Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Sign of Contradiction Remembered

Today is a date that I do not forget during the calendar year. It happens to be one of my patrons feast days, St. James the Greater. Also, something I do tend to forget, according to the older calendar of 1962, today also happens to be the memorial of St. Christopher. Finally, today is also the 39th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae vitae. Maybe not surprising, it was the last encyclical he ever wrote even though he continued as pontiff for another 10 years.

It is helpful to revisit some of Paul VI's words in this encyclical, to remind us in part of how truly visionary his words are, but also as a reminder of what is at stake. In paragraph 17, Paul VI elaborates on three consequences he sees as the evil results of the contraceptive mentality. First he envisions "
marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards." Sadly this first consequence is easily seen in the rates of divorce and infidelity among married couples as well as its overwhelming repercussions for the notion of marriage and morality in the public square. Second, Paul VI sees
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.
Coupled with the outpouring of pornography, women and men have been reduced to instruments for use and eventual disregard. How often is love portrayed in our culture simply as dealing with physical pleasure and emotion? How often does one get the notion of love as self-sacrifice and care for another without such physical pleasure or emotion? As a result of the contraceptive mentality, one loses the meaning of love.

Finally, Paul VI has concerns about the contraceptive mentality invading public policy.
Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
You almost get a sense that Paul VI envisions a "Brave New World" on the horizon when the contraceptive mentality becomes so much a part of the very fabric of existence that the government begins to regulate fertility and impose such regulations on everyone. Fortunately this last consequence has not come to full fruition, at least in regards to the United States. But such a government solution always could lurk around the corner. You begin to see such encroachment upon the consciences of doctors and pharmacists who refuse to offer such things as the Morning-After Pill. Let us hope and pray that this last consequence does not come to a full realization.

In paragraph 18, Paul VI recognizes that the teaching of Humanae vitae will be difficult.
It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a "sign of contradiction."(Luke 2:34) She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage "to share God's life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men."(Paul Vl, encyc. letter Populorum progressio: AAS 59 (1967), 268 [TPS XII, 151])

I find these passages to be very moving, especially the first paragraph. He calls attention to the Church and subsequently its members that they are to be signs of contradiction like Christ himself. And as a sign of contradiction, the Church presents the divine law in its entirety in order to protect the dignity of man. So much is at stake with the contraceptive mentality and how it can destroy the dignity that God has given to the human person.

Let us pray and hope that more people see the beauty in the Church's teaching on marriage and help the Church build a truly human civilization in which the dignity of each human person is not degraded but rather respected and uplifted befitting our call to be the sons and daughters of God.