Friday, September 05, 2008

Happy Birthday Humanae Vitae!

This year the Church "celebrates" the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI's theological lighthouse, Humanae Vitae, a brief letter highlighting what human life is all about and what human love is meant to reflect. It materialized like a beacon atop a pillar of rock in the midst of the fog kicked up from a so-called sexual revolution in the 1960's. I call it a lighthouse because today, anyone with half a brain can see that the revolution shipwrecked in turning away from it; the Yellow Submarine sank just as soon as it set sail, and we've been floating through some pretty dark wreckage ever since. The proof is in the statistics. Forty years ago, public and parochial reactions to Paul VI's letter were said to have broken his heart. Souls abandoned the Bark of Peter in droves and chose rather to find their own way through the deep and mysterious waters of human sexuality. But we have paid a high price for jumping ship... Dr. Janet Smith (click here for the complete text) recently wrote an article highlighting the prophecies that Pope Paul VI made concerning what would happen if the Church's teaching on contraception were ignored. For one, he said that the widespread use of contraception would lead to more cases of adultery and a general lowering of morality (anyone want to argue with that one?) The Pope predicted that men would lose respect for women and "no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium," coming at last to "the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion." Paul VI also foresaw that the widespread allowance of contraception would put a "dangerous weapon . . . in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies." (enter China's one child policy, for example). Finally, contraception could lead humanity into a distorted sense of dominion over our own bodies. As Dr. Smith mentions, "sterilization is now the most widely used form of contraception in the U.S.; individuals are so convinced of their rights to control their own bodies that they do not hesitate to alter even their own physical make-up." Despite these forty subsequent years of tragically fulfilled prophecies, many still cling to the hope that condoms and the Pill will somehow tame the teenagers and bring us "adults" a marital tranquility that won't be "interrupted" or "disturbed" by expensive and intrusive children. Forgive us Father, we know not what we do. * Humanae Vitae hit the culture like a bomb, and many are still picking pieces of its razor sharp clarity out of their shattered dreams of sexual license and reproductive autonomy. This teaching still burrows into the skin of many Catholics, like a piece of metal the spin doctors missed. We can't figure out why the Church won't "stay out of the bedroom" - as if the Church were a building built apart from flesh and blood. Perhaps we should recall that the Church is born in the bedroom, for it's a living body after all. Where else would the Church be found? Humanae Vitae told the world that the natural and sometimes fertile flow of love from man to woman that held the power to unify hearts and bring new life into the world should never be blocked, barricaded, or belittled into something merely biological, or merely pleasurable. Sex should (and could) always be knit to love and life, pleasure and procreation, bonding and babies. Our biology is never separate from our theology. That would be a divorce. What God has brought together, let no man separate. What the world wanted to divide, Pope Paul VI announced, the Church would hold together. And I'm so glad he did. But he paid a price too, like Gandalf facing his enemy, standing on the bridge between life and death. The rather intense image in this post was inspired by a talk of Christopher West's I attended this summer. I was given permission by the artist Ted Nasmith, himself a non-Catholic, who was gracious enough to let me "alter" his work. What a hero we have in Pope Paul VI, for his courage in holding fast to the beauty of the sexual embrace, of fertility, of life, of its sacred character from womb to tomb. May it be soon that his spirit of love and sacrifice resurrects like the Grey Pilgrim from the abyss in which our culture is falling. That a true Culture of Life prevail.... free, fruitful, and full of hope. Pope Paul VI, pray for us...
________________________________________ * I recognize the strong tone of this post may offend certain readers who disagree with the Church's teaching on contraception. It is certainly a very personal and sensitive issue. I would like to welcome any comments or questions and I pray that a fruitful dialogue might come from it. This is a teaching that I and the Church I love feel very strongly about. For a deeper understanding of the issue, please read the letter of Pope Paul VI first, found here.
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