Humanae Vitae 21: Value of Self-Discipline

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Tell, what do you make of this appeal to self-discipline? HV 21 strikes me as a difficult passage for two reasons. It seems to consign sex to the realm of emotions–and I’m not at all convinced of that. True, sex involves the human affect. But as this document has stated, sexual expression is also a gift to the partner. As a choice, love is also a matter of the intellect and the will. As an act of the will, there is something more than head or heart involved here. It is something deep within the human person: the gut comes to mind.

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.

Self-discipline is an important value, whether we speak of matters of the heart, head, or will. It is too bad there is such distrust of the emotional life of spouses, and a rather limited understanding of the full nature of sex in the committed marital relationship. Still, the principle is a good one, even if clumsily presented.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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