From flexing women on magazine covers to the success of the Wonder Woman movie, womanly empowerment is in the air, and in general, I’m a fan of that. What I’m not a fan of is the Contraception Lie. This is the lie that says that contraception is key to womanly empowerment.
Most people have no idea that decades ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote a document called “Humanae Vitae”, or “Human Life” in Latin, which has been nicknamed “The Birth Control Encyclical.” He wrote it in 1968 as a response to the question: Is birth control ever a moral means of regulating births? The short answer is: No, it isn’t. This response has never been a popular one and has caused some people to accuse the Catholic Church of being “down on women.”
The truth is that the Catholic Church is THE Defender of the Woman and understands her rights, needs, and heart better than anyone else! The Holy Spirit speaks through the Church, and documents like Humanae Vitae unveil God’s incredible plan of life and love that He’s written in my heart and in my body. As our parish bulletin continues publishing reflections on Humanae Vitae, I wanted to share 3 truths that I find empowering in this pivotal document.
There is a deep peace and a sense of satisfaction that people feel when they find out who they are and what they were made for. Humanae Vitae says that God designs things for a reason. It says that there is a nature, a message written into my body which reveals I’m made to share myself with a member of the opposite sex, out of love, and that this love can be a fruitful one. God made the sexual connection between life and love on purpose. Pope Paul VI says that there is an “inseparable connection” between a couple’s desire to give themselves to each other and the possibility of conceiving a new member of their family (HV 12). As a woman, I see my fertility as a clear sign that God made me to give myself away in love- to my future spouse and to my future children- and I find that beautiful!
Pope Paul VI makes the point that the Church cannot undo something God has done; it cannot override human nature and “frustrate His design” in order to give a seal of approval to something that could make life convenient, but forces a serious divide between spouses, between parents and their children, between the person and their body, and within society (HV 13).
The idea that contraception causes division is something women never hear mentioned! I think it’s a major disservice to women how aggressively contraception is promoted to us, while the dizzying array of negative effects are hushed up. Contraception hurts women! The reason it does this, is because it is putting something in a body and in a relationship that never was supposed to be there- and there are consequences for that.
There are a lot of voices in our culture that state that sex is a meaningless, enjoyable activity. Humane Vitae defends me from that lie. It says that the marital embrace is full of meaning and that it speaks of the woman’s value as a person. It says that I am a gift worthy of being loved and received.
This line in Humanae Vitae really gets me. It’s a perfect example of how the Church is looking out for women: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection” (HV 17).
A friend of mine put it this way: “When a man insists that his wife take contraception so that they can come together whenever he wants, he’s in effect saying: “You are not worth waiting a couple of days for.” But when the man is chaste, they’re practicing Natural Family Planning* (see footnote), and decide to wait, he’s telling her, “You’re worth waiting these days for.” What woman wouldn’t want to hear that from her spouse? Knowing that I deserve someone who will have reverence for the mystery of my emotional and physical equilibrium - that’s empowering!
I think it’s very important to affirm that I am thankful for my fertility as a woman! So many women have been fed the lie that their fertility is an ugly, unwanted part of them that they need to squeeze down, hide away, and forget. My fertility is a shocking gift! It’s incredible that God allows a woman to share the god-like ability to bring forth a life and present it to the world. Because I believe I am called to marriage, I know that God has already written an incredible story for my future family. After God calls me to be a wife, one of my new prayers will be: “God, what is the story you want to write in my fertility? Who are the little ones you’d like to send me, and how many do you want me to have?“ If God is truly God- the Great Being who loves me, I owe Him those kinds of prayers.
Humanae Vitae invites parents to “acknowledge that [they are] not the master[s] of the sources of life, but rather the minister[s] of the design established by the Creator” (HV 13). For many families, making the mental transition from master to minister is a struggle. I know a family who had two children and began contracepting because they decided they were “done.” Through a series of events, God challenged that family to be open to the possibility that He was not “done” yet. That family got off the pill, decided to trust God, and now I have two more little siblings: Isabella and Diego. What would my life be like if my parents had refused to accept the story God had written for my family? What about all the lives Diego and Isabella have already touched? My mother’s “yes” to her fertility completely changed my world by giving me a brother and a sister who I love so much. I pray that other women may come to see their fertility as a powerful part of them that allows God to write stories that shape the world.
All in all, reading Humanae Vitae gives me a true sense of empowerment. It’s empowering for me to know that I am wonderfully made. It’s empowering to know that when I work with the cycles of my fertility, I’m receiving and honoring myself. It’s empowering for me to know I deserve a man who will want to learn and honor the mystery of my interior rhythms. And finally, it’s empowering for me to see that there is a purpose in the way I was made, and that life isn’t about how much I can control, but whether I’ll receive the adventure that was written for me.
Lord, thank you for making me a woman! Thank you for the mystery of my fertility and my call to motherhood. If you have called me to a physical motherhood, grant me the wisdom, love and generosity to be a good steward of this gift of life. If I am called to a spiritual motherhood, deepen the gifts in me that will allow me to nurture and guide souls to full stature in you. Mary, Model of Womanhood, pray for us.
Lord, thank you for making me a man! Thank you for the strength and initiative you have written into me, that speaks of your protective power. If you have called me to a physical fatherhood, help me to be reverent before the mystery of my wife’s fertility and to see myself as a guardian of my family’s story. If I am called to a spiritual fatherhood, deepen the gifts in me that will allow me to strengthen and lead souls into full stature in you. St Joseph, Patron of Fatherhood, pray for us.
*Natural Family Planning, the only method of achieving or avoiding pregnancy advocated by the Church, simply asks couples to abstain from relations on fertile days. For more information on Natural Family Planning and what it can do for your family, please visit www.phxnfp.org.
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