).  And thus, by beginning with the fear of fornication, Paul did not extend this precept to those who were strong, but rather showed the couch to those who are weak, so they would not fall to the ground. He then adds, “Let the husband give what he ought to his wife, and similarly the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:3). … [He says this] because there are many who [though] clearly forsaking the sins of the flesh [i.e., fornication], nevertheless, in the practice of marital intercourse have not limited themselves solely to the confines of righteousness (i.e., intercourse without procreative intent).

And thus, though marital intercourse is both licit and noble, like any pleasure it can take on an importance either too large, or out of connection with its truest purposes.

In the modern age, the contraceptive mentality insists that there is no necessary connection between sex and procreation. When this error (contrary to both natural law and revealed truth) is indulged, sex is reduced to the thing itself and we divide what God has joined. Sex merely for pleasure too easily devolves into demeaning, even unnatural behaviors and to the reduction of others, even spouses, to sexual playthings, rather than eventual parents. A man who looks at his wife as (potentially or actually) the mother of his children sees her differently than if he sees her as a sexual plaything.

It was in this context that Pope John Paul controversially stated that it was possible even for spouses to lust after one another in violation of the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:28. And what is lust? Essentially, it is reducing the human person to his or her body and the pleasure that body can provide. It is forgetting that this is a person to be loved for his or her own sake, even if his/her body is not available for pleasure, or becomes less “desirable” through age or sickness.

Thus sexual desire, though beautiful and given by God, is, on account of our fallen nature, unruly and must be governed carefully by reason. It must not be allowed to eclipse what is right and what is greater than sex—God and the new life and the family life of which it is in service.

St. Gregory therefore interprets that St. Paul also teaches that a man ought to give his wife what she is due: not merely his body, but himself, wholly. He also should give her what is due by loving not merely her sexual charms, but her very self, her whole self. Likewise for the wife in return are all the same duties. 

If marital intercourse is just about pleasure and not about bigger and lasting things like the other person and children, pleasure has a way of running its course and becoming routine or boring. Building a marriage on things more lasting than pleasure and happiness is essential. Hence Pope Gregory uses creatively the notion that St. Paul shows couples the couch of true marital sexuality and bids them fall on that couch rather than all the way to the ground through lust, contraceptive sex, or fornication. 

Some wisdom from a great Father, pastor, and Saint of the Church. St. Gregory the Great, Pray for us! 

48 Replies to “Pope Gregory the Great: Advice to the Married”

  1. Dear Msgr. Pope. I’d like to share with you something that happened earlier this year. I was singing along with the James Taylor song, “You are my only one” and me wife came up to me and asked me, “Am I the only one?” as she is wont to do. Without missing a beat I answered, “Of course, dear!” but then I quickly added, “But you know… there is One other who comes even before you.”

    I cannot begin to describe her reaction (judging from her expression) but then I went on immediately to say, “His name is Jesus.”

    I believe we have to establish the right order of things in this life – if we are to maintain any perspective at all.
    As much as I love my wife and my children, they are not – and cannot, come before the one true God.
    God bless you, Msgr. Pope

  2. Oh dear.

    Pretty sure your swimming coach had actually experienced swimming in a pool. His or her coaching this had more credibility than you do on matters of marriage. Your analogy breaks down and renders your finger-wagging tone all the more absurd (and hilarious).

    Regarding “marital intercourse” that is “licit and moral,” “sexual playthings” and “sexual charms,” it’s all the more apparent that you are, as our Holy Father would say…..

    As I’m sure you’re aware, most of us who have practiced natural family planning do it specifically to enjoy the pleasures of sex without the consequences of more children. That’s the point – emphasis on “family *planning.*

    I suppose all the celibate men in clergy collars can…..

    I wonder what Pope Gregory would think of that?

    1. If you get cancer Paul, make sure you go to a doctor who has died of cancer. Also, don’t have anything to say or suggest about liturgy Paul, you haven’t celebrated one. Only the celebrant gets to have ideas about what is right. In fact don’t even criticize or have opinions seek to advise about priesthood at all ’cause you’ve never been ordained.

      By the way Paul, as you can see, I edited your remarks since I am my “motivations” or “obsessions” are not the point of the article. You don’t even know me. Stick to the issue, to the points raised. Why sneer? All analogies limp, the point is perspective, the capacity to see things out of the water that cannot be sen in the water, not personal experience.

      If you will read my article more closely you will see that I do not say marital intercourse (why do you put in quotes? It Probably means means you are ok with sex in other settings) IS the things described, but that there is a danger of that by reducing sex merely to pleasure. I am not finger wagging. If any one is doing that your are. Pope Gregory would not pleased with your view, to be sure. But I doubt he would worry over the fact that he himself was not pleased, but that you have been deceived and may have lost your way.

      The Current Holy Father (though you claim him as your supporter) would probably not be too keen your views either, and would be sad that you have been deceived and find it necessary to put “licit and moral” etc in quotes.

      Also, I notice that in an article that covers a number of things, you focus only on the sex part. And you go on in you (deleted) remarks to me about how I and Catholic clergy are “obsessed” with sex….. Who really has the obsession here Paul? I wrote, And Gregory Wrote on a number of topics but you went off on sex. Are you obsessed or something?

      And frankly I don’t care if you are obsessed. The main point for you and other commenters (not most) is to refrain for all the personal attacks and attempts to slay the blogger, discredit and ridicule clergy etc et al. The point is for you to learn to stick to the issue. But for some reason you and others of your ilk seem to prefer the method of trying to discredit or shame others. Why don’t you just get an argument and state it. Why address it to me at all, engage the other readers. Especially since you don’t think clergy have anything to say on marriage. I’ll just bet you don’t speak for all or most married people who read here. Probably the reason you don’t is that they won’t qualify for your “you can’t teach me anything because you haven’t died of cancer” argument.

      1. By the way, regarding NFP, (which I did not mention, nor Pope Gregory) I think a lot of people think of it as a formal teaching of the Church. I see it rather more as a concession that is permissible as the Church says “for serious reasons” It is permissible because it accesses what God has provided rather than barriers etc. Paul links it (merely) to pleasure without procreation, which is a wrongful notion. The Church links NFP to more serious reasons.

        Frankly these days in marriage prep it is less important since most couples are getting started so late into their 30s I usually advise them to learn the method but the standing advice is to get married (first) have lots of (non contraceptive) intimacy, enjoy it and have lots of babies and raise them Catholic. 🙂 Frankly, if most of the 30-somes are lucky they’l get a few kids, maybe for or five! But extensive knowledge of NFP is less necessary for them.

        1. I put “licit and moral” in quotes because I was quoting your own words.

          The point on natural family planning (or as you rightly call it, “concession”) is to schedule sex with the intent of avoiding pregnancy.

          1. To the readers: I have once again edited Paul’s remarks. For the record he objects to me “censoring” his remarks. Duly noted.

            But also for the record, I am not a government official and censoring is a legal action by government officials which limit or possibly violate the free speech rights of Americans. However, this is a private blog, whose purpose is not to provide a free platform for dissenters from the Catholic faith so as to seek to influence others against the teachings of our faith. Neither is this a platform to engage in personal attacks or impugn the motives or imagine the obsessions of clergy or other teachers of the faith including saints. I have no obligations to post any comment that comes in here, If I do post edited comments I usually say so and do not hide the fact.

            Free discussion of issues, not people, is permitted a rather wide latitude and I let readers engage each other more freely. I prefer when commenters do not address their comment to me, but speak to their own thoughts on the matter at hand. But my “obsessions” are not a matter for discussion here or my “qualifications” to “know anything about a subject.” My remarks stand or fall on their own. Agree or disagree, but I am not the point, the topic is the point. I do not think I am obsessed but I am not a judge in my own case, and surely I am not under your judgments in this matter either Paul.

            I do not answer to Paul. I write on matters that are going on in our culture and I don’t know if you noticed Paul, but illicit sexual union, pornography and sexual confusion are rampant. Is the Church obsessed by sex? I think not. If you want to see who is obsessed by sex, turn on the TV or look at the ratings of websites on the Internet.

            Stick to issue brother, mind you own business and look to the state of your own soul and your own “obsessions” whatever they might be.

          2. I look forward to posting my own blog – on a much broader platform – to rebut much of your writing, in consultation with several Jesuit theologians.

          3. Good luck to you. I have found it takes a long time to build readership on blogs and recommend daily postings. I rather doubt however that a blog devoted to rebutting my writing would be all that popular. I have a readership, but it is not big enough to sustain a contrarian one 🙂 Hence I suspect you also mean to write on other and to rebut others. I also think that Jesuit theologians asked to help you rebut Msgr. Pope would first ask: Who is Msgr Pope? Never heard of him! 🙂

            Anyway, just havin’ some fun! Enjoy blogging….

          4. If Paul implies that ‘several Jesuit theologians’ would disagree with Pope Gregory that’s their problem, not Pope Gregory’s. Nor Msgr Pope’s. But maybe there are ‘several Jesuit theologians’ who would accept the teaching of Pope Gregory. Maybe Jesuit theologians are like economists: lay them end to end and they will not reach a conclusion. What matters at the end of the day is what the Church teaches, not what ‘several theologians’, Jesuit or otherwise think. I prefer to listen to the real Pope (no disrespect meant, Msgr) rather than ‘several Jesuit theologians’ who think that they are the Pope. And as a married man, I fully appreciated Msgr Pope’s article. Much to ponder and act upon.

          5. With all due respect to Paul, if the rather low tone of his posts indicates the quality of his future blog, he is in trouble. There is a group who really avoid all serious discussion, and instead just use loaded words and concepts such as “Obsession” to hide the fact that they have no idea what they are talking about. He can get a few odd Jesuit theologians to support him, I suppose. But they will be the same old ones that have been spouting off for years, the ones that have been thoroughly rejected by people of thought.

    2. Paul, the Church’s teaching on natural family planning is not intended to provide for a time of pleasure without the consequences of children. That is a distortion. That is the “contraceptive mentality.” You are very far off from the Church and Christ in this.

      1. For the record, I have 9 children, been married 18 years and have not seen my 40th birthday.

        We never used NFP because it seemed like contraception to us and anyway, our good Lord has always provided for our needs.

        Paul, this is an opportunity for you to grow in faith. Accept Msgr. Pope’s correction since it is in line with our Catholic Faith. Trust God, it’s worth it.

        1. Agreed, Jeff. NFP sure does seem like contraception!

          Branch, you say that NFP is not intended to provide for sex without the consequences of children. So, then, what is it for, in your view? Sure seems like natural family planning is for family planning – planning sexual encounters in such a way as to try to avoid procreating.

          1. Paul,

            When a couple uses NFP, they do not exclude the possibility of children. On the contrary, they remain open to the possibility of children whilst practicing control over this aspect of their married life. It is in fact similar to the family that engages in sexual relations only for the purpose of having children.

            Paul you seem to put sex in the forefront of marriage. Is that why the article bothers you, because Msgr Pope dares to contradict your definition of a healthy marriage? Has he exposed your fear, that you are not the husband you believed yourself to be? It’s hard to see in the light, but it is possible to grow and thrive in it one you have adjusted.

          2. In your initial comment, you said that most of us who have practiced natural family planning do it specifically to enjoy the pleasures of sex without the consequences of more children, and I said that’s not the point of NFP. That’s not why the Church allows it – that is, merely to have pleasure without consequences.

            The Church allows the use of NFP – so as to avoid pregnancy – only in grave circumstances. It’s really pretty simple. If those circumstances aren’t there, the couple should be open to life. Period.

        2. One reason it “seems” like contraception is that many people, including Catholics, take a consequentialist view on many subjects. So they see ABC=no pregnancy, NFP=no pregnancy and wrongly conclude they are morally equivalent. If one puts things correctly, the objective act, the subjective intent (not to be confused with motivation), and the consequences, then it is readily apparent that artificial birth control is intrinicly disordered and NFP is not. It’s actually pretty easily understood even if people work extra hard to pretend not to understand it by citing edge cases through casuistry in order to undermine the principle.

          1. It’s Msgr. Pope – not me – who called NFP a “concession.” What do you suppose Msgr. Pope means by calling it a “concession?” Perhaps because the intent of NFP is to plan sex so as to avoid pregnancy. The intent – and motivation – is to enjoy sex with a lesser likelihood of pregnancy than without planning. Perhaps that’s why the good Msgr. calls NFP a “concession.”

            Again – concession is his word, not mine.

          2. Been married nearly 25 years. We never used NFP to avoid conception, but we actually used it to help us have more babies! We have five beautiful children, thanks be to God! No regrets, would even like to have more babies, but God decided 5 were enough for us. Thanks Msgr. Pope for your articles. My wife and I love them!

  3. Gregory’s advice is very fitting overall, and does capture a perspective that is important to maintain to have a stable and happy marriage. The more pagan the society, the more one will benefit by attending to Gregory’s rules. The reason is straight forward, and widely recognized even today in most endeavors, except when it comes to sex. The reason is this: To find excellence and fulfillment in any endeavor requires restraint, focus and self-discipline. This is true in marriage. All of this common sense is cast aside today, and is replaced with ideas such as “If it feels good, do it.” “Have toe-curling, mind-blowing sex.” “I am the creator of my own sexuality.” “Who are you to judge.” “Love the one you’re with.” etc. These are old saws that are easy to sell to the immature persons. They are also beliefs that create a lot of problems in mental health, because they over-sell the contribution that sex makes to happiness. Mental health is always based on a balanced understanding of goods & pleasures along with self-control.

  4. Msgr., thank you. This is true nourishment for my married soul. You are continually an oasis in this desert which is our Church, especially for the past two years. Thank you sincerely.

  5. Married life is a partnership, and we are in it for the long haul. The long haul is getting to heaven to see and be with Jesus. Therefore, I need her and she needs me for this journey. After all, it is more enjoyable and easier to travel with a friend who is your spouse. Don’t lose sight of our real goal.

  6. Msgr. Pope,

    Thank you for sharing both St. Gregory’s and your thoughts on marriage – it is very valuable and necessary today.

    When I’m preparing couples for marriage, the couples are generally thankful that they are being guided by married clergy. I tell them that while I have the intimate experience of 2 marriages (my parent’s and my own), our pastor and the other priests have intimate knowledge of thousands of marriages across the entire spectrum of Catholic life with decades of experience. I still seek the Priest’s advice rather than depend on my own “experience”.

    Thank you for serving and guiding us in fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless and protect you!


    Deacon Paul

  7. “Pretend like your wife doesn’t exist” doesn’t strike me as particularly good advice for newly-married husbands.

  8. I wanted to share an article, written by M.K.Gandhi in 1939, stating that the isolation of sexual urge from the desire for bringing children, “is the most dangerous doctrine to preach anywhere”.


    Often people think that the opposition to contraceptives is a Catholic thing. It isn’t. Even non-Christians, by the virtue of their God given reason, would arrive at the same teaching as Church’s.

  9. Msgr. Pope,

    Paul is just a product of this age. We live in the most hypersexualized age in the long history of man on this earth. I shared every single view that Paul expressed for most of my life. The grace of God through many Confessions and many more Rosaries and a lot of reading the Fathers of the Church in the last couple of years plucked me out of that way of thinking and that way of living.

    Now looking around I feel great sadness because I realize that so many are being deceived by the enemy on this account. One breathes in the temptation to lust from the air in our day and time, and the defenses that the Catholic Church offers against this have largely been veiled from sight by a combination of laziness and ignorance on the part of those of us in the pews and criminally bad leadership in higher offices. This way of life and thought leads only to misery, poverty, death, and hell; and you don’t even have to wait until you die for the hell part to begin. But nobody sees this because they are so blind and distracted by all the goodies in our world.

    So the point of all of that Monsignor Pope is that if you include even one line about sex in one of your posts don’t be shocked that everything else you say gets completely ignored and the sex bit gets zeroed in on like a laser beam.

  10. During our 35 years of marriage we had many moments of unpleasant discovery. Some of it quite painful. i recall one night, leaving our bed to go sit quietly in our family room. My heart was hurt and i felt threatened and demeaned, but didn’t understand why.Then the Holy Spirit showed me why and i cried. Shoring up some courage i talked with David the next morning. Explaining i didn’t like sharing our sacred space with others. To my surprise, he turned red and after further talk, apologized.

    We had always had a very deep reverence for our intimate lives, never used any form of contraception, even NFP. At its very best, we could both feel the presence of God in our intimate union. That would move me and him at times to tears. To feel that blessing degraded by the use of fantasies, was Msgr. Pope, heartbreaking. Paul is wrong on every count. i have always valued our priests advice and opinions on every area of our marital life. God bless you for sharing Pope St. Gregory’s fine advice.

  11. It makes sense that someone who practices absolute chastity, a priest for example, should be a good guide for those practicing a less difficult form of chastity, that is conjugal chastity.

    The sign of obsession with sex is falling into lust.

    I heard an amusing insight about the ad hominem argument: the ad hominem argument is the God argument. That is, the ad hominem argument is the final and most devastating of all arguments, but only God is justified in using it.

    Pope Saint Gregory pray for us.

  12. The argument constantly trotted out for the necessity of personal experience is absurd. One doesn’t need to commit injustices to know that injustice is wrong. Logic itself shows this, since it is the nature of reasoning to proceed from what we know to what we don’t. On account of this we don’t need to experience directly all that can be known and understood by us.

    This principle of logic (usually referred to as the “modus sciendi”) applies in a special way in theology, since theology as a whole is a participated knowledge: we don’t have direct access to God’s inner life and providence, but through God’s revelation of these things we have access to them, and we can reason from them to yet other truths. Thus a celibate priest needs no direct experience of marriage himself if God, who is omniscient, has guided his thinking on the subject. In fact, it would be more unreliable if he rested his thoughts upon his own musings instead of on truths borrowed from Truth itself.

    1. The attempt to prevent priests and others who are not married from speaking in any way about marriage is, quite frankly, dumb.

      First of all, the priest is not attempting to give counsel on how to conduct a marriage. He is doing something quite different – he is telling people what God says about marriage. He is telling people what the church doctrine is on marriage. He is speaking of religion. He is not giving common garden variety life advice.

      Second, the people making this charge would have no problem going to a marriage counselor who was not married. That would not trouble them in the least. And in that case, the person is giving them marriage advice, not religious advice.

      Third, if this line of reasoning is pursued, then no one who has not been in a war may make judgments about going to war. This would leave out Bill and Hilary Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barack Obama from being our commander in chief. No one who does not own a gun may make judgements about gun ownership. No one who does not ride a bicycle may make rules about bicycles. No one who does not do drugs may make drug laws.

  13. People today are selfish. Plain and simple. Marriage ceremonies are so often a monument to the entertaining skills of the couple, rather than a humble request for a blessing and celebration of a holy union. People have forgotten God in their rush to have a talked about wedding. It’s really sad.

    Putting God first in my life is the single greatest thing I have ever done and it didn’t happen until He called me through tragedy and tears. Everything I thought I knew, all I held dear, was wrong and backwards. I missed the point on so many things, but praise Him, now I am learning to see what He wants me to see, not what I want. My family has been through a lot in the last few years, and I am so very grateful for each and every heartache.

  14. The thoughts of a holy, celibate priest concerning marriage are of prime importance. All the wisdom required to have a successful one is of a spiritual nature and can essentially be reduced to ; seek God and humility. Personally, I think a much ramped up effort, by the church, to counsel people about marriage before they enter into it could have a major, positive impact on many lives. Thanks Msgr.

    1. You are correct Steve. Pope St. John Paul II should be tirelessly invoked to help the Church in this area.

      1. “All the wisdom required to have a successful one is of a spiritual nature and can essentially be reduced to ; seek God and humility.”

        I am learning through my 33 year marriage that this is true.

  15. Thank you for the thoughtful and insightful article. I once had a person make a similar comment derogating celibate Catholic priests for counseling the married without personal experience. I asked her that since she worked as a counselor to prisoners, including sex offenders, by her own logic how could she do that effectively if she were not also an offender? And that was before I was a Catholic. It simply stands to reason that one who observes and studies and builds experience with a large population can have a grasp of things that is not viewed through the lens of their own personal issues. When you add the dimension of God, holiness, and our eternal salvation, it’s unbeatable. The state of marriage would be better off by forsaking the psychologist and returning to the confessional.

  16. I think celibate persons often have deeper wisdom to offer on the married state as St. Gregory discusses it because central to his discussion is the sin that comes thoroughly a failure of sexual discipline. And who has more practice in the arena of sexual discipline than a celibate person?

  17. Msgr Pope stated: “Thus sexual desire, though beautiful and given by God, is, on account of our fallen nature, unruly and must be governed carefully by reason. It must not be allowed to eclipse what is right and what is greater than sex—God and the new life and the family life of which it is in service.”

    We can say the same thing about drinking alcoholic beverages, sweet deserts, potato chips, fatty and tasty foods. We don’t need them, therefore to consume them without a real or possible intended attempt at nutrition would be just as sinful or lustful as, or even moreso than enjoying spousal conjugal relations, keeping mind that the spouses at least leave the conjugal event with a deepened Union with each other which strengthens their sense of community. Does a person leave the fatty and alcoholic meal with true gratitude to God, or is it just a habit? Can a sense of community be developed through common meals together, meals which are only designed to treat nutrition only, as is pleasing to God?

    For religious, I would say that the cloistered Poor Clare nuns are some of the very few who actually “practice what they preach” in this regard. Many others are obese from their daily habits of eating and drinking moreso for personal gratification than for nutritional purposes. Or am I being too harsh here?

    Let us be fair here.

    1. My point is to ask, “when does a person begin to displease God in their daily eating habits, and how can that standard be balanced with similar teachings on spousal conjugal relations?” “How do we classify lust in our vegetative processes and then how do we compare that to our classification of lust in our regenerative processes, and then how should we moderate our eating habits in such a way that they are pleasing to God?”

      1. I suppose you could pose these questions to Pope St. John XXIII since he was both portly and smoked cigarettes, but you’re trying to draw a moral equivalence where there is none. Be careful how you “classify” and “compare”. I learned at an early age to focus on my own sin in daily examin, to confess only my own, to avoid the ‘at least I’m not as bad as …’ type of thinking. That, then, is the only question; “how have I betrayed God’s love?” God’s Grace is not a commodity, we don’t ‘achieve’ it… we recieve and so live it. Thusly, we must avoid attempts to hedge the issues in regards to our sin.

    2. I would not necessarily agree that the two interacting parties in spousal conjugal relations always and everywhere leave the event with “a deepened Union with each other.”

      If it is entered into with proper respect and a proper mindset then sure, but how often in our day and time, where sexual images and lust provoking speech and music are on tap everywhere from the supermarket to the toothpaste ad you see on television, is this the case?

      And while gluttony is definitely one of the seven deadly sins its effects are largely confined to the individual him or herself whereas the misuse of sexual relations has dramatic knock on effects throughout the family, society, and even across generations.

  18. What does celibacy have to do (or not do) with marriage anyway? I mean seriously, who looks at a couple and thinks, wow, they are such a great couple because they have a lot of sex? Marriage is so much larger than that, and it is the people who put sex at the forefront of marriage who are the most in need of priestly advice. Only a man who isn’t obsessed with sex could see all that marriage is meant to be.

  19. I may be too late to impact those commenting above, but I feel the need to add some additional information regarding NFP.

    The use of NFP as it is intended by the church, is not, in my view a concession. Nor should it ever be used as contraception, although I am not naive enough (or of pure enough heart) to think that it never is. As succinctly, as I can phrase it, NFP is the Church’s way for married couples to responsibly plan their families. It can effectively be used to achieve pregnancy, avoid pregnancy, and identify/mitigate a wide variety of health and fertility issues that a wife may be experiencing. Of course, pregancy should only be deliberately avoided for serious reasons. Humanae Vitea is clear on this. Serious reasons (which can and should be different for every married couple) however should be prayerfully discerned by the couple on an ongoing basis throughout the couples fertile years. My advice (and prayerful request) to anyone struggling to understand the gift that NFP is to the Church is to read and pray with Humanea Vitea as a couple. My bet is that if a couple does that earnestly and with an open heart to God, that it will all become very clear, and that their marriage and their lives will be blessed by it.

    1. OK, I think the word “concession” is what bothers you. Otherwise I think the matter of your comment is in not tension with what I would say. To be fair I speak of it as a “sort” of concession not merely as a concession. It is a concession in the since that you have set forth. It is not a modus vivendi to be lived for just any reason but for more serious reasons.

      1. The piece that I don’t think your position gives credit to (and I think it is an important one), is that NFP is NOT designed and intended merely as a way of avoiding pregnancy for serious reasons which have been prayerfully discerned. It is every bit as much designed and intended for couples to achieve pregnancy and understand fertility issues / health concerns. In that sense, I do not view it to be a concession of any sort. It is an awesome methodology delivered by the Church to the Church through which married couples can more fully glorify Him by way of their marriage and family vocation more fully, naturally, and intelligently lived out. No?

  20. What I wish more Catholics would realize is that when a serious condition exists and persists for many years of a marriage, NFP is truly a sacrificial path, not some sort of “get out of having lots of kids free” card.

    We’ve used NFP for sixteen years, due to a serious high blood pressure problem on my part which requires me at this point to take a medication that cannot be used during pregnancy. I reacted badly to the medicine some women can take during pregnancy, and other medications do nothing for my blood pressure.

    Anyone who thinks that sixteen years of faithful NFP use is somehow “cheating” can talk to me anytime.

    I do think young Catholic couples should learn NFP because it can help identify maternal health issues and in those situations (which Pope Pius XI said in Casti Connubii were NOT rare) where a serious situation arises the couple will not have to try to learn the method under the duress of having a real and important reason to avoid a pregnancy.

    I also think that while celibate priests are certainly qualified to talk to married couples about marriage issues, I really, really wish that priests would sit down sometime to talk to groups of fathers of families in their parishes about the financial realities families today face. I have known priests who honestly thought that the only reason a family of six or seven kids would send their kids to public school was “selfish materialism” focused on new cars and vacations–they simply didn’t realize that a one-income family could not afford approximately $5K per year per child for the parish school (with minor discounts for some siblings, but not much really when you added back in mandatory fees and uniforms and so on), especially when five of the seven were already school aged. No, reverend fathers, it is not selfish materialism that makes a one-income family, open-to-life Catholic family in a nation where the median income is around $50,000 a year decide they can’t afford $25,000 a year for tuitions!

    It saddens me, also, when Catholic married couples are led to believe that the wife has to be at the point of physical death before NFP is even grudgingly permissible, and yet in the same parish the family is frowned at and scolded for bringing the children to Mass or told to take them to the cry room or send them away for children’s church so they won’t “bother” anyone. How much of a witness to the goodness of married life and the blessing of large families are we being when large families feel less welcome at Mass than they do at a fast-food restaurant?

    We can, and should, do better.

    1. Erin Manning, my advice to you is simply to find a new parish. Parishes and pastors who welcome Natural Damily Planning, large families sitting at or near the front of the sanctuary at Mass, and with STEEP multi-children tuition discounts exist. If you have spoken to your Pastor, and he doesn’t get it, move on. You and your family need to be fed!

  21. Monsignor Pope I wish you were my parish priest 35 years ago and I would not have committed the sins I did. Being in a Catholic College in the 70’s provided no Catechisis. I have repented but wish I could take back the sins I committed. Thanks so much for the truth everyday! You help to save souls!!!!!

Comments are closed.