This year fifty years since the publication of Humanae Vitae. Pope Paul VI published this encyclical in order to discuss in depth the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception.
On the surface, it can seem like discussion of the topic of family planning might really only be a topic for married couples. But a closer look at what this document contains suggests it can be pretty relevant for singles, too.
A counter-cultural explosion
Humanae Vitae was published in the late sixties. The decade of the sexual revolution, “free love,” and the creation of The Pill.
A document affirming the Church’s age-old teaching against artificial contraception went against the grain of the times. But a clash between religion and secular culture was not exactly something new. The secular culture promoted and accepted contraception. Other sects of Christianity started to follow along with the secular culture. Even the Anglican Church had changed their former stance and was allowing for the use of contraception.
With all this in the air, Pope John XXIII established the Pontificial Commission on Birth Control to study the question of whether these new methods of contraception could be considered morally acceptable or not. After Pope John XXIII died, Pope Paul VI added additional theologians to this commission. In 1966 the commission concluded, not unanimously, that contraception was okay.
This then paved the way for God to speak through the Pope’s infallible teaching authority. Pope Paul VI shocked many by publishing Humanae Vitae. He declared that, in opposition to what a large portion of the world thought, artificial contraception was not okay at all.
An attitude of submission
I’ve often thought about how it must have felt to be a Catholic before Humanae Vitae was released. Can you imagine waiting to see if the Church would follow all these others in adapting and accepting the morally dubious new medical technology? I think that a large part of why so many Catholics even these days have a problem with the Church’s teaching on the matter has something to do with how counter-cultural it is.
This is why the Church calls us to practice an attitude of submission in our daily lives. She calls us to submit to suffering, trials, and God’s will (even when we can’t understand immediately why).
Whether it’s the Church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, the demands of chastity while all our non-Catholic friends are cohabitating with the people they’re dating, or this teaching against the use of artificial contraception, being a faithful Catholic is hard.
But submitting to the teachings of the Church can be hard, especially when we look around at the sometimes very obviously flawed leaders in the Church. We have to remember that Christ Himself is leading us. Christ promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church.
Knowing this and being ready to submit to whatever the Church teaches, even when it’s most personally difficult for us, is important in a lot of ways. However, it’s especially important if we’re hoping to have a happy marriage someday.
Humanae Vitae calls us to sacrifice
For singles who take the use of artificial contraception as a given, a future marriage might seem pretty simple. At a surface level, it seems to offer sex with your spouse whenever you want it, kids when you’re ready.
But God has a better idea.
Marriage will always require sacrifice, especially when it comes to sex. Whether it’s because your spouse isn’t in the mood, your kids are being needy at night, or a host of possible medical problems, sex isn’t actually always available in marriage even when the spouses are using artificial contraception.
But it also turns out that in marriage, you’ll be needing to sacrifice a lot of things. You’ll sacrifice some of your old habits that drive your spouse batty. The need to always be right and have things the way you want will be sacrificed , too. If babies come, no matter how perfectly spaced they are, you’ll have to sacrifice sleep. The list goes on.
As Catholics, the Church calls us to marriage where we following the Church’s teaching against artificial contraception. Sacrifice is going to be built-in and it will become a habit.
If you discern to not pursue pregnancy during a certain month with your family, this will require sacrifice as well. You and your spouse will have to abstain for approximately five to ten days of fertility each month. The teaching of this document is hard. But it is also wise. Though it might seem on the surface to make marriage harder, its teaching is actually a built-in way to practice the sacrifice that marriage will demand anyway.
Even before that future marriage comes about, we should all make a point of living out an attitude of submission to the Church’s teachings. Because often, the sacrifice God demands will be most fruitful for us in the long run.