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Honoring And Recalling Humanae Vitae . . . “All Too Often Misunderstood And Misinterpreted”

July 25, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

(Editor’s Note: In honor of Humanae Vitae’s fiftieth anniversary, we reprint below the May 10, 2008 address of Pope Benedict XVI to the International Congress organized by the Pontifical Lateran University for the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae.
(Following that, we reprint excerpts from Pope John Paul II’s homily at the McNichols Sports Arena, Denver, for the Eighth World Youth Day, August 14, 1993. John Paul took the occasion to note Humanae Vitae’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The relevant passages appear below.
(These texts appear on the Vatican’s website, vatican.va. All rights reserved.)

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Address Of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I welcome you with great pleasure at the conclusion of your Congress which has involved you in reflecting on an old and ever new problem: responsibility and respect for human life from its conception.
I greet in particular Archbishop Rino Fisichella, rector magnificent of the Pontifical Lateran University, which organized this International Congress, and I thank him for his words of welcome. I then extend my greeting to the distinguished speakers, the lecturers, and all the participants who have enriched these busy days of work with their contributions.
Your papers fittingly contribute to the broader output on this topic — so controversial, yet so crucial for humanity’s future — which has increased in the course of the decades.
In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council was already addressing scientists, urging them to join forces to achieve unity in knowledge and a consolidated certainty on the conditions that can favor “the proper regulation of births” (n. 52).
My Predecessor of venerable memory, the Servant of God Paul VI, published his Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968. The Document very soon became a sign of contradiction. Drafted to treat a difficult situation, it constitutes a significant show of courage in reasserting the continuity of the Church’s doctrine and tradition.
This text, all too often misunderstood and misinterpreted, also sparked much discussion because it was published at the beginning of profound contestations that marked the lives of entire generations.
Forty years after its publication this teaching not only expresses its unchanged truth, but also reveals the farsightedness with which the problem is treated. In fact, conjugal love is described within a global process that does not stop at the division between soul and body and is not subjected to mere sentiment, often transient and precarious, but rather takes charge of the person’s unity and the total sharing of the spouses who, in their reciprocal acceptance, offer themselves in a promise of faithful and exclusive love that flows from a genuine choice of freedom.
How can such love remain closed to the gift of life? Life is always a precious gift; every time we witness its beginnings we see the power of the creative action of God who trusts man and thus calls him to build the future with the strength of hope.
The Magisterium of the Church cannot be exonerated from reflecting in an ever new and deeper way on the fundamental principles that concern marriage and procreation. What was true yesterday is true also today. The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change; on the contrary, precisely in the light of the new scientific discoveries, its teaching becomes more timely and elicits reflection on the intrinsic value it possesses.
The key word to enter coherently into its content remains “love.” As I wrote in my first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united. . . . Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: It is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves” (n. 5).
If this unity is removed, the value of the person is lost and there is a serious risk of considering the body a commodity that can be bought or sold (cf. ibid). In a culture subjected to the prevalence of “having” over “being,” human life risks losing its value.
If the practice of sexuality becomes a drug that seeks to enslave one’s partner to one’s own desires and interests, without respecting the cycle of the beloved, then what must be defended is no longer solely the true concept of love but in the first place the dignity of the person. As believers, we could never let the domination of technology invalidate the quality of love and the sacredness of life.
It was not by chance that Jesus, in speaking of human love, alluded to what God created at the beginning of the Creation (cf. Matt. 19:4-6). His teaching refers to a free act with which the Creator not only meant to express the riches of his love which is open, giving itself to all, but he also wanted to impress upon it a paradigm in accordance with which humanity’s action must be declined.
In the fruitfulness of conjugal love, the man and the woman share in the Father’s creative act and make it clear that at the origin of their spousal life they pronounce a genuine “yes” which is truly lived in reciprocity, remaining ever open to life.
This word of the Lord with its profound truth endures unchanged and cannot be abolished by the different theories that have succeeded one another in the course of the years, and at times even been contradictory. Natural law, which is at the root of the recognition of true equality between persons and peoples, deserves to be recognized as the source that inspires the relationship between the spouses in their responsibility for begetting new children.
The transmission of life is inscribed in nature and its laws stand as an unwritten norm to which all must refer. Any attempt to turn one’s gaze away from this principle is in itself barren and does not produce a future.
We urgently need to rediscover a new covenant that has always been fruitful when it has been respected; it puts reason and love first.
A perceptive teacher like William of Saint-Thierry could write words that we feel are profoundly valid even for our time: “If reason instructs love and love illumines reason, if reason is converted into love and love consents to be held within the bounds of reason, they can do something great” (De Natura et dignitate amoris, n. 21, 8).
What is this “something great” that we can witness? It is the promotion of responsibility for life which brings to fruition the gift that each one makes of him or herself to the other. It is the fruit of a love that can think and choose in complete freedom, without letting itself be conditioned unduly by the possible sacrifice requested.
From this comes the miracle of life that parents experience in themselves, as they sense the extraordinary nature of what takes place in them and through them.
No mechanical technique can substitute the act of love that husband and wife exchange as the sign of a greater mystery which (as protagonists and sharers in creation) sees them playing the lead and sharing in creation.
Unfortunately, more and more often we see sorrowful events that involve adolescents, whose reactions show their incorrect knowledge of the mystery of life and of the risky implications of their actions.
The urgent need for education to which I often refer, primarily concerns the theme of life. I sincerely hope that young people in particular will be given very special attention so that they may learn the true meaning of love and prepare for it with an appropriate education in sexuality, without letting themselves be distracted by ephemeral messages that prevent them from reaching the essence of the truth at stake.
To circulate false illusions in the context of love or to deceive people concerning the genuine responsibilities that they are called to assume with the exercise of their own sexuality does not do honor to a society based on the principles of freedom and democracy.
Freedom must be conjugated with truth and responsibility with the force of dedication to the other, even with sacrifice; without these components the human community does not grow and the risk of enclosing itself in an asphyxiating cycle of selfishness is always present.
The teaching expressed by the encyclical Humanae Vitae is not easy. Yet it conforms with the fundamental structure through which life has always been transmitted since the world’s creation, with respect for nature and in conformity with its needs.
Concern for human life and safeguarding the person’s dignity require us not to leave anything untried so that all may be involved in the genuine truth of responsible conjugal love in full adherence to the law engraved on the heart of every person.
With these sentiments I impart the Apostolic Blessing to you all.

Pope Benedict XVI

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Homily Of His Holiness,
Pope John Paul II

“The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain” (Isaiah 2:2).

Dear Brother Bishops and Sisters in Christ,
Dear Archbishop, Pastor of this beloved Church of Denver,

Upon arriving in Denver I lifted up my eyes towards the splendor of the Rocky Mountains whose majesty and power recall that all our help comes from the Lord who has made heaven and earth (Cfr. Psalm 121:2). He alone is the rock of our salvation (Cfr. Psalm 89(88):26).
God has given me the grace to join my voice with yours in praising and thanking our Heavenly Father for the “mighty works” (Acts 2:11) that he has accomplished since the Gospel was first preached in this region.
Today I greet all those whom Christ — the “pescador de hombres,” the divine fisherman — has gathered into the net of his Church. “With the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8 ), I thank Archbishop Stafford of Denver, Bishop Hanifen of Colorado Springs, Bishop Tafoya of Pueblo, Bishop Hart of Cheyenne, and the other Cardinals and Bishops present: the priests, the religious, and every one of you, for being “sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2 ).
I cordially greet the Governor of Colorado, the Mayor of Denver, and the representatives of other Churches, Ecclesial Communities and religious bodies. Your presence encourages us to continue to strive for ever greater understanding among all people of good will and to work together for a new civilization of love.
The World Youth Day is a great celebration of life: life as a divine gift and an awe-inspiring mystery.
Young people from all over the world are gathering to profess the Church’s faith that in Jesus Christ we can come to the full truth about our human condition and our eternal destiny.
Only in Christ can men and women find answers to the ultimate questions that trouble them. Only in Christ can they fully understand their dignity as persons created and loved by God. Jesus Christ is “the only Son from the Father…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)….
On many issues, especially with regard to moral questions, “the teaching of the Church in our day is placed in a social and cultural context which renders it more difficult to understand and yet more urgent and irreplaceable for promoting the true good of men and women” (Familiaris Consortio, n. 30). Nowhere is this more evident than in questions relating to the transmission of human life and to the inalienable right to life of the unborn.
Twenty-five years ago Pope Paul VI published the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. Your Bishops recently issued a Statement to mark this anniversary. They call everyone “to listen to the wisdom of Humanae Vitae and to make the Church’s teaching the foundation for a renewed understanding of marriage and family life” (NCCB [now the USCCB — editor]), Human Sexuality from God’s Perspective: Humanae Vitae 25 Years Later, conclusion).
The Church calls married couples to responsible parenthood by acting as “ministers” — and not “arbiters” — of God’s saving plan. Since the publication of Humanae Vitae, significant steps have been taken to promote natural family planning among those who wish to live their conjugal love according to the fullness of its truth.
Yet more efforts must be made to educate the consciences of married couples in this form of conjugal chastity which is grounded on “dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control” (Familiaris Consortio, n. 32).
I appeal especially to young people to rediscover the wealth of wisdom, the integrity of conscience, and the deep interior joy which flow from respect for human sexuality understood as a great gift from God and lived according to the truth of the body’s nuptial meaning.
Likewise, building an authentic civilization of love must include a massive effort to educate consciences in the moral truths which sustain respect for life in the face of every threat against it. In her vigorous concern for human rights and justice, the Catholic Church is unambiguously committed to protecting and cherishing every human life, including the life of the unborn.
As sent by Christ to serve the weak, downtrodden, and defenseless, the Church must speak on behalf of those most in need of protection. It is a source of comfort that this position is shared by people of many faiths. Those who respect life must accompany their teaching about the value of every human life with concrete and effective acts of solidarity to people in difficult situations.
Without charity, the struggle to defend life would be lacking the essential ingredient of the Christian ethic; as St. Paul writes: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). . . .
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to renew your trust in the richness of the Father’s mercy (Cfr. Eph. 2:4), in the Incarnation and Redemption accomplished by his beloved Son, in the Holy Spirit’s vivifying presence in your hearts.
This immense mystery of Love is made present to us through Holy Church’s sacraments, teaching and solidarity with pilgrim humanity. The Church, through your Bishops and other ministers, in your parishes, associations and movements, needs your love and your active support in defending the inviolable right to life and the integrity of the family, in promoting Christian principles in private and public life, in serving the poor and the weak, and in overcoming all manner of evil with good.
May Mary, “full of grace,” intercede for the Catholic community of Colorado and of the United States. May her example of discipleship draw each one of you to an ever more personal love of her Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
May she who is the Mother of the Church teach you to love and serve the Church as she loved and served the first community of Christ’s followers (Cfr. Acts 1:14).

Pope John Paul II

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