A little over fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI wrote a document that forever changed the world entitled Humanae Vitae. It may be one of the most controversial documents ever written to date, but it is also one of the most prophetic.This document stated that the Catholic Church, in a time when hormonal birth control was growing in popularity, would stand firm on our teaching that it simply was not acceptable. The Catholic Church stood alone.
When I was studying for my master’s degree, I wrote a paper about the original document and a book written by Dr. Janet Smith called, “Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader.” Before reading the book and the document in full, as a single woman, I wanted so badly to write a paper in opposition. However, each word of Pope Paul VI changed my heart, and, in the end, I agreed. My life was forever changed, and my heart softened to what it meant to be a woman of God.
The Church did not leave women to fend for themselves amidst this document. It did call women, and men, to a higher standard of living. It called us not to take the easy road and give into our sex-crazed culture, but instead began its mission of teaching about chastity, faithful obedience, and fertility awareness. This mission has only continued to grow in our Church, and at this point, we have made a small dent in the healing that needs to occur in the world from the development and wide acceptance of premarital sex, the “hook-up” culture, and yes, hormonal birth control.
Mother Teresa talked often about bringing Jesus to a hurting world. Women wounded by false promises is a place where I am passionate about bringing Jesus in to heal. Thus, began my passion for chastity and natural family planning (NFP). NFP is the answer the Church gives to the use of hormonal birth control. Was NFP created to make lives difficult and impossible? No, it was done purely out of love!! We know the predictions made by Pope Paul VI in his prophetic document to be true. He stated that the use of contraceptives would increase marital infidelity, it would lower moral standards, men would lose respect for women treating them as instruments for their own enjoyment, it would lead us to think we have unlimited dominion over our own bodies, and, finally, that contraception would become a dangerous tool in the hands of the government. These predictions have become reality and in an even greater capacity than what Pope Paul VI even imagined. The first four predictions can dramatically affect marriage. Who wants a marriage with low moral standards? Who hopes there will be infidelity in their marriage? Who gets married hoping to treat each other as objects for our own enjoyment? Once we understand the teachings of Humanae Vitae and add to it a clear instruction on the female reproductive anatomy, couples realize that it is possible to stay within God’s plan for their marriage. This is why we recommend so strongly taking a full course of NFP before marriage! It is essential that we give engaged couples the tools needed for the best possible outcome for their marriage. We face an almost 50% divorce rate in the nation. However, with proper understanding of sacramental marriage, compatibility inventories, priests and deacons who go above and beyond to help couples understand the commitment they are making and a full course of NFP, I know our divorce rate is not at that 50% mark.
The church desires to help couples succeed because we love them and want what is genuinely good and right for their lives. Free, total, faithful, and fruitful are the pillars of the sacrament of marriage. If we do not offer couples what the Church teaches about planning a family then we have done them a great disservice. A quote straight from the document itself talks directly about God’s love that the church desires for every engaged couple. “It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.”
This love is achieved fully in couples who choose to use the gift (which can also become a cross) of natural family planning in their marriage. I am so thankful that my single woman’s hardened heart was changed by reading the beautiful words of Pope Paul VI those years ago. My marriage has been blessed, my family has been blessed and my life continues to be blessed by watching young men and women have a conversion of heart because of the wise words of Pope Paul VI. Natural family planning has not always been the easiest road to follow, but it has led me to more beauty than I could have ever imagined by helping my husband and I be stewards and ministers of our fertility instead of opponents and manipulators of it.