DENVER — In a new pastoral letter honoring the 50-year anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver underscored the perennial significance of the Church’s sexual teachings, saying they are a gift and a light in darkness.
“I write this pastoral letter to you, my brothers and sisters, to affirm the great beauty of the Church’s consistent teaching through the centuries on married love, a love that is so desperately needed today,” Archbishop Aquila wrote in his Feb. 2 pastoral letter.
“Defending this love in our culture requires strong commitment,” he continued, saying that “it is crucial to reaffirm our commitment to the truth, goodness and beauty of Christ’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.”
According to Archbishop Aquila, Pope Blessed Paul VI “prophetically defended the integrity of married love and warned us against the danger of reducing sexuality to a source of pleasure” in his landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae.
Published in 1968, Humanae Vitae will celebrate its 50th anniversary July 25 of this year.
Archbishop Aquila noted, in the years since its publication, the Church has remained steadfast in her teachings on truth, as theological reflection on Humanae Vitae has continued to develop.
One positive development, he said, was Pope St. John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” which has “deepened our understanding of the great gift of human sexuality, which requires nothing less from us than a complete gift of self.”
Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, he said, have also been instrumental in further reflection on Humanae Vitae’s theology of love. Additionally, Archbishop Aquila pointed to the “great advancements” in natural family planning, which has been a helpful resource for countless families over the years.
“NFP … enables couples to accurately understand their fertility, maintain openness to life, and grow in the kind of self-control that is necessary for a happy marriage,” he said, noting that sacrificial love is crucial to the practice of NFP.
Archbishop Aquila explained that contraception disrupts the procreative nature of the marital act, which “harms the unitive dimension of sex.” Blessed Paul VI did not reject contraception simply because it was artificial, Archbishop Aquila said, but because it fundamentally damaged the most intimate part of the conjugal act between spouses.
The archbishop also lamented cultural decline over the past 50 years, which, he said, was predicted by Blessed Paul VI. He specifically pointed to the widespread use of contraception, which has led to higher divorce and abortion rates.
Pornography, sex trafficking, government-imposed contraception, a rise in STDs, low birth and marriage rates are also some negative consequences, according to the Denver archbishop. He added that technology has become a major player in the realm of sexuality, causing more complications.
“Sex itself has been changed from a gift and source of life in the family to a means of pleasure and self-satisfaction,” Archbishop Aquila said.
“Once sex and marriage has been redefined and trivialized in this way, it is possible to change the definition and makeup of marriage or anything related to sexuality,” he continued.
However, Archbishop Aquila believes that Humanae Vitae and the theology of the body reveal the antidote to “the widespread false ideas of freedom and the purpose of sexuality that so many are suffering from today.”
“Blessed Paul VI teaches us the truth about married love, listing its four essential qualities: It needs to be fully human, total, faithful and fruitful,” he said, also noting their inseparable connections.
Despite the cultural distortion of sexuality and marriage over the years, Archbishop Aquila noted that the goodness of sexuality remains through the dignity of each human person in God’s image.
“We also know from Scripture … that our dignity comes from being made in his image and likeness,” he said.
“God, the source of all life and love, planned from the beginning that the love between a man and a woman should image his own love and bring forth new life in the context of family,” he continued.
Humanae Vitae teaches procreative love is an “extremely important mission,” with both “supernatural and eternal” effects, the archbishop said. He calls this the “very nature of married love,” which also prompts a husband and wife to strive together toward holiness.
“Through the sincere gift of themselves, spouses discover their authentic identities as children of God the Father, and their love radiates beauty and the splendor of the truth,” the archbishop said.
While Humanae Vitae proclaims the bold beauty behind the Church’s teachings on sexuality, it also reminds the faithful of the Church’s mission of evangelization, he noted.
“Every Catholic has a mission to live and share the good news of God’s plan for human sexuality,” he said, saying this proclamation requires courage.
“We evangelize first by witnessing to what God has done in our own lives and by living out Christ’s teaching in our family and work,” he continued, saying that “pointing people to the teaching of Jesus is not confrontational, but an act of love.”
The first evangelizers of society, he said, are parents and married couples, who are the primary educators of children. Because of this, parents have the responsibility to faithfully teach their children in the truths of the Church.
Unfortunately, today’s children are bombarded with distorted sexual ethics at a young age, often with exposure to pornography and the lure of casual sex, the archbishop said. These dangers present new challenges to parents in their efforts to raise children of God, but the archbishop encouraged honest conversations with children to promote healthy relationships.
He also pointed out that priests and deacons are called to evangelize to their own flocks, advising priests to be “gentle and merciful in confession” and recommit themselves to their work with engaged and married couples.
He also addressed individuals in the workforce, encouraging them to give witness to the truth in their everyday lives. He also specifically addressed engaged couples, asking them to “make the most of your preparation for marriage.”
Archbishop Aquila concluded his pastoral letter by mentioning the endless measure of God’s love and encouraged individuals and couples everywhere to reflect this true love through “a complete gift” of themselves.
He challenged married couples to be generous in their love and to imitate Christ’s ultimate sacrificial love as the way “to find true happiness.” Aquila also pointed back to Humanae Vitae, saying its 50th anniversary is the perfect occasion for a renewed commitment to sharing the liberating truth that it proclaims about sexuality.
“Humanae Vitae was a gift for the Church and for the world, a courageous prophesy about the beauty of human life and married love,” he said, calling the encyclical “a great light in the midst of a dark and confused world.”
“We ask for the prayers of Blessed Paul VI as we look to his guidance for handing on and living according to the teachings of Christ in the world today.”