Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body have strong connections

By Jake Samour
(Another in a series of articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life)).
Most people who have heard about Humanae Vitae are familiar with the controversy it caused. Even now the encyclical continues to be a stumbling block for many, including Catholics.
A more famous and more treasured work, which followed Humanae Vitae, is St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Ironically, John Paul II insisted on many occasions that the whole of his Wednesday catechesis constituted “an extensive commentary on the doctrine contained precisely in Humanae Vitae.” He explained that questions spring from Humanae Vitae “that run in some way through the whole of [the Theology of the Body] reflections.”
Indeed, one of the most important projects of John Paul II’s pontificate was to provide a comprehensive and extensive answer to the controversy raised in Humanae Vitae. It took John Paul II over five years and 129 Wednesday Audiences to deliver his reflections.
It is important to note that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who was from Poland, had written about the Theology of the Body before he became Pope John Paul II. Indeed, he was carrying a manuscript of the Theology of the Body when he participated in the first of two conclaves that took place in 1978 – the one that elected his predecessor, John Paul I. As we know, John Paul I’s pontificate was sadly short-lived – a total of 33 days. Cardinal Wojtyla was elected his successor in October 1978. It was as if the Holy Spirit determined it was time for the work of the unknown Polish prelate to be known by the whole world.
Perhaps an even more compelling indicator of the importance of Theology of the Body is the tragic incident that took place 37 years ago this May when a Turkish gunman fired four shots at Pope John Paul II as he passed through St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City in an open car.
Two of the bullets struck the Pope: one hit his hand, while the other hit his abdomen and narrowly missed vital organs and came within a fraction of an inch from a major artery. This event almost kept Pope John Paul II from delivering the Wednesday Catechesis. More importantly, it almost ended his life and his pontificate.
The assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II took place while he was delivering the Theology of the Body catechesis on Wednesday, May 13, 1981. On that same day, he had planned to announce the founding of a new Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The shooting prevented the May 13 announcement. But because Pope John Paul II miraculously survived, the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family was eventually created.
John Paul II was convinced that his life was spared and that Mary redirected the bullets. Death had appeared all but certain to bystanders who watched the four bullets fired. In discussing the bullet that pierced his abdomen and almost killed him, John Paul II said, “It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path” and permitted that “the dying Pope stopped on the threshold of death.”
The assassination attempt had taken place on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and the Pope was certain that his survival was due to the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Significantly, before becoming pope, Cardinal Wojtyla was consecrated to our Blessed Mother. His apostolic motto when elected pope was: Totus Tuus, “totally thine,” which expressed his personal consecration to Mary.
Being consecrated to our Lady protected him and helped him remain pontiff for almost 27 years, the third longest pontificate in church history. In gratitude to our Lady, the pope gave the bullet that almost took his life to the bishop in charge of the shrine at Fatima, Portugal. To this day, that bullet remains in the crown of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary housed at that shrine.
Although he underwent five hours of surgery, John Paul II recovered and went on to finish delivering his Theology of the Body. Further, he established the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family on October 7, 1982, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. On that occasion, John Paul II entrusted the Institute in a special way to the care of the most Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Fatima.
The Institute today has 11 sessions in countries which cover all the continents in the world—one of the sessions is in the United States, in Washington D.C. Each session has men and women focusing their studies on marriage and family.
Let us give thanks to God for the gift of Blessed Paul VI and Humanae Vitae. Let us give thanks to God for St. John Paul II and the Theology of the Body. Let us give thanks to Our Lady for protecting and interceding for these two great men of our time. Let us commend ourselves to work tirelessly to this work of proclaiming the truths revealed in Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body. And let us ask our Lady to keep us safe under her protective mantle. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us! Amen.
Samour is the director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life.

Dr. Hilgers to speak at HV dinner June 24
Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D., is one of the world’s leading proponents of implementing Humanae Vitae through FertilityCare and NaProTechnology, will speak at the St. Gianna Dinner Sunday, June 24, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.
The dinner, sponsored by the Diocese of Wichita, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The talk and dinner will be after a 3:30 p.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop Carl A. Kemme
To register, visit