The “liberating truth” of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” is as relevant today 50 years after its promulgation, and maybe even more so, said Archbishop of Denver Samuel Aquila in his new pastoral letter, “The Splendor of Love.”
“The 50th anniversary of ‘Humanae Vitae’ is an occasion to celebrate the gift of Blessed Paul VI’s teaching and an opportunity to renew our commitment to sharing this liberating truth with a world that is increasingly confused about sexuality,” Archbishop Aquila wrote.
He said he wrote the pastoral “to affirm the great beauty of the church’s consistent teaching through the centuries on married love, a love that is so desperately needed today.”
“Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”) reaffirmed the church’s teaching against the use of artificial birth control and contraceptive sterilisation. Promulgated July 25, 1968, the encyclical was Blessed Paul’s last.
“He prophetically defended the integrity of married love and warned us against the danger of reducing sexuality to a source of pleasure alone,” Archbishop Aquila wrote. “Married love reflects the love of Christ, the love which caused him to become human to save us and to give his life for his church. Married love, ‘from the beginning’ is also by nature fruitful, bringing new life into the world so we can participate in the gift of God’s own creation.”
Defending this love in today’s culture “requires a strong commitment,” the archbishop said. He noted that one of the Fatima visionaries, Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, related that “a decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and family.”
“The family is the foundation of society, and when it is undermined, society itself is threatened with collapse,” he added.
Archbishop Aquila said that the 50 years since “Humanae Vitae” have brought “both goodness and the distortions of the truth about sexuality.”
“Despite these lies, the church has continued to illuminate the world with the good news that human love finds its ultimate meaning and splendor in God’s own particular love for every human being,” he wrote.
Among positive developments, he listed St John Paul’s theology of the body; Pope Benedict XVI’s writings that show “the astonishing truth” that “human love and sexuality teach us about God’s own love”; and Pope Francis’ emphasis on fostering “a culture of encounter within the family so the deeply social character of marriage is supported and spreads to society at large.”
In addition, the archbishop said, there have been “great advancements” in natural family planning “as couples have embraced God’s beautiful and sometimes challenging plan for their married life.”
He listed several “disturbing” negative developments of the past 50 years resulting from “widespread contraceptive use.” The Pope, he noted, had warned contraception would “open wide the way for conjugal infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.”
“The effects of the sexual revolution have devastated our culture,” Archbishop Aquila said, noting the large numbers of abortion, the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, the nearly 50 percent divorce rate, the fall of birthrates and a decline in the number of people getting married.
He also pointed to “widespread use of pornography,” which he said has trivialised love and made sex “cheap.” He noted how the “predominant use” use of the birth control pill is flooding water supplies with synthetic estrogen and “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals, leading to, among other things, infertility and an increased risk of cancer.
It’s commonplace now for children to be born out of wedlock, Archbishop Aquila continued, and “the greatest tragedy today facing the family may be the unwillingness of many to enter married love and to experience the joys of family life,” he said.
Changing views of marriage and sex – as a means of personal fulfilment and pleasure, not a source of life and family – have led to the redefinition of marriage, he said. At the heart of Blessed Paul’s encyclical is that the unitive and procreative aspects of sex are “inseparable,” the archbishop added.
The truth about the dignity of the human person “applies to our sexuality well,” he noted.
“Humanae Vitae,” Archbishop Aquila said, explains “the truth about married love” and lists its “four essential qualities: It needs to be fully human, total, faithful and fruitful.”
He acknowledged that “the 1968 reception of ‘Humanae Vitae’ was mixed,” but he said “the fulfilment, of Blessed Paul’s prophetic wisdom is undeniable. … Those communities of faith which have gone the way of the world in their teaching on human sexuality have not filled their churches but only emptied them.”
In the three-part, 20-page pastoral letter, Archbishop Aquila made frequent reference to the writings of the current pope and his two immediate predecessors as they relate to “Humanae Vitae.”
As a bishop himself, he said, one way he has responded to the encyclical and St. John Paul’s teaching on the theology of the body has been to tell engaged couples they must complete a full course about natural family planning as part of their preparation for marriage in the church.
Archbishop Aquila said married couples who teach natural family planning “are a great gift to the church,” because they “teach from their lived experience of the sacrament of marriage and their encounter with Jesus, putting into practice Pope Francis’s consistent call for accompaniment or engaged and newly married couples.” He also encouraged engaged couples “to make the most” of their marriage preparations.
In the last section titled “Proclaiming the Splendor of God’s Love,” Archbishop Aquila said every Catholic has a mission “to live and share the good news of God’s plan for human sexuality,” including parents, married couples, priests and deacons, doctors and nurses, lawyers and politicians, journalists, artists and everyone in the media, and teachers, catechists and youth leaders.
“This requires courage to stand against the prevailing cultural winds, but Jesus calls us to do nothing less,” he said.