40 years ago today, Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), affirming the Church's teachings on marriage, including issues relating to contraception and abortion:
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.
Needless to say, this publication was not without controversy.
Many people suggest that the church's teachings are designed purely to control people, or to suppress women, or to oppose sexual freedom, or to simply manipulate couples into providing more Catholic backsides to fill the pews every Sunday.
However, when one reads what the Church believes marriage should be, and sees the beauty in that description, those accusations begin to sound rather hollow:
[Married] love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.
It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.
Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.
Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare."
The relationship between husband and wife is like nothing else in this world. It is perhaps the most profound commitment I have ever made. It is mutual self-giving. Mutual respect. Mutual faithfulness. No holding back. Body, mind, heart, and even fertility, until death.
The church's teachings are not about repressing something that is dirty. They are about protecting something that is exquisitely precious: married love and the families that come from it.
Read the Entire Encyclical at the Vatican website.