Question 90


 Humanae Vitae 40': Some Clergy determined to bring message to faithful

by James Rygelski, St. Louis Review Editor, 
July 25, 2008 

At the end of "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI asked priests and their bishops to "to promote completely and clearly the teaching of the Church concerning marriage." 

Some priests of the St. Louis Archdiocese told the Review that’s an important message, acknowledge that it hasn’t been talked about much from the pulpit over the years but add that with the proper preparation and guidance of the Holy Spirit that priests can and should affirm the truth of "Humanae Vitae." 

Bishop Robert J. Hermann, administrator of the St. Louis Archdiocese until a new archbishop is named, said "We (priests) did not talk about it as much as we should have" over the years. But he said that priests who wanted to preach on it faced some challenges. In 1968, we didn’t know how to contextualize it with the Scriptures. (Priests) were afraid the message would be rejected." 

"I think today the climate has changed so much. ‘Theology of the body’ puts it into a scriptural context. It energizes this truth with the Word of God. Today people hunger for a deeper understanding of the mystery of sexuality," Bishop Hermann said. 

Father Michael Houser, recently ordained and an associate pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann, is nevertheless well familiar with the teachings of "Humanae Vitae" and determined to bring its message to the faithful. 

"I was first aware of ‘Humanae Vitae’ when fairly young. My own family had great appreciation for Church teaching and was committed to it, as both my parents taught natural family planning with the Couple to Couple League. 

"As I grew older and was discerning my vocation, adherence to the teaching was important to me. I was aware it was not easy for Catholics and for priests to accept at the time," he said. 

It also meant a lot to him, he said, that his teachers at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary were "very committed to the Church’s teaching on marriage." He said he and fellow seminarians have gained a full awareness of NFP and NaProTechnology. 

During his transitional diaconate last year at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Oakville, he wanted to preach on the topic during a Mass. "It’s a very sensitive topic that requires preparation to speak on. I was intimidated the first time. The most important thing was doing it, trusting in God to use your words however He wanted to do that. Clergy are called to be courageous even if what they do is not popular," he added. 

The readings for the Sunday in which he was to preach did not readily lend themselves to a discussion of "Humanae Vitae." But Father Houser used the Old Testament story in the first reading of Naaman’s gratitude to God at being cured of his leprosy to remind the congregation that gratitude for what they have been given by God should lead them to obeying His laws on such things as sex and contraception. "God is calling us to something higher," he said he told them. 

He was happily surprised by the reaction. "What I heard was that people were appreciative of the fact that I’d spoken about it. None of us can judge the hearts of people in pews. We say what needs to be said. It was very refreshing to me to be approached by certain parishioners and have them come up enthusiastic. It showed they were taking it seriously in their lives." 

A priest should preach on the subject — and on many other Church teachings as well — with regularity so that people "can kind of keep hearing about it and it stays before their consciences," Father Houser said. 

Father Jeffrey A. Maassen, ordained in 1997 and recently named pastor of St. David Parish in Arnold has spoken on the subject of contraception. He did so recently at the monthly Young Adult Coffee House at St. Monica Parish in Creve Coeur. 

"I had some trepidation on how it would be received," he said of his preaching on the subject over the years. "I certainly have talked about it, what our Church teaches being open to life." 

Father Maassen believes that disobedience to "Humane Vitae" has led to a number of ills within the Church as well as in the society overall. Support for contraception has led to increased disrespect for women by men, he said. 

"We’re all broken in this area of sexuality," he said. In the Church, the shortage of priests and dwindling attendance at Sunday Mass are among the offshoots of the rejection of "Humane Vitae."

"If I am contracepting and I know what Christ teaches through the Church but I continue to do it, that fosters disobedience and disrespect for authority. I won’t be listening to the Church’s authority on other things," he said in describing what he thinks is a prevailing attitude. 

"If families are contracepting there’s less of a pool for priests. There’s also less of a pool of scientists that could have cured cancer," he added.