A Reflection on Humanae Vitae
By Bishop David J. Malloy
On July 25 this year, the Catholic Church marks the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter on the regulation of birth, Humanae Vitae. This column is the first of a two-part reflection by Bishop David Malloy on that encyclical.
One of the great themes of the current Pontificate has been the concern of Pope Francis for the institution of marriage and family. 
So important has this theme been for him that he convened two Synods of Bishops — an Extraordinary General Assembly in 2014 followed by an Ordinary General Assembly in 2015 — to discuss the family and the many difficulties we face.
Particularly in our own country, but also more widely in the western world, the family is under great pressure. 
Economic and societal changes, including the rising costs of education and health care, the dependence on two income families, and the constant instability of the job market with the accompanying fear of the loss of seemingly stable employment, present ever growing challenges. 
Great sacrifice — sometimes on a daily basis and at great personal cost and comfort — is required of those who have committed themselves to marriage and raising children.
The lasting effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s have also taken their toll on several generations. The result has been a distortion of our understanding of men and women, made in the image and likeness of God, and of our sexuality. 
This has had tremendous impacts on relationships and society’s understanding of marriage. Many today draw back from the personal and social basis for the commitment to spouse and children which has characterized the family in nearly every culture and generation throughout history. 
Instead, we witness a lack of commitment, as evidenced by the prevalence of long-term casual relationships, unmarried cohabitation, and a high divorce rate, all of which undermine the foundations of family life. 
Under these and other pressures, fewer people are committing to marriage, and those who do frequently find great difficulty in maintaining the commitment and experience little societal support or encouragement to do so. 
Often their very understanding of marriage and of sexuality is formed and reinforced by the increasingly base cultural standards of celebrities and the entertainment industry, which is perpetuated and normalized through ever-growing accessibility to social media. 
As a result, individualism becomes paramount to solidarity. 
In view of these challenges and the increasing decline in the number of marriages, we might be tempted to fall into great discouragement about our families and our culture. 
What reason can we find to hope that the beauty of family relationships and the good they provide to our flourishing as a society and as individuals can be rediscovered and restored?
The challenge to hold to our faith in the midst of the storms in this world is not new to us or to the Church. Jesus tells His followers that some of these moments are inevitable. 
But He also tells us not to lose heart. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me,” He tells us in the Gospel of John. His presence and guidance is with us for all the ages.
These reflections on the family have a special importance this year. 
This month, we mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968. 
This encyclical articulates the beauty of God’s plan for marriage and life-giving love, and specifically addresses the use of artificial contraception and sterilization. 
You may be aware that many have found this teaching of the Church to be hard, and many disagreed with her. But in this anniversary year, the wisdom and teaching contained in Humanae Vitae offers us a renewed hope for understanding the beauty of God’s plan for marriage, the family and for human flourishing.
In essence, Humanae Vitae reminds us that the great commandment we have been given is to love one another. The love between husband and wife, rooted in a lifetime commitment and open to new life, is an exceptional embodiment of that commandment. 
And as St. Paul tells us, the love of marriage “…is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” (Eph 5: 32). In the sacrament of marriage, every married couple is called in a personal way to give witness to Christ’s love in the world. 
In marriage husband and wife are to give themselves to the other without reserve, as Jesus did in dying for the Church. 
That self-giving without holding back is essential to understanding how we are called to make a gift of ourselves in marriage, even with regard to sexuality. 
This unique love between a husband and a wife is a calling, and God has a bigger purpose in mind than what the world seems to recognize. He has a mission for every married couple, a mission that is both earthly and eternal.
Next week, Bishop Malloy reflects on the two essential purposes of Humanae Vitae.