In light of the present (appropriate) uproar in most Catholic circles in response to the recent HHS Mandate, much of our immediate focus has been on the issue of the present Administration overstepping the constitutional boundary and intervening in the right of the Church to practice its faith, and honor its conscience and moral teaching. No doubt, we will rightly see much more in the future in terms of an official response of the Church to counter this mandate.
For the moment, I wish to focus some attention solely on the topic of contraception. Certainly, not only Catholics, but many others are familiar with the now famous Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI (1968) on Human Life, Humanae Vitae. If present statistics are correct, a large number of Catholic women (and couples) of child-bearing age have and continue to disregard this fundamental teaching of the Church on the moral consequences of contraception. Regardless of how this teaching has been received, the Church continues to hold strong in preaching the moral message inherent in the natural law and the Gospel of Life. This is a teaching that is truly “counter-cultural.” I wish to share the passage (paragraph 17) from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical to show how prophetic this Pope and teaching were at that time:
Upright men [and women] can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men [and women] – especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point – have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anticonceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.
Let it be considered also that a dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies. Who could blame a government for applying to the solution of the problems of the community those means acknowledged to be licit for married couples in the solution of a family problem? Who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious? In such a way men [and women], wishing to avoid individual, family, or social difficulties encountered in the observance of the divine law, would reach the point of placing at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy.
Consequently, if the mission of generating life is not to be exposed to the arbitrary will of men, one must necessarily recognize insurmountable limits to the possibility of man’s [and woman’s] domination over his [or her] own body and its functions; limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly surpass. And such limits cannot be determined otherwise than by the respect due to the integrity of the human organism and its functions, according to the principles recalled earlier,…
More to follow on this ever-important issue before us. Please keep those prayers coming!