This document is an expanded version of an interview conducted on November 11, 2021, upon the publication of the 2nd edition of the book “La Paternidad en el Pensamiento de Karol Wojtyla” (Parenthood in the Thought of Karol Wojtyla), by communications student Diego García de la Garza at the University of Navarra.
1. What do we mean by the unitive and procreative meaning of the sexual act?
Karol Wojtyla asked this same question in different texts between 1950 and 1978, before he became the the Successor of Peter. In these texts, he sought to unify the two classic positions on the sexuality between men and women: on one hand, a “biologicist” view, according to which the sole purpose of sex is generating children; on the other, the “permissivist” conception, according to which sex is viewed as primarily for pleasure. Both necessarily exclude the unitive and procreative meaning of sex, even though both purposes were designed by God to make the spouses fruitful in their married and familial life. In this respect, the male—the potential father—experiences his fertility in a “constant” way. For the woman, however, fertility occurs “intermittently.” This per se tells us how human sexuality has times and rhythms in which there can be fertility, but it needs to pass through the rationality of the couple and the dialogue between the two. This means sexual intimacy involves the giving of one’s being at specific times within the marital relationship.
2. What does it mean to “use” the other sexually?
For Wojtyla, the main risk of separating the unitive end and procreative end is that of using the other person. Pragmatic and utilitarian doctrines suggest it in various ways: the first danger is mutual use between the man and the woman, who may view each other as “objects of pleasure,” totally denying their fertility; the second is mutual use between spouses as “objects of procreation,” or viewing the woman’s pregnancy as aimed at bringing children into the world for purposes outside of (or unclearly connected to) marital love.
3. Why does marriage tend to be “procreative”?
This is where paternity and maternity gain their relevance and power, even before there is the concrete possibility of that novum, the baby: the novelty that comes from the love of the parents. Faced with this possibility, Wojtyla warns of the need to establish a context that in we in Western culture have hitherto called theinstitution of marriage. The word marriage ( matris-munium) refers to the duties of a mother. This implies the existence of a father who decides to assume responsibility for this new familial-domestic unit, which exists thanks in part to him and now “lives” in the womb. This custody is called patrimony and goes beyond the management of material goods. It concerns the economic, educational, and intimacy support (as Rafael Alvira would say) that takes place in this specific relationship. Perhaps this is the clearest way to unite sexual morality with the potential for fatherhood and motherhood.
4. What does it mean to be a father? What does it mean to be a mother?
Parenthood , in a broad sense, transcends biological reality, but it does not deny or despise it. It is much more than the union of a sperm and an egg that (under favorable conditions) gives rise to a human being. This natural reality, which is undeniable in itself, is accompanied by the whole human reality that supposes a concrete cultural lifestyle with specific habits that promote the good.
And what is good? Everything that promotes life. Whose? Those sharing the same environment. In this sense, being the father or mother of a family implies having “these children,” who will dwell in “this environment”: in the family formed and supported by us—their parents.
5. Does having a family imply having children?
Wojtyla reflected on this matter. It is true that God has placed us in this world to love and be loved and that the life of a child can originate from love. But along with a natural desire (which has a supernatural background) it is necessary to develop a responsible familial context that aims at the continuous development of that creature.
6. What does “responsible family context” mean?
It means taking charge of everything that concerns the life of this child who is my child, of this wife, of this husband, and of the fact that we are “bound” to one another. The concept of marriage presupposes the union, which at a certain point becomes evident before society, before God, and before the spouses themselves at the time of their sexual encounter. But the responsible family context implies a resulting commitment: the commitment to protect and to make it possible for each family member to flourish.
7. What are the potential obstacles to establishing a “responsible family context”?
According to Wojtyla, young adults face three challenges when they consider starting a family: 1) Both spouses must work outside the home. The communist social trend of the 1950s did not tolerate mothers staying home, which is now also a cornerstone of feminism: “housewives are abused women.” According to this idea, anyone and everyone must work, because we must overcome discrimination against women and because it is necessary for the economy; 2) even if both spouses work outside the home, their salaries are not high enough ; 3) the challenge of finding a place to live, namely, of buying a home. A responsible family context is linked to the concept of home; that is, the home environment somehow implies the existence of property. The contemporary world sees many families limited to living in rented houses or apartments. But that living “space” is not my home; it is a house that I am occupying right now, and “living there” is a momentary arrangement, not a permanent state.
8. How can contemporary families deal with the obstacles identified by Wojtyla?
Wojtyla identified three obstacles in the environment of his youth (a communist society). It seems, however, that the same problems still exist in the lives of couples today. Thus, the Polish priest’s recommendations remain valid: live according to an elevated morality. The socioeconomic conditions gripping families today continue to worsen. Yet we cannot give up the fight to change them. We—young couples and everyone else—cannot get used to this lifestyle that tends to preclude marriage and having children. We must say “yes” to life and must strive to grow inwardly so that we can engage with these socio-economic conditions in a new way. And the only ones who can determine with precision how to “compromise” with this lifestyle that is drowning families are the spouses—no one else. In their dialogue, the spouses will consider who will work, doing what, and how. It will be from this dialogue that they will figure out what kinds of sacrifices to make so that their children have what they need for their wellbeing.
9. Are fatherhood and motherhood vocations?
The Latin term vocare means that “someone” calls me from outside. Therefore, I only (so to speak) respond. I cannot choose to be called by an external (or internal) voice. I must simply identify the call and freely decide whether or not to respond. We are persons. We are human beings with a soul and a body (as Mikel Santamaría tells us). There is a unity between these two dimensions, between material existence and that of the I that informs the concrete reality of my “persona” and that “is” before the Absolute being: God. Only before God do men and women fully recognize their own limitations. These are manifested in their way of living, being, and acting before others. So, responding to life: this means being a mom or dad, and it is something that involves a person absolutely. That is to say, it means recognizing that I was once called to life and now more is asked of me. I am asked to give life: the same life I have received. To give it through my body and through my wife’s body so that, from one moment to the next, this new miracle is held into existence by us. If, we are first and foremost sustained by God, then we can say that the greatest source of sustenance of my existence, after Him, is (or should be) my family, especially my parents.
10. Is it possible to say NO to fatherhood… NO to motherhood ?
Yes, it is possible, because the human person freely faces the possibility of doing good—the possibility of loving with no “reservations.” In this case, paternity and maternity are extremely significant realities in a human being’s life, but they are subject to possible mistakes with serious consequences. As the Latin saying goes, corruptio optimi pessima (corruption of what is best is the worst). The paternal and maternal images are increasingly being abandoned in Western culture and in a progressive and subtle (ideological) way, this has become “the central problem” of our day, since the West has already stopped having children. At the same time family, marriage, and domestic life have been trivialized. Many people today think that one can be fulfilled as a person without opening oneself up to maternity/paternity, that is, denying this possibility as if the choice had no bearing on a person’s identity. Similarly, I can promise eternal love to my wife, but then at some point revoke my promise and go freely down the road to a new adventure. This was the great doubt that emerged in the 1960s-70s, which then ended up materializing in the 1990s. Now in the twenty-first century, it has become a way of life for younger people. We feel—as Wojtyla would say—like individuals subject to rights and freedoms, but ones that are not, however, accompanied by responsibilities.
11. Can it be said that paternity and maternity are a gift?
For Wojtyla, the birth of children is the greatest gift that parents can ever receive in their lives. That is why, I believe, there is nothing more important to say to a child than this: you are my child, it is good that you exist and that you live with me . That is to say, how wonderful you are, and how good it is to have given your life.
12. What is a final recommendation to young people who aspire to get married and start a family?
To young people who want to get married and who still have the goal or hope of building a family, I would say this: you should prepare for the problems that pertain to you by reading the specialists. Depending on what country you are in, you should attend meetings that promote your growth and go wherever there is serious talk of marriage and family. However, all this cannot be done without placing the dialogue between the future husband and wife at the center of the formative spirit. It is good to remember that Jesus Christ taught us to dialogue with God. In our culture we have the privilege of referring to God as a Father. But let us remember that when getting married, the dialogue with our spouse or children becomes a channel for dialogue with God. God calls spouses to follow Him in marriage. And what does that mean? It means that my relationship with God also passes through my wife and children and that I cannot have an “independent” relationship with God: it must be accompanied by dialogue with my family. So, my suggestion is to have a lot of dialogue as spouses and as a family. Learn to develop that great virtue that is not automatic and that does not necessarily start from common interests but comes from trying to understand who the person in front of me is. Who is my husband or wife? Who are my children? As parents, we must know how to respond to the needs of the ones who are the members of our family.