Let us seize this moment right now and renew our commitment to live the joyful, yes joyful, message of Humanae Vitae (HV). For its message is not only a “ban” on the birth control Pill, but also a “blueprint” for a happy life. As Bl. Paul VI wrote, echoing the Psalmist, “man cannot attain that true happiness [and the Holy Father speaks often of it in HV] for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature. These laws must be lovingly observed” (HV, 31; see also 30). Note that Paul says “lovingly,” not slavishly observed!
Hence, let there be no doubt, HV’s teaching on “the correct regulation of birth” (cf. HV, 5, 24) is neither a mere man-made law subject to change nor one merely on the “periphery” of the Catholic Faith, so to speak, but “a promulgation of the law of God himself” (see HV, 20). Thus, observance of this law is fundamental to living the Christian moral life.
Contrary to moral theologian Fr. Charles Curran and other dissenters, in the view of this moral theologian and married father of four, Bl. Paul VI’s references to “biological laws” (see HV, 10), “laws of nature” (see HV, 11; see also 12-13), and “the laws” of God engraved in man’s nature (see HV, 30), do not constitute so-called natural law “biologism” or “physicalism,” but rather, coupled with “the law of God” mentioned in HV, 20, a God-given blessedness.
The many couples who practice NFP – both Catholic and non-Catholic – testify to how blessed they are to have integrated NFP into their marriages. It is thus heartening to see that many U.S. dioceses now require that engaged couples take a course in NFP as part of their pre-marital preparation. At Sacred Heart Major Seminary where I teach (as does my esteemed colleague and expert on Humanae Vitae and contraception, Janet E. Smith), the students, including the seminarians, are exposed to NFP in various courses and programs. We make them aware that NFP is not only morally sound and scientifically proven to be effective, but that it comes with a number of benefits – and none of the harms of contraception – as some studies have found. For example, while the much lower divorce rate of NFP-using couples still needs more research to determine its accuracy, other credible studies indicate that NFP can bring married couples closer together.
This makes perfect sense (and I speak here from personal experience as well). When spouses practice NFP they need to communicate more with each other. This increased communication can lead to not only a deeper bond between them, but also to a greater knowledge of and respect for their bodies – their own and each other’s. This, in turn, can lead to a greater appreciation of their fertility as a personal value. Because of the preceding “virtues,” NFP can then lead even to a greater intimacy with each other – physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. – and with God. This is not to say that some couples don’t struggle with NFP; some do! But not many things in life – especially the good things! – come without some level of sacrifice or even suffering. But those challenging experiences can also be opportunities for conversion and human and spiritual growth as individuals, as couples, as families, and so on.
Those who practice HV’s teaching – as my oldest son Joe and his fiancé Christina intend to do after their wedding this November – even amidst great difficulties, are the encyclical’s true living witnesses, as well as its beneficiaries. They are helping to build, one marriage and one family at a time, the stable “human civilization” that Bl. Pope Paul VI so longed for us to have almost fifty summers ago when he gave us the gift of HV. It is the gift that truly keeps on giving generation after generation.Mark S. Latkovic, S.T.D. is a Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit, MI), where he has taught for over 23 years. He is co-editor of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (The Catholic University of America Press, 2004), as well as author of What’s a Person to Do? Everyday Decisions that Matter (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013) and numerous articles in scholarly and popular journals.
- The Five Phases of the Sexual and Cultural Revolution
- Is It Ever Immoral Not to Practice NFP?
- Fundamental Distinctions for the Upcoming Synod
- Speaking the Truth in Love
- Whose Agenda? Reflections on the Upcoming Synod