The cornerstone of Catholic moral and ethical teaching surpasses the famous Jack Benny age of 39 on July 25, 2008. It has been  40 years since Pope Paul VI stunned the world with the traditionally conservative encyclical during the traumatic period of social and sexual upheaval during the 1960’s. This author, remembers the announcement very clearly, even though I was only a grade school student. At the time I was 8 years old and quite honestly was more concerned with enjoying my summer vacation and getting to the beach more than papal proclamations.

However, I do remember having cousins in their early and late teen years that seemed mortified that the progressive Church of Vatican II would promulgate such a conservative directive. This was after all their period of free life and social experimentation during the period of the American Great Society. Allot of these family cousins were typically engaged in the lifestyle of the flower generation, they were experimenting with all of the moral and ethical norms that they could handle, they dressed in Tye-dyed jeans, wore their hair long, advocated the free use of condoms and smoked rather than cut the grass. It was also a period when their peers on their 18th birthday (the males) would sign up for the draft and in most cases were conscripted and on their way to fight a gorilla war in South East Asia.

The sixties were a remarkable period of personal and social expression that would forever change the world.A year after Humanae Vitae human beings would first walk on the moon, and Catholics would settle in to experiencing the Mass in their vernacular language.
Forty  years later the same relatives and friends that were the consummate examples of 1960’s self expressionism are now parents and grandparents, they wear business suits, own and operate professional businesses and are shocked by the rampant displays of sexual behavior on television. They exercise daily, watch their weight, stopped smoking and count their calories. What a distance the generation that greeted Humanae Vitae with ridicule and scorn has come. They are the same group of rebellious Catholics that drove Volkswagens decorated with large fluorescent flowers, never wore shoes and went to Church only with reluctance and coercion. However in 2008 the hippie generation now flocks to the pews on Sundays, wear designer running shoes and clothing and cannot understand why their children and grandchildren, “don’t get anything out of going to Church!”

Throughout these years and generations the Cold War had thawed, the Vietnam War has ended, the Persian Gulf War has gone into phase two and Humanae Vitae is still the hallmark of Catholic Church teachings on the dignity of all human life.

What is extremely interesting for this author as well is that I am now 48 years old, have a young daughter that attends Catholic school. I worry about the “boy stage” that I know is coming, get cold chills over the expectations that some day going to Church for my daughter will be a task rather than a choice. Perhaps as well there will also be the dreaded day when the parental task of the “birds and the bees,” will take place, and I will have to by my lifestyle example and by proclamation continue to teach in the same method of Paul VI regarding respect for the human body, respect for the transmission of human life and the purpose of human sexual activity. I am thankful that Humanae Vitae has survived the test of time, survived the passing of generations and has survived the hippies, the nerds, the yuppies and the Y2k generation.

Without any doubt in my mind, my daughter and potential grandchildren will be sitting at their form of electronic communications and word processing recounting the perpetual debate that accompanies the living of all human life, the debate that is part of Catholicism and the appreciation of all of these life moments that are uniquely expressive of Humanae Vitae.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He writes daily at: & & He writes about Irish Catholic experiences  at  Comments are always welcome @

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