Christ is key to renewal of families, chief shepherd says on 50th anniversary of encyclical
Detroit — Fifty years after Blessed Pope Paul VI released his groundbreaking encyclical on human life and love, “many heroic Catholic couples have seen the wisdom and life-giving power of Humanae Vitae’s teaching,” Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said.
“In 1968, at a time of rapid societal change and rampant confusion about sexuality, Paul VI wrote an encyclical that was the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in him. Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”) was faithful to the Church’s Tradition, lucid, and pastorally sensitive,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote in a new pastoral note released July 25, the 50th anniversary of the papal encyclical.
“It was also prophetic in its teaching on the dignity of marriage, sexuality, and children, as well as the power of contraception to corrupt these gifts of God,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote.
The archbishop’s note, titled “Living Christ’s Love,” is his second in a series reflecting on themes offered in his 2017 pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel.
In the decades since Humanae Vitae’s release, much of society has bought the lie that human sexuality can be disconnected from its procreative power without consequence, Archbishop Vigneron said.
The symptoms of this have borne out in many ways, including widespread abortion, broken families, out-of-wedlock pregnancies and the increased use of pornography, the archbishop said, which have wounded many and caused untold damage in families and society at large.
“One of the root causes of the misery we see around us is the widespread acceptance and use of contraception in our society, even among Catholics,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “While it was always possible to identify this misunderstanding with our abstract reason, we now also have decades of experience in ‘learning the hard way’ about contraception’s negative consequences.”
No matter how much damage has been caused by straying from God’s word, Catholics must trust in the redemptive power of Christ to heal wounds and renew the Church in the 21st century, Archbishop Vigneron said, heeding Jesus’ words at the Last Supper to “remain in my love.”
“The key to the whole Christian life, the key to the renewal of our culture and our communities, of individuals and of our families, is found in these four simple words of Our Lord. To remain in Christ’s love is to be bound to him. It is to see that he loves us with the greatest possible love. He has loved us even to the shedding of his blood for our salvation,” Archbishop Vigneron said.
All Catholics, but especially married couples, are called to model this self-giving, self-sacrificing love of Christ through their mutual gift of self to one another, Archbishop Vigneron said.
Blessed Paul described this love between spouses as free, total, faithful and fruitful, always seeking the good of the other and being open to the gift of new life that such love naturally brings forth, he said.
Two sources in particular have helped Catholics live up to God’s plan for marriage and sexuality in the last 50 years, the archbishop added, namely, Pope St. John Paul II’s “brilliant insights” in his teaching on the Theology of the Body, and the development of “scientifically proven and morally upright” natural family planning methods that can help couples achieve or avoid pregnancy “when that is the most virtuous choice to make.”
“The Church has never taught that married couples must have as many children as possible. Rather, she has taught that we may never be the agents who render a sexual act sterile,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Marriage, sexuality, and family life bring both blessings and challenges, to be sure, but our commitment to persevere in faithfulness to God’s plan, to remain in and live the love of Jesus Christ, always leads to our fulfillment.”
Fr. Peter Ryan, SJ, professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, said the key to viewing Humanae Vitae as good news for married couples is in precisely that sentiment — that God’s plan leads not to misery, but to happiness.
“If you think of moral norms as mere rules that the Church happens to insist on, it seems like it’s just being imposed by an arbitrary authority and people’s reaction is going to be negative,” Fr. Ryan said. “Rather, we should think of moral norms as illuminating gifts of truth about what it means to live a holy and fulfilling human life.”
Fr. Ryan said the archbishop’s note captures beautifully the connection between Humanae Vitae and Christ’ saving word, which leads to human flourishing.
“Archbishop Vigneron, after talking about the root causes of the misery afflicting human sexuality, marriage and family life, goes on to talk immediately about the good news of Jesus Christ,” Fr. Ryan said. “To remain in and live the love of Jesus Christ always leads to our fulfillment. But what’s interesting is that this sacrifice, this giving up of things to which one might be immediately inclined in the short run, leads not only to eternal salvation, but also happiness here and now.”
Since the widespread acceptance of the birth control pill, Blessed Paul’s predictions of higher rates of infidelity, abortion and divorce since the acceptance of the birth control pill have come to pass, Fr. Ryan said, yet there still remain pockets of the Church who are unconvinced by Humanae Vitae’s wisdom.
“When a woman is always available for a man’s use, there is going to be a loss of respect for the woman,” Fr. Ryan said. “The various problems that Paul VI saw have come about, but at the same time, there are some people who defend the teaching very clearly and who live by it and understand the great gift of natural family planning.
“It’s the love of Jesus Christ that makes fidelity to this teaching possible, and the Lord saves us from sin and death,” Fr. Ryan added. “When we begin to realize how much we are loved, it can motivate us to want to live a self-sacrificing life, when we understand what he did for us.”
‘Living Christ’s Love’
To read Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral note on the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, visit unleashthegospel.org/pastoralnotes-humanaevitae.html.