While visiting Sri Lanka and the Philippines recently, Pope Francis turned more than a few heads by explaining in detail, and some three times in four days, just how right Blessed Pope Paul VI had been when he wrote Humanae Vitae. He issued what can only be described as some of the harshest criticism of abortion and contraception of his pontificate thus far. He called Blessed Paul “courageous” for taking the stand which he did at the time, one which subjected the Pope to criticism from both outside and inside the Church. Pope Francis said that Paul VI “saw the destruction of the family because of the lack of children.”
Pope Francis called the attempt by Western powers and international development agencies to tie international aid to contraception, abortion, or both “ideological colonization” and once the Holy Father returned to Rome, he proceeded to explode the idea that large families lead to poverty, and he spent a great deal of time explaining that economic and social systems which do not place the human person at the very center of existence are to blame for this. Because the Holy Father attempted to explain the fullness of Catholic teaching in light of Humanae Vitae by further explaining that not using artificial contraception does not necessarily mean that Catholics need to “breed like rabbits,” the secular media ran with that remark, but did not report the fullness of what Pope Francis had said, which were actually remarks against the use of contraception, not in favor of it. This resulted in some Vatican officials plainly saying (rightly) that the secular press has misreported the Holy Father blatantly, and that this misreporting is something that apparently greatly disturbs the Pope.
Some secular news sources, however, understood exactly that the Pope was upholding Church teaching and have taken great pains to share with us how wrong that he, and Holy Mother Church, are when we uphold the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of life, including the purpose of marriage. Indeed, some of these secularist-types are bold enough to say that the Vicar of Christ and Successor of Peter just “misses the point.” I doubt very seriously that some of the people saying these things understand what “the point” is…
The reason that the Church continues to teach that artificial birth control is wrong is that it undermines the chief purpose of the sacrament of Matrimony itself, which is to serve as a “domestic Church,” as a model in the home of Christ’s relationship to his Bride, the Church. Just as the Church is always open to life and growth, the family-the domestic Church-must always be open to life and growth. As the U.S. Bishops said in their 2009 document Married Love and the Gift of Life which is linked to above:
A husband and wife express their committed love not only with words, but with the language of their bodies. That “body language”—what a husband and wife say to one another through the intimacy of sexual relations—speaks of total commitment and openness to a future together. So the question about contraception is this: Does sexual intercourse using contraception faithfully affirm this committed love? Or does it introduce a false note into this conversation?
Married love differs from any other love in the world. By its nature, the love of husband and wife is so complete, so ordered to a lifetime of communion with God and each other, that it is open to creating a new human being they will love and care for together. Part of God’s gift to husband and wife is this ability in and through their love to cooperate with God’s creative power.
Therefore, the mutual gift of fertility is an integral part of the bonding power of marital intercourse. That power to create a new life with God is at the heart of what spouses share with each other.
When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, however, sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital intercourse. It is something less powerful and intimate, something more “casual.” Suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity. The total giving of oneself, body and soul, to one’s beloved is no time to say: “I give you everything I am—except. . . .” The Church’s teaching is not only about observing a rule, but about preserving that total, mutual gift of two persons in its integrity.
Regular readers of Life At 25 know that I’ve spent a great deal of time on this blog defending the dignity of Matrimony from the continuing movement in secular society (and even in many “religious” quarters) to redefine it. Prelates of the Church have done the same. In speaking out once more in defense of the Church’s teaching on being fully open to children in married life, the Holy Father has done more to defend marriage in words than anything previously written in this space.
If we are going to defend marriage as something that is between one man and one woman, the clear definition of what we are defending must also be taken into account. Matrimony is a living example of the union which exists between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church. Children are the product of the familial bond which exists between a husband and a wife, just as new members of the Family of God are the products of the mystical union between Christ and his Church, which is the Body of Christ, just as a wife should be considered united, one, and the same as part of her husband’s body and vice versa (cf. Eph. 5:21-33).
Not every married couple has been blessed to be able to conceive children, and I can identify with this very directly because for a very long time, my wife and believed that we would likely not have children of our own. However, we were always open to life, open to aiding in God’s creative work, and open to both the design and plan of God. Now, it so happens, we are blessed to have a baby on the way. If a marriage is not open to life, open to God’s design, it isn’t functioning according to the design of marriage as God intended. A “marriage” between two men or two women cannot, by definition, be open to life. Hence, the redefinition of marriage is not a mere question of the morality of homosexual relationships, but it is a pro-life question just as abortion and contraception are pro-life issues.
Pay close attention to the Pontiff. He is saying things that clearly defend marriage for what it is meant to be. If we are to be consistent in our defense of marriage, we have to explain the reason why the design for marriage is between one man and one woman for life. In our “throwaway culture” (to quote the Pope) that won’t be a very popular argument, because it clearly teaches that marriage is not about us or our mere emotions. We need to proclaim, as Paul told Timothy (whose feast, along with Titus, it is today) the truth “in season and out of season,” and we seem to be living in a time when the truth is increasingly out of season (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Pray for Pope Francis, for our Bishop Richard, for your parish priests and parochial vicars, and the deacons and deacon candidates in our diocese, that all can proclaim the truth in season and out of season about marriage, life issues, social justice, and everything else without fear and in charity and love.