During this year’s pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as I was praying before the sacred tilma, my eyes fell on the dark ribbon tied just beneath her hands, which are folded in prayer.

In the style of the indigenous peoples of that time, the position of the ribbon — high above her waist — is a sign that the woman is with child. Ordinarily, the ribbon would be positioned around the woman’s waist.

And I thought about how the infant Jesus was growing in the Virgin’s womb, just beneath her maternal heart, as she prays for the people of the new world who have not yet met him.

And I thought of her words to St. Juan Diego: “I am the Mother of the God of Great Truth … the Creator of all peoples … I am your merciful Mother — yours and of all the nations who live in this land.”

The beautiful truth of the Christian religion is that we are children, each of us a son or a daughter of the God who created the heavens and the earth.

This is what Jesus came to reveal and this is why he came into the world as a child in a mother’s womb to grow up in a human family formed by a loving husband and wife.

Jesus taught us to tell the world that the marriage of man and woman is at the heart of God’s plan for human happiness. He pointed out that God established marriage in the first days of creation — for the love of husband and wife and for bringing children into the world.

Unlike almost any other religious leader of his time, Jesus paid attention to children and young people — listened to them and healed them. He even held up children as the model for what it means to be a disciple.

And the Bible’s final pages reveal that history will end in a great cosmic wedding and the marriage supper of the Lamb — a future joy we still anticipate every time we celebrate the Eucharist.

Love is the great message that Christ came to bring. And the Christian “ideal” for love has always been the love of man and woman in marriage — a love that elevates the couple to participate in the life-giving love of the Creator.

This week we are remembering the 50th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter on human life and love.

Looking back, we can understand better how the world of 1968 was not ready for this document.

It was a time of new ideas about human freedom and love and new attitudes toward traditions and authority. 

Catholics were trying to sort out the teachings of the historic Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and what those teachings mean for how to live as Christians in the modern world.

Much has been written about “Humanae Vitae” and how it was received in the Church and in the wider society. We know now how much Blessed Pope Paul suffered because his message was misunderstood and misinterpreted.

The world of 1968 did not know how much it needed “Humanae Vitae.” Our world today needs it even more.

Of course, we can read “Humanae Vitae” as a prophecy.

Much of what Pope Paul warned of has come to pass —  from rampant divorce, infidelity and pornography, to “test-tube” babies, widespread abortion, “demographic winter,” and the total confusion about gender, sexuality and the human person that we see in our society today.

But we should also read “Humanae Vitae” as a promise.

This is a letter about happiness and love. Blessed Pope Paul writes of “God’s loving design” — the path he sets before us that will lead us to find happiness. Married love is a part of that plan.

Blessed Pope Paul is a realist. He understands the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality are not easy, that following Jesus requires discipline and self-sacrifice. But he wants us to know that God travels with us on this journey. And he sets before us a destination for our lives that is both beautiful and true.

We are made by Love and we are made for love — to love and to be loved. And the blessed fruit of love in marriage is the miracle of new life, in which man and woman realize what it means to be made in the image of God who is the Author of Life.

This is the beautiful promise of “Humanae Vitae.”

Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you. And let us ask Blessed Pope Paul, who will be canonized in October, to help us to read his prophetic encyclical again with new eyes and open hearts. And may Our Lady of Guadalupe, our Blessed Mother, protect and strengthen every marriage and every family, and may she help us to love as we are made to love.

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