A few months ago, someone who has long labored in promoting respect for human life and for marriage asked me why there was no reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as is customary at the conclusion of an encyclical, at the end of Humanae Vitae, the most famous—and last—encyclical of Blessed Paul VI.
I did not know to respond. But looking at the encyclicals of Pope Paul VI, I note that two of them, Humanae Vitae (1968) and Populorum Progressio (1967), are addressed not only to the Catholic Clergy and Faithful but also “To All Men of Good Will.” These two do not directly mention Our Lady, while those addressed only to Catholics do.
Whatever the meaning, there is no argument that a “Marian spirit” permeates Humanae Vitae, which is dated July 25, 1968. Here are only three instances for our reflection during this fiftieth anniversary.
1. The centrality of the transmission of life within marriage. All the baptized are called to imitate the generosity of Jesus Christ in responding to the Father. Husbands and wives are to surrender themselves to God and His wise plan for them, including the bringing forth of children. Although Mary and Joseph did not have children together, both were receptive to all that the Creator wanted. The marriage of Joseph and Mary honored and adhered to the indispensability of being open to life.
2. The fruit of married love. Children are the greatest fruit of marriage. The marriage of Joseph and Mary was fecund. Nothing was done to prohibit the gift of life; all was done to accept the Son of God Who became man in Our Lady’s womb for us. Husbands and wives who welcome life do as the Mother and the Foster-father of Jesus did.
3. The Law of God is our guide. What does the Divine Law demand from us? A “resolute purpose and great endurance.” (HV, 20) Whatever the challenge that confronts us, the Word of God shapes us and reassures us. Christ gives His abundant grace to us. And by accepting that grace, we become all that He wants us to be.