by Costanza Miriano
I have had an idea and, in order to accomplish it, I need of your help. After I have written about the lecture held at the Pontifical University of Gregoriana on Humanae Vitae where don Chiodi spoke about the “duty of contraception”, I have received different messages, emails and phone-calls from friends, men and above-all women, saddened and concerned, and some of them, to tell you the truth, even distressed by it. They are people who have taken on earnestly the encyclical of Paul VI on sexuality and the protection of life in their own life; and to hear a priest invited at the Gregoriana university – not at a parish course- say these kinds of things, has triggered painful reactions. These concerns are echoes of each other in their content. It has been this coincidence that has made me come up with the idea.
It is known that a study-commission on Humanae Vitae has been set up, and it is also known that there are many opinions also in the Church (outside of the Church they don’t even have a problem with it) which say that it is necessary to change the vision on human sexuality. The Gregoriana, on the 50th anniversary of the encyclical – it was in the crucial year of 68’ when Paul VIth wrote his prophetic encyclical- proposes a series of eight conferences with sixteen speakers, one of whom was don Chiodi, who had spoken, as mentioned, of the “obligation of contraception”. To speak about the topic, it is almost always consecrated persons. We, however, are lay people, and married. Our voice should perhaps be also heard. Rather, I would say, that we are the experts, because we have measured up to it concretely. Making mistakes even, understanding gradually maybe. But perhaps also our experience has something to say on the subject.
My dream would be, in short, that many of us would write letters- sending them to the Pontifical Academy for Life, and also to the Gregoriana, as a start- in which we explained that we are not afraid of contraception, because it is certainly not that which inflames our hearts; but, on the contrary, it is Humanae Vitae that has saved our life, or at least made our lives more beautiful, and different, very different from what they could have been, even when we have only partially obeyed, limping, falling, having doubts and uncertainties. We have however always had a clear idea of the high standard of life that was proposed to us, even when we didn’t succeed in grasping it. We could first of all clarify the fact that the “no” to contraception is not an end in itself (it is not idol for us), since the central point of the matter is: do I or do I not put God at the center of my affectivity? Do I let Him mould my heart? Does my relationship with my spouse help me to encounter the Lord more? Am I prepared to risk something of mine to do His will, also when I do not think it is the best choice (otherwise what kind of obedience is it) or the most convenient choice? Do I truly believe or not, that true happiness consists in doing His will, and there are crucial aspects in which we really bring it all into play, concretely by this obedience to God?
We should write, we, the true experts on HV- experts in the etymological sense, in the sense that we have experimented it- that we are sorry that the proposal of the Church lowers the crossbar of the beauty which is possible. Not because we are “grim defenders of morality”- as Avvenire [the official newspaper of Italian bishops] describes us – but on the contrary, because we are sinners, beggars, because we know that our heart is an abyss which cannot be known, it is a mystery wounded by original sin. For this reason, we believe that the law- which Jesus has not come to change even an iota of it- is really the greatest sign of the mercy of God, it is that which guards us from the evil, that is first of all within us. The law is a possibility of happiness, since God is a fountain of pleasure, infinitely greater than the pleasure that we are begging for, following our heart. We are beggars of the Holy Spirit, and it is for this reason that we implore Him to come in our couple, so wounded and limping and imperfect. We know that to give Him the possibility to act in our intimacy is the most farsighted choice that we can make. I believe that each one of us has around him/her many examples of broken lives, which could have been happy ones. Each one of us knows people who have gone from one relationship to another, “going there where the heart was leading”, wasting their lives or taking a definitive decision too late. Then could we not also speak of the decline in the sexual desire which torments the Western countries? Because when the thing which before was difficult to get and conquer, now you see it pushed into your face with the minimum effort, perhaps after a while you just get bored…
The proposal of the Church does not exclude prudence and responsibility, of course: nobody says that is necessary to have children repeatedly. But if one is stuck making human calculations, even one child is too much: there are few those who can guarantee the future to the following generation, not to speak of the dangers and of the diseases that can occur in the life of the child. Only when knowing that a child is sent by God, one can dare much. A believer knows that it will be God who will take charge and care of this child, and God is truly the Lord who will surely not skimp His help. Not to mention that there are a series of extremely reliable instruments for natural family planning, which are as accurate as the contraceptive methods (and one should mention the fact the natural methods could also be used with the mentality of being closed to life…), without the risk of conception.
Nor are we, not necessarily, supporters of enormous families: the point is actually not about the number of children. There are people who have no children, others who receive only one of them (but, as I always tell my friend, Our Lady also had one one!). There is a sort of “pro-life” vanity which should not be endorsed, which counts the number of children, almost showing them off as a certificate of their being “good Catholics”. Each couple, each family, has its own story, and only God really knows their hearts. There can be excellent parents of an only child, and there can be very bad parents of extra-large families. What really matters is keeping our hearts open to Him, to His initiative in our lives. But one cannot say of oneself that he/she is open to the initiative of God if they don’t let Him enter in the crucial choices: about money and affectivity.
I would like us to witness to our shepherds -it is enough to write even an email with a few words- about the beauty of Humanae Vitae, to tell them that is not at all “by now only a symbol”, as it was at the Gregoriana, neither only a rule which oppresses, but a possibility of a greater beauty, because marriage can be lived in so many ways. It is not enough not to commit adultery, refraining from it for reasons of convenience, necessity, convenience, habit, commodity and routine. The heart of it all, the beauty that Humanae Vitae proposes, is to make the love between the spouses a path of beatitude, that is of happiness. If lived as a path toward God, Christian marriage is something that resembles marriage tout court only in exterior form: but if one succeeds in living the sacrament according to grace, one can try to love her husband, his wife, as Christ loves her/him. It is possible, hand in hand: while the two spouses diminish, the love of God increases more and more the space of action between them. A love that often the spouses do not come to understand fully, also because it is not being announced to them, not even by the Church which perhaps still needs to understand the atomic bomb potential that lies in the sacrament of the marriage. A bomb that burns and heals all the wounds of the couple, even the betrayals, the errors. “You can err (husband, wife), but God can’t”- don Giussani used to say. From the moment that He puts Himself in the middle of the two, there is no wrong marriage. There can be a wounded marriage, but God saves and heals. To start walking along the path of Humanae Vitae means to try to access this love, that is to allow God to act as the Lord in the life of the couple, to give oneself, not to obey to one’s own reasonings and projects, but to listen to another voice.
Rather than squabbling about contraception, which doesn’t need at all need to be encouraged (the so-called “Catholics”, those who go to Mass on Sundays and use often the pill, without suffering the contradiction, without counting around 600 thousand morning-after-pills only sold only in Italy this past year, with a boom among the teenagers, 30% more in one year, also thanks to the government who removed the obligation of prescription), I, rather than starting to say that there are after all some cases in which it is possible, rather than arriving as usual a few decades later, I would rather wish the Church started to proclaim a higher beauty, I would rather wish that the shepherds were not afraid to be unpopular. I wish they started again to speak clearly in the marriage-preparation courses, speaking of the cross and of beauty, and of what the sacrament of the marriage really consists in, where the burning power of love can make truthful our small and deceptive love.
The idea that has come me, is, in short, meant to avoid the senseless battle between those Catholics who say that “the Church should go beyond norms in the name of discernment”, and those “ultra-traditionalist rigid” Catholics who obsessively jump up at the first sign of change. I would like us to write that Humanae vitae helps to live the union of the spouses, which is also in itself procreative, as the end of marriage, and that it is the path toward God. We are certain that “one flesh” (unam carnem) is both a motion in place and a voyage of a life. A voyage that does not exclude falls, pauses, hardships, doubts. Let us not be tempted to have that nauseating idea of the “perfect little family”, we perhaps know better than certain shepherds about the “tears and blood” moments in marriage, we know that we are called to love not according to the model of the “romantic novel”, but according the model of the crucified Christ. But, in order to say all this, it is enough to say eight words: something about “how Humanae vitae has changed my life”.
We can write to the Pontifical Academy for the Life (firstname.lastname@example.org), perhaps also to the professor who organizes the Gregoriana course, Humberto Miguel Yanez (unigre.it) and finally to the speaker about whom we were speaking (email@example.com). Who would like, can also send their email to my blog (firstname.lastname@example.org), specifying whether they would like their letter published or not: perhaps we can share with all some fragment of beauty….