Humanae Vitae: challenge to love

Gerry Grey Lewis

Guest Column
By Gerry Gray-Lewis
Fifty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul IV wrote the controversial letter titled Humanae Vitae “Of Human Life.” Up until the 1930’s, all Christian denominations largely agreed that husbands and wives were not to interfere with the marital act of love, as “controlling birth” was not in keeping with a sacramental marriage.
In 1932 the Anglican Church broke with this tradition, the first small crack in the dyke. With the “pill” discovery in the 1960’s, questions soon rose. The pillno longer interrupted the human act of love (as barrier methods would), so perhaps it would be permitted?
Blanket approval was given, and couples began using the pillin anticipation of the magisterium’s approval. The outcry of dissent following the encyclical Humane Vitae’s release was deafening, a watershed moment for our Church. Within it, four predictions were made of our future.
1. “How easy it will be (for many) to justify behavior leading to marital infidelity or to a gradual weakening of morals.” One third of marriages fail before their 10th wedding anniversary, a climb which parallels the now common use of contraceptives. Despite the Pill, we see 1.4 million abortions each year, and the Pillitself has abortive actions. 40 percent of pregnancies are now to unwed parents.
2. “Especially the young who are susceptible to temptation that they may need encouragement to keep the moral law.” Flu shot, Tylenol from a public health nurse, and ear piercing require parental consent for minor children. Not so for contraception/sexual counseling. HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, infertility and of course the broken hearts and wounded souls pepper the sexual landscape, which our teens often navigate without a guide.
3. “Men will lose respect for their wife’s psychophysical equilibrium and use women as instruments to serve their own desires. No longer will they view their wives as companions who should be treated with attentiveness and love.” Sex has lost what once made it sacred, and the ripples of that failure can be seen across society today. Note the expansion of pornography/sex addiction, sex trafficking, date rape, partial-birth abortion, and co-habitation.
4. “Who will prevent public authorities (rulers, governments) from favoring effective contraceptive methods and from mandating that everyone must use them?” In 1985, PhD student Steve Mosher discovered draconian measures in the forced abortion/sterilization policy of China and its one child policy — one that caused the widespread practice of infanticide of baby girls and the country’s grossly disproportionate ratio of male to female. And up until the Mexico Policy of 1984, even U.S. foreign aid had been tied to mandatory contraceptive/abortion programs in poor countries.
Four simple predictions made in 1968 with no empirical data for its author to anticipate such outcomes. Yet, all have occurred across the globe in less than five decades.
But among the dire predictions is something else: hope. Humane Vitae also contains imaginative, magical, inspiring, edifying words that fortify marriage and chastity.
After our own early marriage, ignorant of this teaching and “forming our own conscience,” somewhere or somehow a copy of this booklet fell into our hands. It was an illuminating, exhilarating moment to be called to a radically different way of nuptial love. It gave us the why for such an outdated teaching, and we were joyful to be invited to live our vows in such a radical way.
And science itself offers hope, replacing Calendar Rhythm Methods with highly effective methods …Modern Natural Family Planning (NFP): the Billings Ovualtion Method, Sympto-Thermal and the Creighton model. Not surprisingly, only 3 percent of couples that utilize NFP suffer from divorce.
Saint John Paul II later developed the teaching of marital love in famous works entitled “Theology of the Body.” Our parish pastor Father John Bohn recently used the old dear phrase “Before you were a twinkle in your father’s eye!” We are that twinkle in God the Father’s eyes. How blessed is the family who cooperates with that divine twinkle and nine months later is called to give that twinkle a name. And how blessed is the family today that can use ethical science to delay twinkles for serious family reasons.
What an exciting time to be Catholic. Be wiser than we were, our sisters and brothers. Read, reflect, pray, take in a class on NFP…..then choose your path.
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost

(Gerry Gray-Lewis is a wife, mom, nurse and a member of Jackson St. Richard Parish. NFP classes using the BOMA® method are offered in English on a regular basis in the Jackson Diocese. For more information, please contact the Office of Family Ministry at 601-960-8487 or email Charlene Bearden at