Reflections on Humanae Vitae Part V: Life in Christ

Pope Paul VI was just canonized a saint.

Our reflections on Humanae Vitae have been building to its ultimate purpose, the one to which Pope St. Paul VI has been directing us. Almost all of the ink spilled on this document has focused on its negative commands. In other words, Humanae Vitae is remembered primarily as the Church’s most important “no” statement to the question of contraception.

And to be sure that has been a strong focus of this series. To be a true Christian to often to stand in defiance to the world and to say “no.”

But as with any moral teaching, the “yes” has more spiritually fruitful consequences than the “no.”

It is essential that we avoid sin, but that is not the end in itself. As a child, if I refrain from hitting my little sister, that is good. But the end is not simply to not hurt my sibling. My parents raised me so that I would care about her to the point where hurting her would be unthinkable. Submitting the will to the Church’s teaching is good. But it is better to mold your character, and in this case your marriage, to where contracepting is unthinkable.

Saying “yes” to Humanae Vitae is saying yes to a holy marriage.

Now, to be sure, avoiding contraception is not sufficient by itself for a holy marriage. But it is essential. Why?

1.Surrender to Children

All of us are called to holiness. And that holiness is made manifest in a love that gives its life away. Christ Himself said, “No greater love has a man than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) There are very few ways to be a bloodless martyr in this world as simply as to be a parent. Those of you who are parents understand that once that child comes into the world, your own wants and desires take an immediate back seat to the happiness of your child. To stray from this is to veer into utterly disdainful behavior. Think about it: do we tolerate any parent whose life’s philosophy involves putting themselves before their child? Yes, we understand that no parent is perfect, but the trajectory of their lives must be to give them away to their children.

If a parent had a choice between taking the money they had to either further their child’s education or to further their own, wouldn’t we understand that the only moral option is for the parent to put the child first? In almost any other relationship, we can see the pros and cons of placing your own needs above another’s. Perhaps only one sibling can go to college or perhaps you and your spouse are trying to decide which one of you should get an advanced degree. But in the case of the parent and child, there really isn’t a question. The child’s needs and the child’s happiness must come first.

Openness to children is an openness to this kind of natural selflessness. I don’t mean to say that being a parent automatically makes you holy. But it does realign your natural life trajectory towards giving that life away. This is why Paul said, “Women will be saved through childbearing.” (1 Timothy 2:15) This is not a sexist statement about a woman becoming a baby factory. It is about how being a parent will set you to give your life away in a Christlike way.

2.Surrender to Spouse

A read the following analogy on a blog once, but I cannot remember where. It involves the short-lived TV show Pushing Daisies. The premise of the show was that the main character had the ability to bring people back from the dead by touching them. But when he touched them again, they would die. On the show, he touched his old girlfriend who died suddenly. Afterwards the two fell in love. But because of his ability, they could never touch each other. All contact they had had to be through their clothes or gloves or any other kind of barrier. They were together and they were in love, but there was always something slightly tragic in that they could never really touch.

When we put a barrier between each other in the marital act, we also prevent ourselves from truly connecting with our spouse. Speaking about sexual intimacy in an article like this is difficult and can never really capture the nature of something so private and personal. But when the couple shares their bodies, they are supposed to share everything that they are. The sexual union is one of complete surrender.

When the man and wife surrender their bodies to each other, they offer everything that they are. Nothing is held back. It is a complete offering of body, heart, and soul. To hold back such an important part of yourself is to cut yourself off from that experience of complete surrender. Most marriages struggle with other kinds of barriers in areas of emotion, communication, finances, and the like. Don’t let this be another barrier that keeps the two from become one.

3.Surrender to Christ.

We are called to be witnesses to Christ. That means we have to show the world that we believe His words and trust in Him.

I can think of few things scarier in this world than being a parent. Once that child comes into the world, the responsibility for their life, their soul, their happiness, and their character falls squarely on your shoulders. I would imagine a perpetual knot would manifest in the gut and it would never disappear for the rest of your life.

But over and over again, Christ calls us to not be afraid. When Peter saw Christ on the waters, Jesus called his Apostle to come and walk on the waves as well. Peter’s faith was so great that he stepped onto the raging sea and walked on water with Christ. People often speak of his lack of faith that caused him to sink. But how many of us would have had enough faith to take that first step?

And yet that is what we are all called to do. In marriage, do we trust Jesus with our married life. Pope St. Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae, “For by this sacrament they are strengthened and, one might almost say, consecrated to the faithful fulfillment of their duties. Thus will they realize to the full their calling and bear witness as becomes them, to Christ before the world. For the Lord has entrusted to them the task of making visible to men and women the holiness and joy of the law which united inseparably their love for one another and the cooperation they give to God’s love, God who is the Author of human life.” (Humanae Vitae, 25)

A priest once said to me that our lives may be the only Gospel some people will ever read. Is your married life a Gospel? I is it a witness to the Good News of Jesus in your life. Do you life a life of trust that He will take care of you and your spouse if you step out onto the waters?

All married couples struggle with this. But we are promised a happiness that will endure beyond the crosses. Pope St. Paul VI goes on to write “For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature.” (HV, 31)

Inside of the our human nature, which God wrote into our deepest being, there is a plan for our deepest happiness. And it happens when we take our lives and surrender them to the Lord.

When we say “yes” to that surrender, we will have then unlocked the treasure of Humanae Vitae.

Copyright 2018, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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