ONTARIO—As it reached the age of 50 on July 25, Blessed Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae feels even more prophetic today than when it was released in the turbulent late 1960s.
That was a prevailing theme at “Faithful to God’s Design,” a two-day celebratory event held at the Ontario Convention Center July 27-28 to mark the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae. The Diocesan Ministry of Respect Life and Pastoral Care Programs provided local logistical support for the event, which concluded with Bishop Gerald Barnes celebrating the Closing Mass.
The 1968 Encyclical is commonly viewed as being the Catholic Church’s definitive stance in opposition to the birth control pill, but the 50th Anniversary Conference served to underscore themes of divine love, procreative power and the importance of family.
“Humanae Vitae is not a law book,” says Mary Huber, Director of Respect Life and Pastoral Care Programs for the Diocese. “It describes the love story between God the Creator and humanity.”
Within that context, the talks at the Conference focused on a wide variety of modern topics including natural family planning, married love, St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and sexual integrity of young adults as well as the challenges of secular culture in the areas of pornography, contraception and gender ideology.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco provided a strong presence at the conference, speaking on the Clergy Day, July 26, and delivering the keynote address the following morning. He reinforced the importance of God’s designing of two sexes for His purpose of creation.
“God created us for communion, not isolation,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “The one system [of the body] that is not complete unto itself—the reproductive system—is the one that needs the complementarity of the opposite sex to attain its end, which is new life and the union of spouses.”
Christopher West, an international expert on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, delivered the keynote address on Day 2 of the Conference. He asserted that a puritanical approach to the body and to sex has led to a backlash that created a hyper-sexualized culture of the present.
“The pornographic revolution is a fast food diet,” West said. “We must invite the world to a wedding feast.”
Phil Margala, who ministers with his wife, Theresa, as a Respect Life Coordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Montclair, said Humanae Vitae foresaw the effects of contraception in the rise of divorce, pornography and sexually transmitted diseases as well as the emergence of gender confusion today.
“The conference explained why Humanae Vitae was not accepted when it came out, showing how theologians and priests rejected the teachings, thinking it would eventually change,” Margala said. “Catholics were confused.
“Perhaps Catholics today might be ready to accept the teaching.”
In his homily at the Conference’s closing Mass Bishop Barnes tied the Gospel reading – the multiplication of the loves and fishes – to the call to the faithful to do their part in promoting the values of life in Humanae Vitae, even if cultural forces make that more difficult. The Gospel reading from John teaches us that God cares for us, and that He involves us in his work, the Bishop said.
“The Lord asks us to do our part and He does His,” Bishop Barnes said. “So we can say, ‘there is a little bread, we can do something, we do not lose hope.”