DAILY CATHOLIC THURSDAY July 23, 1998 vol. 9, no. 143
MITERS THAT MATTER
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the last of three parts of the text of a pastoral letter on the thirty-year-old encyclical Humanae Vitae which Denver's Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, released yesterday. This is reprinted here with permission and brought to you through the Catholic World News Service.]
ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT'S PASTORAL ON HUMANAE VITAE
III. WHAT WE NEED TO DO
16. I want to express my gratitude to the many couples who already live the message of Humanae Vitae in their married lives. Their fidelity to the truth sanctifies their own families and our entire community of faith. I thank in a special way those couples who teach NFP and counsel others in responsible parenthood inspired by Church teaching. Their work too often goes unnoticed or underappreciated -- but they are powerful advocates for life in an age of confusion.
I also want to offer my prayers and encouragement to those couples who bear the cross of infertility. In a society often bent on avoiding children, they carry the burden of yearning for children but having none. No prayers go unanswered, and all suffering given over to the Lord bears fruit in some form of new life. I encourage them to consider adoption, and I appeal to them to remember that a good end can never justify a wrong means. Whether to prevent a pregnancy or achieve one, all techniques which separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of marriage are always wrong. Procreative techniques which turn embryos into objects and mechanically substitute for the loving embrace of husband and wife violate human dignity and treat life as a product. No matter how positive their intentions, these techniques advance the dangerous tendency to reduce human life to material which can be manipulated.
17. It's never too late to turn our hearts back toward God. We are not powerless. We can make a difference by witnessing the truth about married love and fidelity to the culture around us. In December last year, in a pastoral letter entitled Good News of Great Joy, I spoke of the important vocation every Catholic has as an evangelizer. We are all missionaries. America in the 1990s, with its culture of disordered sexuality, broken marriages and fragmented families, urgently needs the Gospel. As Pope John Paul II writes in his apostolic exhortation On the Family (Familiaris Consortio), married couples and families have a critical role in witnessing Jesus Christ to each other and to the surrounding culture (49, 50).
18. In that light, I ask married couples of the archdiocese to read, discuss and pray over Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio and other documents of the Church which outline Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. Many married couples, unaware of the valuable wisdom found in these materials, have deprived themselves of a beautiful source of support for their mutual love. I especially encourage couples to examine their own consciences regarding contraception, and I ask them to remember that "conscience" is much more than a matter of personal preference. It requires us to search out and understand Church teaching, and to honestly strive to conform our hearts to it. I urge them to seek sacramental Reconciliation for the times they may have fallen into contraception. Disordered sexuality is the dominant addiction of American society in these closing years of the century. It directly or indirectly impacts us all. As a result, for many, this teaching may be a hard message to accept. But do not lose heart. Each of us is a sinner. Each of us is loved by God. No matter how often we fail, God will deliver us if we repent and ask for the grace to do His will.
19. I ask my brother priests to examine their own pastoral practices, to ensure that they faithfully and persuasively present the Church's teaching on these issues in all their parish work. Our people deserve the truth about human sexuality and the dignity of marriage. To accomplish this, I ask pastors to read and implement the Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, and to study the Church's teaching on marriage and family planning. I urge them to appoint parish coordinators to facilitate the presentation of Catholic teaching on married love and family planning -- especially NFP. Contraception is a grave matter. Married couples need the good counsel of the Church to make right decisions. Most married Catholics welcome the guidance of their priests, and priests should never feel intimidated by their personal commitment to celibacy, or embarrassed by the teaching of the Church. To be embarrassed by Church teaching is to be embarrassed by Christ's teaching. The pastoral experience and counsel of a priest are valuable on issues like contraception precisely because he brings new perspective to a couple and speaks for the whole Church. Moreover, the fidelity a priest shows to his own vocation strengthens married people to live their vocation more faithfully.
20. As archbishop, I commit myself and my offices to supporting my brother priests, deacons and their lay collaborators in presenting the whole of the Church's teaching on married love and family planning. I owe both the clergy of our local Church and their staffs -- especially the many dedicated parish catechists -- much gratitude for the good work they have already accomplished in this area. It is my intention to ensure that courses on married love and family planning are available on a regular basis to more and more people of the archdiocese, and that our priests and deacons receive more extensive education in the theological and pastoral aspects of these issues. I direct, in a particular way, our Offices of Evangelization and Catechetics; Marriage and Family Life; Catholic Schools; Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries; and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to develop concrete ways to better present Church teaching on married love to our people, and to require adequate instruction in NFP as part of all marriage preparation programs in the archdiocese.
21. Two final points. First, the issue of contraception is not peripheral, but central and serious in a Catholic's walk with God. If knowingly and freely engaged in, contraception is a grave sin, because it distorts the essence of marriage: the self-giving love which, by its very nature, is life-giving. It breaks apart what God created to be whole: the person-uniting meaning of sex (love) and the life-giving meaning of sex (procreation). Quite apart from its cost to individual marriages, contraception has also inflicted massive damage on society at large: initially by driving a wedge between love and the procreation of children; and then between sex (i.e., recreational sex without permanent commitment) and love. Nonetheless -- and this is my second point -- teaching the truth should always be done with patience and compassion, as well as firmness. American society seems to swing peculiarly between puritanism and license. The two generations -- my own and my teachers' -- which once led the dissent from Paul VI's encyclical in this country, are generations still reacting against the American Catholic rigorism of the 1950s. That rigorism, much of it a product of culture and not doctrine, has long since been demolished. But the habit of skepticism remains. In reaching these people, our task is to turn their distrust to where it belongs: toward the lies the world tells about the meaning of human sexuality, and the pathologies those lies conceal.
22. In closing, we face an opportunity which comes only once in many decades. Thirty years ago this week, Paul VI told the truth about married love. In doing it, he triggered a struggle within the Church which continues to mark American Catholic life even today. Selective dissent from Humanae Vitae soon fueled broad dissent from Church authority and attacks on the credibility of the Church herself. The irony is that the people who dismissed Church teaching in the 1960s soon discovered that they had subverted their own ability to pass anything along to their children. The result is that the Church now must evangelize a world of their children's children -- adolescents and young adults raised in moral confusion, often unaware of their own moral heritage, who hunger for meaning, community, and love with real substance. For all its challenges, this a is tremendous new moment of possibility for the Church, and the good news is that the Church today, as in every age, has the answers to fill the God-shaped empty places in their hearts. My prayer is therefore simple: May the Lord grant us the wisdom to recognize the great treasure which resides in our teaching about married love and human sexuality, the faith, joy and perseverance to live it in our own families -- and the courage which Paul VI possessed to preach it anew.
Archbishop of Denver
July 22, 1998
Miters that Matter