50 years ago, Pope Paul VI heroically persevered, despite intense pressures to the contrary, in inviting us to know and understand the call to be Faithful to God’s Design.

It was not new teaching—the Catholic Church has always taught that our sexual nature is both unitive and procreative. To have taken any other position than the one he did in Humanae Vitae, would have been to deny our very nature. So why all the hoopla over an encyclical that merely reiterated an age old teaching—this invitation to simply live according to our design?

The 1960s were rebellious times, and that was the cultural climate in which the encyclical was received. True to the times, many rejected this teaching and the authority of the Church. Catholics who sought guidance, often were left to figure it out for themselves, by clergy who either dissented, or lacked the courage to preach what they perceived to be hard truths. Often, their own formation left them ill prepared to articulate these teachings, or see them as anything other than unrealistic burdens.

My own experience of seeking counsel less than a decade after Humane Vitae, from a priest who was in the seminary when it was  released, was to be told it was important to be open to life. But he reassured me I had checked that box since I had children, and so I should just follow my conscience. I was frustrated he couldn’t provide me with clearer insights to inform that conscience he told me to rely on.

It was prior to the internet, so I trotted down to the local library, and looked for books on nfp, and yes, I did find they had ONE. I was actually attracted to the sort of “hippie” style in which it approached this natural way of knowing your body and integrating that into the sexual expression.

I applied the principles as I understood them, while I continued to seek info on natural methods, including a visit to a place I had never been before and knew little about, called Planned Parenthood—because I heard they offered NFP. The office appealed to the community it served, complete with tie-dyed beaded curtains in the doorways. But I learned they actually knew as much about NFP as my priest seemed to know about the theology. I left with a free thermometer, but no answers.

I eventually found and attended a class, held at a nearby Catholic church, taught by a couple who definitely embodied the “hippie” spirit that had been my only experience of NFP to date. The class did not contradict Catholic teaching, but neither did it present any.  The couple called me a year or so later, said they were moving out of the country, (with their three children: Dove, River, and Peace) and wanted to know if I was interested in training to become an NFP teacher. Boy was I! I thought, this info should not have been so hard to find! I need to learn how to teach this so I can share it with others. The priest I had approached several years earlier wrote me a recommendation and off I went.

The NFP I encountered in that training, was nothing like my experience to date. Here was that Catholic teaching I had initially sought. But I actually found it challenging, to have it presented from such a Catholic perspective, wondering how I would share this with the world. It was a very challenging time of personal and professional growth for me, pivotal in my development as a Catholic woman.

Fast forward, 36 years later, faced with an opportunity to share the good news of Humane Vitae in a big way this 50th Anniversary—you bet I jumped at the chance! Because people should not still be having to work this hard to access this information.

Will you join me this July at the national celebration of Humanae Vitae? Bring a priest and a friend! Together, let’s renew our commitment to sharing the good news of Humanae Vitae!

Sheila St. John is the Executive Director of the California Association of Natural Family Planning. Initially attracted to NFP as a healthy, effective method for planning families, drug, device and surgery free, her passion for NFP has grown over the last four decades as she has journeyed with the over 800 couples she has personally instructed in its use, and been privileged to witness its role in overcoming infertility, women’s health, and the transformation that occurs in lives of men, women, and families, when we embrace God’s design for love and life.