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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXV, No. 4
Christmastide 2010

The Pope Paul VI Institute at 25:
Celebrating Its Magnum Opus

by Sister Renée Mirkes, OSF

The Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction was founded in 1985 by Thomas W. Hilgers, MD, for the purpose of research on natural fertility regulation and reproductive medicine, educational program development for couples and professionals, and morally acceptable patient services. The Institute’s distinctive programs are known as the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and NaProTechnology. It is located in Omaha, Nebraska. (Web site: popepaulvi.com). The following is the address given by Sister Renée Mirkes, OSF, PhD, director of the ethics division of the Institute, at its 25th anniversary conference in October 2010 .


The last paragraph of Humanae Vitae (HV), the “Final Appeal”, refers to its magnum opus (two Latin words meaning the “great work”, the “significant task”, or the “important mission”).

Venerable brothers, most beloved sons, and all men of good will, great indeed is the work of education, of progress and of love to which we call you, upon the foundation of the Church’s teaching, of which the successor of Peter is, together with his brothers in the episcopate, the depositary and interpreter. Truly a great work (magnum opus), as we are deeply convinced, both for the world and for the Church, since man cannot find true happiness — towards which he aspires with all his being — other than in respect of the laws written by God in his very nature, laws which he must observe with intelligence and love. Upon this work, and upon all of you, and especially upon married couples, we invoke the abundant graces of the God of holiness and mercy, and in pledge thereof we impart to you all our apostolic blessing. (HV §31)

To get at the substance of the “Final Appeal” and the magnum opus of Humanae vitae, I will pose six questions and answers:

First Question: What is the nature of the “magnum opus” embodied in Humanae vitae?

Paragraph 31 divides this great work into three categories, or duties. The magnum opus derived from the teaching of Humanae vitae (HV) is, first, a work of education; second, a work of progress and, third, a work of charity. In the first place, the magnum opus of HV involves a work of education: As Pope Paul VI states in HV: “Our words ... are an expression of the thought and solicitude of the Church, Mother and Teacher of all peoples calling all men and future generations to the observance and respect of the divine law regarding matrimony and to the beauty of marriage and family, clarifying for all the meaning of responsible procreation.”

The magnum opus of HV, in the second place, is a work of progress: The teaching of HV is devoted to personal progress or full human flourishing: the development of the whole person and of all persons of good will; and to societal progress by demonstrating how, on the one hand, morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource and, on the other, how small families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, of failing to insure effective forms of solidarity, and of breeding scant confidence in the future.

The magnum opus described in HV, in the third place, is a work of charity: HV declares that it is an outstanding manifestation of charity to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ, to lovingly support all persons in the honest regulation of birth amidst the difficult conditions that surround families and peoples, to develop moral forms of reproductive technology that respect and promote the inexorable link between the procreative and unitive meanings of marital sexual love, and to promote genuine spousal love and peace between husbands and wives by making certain that God’s design for human procreation is faithfully followed.

Second Question: Who is called to do this “great work”?

All persons of good will are called to do it and to spread it. In truth, the three-fold magnum opus outlined in the teaching of HV is precisely what we are celebrating during this anniversary year: the medical advances carried on by Dr. Thomas Hilgers and the Pope Paul VI Institute for its first 25 years of existence — NaProTechnology and the FertilityCare System.

NaProTechnology is a women’s health science that works cooperatively with a woman’s menstrual and fertility cycles. It utilizes the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, a prospective and standardized means of monitoring the menstrual and fertility cycle. In short, this women’s health science is the first system to “network family planning with reproductive and gynecologic health monitoring and maintenance”. It can be applied, therefore, to family planning, the evaluation and treatment of infertility and other reproductive disorders, abnormal bleeding, abnormal hormone conditions of the menstrual cycle including premenstrual syndrome and recurrent ovarian cysts, the dating of the beginning of a pregnancy, and postpartum depression. In sum, NaPro-Technology has medical, surgical and perinatal applications that are both morally sound and medically effective.

If you are a practitioner/educator/medical consultant/clergy-supporter or a user of FertilityCare (FC) for family-planning or as a promoter and a user of FC, you’re participating in HV’s magnum opus. It’s a ministry of like to like — good professional promoters evangelizing their good, honest neighbors, whether next door or halfway around the world. You will be answering the call of HV to roll up your sleeves and to convert the world to the moral goodness of natural methods of family planning like that of the FC System.

Third Question: What is the scope of this “magnum opus”?

As of 2010, the earth’s population was estimated by the United States Census Bureau to be 6,804,600,000. Of those human beings, the proximate number of men and women of reproductive age (15-49) worldwide — which is our target demographic, i.e., those persons we would like to introduce to FC and the great work of HV — is 3,564,552,000. Given the three-plus billion persons of reproductive age and given that there are currently approximately 872 FC professionals actively engaged in doing the work of HV, each FC professional has the privilege and challenge of contacting some or all of 4,087,789 persons!

Needless to say: the scope of the magnum opus of educating and convincing all persons of good will who are of reproductive age to follow the truth of the natural regulation of fertility is enormous and, dare I say, daunting even on the best of days.

And the immensity of HV’s “magnum opus” can also be captured in terms of humanistic goals. In June of 2003, John Paul II challenged the membership of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to implement in their scientific and medical endeavors “a new humanism”, a new system of thinking, believing and acting that evolves from and is nurtured by dialogue, rather than opposition, between science, ethics and faith.

Well, it’s the simple truth that the twin skyscrapers of Dr. Hilgers life-work — NaProTechnology and the FertilityCare System — are best known for safeguarding “what is human in people” and for allowing us humans to “be more”, precisely the goal Pope John Paul had in mind for the medical sciences. NaProTechnology, then, rises to the challenge of being sound medical science, that is, science as it should be, science with a conscience; science that neither deifies itself nor defies faith.

Fourth Question: What kind of effort is needed to accomplish this “great work”?

Heroic effort. The kind that FC professionals, promoters, and couple-users put forth everyday. It requires consistent, concerted, and courageous effort that relies, without ceasing, on Divine Mercy and grace and on an absolute disregard for worldly results.

Fifth Question: What’s the best means of accomplishing this “magnum opus”?

All of us FC professionals and promoters are involved in the challenging task of, first, intellectually convincing all couples of good will that the natural regulation of fertility is a universal good (and, conversely, that contraception and sterilization are universally bad for them). And, second, we’re involved in the work of encouraging those same folks to act according to this moral truth, i.e., to actually use a natural method like FC as the means of planning their family (and to avoid using a contraceptive method of family planning that directly suppresses the good of their fertility).

In providing, teaching or explaining FC to their clients/patients or students, FC professionals conscientiously judge that this method of family planning is a particular good because it instantiates those basic human goods — health, family, society and knowledge — which conform to the universal moral truth about human nature and human fulfillment.

By this I mean every FC professional repeatedly observes that the practical knowledge of FC helps a couple make certain decisions reasonably. First, its system of cyclic charting gives the couple the biofeedback to better understand the wife’s body and what it needs to be healthy. Second, knowledge and appreciation of the fertility enables the couple to understand family or sexual morality and their responsibilities to each other in keeping their acts of intimate sexual love chaste, i.e., open to the procreative good, which demands, defines and activates their “one-flesh” communion. Third, because FC provides what the wife needs to maintain reproductive health and what husband and wife need to plan their family in a good way, the couple trusts their FC professional — an important feature of a good society. The couple is convinced that, in recommending FC, their practitioner/physician is actively honoring his or her fiduciary responsibility to give first priority to their well-being. Finally, the knowledge they acquire from the use of FC helps the couple to know the truth of their vocation as married persons: to come, with their reciprocal help and the quality of their life-giving love, to enjoy the ultimate goal of their life: eternal union with God. In this way, the couple, in and through their everyday choice of natural methods of fertility regulation, fulfill the central teaching of Jesus to “love God above all and neighbor as self”.

Sixth Question: What proof is there that the Pope Paul VI Institute, through FertilityCare and NaProTechnology, has accomplished the “magnum opus” of Humanae Vitae?

The best answer to this last question is provided by the representative testimonials of three couples who teach the Creighton Model FertilityCare System to others, and who use the system within their own marriages.

I invite you to go online on the Pope Paul VI Institute web site and listen to the inspiring life-witness of Christy and Scott Schoen (Ohio); of Kathy and Greg Morroni (Colorado); and of Elizabeth and Nat Martinez (Texas) - popepaulvi.com.


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