July 25, 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the prophetic and controversial Encyclical of Pope Paul VI Humanae Vitae or “On Human Life.” Most people refer to his beautiful encyclical as the “contraception” encyclical. During a period of social, cultural, and religious turmoil surrounding the purpose and place of family, relationships, and procreation, Pope Paul VI released an reaffirmation of the truth: the Catholic Church would not support the use of artificial birth control or other reproductive technologies that could undermine family life and human dignity. But this was radical for the many influences adamant the Catholic Church would join their Protestant Christian brethren in accepting and normalizing artificial birth control.
What people miss by generalizing this prophetic document are the tenants of what eventually would be known as St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” or “Love and Responsibility.” This document expresses the profound nature of marriage between a man and woman, the marital embrace, and fruits of marital love. Love that is FREE, TOTAL, FAITHFUL, and FRUITFUL. After an exploration into love and marital love, Pope Paul VI warns of the dangers of artificial birth control and the consequences society would reap by accepting it. Towards the end of this document lies a call to action for medical practitioners and researches pleading for medical advancement regarding reproductive medicine, health, wellness. That is where my story with Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae most intimately begins.
Because of Humanae Vitae, we have the Pope Paul VI Institute and Creighton Natural Family Planning Method. We also benefit from NFP spin-offs like the Marquette Method. Because Pope Paul VI had divine inspiration and the guts to swim against the cultural tide, almost fifty years later, I had a fighting chance of health and wellness as a young woman in my mid-twenties. My friends have a fighting chance of healing from infertility. Or my mom from developing reproductive cancer. Or loved ones maintaining a pregnancy after miscarriages. One of the more hidden messages of Humanae Vitae is hope- hope in what seems like impossible odds.
Yes, this encyclical is an encyclical of love, but from that lesson in sometimes a very challenging and difficult school of love bears the fruit of other virtues such as faith and hope. Thinking about the past three years of my Naprotechnology treatment, though riddled with severe physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain, tears flow while I write this in gratitude and joy. I am beautifully broken and my journey of reproductive health and wellness is far from over. Amid the pain, suffering, and uncertainty, I found my dignity instead of loosing it.
Through the lens of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, I’ve experienced a glimpse into the profound nature of my womanhood and femininity and even a deeper insight into masculinity and manhood. My medical treatment is filtered through the lens of Christ viewing me as a good and godly creation. Beautiful in His sight. All because one little man in a white cassock (and a few others) inspired by the Holy Spirit swam against the tide and upheld authentic love instead.
Pope Paul VI, please, pray for us! Amen.