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  • Katie Ratliff

Happy Anniversary Humanae Vitae!

2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae. It is one of the most, if not the most, controversial encyclicals in Church History.


But I think if you asked the average person, they would say they’ve never heard of Humanae Vitae.


However, they have heard the over-simplified message of Humanae Vitae:


The Catholic Church is against birth control.


And many of us are offended by this message. I mean, who are a bunch of celibate male Church officials to tell women what do with their bodies? And how a couple chooses to plan their family is up to them...What does the Church want us to do – be like rabbits and have as many babies as possible? Totally unreasonable, right?


Many people view the Church’s stance on contraception as oppressive, burdensome, unrealistic and archaic…


If you feel this way, I totally get it. I felt the same exact way.


But here’s the thing - I had never actually taken the time to read Humanae Vitae.


Instead I just picked up soundbites and opinions that I heard from other people and then I adopted them as my own views.


But once I actually spent time studying the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage, I discovered that it was not only extremely logical, but it was BEAUTIFUL.


In other words it spoke to my heart …..better it spoke to my mind and heart. It spoke to all of ME! Mind, body, heart…..all of ME! It was so human.


I had an overwhelming feeling of “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before???”


Which leads me to the remainder of this blog post. If you’re like I was, and haven’t had an opportunity to read or study Humanae Vitae, I’m going to summarize a few key points for you.


(Please note that this summary includes parts of the encyclical that resonated with me personally. I encourage everyone to read it themselves, because quite frankly, Pope Paul VI said it best himself.)


First, I love how Pope Paul VI kicks things off. His encyclical starts by saying that bringing new life into the world “has always been a source of great joy to [married couples], even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.”


Did you catch that? It’s a source of great joy. Who doesn’t want joy, let alone great joy?


Joy is deeper than just happiness, it has substance, it goes deep. It hits the heart. It stays around and doesn’t just dissipate…


But in the same exact sentence, he admits that it’s no walk in the park.


Joy and suffering go hand in hand. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but think about it - without the crucifixion, there would be no resurrection. I admit I don’t fully comprehend this mystery of why joy and suffering like to hang out together. But as a mom of four young children, I can tell you that I have experienced it firsthand!


Second, Pope Paul VI’s description of married love is incredibly beautiful. He says that married love “takes its origin from God, who ‘is love.’”


Stop and think about that. In marriage, we reflect God’s love.


Isn’t that so much more beautiful than what the world tells us? That sex is just for personal pleasure?


The Church thinks it’s more than that. The Church thinks it’s divine.


He later describes married love as a total love, in which spouses share everything and don’t think “solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.”


Don’t we all want marriages in which we hold nothing back from each other? And in turn, receive each other fully?


He goes on to discuss the “inseparable connection, established by God” of the unitive and procreative aspects of the marital act. In simpler terms, God gave us sex for two reasons: to unite a husband and wife and to bring new life into the world.


Our culture likes to confuse this topic, but the simple truth is that it is written into our bodies.

For example, when a woman is intimate with a man, a hormone (oxytocin) is released that bonds her emotionally to him. It’s the same hormone that is released when she gives birth to a child. In other words, God knew we needed a bonding agent to help us stay committed to our husbands and children when they drive us crazy! (that’s a joke, but it’s also kinda true…)


And despite what the world tells us, the simple fact is that our reproductive systems are made for just that - to reproduce. If sex isn’t for creating new life, why did God design it that way?


For all these reasons, Pope Paul VI says that contraception and sterilization go against God’s design for for the marital act.


Keep in mind he also points out that there are ways to space children without contraception (ahem, Natural Family Planning) and agrees that parents need to be responsible about having children. In other words, he’s not telling married couples to have countless children.

Finally, he makes some predictions about the use of birth control.


This is the mind-blowing part.


He says that the consequences of birth control would lead to moral decline, an increase in infidelity, loss of respect for women and increased government control.


Can anyone deny that this is the world we’re living in today???


The hook-up culture. #MeToo. Countless cases of infidelity. Governments forcing private entities to provide contraception to their employees. And those are just a few examples...


Maybe, just maybe, Pope Paul VI was on to something.


Whether or not you were familiar with Humanae Vitae, I hope you realize now that its message was not just “The Church is against birth control.”


Rather it was a message for something greater. When we trust in God’s plan, we can experience great joy.


From all of us at You, Me & NFP, Happy Anniversary Humanae Vitae!



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