Mar 13, 2012

Is it time to read "Humanae Vitae" - for Lent?

"Isn't that about birth control?  Here we go again!"

Browsing the internet the other day I came across an article in a Catholic website entitled: “We’re ready for that sermon on contraception, Father.”  Now, that's one homily that parishioners will react to! But, I also know that I can't just sit on the sidelines in regards to this so we'll see about that sermon.

While I’m not going to spend this blog post giving you a sermon on contraception, I do understand the absolute lack of understanding on the Church's reasoning in regards to artificial contraception. It is framed by the voice of "free choice" as simply an unreasonable and outdated prohibition. "Because I can I should be able to make this personal decision on my own." The sense is that we are just autonomous individuals who unfortunately live together and that what I do in my private life has no affect on you.

It seems to me that while everyone knows the Church is opposed to artificial birth control very few Catholics know why or could ever defend that teaching in a convincing way.  That is, how this position fits in to the Church’s conception of the human person and the dignity of human life itself. That we are not simply individuals shlepping along in this life but members of a family (Church and human society) and that what I do, even if private, does have an effect on you and on culture in general. So, this stand of the Church is not just a "Catholic thing." It is commentary on human society in general and we would do well to not just brush it off as archaic. Where to begin?

I would venture to say that not many Catholics have ever read the encyclical by Pope Paul VI which began this entire battle: Humanae Vitae.  That Paul VI was not creating a new, never before position on the part of the Church but maintaining the continuous teaching that the human person has a unique dignity and that the fundamental basis of our moral life has been determined before we ever created a language to explain it, in the natural order of things (the natural law) which our creator established when time began. That natural law is at the root of Catholic moral theology and so it is commentary not just for Catholics but for all of humanity.

Raising a family is not an easy choice.  Paul VI acknowledged this position of the Church is difficult. For any married couple who take their sacred vows seriously and make every effort to live up to their responsibilities, I know from my pastoral experience that good parents struggle with this at times. The Church is not opposed to legitimate and necessary medical reasons for the use of the pill for example. But, God calls all of us to faithfulness and to holiness and in our efforts we can, through his grace, grow in virtue. Many couples have taken the time to explore their options through a simple training in natural family planning.

If you have never taken the time to read this watershed encyclical, addressed to “all men of good will” then do so now.  It may well be a good Lenten read.  It is rather short, easily understandable, and not written in complex, “Churchy” language.  The link below will take you to the Encyclical. 

It has often been called prophetic. In that Encyclical, Paul VI stated that if the widespread use of artificial birth control was in place, then the following social changes would take place:

1. General lowering of moral standards

 2. A rise in infidelity, and illegitimacy

 3. The reduction of women to objects used to satisfy men

 4. Government coercion in reproductive matters (abuse of power)

In light of what we have all seen with the permissiveness of abortion on demand, the breakdown and redefinition of family life and marriage, and the present day effort by the American government to impose its will upon Church doctrine in the HHS mandate, it seems to me that Pope Paul was given a vision of the future in 1968 when he penned what has become one of the most controversial Church documents in recent times.

So, do yourself a favor and take time to read Humanae Vitae if you never have before. Feel free to comment.