‘Humanae Vitae’ is the prophetic answer for a world still searching for love
Kathryn Jean Lopez July 20, 2018
Listen carefully. Behind just about every news story, it seems, there is a soundtrack. It’s about “love.” I’m of a certain age and so leave me to listening in and I’ll inevitably hear ’80s pop songs.
Don’t judge me, but as I’m writing now, it’s Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” and Howard Jones (you must remember him — British, complete with keyboard) singing “What is Love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?”
The media frenzy about abortion amid U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s recent retirement from the Supreme Court are, in a way, all about what these songs cover. But it’s really about men and women grappling with love and marriage and family and all essential aspects of the human person.
When does life begin — or when do we want to give it legal protection? It was — and continues to be — all about “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”).
A big part of the pontificate of Pope Francis has been a plea to look at the face of a brother and sister and see the face of Christ, to see the wounded hearts all around us and acknowledge our own. It’s been about love in the ruins of the sexual revolution.
I cry sometimes when I look and see some of the heartache in the world. Pope Francis clearly seems to, too, frequently talking about weeping in solidarity with those who suffer. In our reactions to news stories, too, we all seem to be doing something like this.
In our outrage at families being separated at the border, there is this common attraction to the good of mothers and children staying together, being protected by fathers and by civilized people and the government.
We feel this even in the messy politics of immigration: At the end of the day, when we think about the possibility of our children being separated from us, we remember our own moments of trauma and separation. We want love for others.
You surely noticed how seemingly everywhere people were watching the boys being rescued from the mine in Thailand. Yet again, there was solidarity with the suffering — the children, the parents, the rescuers, including one who gave his life along the way.
In the midst of so much angry commentary in the world, it seemed a herald: We have hope. We believe in love.
Before President Trump announced Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee for Kennedy’s replacement, there was a lot of buzz about the possibility that former Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett would be his choice. She is also a federal appeals court judge. She’s also the mother of seven children.
During her confirmation hearings last year, California senator Dianne Feinstein challenged her, disturbed that “the dogma lives loudly within” her, referring to Barrett’s Catholic faith.
The concern was clear — it’s one of the challenges of our day: Catholics who actually believe Catholic doctrine and live it in an integrated way are a bit of an anomaly and something our secular age does not know how to tolerate. And it’s in many ways our own fault.
The way Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See has put it is: We have tended to be turtles or chameleons. We have either opted for hiding in our shells hoping not to be noticed as people of faith or blending in so much with the culture that nothing different about our lives can be seen.
That’s what happened 50 years ago. Catholics had a choice: to be prophetic, like Pope Paul VI, or to run with the sexual revolution that would divorce us from ourselves and what we were meant to be, missionaries to one another on the journey to heaven.
The vital role the human family, the domestic Church, plays here, is the greatest loss for humanity we have experienced in the last half century.
Perhaps the most prophetic portion of “Humanae Vitae” 50 years ago this July was this:
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control.
Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.
Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings — and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation — need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Haven’t we seen this happen? Priests tell me about how they not only hear about pornography so much from men, especially, in the confessional, but open infidelity in marriage — and this among people who are going to church and feel the need to go to confession.
What about those who feel too far removed from the sacraments, or see no fault in how they are living their lives — perhaps because their consciences haven’t been formed in the catechetical confusion of the last few decades since “Humanae Vitae” and all the surrounding dissent?
We’ve also seen Pope Paul’s prophecy come true in the changes in expectations about lives of women. We are expected to be, in many ways, more like men. But it’s the uniqueness of women that the Church celebrates, just as we hold in such esteem the woman who bore the Savior of the world in her womb.
As Pope Paul also put it, at the end of the Second Vatican Council, to all the women of the world: “Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.”
In the wake of countless #MeToo sexual harassment scandals and so much misery in the world, the world is desperate for a recovery of the spirit of “Humanae Vitae.” We need to celebrate women and the life we can carry within us and the love men have for us, whatever our relationships.
We seek union with our Creator and our every interaction — and please God, the marital act of love — is about that.
Enough with the obstacles that keep us from knowing the school of love that is the Holy Family in Nazareth. The hunger is real and everywhere. We have the answer to prayers people don’t know they are praying in their seemingly unquenchable thirst.
The Church can be a wellspring of healing and nourishment. Living the witness of the love Jesus showed us on the cross and embracing the richness of the teaching of the Church, we can bind wounds and be agents of the miracles of renewal.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and a contributor to Angelus.
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