Today we continue our reflections on how as people of true Christian hope we must have the courage to look honestly at the root of the corruption that we see around us and try to understand it so that we may respond accordingly. We must unite in charity and in truth, rather than in niceness and utility.
And the truth is that there is something that precedes the widespread crime of abortion — a mentality that has arisen from the acceptance and use of contraception. This contraceptive mentality is why otherwise educated people think that they can and even should have sex without the intention of having children. Thus, when contraception fails (or is not used), abortion is just the next logical means of preventing the unintended outcome, but the natural product, of their freely chosen action.
This is the destructive ignorance of the culture of death, which in its arrogance actually considers itself enlightened. It corrupts our media, art and politics, it destroys our families and relationships, and it darkens the view even of those who want something better, but who don’t know how to envision or choose anything different.
Much of the above scenario was predicted in Humanae Vitae, the flash of light that preceded (but did not cause) the earthquake in the Catholic Church. Upon the encyclical’s propagation, dissenters rallied opposition to what amounted to a reaffirmation and updating of permanent doctrine, ensuring that it would not be read, much less understood. Since then, this undeclared schism in the Church has undermined her authority and has seen millions lost in confusion. That we are starting to see signs of reawakening in the Church is a welcome turn, even as there have always been those defending the Church throughout the tumult.
Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on the transmission of human life obviously came during a time of widespread cultural turmoil. In the five years leading up to the encyclical, the Holy See had asked for and received a number of studies and opinions on the matter from lay people and clergy, many of which were uninformed about Church teaching. Many of the recommendations were based more on the spirit of the age, and the supposed benefits that would follow the inevitable acceptance of contraception. Finally, many believed, moral truth would be subject to democratic interpretation even by the Catholic Church.
When Pope Paul instead reaffirmed what the Church had always held was God’s “loving design” for human sexuality, those who preferred modern man’s design went ballistic. We saw an explosion of dissent, and no shortage of collared media personalities willing to be treated as royalty by anti-Catholic media. When the Holy Father acknowledged the need for “responsible parenthood” but refused to reverse the Church’s irreversible teaching on the “unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act,” the battle lines were drawn.
The case against Humanae Vitae, as it was then, is still almost always lacking in both charity and truth. Almost no one has read it, yet everyone feels entitled to have a negative opinion on it. But the truth of the four predictions of paragraph 17 have convinced many to reconsider the teaching, even some non-Catholics. This is a step toward truth, and an important one. Ultimately, truth is not a matter of popular vote or opinion. It may even hurt to confront the gap in our own lives between our own errors and the truth, but in faith we know that Our Lord welcomes us back at any time, and is always calling us toward the fullness of truth. It isn’t comfortable errors that set us free.
How great is His mercy that He would so generously and joyfully welcome back such obstinate and prideful sons and daughters. But He does. He also asks, however, that we in turn do everything in our power (really His, if we’re doing it right) to make the truth known to others. We can’t worry about those who are so given to the lies of the culture of death that they will not listen. We can pray for them, and we must, just as we pray for our own continuing conversion.
Pope John Paul II, who we are told was influential in the creation of Humanae Vitae, would spend a great deal of his pontificate revisiting this key encyclical with his talks and in his magisterial teaching. His Theology of the Body, which is still gaining in popularity, is widely understood to be an attempt to get at the roots of our experience, and the meaning of the way God created us as men and women. God doesn’t do random, and it isn’t up to us to simply remake ourselves in our own desired image, and ignore our true nature and purpose. From understanding our nature as man and woman created in the image of the Triune God, we better understand why the Church teaches what she does with regard to sexuality, and how liberating it is to know the truth about our bodies and ourselves.
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Blessed John Paul also gave us an expansion of Humanae Vitae in his Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, which immediately became an essential document of Human Life International. Next week, we’ll take a quick look at this document as well, and how it applies to the task before us — the mission we all have to bring Christ to the world in the defense of all human life.
LifeNews Note: Fr. Shenan Boquet is the president of Human Life International. This column originally appeared at its WorldWatch Forum and is reprinted with permission.