50 Years Later, A Pope's Predictions Have Come True

08-12-2018From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

Life is far more than existence. Just because we are a living breathing being does not mean we are fully alive. The fullness of life comes from loving and being loved. That is so basic. Without people to love us and care for us, without people we can love and care for, life is dull, empty, boring, and pretty much meaningless. On July 25th our Bishop John Barres issued a pastoral letter commemorating the 50th anniversary Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life).

Probably the most remembered part or line in that encyclical is where he says that artificial contraception is morally wrong. Since that time many people have dismissed or even rejected his teaching. In a book I am reading now entitled “Wrestling with God,” by Ronald Rohlheiser, the first chapter states: “Generally, we are drawn, and drawn very powerfully, toward the things of this earth; other people, pleasure, beautiful objects, sex, money, comfort. These seemingly have a more powerful grip on us than do the things of faith and religion.” All we are and have are gifts. They can bring peace, hope, and joy or they can bring unrest, guilt, and pain to ourselves and others. In his letter “The Supreme Gift: The Gift of Life,” Bishop Barres says: “Modern culture often says that the Catholic Church has a negative view of sex. In fact, it is the culture that has a negative view of sex. The Catholic Church views sex as sacred because it is a gift from God. Modern culture often views sex as recreational, and so trivializes it. The Church teaches that human sexuality is so important that it should be reserved for people who love each other so much that they are willing to make a public, life-long commitment to each other in marriage.”

In the second chapter of “Wrestling With God,” Rolheiser speaks about the sexual revolution that has occurred in the past seventy years. He says that sex has moved away from the concept that it is morally connected to procreation. Not every sexual act is open to creating a new life, but that does not mean it should never be open to creating a new life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Marriage and marital love are ordained by their very nature to the procreating and educating of children. Offspring are the supreme gift of marriage, a gift that contributes immensely to the good of the parents themselves.” Whenever I speak to parents at meetings about their children or at baptisms I always tell them, “You are like God! You have done what God has done, created life where there was no life before. Your children would never exist if you did not love one another. And you continue to be like God as you love your children unconditionally and readily sacrifice for them.” That statement is so true and gets their attention. Parents and parenthood are a blessing from God, especially for their children. And of course, the sexual act also deepens the love of husband and wife.

Another result of the sexual revolution that Rohlheiser observes is that in our culture sex is no longer tied to marriage. He says: “Sex in our cultural understanding, has become an extension of dating, and one of the fruits of that is more people who live together outside of marriage and before marriage, without any sense of moral implication. The extramarital coupling has become so prevalent today that sex outside marriage is more the norm than the exception.” When I ask couples who are living together and come in to arrange their weddings what is going to change when they get married they have no idea that they are going to receive a sacrament. And usually, they are not connected to the Church. They are not bad people, but they have no sense of God. They miss the point Jesus was making in last Sunday’s Gospel where he says, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to me will never hunger, he who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35) In their thirst for the fullness of life they, like all who are not connected with God, are depriving themselves of the gift of God’s love, mercy, and presence. Sacrifice and responsibility are an integral part of marital love and there is no greater source of strength and inspiration than Jesus Christ. He feeds us with Himself in Holy Communion and brings us healing peace in the Sacrament of Penance.

In his final observation about the sexual revolution, Rohlheiser says: “Today we are witnessing, not least in our university campuses, the phenomenon of “hookup” sex, where sex is deliberately and consciously cut off from love, emotion, and commitment.... all of which are feared as time-demanding, messy, and an impediment to study, work, fun, and freedom.” Last year I wrote about a student in a local college who went to the freshmen orientation where they were throwing condoms to the students from the stage. The message of the administration was clear: Do whatever you want sexually, there are no moral guidelines. If pregnancy occurs abortion will take care of that.

Pope Paul VI was a prophet in his encyclical. He pointed out four things 50 years ago that would result from artificial contraception and they have happened:

  1. An increase of infidelity in relationships. There are websites for dissatisfied husbands and wives to find other dissatisfied partners along with a barrage of pornography that leads to addiction.
  2. A general weakening of morals throughout society. Our government legalizes abortion and has tried to mandate insurance for contraceptives, abortion, and sterilization. Again, there are countless pornographic and sexually perverted websites, all of which are at our fingertips wherever we are with our electronic devices.
  3. There would be a decrease in men’s respect for women. Just pick up a newspaper and turn on the news and hear about more celebrities, bosses, and politicians who are being taken to court for their actions.
  4. Public authorities would force contraception upon people for the public good.

Bishop Barres points out: “We grapple with issues of gender fluidity, unisex bathrooms and graphic sex education for young children in our schools. There has been an increase in sexually transmitted diseases and dating violence. We see an epidemic of pornography, sexting, cyber-bullying, television programs and movies that routinely depict graphic sex and violence, and popular music that uses lyrics that are sexual, violent, and demeaning to women. There have been dramatic increases in domestic violence, sexual harassment, assault, abuse, and human trafficking. Hormonal treatments and even surgery to change one’s sex are advocated for minors, not just adults.”

It is easy to see where we are heading morally in the area of our sexual morality and practice, and very challenging to come back from the edge of disaster. The gift of life, enlightened and enriched by the gift of faith, gives us hope, meaning, direction, and purpose. Are we up to the challenge?

We are the answer, with the help of God as we seek to live these words every day: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen. 

Fr. Wald