"When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"(Luke 18:18)
In the lead up to the Plenary Council 2020 perhaps the most basic of questions must be asked. For example, will the Lord find any faith in Australia? In this brief article on Humanae Vitae the sentence that caught my eye was: “The role of contraception in the decline of faith is difficult to deny.” I think there are some real issues we need to reflect on, 50 years on from the release of Humanae Vitae, that may help the Church in Australia discern whether what we might want is in harmony with what God is actually asking of us.
HUMANAE VITAE AND THE CRISIS OF FAITH http://www.positionpapers.ie/2018/06/humanae-vitae-and-the-crisis-of-faith/
Written by:Fr Patrick O’Donohue
It is now half a century since the papal encyclical letter Humanae Vitae defended the dignity of matrimony and reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to contraception. By explaining the inherent connection between the unitive and the procreative qualities of sexual intercourse, Pope Paul VI addressed why the use of contraception is always wrong. He wrote that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” and that “an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life.” The Pontiff also references previous magisterial teaching, including Casti Connubii which outlined the gravely sinful nature of all deliberately contraceptive acts.
From Humanae Vitae‘s publication, however, the very name of the encyclical became synonymous with its widespread rejection. At the same time as the crucifix was vanishing from altars and homes, so too did the self-sacrificial love it represents disappear from the lives of countless spouses. All this was reflective of the anthropocentric revolution of the 1960s which put man in the place of God as the sole arbiter of good and evil. Alongside this denial of the Church’s teaching authority, many married couples began to regulate the size of their family based on the opinions of the world rather than putting their trust in the Lord.
The good news is that, even after the clamour of this revolution, there is hope. It is never too late to change and, through the Sacrament of Penance, recover the supernatural meaning of marital love. Even in cases where it is too late to have more children, spouses can support younger couples in having larger families. Like Saint Paul, using the time spent against God as a stimulus for serving Him more totally.
Over the past fifty years the fruits of the contraceptive culture foreseen by the encyclical have become an unfortunate reality. Humanae Vitae’s predictions have been well documented, namely, marital infidelity, a lowering of moral standards and the intervention of public authorities in the responsibilities of husband and wife. But what the encyclical did not foresee was the devastating impact that the use of artificial methods of birth control would have on the faith of the baptised. What exactly is this relation between contraception and the crisis of faith through which we are now living?
The role of contraception in the decline of faith is difficult to deny. To be a Catholic is not only to have received baptism and self-identify as Catholic, but to accept what the Church has always taught regarding faith and morals. Love of God and neighbour is proven in action as well as in words. This connection between faith and morality reminds us of the maxim that if we do not live what we believe, we end up believing what we live. The Gospel is not to be accepted in fragmented pieces on one’s own terms. Accepting only the less difficult Commandments could never be the way of a Catholic.
Our Lord Jesus once said “No man can serve two masters.” So too, Catholics cannot serve both God and the spirit of the world. God never blesses those actions that go against the law He has written on every human heart. His plan encapsulates the whole human person, the whole family unit and the whole of society. Such is the depth of His love for us that He would never be satisfied with a mere partial response.
One of the privileges of priesthood is serving families who generously embrace God’s plan to have many children and who desire that the charity of Christ reigns in their homes. What an awe-inspiring mystery it is that married couples are called to cooperate with God’s creative plan for this world and the world to come. That God would create a soul to exist for all eternity through matrimony is a marvel. Someone once said the most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children. May this fiftieth anniversary bring about a rediscovery of the extraordinary blessings God has in store for those who pursue His plan for their families.
The world needs a renewed faithfulness to the immutable moral law, proclaimed through the infallible voice of the Church, so that the bond of husband and wife may be, once again, marked as well by faithfulness to one another and to the Author of life. Those who are open to “the God of the living” will always be open to the human life that He gives them, and in so doing they will find true life.