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Gracious Lord,
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Humanae Vitae: Day 31 A Great work

We’ve finally arrived at the concluding paragraph of this great encyclical: 

A Great Work

31. Venerable brothers, beloved sons, all men of good will, great indeed is the work of education, of progress and of charity to which We now summon all of you. And this We do relying on the unshakable teaching of the Church, which teaching Peter’s successor together with his brothers in the Catholic episcopate faithfully guards and interprets. And We are convinced that this truly great work will bring blessings both on the world and on the Church. For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed. On this great work, on all of you and especially on married couples, We implore from the God of all holiness and pity an abundance of heavenly grace as a pledge of which We gladly bestow Our apostolic blessing.

Given at St. Peter’s, Rome, on the 25th day of July, the feast of St. James the Apostle, in the year 1968, the sixth of Our pontificate.

PAUL VI

“Man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature”.  Amen.  That is why this is the work of the whole Church and why Pope Paul VI called on all groups of individuals to witness to and defend God’s plan for marriage and the family.  God knew what He was doing when He created man and woman, marriage, sex, and the family.  Abortion, contraception, same-sex “marriages” – all of these things are contrary to God’s design and great troubles come when we ignore God’s will.  Therefore, the Church has an obligation to teach God’s plan for marriage to the world and to defend marriage and the family against all attacks.  The Church must be guaranteed the freedom to do this.  The well-being of the human race depends on it.

Signature of Pope Paul VI

Humanae Vitae: Day 30 To Bishops

To Bishops

30. And now as We come to the end of this encyclical letter, We turn Our mind to you, reverently and lovingly, beloved and venerable brothers in the episcopate, with whom We share more closely the care of the spiritual good of the People of God. For We invite all of you, We implore you, to give a lead to your priests who assist you in the sacred ministry, and to the faithful of your dioceses, and to devote yourselves with all zeal and without delay to safeguarding the holiness of marriage, in order to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfectionConsider this mission as one of your most urgent responsibilities at the present time. As you well know, it calls for concerted pastoral action in every field of human diligence, economic, cultural and social. If simultaneous progress is made in these various fields, then the intimate life of parents and children in the family will be rendered not only more tolerable, but easier and more joyful. And life together in human society will be enriched with fraternal charity and made more stable with true peace when God’s design which He conceived for the world is faithfully followed.

Bishops, in being zealous in their own defense of the sanctity of both marriage and life, make themselves a shining example for both priests and laity.  This is “one of your most urgent responsibilities at the present time” because the well-being of families and society as a whole depends on the faithful following of God’s plan for marriage.

Humanae Vitae: Day 27 Doctors and Nurses

To Doctors and Nurses

27. Likewise we hold in the highest esteem those doctors and members of the nursing profession who, in the exercise of their calling, endeavor to fulfill the demands of their Christian vocation before any merely human interest. Let them therefore continue constant in their resolution always to support those lines of action which accord with faith and with right reason. And let them strive to win agreement and support for these policies among their professional colleagues. Moreover, they should regard it as an essential part of their skill to make themselves fully proficient in this difficult field of medical knowledge. For then, when married couples ask for their advice, they may be in a position to give them right counsel and to point them in the proper direction. Married couples have a right to expect this much from them.

Obviously, doctors and nurses should never advise anyone to do anything that is contrary to the Gospel of Life, but Christian doctors and nurses should also be well-informed about the life issues.  They should know about those things that are contrary to the Gospel of Life, but they should also be able to direct couples who likewise want to be faithful to God’s plan for marriage.  They should know why In Vitro Fertilization, even if it done with good intentions, is by its nature contrary to the Gospel of Life and is therefore gravely sinful.  They should know about things such as Natural Family Planning so that they can help couples to understand it and its benefits.

Humanae Vitae: Day 26 The family Apostolate

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Family Apostolate

26. Among the fruits that ripen if the law of God be resolutely obeyed, the most precious is certainly this, that married couples themselves will often desire to communicate their own experience to others. Thus it comes about that in the fullness of the lay vocation will be included a novel and outstanding form of the apostolate by which, like ministering to like, married couples themselves by the leadership they offer will become apostles to other married couples. And surely among all the forms of the Christian apostolate it is hard to think of one more opportune for the present time (cf. Lumen Gentium 35, 41 and others).

In my own experience, I have seen this happen in parishes. Married couples who are faithful to the marital laws of the Church are happy couples with happy families. Yes, there are challenges, but they know that the grace of God is with them. Other couples see their joy and want to know what makes them so happy.

This builds up happy parishes with a solid Catholic culture. The Catechism calls the family “the original cell of social life” (2207) and says that the well-being of a society depends on families (cf. 2210). This is true of the parish as well. Strong Catholic families build up strong Catholic parishes. And it all begins with fidelity.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)

Humanae Vitae: Day 25

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To Christian Couples

25. And now We turn in a special way to Our own sons and daughters, to those most of all whom God calls to serve Him in the state of marriage. While the Church does indeed hand on to her children the inviolable conditions laid down by God’s law, she is also the herald of salvation and through the sacraments she flings wide open the channels of grace through which man is made a new creature responding in charity and true freedom to the design of his Creator and Savior, experiencing too the sweetness of the yoke of Christ (cf. Mt 11:30).

In humble obedience then to her voice, let Christian husbands and wives be mindful of their vocation to the Christian life, a vocation which, deriving from their Baptism, has been confirmed anew and made more explicit by the Sacrament of Matrimony. For by this sacrament they are strengthened and, one might almost say, consecrated to the faithful fulfillment of their duties. Thus will they realize to the full their calling and bear witness as becomes them, to Christ before the world.  For the Lord has entrusted to them the task of making visible to men and women the holiness and joy of the law which united inseparably their love for one another and the cooperation they give to God’s love, God who is the Author of human life.

We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life” (cf. Mt 7:14; Heb 12:11).  Nevertheless it is precisely the hope of that life which, like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong in spirit, they strive to live “sober, upright and godly lives in this world,” (Ti 2:12) knowing for sure that “the form of this world is passing away” (cf. 1 Cor 7:31).

Again, the Church is aware the the vocation to marriage has its challenges.  Every vocation has its challenges – that’s part of being a disciple who is called to pick up his cross and follow the example of the Lord.  But the sacraments of baptism and matrimony give husbands and wives the strength that they need to live their vocation faithfully, and if they cooperate with these graces and strive to live faithfully, they will receive the crown of eternal life in the end.

Recourse to God

For this reason husbands and wives should take up the burden appointed to them, willingly, in the strength of faith and of that hope which “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).  Then let them implore the help of God with unremitting prayer and, most of all, let them draw grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist. If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather must they, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance.  In this way, for sure, they will be able to reach that perfection of married life which the Apostle sets out in these words: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church. . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph 5:25, 28-29, 32-33).

So what is it that will allow married couples to persevere in their vocation? Prayer, the Eucharist, and – if they should succumb to human weakness – Confession.  Most importantly, Paul VI makes it clear that what God asks of married couples through the teachings of the Church is possible.  Married couples must be encouraged to believe that.  As St. Paul says, it takes great sacrifice.  But just as Christ’s offering of Himself gave life to the world, the sacrifices of husbands and wives to each other will bring life into their marriage and their family.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)

Humane Vitae: Day 21

 

 

Value of Self-Discipline

21. The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings. For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers.

An appropriate subject to think about especially during Holy Week. Self-denial is at the heart of the spiritual life. As human beings, we were made with passions, and those passions are not sinful in themselves. However, we have to learn how to control those passions so that they don’t control us. It is self-denial that strengthens the spirit so that we can begin to control them.

This is a large part of what makes our Lenten practices so important. We don’t give up things just for the sake of giving up things. Nor do we deny ourselves just for the sake of denying ourselves. Sacrifices are meant to bring about a greater good, and it is that greater good that gives meaning.

That’s why there is a kind chastity that is proper to married couples. In being able to discipline themselves, husbands and wives can grow in their understanding of each other which strengthens the marital bond: “far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, [self-discipline] transforms it by giving it a more truly human character.” Paragraph 21 explains some of the fruits that come about when husband and wife are able to master this self-discipline.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)

Humane Vitae: Day 18

18. It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction” (Lk 2:34).  She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage “to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men” (See Paul Vl, encyc. letter Populorum progressio).

“It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching”.  That’s putting it lightly!

Paul VI speaks of “outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication”.  This was written in 1968 – decades before Twitter, Facebook, and even the Internet itself as we know it today.  It is these means of communication that have made the voice against the Church much louder and (if you spend any time reading comboxes – which I would not suggest doing) more obnoxious.

I think that Paul VI’s reminder that the Church, like her Founder, is “destined to be a sign of contradiction” is quite comforting.  If you are a voice for life, and you find that you are encountering opposition, take comfort.  This is as the Lord warned us it would be.

The bottom line here is that the Church in upholding the sanctity of marriage, family, and life, is doing so for mankind’s own good.  “She is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization”.  We can see in our day the destructive effects of an anti-life culture.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)

Humanae Vitae:Days 16 and 17

Paragraph 17, which is often pointed to when looking at how prophetic Humanae Vitae was when it was written in 1968.  Here, Pope Paul VI explains what would happen to a society that makes use of artificial contraception.  We already know the adverse effects contraception has on married couples.  But how would it effect things at a societal level?  Many who advocate the use of contraception say that this is a personal matter, a choice that should be left to individuals.  But as the Church has always taught, while sins are personal acts, they affect others: “Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1869).

Consequences of Artificial Methods

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

We can easily see today how marriage and human sexuality are de-valued and disrespected and how the divorce rate has skyrocketed even among Catholics since contraceptives have become readily available.  We can also see the “general lowering of moral standards” that exists culturally.  What about the objectification of women?  Pope Paul VI saw these as consequences of the use of artificial contraception, and he was right.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

Let’s reflect on this for a while, shall we?  There’s no doubt that the HHS mandate is evil.  But unfortunately, a culture that is accepting of the use of contraceptives has allowed the HHS mandate to exist.  The HHS mandate must be opposed.  Absolutely.  But we have to be equally forceful in our condemnation of artificial contraception.  Catholics must lead the way by their words and their example.

Limits to Man’s Power

Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed. These limits are expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions, in the light of the principles We stated earlier, and in accordance with a correct understanding of the “principle of totality” enunciated by Our predecessor Pope Pius XII.

Paragraph 17 has been looked at as being prophetic in determining the consequences that would happen upon a culture that made use of artificial contraception.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)

Humanae Vitae:Day 15

Lawful Therapeutic Means

15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

Recourse to Infertile Periods

16. Now as We noted earlier (no. 3), some people today raise the objection against this particular doctrine of the Church concerning the moral laws governing marriage, that human intelligence has both the right and responsibility to control those forces of irrational nature which come within its ambit and to direct them toward ends beneficial to man. Others ask on the same point whether it is not reasonable in so many cases to use artificial birth control if by so doing the harmony and peace of a family are better served and more suitable conditions are provided for the education of children already born. To this question We must give a clear reply. The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God.

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.

Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period butcondemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.

Today, because paragraph 15 is very short and self-explanatory, I will treat it together with paragraph 16.

Man is a rational and intelligent creature. That ability to reason is what sets us apart from animals. And so it is good for man to use his intelligence with regards to questions having to do with procreation. But wisdom places man’s intelligence at the service of God and what He has established.

Paul VI goes on to say that married couples may “engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile”. This is a way that the couple can space births using that which is natural (hence, Natural Family Planning).

NFP is not “Catholic contraception” as some mistakenly call it. Using contraceptives is a deliberate obstruction of the procreative process using artificial means. The use of contraceptives is a conscious decision to be closed to life. NFP is open to life. It places no such articifical obstacles in the procreative process, instead using what God has given naturally, i.e., periods of infertility.