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By Sister Helena Burns
You may be wondering what a nun has to do with or say about Humanae Vitae, the little 1968 encyclical that reaffirmed the Church’s 2,000-year-old position on contraception.
Two thousand years? Yes. There have always been forms of contraception and abortion, and the followers of Jesus have always rejected both.
First, you need to know that I wasn’t always a nun. You need to know that I didn’t always believe in God. You need to know that I once espoused the tenets of radical feminism.
I was raised Catholic, but by the time I was a teen, I had rejected almost all Church teachings –especially those regarding women and sexuality. (I forgot that sexuality also involves men, that it’s a team effort.)
I was fully planning to leave the Church, have sex before marriage, contracept, live with my boyfriend (as soon as I had one), etc. So I get it.
What I didn’t get is what no one ever told me: why the Church teaches what it teaches. No one ever told me that science and all kinds of data and studies back up God, the Bible and the Church with regard to sex, the body and relationships.
And wouldn’t it make sense? If God is the Creator of creation and the Revealer of truth, then nature, the Bible, the Church and science should be all saying the same thing. Science simply discovers how God created stuff, how it works and how it works best. (For example, the pill is a Class 1 carcinogen.)
Flash forward to me as a nun. (Yeah, I know, that’s a huge leap – sorry.) I still didn’t understand Church teaching until 2006 when I encountered John Paul II’s earth-shaking, paradigm-shifting, life-changing Theology of the Body, which explains Humanae Vitae.
In fact, Humanae Vitae called for a new explanation, a new theology of sexuality, marriage and the family. Pope Paul VI basically says in the encyclical: I know you guys aren’t going to get this without a new, beautiful vision that will tie it all together, make sense and enable us to embrace it wholeheartedly.
I now present Theology of the Body to anyone who will listen because I’m so excited about what it says regarding Humanae Vitae, which simply means “human life.” What do we really believe about human life? If it’s precious and sacred, then the way new human beings get here – through sex – must be pretty precious too and must be treated with great intentionality.
But most of all, I love how Humane Vitae and Theology of the Body treat women. Even though it can seem to be the exact opposite, the Catholic Church is the only entity that acknowledges woman’s full dignity.
Why? Because of Jesus. Why Him? Because He’s God. Only God restored woman to her equal dignity with man when he broke into history as the Incarnation.
In my radical feminist days, I was also a fighter for social justice, the little guy, the underdog, the environment and animals. Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body are now the blueprint and roadmap for me. I am now a Theology of the Body feminist and activist honoring and uplifting women, children and men, as well as all of society and all of creation. We are all gloriously connected.
Sister Helena Burns, FSP, is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul and a Theology of the Body presenter. She blogs at HellBurns.blogspot.com.
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