“And on this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.”
Excerpt from President Obama’s statement January 22, 2011 – The Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade
Two things coincided today: I stumbled upon this quote from President Obama’s statement on the 38th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and a favorite young friend just turned six. I wondered about the possibilities that the President spoke of for my young friend and the experiences I have already had. Is President Obama right? Has Roe vs. Wade evened the playing field for our sons and daughters?
My young friend celebrating his birthday made me a bit nostalgic. I was taking the usual walk down memory lane when the oddest anniversary dawned on me. It was seven years ago this spring that I read Humanae Vitae for the first time. For a sort of celebration, I decided to read it again. Upon reading it the first time, I kept turning to the last page to verify the date. Of course it was written in 1968, but every new paragraph seemed so very current and I couldn’t believe it had been written, at that time, 36 years earlier. Today reading it was breathtaking as well. It is just as current, but the date didn’t shock me, something else did – the call for it to be taught.
My education included four years of CCD and eight years of Catholic schools, including high school. There were a variety of teachers that we were exposed to; it was during the 70s and 80s and opinions varied greatly on Church teaching. There were some solid catechists and some less solid. In seventh or eighth grade, a teacher said, “The Church is against contraception and abortion so we can’t talk about it.” However, at that age my idea of what those issues were was confused at best. Later, as a senior in high school, I remember a priest speaking on being chaste until marriage. The problem was that I had been exposed to quite a bit of the “kinder, gentler Catholic teaching” and how the Church was going to catch up with the times. There was this undercurrent: do what you want to do; what your parents have taught you is out of date. When this priest spoke to my senior class, it was nearly a joke.
But nothing was ever taught about Humanae Vitae. When I read it the first time, it was breathtaking. Pope Paul VI had predicted my life. Why hadn’t anyone spoken about it? It seemed there was a conspiracy of silence surrounding it.
So what did the conspiracy of silence do? First it confused me. Here and there, I remember adults arguing that the pope had no place in their bedrooms. But what were they talking about? No one would say. But the secular world wasn’t silent. The world began to teach us. My friends and I began to put things together on the playground and in study hall and over pizza. What the world was saying was so convincing! Why would the Church ever be against contraception? Where was the counter argument? Silence. The conspiracy of silence was deafening. In my mind, if the Church wasn’t giving an argument, there must not be one. It must be some unimportant trifle and we need not pay attention to it.
Thank goodness for the world. It told us we could use contraception and nothing would happen. What the world didn’t take into account was the soul.
In my case, I believed the only voice I heard – that of the world. Nothing will happen if you use contraception. The world was right, nothing did happen. My soul seemed to be nothing; my self worth was nothing; what men thought of me was nothing. And nothing happened. I didn’t find what I was looking for; I got nothing back from the men; and there was nothing to show for all the “fun.”
My life was a shambles having been ruled by the sensual appetite. Perhaps even worse than listening to the world as it pertained to contraception, I also listened to the world as it pertained to abortion. I am the mother of two dead children. These anniversaries haunt me as well: the dates of the children having been conceived, having died, the dates they should have been born, and the many birthdays that have passed without them. This year one of them should have graduated from college and next year the other.
Although there was silence regarding Humanae Vitae, there was no silence in the abortion mills; instead, the women were weeping. Looking back, I now realize that many well-meaning couples intended to use contraception “properly” in marriage. They already had many children and were just going to protect against having more, or at least space any further births. Did those adults read Humanae Vitae when it was promulgated? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like it. If they had they would have read the part that became my life, and the lives of many of my generation. Paul VI foretold of the moral decline, infidelity, and women being considered as “mere instrument[s] of selfish enjoyment,” no longer respected or beloved. Was it malice that kept the adults silent? It seems very doubtful.
Today, I read Humanae Vitae again. For me, the shocking thing today was the call for Humanae Vitae to be taught! The Church wasn’t silent! Paul VI appealed to educators, public authorities, scientists, doctors and other medical professionals, husbands and wives, priests, and bishops. In 1968 the Holy Father called these people to teach – to teach Humanae Vitae. Would I have listened if I had been taught? I did listen, it was just that I was taught by the world. But I also heard the silence – and acted on it. If Humanae Vitae had been taught, would I have listened? I’ll never know, but I would have loved the opportunity.
In 1968, I was a small child. Although there was uproar among adults about Humanae Vitae, when it was time for me to be taught, there was only silence. Today, there is no longer the same silence, but our voices are being outpaced. The very slick marketing campaign of the world tells us in an even more authoritative manner, “Nothing will happen if you use contraception.” Further, if something were to happen, then abortion will be right there to take care of the problem. The mills are bigger, more women are weeping. There are more women remembering anniversaries and birthdays that should have been. Women and men have become sexual objects; what they think of each other and themselves has become nothing.
Is President Obama right? Is the playing field level for our sons and daughters? Yes, but the level is now base. Nothing will happen. Exactly. Nothing has become an epidemic.
© Copyright Alyssa Bormes
This article originally appeared in the newspaper The Wanderer in July 2011