Well over half a century after it was written, St Pope Paul VI’s landmark encyclical continues shaping family life
When Ivica and Maria Kovac married 20 years ago, they were told after numerous medical tests, that they would be unable to conceive children naturally.
But the committed Catholic couple were nevertheless determined to explore what options were available to them that were in keeping with the Church’s teaching and in so doing, they discovered the treasured papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae which led them to want to learn more about natural fertility methods.
Two decades later, the Kovacs have seven children, aged from 2-16 and credit their embrace of Humanae Vitae and the natural fertility methods flowing from it for saving and then strengthening their marriage.
“It’s about saying ‘Yes’ to God’s love and also putting aside any selfish desires to devote yourself entirely to your spouse because the life-giving nature of married love is endless and a real way to heaven”, Ivica explained at a recent forum, Sex, Marriage and the Catholic Church, at St Joachim’s Lidcombe, organised jointly by the Life, Marriage and Family team of the Archdiocese of Sydney and Sydney Catholic Youth.
“Written by Pope Paul VI in 1968, Humanae Vitae affirms the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial contraception and instead celebrates drawing upon a woman’s natural fertility cycle to maximise the chance of conception in fertile periods of the cycle …”
It was the first in a series of four talks celebrating Humanae Vitae and the Church’s teaching on natural fertility methods in July and August and alongside the speakers at the recent launch were fittingly the first-class relics of the married French saints, St Louis and Zelie Martin whose faith inspired at least one of their children to become perhaps one of the Catholic Church’s most loved saints, St Therese of Lisieux.
Written by Pope Paul VI in 1968, Humanae Vitae affirms the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial contraception and instead celebrates drawing upon a woman’s natural fertility cycle to maximise the chance of conception in fertile periods of the cycle and for avoiding pregnancy in the infertile period of the cycle.
The encyclical goes further, celebrating the inherent beauty in allowing married love to thrive when it is open to life which can strengthen marriages by ensuring that men don’t reduce women to mere instruments for the satisfaction of their own desires, in turn nurturing a union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.
“If you want to grow in Christian virtue, have children”, explained Maria Kovac.
“There’s truly no greater love than being able to devote your whole self to your children”.
Another speaker at the forum, Campion College Lecturer and Archdiocese of Sydney Research Officer, Lawrence Qummou said Humanae Vitae is a powerful celebration of the sacredness of marriage.
“It reiterates that marriage in the eyes of the Church, is not simply something expedient or done for convenience, but rather it is part of the divine plan, ordained by God and grounded in the nature of who God is as love”, he explained.
“William Chami told the forum, the fundamental messages within Humanae Vitae are intrinsically connected to broader Christian concepts, including the belief in the Holy Trinity.”
“There is an intelligibility of marriage then, that points beyond it simply being a coming together of man and woman for practical reasons. It is sacramental and thus receptive to grace and represents the union of Christ and the Church. Its chief characteristic, we must never forget, is Christ—like love, which is sacrificial at its core.”
PhD candidate in theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia, William Chami told the forum, the fundamental messages within Humanae Vitae are intrinsically connected to broader Christian concepts, including the belief in the Holy Trinity.
“Human love, especially in the context of procreation, mirrors God’s love, especially as expressed in Creation and the Holy Trinity. Creation from nothing was an Act of Love. With God’s ‘Yes’, we’ve been asked to continue His creation- to be Co-Creators and give meaning to the other in an affirmation of love and through it, celebrating the gift of life”.
The Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, Daniel Ang, said while Humanae Vitae was written in the 1960s, its fundamental message to Catholics is more relevant than ever.
“Our Catholic faith recognises the family as the ‘fundamental cell of society’ and the Church has called for enhanced support of family life in its gifts and difficulties”, he said.
“Here in Australia, we are seeing decreasing fertility rates as revealed by the latest Census figures and a need for pastoral care for those struggling to conceive.
“Creation from nothing was an Act of Love.With God’s ‘Yes’, we’ve been asked to continue His creation- to be Co-Creators and give meaning to the other in an affirmation of love … celebrating the gift of life.”
The initiatives taking place this month in the Sydney Archdiocese seek to uphold the importance of family life and draw attention to the practical support available to couples, including natural fertility methods. It also brings people together to be formed in the Church’s teaching on family life which opens up a greater understanding of who we are before God and in relationship to one another”.
To learn more about Humanae Vitae and natural fertility, you are invited to a talk, Understanding your Fertility, with Creighton Model Fertility Care educators, Eliza Segarra and Raimonda Waddy at St Peter’s Surry Hills at 12pm on Sunday 7 August.
Fertility care doctors, Dr Mary Walsh and Dr Catherine Lennon will also be guest speakers at a forum Restorative Reproductive Medicine: Holistically Treating Infertility on Saturday 20 August at University of Notre Dame Australia’s Sydney campus at 9:30am.
You can register online here.