Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae: An Encyclical of Hope

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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.

 

 

 

The Inspiration Behind Modern NFP

 

 

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.

Humanae Vitae

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.

 

 

Dear Creighton NFP (1 Year Later),

Approximately one year ago I wrote an open letter about Creighton NFP outlining my hope, fears, and frustrations. One Year later, I figured I should follow-up.

Dear Creighton Model:

Not only did you totally kick me in the keister, you pushed me to the boundaries of sheer sanity. NFP continues to affirm and heighten my belief that there IS A GOD, and I’m not God.

Wholly smokes! When my system is working in harmony, it’s like the restored, gleaming Sistine Chapel. When my reproductive tract falls into discord, it’s like the Sistine Chapel with loin clothes added and years of grime and gunk covering the paintings. Being a woman is always beautiful, but sometimes that vision is easier to recognize some days rather than others.

Recently that vision has been nigh impossible to decipher. I’ve left a trail of tears and pleas in your wake. I cry out to God all the day long and all the night too begging for His infinite mercy and guidance. Though I resolutely practice and follow your guidelines, I struggle daily. Apparently, there is pain, and then there is PAIN. Who knew hormones were so amazingly powerful and important to the simplest and most complex bodily functions. Who knew you could have low grade infections not for months but for years. Thanks to NFP I learned I have a new breaking point. I learned control is much more elusive concept than before. I’m more broken than even I realized.

Sometimes I’m angry with God and disagree with His plan. As I told a priest friend in confession: “God is asking too much.” Daily I make a commitment to offering my pain, suffering, and frustration for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls. If you have to suffer, one might as well suffer well. But suffering well doesn’t make the actual suffering easier just more meaningful.

For those who are quaking in their boots by the above description, every uncertain and frustrating day is worthwhile rather than denying who God created me as a woman. Rejecting and denying having a reproductive tract that can malfunction and become ill like any other system of your body may seem like a good idea, but isn’t. Creighton NFP isn’t limiting but freeing. My heart breaks over the though of countless women and medical professionals denying their bodies and providing only a band-aid solution for serious issues. Only when you’re illuminated through the eyes of God can you see yourself for the breathtaking creation you are.

The most important lesson learned thus far is to see myself as God sees me. Beautiful. Whole. Enough. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. Made in His Image.

With All My Respect and Admiration,

Hannah

P.S. Please, find and fix something soon. I pray for strength and courage.

Thy Will Be Done . . . Broken Yet Whole

After my retreat last May led me to hours of Christian music listening, I’ve heard various songs by Christian artist that I have no clue who they are, but I like the song. Recently, Hillary Scott’s single “Thy Will” stood out amid the feel good pop Christian music. I recognized a certain authenticity and grittiness to the song. A plea of trust, “Thy Will” rose from her family’s personal tragedy of a greatly desired pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Though I’m unmarried and not seeking pregnancy, the lyrics rang true.

Every couple of weeks, the special man in my life holds my hand and walks with me through the sometimes extreme ups and downs of my internal mental, emotional, and physical struggle with my reproductive health. I’ve written about my personal journey with Creighton Natural Family Planning before. A wealth of knowledge highlighting the overwhelming certainty that I’m broken yet very much whole.

In my lowest moments, the little voice of evil whispers ill thoughts about my worth being tied to my ability to be God’s gift to child bearing or biological motherhood. In the complexities of my reproductive health, complete healing equates to achieving wholeness again, and what I struggle with now is an ancient Biblical slap on my character like the result of past sins or ancestral sin. Basically, my physical weakness makes me less of a woman. Move over prosperity theology and enter Thy Will Be Done.

When I cry to my beloved about my woes and insecurities, the reply challenges what I know but haven’t really embraced: “THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. And the woman you are now is whole, entirely loving, and worthy of love. I love and respect all of you equally not a piece of you more than another. I love you more because of your weaknesses not less.” God works through people to reach us. Of course, my loved ones, and I desire improvement and healing, but my worth isn’t tied to how healthy or not I am.

Now I turn to Thy Will . . .

I know you’re good
But this don’t feel good right now
And I know you think
Of things I could never think about
It’s hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all your promises
Sometimes I gotta stop
Remember that you’re God
And I am not
So

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done.

An Honest Letter About Creighton NFP

Dear Creighton Model:

You totally kicked me in the keister. Learning about you has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life. The more I learn the more that learning curve and the knowledge acquired affirms and heightens my belief that there IS A GOD, and I’m not God.

Wholly smokes! My body is complex, intricate, and beautiful. My reproductive system is like the almost nigh unbreakable encryption machine Enigma and Creighton the machine that broke Enigma. The point being is that the code can be broken and interpreted even if it seems rather complex and overwhelming at times. As a woman, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. When my system is working in harmony, it’s like the restored, gleaming Sistine Chapel. When my reproductive tract falls into discord, it’s like the Sistine Chapel with loin clothes added and years of grime and gunk covering the paintings. Being a woman is always beautiful, but sometimes that vision is easier to recognize some days than others.

When I started pulling out my hair over “essential sameness” and yellow stickers, you never failed to frustrate me even more. I thought I might go insane comparing today to yesterday, two days ago, three days ago, one week ago, etc. But after beating my head against the wall, I’m eternally grateful God lifted me up and gave me the strength to tackle “essential sameness” mastery. Now I feel accomplished and knowledgeable and  . . . well humble too. Essential sameness is actually awesome.

When my naprotechnologist ordered the 25 day hormone assessment panel that involved blood draws on 10+ specific days of my cycle, I never imagined how involved the process would be. I underestimated the hours my Dad,  Mom, and I spent in the ER, outpatient clinic, or the hospital cafeteria waiting for the blood to be spun and processed. I never purchased dry ice before shipping the vials to Nebraska. Dry ice burns. Duly note. I promise I took Honors High School Chemistry.

When my napro doctor explained my test results and how multiple hormones weren’t just off but precipitously off, I felt cold and numb. Then I realized this knowledge helped explain the bizarre and taxing symptoms I felt. But a sense of hope surged that a treatment plan could heal the underlying issue(s).

When I picked up my first progesterone oil and inter-muscular injection needle set, I struggled to keep a straight face while the pharmacist explained injecting myself into the tush or thigh. The other part of me felt as though I had entered into an alternate reality. Really, God?

Since last August, you and I embarked on a long and arduous journey. We knew it wouldn’t be easy when we started as a naive Creighton newbie 10 months ago. I realize now some woman have less complicated cycles and others make ours seem manageable. This recognition has taught me humility. I’ve learned a new language about how to express an intricate part of being a woman and relating to a man. Trust me. My conversations with my special man friend are epic. This method teaches perseverance and endurance. You have taught me ownership of my body, pride of ownership. Pride in all its wonder and awe. Pride also in its flaws and complications. Creighton, you teach me lessons each day. The most important lesson learned thus far is to see myself as God sees me. Beautiful. Whole. Enough. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. Made in His Image.

With All Respect and Admiration,

Hannah

P.S. Thank you for kicking my keister. Now simmer down a little, please. Jesus, I trust in you.