I remember living through 1968 and being fascinated at the epoch-making events which took place: the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King; the riots in our cities; the Tet offensive in Vietnam; President Johnson’s decision not to run for president; the Democratic Convention in Chicago; the Mexico City Olympics; the Tigers’ victory in the World Series. In the midst of this, Pope Paul VI issued two documents.
The first was his Creed of the People of God on June 30, 1968, in which he professed:
"We confess that the Kingdom of God begun here below in the Church of Christ is not of this world whose form is passing, and that its proper growth cannot be confounded with the progress of civilization, of science or of human technology, but that it consists in an ever more profound knowledge of the unfathomable riches of Christ, an ever stronger hope in eternal blessings, an ever more ardent response to the love of God, and an ever more generous bestowal of grace and holiness among men."
Real human development is not to be measured by technological progress; are we better human beings because we all have i-pods? That is the question we must answer honestly. And the second point the Holy Father made is that our lives are lived in hope of eternal blessings; do we live looking for a life beyond this world or is this all there is?
That was the context for the second document that Pope Paul issued 25 days later (July 25, 1968) called Humanae vitae, which begins, “In their function of transmitting human life a married couple freely and responsibly collaborate with God.” Freedom and responsibility are fulfilled when we do so in collaboration with God. Again, we look beyond this world and, again, it is not technology which defines our progress but being responsible in relationship to God.
Roberta Roane wrote in the National Catholic Reporter (October 31, 1986):
"Yes, I was alive and fertile in 1968. I was 19 and I knew the Pill was a gift from God and Humanae vitae was a real crock…. At a very low point in our marriage, we met some great people who urged us to really give our lives to the Lord and be chaste in our marriage.
"That blew our minds. We thought it meant ‘give up sex.’ That’s not what it means. It means respecting bodily union as a sacred act. It meant acting like a couple in love, a couple in awe, not a couple of cats in heat. For my husband and me, it meant NFP…and I won’t kid you, it was a difficult discipleship. NFP and a chaste attitude toward sex in marriage opened up a new world for us. It bonded my husband and me in a way that is so deep, so strong, that it’s hard to describe."
I proceed now with making some comments about marriage with trepidation in the light of a story told by the columnist, Mary Kenny: “An Irishwoman, a mother of 10, upon hearing a celibate priest preach on the ideals of marriage and priesthood in Humanae vitae, was said to have sighed: ‘I wish I knew as little about it as he does.’”
I do not want this to be an occasion to condemn birth control; rather today, this 40th anniversary is an opportunity to congratulate and encourage all of you couples who have been or are currently practicing Natural Family Planning. As Pope Paul said, you have preserved the “inseparable connection” between the “unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” of marital intercourse (article #12). Thus it is that you have tried to live out the full and healthy integration of your sexuality with your whole being. Sexuality is not something out there such as a game to be taken off the shelf and played, but is rather an integral part of your own lives which you take seriously. In addition, part of the sexuality of you wives is your natural fertility. You take this seriously and do not try to suppress it; you do not assert that you have ultimate power over this part of your life; rather you with your husband have learned to cherish and respect that part of who you are and live with it together. In doing this you husbands have learned to take seriously and to exercise responsibly your sexuality. You have learned to respect and follow the natural cycles of your wife; you have learned self-control and other means of showing affection. These are tough lessons for men. Yet, by living this way with your wife you have practiced chastity within marriage.
And all of this is because you both have taken seriously our human bodies and the way they have been given to us—as male and female. The Catholic novelist, Flannery O’Connor comments on this in a 1955 letter to a friend:
"I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church places on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified. I have always thought that purity was the most mysterious of the virtues, but it occurs to me that it would never have entered human consciousness if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ. The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature."
As a second point, I would congratulate you on learning what real love is. In 1992, the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood V. Casey stated: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The sheer arrogance of that statement continues to blow me over. Ultimately, the court and much of our society is telling us that we define love however we want. That is not love; it is selfishness. Our poor frail human love is its richest only when it imitates the greatest love, God himself. And God as love is God who is a community of persons pouring themselves out for each other. The complementarity of the sexes is designed to reflect the communion of the Trinity. You have learned that you can only be truly yourselves by sacrificing all that you are, including at times your own sexual desires and urges for each other. Thus marriage, your marriage, has become a source of grace and a defense of the dignity of man and woman and a mirror for others of the very love of the Trinity.
Thirdly and finally, you are congratulated for letting Natural Family Planning be a way of life. You have found it to be scientifically based, objective and observable, medically safe and healthy, and inexpensive. But most of all it has enhanced your marriage and your married life.
My sisters and brothers, today we of the Diocese of Lansing salute you who have borne the heat of the day and tried, to your utmost, to live out sacrificially your love for one another in respect of the way God has given you that love. Unfortunately, very few of our citizens and even of our Catholic brothers and sisters know about the way of Natural Family Planning and its many benefits. I urge you to be not just disciples in this regard, but evangelists. Share this great blessing with others. I recognize it is a blessing with crosses and these too must be shared, but we all know that, keeping heaven in mind, we can walk with the Lord because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not any trial or difficulty which we face.
GOD BLESS YOU ALL