Humanae Vitae: Final Article

This is the final entry in my 3-part series of articles on Humane Vitae for the Sunday bulletin at St. Thomas More Parish:

This article marks the third and final chapter of my commentary on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae. So far, we have examined the intent of the Holy Father in writing this letter to the universal Church, as well as some of the underlying theological truths that he clarifies so beautifully. This week, our focus will be upon the final (and perhaps most important) aspect of interpreting Humanae Vitae: its practical application in our daily lives. So, without further ado, let’s take a look.

Throughout the course of his encyclical, the pope takes ample time to discuss one modern practicality at great length: that of artificial methods of contraception and their incongruity with the message of the Gospel. For years (centuries even), artificial birth control has been a means of limiting procreation, within and outside the marital context. In recent times, however, this epidemic of contraception has been increasingly publicized by our culture, and even our governmental institutions – everything from sex-education to foreign aide seems to proliferate the “goods” of contraceptive products. Perhaps most appalling is the reality that many Catholic clergy have even gone so far as to promote this attitude of narcissism from the pulpit. As faithful Catholic men and women, this is a mentality that should shock us. As messengers of the Gospel of Life, we can have no tolerance for such atrocities as contraception, abortion, euthanasia and sterilization, which render void the natural – and beautiful – capacities of the human person. Contrarily, we must love one another so much that our love, in its proper marital context, gives way to the procreation of new life. Perhaps the Holy Father sums up this idea best in the following words: “[Responsible parenthood] concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.” (HV 10)

The responsibility of protecting the transmission of human life does not fall only to the married faithful, however. All Catholics, whether single, religious or priests, are called to spread the message of life illuminated by Humanae Vitae. Pope Paul VI expressly petitions each of these groups, at the end of his letter, to help the world come to know the sacredness of the human person. This means that, even though our current vocation may not be to physically procreate, we are nevertheless obliged to teach and live the Truth of Jesus Christ. In part, this means offering compassion to those who suffer from having used contraceptive or abortive methods, while at the same time helping to carry them to a richer understanding of the Church’s teaching. “The Church, in fact, cannot act differently toward men than did the Redeemer. She knows their weaknesses, she has compassion on the multitude, she welcomes sinners. But at the same time she cannot do otherwise than teach the law. For it is in fact the law of human life restored to its native truth and guided by the Spirit of God.” (HV 19)

As we continue to allow Christ to shape our hearts after His, let us always remember the profound words of the Holy Father at the conclusion of Humanae Vitae: “Venerable brothers, beloved sons, all men of good will, great indeed is the work of education, of progress and of charity to which We now summon all of you. And this We do relying on the unshakable teaching of the Church, which teaching Peter's successor together with his brothers in the Catholic episcopate faithfully guards and interprets. And We are convinced that this truly great work will bring blessings both on the world and on the Church. For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed. On this great work, on all of you and especially on married couples, We implore from the God of all holiness and pity an abundance of heavenly grace as a pledge of which We gladly bestow Our apostolic blessing. – Paul VI” (HV 31)