Today marks the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), the remarkable encyclical of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI. In the 1968 encyclical, the Pope reminds us that “Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” This timeless work is not merely about regulating birth, conception and abortion. It is about the Divine Plan for us, about the beauty of human love between a husband and wife, about loving children and about growing in holiness so that one day we will be united with God in heaven. To think otherwise is selfish and narcissistic. The greatness of the teaching found in Humanae Vitae is there is unequivocally a dignity in collaborating with the Divine Plan on the part of every person. What has become clear to me is that all of what is taught by Pope Paul remains true today: the contraceptive mentality has watered down, even destroyed an integral notion of love in married life, sex, holiness & sacrifice, spiritual fatherhood & motherhood, priesthood, etc.
The acceptance of the Pill as a “normal” way to deal with a pregancy (i.e., a real human life) has encouraged Catholics (and other Christians) to reduce their salvation to something they manage rather accept as a gift from God. Since when does one manage God’s gift of salvation? Isn’t salvation freely given? Isn’t faith a supernatural gift? Faith has consequences, just look at the saints and countless others who would not capitulate to society’s demands for insidious compromise. Pope Paul’s teaching stands against the constant degradation of marriage, family life and holiness. In so many ways Humanae Vitae is “sign of contradiction” in the face of those who denigrate marriage by not seeing marriage as based on authentic love with its origins in the Blessed Trinity that is faithful, exclusive and eternal. If you want to know why our human existence is often “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” to quote Thomas Hobbes, then you have you examine the attitudes about love, sexuality, responsibility and holiness. Taking a Pill will not exempt you from reality, at least not true reality.
The Pope writes:
…one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source. “Human life is sacred–all men must recognize that fact,” Our predecessor Pope John XXIII recalled. ‘From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.”
Through the intercession of Saint James, Mary, Mother of God, and Saint Joseph, may married couples and those considering the vocation of married life remain close to the Lord.
Mary Eberstadt’s article “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae” in the August/September 2008 issue of First Things is worth reading and studying. Eberstadt does a terriffic job in relating the reality of the contraceptive culture and shows how Pope Paul was right all along. Also worth the time is Karol Wojytla’s 1960 book, Love and Responsibility. Later as Pope John Paul II he delivered to the Church what is known as the Theology of the Body.