Shouldn’t a couple have the right to determine how many children they have?
By Father Cal Christiansen
Q: I attended a mission recently where the missionary priest said that anyone who practices artificial birth control is committing a mortal sin. I don’t agree with the church on this issue and I think that contraception should be allowable, especially under certain circumstances. It seems to me that most young Catholic couples use birth control; are they all in a state of mortal sin like this priest said? Please help me understand this difficult teaching of our church.
A: Thank you for your question. Before we jump into an answer, we all need to take a deep breath and exhale. Needless to say, what the church teaches about artificial birth control is considered extreme and totally antiquated by much of our secular society. Because this is such a difficult teaching, we need to approach it with sensitivity, care and understanding.
What we teach about this is not easy or popular, but then again, neither were some of the teachings of Jesus. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, for example, following Jesus’ bread of life discourse, he teaches that his flesh is real food and his blood real drink and that all who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have eternal life. St. John tells us that following this difficult and scandalous teaching, some of Jesus’ own disciples said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” and because of it, many of them left him and returned to their former ways of life.
Our sexuality is an integral part of who we are and comes to us as an incredible gift from God. Like everything that God creates, there is a purpose for it. Our church teaches that sexuality, being a gift from God, is designed with two ends in mind within marriage: unitive and procreative. Whenever our sexuality is separated from these two ends, we no longer use it in the way that it was intended.
It’s sort of like trying to use a book to dig a hole. It might be possible, but using a book in this way is not using it in the way that it was intended to be used. When our sexuality is practiced in the way that God intended, the dignity of the human person is preserved and the joy that comes from the openness to new life is maintained as well.
Photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec
Open to God’s will
The church teaches that using artificial means of birth control for the purpose of preventing pregnancy is never acceptable. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “‘every action which … proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil.” (CCC 2370)
The use of artificial birth control directly interferes with the second end — or good — of sexuality as it was created.
With faith, we ought to trust God and be open to his will in our lives in all things, including our sexuality. The use of artificial birth control sends a clear message to God that we are in control and not open to his will in this area.
St. John Paul II wrote some beautiful and insightful things regarding this question. In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio he said: “When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as ‘arbiters’ of the divine plan and they ‘manipulate’ and degrade human sexuality — and with it themselves and their married partner — by altering its value of ‘total’ self-giving.”
Our sexuality is meant to be an expression of complete gift, of two people giving themselves out of love completely to one another within marriage and being open to new life in the process. Artificial birth control radically interferes with both of these ends.
A couple using contraception withhold something of themselves from each other, regardless of their intention, and that is why our church teaches against it when it is used for this purpose. I would encourage you to speak to a couple who have stopped using artificial contraception and ask them how their marriage has improved.
May God’s blessings be with you today and always!
NORTHWEST CATHOLIC - July/August 2014