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    POPE PAUL VI AND THE DIVINE GIFTS OF MARRIED LIFE: On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae.  It was an anxiously awaited document, especially given the context of great change that the world was undergoing, and the work of the second Vatican council in addressing contemporary issues in the light of faith.  In this case, while he entitles the letter as addressing the Church's "regulation on birth," Paul VI addresses both procreation and the wider question of sexuality.  For the next few weeks, therefore, I would like to look at some aspects of the letter that I pray will be helpful in understanding and growing in our faith.  This week, I would like to offer some preliminary thoughts before reflecting on the document.
    In order to understand some of the thinking behind the circular letter, one must recall the immediate historical context that led up to the pope composing it.  Theology never happens in a vacuum.  Instead, our pondering on God and our relationship with Him always comes as a result of our reflections on our human reality.  Thus, World War II saw the worst of humanity in the attempted genocide of the Jews, and the elimination of all who did not fit into the Nazi vision of the construction of an Aryan race.  Almost immediately following this, scientific discoveries led to the development of a nuclear arsenal and the growth of nations as superpowers who had the potential not only to annihilate populations with one bomb, but to affect the entire planet with the resulting spread of radiation.  The capacity and the desire of human beings to destroy one another so utterly and completely made people question the existence of God, given that human beings valued one another so little.  Furthermore, the possibility for destroying one's enemies so easily meant that human beings could easily devalue others by getting rid of them.  All of these events in Western history had their impact on the rest of the world.
    Vatican II, therefore, had a duty to address the existential questions that rose from this history of destruction and fear.  Because of this, the council invited the leaders of the Church throughout the world, as well as those outside of the Catholic Church, to participate in the proceedings.   In the end, one of the most important things they did was to remind humanity of our fundamental goodness and of our mission to edify and build up the whole of humanity because each of us is made in the image and likeness of God and saved by Jesus Christ.   
    The awareness of one's value and personal power also played an important role in another of the influences on the encyclical: the sexual revolution.  While the major events began in the 1950's, they had their roots in the 1920's and the surrealist movement.  Freudianism, anthropological studies and societal changes in non-European and North American cultures, scientific studies on sexuality, and the feminist movement also had a hand in the development of the sexual revolution in the West.  The movement brought some positive changes, particularly in the area of women's rights.  At the same time, sexual liberation presented challenges that led to contraception and abortion as solutions, and the objectification of human beings as sexual objects.
    Given all of these elements, i.e., recalling humanity to its fundamental dignity, and the threats to that dignity even at the moment of conception, the pope felt it important to address the whole Church regarding these issues and remind us that human beings were created to participate in the divine act of creativity and creation as a part of our way of loving.
    If you would like to read the encyclical, please go to the Vatican's website:
    Please also see the US Bishops' website for celebratory events, both national and international:
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