HOW TO PROMOTE HUMANAE VITAE ON ITS 40TH ANNIVERSARY?
HOW DO WE PROMOTE HUMANAE VITAE ON ITS 40TH ANNIVERSARY?
Humanae Vitae is a hard sell. Its values are crucial for our times, but are strongly resisted. Deep down, we know that true happiness can only be found by knowing God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family, and then living by that plan. But the world does not want to hear that message.
I was recently at a parish in Rio Rancho, NM, giving an NFP Parish Weekend and then a public talk on HV Monday evening. The response of the people to my homilies and talk was receptive and warm. People know that the teachings of HV are valid. At the Q&A session, however, one gentleman asked why, after 54 years of being a Catholic he had never heard of HV until recently. He assured me that he reads Catholic literature, but until recently had never heard of it. If his experience is typical, then we must admit that the parishes he attended failed him.
A society is only as strong as its families. If we have a 50% divorce rate, then we have a major problem with commitments and dedication among married couples. We then have children living in dysfunctional families, and not experiencing dedicated marriages and secure families. They are set up for future failed marriages. Contraception is directly related to divorce because it always places conditions and restrictions upon what was designed to be a total, unconditional, gift of self. If we want to retrieve strong marriages and healthy, happy families, then we must deal with the damage inflicted by contraception and sterilization. Locate the source of the problem and remove it.
Remember how we brought smoking under control? Massive medical evidence piled up, and the medical profession took action. No one was forced to stop smoking; they simply saw the relentless evidence of its harmful effects. Gradually people understood the lethal effects of smoking, and then they freely chose to break their addiction to nicotine. Even the tobacco industry found ways to cooperate.
This is a workable approach to contraception. The evidence of its harmful effects is mounting. It is very difficult to ignore or deny the evidence of failed marriages, broken families, widespread cohabitation, uncommitted relationships, trivialized sex, abortion used for failed contraception, an epidemic of STDs, and broken hearts.
People usually do not respond well to moral principles or submit to God’s plan or us. Moral relativism and absolute autonomy have deep roots in our culture. But hard facts can’t be denied forever. Let’s work with them. Let’s keep asking the questions: “Is this the best we can hope for? What is the formula for a strong marriage and a happy family? What causes divorce? Why so much pornography? Why the fear of the child? Why do many Muslims abhor what they see in the movies and rap songs coming out of the West into their countries? How does a person become happy?”
For Catholics there are more specific questions we can raise: “What is God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family? What is so wrong about contraception and so right about NFP? Why is a strong marriage possible for any couple who truly desires one? What are the helps and aids that God gives us to be able to live by His plan for us? How can we overcome our weaknesses? How do problems in a marriage help a couple to mature in their love and relationship? What is authentic spousal love? Where is a good writing and thinking on these issues? How can we advance the good and resist the evil? How can we bring this good news of God’s plan for us to others?”
I have been a priest as many years as HV has been with us. In many ways it has shaped my priesthood, as I have been gently forced to understand it, and then help others discover what I have. One thing I have learned is that morality is a delicate thing to deal with. You can only help people discover it. They must come to understand the value and goodness of moral principles, and then freely choose to accept them. Our approach to people is that of Jesus: He would only propose God’s great plan to his followers. He never imposed that plan. And this is because God wants us freely, and intelligently, to choose to respond to His will for us. We choose to do the right and the good because we love God, and because we are convinced that He always wants what is best for us.
Use the accumulating evidence. Let the questions begin.
Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB