The gift that is still rejected
Unfortunately, the encyclical ‘Humanae vitae’ still evokes controversies. Few people fully realize that the document, which originated four decades ago, becomes more and more valid today when we witness the negative effects of its rejection. Pope Paul VI foresaw them, which convinces us that we cannot be indifferent to the teaching of the encyclical.
Forty years after the publication of Paul VI’s ‘Humanae vitae’ the controversies concerning the encyclical are still acute and actually seem more heated. This does not have any influence on the validity of the teaching of ‘Humanae vitae’ since as Benedict XVI said ‘What was true yesterday remains true even today. 'The truth expressed in 'Humane vitae' does not change; on the contrary, precisely in the light of the new scientific discoveries, its teaching becomes timelier and elicits reflection on the intrinsic value it possesses. The key word to enter coherently into its content remains love’ (the international congress organized by the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome on the 40th anniversary of the encyclical 'Humanae vitae', 10 May 2008).
Teaching ‘from there’
The attack against ‘Humanae vitae’, i.e. treating it with contempt and silence, results from aggression towards God and man (the aggression is becoming more evident). Contemporary people, overconfident of their own pride, reject every teaching, which comes ‘from there’, as Paul VI described it. The teaching of ‘Humanae vitae’ is a particular example of ‘a sign that will be contradicted’. The words concerning Jesus, spoken by Simeon at the threshold of the temple, echo in the context of the encyclical in question (cf. Luke 2:34). In his teaching the Holy Father guards and interprets the natural law, which by God’s will is inscribed in human life and that’s why the faithful should absolutely trust him and follow his voice even in spite of criticism.
‘The same mind and the same judgement’
It is sad to hear voices of protest concenring some passages of the papal document within the Church; many a time the protest is voiced by clergy and sometimes the protest is straight. The round anniversary of this important document is celebrated in the Pauline Year announced by Benedict XVI. Thus the words of the great Apostle Paul, quoted in the encyclical ‘Humanae vitae’ and directed to the priests, ‘I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment’ (HV, 28), sound very clearly. The words of St Paul should motivate clergymen to help young people observe moral laws and should not suggest them, by imprudent education, to break these laws.
Marriage act – love and life
In ‘Humanae vitae’ the successor of John XXIII focused on the moral principles in the field of generating life. The intimate relationship of husband and wife is inseparably connected with love and parenthood. These two functions of the marriage act make the spouses collaborators of Lord God, the only giver of life. That’s why, it is the Creator’s intension to give only marriage couples the privilege of having the most intimate, physical relationships since God knows that the mutual love of the marriage couple guarantees the responsibility of both spouses for the conceived human being. It is in the marriage act that both husband and wife touch the greatest values without which nothing and nobody exist – only love and life. Finally, the experience of the above-mentioned values in the marriage determines people’s greatness and the quality of ‘being one body’. The culmination of spiritual possibilities of man is love and the culmination of physical possibilities is to bring new life into being. Moreover, man cannot do anything more beautiful and noble than loving and transmitting life. At the same time honesty in expressing love and openness to life make every sexual intercourse truly right and worthy. Consequently, it becomes a source of true joy and happiness both when the particular acts aim at generating life and when the spouses give up the act of conceiving because of serious reasons, respecting the nature and their dignity.
‘One heart, one soul’
Naturally, being one body in the marriage act cannot constitute only a sign of physical union because it would testify to some surface treatment of love. The marriage act is a circumstance in which husband and wife should be convinced that besides their physical union they are ‘one heart and one soul’ (HV, 9). Only such a conviction based on a real experience of being fully united makes husband and wife authentically happy and foretells eternal happiness.
Causes of marriage crisis
If married couples do not appreciate this teaching their lives and their families suffer from havoc. Which married couple can say about themselves that they are not only one body but also one heart and spirit? It is the fullness of union that testifies to true love. It is worth stressing that for a married couple who sincerely love each other every marriage act is fertile, also when they do not generate a new life because fertility has also spiritual dimension. Because of that every act confirms or questions marriage love. For married couples their sexual intercourses are not indifferent to their relationships. Marriage crises, and consequently a huge number of breakdowns, let us conclude that one of the main causes of crises is the desacralisation of marriage acts, made by one or both spouses. This desacralisation results from using artificial ways of birth control, namely contraceptives and abortion. It is the absolute opposition of the author of the encyclical to any actions against life that makes many people unable to accept this teaching. In fact, contraceptive activities in marriage relationships make husband and wife get used to sexual acts without considering their effects. Because of that the spouse who is able to do irresponsible sexual deeds in marriage is more exposed to the temptation to repeat these acts outside marriage without considering that the lack of effects is ostensible because there are no so-called preventive ways that would give absolute certainty. The opponents seem not to understand that it is not enough to do less evil to justify the deed but one should have the courage to choose good. Let the warning be the fact that when man rejects obvious evil the devil tempts him to do less evil, dressing it in deceptive good.
God’s design and the plans of married couples
The most beautiful physical way of showing love and at the same time the moment when a new life can be conceived should be adjusted every time to the full span of earthy marriage life and to the perspective of life in eternity. Marriage life submitted to marriage acts introduces disorder. These acts should rather be inscribed, in the spirit of responsibility, in the space of earthy life and most of all in eternal life. Only those married couples that can control their desires are able to follow such a lifestyle. This ability will help them adjust their intimate relationships to the natural rhythm of wife’s fertility. Paul VI supports such an attitude in his encyclical. The present development of medicine allows women, on the basis of their self-observation of the fertility cycle, to determine with assurance the best time to conceive a child, and thus determine the time when the married couple cannot generate life. Married couples, as rational and free people, aiming at authentic good of spouses and progeny, can adjust their intimate relationships adequately to their own plans, at the same time being in accordance with God’s design for a concrete marriage. However, when married couples decide to take irrational actions and their sexual intercourses only meet their desires of intimacy, which is related to their inability to control their passions, such relationships will be spiritually, emotionally and, many a time, materially impoverished. Therefore, honest married couples should have sexual intercourses when they both at least try to make their whole marriage a covenant of one heart and one soul. Wife and husband must not forget, also in the sexual dimension, about the obligation to offer themselves as gifts to each other. Because of inherent inner stirs it can be sometimes hard and that’s why offering oneself as a gift requires effort and help of the spouse.
The astonishing thing is that even today so many people reject the teaching of ‘Humanae vitae’ although in his encyclical the Pope asks all clergy and laymen, believers and people of good will, to take efforts to build a civilization of love. The present day marriage crisis should be an encouragement to implement this teaching. One thing is certain. This crisis does not deepen because of a false teaching since most married couples have rejected it. I am convinced that the breakdown of the institution of marriage is caused mainly by rejecting this precious gift, which is the content of ‘Humanae vitae.’ Therefore, let us have the courage to put it into practice. When we succeed married couples will have the chance to experience real encounters, including the marriage acts, with God and themselves. All those who are responsible for marriage preparation courses and those who care for married couples should do their best to help them really believe that God is love. Then they will be able to experience love in every area of life and their marriage acts themselves will be authentic unions of love. The acts will confirm unconditional and unselfish love in their essence. Observing the teaching of ‘Humanae vitae’ will let husband and wife endure in the relationships adequate to the world of persons and will prevent them from subjectivisation and abuse. Ultimately, it will be an invaluable help to achieve the highest degree of love – agape. If the above-mentioned arguments for total acceptance of the teaching of ‘Humanae vitae’ are not sufficient, let the holiness and authority of John Paul II, who contributed to the origin of the document, and after Paul VI had signed it on 25 July 1968 he was his fervent defender and promoter, be an encouragement for you.