by Ed Harpring
Recently, I had the privilege to attend the USCCB Pro-Life Directors’ Conference in Phoenix. One of the highlights was the keynote address by Bishop Olmstead of the diocese of Phoenix. You may be familiar with his highly acclaimed exhortation challenging men to reclaim their Christian masculinity and boldly live the virtue of their vocation as sons and fathers. Into the Breach: An Apostolic Exhortation from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted to the Men of the Diocese of Phoenix
Bishop Olmstead’s address was especially timely in view of the recent allegations of clerical sexual misconduct that have ravaged not only the United Sates but other countries as well. With unwavering boldness, Bishop Olmstead expressed his outrage and anger over the latest scandal involving (former) Cardinal McCarrick and the Church at large. It may be God’s perfect timing that the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae is shining the light of truth and beauty of marital love into the darkness of perverse sexual promiscuity that has engulfed the Church – again.
Bishop Olmstead implored us to “trust the truth of Humanae Vitae.” His remarks were exquisitely reasoned, brilliantly articulated, and highly persuasive. Bishop Olmstead, in his humble, and direct manner recounted how society “widely accepted (Judeo-Christian) truths as self-evident” until the last century. However, because postmodern thinking has infiltrated this generation, “another vision has gripped vast sections of society, a relativistic, (“your truth is not my truth”) worldview has been adopted as the new normal, especially from those considered its most educated, its cultural leaders. Our long-standing truths concerning marriage and family founded on natural law now faces mockery and opposition.”
Bishop Olmstead asked us “What do we do?” He then paused, for a brief moment of silent reflection, and exhorted us to “trust the truth.” But, we must be willing to speak up “What we cannot do is avoid the truth and hope to make disciples of Christ in its absence.”
Bishop Olmstead directly challenged the notion that contraception is a minor issue in our Church, an issue to which many simply pay no heed. He emphatically stated, “The issue of contraception does not stand on the edge of Catholic life, but near its center. The marital embrace is the nexus of the love between the sexes: it is a fountain of love and life in the present, and a witness to hope for the future. We cannot conceive of a more fundamental reality in human life.”
Bishop Olmstead then proceeded to give us a roadmap to boldly and yet charitably evangelize the culture about the beauty of marriage that finds its centrality rooted in the marital embrace of man, woman (one flesh) under God’s direction through the gift of Natural Family Planning. He demonstrates how Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body are the two sides of the same coin, yet they were received by the church and the world very differently as he explains:
To many, Humanae Vitae, propagated by Blessed Pope Paul VI, came across as “true news” but not as “good news,” not as “beautiful news.” “A firestorm of criticism broke forth, especially in Academia and the media of the United States and Europe. It exhibited Veritatis Claris, but not Veritatis Splendor — the clarity of truth but not its splendor.”
Conversely, Theology of the Body, by St. John Paul II, did not become widely read and known until the last 10 – 15 years, but those who have read it, and now practice its principles, regard his teaching as a breakthrough in the proper understanding of God’s magnificent design and purpose of human sexuality.
Bishop Olmstead furthered his “truth” argument by quoting Pope Francis and his beliefs about the significance of Humanae Vitae: “We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth.”
Building on Pope Francis’ strong endorsement, Bishop Olmstead concluded with three key points from Humanae Vitae, “which have profound implications for the Church and particularly for those like you and me who are called by Jesus to leadership at this time in the Church.”
First: Love, most concretely seen through the love proper to marriage, is Free, Total, Faithful and Fruitful.
Love is free, total, faithful and fruitful. Like four pillars holding up a structure, these four qualities give stability to marriage and family, when each spouse embraces and lives them. The Church, like a wise architect, says to each couple, Build your home generously and creatively around these four pillars.
Second: Humanae Vitae has an Apostolic impact in that Paul VI called married couples to “Become Apostles to other married couples.”
Assist them (young couples) to put into place a robust presentation of God’s Plan for marriage, built on the witness of married couples who trust the truth. When the truth is presented by couples living it with joy born of sacrificial love, it is convincing. The clear and beautiful truth can be trusted.
The harvest of the lay apostolate is ripe, but the laborers are still too few. In a society shouting confused messages about sex, in a world that loves things and uses people, how great is our need for faithful witnesses to the truth about married love.
Third: Trust the True Prophets.
“We are given courage to trust the truth. We see, too, that the Church was not alone. When we look below the surface of the widespread acceptance of contraception in the 20th century, we find other prophetic voices who spoke with courage alongside the Church.
We are living in the midst of this moral disaster; and yet we do not lose hope because Jesus has won the definitive battle. The Church herself, even with weak servants like you and me, keeps the four pillars of love in place; and Truth, in the end, stands. If those of us in leadership will trust and witness to this truth, it can and will show its splendor.
St. John Paul II taught us prophetically, “The future of society and the Church passes by way of the family.” Inspired by soon-to-be canonized Paul VI and all the popes who have succeeded him, let us never hesitate to give a reason for our hope. With St. Paul, let us say: “I no longer live; Christ now lives in me.” The historical success or not of our faithful witness to Christ is not up to us. The fruit of our witness comes according to the Lord’s timing. In all you and I do on behalf of life, marriage and the family, may it be said of us, “They trusted the truth, courageously.”