Humanae Vitae: 39th Anniversary

The following is the first of 3 Sunday bulletin articles I wrote for Fr. Michael Dandurand at St. Thomas More Parish in Bowling Green, Ohio. Here is a link to the full text of Humanae Vitae.

“The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.”

- Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 1968

This particular month of July, the year two-thousand and seven, marks the 39th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s historic and providential encyclical letter, Of Human Life (Humanae Vitae). Although it was issued almost forty years ago, we as Catholics continue to turn toward this definitive document, which so accurately portrays the sacredness and beauty of each individual human life. The words given by the Holy Father in his letter of instruction to the universal Church still ring clear in the times of our modern world – and perhaps even more so now than ever before. For as long as man has been on earth, the indispensable dignity of human life has been jeopardized by humanity’s own fallen nature and subsequent inclination toward selfishness. The history of the world has been ravaged by incessant wars, genocides, murders and every other abuse of the human person imaginable. In the face of such tribulation, however, the call of the Christian is not to look despairingly at a world broken by sin, but rather to look hopefully at a world redeemed by the Son of God, Jesus Christ. What Pope Paul IV intends to remind us of in Humanae Vitae is just this: that the human person is created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity (Gen 1:26), and that it must be respected as such – an object of beauty and holiness which mirrors the face of God itself.

In the Book of Genesis, we are told that God intended man to be “fertile and multiply,” and to “fill the earth and subdue it.” (1:28) There is no doubt that the Lord’s intentions for humanity’s future prosperity were clearly set forth from the very beginning. His first plan was man’s fertility and procreation, and His second the subjugation of the earth. As procreators, man and woman exercise a distinctly human role, wherein they voluntarily choose to participate in God’s loving act of creation by physically procreating a new human person. This privilege of human nature far supercedes any other, and even allows man to surpass the angels in dignity. The procreative act is the highest form of participation in the life-giving unity of the Holy Trinity, and it is upon this magnificent gift that the Holy Father wishes to focus in his encyclical.

Despite the fundamental majesty of the procreative act, however, modern society has been allowed to place a dangerous obstacle in the path of just and upright human action. As upsetting as the aforementioned atrocities of war and violence is modern culture’s persistent and intemperate attitude toward the conception and value of human life, from the womb until natural death. Our world today is constantly shaken by acts of selfish love, which leave the dignity of human life unperceived, and the human person utterly divested of his or her value. Such actions occur, oftentimes, without the least bit of consideration, and as the result of a sort of habitual mentality infused by a secular culture that in fact does not see the Trinitarian image of the human being. Quite plainly, it was in the face of this enduring and growing trend that Pope Paul VI sought to establish the beauty of the Catholic Church’s understanding of human life. As we celebrate this 39th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae, let us first not forget that it is love that conquers evil and misunderstanding, and it is to this love and illuminated understanding that Christ calls us. Together, let us continue to explore this insightful letter – issued by the earthly Vicar of that same Christ – that we might come to more fully realize God’s divine plan for each of us. Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever, Amen.