Friday, October 03, 2008

40 Years On, Paul's "Prophecy" and the Pill

Back in July, the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae garnered no shortage of attention in the chattering circles, as the milestone's reemergence of celebrations (and, indeed, complaints) underscored anew the long impact Paul VI's controversial final encyclical has yielded in the life of the church.

He might've been on vacation during the climax of the observances, but the sitting pontiff kicked off the remembrances in May by recalling Paul's "show of courage" and "farsightedness" in a speech to a Lateran University conference on the text, and -- acknowledging the "many difficulties" the church's teaching has faced in being understood, both in the world and "even [among] many of the faithful" -- closed the loop this morning with another message (fulltext) to a Rome conference on the "prophecy" of HV organized by the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family:
"The possibility of bringing a new human life into being", the Pope writes, "is included in the complete self-donation of the spouses. If, in fact, every form of love tends to extend outward its own fullness, then conjugal love has its own unique way of communicating itself: the generation of children. In this way, it not only resembles, but it also participates in the love of God, who wants to communicate himself by calling human persons to life. Excluding this communicative dimension through an action aimed at blocking procreation means denying the true intimacy of spousal love, through which the divine gift is communicated". Benedict XVI cites in this regard a passage from the encyclical (no. 17), which states that "unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions - limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed".

The pope is aware that "the world", and even the faithful, experience "difficulty" in understanding this message. "Of course, the technological solution often seems easier even in the great human questions, but in reality it conceals the deeper question, which concerns the meaning of human sexuality and the necessity of responsible self-control, so that its exercise may become the expression of personal love. Technology cannot substitute for the maturation of freedom, when what is at stake is love. On the contrary, as we know well, not even reason is enough: the heart must understand. Only the eyes of the heart are able to grasp the demands that must be met in attaining great love, capable of embracing the totality of the human being. For this reason, the service that the Church offers in its pastoral care for marriage and the family must lead couples to understand in their hearts the marvelous plan that God has inscribed in the human body, helping them to accept that which is part of an authentic journey of maturation".
At the close of their annual plenary in Cornwall last week, the Canadian bishops used the anniversary to issue a call for the church Up North to "discover or rediscover" Paul's call to responsibility.

Dated 26 September, the text came a day before the 40th anniversary of the "Winnipeg Statement" -- the Canadian bench's first response to the encyclical that came to symbolize on a far wider scale the conflict with which it was received.