When I read St Paul VI’s (I love writing Saint before his name) encyclical Humanae Vitae last year, the section on “What Love Is …” startled me. As I read his descriptors of what love is, especially what sexual and marital love is, I immediately drew the connection to St. John Paul II’s lecture series “Theology of the Body” (1979-1984). The themes of sexual love within Humanae Vitae mirror Theology of the body. Love is FREE, TOTAL, FAITHFUL, & FRUITFUL.
Below is a graphic representation of God’s plan for sexual love according to Pope Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical:
When I envisioned Rome and the Vatican, shedding dewy tears in the Tomb of the Popes beneath St. Peter’s Basilica kneeling before the Tomb of now St. Pope Paul VI wasn’t my first vision or any vision for that matter. My Italy trip, generously bequeathed by my parents, coincided with the preparations for the canonization for Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero along with the beginning of the Synod on Youth. I’m a private person (so sayeth the Catholic blogger.) What drove a private, composed girl like me to shed private, composed tears in Rome? Of human life.
For those familiar with Compline or Night prayer you encounter: “When I called out, he heard me, the God of my righteousness. When I was in trouble, you gave me freedom: now, take pity on me and listen to my prayer.” (Psalm 4) My NFP (Natural Family Planning) Story mirrors this Psalm. This verse professes staunch faith and hope in the Lord, proclaims His loving plan, embraces the freedom of His plan, but still pleads and cries out in prayer and supplication for His mercy and grace. My NFP journey is strewn with seemingly insurmountable obstacles coupled with immeasurable healing sometimes physical but even more so spiritual and emotional.
Three years ago, I “knew” learning, practicing, and utilizing Creighton NFP (a method inspired by St. Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae) as a single, unmarried young adult as a diagnostic tool for my reproductive health would be a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual stretch. The method did not disappoint in that regards and exceeded my expectations in providing a plethora of opportunities for personal growth and maturation. What surprised me and rattled me to my core would be the profound revelation of my femininity through the eyes of my Creator. A glimpse that many women and men in our modern times never experience for various reasons or willfully reject.
“The liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands.” – Saint John Paul II.When I passed by the sarcophagus of then Bl. Paul VI now Saint Paul VI, I felt little happiness or liberation in that precise moment. The weight of physical, emotional strain coupled with the confusion of international travel and the stress of unknown outcomes wore heavily on me topped with mind-altering migraine medications. I wasn’t prepared for my encounter with the remains of a man who championed the truth and suffered for it decades before my earthly existence. The precise truth I choose to suffer with and for today.
After celebrating early morning Mass in St. Peter’s a few days later, after a few days of reflection and improved sleep, I chose to encounter St. Pope Paul VI. I bee-lined across the vast expanse of St. Peter’s Basilica towards the entrance into the Tomb of the Popes. My deft footsteps echoed softly on the marble floors. I slid silently onto a massive, glossy wooden kneeler placed before his tomb for the devout onlooker to stop and pray in preparation for his impending canonization. I knelt before the remains of a Saint- a Saint of my century.
My eyes glazed over staring at St. Paul VI’s sarcophagus as a flood of memories, experiences, pain, sadness, confusion, desperation, hope, joy, gratitude, and awe flooded before me. My mind raced as emotions and feelings frantically jumped in a thousand directions. I buried my head into my hands as the tears threatened to tumble down my cheeks. The din of tourists’ footsteps floated around me but left me untouched. St. Paul VI and I had our moment.
In our own ways, we both made a life-altering choice by choosing a lasting but unpopular truth. Amid the cultural clamoring and storms of confusion, we anchored ourselves to the firm foundation of God’s design for mankind in His deliberate and intelligent design for man and woman for family, intimacy, and reproduction. We both paid an earthly price for that choice. We both suffered. We both loved.
Kneeling there in tears, I recognized many of the female and male tourists admiring their surroundings rejected the teachings of Pope Paul VI and Humanae Vitae. We all live with the repercussions. I verged towards angry. Then a young adult man about my age knelt down beside me. Two young adults one man and one woman both products of the St. John Paul II era and the new evangelization knelt before the tomb of St. Paul VI champion for Human Life and Father of Truth in humble supplication. In that moment, I felt hope.
There is more to my story with my encounter with St. Paul VI (more that I’m still processing and accepting) but this gives you a glimpse at how God works in surprising and mysterious ways. “For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed. – Humanae Vitae
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.
Where did modern Natural Family Planning originate? Modern NFP originated from Pope Paul VI’s groundbreaking and controversial encyclical issued July 25, 1968. In 1968, many people anticipated and expected the Catholic Church to follow the direction set by their Protestant and other monotheistic brethren who accepted the practice of contraception especially hormonal birth control. Nope. Pope Paul VI not only issued a authoritative document against contraceptive methods but warned (i,e. prophesied) about the cultural and social ramifications of a contraceptive culture. He prophesied the breakdown of family, relationships, increase in violence and objectification, and the breakdown of world peace.
But the historical “Rhythm Method” wasn’t comprehensive enough for women, procreation, health, wellness, and relationships. Towards the end of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI calls to action and places a level of responsibility on the shoulders of professionals with a certain type of power, authority, or education. He requests and pleads with medical researchers and clinicians to develop and research ethical and life-giving alternatives to contraceptive methods and healthcare practices.
To Men of Science
24. We wish now to express our encouragement to men of science, who “can considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family, along with peace of conscience, if by pooling their efforts they labor to explain more thoroughly the various conditions favoring a proper regulation of births. It is particularly desirable that, according to the wish already expressed by Pope Pius XII, medical science succeed in providing a sufficiently secure basis for regulation of birth, founded on the observance of natural rhythms. In this way, scientist and especially Catholic scientist will contribute to demonstrate in actual fact that, as the Church teaches, “A true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those pertaining to the fostering of authentic conjugal love.
During the 1960’s tumultuous confusion, a young medical student’s interest was pricked. When Doctor Thomas Hilgers, the founder and director Pope Paul VI Institute and the co- developer of the Creighton Method Natural Family Planning and NaproTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology) asked a campus priest during medical school at the University of Minnesota if he could locate a copy of Humanae Vitae, the priest responded, “Why would you want to read that trash?” (EWTN Interview, At Home with Jim & Joy.) This statement shows how polarized members of the Church, even in the pastoral teaching authority of the Church, were regarding the “contraception” encyclical.
But even this heretical discouragement didn’t dissuade Dr. Hilgers and his wife from embarking on an eight year journey that climaxed in the founding of the Pope Paul VI Institute- a medical institution dedicated to researching women’s reproductive health and natural cycles while providing diagnosis and treatment for medical conditions and infertility that uphold the dignity of the woman, the husband, and the potential child.
Please. check out my latest blog post published on Catholic Match Institute’s Blog. I’m hoping this article helps provide a Catholic perspective on relationships, marriage, and high risk pregnancy. Please, enter into a very personal and important topic that has touched my life and many other women. May God bless and keep you all!