An English translation of St. John Paul II’s “rule” for married couples is now available to the general public — for the very first time.
“St. John Paul II’s Rule gives spouses the key to unlock how to authentically live out their faith, grow in conjugal spirituality (their united relationship with God), and find lasting joy!” Theresa and Peter Martin told Our Sunday Visitor of its significance.
The married couple feature an English translation of St. John Paul II’s “Rule for Married Couple Groups” — together with translations of two other rediscovered texts by the saint — in their new book: “The Rule: St. John Paul II’s Rule for a Joy-Filled Marriage of Divine Love.”
All three texts, the Martins said, are part of a collection of works by St. John Paul II that were found during the cause for his canonization. He wrote the two other texts — “Reflections on Marriage” and “Love is the Moral Foundation of Marriage” — within the same decade as the rule, around 50 years ago.
The Martins’ book, published in February, uses these two other texts “to more fully understand what he meant within the Rule,” they said.
Discovering the rule
They first encountered the rule when Theresa received a copy of an Italian book containing it for her Masters dissertation. It later led them to found the Wojtyła Community & Institute, a non-profit dedicated to spreading St. John Paul II’s rule (which he wrote as Cardinal Karol Wojtyła) and supporting couples as they live it out.
The word “rule,” here, means something different from today’s usage of the word, they said.
“In this context, a ‘rule’ would be a way of life or a set of guidelines to help direct your path, like a lantern on a dark road,” the Martins clarified.
“St. John Paul II knew, even 50 years ago, that living our Christian faith in an increasingly anti-Christian culture, would require a higher level of virtue,” they explained. “This Rule was meant to be that extra help, to guide spouses to know ‘how’ to live the truth.”
Their book, they described, introduces the rule, helps unpack it, and examines what it might look like when applied to marriage.
“It is one thing to understand ‘why’ something is true intellectually, but to know ‘how’ to live it out in the messiness of everyday life is more challenging,” they said. “The Rule is the key to unlocking that ‘how.‘“
Revealing the ‘Rule’
The Martins called St. John Paul II’s rule, which consists of six points, “simple, but profound.”
“He begins by explaining that this Rule was prompted by the promulgation of Humanae Vitae,” they said, referring to Pope St. Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical. “He desires, through this Rule, to help couples live out this beautiful teaching that contains the theological core of all teaching on human love and sexuality.”
St. John Paul II wrote the rule shortly after Humanae Vitae, which warns against the dangers of contraception, either in 1968 or 1969. He saw Humanae Vitae as containing the truth of love and sexuality, the Martins said, with the rule’s purpose being “to help couples ‘actuate,’ or make real within their everyday life this teaching.”
He created the rule from understanding the experiences of actual couples he helped as well as the theology of the Church, the couple said.
“The Rule’s main purpose is to build the couple’s conjugal spirituality, which is their united relationship with God,” the Martins said, before adding that St. John Paul II teaches that spouses can be so united that they have but one interior life.
But their book, they urged, is not limited to married couples. Everyone from married couples to priests to singles to Protestants to divorcees, young and old alike, have ordered their book, they said.
“Anyone can benefit from learning about spousal love!” they exclaimed. “Aren’t we all called to spousal love in different ways? Priests are married to the Church; religious sisters are married to Christ; all are called to be a gift of self to others in love.”
If readers take away one thing from reading their book, the Martins hope that it’s to “Be not afraid to live the ordinary life with extraordinary grace!”
“You have everything you need to be a saint within the Church,” they said. “With God’s grace, especially found in the sacraments, and a strong Christian community, you can courageously live the heroic virtue you need to be faithful in our progressively anti-Christian world.”
“Could your marriage change the world?” they asked spouses. “St. John Paul II thinks so.”
A personal encounter with JPII
Today, Theresa, a homeschooling mother, serves as the executive director of the Wojtyla Community and Institute. Peter is the director of the Offices of Life, Marriage & Family and Communications for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota.
After marrying in 2001 and welcoming eight children, they now reside in Wisconsin. But they first fell in love in Rome while studying abroad. They later returned to the Eternal City to study theology — and have their marriage blessed by Pope St. John Paul II.
“Theresa got to wear her wedding dress a second time and when it was time, we knelt before him, kissed his ring and then Theresa just held his hand,” they remembered. “He looked deep into her eyes. Neither one of them said anything, but the gaze was fixed.”
“We both laugh that he never even looked at Peter!” they added. “It was almost as if he knew, somehow, that she would help uncover this lost Rule and play a part in this building of God’s kingdom.”
Katie Yoder is a contributing editor to Our Sunday Visitor.