Saturday 21 July 2012

Second Reflection on Humanae Vitae: My Struggle with the Encyclical on Human Life and Love

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

Over the years, I have been greatly challenged by Humanae Vitae (HV), Paul VI's encyclical on the proper regulation of procreation. When I rediscovered my faith in 1999, I gave complete assent to all teachings of the Catholic Church. I didn't care for an explanation. When people asked why Catholics did things in any specific way, I would usually reply: “Because the Pope says so.” I did not know any better.

With time, I started to learn about my faith and to grasp the reasons behind the teachings of the Church, and this has subsequently taught me much about my faith. Yet I struggled with HV, no matter how much I I tried to make sense of the document; I only saw it as a cluster of rules and regulations that were very hard to follow. A few months ago, when we – some of the writers of Ibo Et Non Redibo – decided to reflect on this encyclical, I knew that I had to take some time to read and pray with the document.

My greatest difficulty with HV was the fact that living out its teachings is not easy. I empathize with those who struggle with the Church's teaching on sexuality; after all, chastity is not an easy ideal for anyone, neither for you nor for me. When I began to see the life-giving vision of HV and felt called to share it, I would feel like a hypocrite: 'Who are you to tell others what to do, when you yourself do not live it out perfectly?” I did not want to make things more difficult for others. Thankfully, I have come to recognize this moment as a desolation: a decrease in hope, faith and love. It was a deception by the enemy of our human nature. This realization was also an invitation to recognize and share the benefits of HV.

The encyclical is very clear about its goal: Paul VI invites us to learn the meaning and purpose of human life and love. HV debunks the myth that human beings can be God; as HV notes, “because humankind has made such remarkable progress in controlling the forces of nature and in rationally organizing them, it also strives to extend this control over the whole of human life” (HV 2). Our society sees itself in control of all human activities, and it also tries to control over all of creation. By doing so, we fail to recognize the meaning and purpose of human life; that is, the transmission of human life and love for the service and glory of God, an action which gives new meaning to our joys and sorrows.

Paul VI understood that fulfilling this mission has always raised questions for the consciences of married couples (HV 1). In order to help them – and all of us – to understand and to benefit from the real meaning of love, he presented us with a wholesome view of the human person and of the marital act. HV is not stating that sexual intercourse is dirty and bad, that it should be avoided. Rather, HV is affirming that sexual intercourse is good and worthy of human dignity. It is in the context of marital love that the goodness of sexual intercourse is enjoyed and dignified.

We are called to embrace love as a complete self-offering and as the strengthening of the bond of affection. Indeed, love finds its most sublime fulfillment in the marital act. Such an act is human, total, faithful and exclusive, and fruitful. In its expression, we find a revelation about the meaning of all love. God, Who is Love, calls us towards happiness in openness to life and in living by the correct set of priorities.

In conceiving the purpose of life and the meaning of love, we rediscover our vocation as “ministers of a plan initiated by the Creator” (HV 13). HV invites us to recognize the plan that God has for us, the transmission of love and of life which cannot be separated. HV is much more than a cluster of directives; it is a vision for our relationship with God and the fulfillment of our Christian and human vocation. I pray today for all those who continue to struggle with the challenge to love, and that we may all continue to deepen our understanding of the beauty, goodness and dignity of the marital act.

[Go to First Reflection on Humanae Vitae]
[Go to Third Reflection on Humanae Vitae]
[Go to Fourth Reflection on Humanae Vitae]

1 comment:

  1. another excellent post. As you say, HV is not the totality of the Church's teaching, but responds to a certain moment of modernity. It's really about the beauty and dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of the triune God. Thank you.