Love Well Done Focus of Humanae Vitae Anniversary Seminar
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
September 20, 2018
HUNTLEY—“Catholics have the best sex — we have love and God right in the center” of it, said Vito Spadafino, one of four speakers at the Sept. 15 conference on the papal document Humanae Vitae, which has uplifted and confounded Catholics and others for the past 50 years.
 
The conference, titled “Legacy of Love,” also welcomed reflections from Vito’s wife, Carolyn, an instructor for Natural Family Planning (NFP) in the Diocese of Rockford, and Father Jeremy Trowbridge, spiritual director for the Life and Family Evangelization (LiFE) Office.
 
Jennifer Collins, director of the LiFE Office, began the seminar with an overview of the papal encyclical.
She said now-Blessed Pope Paul VI consulted with clergy, theologians and laity before writing Humanae Vitae in 1968. When the encyclical letter was published on July 29 that year, it was not well-received. 
 
It was the first time that open dissent came from the laity in a “loud, public, fierce” way, Collins said, adding that some theologians also publicly criticized the document. 
 
“Decades of dissent and poor catechesis” have followed, she said.
 
Collins reflected on the beginning of the Book of Genesis about the creation of the first man and woman. The Hebrew word commonly translated as “helper” has a much deeper meaning than calling Eve a “helper” or even a “perfect fit” for Adam, she said.
 
The Hebrew word includes the concepts of strength and confidence and how the individuals and the couple itself are made “in the image and likeness of God.”
 
In his remarks, Father Jeremy Trowbridge pointed to the beginning of the encyclical’s summary of some cultural realities of 1968, including a fear of global overpopulation, a societal shift in how the role of women was viewed, and, to quote the encyclical, “man’s stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature to the point that he is endeavoring to extend this control over every aspect of his own life — over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life.”
 
Draws to a core
 
Humanae Vitae, Father Trowbridge said, “draws us deeply and quickly to a core, (that) then and now, people don’t want to go too deep.” 
 
The majority of people may be quick to speak of conjugal love in base words, he said, “but the most dignified words of this reality leave people tongue-tied.”
 
Current culture dismisses both the unity and the openness to life that should accompany the “mutual sharing of the gift of one another,” he said before commenting on what have been called the “prophecies” of Pope Paul VI, including “cultural demise” which, he said, has been “linear to Paul VI’s predictions.”
 
The current Me-Too movement today is “a recognition of the disregard of the dignity” befitting human beings, he said.
 
The priest called on his audience to learn to see more deeply by reading Church texts and looking at their “lived experience” in order to come to identify the good in society by knowing the truth. He added there is a need to “bring everything to God for the sake of its purification.”
 
Views from the family
 
Vito and Carolyn Spadafino spoke of their personal experiences in living and teaching the encyclical’s messages.
 
“Now I find it very empowering,” Carolyn said of Natural Family Planning (NFP), admitting she was afraid at first that she “wouldn’t do it right.”
 
Vito said he was 21 years old before it “sank in (to him) that the Church was against contraception.” 
 
The detached perspective of his then-roommate, an atheist, helped him see the God-connection of Humanae Vitae.
 
“I did a big 180 (degrees),” he said, explaining that his initial reluctance has given way to enthusiasm.
 
The couple said their science-based careers (both are chiropractors) has been helpful when talking with millennials who generally trust science. 
 
That, plus the 4 percent divorce rate for couples that practice NFP, makes an impression with young couples, Carolyn said, including some who come to NFP for reasons other than faith.
 
In a concluding panel discussion the subject of infertility was addressed, with Collins saying that it affects from one-in-five to one-in-eight couples. 
 
Carolyn noted “astounding” statistics showing that NFP is 1.5 to 3 times more effective than In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and NFP is all natural.
 
The sunny Saturday afternoon did not help to encourage many people to attend the indoor seminar, a fact lamented by participants. 
 
‘Not enough love’
 
Bishop David Malloy was at the seminar and also spoke about Humanae Vitae at the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Mary Parish, introducing it as a “very important teaching of our faith, one that doesn’t get enough attention. 
 
“As we say in the common vernacular, it doesn’t get enough love,” he said.
 
The encyclical, he added, “can tell us so much about ourselves ... (but) that quick, negative, oft-repeated, prejudicial summary of our moral code for marriage and the family is: ‘You Catholics are forbidden to use artificial birth control and sterilization.’ Boom, done. Teaching over.”
 
The encyclical, he said, “tells us about the dignity that we must find in each and every person.”
 
Its message, he added, “transforms sexuality (and) the way we approach each other into one of deep respect, of reverence for the other. Think of how different that is from the way that sexuality is constantly forced upon us and on our young people today ... constantly obscuring this sense of beauty ... of magnificence ... of God having placed within us this great gift of unity and openness to children.
 
“The abandonment of this teaching, even if mistakenly and with good will,” is detrimental, he said. 
 
“Don’t we know so often how many of the broken hearts, of the broken homes that have followed, because without this approach, (sex) becomes too recreational. It can become too much of a search for the good of the individual.”
 
But it is possible instead to work with God and with our own nature, Bishop Malloy said. 
 
“With sacrifice, with prayer, with communication, with respect for each other, it is possible, that we are able ... even with generosity, to keep that openness (to) how we regulate the frequency of birth itself,” he continued. “In that sense, we do not resort to contraception, to sterilization, because of the grateful way that God has made us to be joined in unity of openness.”
 
Pope Paul VI acknowledged sacrifice, he said. “The understanding is that at every moment, God gives us the grace ... the help to fulfill what it is He has told us to do.
 
“When we stop to think about this (and) reflect on it more deeply, we see how truly freeing this teaching is to men and women. Free from the pressures of society. Free from the need to take drugs ... from lowering our standards ... free to become what God has made us to be.”
 
In these 50 years since Humanae Vitae’s publication, there have been a lot of challenges, the bishop said. But even so, “the message of the Church has not changed, because God’s plan has not changed even down to our own day.”