You aren’t allowed to use contraception. It’s morally wrong. Condoms aren’t allowed and promote moral decay. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is really wrong, a gravely immoral act. Abortion is murder.
As a Catholic, I got this message. And as a teenager, I couldn’t care less.
In fact, I heard a lot of rules, most of which I completely ignored. I wasn’t a bad kid. I was involved in the community and went to church. I was known as a Christian and I liked that reputation.
I also grew up in the real world and got a state education, so I learnt about all sorts of things as if they were just normal, especially when it came to sexual behaviour. A child of the internet, pornography was normal and you were expected to have sex whenever you had the opportunity.
I thank God every day that I never had the opportunity. Against the backdrop of this sexual formation, I ignored the rules not because I rejected them, but because they simply didn’t make any sense. I just didn’t understand what they were protecting.
I realised straight after high school that my view of the world and myself was not going to work. It just seemed to lack purpose and hope. I could see only one end for the road I was on, and I didn’t want to walk it.
Reflecting on that time, I simply didn’t know what it truly meant to be human and live a fulfilling life. I started on a journey with God that led me (seven years later) to my wife.
On this journey, I was challenged many times to accept the teachings of the Church without fully understanding them. In this, I discovered that it was in the following of them that the meaning became apparent. I don’t think this is necessary for everyone; but it was necessary for me in my pig-headedness.
When I got married, my wife gave me a card that she had got at a youth rally in New Zealand. It read: “I commit to wait for marriage”. She had signed and dated it.
At the time, I didn’t really comprehend the significance of this. But it did challenge me. Although I could reciprocate the gift, I didn’t have a certificate to prove it; I hadn’t done so intentionally.
I was challenged to look deeper into the why of the rules. What was the treasure inside? Because I had married a “good Catholic girl”, I was introduced to natural family planning (NFP), which I had never heard of.
Once again, it was in observance of these “rules” that the meaning became clear. I got involved in the ministry of NFP and became a Family Life Educator. I was finally exposed to the reasons; my eyes were opening.
Humanae Vitae was a document I knew nothing about – except for that it ruled out contraception. With the new backdrop of my wife’s intentional gift, NFP and having my first child, the rules in Humanae Vitae disappeared and what remained was:
“Human life is sacred… From its very inception, it reveals the creating hand of God… [nothing] is acceptable which does violence to man’s essential dignity…. For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature.”
So what are the rules protecting? Well, quite simply: me, you, my children, the meaning of our existence, our dignity, our essential value as human beings, the understanding of which is the means of our true happiness, contentment, purpose, maturity and of truly living.
If “the heavens proclaim the glory of God” and yet they were not made in God’s image, how much more do I proclaim the glory of God by simply being me?
The rules make sense – but now I don’t need them because I have absolutely no desire to do anything that does violence to human dignity. But the rules stand as a signpost to something greater – the dignity of our humanity made in the image and likeness of God.
My wife and I now have five wonderful children – cue the laughing. I love the irony in the fact that NFP families often have lots of kids. I love it because I know why and I know what it looks like; NFP works!
It is really efficient at avoiding and achieving pregnancy. However, it really works because of the maturity it brings and the way it can open your eyes to the beauty and sacredness of life and the profoundly humbling understanding that in saying yes to each other a brand new human being exists.
God is awesome. Thank God for Humanae Vitae and the rules it proclaimed because, with it, God saved me and brought me to life, and five new beautiful human beings exist. This is living!
John Shay is the chairman of Fertility Education Australia.
With thanks to the ACBC.
For more information on Natural Family Planning, contact Natural Fertility Services of the Diocese of Parramatta.