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July 18, 2018

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Director of Natural Family Planning

“If You Haven’t Read Humanae Vitae, What Are You Waiting For?” This article by Simcha Fisher (in Parable Magazine) raises a question 50 years in the making. When it was published in July 1968, Pope Paul VI’s brief and thoughtful encyclical on human life and love ignited a firestorm of resistance that has only gathered force in the intervening years. Critics abound, but it is hard to find people who have actually read the document.

Yet Catholic teaching on marriage attracts a number of converts, like Fisher, to the Church. She expresses remarkable appreciation for the wisdom of Humanae Vitae.

“This short, plain-spoken encyclical is one of the most stirring and moving descriptions of married love I’ve ever read,” Simcha wrote. “I’ve been married for over 20 years; and yes, this celibate man has something to teach me about love…In other words, all these ‘rules’ the Church is famous for are not about squashing men and women and real human love at all. Instead, they are a call to unclench ourselves, to become free, to allow ourselves a share in God’s greatness. Many a modern Catholic rejects the laws of the church without ever wondering why they are there. Paul VI tells us why: because God wants us to be happy, and he wants us to be fully human.”

This teaching likewise made perfect sense to Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn. Coming from staunchly faithful Protestant families, the couple married just before heading to seminary together. There, a study of the abortion question led quickly to questions about contraception; they learned that IUDs and the Pill can be abortive – knowledge that led them to abandon the Pill in favor of barrier methods. When Kimberly asked in ethics class why Catholics oppose contraception, she was challenged to find the answer.

“I was amazed at the simple yet profound explanation of the act of marriage in the context of Christian faith that I discovered in Humanae Vitae,” Hahn writes in her book Life-Giving Love: Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage. “Though I was not a Catholic, Humana Vitae spoke to my heart, capturing a splendid vision of how our marriage could better reflect truth and love.”

Next came the practical implications of what she had learned and shared with her husband.

“Scott and I talked and talked,” she wrote. “We read and prayed. Finally, we believed that God’s design for marital love has at its heart a marital embrace unencumbered by devices or selfish designs. Once we were convicted about the truth regarding openness to life, we brought our practice into conformity with our conviction and threw out artificial contraception for good.”

Sufficiently persuaded by Catholic teaching to live it out in their marriage, the Hahns did not actually enter the church at that time. But, Kimberly writes, “I believe that the seeds planted through studying this issue and living the truth opened our hearts years later to the fullness of Christian faith in the church.”

Catholic teaching on marriage was also instrumental in Dr. David and Jill Anders’ journey towards the church.
David grew up in a devout Protestant family; Jill’s background was nominally Catholic. She readily embraced David’s Presbyterian faith.

Intent upon becoming missionaries, they married while undergrads. David grew increasingly passionate about his theological studies, while Jill longed for missionary work. Years passed, their family grew to include three children, and the couple grew further apart.

Eventually, Anders writes in his book, The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage, “I was looking at a life of quiet, hopeless, meaningless pain,” as was his wife.

Meanwhile, David’s doctoral studies in theology caused him to think deeply about marriage and faith.

“For Paul VI, marriage offers an opportunity for a sublime form of spiritual friendship,” he wrote. “Man and wife join indissolubly for the task of raising a family, and the loves and pleasures of married life take their proper form from that end. ‘It is a love,’ the encyclical says, ‘which is total… Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for his own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself (Humanae Vitae, no. 9).’ “If you approach married life that way,” Anders concludes, “…you beg for God’s grace [and] you would be willing to bear suffering, abstinence, and abnegation…You would, in fact, learn to imitate Christ.”

This vision of marriage set the couple on a path to the Catholic Church, where they found healing, grace, and blessing – and a married love they never thought possible.

So as Simcha Fisher says, “If you haven’t read Humanae Vitae, what are you waiting for? It’s not long… Set aside half an hour… open your heart to the Holy Spirit, and read.”

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