Question 62



Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB PhD

1)  The Problem Persists: Results of Rejecting Humanae Vitae 

Strong marriages and healthy, happy families are crucial to any healthy society.  They are the foundation of any society.  A society begins to unravel when the concept of marriage is redefined, when easy divorce is accepted and permanent bonding is rare, and when married couples are no longer committed to passing life on to the next generation. 

The world has always experienced troubled marriages and dysfunctional families.  In many countries today there is a 50% divorce rate.  This discourages any real sense of lifetime commitment.  Many young couples think that a lifetime marriage is impossible, so they dispense with marriage and cohabitate. 

Children suffer from the divorce of their parents.  They feel betrayed and sense a loss of security.  They carry emotional scars with them to their schools, to their youth groups, and to their faith. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that the root cause of the disintegration of strong marriages is the widespread use of contraception and sterilization.  Both of these interfere with the offering of the total gift of self in the spousal act.  Contraception means that there is always something held back; a fear of total intimacy, and a fear of the child.  When the marital act is compromised, it is not surprising that this leads to a weakening of the bond between the husband and wife.  When the essential commitment for the marriage is impaired, the bond between husband and wife begins to unravel. 

In 1968 it was more difficult for most people to acknowledge, or understand, the harms of contraception and sterilization.  But forty years later there is no difficulty in seeing the damage done. 

In the year 2008 we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s prophetic encyclicalHumanae Vitae.  Over the past 40 years the Church has produced many good documents that explain the moral principles involved with human sexuality and procreation (e.g.,Familiaris Consortio, Donum Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, the Theology of the Body, etc.)  The Church has developed the theoretical rationale of these principles, drawing upon divine revelation, insights from various disciplines, and the use of good reason.  The theory is sufficiently developed.  What is lacking is an effective implementation of the theory.   

After a doctor discovers the problems of a patient, and interprets correctly the symptoms of the problem, and knows the healing properties of relevant medicines, then he must set up a program for attacking the malady and restoring good health.  The time has come for all members of the Church to find successful programs for directly confronting the evils of contraception, sterilization and abortion, and restoring the community to good health.  The healing medicine is the retrieval and re-presentation of God’s plan for marriage, spousal love, and families.  How will this be done? 

2)   God’s Plan for Marriage, Spousal Love and Family 

God has a plan for all major things and events.  His plan for the material universe can be seen in the laws of nature that mankind has discovered through the natural sciences like physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy.  Most assuredly, He has a plan for all major dimensions of human life, since a human person is the only thing in all material creation that He created for its own sake.  God has a plan for marriage, spousal love, and family.  He has a plan for every just society.  This plan can be known, understood, and then be put into practice.  We discover this plan both in divine revelation and through the use of good reason.  The teachings of the Church, as found in the Catechism, speed up for us the discovery process of these plans. 

Each of us is a unique individual person.  We are a composite of an immaterial soul and a material body.  As bodied persons, we are either male or female, fertile and sexual.  We have the gifts of intelligence, freewill and choice.  With the gift of freedom, we are free actors on the stage of life, and moral agents bearing full responsibility for the choices we make and the deeds we perform.   

As moral agents, we need to know God’s plan for the moral order, or for moral truth.  We need to know the various human goods that fulfill us as bodied persons, so that we can pursue them.  And equally important, we must know the disvalues, or evils, that frustrate our fulfillment and destroy us.  Such human goods are life and good health, truth, friendships and love, purposeful activity, and beauty.  We are to make choices and perform deeds that pursue all the various human goods, which is a lifelong task since these goods are inexhaustible.  As moral agents endowed with freedom, we have a duty to pursue the good, while exposing and resisting the evil.  At the end of our lives here on earth, we must give a full accounting of the exercise of our freedom. 

Marriage, spousal love and family are fundamental components of human life.  In a certain sense, the pursuit of all the other human goods depends upon the vitality of these three components.  God’s plan for marriage is that a man and a woman commit themselves to loving one another for their entire lives.  Their intimate communion of love and life is to be totally faithful, and remain open to life.  God’s plan for spousal love is that each spouse makes the total personal gift of self to the other, with no conditions, no reservations, with nothing held back.  This total self-surrender includes the gift of one’s fertility.  As God the Father has given the total gift of himself to us through his Son; and as Jesus has given the total self-sacrificial gift of himself to his bride, the Church, and thus to us, so also must we learn to make the unqualified gift of ourselves.  God’s plan for family is that each member senses that he or she is completely accepted for the unique persons they are, and will receive the nurture, guidance and support for developing their personalities and unique personal gifts.  A family is a school in deeper humanity.  A family is where each young person learns true values, acquires the theological, cardinal and civil virtues, and experiences unconditional love.