Finals are over and I have had some time to recoup after being sick during finals. What wonderful timing, but what can you do? Life goes on and I am up and running again.
So, here we go continuing to look at what the Catholic Church has to say about how birth is to be controlled. It is very difficult for many of us to just accept that the use of artificial contraception is morally wrong and a sin according to the Church. We really do not understand and therefore have a difficult time practicing this Church teaching.
Many people believe the Church is controlling and hateful when it comes to human sexuality, but this is not the case at all.
If people saw sexuality through the eyes of the Church, they would see the great love the Church has for the dignity of human sexuality. People would be cringing away from the idea of artificial contraception if they even saw its effects on the body physically, spiritually, and psychologically. At this time I would like to continue to look at the original Church Encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI to see what the Church has said since the controversy over birth control came up in the 60’s.
Relating sexuality to our faith . . .This is the third part of my series on Humanae Vitae so here is a quick refresher: Part one we looked at the Church addressing the fact that artificial birth control is an issue that must be considered and to do so we have to break the issue down into parts. The second part talked about “Married Love” and God’s design for it: mutual self giving, union, and cooperation with God in the creation of human life; and now we will look into ‘Responsible Parenthood’.
II Doctrinal Principles
Married love requires the complete awareness of husband and wife to the obligation they have to responsible parenthood. Pope Paul VI makes a point here of mentioning that today, responsible parenthood “is much insisted upon” and that it must simultaneously be correctly understood. With this in mind we must look at the aspects of responsible parenthood laid out by Pope Paul VI:
- “Biological processes” – respect for the proper functions of the biological laws of the human person
- “Man’s reason and will must exert control” – self control over emotions and drives
- “Physical, economic, psychological and social conditions” – responsibility when a couple for serious reasons decides not to have more children while respecting “moral precepts” or prudence when deciding to have more children
- “Moral order which was established by God” – the married couple must recognize their duties to God, themselves, their family, and “human society”
All of this being said, Pope Paul VI is saying that parents must responsibly control birth. They must respect the dignity of the human body in how it functions. The couple must be the spiritual beings they are created to be by exercising self control and reason and not subcumbing to animalistic behavior based strictly on drives and emotions. Furthermore, man and wife must responsibly decide whether or not to have more children while respecting moral laws and take into consideration their responsibilities to God, within society, and to their family (including themselves).
Observing the Natural Law
Now, the Church speaks of intimate and chaste marital relations as ”noble and worthy” when life is transmitted, and the Church goes on to emphasize that when relations are infertile for reasons not pertaining to the couple’s will that marital relationships do not “cease to be legitimate”.
To clarify, the church does not say that marital relationship are bad when life is not generated. The Church clearly states here:
“For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intersourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidents of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operations of these laws.”
However, the Church requires that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” This being said, man and wife are free to have intercourse that is infertile as long as they are always open to the gift of transmitting new life.
This is an important point to note as here is where the confusion lays even among many Catholic couples who in good faith practice Natural Family Planning (NFP) by abstaining from intercourse during periods where the woman’s body is naturally fertile. However, while NFP is being used in a way that respects the biological makeup of the human body, it is often misused and does not observe the required openness to life that the Church demands.
This is why many non-Catholics, and Catholics who understand what NFP is, have a difficult time seeing the psychological differences between artificial contraception and natural ways of birth control which keep intact the dignity of the body. If a couple is using NFP as a means to suppress the transmission of new life and they are not observing the required openness to life nor the four aspects listed above, then the couple is NOT using NFP in a way that is morally acceptable.
There is much more to cover but I think I’ll stop here for now. Next I will dive into Union and Procreation, Faithfulness to God’s Design, and Unlawful Birth Control Methods. If you have any questions or would like further clarification on something feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you.
Be sure to stay tuned for my upcoming articles by subscribing to my blog via email in the upper right hand corner of this page, and if you haven’t already read them here are the previous parts of my Humanae Vitae series:
Please share about the Church’s encyclical Humanae Vitae so that we can help others understand the beautiful teaching of the Church on contraception.
For the Dignity of the Born and Unborn,