Contraception, Priesthood and Sexual abuse, Part I
The Common Priesthood and Marital Love
Every Christian lay man and woman, by virtue of Baptism, shares in the priesthood of Christ. This is called the common priesthood, in contrast to the ministerial priesthood received through the Sacrament of Ordination. As a priest in the common priesthood of the laity, we are called to offer sacrifice. Ours, in Him, is described for example by Paul in the Book of Romans: ”… present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1)
This common priesthood can be exercised in many ways in the daily life of a Catholic man or woman, in ordinary living of ordinary tasks – doing them well, with holy charity, as a prayer-offering to God in reparation, for example, for the sins of the world in union with Christ. In particular, for a couple married in Christ, in the marital act, a most holy offering can be made. In the marital union, the couple presents a living image of the love-exchange of Christ on the Cross.
In the conjugal union of love, the spouses re-present to one another and to God and to the angels, their imaging of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved His Church: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, ….” (Eph 5:25) How did He love her? In the complete gift of Himself, holding back nothing, even unto death. The husband, in his priesthood in Christ, owes his wife his all – including his fertility. To withhold his all is to betray his priesthood, and his obligation to both wife and the God who tells him, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
For the husband to do otherwise – as Onan did – is sexual abuse of his wife. The Genesis account of Onan describes the act of contraception brought into salvation history, amid the children of Abraham, and God’s response to it. Judah, son of Israel, married a woman outside of Abraham’s line: a Canaanite. She bore Judah a son Er, and another son Onan. Judah took a wife for his son Er, but Er was wicked before God, and God killed him before any children were born of the marriage. So Judah told his other son Onan to go into Er’s widow – Tamar – to raise up children for the inheritance due to the dead son Er. This is what happened next:
Gen 38:9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother.
Gen 38:10 And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he slew him also.
This simple account of a primitive form of contraception was enough to convince the early Church of the grave sinfulness of contraception. The Catholic Church has consistently condemned contraception, from the beginning. The early Protestant Reformers also saw contraception as gravely sinful. Martin Luther, for example, not only saw this sinfulness of contraception in the Onan account established by God’s immediate response: He killed Onan for it! Luther said, ”[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches . . . is a most disgraceful sin.” But Luther could see more. He could see the grave disorder in Onan’s act not only because God condemned it explicitly, but also because Onan’s act violated the Natural Moral Law – that law inscribed on the hearts of men in their creation. Luther said of Onan, ”Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime.”
The man, in the conjugal act, is not to withhold his all, in the self-gift to his wife. The conjugal union holds a place of sacred honor before God, and it is not to be dishonored. The husband and his wife portray for one another, before God and the angels, the most sacred union of Christ and His Church. That union must not be counterfeited, it must not be betrayed or mis-represented, lied about, overlaid by deception. The full self-gift is owed, the act deserves nothing else.
So also the wife, in that moment of mutual priesthood in conjugal love, must hold back nothing of herself. She too is called to the complete self-gift, in imitation of Christ. She too is called to love God in faithful obedience without limit, withholding nothing of herself. The Church owes her Lord her all – and so also the wife, her husband. In the complete gift of herself – including her fertility as God has designed it in her – she offers herself to him.
For the wife to do otherwise is, for her part, also sexual abuse of her husband. For the husband and for the wife, to deny the full self-gift that the conjugal act is intended to be, is to one another a betrayal of the union of marriage, and of their mutual priesthood before God. Contraception is a deception and a lie to God, Who made of the marriage bed a sign of God’s perfect love. The perfection of the love is testified to in the innate potency of the act. God gave the gift of fertility to the man and to the woman, and in their conjugal union, their mutual divine image is most beautifully expressed and shown, in the possible conception and creation of a new human person, a new divine image, brought forth through the enabling hand of God Himself.
The Imperative of Openness to Life
For a conjugal union to be in accord with the truth that God designed into it, there must be – in the mutual exchange of true and holy love – a mutual openness to life. God put there, in the conjugal act, a meeting place of life and love. The Church refers to this as the essential aspects of the act: the unitive and the procreative.
2369 “By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man’s exalted vocation to parenthood.” [Cf. HV 12 ]
God also has revealed to His Church the beautiful way that He has designed the woman’s body, so that through the responsible working with her cycles of fertility, the couple can regulate the growth of their family in a truly human way, with both holy love and reason. The Catechism continues:
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self- observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. [HV 16 ] These methods [ for example, Natural Family Planning (NFP)] respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, [for example with contraception,] “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil: [HV 14 ]
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.… [FC 32 ]
Contraception is an expression of a culture of death, of the sin of this world that seeks ever to counterfeit and replace the things and works of God with man’s own works and ways. Against this idolatry, Scripture says to the People of God,
Rom 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Christians are called to repent of and reject the ways and loves of this world, in particular the way of contraception. We are called to come into the mind of Christ. Deadly is the love of convenience at the cost of fidelity; deadly is the desire for instant gratification at the cost of holy agape love; deadly is the turning away from the example of Christ and His Cross, the light of Christ and His total Self-gift.
Both Catholics and non-Catholic Christians have been lured and enticed into this highly popular sin of the world, contraception. The difference is, Catholics are disobeying the Church when they do so; Protestants are not. Protestant churches generally are fully at peace with the culture of contraception. Both Catholics and Protestants who contracept, however, are disobeying God in engaging in this contradiction – this deceit – this lie to one another and to God.
The Conjugal Union; Christ and His Church
Where will the next Great Renewal begin? I suggest that it will begin in the bedrooms of America, when Christian men and women begin to take their priesthood in Christ seriously enough to live it there, and then in the home, and then in their parishes, and then in the secular life of the nation.
Why would I put such a focus on the private ways of married couples in their own bedrooms, as to say that the renewal of the Church, the nation and indeed the world would start there? And why would I suggest that it will be the crucial issue of contraception, upon which will hinge a turn from the culture of death to a culture of life? Because God put there, in the marriage bed, the nexus of life and love. It is there where that nexus is broken and the divine union of life and love is shattered by contraception, erupting into disorder and a culture of death – or – the nexus is embraced and the fecundity of the divine union of life and love in the marital embrace flowers into persons and a culture of life and love.
Contraception, Priesthood and Sexual abuse, Part II
Consequences in a Society due to Contraception
Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, included a section on the expected consequences in a society accepting artificial methods for the control or regulation of human conception and birth. To paraphrase, he warned about the following dangers and harms to a society that welcomes a contraceptive approach to sexual intercourse, within or outside of marriage:
1. increasing marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards,
2. weakening of moral fortitude especially of the young,
3. weakening of the sense of reverence and care due to a woman, reducing her to a mere sexual object for men, and
4. empowerment of governments and public authorities with tools for the control of the most intimate and personal aspects of human life under their authority.
I think it is beyond dispute that all of these foreseen consequences have indeed come upon this country. I want to focus for the moment on the third consequence, that of a diminished sense of reverence and care due to a woman, reducing her to a mere sexual object for men. Our country is seeing a growing defeminization, and in some a masculization, in women, while at the same time an emasculation and feminization of many men. The growing homosexual movement in the country – indeed in Western civilization – shows this, as well as the many other changes in socially accepted behavior in women and in men.
The rejection by women of the traditional female roles – the supportive wife and companion for her husband, the devoted mother attending full-time to the needs of her children – is exchanged now for the new woman who can have it all and do it all, in any role that a man can do. Femininity itself is devalued, and seen as weakness by many – an obstacle to attaining all that the woman-person wants. Even the female body is devalued – her breasts, given as a source of life-providing nourishment for her children, are crudely and commonly re-named “boobs,” a word previously used to label foolish or stupid persons! The female body is robbed of its truly precious values, while becoming a mere object for lust. Indeed, to be “lusted” for is no longer an insult but considered a great compliment. The mysterious physical interiority of woman is no longer recognized as a holy place where God can create new life, but is merely inconvenient “plumbing” to be joked about.
This change in our culture is a devastating one. “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World,” a 1865 poem by William Ross Wallace, praises motherhood which plays a crucial role in the life of a nation. A South African proverb is similar: “”The hand that rocks the cradle rules the nation and its destiny.” Our country has become one in which most of the “rocking” is done in private or public day-care stations, which merge seamlessly into government run schools, extending up to the age of leaving home in adulthood. This transfer of “motherhood” to the state or other professional agencies, allows the mother to work, and “be all she can be.” The child, meanwhile has been robbed of something precious. And the nation? What is, indeed, our destiny now – where are we headed?
The transfer of motherhood is not always done freely and willingly by the woman. In many cases today, because of the irresponsibility and immorality of the age, many young men and women did not plan to be parents, when they did. This too, is a consequence of the devaluing of conjugal love, marriage and women brought on with contraception. Women are reduced to objects, men are reduced to boys, children are reduced to expensive and inconvenient burdens. And that is something that cannot be hidden from a child: who is a child, if he is not wanted? Contraception is a poison that wounds men and women, that destroys cultures, that abuses women first, then men, and then children.
A woman is due reverence and care because of the way God designed her. Weaker physically, she is due the care of her husband who will love and protect and care for her until death do they part. Strong in ways unique to her femininity, she can provide the support, companionship and nurturing her husband and children need from her. Mysteriously and beautifully designed, she provides a unique spiritual and religious center in the home. Her mind, her heart and her very body provide a meeting place for God and the family. Thus she is due reverence: she is a living tabernacle for the home, a place of meeting with God. In her body, God can create a new and unique human soul fitted to the fruit of the conjugal union with her husband.
She is owed reverence. The Catechism has a paragraph that teaches a beautiful meaning for women, in this creation – gift representing God our helper:
1605 Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” [Gen 2:18] The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. [Cf. Gen 2:18-25] “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” [Gen 2:24] The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” [Mt 19:6]
In this coarse and often brutal culture, women have been “redefined”, their meaning distorted, and their feminine and civilizing gifts meant for human cultures rejected. Pope Francis recently alluded to one aspect of this loss – that to the Church herself:
Without an understanding of femininity, the Pope said, one “cannot understand the Church herself.” Women “are the most beautiful thing God has made. The Church is a woman.” He said that in doing theology, one must take account of this “femininity,” and that the Church must continue to work on and develop a “theology of the woman.” (Interview with Pope Francis, article in June 30, 2014 (Zenit.org))
Where will the next Great Renewal begin? I suggest that it will begin in the bedrooms of America, when Christian men and women begin to take their priesthood in Christ seriously enough to live it there, and then in the home, and then in their parishes, and then in the secular life of the nation. How can it begin, until the true dignity of man and of woman be realized, as revealed in Jesus Christ? And how will the realization be found, except in the Holy Gospel of Christ, proclaimed in its fullness, with the unction and zeal and power that truth deserves.
Teachers in the Church, live your vocation! A famine has come upon the land – a famine of the living and lived Word of God. Teachers, preach the Word, in season and out – the time of harvest is surely near.