Humanae Vitae

07-27-2014Weekly ReflectionFr. Tim Christy

Dear Parish Family:

Greetings from Detroit! My summer courses are half over this past week. While I have missed the slower summer pace at home, the study here has been very fruitful for me. I have had the opportunity to spend longer periods of time in prayer and to re-contact the truth that I am dependent on prayer; I am dependent on God. It also gives me a chance to reflect on important aspects of parish life that can easily get lost in the daily routine of taking care of the business at hand.

This past Friday July 25th was an important anniversary that generally gets little notice. It was the 46th anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, which Pope Paul VI addressed with great clarity the burning question of conscience: "Is it morally acceptable for a married couple, for grave reasons, to contracept in their marriage act?" The prevailing spirit of the age gave a resounding "yes" and at that time there were so many reasons that made it seem so right and logical.

During the 1960's, many social influences converged to make the answer seem obvious. One strong influence was the rise of a new feminism represented by Betty Friedan who advocated that women be freed from the shackles of child bearing in order to take her rightful place alongside men in the workplace. Another influence was the population scare. Some social scientists were warning that the resources of the earth would run out if large families were to continue. Economic questions of how to support large families in a changing society was of equal concern. Another major influence was the development of the birth control pill, which was hailed as a great "medical achievement." However, it was the first "medical" advancement that was not about correcting a bodily system that was malfunctioning, but rather was designed to cause a system that was functioning correctly [the fertility cycle] to malfunction.

In addition, Anglican Christians had already made the concession, almost fifty years prior at the 1930 Lambeth Conference, to approve as a moral option for 'grave reasons' that married couples could contracept. By the 1960's there were many Catholic theologians, priests and bishops among them, pressing the Church to officially study the situation and make a public pronouncement in favor of the position. A large body of experts was called as a commission to study the question. The "majority report," that was leaked to the New York Times, prior to the official release of Humanae Vitae, represented the opinion that the Church could indeed recognize the licit use of contraception. However, it was the findings represented in the "minority report" that Pope Paul VI, acting as Peter for the whole Church, identified the true faith. Namely, it was impossible to validate the use of artificial contraception without dismantling the foundations that undergirded 2,000 years of Christian moral teaching.

Contraception introduces a willful act of the couple to separate the two ends of the marital act: the joining of the couple in unity and the possibility to bring forth new life from this union. The marriage act is God's design. To respect its integrity is central and serious for a married couple's walk with the Lord. If it is disregarded, grave consequences will result in the couples' interpersonal relationship with each other and with God. While the destruction is not easily seen at first, the unintended consequences reshape sexual responsibility, impact relationships on every level, and result in a promotion of a reductionist way of thinking about the human person.

It has come to pass, almost fifty years later, that Pope Paul VI spoke prophetically to the modern world. In Humanae Vitae, the Holy Father insightfully predicted that embracing a contraceptive mentality would lead to a general lowering of morality, especially sexual morality among the young, and a greater abuse of women as sexual objects and means of mans' gratification. He predicted that governments, caring little for the moral law, would get involved in enforcing policies about contraception, even forcing third world nations to accept contraceptives as a means for development and a prerequisite for receiving first world aide.

Today, we have a fresh opportunity to look again at the wisdom that is contained in Humanae Vitae. I encourage you to read this short and powerful document if you have never done so or reread it if you have. It is easily found on the internet at the Vatican website and the USCCB website. I think many reasonable people agree that the sexual revolution of the 1960's has not produced the sweet fruit promised. In fact, many of us experience firsthand the brokenness of human relationships ravaged by the sexual license that has ensued.

The new evangelization is about a full embrace of the gospel of Christ. While the teachings on sexual morality can seem hard and dissatisfying, when we turn and try to attend to them, dependent on God's grace, new pathways will open. The great journey of a disciple takes place by putting one trusting foot in front of the other. We must pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and strengthen us, soften our hearts and empower us to embrace the wisdom that even difficult Church teaching brings.

Please visit our Natural Planning table in the Narthex of Church this week. You will find materials on how to embrace approved methods of family planning that is morally acceptable and enriching for marriage. Also please keep in prayer all of our married couples, marriage is not easy, but it is beautiful. We are also grateful for all those couples who travel the road of perseverance and faithfulness, largely unsung. You are the light of the world!

I look forward to returning in the second week of August. Again, I ask for one Hail Mary for me each day that Mary may ask the graces I need from God in order to become like her Son.

Peace and Prayers, Father Tim