Fifty years ago, on July 25th, 1969, Pope (soon to be Saint) Paul VI released the document Humanae Vitae to an astonished world. In an age of progress, where so many thought the Church was ready to move forward on moral and social issues, he made a clear and unwavering stand for traditional teachings about marriage and the family. Many Catholics struggled with the document, and the Church still finds herself suffering due to the hesitation of many to accept these difficult teachings. More so, the Church has suffered due to the hesitation of even many of her leaders to preach these teachings boldly.
In recognition of this anniversary, Bishop Barres released a pastoral letter entitled The Supreme Gift: The Gift of Life. In this beautiful letter he highlights not only the truth of the document, but it’s remarkably prophetic nature. Writing at the very dawn of a revolution that changed the world, Pope Paul VI saw the seeds of destruction that would leave our world with so many broken marriages, so many unloved children, with so many children’s lives being taken in the womb. And often not due to any malice or ill will, but because the culture of our society encourages men and women down these dark roads which leave them broken and ravaged by a heartless world.
In his letter though, Bishop Barres offers not a judgment on this difficult situation, but a message of hope. The truegift of Humanae Vitae was that it offered a beautiful and positive message about who we are and the role that most intimate part of ourselves is meant to play. While marriage and sexuality have led to so many difficulties in our world, he reminds us that when we do follow the higher calling to holiness in those areas, it leads to an incredible joy and richness. Rather than rejecting what the Church teaches, we realize it is the key to embracing the great good God intended of marriage since Adam and Eve. We realize that when God is at the center of a marriage, the gifts of unity and life pour forth in abundance and transform the world.
While so many Catholics close their minds and their hearts to these difficult teachings, maybe we take this 50th anniversary as a moment to ask ourselves why the Church continues to fight the tide of public opinion. Maybe we take a look at the statistics and see that couples who practice Natural Family Planning are much more likely to remain married, or that those who take part in abortions often become victims of great suffering themselves, or that the happiest people are those who put God at the center of every relationship. May we put our trust in God and His Church, knowing their loving care will never lead us astray