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Humanae Vitae continues to challenge us to love, trust, and sacrifice

The encyclical, Humanae Vitae, was promulgated 55 years ago, on July 25, 1968. The word often used to describe Pope Paul VI’s encyclical is “prophetic”. It is one of those rather rare cases in which such a daunting, loaded, and strong adjective is exactly on the mark. Being prophetic, in the biblical and apostolic tradition, involves far more than some sort of foretelling of future events. It is, first, a forth-telling of truth, a proclamation of the Word of God. As such, it requires courage and a willingness to be rejected, mocked, and even vilified.

All of that happened to Paul VI, and the case can be made (and has been made many times over) that Humanae Vitae and the immediate response to it—harsh, mocking, dismissive, angry—marked a pivotal moment in the Church’s life in the modern era in the West. There was talk then, as there is even today, that the deep divide over the teachings of Humanae Vitae and the subsequent, related teachings by Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI might lead to a divided Church. But viewing it in such a way is rather misleading because, first, the Church is One, and as such, cannot be divided into two (or more) bodies. “Unity”, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “is of the essence of the Church” (par 813). There are wounds to the unity of the Church, and these take the form of “rifts”, “serious dissensions”, “ruptures”, and “heresy, apostasy, and schism” (par 817).

It’s hardly a news flash, of course, that there are many who have separated themselves from full communion with the Church because of Paul VI’s clear teaching that contraception is sinful and contrary to God’s plan for marriage, procreation, and family life. I have no doubt that many Catholics who use contraception are ignorant of what the Church teaches—and why she teaches it. Yet there are those who knowingly, willfully, and without shame insist that they and their convenient (and supposedly perfect) consciences have found the Church’s teaching to be inadequate, inconvenient, and incorrect. Taken to its logical, if not altogether comfortable, conclusion, this approach assumes that God himself upholds the dissent founded upon their (poorly formed) consciences.

In other words, if final, definite authority is ascribed to one’s conscience, then what it says is “true” must, when push comes to shove, be what God also says is true (unless one is willing to say God can hold contradictory moral beliefs). Yet this is nonsensical. Such a faulty, narcissistic approach brings to mind this passage of Scripture:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:13-17)

Read more  at Catholic World Report 

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