When reading a letter with the goal of truly understanding its meaning, it is vital to know to whom the letter is addressed. In the case of Humanae Vitae – arguably the most controversial Papal document in the last century – the audience is universal. How could it be otherwise when the topic is as fundamental to human existence as the regulation of birth? As we approach the 50th anniversary of the completion of the councils called by Pope John XXIII which lead Pope Paul VI to pen these 31 short paragraphs, we have the opportunity to reflect on their meaning and relevance.
This is where things get personal. Humanae Vitae was not the response from the Catholic Church to the “sexual revolution” that the culture was hoping for. This applies to both those within and without the Church’s formal structure. From that seed, and with
the watering of a holy Australian parish priest, came the growth of the Billings method of Natural Family Planning (just one of many evidence based Fertility Awareness Based Methods). Around the same time in the late 1960s a sister of Notre Dame wrote to Pope Paul VI requesting release from her religious vows. That sister travelled to Canada met my father and the rest, as they say, is history.
My own parents subsequently became trained instructors of Billings, working with couples in group marriage preparation and teaching one on one in our family home. In 1982 they
decided to make a trip to Los Angeles to meet Drs. John and Evelyn Billings, the cofounders of the method. Fortunately, I was able to come along for the ride in utero! Thirty four years later I am truly blessed to be continuing the work called for by Pope Paul VI to help women, men, and the whole world understand the intricacies of human sexuality and reproductive endocrinology.
Through an act of Divine Providence, my wife Theresa and I met and married at a young age and saved from the errors of the culture predicted by Pope Paul VI. Against popular
opinion and well meaning advice we accepted three children lovingly from God during the four years that I was in medical school. We now have seven beautiful children under ten
years old. This is objectively difficult work, but it is our path to holiness in marriage.
Integrating Humane Vitae and Evangelium Vitae (St. John Paul II) within the context of medical education came with significant academic and interpersonal persecution. This
school of suffering, the white martyrdom, is a great blessing for growth in holiness. Echoing the sentiments of the Holy Roman Pontiff:
To Doctors and Nurses
27. Likewise we hold in the highest esteem those doctors and members of the nursing profession who, in the exercise of their calling, endeavour to fulfill the demands of their
Christian vocation before any merely human interest. Let them therefore continue constant in their resolution always to support those lines of action which accord with faith and with right reason. And let them strive to win agreement and support for these policies among their professional colleagues. Moreover, they should regard it as an essential
part of their skill to make themselves fully proficient in this difficult field of medical knowledge. For then, when married couples ask for their advice, they may be in a position to give them right counsel and to point them in the proper direction. Married couples have a right to expect this much from them.
Please join me in lifting up prayers for physicians everywhere to respond to this call to authenticity in the care of human sexuality. In the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mt 9:13)
In Christus Medicus,
Dr. Martin G Owen BHK MD (H)
Dr. Martin Owen is a Family Physician with a clinical and research interest in FABM. He is the current Vice President of the Canadian Catholic Physicians and Canadian delegate to the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations. He is blessed to be supported in this work by his wife Theresa and their seven children. You can follow them on social
media by searching: “At Home With The Doctor”