One of the richest gifts we have received by the graces of the Holy Spirit as we embark into the third Christian millennium is what Pope John Paul II coined the “theology of the body.” Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body and Apostolic Exhortation on the Family articulated how the use of contraception is against the sacrament of marriage and more fundamentally contra-human nature. This reiterates what Pope Paul VI expressed in Humanae Vitae in the 1960s in the wake of the sexual revolution that was followed by shock and dismay that the Catholic Church had no intention of embracing the forward-moving sexual “liberation.”
The issue of contraception is one of the most difficult to argue with non-Catholic Christians and those of other faiths, or even no faith at all. However, it seems that it is an issue that we’re called to debate with other Catholics unsure of the Church’s teaching. In reading Peter Kreeft, I have found a way of talking about this issue – for Catholics – that is both helpful and very insightful. I have seen it change the mind of three people in my life. Therefore, I feel compelled by my conscience to share it, so that it may help any poor sinner that may need it.
It is self-evident that sexual activity is a very personal and intimate activity. To a Christian, it is too perfect a tool for the devil to use to create division between ourselves and God. The best way to avoid such demonic attacks is to never sever the pleasure of sex from its life-creating potential. We often fail to see how far-reaching the implications of our Catholic worldview are – my shift in view on contraception during my Christian conversion altered my view on life itself, marriage, and even homosexuality. All these issues are linked.
But to the framing of the issue: contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church does not oppose birth control—literally speaking, if we are clear on what “birth control” really is and it is important that we are clear on what it is! For starters, we must understand that we as Catholics have a hard time talking about family “planning” because there is an implicit danger of not being open to the will of God and imposing to much our will in the planning. This is a real and mortal danger. No question there. But…it is clear that God has given us reason and a free will to choose responsibly and family planning is essentially a part of that responsibility, if our vocation is marriage.
To be clear, however (and this illuminates the first point), what is usually referred to as birth control is really birth prevention and this is what the Catholic Church opposes. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an authentic, non-artificial form of birth control. NFP is essentially a couple’s choice to, or not to, engage in marital sexual activity during the natural infertile periods of a woman, designed by God for subjectively pure intentions of spacing of the birth of children and without closing God out of the marital act. In other words, a couple is controlling and/or regulating the birth of their children, however, not according to their whims or desires, which is a fundamental difference. The marital activity remains centered on God and thus on the virtue of humility. This method (NFP) is in accord with God’s design of woman’s nature, the moral order, and man’s capacity to understand the physiological and reproductive powers inherent in our nature and to choose a moral course of action accordingly.
Scientific evidence has confirmed that NFP is more reliable than the old rhythm method, practiced correctly it is 99.9% effective (same as birth control pills) without the side effects of artificial methods of birth control and it fosters intimacy and communication in marital relationships. Regular users of NFP report good, healthy sex lives, and the divorce rate among users of NFP is as low as 1% compared to the well over 50% of those who do not.
I have found such statistics very helpful and surprising to some dissenting Catholics who learn them.
It is necessary to reiterate that NFP is the only morally acceptable form of birth control because unlike alleged “birth control” or contraceptives, it is not wholly and entirely contra-conception; the latter is an attempt to redesign fertility and in fact, it locks the door of fertility. What we often refer to as “protection” is really protection from God. This is why it is in a true sense, birth prevention. It acts distinctly as a barrier not only between the man and the woman, but between the couple and God. The problem is that the sacrament of marriage is fundamentally a man and a woman, imaging the ultimate Bridegroom and Bride, which is Christ and the Church. Every conception is an act of God. Man and woman are co-creators with God, called to participate in the creation of life. Contraception obscures this truth and only helps build an incorrect view of the sexual order, founded on the vice of pride.
Here is the key. In each sacrament, there is a moment where God “acts” and enters into the world to confer His grace. In the sacrament of penance, it is given during absolution; in the sacrament of baptism, it is given at the end of the baptismal formula: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The marital act, in a sense, is the “work” of marriage, in the same way that the Eucharist is the “work” of the Christian liturgy. The profound moment of conception is quite analogous then to the moment of consecration during the Mass. In their own respective way they are like doors through which God enters our world. The use of contraception during the marital act, then, is like a priest saying the prayers of the consecration with no bread or wine on the altar. It is against the end, or objective of the act itself, it robs the act of its meaning and purpose, and defiles it. Ultimately, it is to close the door against God. This is why the Church in her wisdom warns the faithful against the use of artificial contraception and identifies such practice as mortally sinful.
One can easily talk about contraception in a philosophical manner and link its use to abortion, skyrocketing divorce, a sexual mentality that approves of homosexual acts, and so much more. However, I have found this argument very compelling amongst Catholics because of the theological connections. Sure, there is no guarantee, but it is always worth a shot.
If anything this is worth consideration: If Christ promised to be with His disciples to the end of all ages and gave us the gift of His Church to be our guide and His way of communicating with us, we can present our Catholic brethren with a very sincere question. If the Church is God’s agency on earth and presents the teaching of Jesus to us, if this is true, then to accept contraception is to reject Christ. If Christ is not in your bedroom…who is?