Perhaps one of the most memorable papal encyclicals on love and marriage, Humanae Vitae, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. To help deepen understanding of the document, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is providing prayer, reflection, events and teachings to help live out the mission of this invaluable document.
The encyclical, written by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1968, reaffirms the Church’s opposition to artificial birth control and offers “beautiful and clear teaching about God’s plan for married love and the transmission of life,” explain the bishops. It addresses issues for couples like Melissa and Billy Wilson of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs who faced years of obstacles when trying to conceive. “After begging and pleading for a baby, it just became easier to trust that God had a plan for us,” said Melissa.
Bishop John Noonan noted how Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote the encyclical in light of the changes occurring in society at the time. “Today, these challenges still ring true,” he said. “Rapid population increases caused a fear that the world population was growing faster than available resources which would compromise the family unit; working and housing conditions posed a living situation which could make it difficult to provide for a large family; the dignity of woman and her place in society was changing; and our “stupendous” progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature might bring forth control over every aspect of our own lives—over our bodies, minds and emotions, over our social lives, and the laws that regulate the transmission of life. Blessed Pope Paul VI said, ‘The Church cannot ignore these challenges, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings.’”
Although many balked at limits placed on unnatural constraints to procreation in Humanae Vitae, the bishops’ concerns over consequences of high contraceptive use have indeed proven accurate. Articles included under “Understanding God’s Vision of Married Love and the Gift of Life” highlight statistics that show increased infidelity, divorce and an uptick in sexually transmitted diseases over the past 50 years. The sexual liberties encouraged by contraceptives have led to widespread human papilloma virus, responsible for more than 99% of cervical cancer. And the thought that one is at will to control the God-given gift of procreation has led much of society to deny the dignity of life, especially in the womb.
For the Wilsons, faith in God’s plan brought their greatest blessing to life. In 2016, the couple conceived their daughter through natural means. Melissa noted, “We prayed daily that God bless and protect the soul he intended for us.”
Bishop Noonan asked if we believe we are “wonderfully made because we are of God” and points out how different the world would be if this were the common belief. “The document speaks to married love as sacramental; it takes its origin from God, Who ‘is love,’ the Father ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.’ This married love is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it grows to bring new life into being,” he shared. “Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare. The document talks about the responsibility of the husband and wife and family toward the procreation of God’s kingdom on earth.” The Wilsons concur. The birth of their daughter has brought immeasurable joy to their family and deepened their commitment to their faith. Billy noted, “Our daughter has helped us grow in ways we never imagined, as a couple and in our faith.”
The USCCB’s web page will reiterate that notion with videos told under “Embracing God’s Vision.” Included are stories from other married couples who have struggled with infertility and couples whose commitment to natural family planning has enriched their marriage and intimacy. There is also information for healthcare professionals to share with patients.
Pope Francis said, “Man and woman are created in God’s image and likeness; and for this reason, marriage likewise becomes an image of God. This makes marriage very beautiful,” the Pope said. “Matrimony is a silent homily for everyone else, a daily homily.” The way one lives out their life as a Catholic is a witness to those around them. Wouldn’t we all hope that our daily lives were a living homily!
Blessed Pope Paul VI will be canonized in October. For more information, search Humanae Vitae on usccb.org. Special talks and homilies given by the bishops can be found on the USCCB YouTube page under #HV50 playlist.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – July 2018