People think of Humanae Vitae as an encyclical on birth control, but it goes much deeper and broader, to fundamental definitions of the human person. Almost fifty years later, it still appeals to all people of good will to revere the human body because the body is integral to the human person. Disrespect for the human body began with Adam and Eve, and Margaret Sanger articulated a new kind of disrespect which she called “eugenics.” Hitler put eugenic principles into practice, and it has taken many forms since then, most especially in the industry generated by Planned Parenthood. But eugenics did not begin as abortion; it began as contraception.
Paul VI’s begins the document with these words: “The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.”
I vividly remember the first time I read Humanae Vitae, in 1983, when was 21 years old. I had just graduated from college, having dated a beautiful girl for two years, with all the trauma and euphoria of a man’s first deep relationship with a woman. I never touched her sexually, because my mother told me not to. I trusted Mom, and she gave me some practical reasons to save sex for marriage, but it was in Humanae Vitae that I first glimpsed God’s breathtaking rationally-ordered plan for human love. Human love—a complete gift of body and soul—was possible! He does not command the impossible, and here in this encyclical, was a blueprint for authentic human love. At age 21, still infatuated with my first love, my eyes full of stars, I had a lot to learn about what is actually possible in human relationships. But nothing that Humanae Vitae revealed to me that day has not proved true. Humanae Vitae is a north star for us, drowning as we are in the seas of the so-called sexual revolution; it not only guides us in the regulation of births and sexuality, but gives us hope to believe in the dignity of the human person.
Fifteen Natural Family Planning teachers spent a morning at my parish yesterday. They believe in marriage, in the goodness of the human body, and the potential for life-giving sexuality. I was so encouraged by their joyful commitment to the Church’s teaching, as fresh today as they were in 1968. If you get a chance, read or reread Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. It is our north star.