A retrospective: the 45th anniversary, Of Human Life

Tom Bartolomeo
17th Sunday Ordinary C 2013b
Genesis 18, 20-32; Psalm 138;
Colossians 2: 12-14; Luke 11: 1-3
July 25, 1968
Reproduced with Permission

"The rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats." (Isaiah 55, 10).

The quotation I just recited was spoken by the prophet Isaiah from a Book of the Bible in his name. "The rain waters the earth making it fertile and fruitful." Something we don't think much about until there is a drought. Well, at least, not this year.

Forty-five years ago last Thursday the Church published, I think, the most important document of modern times, Pope Paul VI's Encyclical, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) on July 25th, on the feast day of Saint James, patron of our parish. It continues to be the most controversial teaching of the Church although the Church has upheld its tenets from time immemorial that we may pervert human sexuality but God through nature herself will exact a heavy penalty from us for our transgressions. The first reading from Genesis we just heard exacted such a penalty on Sodom, the destruction of an entire city for its practice of Sodomy. And here we are today in a nation which legally approves and promotes unnatural sexual behavior and same sex marriage which are destroying our society.

Is there anything in our experience more joyous than the birth of a child or more mournful than the death of a child? The story of creation in the Book of Genesis occurred over time, some six days, we are told, and recounted in the first two chapters of Genesis. First came the creation of all inanimate things, the sun, moon and a galaxy of stars. Then the earth was formed and the land was separated from the waters of the sea. Then seed bearing fowl were created to inhabit the sky, seed bearing fish the water, seed bearing animals the land and, finally, man himself like all other living creatures "male and female he [God] made them." To all living creatures God commanded only one thing "be fertile and multiply". All living creatures began as one of a species and, lastly, humankind began with one man and one woman. Over the span of many centuries and chapters in Genesis an accounting was made of the increase of mankind into families, tribes and nations. And here we are.

Pope Paul VI drew his conclusions "of human life" from the work of nature and her laws imbedded in our persons, expressed in Sacred Scripture and in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Today we have many who claim a "freedom of choice" concerning human life as if their choices would not alter the consequences of their actions, that license to deny or abort life would ultimately negate all human freedom by embracing death. Our choices always have consequences, good or bad. The important matter is knowing what is good or bad, true or false, and living with the consequences of our choices. Only the truth can "set us free" as Jesus taught.

The Pope's encyclical, Humanae Vitae, was published in 1968 eight years following a radical change of our country's divorce laws, first enacted in California in 1960; and today every state in our nation has legislated "no fault" divorce statutes. In some states all that is required is a letter in the mail. In the same year, 1960, "The Pill", as it came to be called, was approved by the Federal Drug Administration as a placative medication to ease the discomfort of a woman's menses while actually it's purpose was contraceptive. Thirteen years later in 1973 in Roe v Wade abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court of our land. Today a female child of any age has access to "the pill" without any restriction. How far have we come? I know, too, that many Catholics question the Church's teaching on human life, dismissing her authority as "out of step with the times", but truth is either objective or contrived. Either we live by the word of God or not. What I say here does not depend on my opinion. Opinions are the stuff of individual biases or prejudices. As the Apostle Paul reminds me I am one who "proclaims the gospel . . . [which] gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Remember the instance in the gospel when Jesus came upon a fig tree which bore no fruit even though it was not the season for figs, how he shriveled up the life out of that tree for not having any fruit? Jesus committed no injustice against the tree. He was simply demonstrating what he had often taught, that "by their fruits you shall know them". That would apply to nearly a third of our population who have sterilized themselves, seven percent of couples who marry with no intent on having children and one in four pregnancies which ends in abortion. Like the fig tree our population is shriveling up. The United State Census Bureau reported that our country's birthrate was the lowest on record in 2011 since our nation first kept these records in 1920. We are today among thirty-six of the thirty-eight industrialized nations of the world whose birth rate does not replace its current population - subverting not only nature's law but the laws of economics. There will come a time when succeeding smaller and younger generations will not be able to support larger and older generations for their Social Security, Medicare and nursing care needs. "The rain should water the earth making it fertile and fruitful."

We have already entered a time of nature's reprisals for our misdeeds. One out of six married couples today are infertile and their percentage is rising. Many men and women today are marrying later, putting education, career and a comfortable life style ahead of family and children moving ever closer to the time when women can not bear children. Pope Pius VI sagely predicted three generations ago the evil fruits of contraception and abortion:

conjugal infidelity [he said] and . . . [the] general lowering of morality . . . especially the young, who are so vulnerable . . . and must not be offered an easy means to evade its observance. It can also be feared that the man who becomes used to contraceptive practices, may in the end lose respect for his wife, and no longer care about her physical and psychological well-being, will come to the point of considering her a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer his respected and beloved companion. Consider also the dangerous weapon that would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who have no concern for the requirements of morality." (Humanae Vitae, 17).

Our Federal and many state governments have already reached this lack of "concern for morality" in the promotion of contraception, abortion and the approval of same sex marriage.

We live in a time of contradiction, one, the cause of eternal joy and, the other, the cause of everlasting despair; one, the celebration of life and, the other, the finality of death. We should not be dismayed, however. We choose to be cross bearers, signs of contradiction in an evil world as Christ blazed the way for us. We have the power of God with us whose Son chose to embrace death on the cold beams of a dead tree making it once more the living 'tree of life' planted in Paradise for our first parents and we their children. Remember what Christ told his disciples before darkness descended on their world before his crucifixion, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" (John 16, 33).

Choose life!