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Affirming a Culture of Life Conference

St. Bernard’s Parish, Billings, MT

October 27, 2018

10:30 am-11:30 am

Thank you so much, Bishop Warfel and all those who have worked so hard to put this conference together on building a culture of life. And thanks to all of you for your witness to the truth and your interest in this vitally important topic – the gift of God’s plan for human sexuality and how it brings healing to wounded hearts.

As I’m sure most of you know, this past July 25 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae by now-Saint Pope Paul VI.

Given the cultural and academic momentum of 1968, it is not surprising that the Holy Father’s upholding of the Church’s teaching was met with widespread dissent when it was published. But in the subsequent 50 years those who have been attentive have seen that Paul VI was truly prophetic and courageous in issuing Humanae Vitae. Indeed, countless people have reported that the Church’s teachings on sexuality brought them lasting freedom after having been wounded by the twisted and destructive message about sexuality advanced in Western society.

To help you fully appreciate the significance of Humanae Vitae, I’d like to recount its origins. The story begins with the commission of theologians and experts that Saint Paul VI inherited from his predecessor Saint John XXIII. He eventually expanded the commission to 75 people and appointed a cardinal and two deputies to oversee its work. Although the commission sent Paul VI 12 reports, one of these reports, which advocated for permitting contraception, was simultaneously leaked in April of 1967 to the French newspaper Le Monde, the English magazine The Tablet, and the American newspaper the National Catholic Reporter. This strategic leak, along with other efforts, succeeded in rallying people against the Church’s longstanding teaching on contraception.

The opposition built to the point that when Saint Paul VI published Humanae Vitae in July 1968, Father Charles E. Curran and nine other theologians from the Catholic University of America publicly refused to accept it. Within hours of the encyclical’s release, they had crafted a 600-word statement of dissent and organized a campaign to get other theologians to sign it, eventually recruiting around 100 signers. This dissent was not limited to CUA but was occurring in dioceses around the country and world.

But history makes plain the grave error in this dissent.  Indeed, the amount of confusion about sexuality and the wreckage caused by decades of casting aside God’s plan for our happiness is plain to see for anyone who honestly looks for it.

I have been asked to speak today about how we can share and live the Church’s teachings from Humanae Vitae and St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to create a culture that is centered on a true community of human persons, rather than a self-centered, hedonistic culture driven by a kind of consumer mentality. In other words, how God can use us to bring healing to the wounded.

To give you a roadmap for my remarks, I will approach this task in three ways, which are drawn from my pastoral letter on Humanae Vitae called, The Splendor of Love.

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.

Authentic Sexuality Leads to Freedom

There are so many claims about what will make you happy and help you experience freedom. Just look at the endless parade of self-help books, things for sale or cultural trends promoting astonishing results.

But experience teaches us that these fads and gimmicks are passing distractions, not real solutions. In the face of these illusions – including the false promise of freedom that contraception offers – the Church has insisted that truly satisfying relationships are modeled after 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 that involves a total gift of themselves, without holding back one iota. The beautiful truth about this reality is that through our baptism we are invited into this communion of love and life. Each of the three Persons perpetually encounter one another and we enter that communion of love through our encounter with Jesus.

This is the first point I would like to make: the only truly satisfying understanding of sexuality is one that is modeled after the Trinity, in whose image and likeness we are made.

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.

A story might help illustrate how these competing visions of freedom play themselves out, and I’m sure many of you can tell similar stories from your life or people you know.

This story comes from the Ruth Institute’s series of blog posts on how people have suffered from the false promises of the Sexual Revolution. A woman wrote to the Institute to share how the lies that she and her husband believed about sexuality and relationships were so destructive. She recalled:

We were the happy couple, married in our parish almost 30 years ago. After the marriage, my spouse apologized for pressuring before marriage to unchastity. That had been my first mistake–believing the lie that in a serious relationship (we were nearly engaged after all) having sex occasionally was ok. It wasn’t. It bothered my conscience deeply and I felt used.

Once married we used Natural Family Planning. In the first year, we conceived. With bills to pay, crying every day, I left my child to go to work. Eventually my husband did quite well financially, so I quit to raise our children. My youngest was born in a traumatic delivery, which led me to fear having more children. I then made mistake number two–taking the pill. I knew it was wrong, but I justified it in “my case.” God would understand, but I’m ashamed that I didn’t confess it. I didn’t understand the WHY of what the Church taught. …

After a decade of marriage, one day I walked in and caught my husband … watching porn on his computer. He said that every man does it. It hurt deeply. He met someone, a porn model. He told me that he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. He claimed that he had never loved me and we were not compatible. [Soon afterwards, he left the family.]

… Three years ago my husband filed for divorce. I miss the man he used to be. I now see a man without inner peace, and my heart hurts for him. He is cohabiting with a woman 10 years younger than I.[1]

Without going into all the issues raised by this tragedy, in can be implied by the husband’s actions that he believed the lie that sex is only about pleasure. His decisions might have made him feel good, but his wife and children bore most of the consequences. Some people call this freedom, but it is actually enslavement to sin and one’s passions.

Both Humanae Vitae and St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body answer this false idea of freedom by promoting what Pope Francis calls a true “culture of encounter.”

When the Holy Father speaks about “encounter,” it is clear that there is a close connection between it and the fundamental components of married love. Saint 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 to others, a generous and merciful heart; it is a culture that is restorative and never involves betraying or using others.

I recently heard about Professor Kerry Cronin, who teaches philosophy at Boston College and had seen her students having difficulty building romantic relationships.

After some questioning, she learned that the initial group she asked about their romantic lives was not an anomaly. In fact, most of her students had hardly dated in high school or college. Instead, they had experienced the predominant hook-up culture. “I started talking to them about hookup culture and how that had impacted dating, and what I realized was that the dating social script was sort of gone,” she explained.

Professor Cronin decided to remedy the situation by offering extra credit to students who went on a traditional date by the end of a semester. But in the first year, no one responded. She realized that it was because none of the students knew what she was talking about. Using a more detailed approach she spelled out the forgotten rules of a first date: ask someone out of legitimate romantic interest, plan an activity of about 60-90 minutes, spend $10 or less, pay if you are the one asking out, and the only physical contact that should occur is an A-frame hug.

What is amazing is that 15-20 years ago this was almost universally known as the way to begin dating. But on Boston College’s campus, “Cronin Dates” have become popular and Professor Cronin has been invited to colleges around the country to speak about dating.

This story illustrates both how we are made for a deeper encounter with others beyond the physical and how our culture has forgotten this deeply embedded truth in its pursuit of self-gratification.

As Professor Cronin explained to Catholic News Agency, she tries to help her students see that it’s braver – and ultimately better – to get to know a person before becoming physically intimate with them, something the hook-up culture gets backwards.

“(These behaviors) don’t build great habits for marriage and family. It’s easy to let someone see your body. It’s hard to let someone see you.”

God’s plan for human sexuality, which he wove into our being 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.

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!

Authentic Sexuality is Generous

This same story has been repeated time and again, and this is my second point – that God’s plan for sexuality, which Saint Paul VI detailed in Humanae Vitae and Saint John Paul II further developed in the Theology of the Bodyis 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.

The noted sociologist Christian Smith decided a few years ago to work with his doctoral student Hilary Davidson to study the impact of generosity on a culture as part of the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative. After consulting a nationally representative survey of 2,000 Americans from the initiative and conducting 40 in-depth qualitative interviews with various households, they found that generosity functions in our culture a paradoxical way. Smith writes:

It might seem obvious that generously giving money away involves a loss- of the money itself, of course, and of the goods, experiences, or savings that the money might have provided the giver had it not been given away. It also seems evident that donating one’s own limited time, energy, and attention to someone else’s concerns similarly represents a loss. …

Not so. Not at all. The reality of generosity is instead actually paradoxical. Generosity does not usually work in simple, zero-sum, win-lose ways. The results of generosity are often instead unexpected, counterintuitive, win-win. Rather than generosity producing net losses, in general the more generously people give of themselves, the more of many goods they receive in turn. Sometimes they receive more of the same kind of thing that they gave- money, time, attention, and so forth. But, more often and importantly, generous people tend to receive back goods that are even more valuable than those they gave: happiness, health, a sense of purpose in life, and personal growth.[2]

It’s not a stretch to say that the same principles apply to our sexuality, since it is the most personal and intimate act of 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, and squandered, thus leading to wounded hearts and profound sadness.

Again, Smith and Davidson provide some statistical backing to this theological truth. They found that:

Ungenerous people are less likely to believe they can accomplish much in life and seem largely uninterested in personal growth. As a group they are less physically healthy and more pessimistic about their problems. They are also more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. Furthermore, fewer of the ungenerous manage to carve out personally satisfying purposes in life. But the biggest difference between generous and ungenerous Americans we find in our interviews concerns their happiness.[3]

Those of us who have read Humanae Vitae know that Saint Paul VI made a series of predictions that in some ways mirror what Smith and Davidson discovered.

The Holy Father first observed that if contraception was widely used, then the link between procreation and marital unity would be 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 Saint Paul VI could not have even imagined.

It is worth spending a few minutes cataloguing the effects of the sexual revolution on our culture’s sexual values, keeping in mind the good news that Christ has given the Church the answer to this perilous situation.

At the time the Pill was introduced, many believed it would decrease the number of abortions, but instead we have witnessed over 58 million children being killed. There has also been a sharp rise in STDs. Contrary to predictions, divorce rates have not decline but have hovered near 50 percent. We have also seen birth rates falling below replacement level and a decline in people getting married.

Saint Paul VI also did not foresee how widespread the use of pornography would become, trivializing love and making sex “cheap,” in that deriving pleasure from 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. 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?

Restoring Authentic Sexuality

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!

It is easy for us to sit here and listen to the Church’s teaching, but it’s difficult to actively speak to others about it. We must not be content with knowing that Paul VI was right in predicting the fallout from the Pill. Each of us here must ask God how he wants us to bring his teaching about love and sexuality to the lost and confused society we live in.

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 in discovering 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.

Earlier this year 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 and then sharing that knowledge with others, especially young people. If you are looking for specific recommendations, please look at the resource section at the back of The Splendor of Love.

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, in our interaction with our community, and in 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).

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 as given to us in Humanae Vitae and further developed in the Theology of the Body, we will experience the healing power of Christ, true freedom, and growth in generosity. Without these 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 across the state of Montana!

Saints Paul VI and John Paul II, pray for us!

[1] Story retrieved on October 10, 2018 from the Tell Ruth the Truth blog at

[2] Smith, Christian, “The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose,” pages 10-11, Oxford University Press, 2014.

[3] Ibid, page 114.