Today we celebrate the fiftieth birthday of Humanae Vitae, the brave and beautiful encyclical of Blessed Paul VI promulgated on July 25, 1968.
Brave? Absolutely. This eloquent articulation of the teaching of the Church and the fundamentals of the Natural Law constituted a direct challenge to what Pope Benedict has called “the spirit of the age.” And the reaction of that decadent and resentful age demonstrates just how brave it was – Francis Cardinal Stafford, a young Baltimore priest in 1968, describes the pain suffered by the defenders of the faith that year as “Gethsemane.”
And beautiful? How could it not be? The gentle, clear, but firm unfolding of the mystery of Sacramental marriage and its role in God’s plan for the family, the world, and salvation is central to the most beautiful story ever told. But the Dictators of Relativism are anything but relativists: they are devoted and hardened apostles of ugliness, sin, and lies. Even before the encyclical was published, they plotted to destroy both the teaching and the Church that taught it.
And 50 years later they’re still trying. After all, an attack on one Sacrament is an attack on all of them, as well as an attack on Christ who bestowed them on a sinful humanity to lead them to eternal life.
We learned – before 1968 – that a Sacrament is “an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.” But the purveyors of the sordid culture of death, lifeless sex, and the grotesque abominations that call out to Heaven for justice – they had “outward signs” of their own. “Universal abortion on demand, free and without apology!” “Sex on tap, free beer!” “Love the one you’re with!” “Save the world, not that baby!” “I’ll decide my gender, thank you!”
Gethsemane? Cardinal Stafford was not alone. Five years ago, USCCB President Timothy Cardinal Dolan described the “tsunami of dissent” that followed the earthquake of July 25th, 1968 – the “flashpoint” of Humanae Vitae. Alas, the tsunami engulfed America’s bishops (and Cardinal Dolan included himself): “We’d better never talk about that, because it’s just too hot to handle” was their reaction, he told the Wall Street Journal (March 31, 2012).
Today, many bishops have picked up the fallen standard and raised it high, and more will as they see how vital is its message to every generation. And we want to help them in every possible way.
The good, the true, and the beautiful are simple, limpid, and loveable. The evil, the false, and the ugly debauch reality in a thousand ways. There is only one good, but there are countless ways to deny, defy, and defile it – all designed as preambles to its destruction.
The family was designed by God to reflect the mystery, unity, diversity, and perfection of the Trinity. Those who hate the designer will hate the design – including the design written on their own hearts.
Early on in the “sexual revolution” we were told – we were assured! – that the sexually deviant “only wanted to be free” to “do their thing.” They just wanted to be left alone. Theirs was the true “gospel of love.”
Not any more.
While families raise children fostering love and a desire for Heaven, the family’s enemies – and their number is legion – spawn death and yearn for the power to destroy anything and everything good. Man, not God, determines our “gender”; Caesar, not mom and dad, decides what is true and what is not. The unproductive old must not resist the gift of an early government-funded death. After all, Gaia, “Mother Earth,” is the highest good, and children – especially a lot of them – are the greatest evil, since they will grow up and burn her down in the secular apocalypse of Global Warming.
Blessed Paul VI did not pretend to be a prophet, but Humanae Vitae is indeed prophetic. After he explained the beauty of the loving embrace of openness to life, he addressed the dangers of ignoring this fundamental teaching:
“Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
“Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.” [No. 17]
Blessed Paul called on bishops to teach this beautiful doctrine, but he called on parents and teachers to do so as well. In this generation, that task has fallen to the laity in a special way, because it is in the home that children first learn about love and the gift of life. In our secular culture, it falls to families to raise good children and teach them, and prayerfully work with our bishops and priests to champion the truths that Blessed Paul VI bequeathed to the Church and to the world.
This is the challenge that Father Paul Marx, O.S.B., accepted when he founded the Population Research Institute. It is the challenge that inspires us today and it is a privilege and a grace for all of us at PRI to share Humanae Vitae with the world on its fiftieth birthday.