On July 26, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” Since it is probably the least read and most misunderstood teaching in modern history, it gives us an opportunity to learn from this prophetic document.
At this time in history with the increased state of confusion surrounding issues of sexuality, it has become more urgent to reflect on and heed the warning of our blessed pope. As Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, a Fatima visionary said, “A decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and family.”
Both Pope Paul and Sister Lucia have been right. “Humanae Vitae” predicted that the widespread use of contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” Over the past 50 years, marriage has eroded so far that it is no longer the norm. Marriage may be honored in theory, with many young girls still dreaming of the day that they will get married and have a family; yet, the marriage rate has declined from 72 percent of adults age 18 and over in the 1960s to only 50 percent in 2014.
This phenomenon has led to two developments. The first is that sexual intimacy, a special gift from God that was fashioned to be an act of love reserved to a man and woman in the bond of holy matrimony, has become commonplace as a casual encounter in the growing “hook-up” culture.
The second development is the result of the first one: that children, who deserve stability and love from parents who are in a committed marriage, more and more are growing up outside of this permanent bond.
Fueled by a society that seems bent on erasing marriage as the backbone of civilization are laws that continually undermine this great institution, such as no-fault divorce and the marriage penalty tax. Perpetuating the decline of marriage are popular media, with their constant glorification of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births, all in the name of tolerance and privacy. The result has been the separation of parenthood from marriage with a greater dependence on social institutions to pick up the slack.
The separation of love and life, the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality, has taken its toll, especially on the most vulnerable in society — our children, born and unborn. With the advent of the birth control pill and legal abortion, we have seen over 60 million babies aborted in clinics such as Planned Parenthood with countless more succumbing to the abortifacient aspect of the hormonal birth control pill. We now rely on governmental programs to nurture children in early childhood centers, and we raise our fists in the air when we see the violent behavior that has become commonplace in our teens when there is no father in the home.
With this dismal look at the results of 50 years of not following the wisdom of Christ and his church, what can we do? Is there any hope to turn the tide to regain the belief that children are the crowning glory of marriage and are not just burdens that came about because of our selfish carnal desires?
I do believe we can restore marriage to its rightful place as a norm in society. But we must not just lament the days of old and sit on our hands. We have to take an active role, intentionally doing something about it.
The rise in the number of good Christian films has been refreshing. The box office numbers are starting to speak to the Hollywood elites. The way we will get better content in the media is to support those movies and TV programs that illustrate our values and to avoid those that do not. Nothing speaks louder in today’s world than that of the almighty pocketbook. So voting with our dollars is one easy step.
A way to take it a step further is to contact the advertisers of TV programs that do not support marriage and family in a positive way. I have done this many times and it is amazing how quickly you see results. We may think we are alone when we send an email or make a call to a network or the advertisers, but we are not. Phone calls and emails make them sit up and take notice, as long as we are polite and clear with our message of discontent.
One step further still, and probably the hardest, is to challenge our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to live a life that glorifies God. It can be so difficult to have that conversation at a large family gathering. But we can ask if we can speak to them privately, to share with them our love and concern for them, especially for their happiness. Even if they do not agree with us on face value, we may never know how a loving approach will change their behavior in the future.
Blessed Pope Paul VI concludes his encyclical by imploring us to heed his warnings: “Truly a great work, as we are deeply convinced, both for the world and for the Church, since man cannot find true happiness — towards which he aspires with all his being — other than in respect of the laws written by God in his very nature, laws which he must observe with intelligence and love. Upon this work, and upon all of you, and especially upon married couples, we invoke the abundant graces of the God of holiness and mercy, and in pledge thereof we impart to you all our apostolic blessing” (No. 31).
You can read “Humanae Vitae” at: http://www.papalencyclicals.net/paul06/p6humana.htm.
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.