My topic today is probably the most unpopular subject for a homily in the Church in Canada in the 21st century, which is unfortunate, since this topic is very good news for the men and women of our time. The topic is “the Church’s teaching on contraception,” or in more positive terms, “good news about sex and marriage.”
People may wonder why I am raising this issue now. Next month is the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI encyclical on contraception, called “Humanae Vitae.” And our bishop also inspires me, since he recently mentioned contraception at a talk at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay. For almost two years, we have had information on natural family planning on our website and our pamphlet rack; we even had an evening information session on NFP led by a married couple, which almost no one attended, perhaps because people are blinded by the god of this age (2 Cor 4:4), held fast by a deaf and mute spirit of paralysis (Mk 9:25), that prevents them from hearing and acting on the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage. Let us pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will cast out this spirit and open our hearts to the truth that will set us free and make us more fully human.
I want to begin by asking forgiveness from all of you on behalf of the Church for our failure to proclaim and explain the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage, contraception and natural family planning. Our Popes have been excellent shepherds for us, but many bishops and priests have neglected to teach the truth, so I ask for your forgiveness.
I also want to place this discussion of contraception in the context of God’s mercy, which is the message of today’s Gospel. Jesus re-assures us all: “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:13). This is very good news for us, since all of us have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). We all live together among the ruins of the sexual revolution. Fr. Raymond D’Souza put it well in an article on the movie and TV series Sex and the City: “The lasting accomplishment of the sexual revolution was to remake society according to the desires of corrupted adolescent males, with plenty of pornography, easy women and disposable relationships, facilitated by contraception and abortion, cohabitation and divorce” (National Post). I don’t have time to go into detail, but the deceits of the sexual revolution contributed to the break-up of my own family and in the death, through abortion, of two of my cousins. I have also sinned through my own fault by choosing to believe the lies of the sexual revolution, and I did not live a chaste and celibate life prior to becoming a Catholic.
But Jesus Christ came to call sinners, and I am one of the worst! Christ died on the Cross and shed his blood to take away my sins, your sins, and the sins of the world. We are no longer dominated by lust; we are redeemed by Christ! (Theology of the Body Explained, 427). And when we confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives us; he makes us a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), then sends us out saying, “go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11) and proclaim what God has done for you (Mk 5:19).
Now before explaining the Church’s position on contraception, I would like to thank all those families who have been so generous in bringing new immortal souls into this world and in living and proclaiming the Church’s teaching on natural family planning. I would also like to publicly thank Jane Burkett. At the age of 43, she was willing to have an 11th child named Evelyn Slee who later had a son named Gary McCauley who later had a son named Tim McCauley. I want to thank my great-grandmother (and my great-grandfather, Benjamin Slee Sr.) for being so generous.
I’m so happy that my great-grandmother didn’t decide, after her fourth, fifth, sixth or tenth child, to contracept her subsequent conjugal acts – then I would not exist. I am very grateful to God that I do exist, that he created me out of nothing through the generosity of my ancestors. I am grateful to God for all of you whom he has likewise created with immortal souls, so beautiful in his image, and destined for eternal happiness with him. In our contraceptive culture, we have lost sight of the truth that every single human life is precious, and we have forgotten the miracle of conception. A sperm does not have an immortal soul; an egg does not have an immortal soul. But in the moment of conception, God acts, in the same way he did when he made the universe: he creates something out of nothing, someone, a person, that will live forever – a new human being, an immortal soul.
Abraham rejoiced that he would be the father of many nations and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Rom 4:18 – second reading). Every generation up until ours has considered fertility a gift, not a disease to be cured with a pill; every generation up until ours has considered children to be a blessing, not a burden. Something has gone wrong with this generation.
On to the topic of contraception, I want to emphasize that this homily is directed to all of you, not just fertile married couples. I am speaking to young people, who will most likely marry one day, that they might know the truth. I am speaking to you older parents with children, that you might better teach the truth to your children. I am speaking to you grandparents and single people, that you might also understand and support the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage.
In the “theology of the body” of John Paul II, popularized by Christopher West in such books as Good News About Sex and Marriage and Theology of the Body Explained (available through St. Pat’s bookstore), our former Pope reminds us that part of the meaning of life is to love as God loves, and married couples, in their conjugal love, are meant to reflect the love of the Holy Trinity, and the love of Christ on the Cross. John Paul explains that sexual love is the power to love as God loves. How many have heard that before? Sexual love is the power to love as God loves. In part because when God loves, he creates new life. Sexual love within marriage is meant to create new life. Life and love go together.
As Pope Paul VI states in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Church’s teaching on contraception “is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning (love) and the procreative meaning (life)” (#12).
John Paul II provides a fascinating insight into the deeper meaning of the marital embrace. In every conjugal act, a couple renews their wedding vows with their bodies; the words they spoke on their wedding day they renew through the language of the body. On their wedding day, couples promise a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful. They are asked three questions: “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” (Free and total love) “Will you love and honour each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?” (Faithful love) and “Will you accept children lovingly from God?” (Fruitful love).
When a couple engage in contracepted sex, they are not offering each other a love that is free, total, faithful AND fruitful. John Paul even goes so far to say that they are even lying to each other with their bodies. The language of the body proclaims, “I am giving myself to you completely” when in fact I am holding back my fertility. I am putting up a barrier between us (whether that barrier is a physical or chemical contraceptive or sterilization).
Christopher West adds that the husband is meant to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, Christ who says to the Church, “this is my Body which is given up for you.” Look at Jesus on the Cross. This is love as self-sacrifice, whereas contraception tends to promote love as lust, using another person for one’s own selfish pleasure. In contraception, the couple says to each other, “this is my Body which is NOT given up for you. I am not willing to give you everything” (Theology of the Body Explained, 423-4). Can you imagine if Christ had said this at the Last Supper or if the priest were to say this during the Eucharist? “This is my Body which is NOT given up for you.” That would be sacrilegious (Theology, 418). For married love to be an image of God’s love, it must be free, total, faithful and fruitful.
I don’t have time to go into more detail, but I encourage you all to listen to Janet Smith’s CD “Contraception: Why Not?” There are 50 copies in our CD display case, and we are making them available for the lowest possible price – $1. Please take the time to listen to it. I think you will be amazed by what you hear. For example, she explains how contraception, over the last forty years, has actually resulted in an increase in unwanted pregnancies, single motherhood and poverty, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, adultery, divorce and social chaos. She also explains the side effects of the chemical contraceptive called “the pill”: it makes women more irritable and prone to depression; they tend to gain weight, and have a reduced sex drive. If we don’t want to put chemicals into the air, the water and our food, why, she asks, would women want to put such harmful chemicals into their bodies?
The healthy and proper alternative to contraception is natural family planning (or NFP). The Church does not teach that you must have 11 children like my great-grandmother did from 1878 to 1903 (but of course the Church encourages people to be as generous as possible in having children). Natural family planning is free, healthy, and safe; it enhances communication between the couple and improves their relationship, AND is just as effective as contraception. For example, as Janet Smith explains in her CD, there was a study done in India of 19 000 women who were taught natural family planning: a third were Muslim, a third were Hindu and a third were Christian; most of them were illiterate. Any guess what the pregnancy rate was among these women? Almost zero. If illiterate Indian women can learn NFP, I am confident that educated Canadian women can also.
Here is another very interesting statistic. The divorce rate in the U.S. hovers around 50%, and I think it’s about the same in Canada. In a study done of 1400 couples who practiced natural family planning, any guess what their divorce rate was? Maybe down from 50% to 30% or 20%? Actually, it was zero! A 0% divorce rate! (Good News About Sex and Marriage, p. 128). “Wow! There must be something about this “natural family planning!” Teach me more!” Well, listen to the CD. Grab a brochure from our pamphlet rack. Check out the links on our website. Ask around in the parish from other couples who practice NFP.
It is true that NFP requires sacrifice and periodic abstinence of 7-10 days per month. (By the way, NFP requires mutual sacrifice; the contraceptive burden is not on one person). The same means of grace that permit a priest to be permanently celibate (and normal and happy!) are the means that will strengthen married couples to abstain for 7-10 days a month: personal prayer, Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
St. Matthew sacrificed everything to follow Christ. What did he sacrifice exactly? The Gospel only states, “he got up and followed him.” He certainly left behind all his wealth and probably his family also. What gave him the courage to change his life so radically and follow Jesus? When Jesus had called another rich man to follow him, we read that Jesus “looked at him and loved him” (Mk 10:21). I believe that Jesus also looked at Matthew and loved him, and Matthew experienced this love and responded.
Jesus Christ is asking all of you today to follow him by following all the teachings of the Church he founded, including the teachings on sex and marriage. But Jesus does not ask you to do something impossible. He will give you all the grace you need through prayer, confession, and the Eucharist, in which he says, “this is my Body, given up for you.” He looks at you and he loves you; he has come to call all us sinners and make us into saints. (Source)