The prophetic nature of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae on human life and love continues to this day. First there was the #MeToo explosion of sexual-abuse and harassment realities that have risen to the surface over the past months. And now there is the resignation from the College of Cardinals of former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore E. McCarrick, for the same.
These things are what Paul VI was talking about in Humanae Vitae 50 years ago this summer. He saw that we might forget who we are. And so we have. He talked about how artificial contraception would wear away at the man’s reverence for woman, to say nothing of himself. The beauty with which Paul VI describes marriage and its participation in creation and divinity speaks of our very identity. By not believing the words of Humanae Vitae, there was a widespread cowering that led to the current miserable and scandalous state of affairs.
It doesn’t take a rigorous examination of conscience to see the evil that dissent has done or, maybe even more so, the cowardice in not sharing the beauty we are stewards of and meant for. And we’re not just talking about sex. It’s about Christ. Because it’s not just a powerful encyclical that we haven’t been sharing with the world but our Lord and Savior himself.
And can’t we see the consequences everywhere, in a culture where people go looking for love in all the wrong places, including politics? You may remember Barack Obama’s first campaign motto: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” And you know the intense views with which people seem to love or hate Donald Trump. The world doesn’t know it has a savior, and so it keeps looking where it will not find one.
Paul VI’s prophetic nature wasn’t confined to Humanae Vitae. In one sermon, he preached: “Not to preach the Gospel would be my undoing, for Christ himself sent me as his apostle and witness. The more remote, the more difficult the assignment, the more my love of God spurs me on.” He said: “All things, all history converges in Christ. A man of sorrow and hope, he knows us and loves us. As our friend he stays by us throughout our lives; at the end of time he will come to be our judge; but we also know that he will be the complete fulfillment of our lives and our great happiness for all eternity.”
Is our faith just for show or a power play or a routine confined to Sunday? Or do we try to live and breathe the Gospel with love that overflows into the deepest recesses of pain in people we live with and work with and encounter along the way? To do otherwise is our undoing. And we’re seeing it, not just in what McCarrick is accused of, but also whatever looking away people did systematically, socially, otherwise or worse. Our self-inflicted harm is reflected in relationships and the outright despair people are drowning in, as suicides in the news not-so-subtly indicate.
There are a number of other gems from Paul VI, but for now consider this from a 1975 letter: “At the present time, so critical for the Church and the destiny of mankind, when the interior renewal of Christians and their reconciliation with God and each other are an absolute necessity if the Church is to ‘exist in Christ as a sacrament or sign and an instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race,’ the faithful must cultivate an outstanding devotion to the Spirit as the supreme source of love, unity, and peace.” He also pointed to Mary. With such evil in our world and in our Church, we need this duo. The world needs us to finally take Paul VI’s words seriously.