Like many Catholics all over the world, I was thrilled with the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. The first was the pope of my coming of age and adulthood! He was the skiing pope, the traveling pope, and the forgiving pope. When someone mentions “The Pope” it’s his face that still briefly enters my mind.
I’m still too young to really remember John XXIII, (event at my own quickly advancing years!) However, if John Paul appealed to me because of the relative youth and vigor of his early years, Pope John appeals to me because of the work he accomplished in old age. At the twilight of his life he did something really big and awesome – he called for the Second Vatican Council. I guess his example just gives me inspiration as person in middle age to keep on fighting the good fight because it ain’t over until it’s over!
But as happy as I was for the canonization of these two, it keenly felt the absence of Pope Paul the VI – the “Paul” part of “John Paul.” For me, it was the mystic nature of Pope Paul’s papacy that brought me all the way home – back into the Catholic Church.
As a young Catholic, I remember learning that Christ said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, and that whatever the church “bound on earth” would be “bound in heaven.” Those seem like impossible statements! Yet that seems to have been proven true through Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae.
Humane Vitae came out in 1968. The fact that it came out at all was a miracle. Wanting to understand all of the issues surrounding family life and marriage, Pope John assembled a commission on birth control to study the issue, and the commission’s recommendation to lift the ban on artificial contraception was given to Paul VI.
Despite the recommendations of this commission, Paul VI did not lift the ban, but wrote Humane Vitae instead. I was 9 years old. That document overshadowed the rest of my religious formation. Teachers at my “Catholic” high school ignored it or even taught against it under the banner of “social justice.” In hindsight I can even see that we students were not being inspired towards chastity but lured towards the ever changing morals and lifestyles of the progressive 1970s.
It wasn’t until I became a mom myself that I could see God’s protection on the church, and His will working through Pope Paul’s writing. One of the arguments from the commission was that the birth control pill prevented ovulation and could thus be licitly used by married Catholic couples. Humane Vitae clarifies that any type of contraceptive that separates the pleasurable and procreative aspects of the marital act are sinful. But what if the Pope had swayed to the opinions of the commission? If he had, 30 years later science would show us that ovulation isn’t always prevented, babies are sometimes conceived and that the oral contraceptive many times causes these children to be lost to very early miscarriage.
The gravity of this is huge. God protected his church through Paul VI, who bravely wrote his Encyclical that saved the church from entering a grave error, scandal and embarrassment. We have also seen with time that Paul VI was a prophet. Many of the things he wrote about in Humane Vitae as being dangerous and sinful have since come to pass.
Despite his courage in this matter, Pope Paul spent the rest of his papacy saddened by the reception and disobedience of the encyclical by laity and some of the clergy in the west. Paul surely suffered as a servant of God.
Pope Paul’s courage and stand against artificial contraception is a big part of what brought me back to the Catholic Church and reiterated for me that the church is instituted by Christ and protected from error by Him. But further “proof” came this week when Pope Francis, the darling of the progressive media, beatified Paul VI, moving him closer to sainthood.
Copyright 2014 Elena LaVictoire
God truly does have a sense of humor.