When Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae, it was as if he had a mountain top view of the culture, and could see the many paths that led through the terrain. He could hear the clamor of those who wanted the Church to change, to get with the times, shouting, insisting upon change from the age-old stance that contraception was immoral. He realized the sacrifices that were made and he had heartfelt compassion for those with large families, with many expenses, as well as for the women with changing roles in the workforce.
But his role was to get all of us on the path that leads to eternity. From his mountain top view, he could see that path often takes the higher, harder route that travels through both valleys of sacrifice as well as summits of joy. A route that isn’t always clear when we are struggling with daily life and the fix handed out by the popular culture can look so easy. But, as Pope Paul VI starts his document “The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.” Each life brought into existence has a soul destined for eternity.
For those in the mix of the changing culture, with this new-found freedom from risks of pregnancy, it sounded ludicrous to think it was wrong to give couples control over fertility to plan their families. But he could see far into the distance. The touted freedom from the fear of pregnancy, which would supposedly bring couples closer by more frequent unions, could pave the way for a gradual loss of respect and fidelity, loss of the mystery which comes with challenges. The dignity of each human life would not be protected. The temptations outside of marriage could be hidden so much easier.
Pope Paul VI could see what could start as a path for married couples would progress to the young, who may have a harder time resisting in the storm of hormones. He could see in the distance the governmental powers solving national difficulties by taking away the freedom of the individual in this most personal of decisions.
But the heart of the document reveals his knowledge of the creator, who created our bodies with love and life entwined. The conjugal union is revealed as a reflection of Christ’s love for his bride the church. Christ is always open to giving us his life-giving grace, and we must always be open to receiving his life and love. Pope Paul VI knew despite all of the turmoil in the world over this teaching, that it was not his choice to change it. The inseparable connection of love and life was established by God. He goes on to say “If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will. But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator.”
In his appeal to Christian couples he states “We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.” (33) Nevertheless it is precisely the hope of that life which, like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong in spirit, they strive to live “sober, upright and godly lives in this world,” (34) knowing for sure that “the form of this world is passing away.”
Come celebrate the riches of this document with us in July!
Humanae Vitae excerpts from:http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html
Lynn Keenan, MD, his the Immediate Past President of CANFP, and current Vice President of the International Institute for Restorative Reproductive Medicine. Dr. Keenan is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the UCSF/Fresno Medical Education Program, Board Certified in Sleep and Internal Medicine, and the mother of four.