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Humanae Vitae: Two Little Words Too Seldom Heard

By Fr. G. Peter Irving III
5/26/2013 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (

It is no coincidence that the Gospel reading of Saturdays Mass regarding children comes immediately after yesterday's Gospel reading which was about marriage. Could it be any clearer? Jesus is not revealing anything astoundingly new here but merely stating the obvious.

Prophetic Pope Paul VI

Prophetic Pope Paul VI

LONG BEACH, CA (Catholic Online) - It is no coincidence that the Gospel reading of Saturday's Mass regarding children comes immediately after yesterday's Gospel reading which was about marriage. Could it be any clearer? Jesus is not revealing anything astoundingly new here but merely stating the obvious. Marriage is an indissoluble union between a man and a woman (Mark 10:1-12) which has as its purpose the begetting of children (Mark 10:13-16). Period.

This is what marriage has been, is now and will always be. It does not matter how politically successful a particular minority group may be in convincing a non-thinking, self-absorbed and easily bamboozled public that marriage is anything other than this. As President Lincoln once reportedly quipped: "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

In the same way, calling the "coupling" of persons of the same sex a marriage does not make it so. Marriage means something. Marriage is a given and not something we arbitrarily define. Its "structure," if you will, is embedded in the very nature of our humanity.

In yesterday's Gospel, Jesus cites the words of Genesis: God made us male and female. A man leaves his father and mother (not his two daddies or his two mommies!) and is joined to his wife (not his husband!).  And the two become one. In the passage from which Jesus is quoting, God also says to man and woman, "Be fruitful and multiply." Have children! This is marriage! And it has been this way from the beginning and will always be no matter what judges or legislators decree!

The word "matrimony" itself tells us what marriage is. "Matrimony" comes from two Latin words, "matris" and "munus." "Munis" denotes "obligation" or "duty." "Matris" is a form of "mater," meaning "mother." Matrimony necessarily presupposes a union between a man and a woman which finds its crowning fulfillment in childbearing.

This is not all that complicated. One does not even need to be a religious person to grasp this. Marriage as delineated above was not invented by the Catholic Church or by any other religion. Nevertheless, it is an undeniable fact that the major religions of the world all take for granted that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and hence is naturally ordered toward children. Since time immemorial, marriage has been understood as such in every civilization and cultural context until only very recently. This is because, as Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George and Ryan T. Anderson have written, marriage "is a type of social practice whose basic contours can be discerned by our common human reason, whatever our religious background" (What is Marriage? Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 34, No. 1, Winter 2010, p. 247).

In spite of this, the Western world is witnessing a seemingly unstoppable campaign to alter the unalterable, to introduce into society at large a menacing mutant strain known as "same-sex marriage." What not that long of ago would have seemed a complete impossibility and absolute lunacy, is now considered something normal and even good by growing sectors of the population.

Since 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize "same-sex marriage" an additional eleven states have joined the bandwagon. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the subject. Worst case scenario is that same-sex "marriage" will become legal throughout the 50 states of the union. The campaign to legitimize the fiction of "gay marriage" has been successfully led by a politically powerful, well organized and financially well-endowed minority with its deviously clever but completely deceptive slogan of "Marriage Equality."

How did it come to this? How did we get here so fast? With the exception of a handful of notable defenders of marriage, Church leaders have either been silent or simply ineffectual in exposing the lie of "same-sex marriage." This silence goes back to the contraception controversy of the 1960's. The encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, which reiterated the Church's teaching on marriage and her condemnation of contraception as a grave evil, was either ignored or simply rejected out of hand by bishops, priests and laity. Paul VI prophetically announced what would be the dreadful consequences of widespread contraceptive use and today any honest observer has to acknowledge that the much beleaguered pontiff was right.

"What God has joined together, no human being must separate." These words of Jesus not only speak to the indissolubility of marriage but also to what Humanae Vitae called the "unitive" and "procreative" dimensions of married love. Once the love-making or better put, the love-giving dimension of marriage is divorced from its life-giving dimension, the integrity of conjugal love is perverted. Then there isn't a huge logical leap from this to the moral morass in which we find ourselves today. If sex is reduced to a mere trafficking in pleasure without openness to life, then, argue the proponents of "same-sex marriage," it doesn't matter whether the sexual behavior is heterosexual or homosexual.

We are standing on the precipice of societal suicide with the ever-increasing acceptance of "homosexual marriage." We have arrived at this unwelcomed place because of two little words too seldom heard: Humane Vitae. In 1998, a group of bishops had their ad limina visit with Pope John Paul II. In his address to these bishops the Holy Father told them, in so many words: go back to your dioceses and teach your people Humanae Vitae. The prelates politely nodded their heads at the then ailing pontiff and upon returning home did nothing of the kind. Is it any wonder things are the way they are?

Every day it seems we are losing battles in these culture wars and it is very tempting to give into discouragement. This is a temptation that we must forcefully fight against. In these dark and uncertain times we must be a light to others by remaining steadfast in prayer and in fidelity to the truth. Is it possible at this late stage to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle? I do not know. What I do know is Christ is King and so long as we stand with him we will be victorious and, if we are faithful, we will be persecuted. As someone once said, "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

As the month of Mary draws to a close, let us call upon her with greater insistence, pleading for our nation and for the world. We would do well also to pray for those who oppose the Church, whether wittingly or unwittingly. May the Lord have mercy on us all.


Fr. G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is Pastor of Holy Innocents Church, Long Beach, California.


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