ABOVE: Cardinal Francis Arinze waves to the audience at the end of the second session of the “Humanae Vitae” Shepherd Series at St. Paul Parish April 20. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)
Pointing out that Confession and the Eucharist were the two sacraments mentioned most often in Blessed Paul VI’s groundbreaking encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” Nigerian-born Cardinal Francis Arinze reflected on the role the sacramental life plays in marriages during his visit to the Diocese of Phoenix.
Cardinal Arinze, prefect emeritus for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome, spoke to a crowd of about 300 at St. Paul Parish April 20 as part of the diocese’s “Shepherd Series” coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of “Humanae Vitae.” The cardinal’s address was the second in the series — Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila kicked off the series Feb. 24.
“Penance is the sacrament of God’s Mercy. In it we receive God’s pardon and assurance of restoration of grace to a person who has had the misfortune of falling into a mortal sin,” said Cardinal Arinze, noting that priests are bound by the highest form of secrecy when it comes to the sacrament. Therefore, he said, it is normal for a Christian to receive this sacrament. “Just imagine those who do not go to confession, those who don’t admit that they are wrong, who don’t say, ‘through my fault,’ or who say, ‘through the fault of my mother-in-law, and through the fault of the government and through the fault of the weather.’ They never admit they are wrong.”
Going to Confession also forgives venial sins and “furnishes the penitent with the graces needed to make steady progress in the spiritual life,” the cardinal said, encouraging the faithful to go monthly. Also necessary for growing in the life of union with God is the sacrament of holy Communion, he added.
“Example is more powerful than words. If the children see that the parents take participating in the Mass seriously, and also, they see their parents go to Confession, and they watch their parents receive holy Communion, the children are learning, even more than in the catechism class,” Cardinal Arinze said. “If the children notice that their parents respect the priests and respect the Blessed Virgin Mary and things about Mass, all that becomes formative.”
He also emphasized the importance of Eucharistic devotions outside of Mass.
“The Eucharist as Sacrament does not cease after Mass,” he said. “Prominent are reasons for … visits to our Eucharistic Lord waiting for us in the tabernacle: to adore Him, to thank Him, to make reparation for our offences and to ask for what we need.”
The sacrament of matrimony empowers those “who will run the Church of the home, the domestic Church, the sanctuary of the home and prepare children so there will be a future generation,” he said.
“They perfect one another, they become means of grace to each other, they become means of human growth to each other, and they offer a home to children, because children need that home,” said Cardinal Arinze. “If a dog is born, or a goat, they can walk on the same day, and run; not a baby — a baby can’t even stand. He needs the mother for many years. You can’t invent anything better than marriage and the family, nor re-invent. Any human effort to revise it is doomed to failure.”
Referencing the encyclical’s teaching on artificial contraception, he emphasized that the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marriage act are inherent can cannot be separated.
“Those two dimensions are instituted not by the pope, but by God. No human being has the right to truncate the two, to cut the two. That is the reason why contraception is against the law of God,” he said. “It’s the law of God because contraception means that a man and woman want to … take another action to prevent it from concluding in new life, which means they want to cheat God, to be more clever than Him, to go against Him.”
Cardinal Arinze, who was serving as archbishop of the Onitsha, Nigeria, at the time of the encyclical’s promulgation, recalled how the Nigerian bishops’ conference invited Natural Family Planning pioneer Dr. John Billings to visit and help set up NFP units throughout the country.
“Natural Family Planning … respects the law of God because the dignity of the woman is preserved, mutual respect between husband and wife is promoted, and discipline amongst spouses — because to follow Christ there must be some type of discipline,” he said. “There is no form of Christianity in which there is no cross — none at all. It doesn’t exist, because Christ Himself said, ‘If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself, pick up his cross daily and follow Me.’”
The cardinal encouraged everybody to read “Humanae Vitae” at a “quiet moment, with the television switched off, and with your cell phone put aside,” in addition to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
St. Mary’s High School biology teacher Christine Friedrich appreciated that the cardinal clarified that the Church has always taught that artificial contraception was wrong because it is rooted in natural law.
“Each day we’re sharing the truth with our students,” she said. “We’ve been given this rich patrimony by the Church, and it’s our job to pass it along. We’re not inventing anything new.”
Chuck Mmegwa from Holy Spirit Parish in Tempe and an immigrant from Nigeria, appreciated the cardinal’s approach in telling the truth.
“He reinforces that we should go back to basics, you know, and just worship the way we’re supposed to and according to all these teachings by various popes,” Mmegwa said.
For Mmegwa, seeing the cardinal was a reunion — he’d met him 50 years ago when he was in junior high and Cardinal Arinze was serving as an auxiliary bishop living at Mmegwa’s resident Catholic school.
“It’s just lovely to see him again after so many years, and he looks so young and energetic,” Mmegwa said. “He always came as the bishop just to say Mass and talk to us and he was always funny. He’s still funny!”