In light of the 50th anniversary on July 25 of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, Sr. Helena Burns, FSP, shares her insights on its enduring importance. Burns regularly travels across Canada and the U.S. to bring Theology of the Body workshops to youth and adults.
Let's talk about sex
We can't talk about contraception and Humanae Vitae until we talk about sex. There are two purposes of sex that are inseparable: love (union) and life (procreation). If we separate them we are "using" a human person, which is never in accord with human dignity. There are two other purposes of sex within marriage as well (that also tie our sexuality directly to God): a foretaste of heaven and a way to heaven (marriage is a sacrament; sacraments get you holy; sex or "the marital embrace" is a big part of marriage and consummates the marriage; the marital embrace is doing physically what marriage vows do verbally).
It started in the garden
I always think of Eve when I think of contraception, primarily the Pill: "But it's just a little piece of fruit!" ("But it's just a little pill!") So what's the big deal whether we use artificial contraception (against God's Word, natural law and Church teaching) or Natural Family Planning (acceptable)? Isn't the goal the same: to prevent pregnancy? Isn't Natural Family Planning (NFP) just "Catholic birth control?" Yes and no. No.
The end doesn't justify the means
The goal of contraception and NFP might be the same, that is, to avoid pregnancy (although NFP is also used to achieve pregnancy whereas contraception is always to prevent), but the end doesn't justify the means. Contraception is doing something: having sex during a woman's fertile time, while thwarting one of its inseparable purposes at the same time (life). Natural Family Planning is not doing something: abstaining from sex during a woman's fertile time so that the marital embrace will always be "open" to both love and life when it happens. Contraception and NFP are equally effective, around 97 per cent if done accurately.
Atomic truth bomb
Let's start with what is probably the biggest truth bomb regarding the very great differences between contraception and NFP: John Paul II calls them "two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality" (Familiaris consortio, 32). Whatever can he mean? For years – although I accepted Humanae Vitae (the Church's 1968 reaffirmation of her 2,000-year-old rejection of contraception and abortion) as infallible Church teaching – I really didn't understand it, nor could I explain it to anyone else. For a fallen mind (humanity after the Fall), what should be obvious often isn't. It wasn't until I discovered John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" that not only Humanae Vitae made sense to this former radical feminist, but the entire Catholic Faith begin to make sense through this very concrete, sacramental lens.
Although the Church has always had a pro-woman, pro-man, pro-child, pro-family, pro-life, body-positive stance with regard to contraception and abortion (Remember, whenever we say "no" to something, we're saying "yes" to something else.), when Humanae Vitae was issued, it caused not only an uproar among the faithful, but a well, rather "unfaithful" reaction: it was rejected and Catholics used contraception anyway (the Pill was invented in 1960).
Pope Paul's predictions
Now. We should obey God, His Word, His Church and right reason, even if we don't fully understand--while we delve deeper. (St. Anselm called this "faith seeking understanding.") But that didn't happen. So here we are, 50 years later, reaping the bitter fruits that Paul VI predicted would come to fruition if society wholeheartedly embraced contraception: promiscuity/marital infidelity/breakdown of the family; increased objectification of women; governments mandating/promoting anti-life policies; thinking we can do anything with the body as raw material instead of treating it as sacred.
How is Humanae Vitae pro-woman?
Humanae Vitae is pro-woman because it is attentive to and respects a woman's psyche, body and her cycles. The man has to also be attentive to a woman's psyche, body and her cycles. Women have cycles: monthly fertility cycles. Women are not always available, that's the lie of male domination, porn, prostitution, a misunderstanding of Scripture and contraception.
It's not about "artificial"
You will never hear me use the word "artificial" before the word "contraception." That's not the problem. It's not artificial vs. natural means. Catholics love true progress. We love science and medicine and technology and we use them all the time...in accordance with human dignity: hearing aids, pacemakers, operations, medicine, etc. There is nothing as 'natural" as an "artificial" arm. Why? Because a prosthesis takes the place of a missing/disabled arm and does what an arm does. Contraception does not do what a healthy, functioning system in the body does (namely, fertility). It does the exact opposite and turns a healthy, functioning body system into an unhealthy, malfunctioning system, often over long periods of time.
God is so merciful to us that now we have the science (biology and social sciences) that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that what God told us is good for us actually is, and what God told us is bad for us actually is. The physical, spiritual, psychological, relational and societal effects of contraception are damaging and destructive. The physical, spiritual, psychological, relational and societal effects of NFP are healthy and empowering. I'm going to quote only one statistic here that should make all of us sit up and pay attention and want to know everything we can about NFP: the divorce rate of NFP couples is 1-2 per cent.
NFP-Toronto (Billings Method): https://toronto.naturalfamilyplanning.ca New documentary by former pro-abortion radical feminist and atheist: www.SexualRevolutionMovie.com Best books on Humanae Vitae, Theology of the Body, contraception and NFP: www.tinyurl.com/topTOBbooks