What have we learnt, what have we missed?

humanae vitae

Sex and religion are probably the two most talked about topics in the world. In Humanae Vitae we find them inextricably but harmoniously interwoven.

As Humanae Vitae (on Human Life) was promulgated more than a year before my birth it is quite possible that I am a product of this most prophetic statement on marriage, life and love.

This has led me to ponder these main questions; what is God’s plan for marriage?

  • What is the meaning of human sexuality?
  • Do us mere mortals get a say?
  • What has the impact of contraception been on our society?

And many more.

I have come to understand that there is more to Humane Vitae than a mere cautionary tale about what could happen if Catholics embrace artificial contraception, though this is a particularly important aspect that needs to be revisited from time to time.

At its heart Humanae Vitae does not propose a list of prohibitions of certain practices but a loving response to God who created us freely and out of love.

He calls us into the vocation of marriage and gives us the power to imitate him as life-giving lovers.

In this context the sexual act is so powerful and so meaningful that in roughly nine months, all things being equal, a couple may need to give it a name!

Who did the pill actually benefit, who did it liberate? The incontrovertible answer is men.

Pope Francis reiterates this in his recent  General  Address when he said “And what leads man to refuse life?

They are the idols of this world: money – it is best to get rid of this, because it will cost us –, power, and success.

These are erroneous parameters for valuing life.

What is the only authentic measure of life?

It is love, the love with which God loves it! The love with which God loves life: this is the measure. The love with which God loves every human life.”[1]

In the history of the Catholic Church there is not a single document that has been more hated, despised and rejected by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Like the disciples in John 6:60 we say ‘…this is a hard teaching, who can accept it?”.

The GK Chesterton quote about the hard road that is Christianity could equally be applied to openness to life within marriage; ‘it has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.’ [2]

Perhaps it is time, after 50 years of widespread rejection and ignorance of its contents, to rediscover this document in the light of the societal transformation that reproductive technologies have brought about.

Many young Catholic couples all over the world, eager to live their married lives according to God’s plan, are now reclaiming as their patrimony the underlying truths espoused by Paul VI and restated by subsequent Popes, in particular Pope John Paul II in his ‘Theology of the Body’ writings.

However you view the advent of artificial contraception, as an evil or as a good, you will most likely agree that it was a worldwide revolutionary technology that altered fundamentally the relationship dynamics of the sexes.

One fundamental question we need to ask ourselves if who did the pill actually benefit, who did it liberate?

The incontrovertible answer is men.

The contraceptive pill was developed ‘by men for men’.

Men do not have to deal with the side effects of these ‘medications’ including a significant increase in depression rates, they can partake freely of sex with multiple partners without consequences and women have been reduced to mere objects and playthings available throughout the month.

I call that sexual inequity.

And we wonder why ‘respect’ has become such an out-moded practice within relationships and the clamour for ‘consent’ so urgent.

We have messed with the very essence of marriage – this is bound to have consequences for all of society.

Elevating friendship and love within marriage above all else has paved the way for the legalisation and widespread acceptance of same sex marriage.

It is high time for an examination of conscience in respect of our response to Humanae Vitae.

In God’s plan, as revealed in scripture, married love is fruitful: “It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being.”

From the Second Vatican Council: “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and education of children.

“Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents”. [3]

Fully human. Total. Faithful and exclusive. Fruitful.

In brief, the marriage act ought to be a true marriage act, a renewal of the marriage covenant, for better and for worse.

It should mirror God’s love for us – and oddly enough that may entail an element of sacrifice. “Without the cross there is no Christian.” [4]

Perhaps  our Lord should have the last words here?

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me…” Luke 9:23.

Living according to God’s plan for marriage is not a walk in the park – but it’s so worth it!

[1] General Audience October 10 2018
[2] The original quote is ‘“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” ― G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World
[3] Gaudium et Spes, No. 50
[4] Pope Francis 2014 Casa Sancta Marta

  • Monica Devineis a wife and mother living in Wellington, New Zealand, she currently manages a family law practice.
  • Image: Supplied


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