This year the Augustine Institute published Bible in a Year. On January 1st, I began a year long journey to read the Bible cover to cover. And what a journey it has been! Some days (specifically in the Old Testament) I think, “What did I just read?” In order to prepare myself for these daily Scripture readings I make a point to say these words: “God loves me. The Church is my Mother.” Then I am able to read Scripture with great confidence especially in regards to the Old Testament! This is also the optic I use while reading Humanae Vitae. Pope Paul VI calls us to this posture when he reminds us that, “one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator.” We are not called to be ‘masters’ but ‘ministers’. Humanae Vitae is a document that must be read with the understanding that God loves us and the Church is our Mother. With that in mind I offer these reflections by looking at three key phrases from this particular paragraph:
“True act of love”
Sexual union, according to the original design, is meant to be a true act of love – it is inherently life giving both within the couple’s unity and in its capacity to create life. Humans were made with a capacity for love and to be loved. It is through a gift of self that sexual union between spouses is truly an act of love. True sexual union is a union of persons – not just bodies. A person is not simply a sexual being. This is not what we are told through culture and media – we are told that a true act of love is about our own needs and that love can come and go and be redefined based on what makes one “happy”. Pope Paul VI reminds us that our entire being, including our “sexual faculties” belong to God the Creator. We cannot impose our definitions onto these things as they have already been created with meaning and purpose.
“He has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties.”
This particular phrase of Humanae Vitae reminds us of a very challenging reality that we are creatures and not the creator – ministers, not the master. We get to co-create with God through the conjugal union, but we are not the Author of life. This again frustrates much of the modern thought behind such technologies as invitro-fertilization. Additionally, this reminder from the Holy Father speaks to the vulnerability of married couples who follow the Church’s teaching about being open to life. There is a mysteriousness to the crosses of those who suffer from infertility and complicated pregnancies. We again are the creatures and are called to give everything, even our fertility over to God. Now of course having “no such dominion” doesn’t mean zero dominion and Humanae Vitaee xplains later on that we do have the ability to wisely discern the number of children God is calling us to have and the spacing. However, we are always to have awe and respect for this opportunity to co-create with God be “ministers of the design established by the Creator”.
Lastly, let us mediate on the final sentence of this paragraph, “Human life is sacred … From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.” The creator is revealed in his creation. The brushstrokes in the painting revealing the artist’s handiwork. The mysteriousness of God – all powerful, all knowing who can seem so far away and difficult to grasp – is dispelled with one looks at a baby. A baby with their inherent beauty and purity and smallness and dependency truly reveals the creating hand of God. They can remind us of how lovable each of us is and how dependent we are. The miracle of life truly reveals the creating hand of God. The miracle of one growing in the womb shows us how God intended for us to be intimately connected to our mothers and to our children. There is an awe and sacredness to the pregnant woman because of the mystery growing inside of her. There is an awe and sacredness about the religious sister who is a sign of the kingdom and that sexuality’s end is not physical union but a greater reminder of the sacredness of our inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God. The sacredness of human life from its very beginnings shows God as Creator – and that at our core God has created us in love and for love.
There is only one Master, Jesus Christ. I am His minister. We are all His ministers. I am grateful for the Master and His Divine light on the realm of sex and the body, marriage and the family. This teaching keeps me anchored amidst the confusion and chaos of our time. As We celebrate the 50th anniversary of this great document, let us always remember that God loves us and the Church is our Mother.
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Originally published in USA Today.