We’re going to summarize the key points of theology of the body which we’ve made these past few weeks, bring them together, and apply them to the practice of contraception.
However, the reason most Catholics start to shift the way they look at sexuality is not a theological reason but because they love Christ.
Today’s Gospel is about following Him before all else, “To another Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ [Burying the dead is a good thing and a work of mercy, but Jesus says He comes first.] Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Lk 9:59-62). The teaching is very clear: Jesus comes even before our responsibilities to our family; and, when we love Him, we have to follow Him all the way; there’s no room for compromise.
I’m sharing this teaching on contraception because I want to be faithful to Jesus, and because I believe that, if people follow it, it will bring them great joy. It will require a conversion of heart, but Jesus’ plan is always best. And I hope no one is discouraged, but receives it with an open heart.
So, let’s review our statements. Four weeks ago, we started with four human insights showing that our sexual organs are different from other organs. For example, sexual assault causes not only physical harm, but spiritual harm to a person. And the pleasure produced by our sexual organs is so much greater and can even be addictive.
The point of this was to show that our sexuality is sacred, and so we should follow a sacred design. Part of that design is that the purpose of sex is not pleasure, but procreation and the bonding between husband and wife. Just like eating—the purpose of which isn’t pleasure but nutrition. If people only eat for pleasure, they become unhealthy. The same goes with sex: If a couple focuses on pleasure and bonding and separates it from openness to life, that’s not healthy.
God has chosen the love between husband and wife as the setting in which He performs a miracle. Remember? Sperm doesn’t have an immortal soul nor do eggs, but, at the moment of conception, there’s a human soul. This is the primary reason why the Church says contraception is wrong, because God has chosen that moment when sometimes He chooses to create a new human soul.
But contraception says, “God, I want the bonding and pleasure part of sex, but I don’t want You to perform Your life-giving act.” We might not think this consciously, but this is what the act is saying. We might be trying to be responsible in terms of the number of children we’re having, but, if we are, then we must do so in a way that respects God’s design (More on that later). Contraception was not invented to stop pregnancy; abstinence is 100% safe and effective. Contraception is designed so that we can have the pleasure part of sex without responsibility; it was created to indulge sexual instinct, and that’s wrong. This is the second reason why contraception isn’t right.
A third reason why it’s wrong is because it leads to an anti-life mentality. Children are seen, not primarily as eternal gifts, but as burdens. Yes, children bring incredible responsibilities, and can completely overwhelm us, but they’re not primarily inconveniences. In general, when a couple is open to life, the mentality is: If God gives us a child, it’s a gift; we may not be completely ready, we may even be overwhelmed, but we know that, every time we make love, the gift of life is a possibility because that’s part of what sex involves.
People often then ask a good question: What’s the difference between using Natural Family Planning to avoid a pregnancy and using contraception? They’re both trying to avoid children. The answer is: If NFP and contraception are the same, why isn’t everyone using NFP? Some say it’s because it’s unreliable. But it’s reliable when people actually use modern methods of tracking a woman’s bodily signs and follow it. The main difference is that NFP is a very different lifestyle and mentality. NFP says that we must respect the woman’s natural cycle and, if a couple isn’t ready for another child, then they wait to make love. But contraception says sex is always available.
Also, in the United States, according to Dr. Janet Smith, 50% of people who go for abortions report that their contraceptives failed. They didn’t want a baby, and now that one has come, abortion is a backup. In 1992, the US Supreme Court in its decision on Planned Parenthood vs. Casey said that for two decades, couples have based their intimate relationships on the availability of abortion should contraceptives fail. The mentality of contraception sees abortion as another form of backup contraception.
A fourth problem with contraception is that it treats fertility as a bad thing. When people are fertile, that’s good and healthy. When people are infertile, it’s a terrible cross. Their bodies cannot do what they were meant to do. The ability to give life is a great blessing! But the way, for example, the contraceptive pill works is that it tells a woman’s body that she’s already pregnant—that’s why they can’t get pregnant; her body already thinks it’s pregnant—and that’s not good for women’s bodies. Furthermore, think of the word ‘pill.’ People take a pill when they’re sick. However, fertility isn’t a sickness; it’s a normal part of being a healthy person.
Here is a link to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service website, listing many forms of contraception. Notice that almost all of them are for women. And they’re invasive to the body. They put things into the body which shouldn’t be there. In addition, notice there’s no male contraceptive pill. Why? Why haven’t scientists developed a male version of the pill that makes men sterile? They’re trying. But why has it taken them so long? More to the point: Why has our society tolerated for decades that women have to take all these hormonal treatments?
In 2013, Health Canada noted that 23 young women died in connection to the birth control pills, Yaz and Yasmin, and there were another 333 adverse reactions. And the CTV story on this topic includes a link that says, “Two brands of birth control pills raise blood clot risk”. Why does our society tolerate this? Why aren’t feminists saying, “Enough already. We’re not going to take this stuff into our bodies.” Our culture, which believes in hormonal contraception, tolerates this treatment of women. It sees fertility as a disease to be treated, even with so many side effects and deaths, and it sees fertility as something to be suppressed.
What about barrier methods? Go back to last week’s homily about language of the body. What are we communicating with our bodies when we use barrier contraception? ‘We choose to put a barrier in place between us.’ The Church objects to barrier methods not only because it tells God to stay out, not only because it takes sex, which is sacred, and reduces it to pleasure, but also because it goes against the language of total self-giving. Couples using barriers aren’t able to love each other totally. They are withholding a huge part of themselves, their fertility. ‘I want to love you totally, but not your ability to create new life.’ ‘I want to receive you totally, but my fertility is in the way.’ This is the fifth reason.
This is why those two statements we discussed before are so important: The difference between ‘I want to have sex with you,’ and, ‘I want to have a baby with you.’ The first says, ‘I love you,’ but not necessarily. The second says, ‘I want another one of you.’ Openness to life is part of a total self-giving.
St. Paul says: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence… Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:1,13,16). Christ came to give us freedom to love. Are we free to love the way He wants?
The Church’s teaching on contraception is all about the freedom to love like Christ: always to think about the good of the other person, to focus on marriage rather than pleasure, to respect life, to respect a woman’s body and fertility, and to renew the joy of one’s wedding day. This is why the Church says that contraception is gravely wrong, and to use it knowingly and willingly is a mortal sin.
I know Jesus’ teaching on sexuality is very challenging for many. I’d like to end with testimonies from two couples about their experience of following Jesus’ plan in their marriage.