Recently, on a visit to a parish I received two surprise compliments, the first from a young adult who thanked me for the articles I write in the Maronite Voice, the second from a father of a large family. The young adult asked that I keep in mind the young when I write, the father asked if I would write an article on artificial contraception since I “write with such a human touch”, as he put it.
To both of them I dedicate these few lines and refer to the popes who have written with a “human touch” on the sensitive issue of contraception.
The desire to regulate the size of our families has been on the mind of every parent from the beginning of time. It is only in the last 50 years or so that science has given us two effective ways to do it: artificial contraception and Natural Family Planning (NFP). Today, both ways have plenty of science behind them. Unfortunately, we know much about the artificial methods and little about the natural methods of family planning. NFP is based on the daily observation of the woman’s signs of fertility.
This natural means respects the God-given fertility of both the man and the woman, as well as calls forth the practice of virtue in both spouses. It imposes upon a man and a woman a brief period of abstinence from sexual relations if they would like to defer the possibility of conceiving a child. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, some professionals look with disdain on NPF. The most basic reason for this is that most physicians are not knowledgeable about NFP because they do not learn it in medical school. A lack of education is at the heart of this misinformation. Nonetheless, it is a spiritual and meaningful way to help a husband and wife bond with each other in a way that is truly life giving and personal as well as respectful of God’s plan for their family.
Pope John Paul II, in his groundbreaking work popularly called the Theology of the Body, said that God created man and woman as sexual beings who naturally yearn for union. We long to give ourselves as a gift and receive the other as a gift. This is so, says John Paul II, because men and women are made in God’s image. In the creation account in Sacred Scriptures, notes the Holy Father, “human beings are not compared to anything else in the world when they are created; but are compared to God Himself – this has profound meaning – for, as I John states, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).” Thus men and women are created in love for love. (Pope John Paul II’s Catechesis on Genesis)
God designed marital union to be both a sign of the couple’s “one flesh” union as well as to be procreative. The Church describes this as the “unitive and procreative” aspects of marital union. Thus in this union, so beautiful and profound, there should be nothing to obscure God’s image of men and women. Nothing should interfere with God’s design for married love. Every time marital intimacy is shared, the truth that this union is meant to give life should always be honored.
Married couples who have grown to appreciate Natural Family Planning often speak of the great joy they feel in developing a respect and appreciation for one another and the truth that their sexual union is always open to God’s will: the possibility of new life and the truth that their physical union is an image of communion with God Himself.
Pope Paul VI, writing in 1968, gives us a window into the beauty of chaste married life. Here below, with a very human touch, are his words in Humanae Vitae:
“Self-discipline is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they preserve in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings. For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers”.
To those who for years have practiced artificial contraception, I hope you will reconsider; to those young couples just beginning their married life, and to those young adults who are contemplating marriage, I hope you will consider the Church’s teaching a positive source of life and meaning so that your marriage will be happy and holy.
In the next part, with the help of the “human touch” of Pope John Paul II, I hope to explore the meaning of why the Church teaches against the use of artificial contraception.
+Gregory John Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)