Uniting in Truth: The Teachings of Humanae Vitae

I have written in previous weeks about the importance of living our lives with authentic hope — hope that is focused on our true end with Christ, and which thus transforms our outlook and helps us see beyond the wreckage that is modern culture, even as we work within it. With our hope properly placed, we can have the courage to look into the darkness of our culture and really get at the roots of the problems, and begin to come up with a plan to do something about them. We have also seen that more and more Christians are beginning to understand that the use of contraception leads to a widespread “contraceptive mentality,” which in turn undermines everything that a healthy society holds sacred: life, family and a growing, healthy culture.

Today, we will look briefly at Human Life International (HLI) Founder Father Paul Marx’s understanding of this struggle, which requires that we think with the mind of the Church, and respond with the heart of the Church. In a wonderfully succinct article, Fr. Marx describes a meeting he had with Pope Saint John Paul II, in which he used his few minutes with the Holy Father to great effect:

I told His Holiness that once contraception is widespread, the rest is predictable, and I spelled it out for him: In every country, contraception always leads to massive abortion. Once you have contraception and legalized or widespread abortion, birthrates fall; nations collapse; young people follow their parents in the abuse of sex; increasing numbers live together without the benefit of marriage; adoption agencies dry up because some 90% of pregnant teenagers who do not abort keep their babies and thus start single-parent families; the prostitution of the medical and legal professions follows; venereal disease escalates; infertility increases; and, if you can kill before birth, why can’t you kill after birth? So euthanasia is inevitable.

There it is: the indictments laid out in Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae seen through the lens of a Ph.D. sociologist, world traveler, Catholic monk and tireless champion for life and family. When people ask why the Catholic Church seems “obsessed” with contraception, they are obviously missing the point. In our sex-obsessed culture, many are offended by the fact that one institution has refused to get with the program and endorse the seed of this bitter-fruited tree. We have an obligation in charity and truth to point out the predicted and predictable results of the widespread effects of the contraceptive mentality.

But it seems that now more and more people are starting to reexamine the prophetic Humanae Vitae, in which Pope Saint Paul VI foretold what would follow if contraception were to be widely adopted: a widespread lowering of morality, men’s decreasing respect of women (though he might have added that men would also respect themselves less), its coercive use by corrupt regimes and a rise in infidelity. Compare these predictions with the defenders of contraception, inside and outside of the Church, who in the mid-1960s claimed that it would actually strengthen marriage, the family and society. Which “side” saw the future more clearly? And we must ask, which side of this continuing struggle sees the present more clearly?

But what should be done about this, when even many pro-lifers think that contraception actually reduces abortion rates, is good for women’s health or that it is something we just have to live with so we can focus on beating abortion?

First, I would suggest that, following Pope Benedict XVI, we use as our guiding principle Charity in Truth. The Holy Father’s great formulation of these binary North Stars of the culture of life should be before us all the time, as they point to our true end in Jesus Christ. God is love, just as His Son is the way the truth and the life. We have all the evidence and logic to convince any rational person, but if we do it without charity, we can come off as a crashing gong or clanging symbol. Similarly, if our motivation is mere niceness, then we can too easily fail in both charity and truth. Put simply, without one, we lose the other.

Second, we must get rid of the notion that abortion can be defeated while contraception remains misunderstood, and thus, enshrined in society. This error must be exposed. No one is calling for contraception to be made illegal, but that does not mean that we should remain ignorant of the contraceptive mentality that leads inexorably to abortion and other societal ills, or of its many ill effects on women’s health. Pro-lifers must continue the essential work to abolish abortion, including with incremental and state-level restrictions where these can be won, but let’s not promote false compromises en route to marginal gains in pro-life legislation. The current political “downtime” is the perfect time to start educating ourselves and others people about the link between contraception and abortion.

Finally, we must, in charity and truth, demand that our priests and bishops more directly confront the question of contraception, and start teaching Humanae Vitae. Let’s stop pretending that by ignoring or downplaying this supposedly “divisive” teaching we might find “common ground” upon which to build some kind of consensus. We’ve tried this, and instead of a consensus on truth in a meaningful way what we get is a watered down, nice-sounding slog toward some kind of earthly justice, with “controversial” issues being ignored. There is nothing just whatsoever about the expansion of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, divorce, the redefinition of marriage and the like; yet all of these are being pushed by the champions of some “justice” that is utterly incoherent. We need the truth taught with love, not watered down focus-grouped “messaging” designed to slow down the exodus from a Church that often doesn’t seem to know what it believes.

Following the great leadership of Popes Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, Father Marx got it right and did everything he could to make sure that everyone possible knew what was at stake. Even near the end of his life in 2010, he reminded us:

Contraception’s destruction of the integrity of the marital act-as unitive and procreative-has dire consequences for society and for our souls. Contraception, in other words, is a rejection of God’s view of reality. It is a wedge driven into the most intimate sphere of communion known to man outside of the Holy Sacrament of the Mass. It is a degrading poison that withers life and love both in marriage and in society.

We need to stop ignoring this truth in the search of some shallow consensus built on error. The only true human unity occurs in truth, otherwise our unity is based on use or convenience, and is dispensed with as soon as it becomes inconvenient.

As we continue discussing the need to unite in charity and truth, I want to next week spend a bit more time on the documents that we’ve only briefly mentioned here, Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae. After all, these key teachings represent I think the unity of the Church’s social and moral doctrine in the modern world, and ignoring them leads to divisions in the Church that only grow in society. We need to better understand these if we are going to build a true culture of life based in charity and truth.

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