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Continence Protects the Dignity of the Conjugal Act

124 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 24 October 1984 - in Italian & Spanish

"1. In keeping with what has already been said, today we will take up the analysis of the virtue of continence.

Continence, which is part of the more general virtue of temperance. Continence consists in the capacity to dominate, control and direct drives of a sexual character (concupiscence of the flesh) and their consequences, in the psychosomatic subjectivity of man. Insofar as it is a constant disposition of the will, this capacity, merits being called a virtue.

We know from the previous analyses that concupiscence of the flesh, and the corresponding desire of a sexual character aroused by it, is expressed with a specific impulse in the sphere of somatic reaction and also with a psycho-emotive excitement of the sensual impulse.

The personal subject, in order to succeed in mastering this impulse and excitement, must be committed to a progressive education in self-control of the will, feelings and emotions. This education must develop beginning with the most simple acts in which it is relatively easy to put the interior decision into practice. As is obvious, this presupposes the clear perception of the values expressed in the law and the consequent formation of firm convictions. If accompanied by the respective disposition of the will, these convictions give rise to the corresponding virtue. This is precisely the virtue of continence (self-mastery). This virtue is seen to be the fundamental condition for the reciprocal language of the body to remain in the truth and for the couple to "defer to one another out of reverence for Christ," according to the words of Scripture (Eph 5:21). This "deferring to one another" means the common concern for the truth of the language of the body; rather, deferring "out of reverence for Christ" indicates the gift of the fear of God (a gift of the Holy Spirit) which accompanies the virtue of continence.

2. This is very important for an adequate understanding of the virtue of continence and especially of the so-called "periodic continence" dealt with in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. The conviction that the virtue of continence is set against the concupiscence of the flesh is correct, but it is not altogether complete. It is not complete especially when we take into account the fact that this virtue does not appear and does not act abstractly and therefore in isolation. But it always appears and acts in connection with the other virtues (nexus virtutum), and therefore in connection with prudence, justice, fortitude and above all with charity.

In the light of these considerations it is easy to understand that continence is not limited to offering resistance to the concupiscence of the flesh. But through this resistance it is open likewise to those values, more profound and more mature, inherent in the spousal significance of the body in its femininity and masculinity, as well as in the authentic freedom of the gift in the reciprocal relations of the persons. Concupiscence of the flesh itself, insofar as it seeks above all carnal and sensual satisfaction, makes man in a certain sense blind and insensitive to the most profound values that spring from love and which at the same time constitute love in the interior truth that is proper to it.

3. In this way also the essential character of conjugal chastity is manifested in its organic link with the power of love, which is poured out into the hearts of the married couple along with the consecration of the sacrament of marriage. In addition, it becomes evident that the call directed to the couple that they "defer to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21) seems to open that interior space in which both become ever more sensitive to the most profound and most mature values that are connected with the spousal significance of the body and with the true freedom of the gift.

Conjugal chastity (and chastity in general) is manifested at first as the capacity to resist the concupiscence of the flesh. It later gradually reveals itself as a singular capacity to perceive, love and practice those meanings of the language of the body which remain altogether unknown to concupiscence itself. Those meanings progressively enrich the marital dialogue of the couple, purifying it, deepening it, and at the same time simplifying it.

Therefore, that asceticism of continence, which the encyclical speaks of (cf. HV 21), does not impoverish affective manifestations. But rather it makes them spiritually more intense and therefore enriches them.

4. Analyzing continence in this way, in the dynamics proper to this virtue (anthropological, ethical and theological), we see that that apparent contradiction disappears, which is often an objection to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae and to the doctrine of the Church on conjugal morality. That is, there would be a contradiction (according to those who offer this objection) between the two meanings of the conjugal act, the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning (cf. HV 12), so that if it were not licit to separate them, the couple would be deprived of the right to conjugal union when they could not responsibly be permitted to procreate.

The Encyclical Humanae Vitae gives an answer to this apparent contradiction, if one studies it in depth. Pope Paul VI confirms that there is no contradiction but only a difficulty connected with the whole interior situation of the "man of concupiscence." Rather, precisely by reason of this difficulty, there is assigned to the interior and ascetical commitment of the couple the true order of conjugal life. In view of this order, they become "strengthened and, one might say, consecrated" (HV 25) by the Sacrament of Marriage.

5. That order of conjugal life means in addition the subjective harmony between responsible parenthood and personal communion, a harmony created by conjugal chastity. The interior fruits of continence mature in it. Through this interior maturing, the conjugal act itself acquires the importance and dignity proper to it in its potentially procreative meaning. At the same time, all the affective manifestations acquire an adequate meaning (cf. HV 21). They serve to express the personal communion of the couple in proportion to the subjective richness of femininity and masculinity.

6. In keeping with experience and tradition, the encyclical reveals that the conjugal act is also a "manifestation of affection" (HV 16). But it is a "manifestation of particular affection" because at the same time it has a potentially procreative meaning. As a result, it is oriented to express personal union, but not only that. At the same time the encyclical indicates, although indirectly, many manifestations of affection, effective exclusively to express the personal union of the couple.

The role of conjugal chastity, and still more precisely that of continence, lies not only in protecting the importance and dignity of the conjugal act in relation to its procreative meaning, but also in safeguarding the importance and the dignity proper to the conjugal act as expressive of interpersonal union, revealing to the awareness and the experience of the couple all the other possible manifestations of affection that can express this profound communion of theirs.

It is indeed a matter of not doing harm to the communion of the couple in the case where for just reasons they should abstain from the conjugal act. Still more, this communion, continually being built up, day by day, through suitable affective manifestations, may constitute a vast terrain on which, under suitable conditions, the decision for a morally right conjugal act matures."

After the catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

A diversi gruppi di lingua tedesca

Unter den gennanten Gruppen grüße ich noch besonders die anwesenden Erzieherinnen aus katholischen Kindergärten den im Bistum Mainz. Den Kindern galt die besondere Vorliebe Christi. Folgt in eurem täglichen Umgang mit ihnen seinem Beispiel. Führt sie vor allem zu ihm, der sie so nachdrücklich einlädt, zu ihm zu kommen. Dabei führe und stärke euch Maria, die Mutter Gottes, der in einer besonderen Weise die Kindheit Jesu anvertraut gewesen ist.

Schließlich richte ich noch einen herzlichen Willkommensgruß an den großen Pilgerzug aus der Diözese Fulda unter der Leitung ihres Bischofs Dr. Johannes Dyba. Diese Begegnung mit euch erinnert mich an meinen Besuch beim Grab des hl. Bonifatius in eurer Bischofsstadt. Die Gräber der heiligen Glat benszeugen in unserer Mitte ermahnen und verpflichten uns, den Glauben an Christus in unseren Familien und Gemeinden lebendig zu erhalten und unverfälscht an die jüngere Generation weiterzuvermitteln. Bekennt euch stets mutig zu Christus und zur Kirche an eurem Arbeitsplatz und in eurer Verantwortung in Staat und Gesellschaft. Verteidigt die sittlichen Werte im privaten und öffentlichen Leben. Darin bestärke euch diese eure Pilgerfahrt in die Ewige Stadt.

Euch und allen anwesenden deutschprachigen Pilgern erteile ich von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di espressione francese

Je suis heureux de saluer tous les pèlerins présents à cette audience. J’encourage les membres de l’équipe nationale française de la Jeunesse Indépendante Chrétienne Féminine à soutenir l’évangélisation des jeunes Elles de leur milieu, en étant les témoins du Christ que les a saisies et en accompagnant leurs camarades dans leur cheminement pour qu’elles vivent aussi du Seigneur si proche d’elles, et enrichissent l’Eglise. Je félicite les futurs enseignants des écoles chrétiennes de Nantes de se consacrer à l’éducation pleinement humaine et chrétienne des nouvelles générations. J’encourage tous ceux qui aident les autres à mieux vivre, à prier, à surmonter leurs épreuves et misères. Je salue les groupes diocésains et paroissiaux, les jeunes, de France ou de Suisse. Que tous participent, à leur façon, à la mission de l’Eglise, comme nous l’avons dit dimanche dernier pour la Journée des missions! A tous, je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

I wish to welcome the group of Franciscan missionaries who are participating in the African Institute. I offer warm greetings, too, to the ecumenical study group from Sweden, and to the teachers and students from Hasley Extended Folk High School in Denmark. I extend a special word of welcome to the chaplains and their families of the United States Navy, and to the group of civil dignitaries attending a weeklong course at the NATO Defense College. It is a pleasure to greet the pilgrimage from Kerry that has come to Rome to celebrate the fifteenth centenary of the birth of their patron, known as "Saint Brendan the Navigator". As you commemorate the achievements of Saint Brendan, may his zeal for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to be an inspiration for the Diocese of Kerry and for all Ireland. And I greet most cordially all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s audience. May the Lord bless you with peace and joy.

Al pellegrinaggio giapponese

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi cittadini di Hittsu-Nagasaki, so che avete fatto un gemellaggio con una città della Francia. Mentre auguro che questa amicizia divenga sempre più profonda e si allarghi, vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Saludo ahora a todas las personas y grupos de lengua española. En especial a los miembros de las varias Instituciones y movimientos que forman la Familia Claretiana, reunidos en Roma para el estudio del propio carisma. Que este encuentro entreche más vuestros vínculos espirituales y os ayude a colaborar mejor en el apostolado, siguiendo la inspiración de San Antonio María Claret, cuya fiesta se celebra hoy mismo. Saludo también, y animo en su vida cristiana, a los participantes en la peregrinación organizada por los Hermanos Misioneros de los Enfermos Pobres, de Barcelona. Un particular aliento en su entrega eclesial a los sacerdotes de Colombia que están acompañados por algunos de sus Obispos y de algunos seglares, y que han participado en el reciente retiro sacerdotal. A vosotros y a todos los hispanohablantes doy mi cordial Bendición.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam serdecznie wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, księży arcybiskupów i biskupów: księdza arcybiskupa Kozłowieckiego, arcybiskupa Dąbrowskiego, Sekretarza Episkopatu, biskupa Jędruszuka, biskupa Piszcza. Witam pielgrzymów z parafii św. Kazimierza z Krakowa; z parafii w Tyńcu pod wezwaniem świętych Piotra i Pawła; od Ojców Karmelitów z Krakowa oraz z parafii Dobrego Pasterza z Krakowa; pielgrzymkę parafialną z Dąbrówski Wielkiej; z Piekar Śląskich; z parafii św. Andrzeja Apostoła w Warszawie; absolwentów duszpasterstw akademickich od ojców Dominikanów i parafii św. Rocha w Poznaniu; pielgrzymkę kurialną z Łodzi; pielgrzymkę z parafii Najświętszej Maryi Panny z Gdańska oraz z parafii świętych Piotra i Pawła z Gdańska; z diecezji chełmińskiej, z Pelplina; z parafii katedralnej z Tarnowa; pielgrzymkę pszczelarzy z Przemyśla; pielgrzymkę kurialną z Drohiczyna; z Ustki i Słupska - diecezja koszalińska; z parafii św. Augustyna z Wrocławia; grupy kolejarzy (którzy bardzo chętnie przychodzą na audiencję generalną) z Warszawy, z Gdańska, z Krakowa, z Katowic; grupy turystyczne PTTK, Orbisu i Turysty oraz z Czarnkowa z diecezji poznańskiej.

W ubiegły poniedziałek Warszawska Kuria Metropolitalna opublikowała Komunikat, w którym informuje, że w dniu 19 bm. ks. Jerzy Popiełuszko, kapłan Archidiecezji Warszawskiej, wracający z posługi duszpasterskiej w Bydgoszczy, został zatrzymany na drodze pod Toruniem. Kapłan ten dotychczas nie powrócił do parafii i nic nie wiadomo o jego losie.

“Wydarzenie to wstrząsnęło opinią publiczną całej Polski - czytamy w Komunikacie - oraz zaniepokoiło szczególnie i napełniło bólem biskupów, duchowieństwo i wszystkich wiernych Archidiecezji Warszawskiej. Wyrażając swoje głębokie ubolewanie Kuria Metropolitalna Warszawska poleca modlitwom - zwłaszcza różańcowym - całego Ludu Bożego sprawę ks. Popiełuszki”.

Przejęty do głębi tym wydarzeniem, wyrażam moją solidarność z Pasterzami i Ludem Bożym Kościoła Warszawskiego. Podzielam słuszny niepokój całego społeczeństwa wobec tego nieludzkiego czynu, który jest wyrazem przemocy dokonanej na kapłanie oraz pogwałceniem, oczywiście, godności i niezbywalnqch praw osoby ludzkiej.

Apeluję do sumień tych, którzy dopuścili się tego haniebnego czynu i ponoszą zań odpowiedzialność.

Was, drodzy Bracia i Siostry, proszę, abyście złaczyli się ze mną. w modlitwie o rychłe uwolnienie ks. Popiełuszki i jego powrót do pracy duszpasterskiej.

Proszę wszystkich obecnych tutaj pielgrzymów, ażeby przekazali swoim bliskim w rodzinach, parafiach, diecezjach, całej Ojczyźnie moje pozdrowienie i błogosławieństwo z dzisiejszej audiencji generalnej.

Po tych słowach Ojciec Święty odmówił “Pod Twoją obronę”.

Ai pellegrini italiani

Saluto tutti i pellegrini italiani presenti, rivolgendo un particolare pensiero ai giovani.

Carissimi giovani, il Papa guarda a ciascuno di voi con sincero affetto: la Chiesa ha bisogno delle vostre forze e conta sulla vostra capacità di bene. La Chiesa e il Papa vi invitano a lavorare con costanza nella Vigna del Signore, ancorando il vostro impegno a quella roccia ferma che è il Vangelo di Gesù. Il cammino è lungo e non facile, ma con Cristo tutto è possibile. Questo è il mio augurio, accompagnato dalla mia Benedizione.

* * *

Carissimi ammalati, che prolungate nel corpo la passione redentrice di Gesù, vi saluto con amicizia e cordialità. Anche su un letto di dolore la vita, dono di Dio, ha un senso ed un valore. La vostra croce, unita a quella di Cristo, giova anche alla salvezza degli altri uomini. Vorrei assicurarvi, come ammalati, che il Papa di vuole bene, vi è vicino e vi comprende.

* * *

Carissimi novelli sposi, vi saluto cordialmente esortandovi a costruire una famiglia che possa realmente chiamarsi piccola chiesa domestica, dove regni l’amore, la serenità, la cordialità, la pace. Sforzatevi di imitare gli esempi della Santa Famiglia di Nazaret. Vi accompagni la mia Benedizione.

Un’“azione disumana”, “un atto di prepotenza nei confronti di un sacerdote”, “una violazione della dignità e degli inalienabili diritti della persona umana”: così Giovanni Paolo II definisce il rapimento del sacerdote polacco don Popieluszko del quale non si hanno più notizie dal 19 ottobre. Parlando ai connazionali presenti all’udienza generale nell’Aula Paolo VI, il Santo Padre fa appello alle coscienze degli autori e dei responsabili della “ignobile azione” ed invita a pregare per l’immediata liberazione del sacerdote. Queste le parole del Papa in una nostra traduzione italiana.

Lunedì scorso la Curia metropolitana di Varsavia ha pubblicato un comunicato nel quale si informa che il 19 ottobre don Jerzy Popieluszko, sacerdote dell’arcidiocesi di Varsavia, mentre tornava da Bydgoszcz, dove aveva svolto un servizio pastorale, è stato fermato sulla strada vicino a Torun. Il sacerdote non ha fatto finora ritorno in parrocchia e non si hanno notizie sulla sua sorte.

“Questo avvenimento ha sconvolto l’opinione pubblica dell’intera Polonia - possiamo leggere nel comunicato - e ha particolarmente inquietato e riempito di dolore i vescovi, il clero e tutti i fedeli dell’arcidiocesi di Varsavia. Esprimendo la sua profonda deplorazione la Curia metropolitana di Varsavia si rivolge all’intero popolo di Dio raccomandando alla sua preghiera - specialmente quella del Rosario - la vicenda di don Popieluszko”.

Profondamente turbato da questo avvenimento, esprimo la mia solidarietà con i pastori e con il popolo di Dio della Chiesa di Varsavia. Condivido la giusta inquietudine di tutta la società riguardo a questa azione disumana che è un atto di prepotenza nei confronti di un sacerdote e costituisce una violazione della dignità e degli inalienabili diritti della persona umana.

Mi appello alle coscienze di coloro che hanno commesso quella ignobile azione e ne sono responsabili.

Mi rivolgo a voi, cari fratelli e sorelle, affinché vi uniate a me nella preghiera per l’immediata liberazione di don Popieluszko e il suo ritorno al lavoro pastorale.

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