St. Peter Would Have Written Humanae Vitae Too
We just celebrated the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle. The feast is an annual opportunity for the Church to collectively celebrate one of the hallmarks of what makes us “Catholic”: the papacy, founded on Christ’s words to Simon Peter, Jesus’ chosen leader of the Apostles. As recounted in Matthew’s Gospel: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). If you ever have the time, and the liturgically nerdy desire, check out Catholic Encyclopedia’s “List of Popes” – the links providing captivating biographical information about the popes.
Peter was not known for his academic acumen. Compared to the Apostle Paul, with whom Peter collaborated in the approximately three decades between the period following Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 and their martyrdom in Rome under the Emperor Nero in the mid-60s, Peter was no wordsmith. However, beyond Matthew 16:18-19, let us explore a passage earlier in Acts that does not seem to receive as much attention as it should: Peter’s speech at Pentecost. Before proceeding, you should read Acts 2:14-41. As you'll see, it is impressive what someone is capable of conveying regarding the eternal truth of Jesus Christ when depending on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis, our current successor of Peter, recently announced that Blessed Paul VI would be named “Saint” Paul VI later this year, as a result of the Vatican’s approval of the second requisite miracle, which Hannah Brockhaus describes at the Catholic News Agency here. Those who keep their ears to the ecclesial streets will immediately recognize that 2018 likewise marks 50 years since Paul VI’s courageous document Humanae Vitae: On the Regulation of Birth (July 25, 1968). Humanae Vitae is a document that every adult Catholic should read, because Paul VI’s allusions to many of the ills that Western culture encounters in the modern era are readily evident.
As reported by Madeleine Teahan at the Catholic Herald, leading up to Paul VI’s beatification back in 2014, Pope Francis remarked regarding the late pontiff that “his genius proved prophetic.”
Bishop Robert Barron did the same in November 2017, by way of his Word on Fire piece titled “Paul VI, Prophet.” Bishop Barron wrote, “I would like to draw particular attention to a remarkable passage in Humanae Vitae, namely section 17, in which Paul VI plays the prophet and lays out, clearly and succinctly, what he foresees as consequences of turning away from the Church’s classic teaching on sex. Though he is convinced that artificial contraception is morally bad in itself, he’s also persuaded that it would, in the long run, adversely affect general societal attitudes regarding sex.”
Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Janet Smith, then at the University of Dallas and now at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, was already detailing what has occurred, as elaborated upon in this piece from the late 1990s: “Pope Paul VI as Prophet: Have Humanae Vitae’s Bold Predictions Come True?”
A “prophet” here is not one who sees the future; rather, a prophet is someone who imparts the Word of God. Saint Peter did not “see the future,” yet he is now enjoying an eternity in Paradise after having oriented his life toward the Gospel after having repented for denying Christ three times. Similarly, Paul VI is in heaven for having lived according to the Lord’s will, even when it was unpopular by human standards, including among many within the Church.
Why would Saint Peter have written Humanae Vitae? Because of his fidelity to the Gospel and the fact that he did whatever was particularly required in his time. Nevertheless, perhaps that question is not as relevant of a consideration as wondering how zealously he has interceded for popes for nearly 2000 years, with some of them unfortunately – and even infamously – declining to live according to the Word of God, yet with most devotedly doing so.
As we prepare to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae and the eventual canonization of Paul VI, let us continue to pray for the current and future popes to remain open to the Holy Spirit, not allowing themselves to be swayed by fleeting worldly concerns. Saint Peter, pray for us! Blessed Paul VI, pray for us!