Before discussing in more depth artificial contraception, I have often been struck by Pope John Paul II’s often-made connection between certain moral issues and contraception. Kindly allow me to review the issues of abortion, assisted suicide and stem cell research, as outlined by the late Holy Father, before moving on to our topic.
Abortion is a choice. God made us free to choose as we see fit, and no one should limit our freedom. The argument sounds valid, but although God made us free, abortion is not a real choice. How can one morally choose to harm or kill others, whether they are embryo size, unborn and still in the womb, disabled, old or infirm? Life is a sacred gift in every way and at every moment, and always worthy of respect.
With regards to assisted suicide, although we have every right to say “enough” to suffering, the assisted suicide that is now legal in Oregon and Washington State, under the premise that we should have some control over our lives, is not a solution. The argument may sound valid to some, but the logic is not complete. For self-serving reasons of money, inheritance, or family or personal issues, the disabled, infirmed, terminally ill or depressed is placed in an even more vulnerable position if left to think that they ought to consider ending their lives for the good of others or themselves.
On the topic of stem cell research, there are now over seventy proven cures that are directly the result of stem cell research. Catholic hospitals, which make up one third of all hospitals in the United States, are in fact on the cutting edge of much of this scientific progress. The problem is that some scientists and bio-tech firms as well as the present Administration and Congress, have been promoting, with the help of certain ideological movements, another kind of stem cell research, one that has delivered nothing yet falsely claims to hold great promise: embryonic stem cell research. This research destroys embryos, clones human life and experiments on tiny conceived human beings, who if never touched would become you or me.
How are these moral issues related to artificial contraception? According to Pope John Paul II they are tied by one tiny but clear thread. In all of the above issues, we take what are God’s prerogatives and make them our own. In abortion, we play God and say that a certain unborn child who is wanted may live and another who is not wanted may die. In assisted suicide, we say that one person deserves to be loved and cared for until the time of natural death and another should end his life because he is a burden on himself and/or others. In embryonic stem cell research, we say that science, which has offered awesome wonders by reprogramming adult stem cells, should be able to tamper and destroy the embryo for medical benefits.
The same incomplete and mistaken logic has to do with artificial contraception. Natural Family Planning has scientifically proven itself, and its moral and ethical benefits are praised by many couples. Nonetheless, we want to do things our way, and no one, not even the Church, should tell us what to do with something so private and personal.
Even though the issue of artificial contraception is unlike the issues mentioned above, it is similar in how we relate to one another and whether or not we honor what God has written in our very nature. The late Pope John Paul II, from 1979 to 1984 in his Wednesday general audiences, dedicated these lessens to the beauty of our nature, gender, sexuality, love, need for friendship, and dignity of marriage and family life. These audiences were later edited and put in one volume, entitled The Theology of the Body.
The late Pontiff’s main point was that our masculinity or femininity is a gift from God. This is how we relate to others – in particular our spouse if we are married. How we see ourselves in relation to God is not a private matter that we determine all by ourselves, but also a personal and communal one that involves God and others. There is a language, certain wisdom, written in our natures, in our very bodies, and we are not just “on our own” to figure it out. Rather, we belong to God—indeed, we are made in His image! Like our Lord Jesus, we can give ourselves as a gift. This self-giving, the secret logic of love, ought not be taken lightly. In marriage, a man and a woman say a complete “yes” to God and to one another. By virtue of this “yes” they come to personally experience and know more about themselves and God.
The language that spouses speak, Pope John Paul II says, must be as honest as possible. They must not take each other for granted, nor use the other for their own gain, but rather share all things in common. The highest form of their personal sharing is prayer, the second highest is their sexual union, which is also, along with prayer a most honest communication. Sexual union says, “I give myself completely into your keeping; I want our union to be open to God; I love you no matter what.”
Artificial contraception confuses the clear logic and language of self-giving love and openness to God. It is like saying “I love you” but with “fingers crossed”. Pope John Paul II said that the union of spouses is so special that it is part human and part divine. Couples, therefore, ought to enter this union with respect and awe.
Two elements of divine wisdom are written into this marital union: first, it brings a couple to a deeper union with each other, and second, since this union is holy, couples have the privilege of co-creating with God a new person, a child, made in His image and likeness. Artificial contraception obscures the procreative element of this profound and sacred union, and thus places what is a divine, yet very human, completely into the hands of the couple alone.
In artificial contraception we take what is holy, what is God’s, what is given to us for our freedom to decide, and take too much of it to ourselves to control. Artificial contraception, unlike its alternative Natural Family Planning, does not encourage the couple to know and respect the fertility cycle of the woman, and thus the couple lives according to their own plans and emotions. This distances them from the woman’s fecundity cycle and the man’s power to create, which God alone has placed within their very own bodies. As Pope John Paul II has said, when we alone direct our path without the help of God, we easily become strangers to ourselves and to one another.
There is much more to say on this topic. For more information please log onto www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp. and see especially the United States Catholic Bishops’ summary of Catholic teaching in Married Love and the Gift of Life, which can also be found on line at: www.usccb.org/laity/marriage/MarriedLove.pdf.
+Gregory John Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)