It “fell like a bomb” on the Church. Forty years ago today, at the onset of the sexual revolution, a time when society was beginning to reexamine the very meaning and purpose of human sexuality, Pope Paul VI, under, I believe, direct guidance by the Holy Spirit, made it clear that the Catholic Church stood firm not only in favor of the Biblical and historical traditions of Christianity (note: every major Christian denomination condemned the use of artificial contraception until 1930), but of the very laws of nature:
This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.
The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. (Humanae Vitae, 12)
If you have not yet read this amazing encyclical, I highly suggest reading it this weekend. It’s very short and very easy to read. As much as people object to the Church’s position on contraception, and sex in general, intellectually it’s really the most basic and practical of all her teachings: sex exists for procreation. Knowing that procreation is good for our wellbeing as a society and necessary for our survival God, in His infinite Wisdom, did attach pleasure to the act of procreation (otherwise we probably wouldn’t do it), but that is not its purpose. It’s purpose is to form a bond between a man and woman (unity) through which new life is generated (procreation). This is not some Catholic theological concept, it’s quite obvious simply by looking at the male and female anatomy.
It is important to understand that the very reason we are facing the atrocity of abortion (not to mention divorce, widespread STDs, a rampant pornography industry and overall low moral standards, particularly when it comes to the human person, the human body) is because of the desecration of the marital act through the widespread and accepted indulgence of lust compounded by the use of contraception (this includes medication like the pill, “barrier methods” like condoms, surgical sterilization, “pulling out”, heerbal remedies or any other means used to intentionally sterilize the marital act). It is no mere coincidence that Roe v. Wade came after the lesser known Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, overturning a CT law banning the use of contraception – the law that first declared the so-called “right to privacy” in the 14th Amendment. People did not wake up one day and decide they had a right to murder their own offspring. But they did eventually decide that it was their right to have meaningless sex without limit or consequence. It’s hard to have respect for innocent human life when you violate the very act through which that life is created.
Not only society, but so many individuals have been deeply wounded by the lies they’ve accepted from our contraceptive culture, but they’re not without hope:
“we cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change” (JP II)
God is nothing if not merciful and it is never too late to come back to Him with all our heart.
Contraception is to be judged so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God (JPII, October 10, 1983).
To experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source (HV, 13).