“Humanae Vitae: The Encounter that leads to Freedom and Generosity”

John Paul II Resource Center Fundraiser
Xavier Preparatory Academy
Phoenix, Arizona
February 24, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

Thank you so much, Bishop Olmsted and Katrina.

It’s a great joy for me to be with all of you here today! The mission of the John Paul II Resource Center is one that is close to my heart, as I strongly believe that the Theology of the Body is one of the keys to the restoration of a truly Christian and Catholic culture.

Our society today is toxic when it comes to understanding human sexuality. One has only to look at the Hollywood scene with the sexual misconduct of people like Weinstein and so many others, the sexual harassment accusations now playing themselves out among politicians on both sides of the aisle and both men and women bringing forth accusations. And then there is sexual trafficking of women and minors and the sexual abuse of minors in so many different sectors of society.

No laws can change the human heart. Only the discovery of the truth and meaning of human sexuality and the dignity of the human person will change the hearts of people. People must be convinced in their hearts that they are created in the image and likeness of God, made to be in relationship with God, and that human sexuality is a gift given to man and woman for the blessing of children and for the love of the couple who become co-creators with the Creator.

This evening I have been asked to speak about Blessed Paul VI’s landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae, which is marking its 50th anniversary this summer. A good number of you are aware that at the beginning of this month I released a pastoral letter called The Splendor of Love. My goal in writing the letter was to affirm the Church’s beautiful teaching on human sexuality and to encourage people to live it out.

This evening I will focus on how God’s plan for sexuality creates a culture in which encounter and generosity – not conflict and objectification – are the predominant markers of people’s experience.

I will first focus on how embracing the Church’s teaching on the sacredness and dignity of human sexuality – contrary to popular belief – leads to authentic freedom (faithful, human). Second, I will examine how sexuality lived out according to God’s plan promotes generosity (fruitful and total). Finally, I will offer some suggestions for how you can help spread the life-giving truth of God’s plan for human sexuality.

As the title of my talk suggests, the Church’s teaching in this vital area of life does this by fostering authentic relationships, which are modeled upon the perpetual, selfless outpouring of love found within life of the Holy Trinity. Each Person in the Trinity is in an eternal love relationship with the other, and we are invited into this communion of love and life through Jesus Christ. Each of the three Persons encounter one another and we enter that encounter through our encounter with Jesus. To borrow a phrase from Pope Francis, Humanae Vitae and St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, both promote a true “culture of encounter.” This culture of encounter is at the very heart of the Trinity.

It is not surprising, then, that when the Holy Father speaks about “encounter” its qualities echo those of married love. Blessed Paul VI teaches in Humanae Vitae that married love is human, total, faithful, and fruitful (HV, 9). Those four elements are essential to every marriage. And when Pope Francis describes a culture of encounter, he says that it requires an openness, a generous and merciful heart, it is restorative and it never involves betraying or using others.

Listen carefully to this reflection from Pope Francis on the Gospel passage that recalls Jesus’ encounter with the Widow of Nain, whose son had just died and who was taking him to be buried. See if you can find the four marks of married love, the most intimate human encounter, within this description.

…here is an encounter between people, an encounter between people who were in the street. And this, is “something unusual.” In fact, “when we go into the street, every man thinks of himself: he sees, but does not look; he hears, but does not listen”; in short, everyone goes their own way. And consequently “people pass each other, but they do not encounter each other”. Because, Pope Francis clarified, “an encounter is something else” entirely, and this is “what the Gospel today proclaims to us: an encounter between a man and a woman, between an only son who is alive (Jesus) and an only son who is dead; between a happy group of people — happy because they have encountered Jesus and followed him — and a group of people who weep as they accompany the woman”, who is a widow and is on her way to bury her only son.

“The Gospel says: ‘When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her’”. In this regard, the Pope observed that it is not “the first time” the Gospel speaks of Christ’s compassion. “When Jesus saw the crowds, on the day of the multiplication of the loaves”, he was also seized with great compassion, the Pope said, “and before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he wept”.

This compassion, the Pope explained, is not the same as what we normally feel “when, for example, we go out into the street and see something sad: ‘What a shame!’”. After all, “Jesus did not say: ‘What a poor woman!’”. On the contrary, “he went further. He was seized with compassion. ‘And he drew near and spoke. He said to her: Do not weep’”. In this way, “Jesus, with his compassion, involves himself with that woman’s problem. ‘He drew near, he spoke and he touched’. The Gospel says that he touched the coffin. Surely, however, when he said ‘do not weep’, he touched the widow as well. A caress. Because Jesus was moved. And then he performed the miracle”: that is, He raised the young man to life.

Thus the Pope pointed out an analogy: “The only son who is dead resembles Jesus, and he is transformed into an only son who is alive, like Jesus. And Jesus’ action truly shows the tenderness of an encounter, and not only the tenderness, but the fruitfulness of an encounter. ‘The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus returned him to his mother’. He did not say: ‘The miracle has been done’. No, he said: ‘Come, take him, he is yours’”. That is why “every encounter is fruitful. Each encounter returns people and things to their place”. (Vatican Radio summary of Pope Francis’ homily on September 13, 2016 in Domus Sancta Marta Chapel).

Jesus met the widow in her humanity and healed her heart and soul. The encounter was human, involving both the spirit and the body. He gave life to her son without holding anything back. His love was total. Jesus restored a mother and son and did not ignore their suffering. He was faithful. And, as Pope Francis said, this restoration was fruitful.

God’s plan for human sexuality, which he wove into our beings at the moment he created Adam and Eve, brings us into contact – it helps us encounter – the love of God, in whose image and likeness we are made. This encounter and God’s plan itself leads us to become truly free.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes an important distinction between what most Americans consider freedom to be and freedom as God intended it. As Americans, our first reflex is to think of freedom as the ability to “do whatever I want.” But as Catholics we know that freedom is, in fact, the ability to choose and do the good. “The more one does what is good,” the Catechism explains, “the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin.’ (Cf. CCC, 1731-1733). Only an authentic understanding of human sexuality leads to true freedom.

When I was Bishop of Fargo, I introduced the practice of having engaged couples complete a full course of Natural Family Planning instruction. I did this because I was convinced from my own pastoral experience that most engaged couples understanding of human sexuality came from secular society and not from the heart of the teaching of Christ and the Church. As with any new initiative, there were some who complained, but more frequently I heard from couples about how eye-opening and freeing it was learn about their fertility and the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

One woman’s letter to me has stayed with me all these years. She said:

I am writing to you today to thank you and to ask you a question. I have never met you. When I was told that we would have to take a full course of NFP over a 3-4-month period for our marriage preparation, I was not happy. However, after the course, which included the Theology of the Body, I was filled with joy. The question I have for you, bishop, is: ‘Why I did not receive this valuable teaching in high school?’ It would have saved me so much heart ache and confusion in my college years. I have shared the teaching with my younger sister who is in high school so she doesn’t make the same mistakes I made.

My heart was filled with joy as I read her letter for it revealed how the teaching touched her heart and that of her fiancé. Further, it gave her a new-found freedom, as she learned the truth she was set free from the slavery of her past to a future of walking in her encounter with Jesus. And from this encounter she became a missionary, not keeping the teaching to herself, but like the Samaritan woman going to her younger sister and saying look what I found. She shared the encounter!

This same story has been repeated time and again, and this is my second point – that God’s plan for sexuality, which Blessed Paul VI detailed in Humanae Vitae and Saint John Paul II further developed in the Theology of the Body, is essential for a culture to be one that is generous. Without generosity, a culture will fail to be one that is built upon encounters. Rather, it will be a culture of indifference.

About two weeks ago the news site Politico featured an interview with the MIT researcher David Autor, a well-known expert on the impact of automation on American workers. In the interview he takes on the question of artificial intelligence and whether it will put people out of work. It’s an interesting read, but the section that is germane to this evening’s discussion is an analogy he uses that is also a good illustration of the consequences of a culture losing its generosity.

Countries have very different levels of quality of life, institutional quality, of democracy, of liberty and opportunity, and those are not because they have different markets or different technologies. It’s because they’ve made different institutional arrangements. Look at the example of Norway and Saudi Arabia, two oil-rich countries. Norway is a very happy place. It’s economically mobile with high rates of labor force participation, high rates of education, good civil society. And Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that has high standards of living, but it’s not a very happy place because they’ve stifled innovation and individual freedom. Those are two examples of taking the same technology, which is oil wealth, and either squandering it or investing it successfully.

This anecdote points to how the same technology, oil wealth, can be used either generously building up a culture or squandering it and not using it to lead to happiness. While it only involves the comparison of material things, it is easily applied to the less tangible aspects of culture like generosity.

The gift of our sexuality can be life-giving and promote a generous culture of encounter, reflecting the inner life of the Trinity or it can be neglected, misused, distorted, “squandered” thus leading to human devastation and profound sadness. Many of us here have had both of these experiences in life, and our toxic culture is not one of happiness but sadness.

Those of us who have read Humanae Vitae know that Blessed Paul VI predicted this outcome if contraception was widely used and if the link between procreation and marital unity was severed. He warned that respect for women would decrease, moral standards and fidelity would suffer, and governments would resort to using contraception on their citizens in coercive ways (Cf. HV, 17).  Sadly, this has all occurred.

Turning away from the generosity God embedded within his plan for sexuality has also had consequences which Blessed Paul VI could not have even imagined. Rejecting the true nature of the sexual act has not led to increased happiness and fulfillment but to a distortion of the relationship between men and women. The effects of the sexual revolution have devastated our culture’s sexual values. We have witnessed large numbers of abortions, a sharp rise in STDs, divorce rates hovering near 50 percent, birth rates falling below replacement level, and a decline in people getting married.

The widespread use of pornography has also trivialized love and made sex “cheap,” in that it no longer requires a strong and lasting commitment from the other. With the dominance of pornography, we now also see a decline in a rightly-ordered sex drive, with a loss of libido and even a movement towards intercourse with life-like robots designed to appear human.

Technology now dominates sexuality and has also damaged the planet. For instance, the widespread use of the pill and endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in plastics and other products have flooded our water supplies, causing a rise in infertility, an increased risk of cancer and hormonal changes in our children. It has also become common for children to be conceived outside of marriage, violating their right to be conceived within an act of love between their natural father and mother.

The greatest tragedy today facing the family may be the unwillingness of many to enter married love and to experience the joys and challenges of family life. Our very concept of marriage has changed, shaped by an individualistic worldview that is centered on self-fulfillment. Until recently, marriage had been understood by our society to be a complete gift of self, between a man and woman, which involved being bound by a covenant vow to another person for life and included fidelity and the gift of children. We still use the words “for better, for worse,” though they have been emptied of meaning. Now, marriage has become a means of personal fulfillment that lasts only if it pleases both parties. For many, sex itself has been changed from a gift and source of life in the family to a means of pleasure and self-satisfaction.

In a cultural environment where a false idea of freedom and convenience surpass everything, living out God’s plan for sexuality requires a strong commitment. Indeed, Sr. Lucia, one of the visionaries from Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima, related that a “decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family.” We are living through that battle today. There are even a few within the Church today who desire to change the true meaning of human sexuality to the ways of the world rather than the ways of God.

It’s important for us to reflect on why Satan would attack marriage and the family by targeting our sexuality. The answer is simple. By distorting and damaging our sexuality, the Evil One mars the image and likeness of God. He strikes at our God-given ability to create life, and at the same time, confuses us about our identity as sons and daughters of the Father. If he succeeds at that, he will be able to claim many souls.

The battle that began in Eden is the same battle being waged today.  Obedience to the voice of God or to the voice of the Evil One.

This brings me to my final point: that each of us, in our circumstances, is called to help restore awareness of God’s plan for sexuality and thus build a culture in which all can encounter the restorative, merciful love of God. We are called to be missionaries in the world!

For most of us, I think there are at least two ways that we can contribute to this rebuilding, which will likely take generations.

The first is through the personal witness of your marriage and relationships. One image that comes to mind to describe the effect of a generous, faithful and joyful marriage on our culture is Pope Francis embracing the sick and suffering.

In particular, I think of an Italian man named Vinicio Riva who met the Holy Father in November 2013 at one of his weekly Wednesday audiences. Vinicio suffers from neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that causes painful tumors to form all over the body. Rather than recoiling from his disfigurement, the Pope wrapped Vinicio in a prolonged embrace, and then kissed him on his tumor-covered head and blessed him.

Vinicio’s reaction captures the kind of impact that you can have on others, simply by your personal witness. He recounted: “He embraced me without speaking . . . I quivered. I felt great warmth.” The entire encounter lasted just over a minute, but it left Vinicio in what he stated “a state of combined shock and joy. … I felt I was returning home ten years younger, as if a load had been lifted.”

When a person has never experienced the beauty and joy of a generous marriage, it can impact them to their very core. As Pope Benedict XVI said in Deus Caritas Est, “If you see love, you see the Trinity” (DCE, 11).

Another story that captures this reality comes from an annual Mass we hold in the Archdiocese of Denver to honor all those celebrating wedding anniversaries, beginning with their 25th year of marriage.

One couple whose story caught my attention as witnesses to the beauty and joy of marriage was Bill and Fran Chism. Last year they celebrated 65 years of marriage. Bill recalled how things had gotten difficult as Fran began to experience dementia. Her condition required supervised care at a memory care facility, but Bill was with her most of the day, getting her up for breakfast and putting her to bed at night.

However, this past September a change occurred: Bill brought Fran home to care for her himself. That wouldn’t have been possible if Bill hadn’t convinced his doctors to give him a knee replacement at the age of 88 so that he could care for Fran. His love for Fran moved him to do something that many would consider useless.

Similarly, when Jesus suffered on the cross, it was considered a failure by nearly everyone. And yet, it was on the cross that we saw the depths of God’s love for us.

“If you see love, you see the Trinity.” It’s worth repeating: your witness of a joyful marriage, in the midst of the challenges, trials and sufferings that will be present, can bring others closer to accepting the truth about God’s plan for sexuality. It is in our families that we learn to love, to live in community, to share, to argue and sometimes fight, to forgive, and to love God and others.  I urge you not be afraid to embrace the challenge of sharing your marriage with young people, even the hard parts of it.

As I shared in my pastoral letter, the Splendor of Love, it is couples like yourselves, who prepare couples for marriage and teach them NFP, who accompany young people to discover the truth of human sexuality. And be not afraid to do it in your own homes! Your children are bombarded day in and day out by the wrong message about human sexuality. A few months ago a father shared with me how his 4 year old son came home from a public school and said to him, “I can be a girl when I grow up.” His teacher had taken it upon herself to tell all the children they could choose their gender when they grow up. It was his last day at that school, but sadly he had to tell his son, you are wonderfully made a boy by God and never forget that.

For those of us who are bishops, priests and deacons, we must have the courage to teach and preach the truth of human sexuality. We must always do it with charity, recognizing that many have never been formed. We must be patient with people as the Lord was patient and we must invite people to enter into relationship with Jesus, to encounter him, as he is the one who will change the human heart.

The second way you can help share God’s plan for sexuality is through pursuing deeper formation through programs like the John Paul II Resource Center and then sharing that knowledge with others, especially young people.

I have seen the impact formation can have through couples learning about Natural Family Planning. One of the NFP instructors in our archdiocese shared with me that she was working with an engaged woman who was adamant about remaining on the birth control pill and said she was only taking the NFP course because it was a part of marriage preparation. The instructor related what happened next:

We met every two weeks and the woman was faithfully making her observations, but there was nothing on her chart. This bothered her.  She asked me, “Is this normal to not see anything?”  I responded, “No, that’s not normal. The birth control pill suppresses these signs – suppresses your fertility, so there isn’t much to see.” They wanted to know what their fertility looked like.  She wanted to know if she was healthy and could have children.  This didn’t bother them before they started charting.  After a few meetings, they came to the appointment and stated, “We’ve decided to stop the birth control pill and use NFP when we are married.”

The truth about our sexuality changes lives, but without our courageous witness people will not hear it.

In conclusion, building a culture of encounter in which each person is treated as Christ, requires a firm faith in Jesus and in our identity as a beloved son or beloved daughter of the Father, since it is God who gives us the strength to love beyond our human limitations. The Holy Spirit dwells in us with his 7-fold gifts and stirs into flame those gifts and fruits when we desire and pray for them.

This intimacy takes place through the sacraments, prayer and our relationship with each person in the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our hearts and actions are more conformed to Christ as we live our friendship with him. In that intimacy with Jesus, we say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2: 19b-so).

We will discover in our hearts that just as the Father took delight in Jesus, so too does the Father take delight in each one of us in our humanity. An essential element of our humanity is our sexuality and the only way it will be truly lived in freedom and joy is if we accept and live God’s plan for our sexuality. Our bodies are truly good and will one day share in the resurrection that Jesus and Mary now enjoy. When we embrace God’s plan for sexuality, which is given to us in Humanae Vitae and further developed in the Theology of the Body, we will experience true freedom and grow in generosity. Without these two essential elements, our culture will continue in darkness and not have the necessary spiritual nutrients for becoming a society of encounter with each other and with God.

May God bless you all as you seek to spread the truth of God’s plan for our sexuality through the John Paul II Resource Center!

Blessed Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, pray for us!