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Humane Vitae: Day 21

 

 

Value of Self-Discipline

21. The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings. For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers.

An appropriate subject to think about especially during Holy Week. Self-denial is at the heart of the spiritual life. As human beings, we were made with passions, and those passions are not sinful in themselves. However, we have to learn how to control those passions so that they don’t control us. It is self-denial that strengthens the spirit so that we can begin to control them.

This is a large part of what makes our Lenten practices so important. We don’t give up things just for the sake of giving up things. Nor do we deny ourselves just for the sake of denying ourselves. Sacrifices are meant to bring about a greater good, and it is that greater good that gives meaning.

That’s why there is a kind chastity that is proper to married couples. In being able to discipline themselves, husbands and wives can grow in their understanding of each other which strengthens the marital bond: “far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, [self-discipline] transforms it by giving it a more truly human character.” Paragraph 21 explains some of the fruits that come about when husband and wife are able to master this self-discipline.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)

Humanae Vitae:Days 16 and 17

Paragraph 17, which is often pointed to when looking at how prophetic Humanae Vitae was when it was written in 1968.  Here, Pope Paul VI explains what would happen to a society that makes use of artificial contraception.  We already know the adverse effects contraception has on married couples.  But how would it effect things at a societal level?  Many who advocate the use of contraception say that this is a personal matter, a choice that should be left to individuals.  But as the Church has always taught, while sins are personal acts, they affect others: “Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1869).

Consequences of Artificial Methods

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

We can easily see today how marriage and human sexuality are de-valued and disrespected and how the divorce rate has skyrocketed even among Catholics since contraceptives have become readily available.  We can also see the “general lowering of moral standards” that exists culturally.  What about the objectification of women?  Pope Paul VI saw these as consequences of the use of artificial contraception, and he was right.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

Let’s reflect on this for a while, shall we?  There’s no doubt that the HHS mandate is evil.  But unfortunately, a culture that is accepting of the use of contraceptives has allowed the HHS mandate to exist.  The HHS mandate must be opposed.  Absolutely.  But we have to be equally forceful in our condemnation of artificial contraception.  Catholics must lead the way by their words and their example.

Limits to Man’s Power

Consequently, 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. These limits are expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions, in the light of the principles We stated earlier, and in accordance with a correct understanding of the “principle of totality” enunciated by Our predecessor Pope Pius XII.

Paragraph 17 has been looked at as being prophetic in determining the consequences that would happen upon a culture that made use of artificial contraception.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)

Humanae Vitae:Day 15

Lawful Therapeutic Means

15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

Recourse to Infertile Periods

16. Now as We noted earlier (no. 3), some people today raise the objection against this particular doctrine of the Church concerning the moral laws governing marriage, that human intelligence has both the right and responsibility to control those forces of irrational nature which come within its ambit and to direct them toward ends beneficial to man. Others ask on the same point whether it is not reasonable in so many cases to use artificial birth control if by so doing the harmony and peace of a family are better served and more suitable conditions are provided for the education of children already born. To this question We must give a clear reply. The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God.

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.

Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period butcondemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.

Today, because paragraph 15 is very short and self-explanatory, I will treat it together with paragraph 16.

Man is a rational and intelligent creature. That ability to reason is what sets us apart from animals. And so it is good for man to use his intelligence with regards to questions having to do with procreation. But wisdom places man’s intelligence at the service of God and what He has established.

Paul VI goes on to say that married couples may “engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile”. This is a way that the couple can space births using that which is natural (hence, Natural Family Planning).

NFP is not “Catholic contraception” as some mistakenly call it. Using contraceptives is a deliberate obstruction of the procreative process using artificial means. The use of contraceptives is a conscious decision to be closed to life. NFP is open to life. It places no such articifical obstacles in the procreative process, instead using what God has given naturally, i.e., periods of infertility.

Humanae Vitae: Day 14

Unlawful Birth Control Methods

14. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.  Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (cf. Casti connubii, Pope Pius XI)

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

Here we get to the bottom line.  Having explained God’s plan for married love and why man must not interfere with His divine will, Pope Paul VI goes on to reaffirm the Church’s teaching that the use of contraception is always intrinsically evil.  Every martial act must be open to children and no reason can be given – even what might sound like a noble reason – to justify the use of contraception even once.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)

Humanae Vitae: Day 10

Responsible Parenthood

10. Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person (See St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 2).

With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions,responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out (cf. Gaudium et Spes, nn. 50-51).

The word “responsible” is one that some are allergic to today in this “me first” culture of ours.  But God, in entrusting to man and woman the gift of being able to co-operate with Him in the procreation of human life, expects us to use this gift responsibly.  With all gifts from God, there is a right way to use them and a wrong way, a responsible way and an irresponsible way, a generous way and a selfish way.

Responsible parenthood means that as human beings, we don’t let our “innate drives and emotions” control us.  If now is not a good time for a couple to have children, they should abstain from sexual relations.  If they engage in sexual relations, then they must be responsible enough to accept the consequences of their decisions.

Responsible parenthood means being both prudent and generous to God in their decisions to have more children.

Responsible parenthood means that both husband and wife possess Christian maturity, great moral character, and virtue.  This means having the ability to use right reason.  It requires knowledge of both the natural and moral laws, and the maturity to follow them, understanding that “each of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12).  It requires the ability to set priorities not based on my will but God’s will.

  (Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)


Humanae Vitae: Day 9

Married Love

9. In the light of these facts the characteristic features and exigencies of married love are clearly indicated, and it is of the highest importance to evaluate them exactly.

This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.

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.

Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n. 50)

Married love is human, total, faithful and exclusive, and fecund.

Human: Married love is for the good of the whole person and it involves the complete giving of one’s self to another. Love is not merely emotional; it involves the whole self.

Total: Married love is the complete giving of one’s self.  When a couple contracepts, at least one party is holding something back.  A barrier is placed between spouses

Faithful and exclusive: “fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage…it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.”

Fecund: Marriage is ordered by its nature toward procreation and education of children.  The vocation of husband and wife is to cooperate with God in bringing new life into the world and to help that new life to know God his Creator.

Many forces in the world today want to redefine marriage.  But marriage is not ours to redefine.  God instituted marriage and is Himself the image of married love.  Its nature is to be human, total, faithful and exclusive, and fecund.  To try to make marriage anything other than what it truly is to destroy marriage itself, and when marriage is destoryed so is humanity.

Contraception is not human, it turns married love into something that is not total and therefore not faithful according to the vows that they made to each other, and it renders married love barren.

 (Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)