There's a lot of reminisce this summer about the warmer days of 1968. The commercials catering to baby-boomers in particular have celebrated Woodstock, bushy dreads, the age of rock 'n' roll, and on and on. (For a great synopsis of the most important events of the 1960's, by the way, check out George Wiegel's "The Sixties, Again and Again.")
But it is also the anniversary of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, or "On Human Life." This is the encyclical known as the "contraception no-no." Or by less flattering and more obscene names. But it is, more than anything, an exhortation to a Christocentric understanding of the human person, the human body, and what it means to be male and female.
To mark the anniversary (which is, to be precise, July 25), here are a couple of resources.
Kathryn Jean Lopez over at National Review Online has a brief and witty reflection on the document. As she notes, it seems that Paul VI predicted in 1968 what the cover of Cosmo in July 2008 would look like. The pope warned that mass acceptance of contraception would lead to, among other tragedies, the mass objectification and denigration of the female body (and, one can argue, by necessity the male body). Cosmo's headlines this month certainly confirm that warning...
And, best of all, First Things headlines this month with a longer article by Mary Ebersdadt on the reception of Humanae Vitae, the current understanding (or total lack thereof) of its teaching, and the aftermath of a sexual revolution that permeated the Church almost as broadly as it did the secular world:
"Let’s begin by meditating upon what might be called the first of the secular ironies now evident: Humanae Vitae’s specific predictions about what the world would look like if artificial contraception became widespread. The encyclical warned of four resulting trends: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments."
She gives an amusing description of the "cafeteria" attitude most Catholics tender toward the Church teaching on contraception. If you don't laugh, you'll cry, they say... But it prompted me to wonder that in all my adult life, attending Mass almost daily in churches up and down the Eastern seaboard, many of those churches being "quite orthodox," why I have never heard a homily on contraception. I have heard two homilies on sexual ethics--both explaining well the sanctity of sex within marriage. I have heard three that mention the impossibility of gay "marriage." The general dearth is astonishing, given the urgent need for clarity on these issues. Cause and effect are one and the same...
But on and on I go. Read the articles. Read the encyclical. If your mind is made up against the teaching, look at it again. Talk to couples living it out in their marriages. See if perhaps your head and your heart can come along the high adventure that it is to be fully human. That was what the summer of '68 sought; it is what Paul VI preached.