A Parish Approach to the Church's Teaching on the Marital Act

Truth will set you Free Series FAITH Magazine March-April 2006

During the nineteen-eighties and nineties a typical London parish lost about 100 Sunday Mass-goers a year. When pondering on their next Sunday sermon, parish priests might well wonder what they should say to those in their congregations who are statistically likely to lapse in the near future. Should they shake them up with the a few home truths or draw them in with a compassionate message of love? Jesus actually did both, and the apostle Paul later reminded the Church that Christ must be preached in all his fullness, both “in season and out of season”.

In the editorial article of the January/February issue of Faith, we argued that it is false to make a dichotomy between truth and compassion, because this is an implicit denial of Our Lord’s proclamation that “The Truth will set you free”. Yet over recent decades many Catholic teachings that are widely felt to be difficult or unpopular have all too often been quietly dropped from parish preaching and catechesis, perhaps fearing that hard truths drive the people away. And yet it is obvious that watering down or editing out challenging doctrines from pastoral life has not borne fruit in widespread renewal and holiness. Experience shows time and again that the opposite is true. When the faith is taught integrally and explained enthusiastically, people respond. This was true for the prophetsof Israel, who announced God’s message in the Old Testament and it is true for us now. Faith Movement is particularly blessed with a sizeable number of younger priests who are working in parishes all over the UK. Our shared experience tells us that when the Catholic faith is taught and preached without compromise, far from alienating modern listeners, it attracts, commands respect and awakens a sincere hunger for God. If explained with patience and pastoral insight, integral Catholicism does indeed liberate and enlighten, bringing fuller life and happiness to the people we care for and care about in Christ. We do not pretend that there are no setbacks, heartaches and even failings in our individual pastoral approach at times. But we know that we are not free to bypass any aspect ofCatholic truth in the name of compassion or fashion.

In this new feature—under the heading "The Truth Will Set You Free"—we will explore a range of pastoral and doctrinal issues from this perspective. We begin our reflections with perhaps the most unfashionable and controversial theme of all, one that is avoided more often than not in popular preaching. We start with the Church’s teaching that the Marriage Act must always remain open to life, the doctrine that artificial contraception is against the natural moral law. This first instalment is unavoidably longer than the contributions that will follow. It is adapted from texts serialised as parish handouts last year. We are happy to make it available here for wider use and discussion.

Five introductory points need to be stated at the outset.

This teaching has been formally repeated and fully expounded by virtually all 20th century Popes. They have invoked the authority of Christ to proclaim an unpopular truth for the good of humanity.

It is not a recent teaching, but has been part of Christian witness and tradition stretching back at least to the fourth century. It is not a personal opinion of this or that Pope which could be changed by the next one. That is never going to happen!

If this is the teaching of Christ, it will be a liberating truth, making a beautiful sense of marital and family love. It’s not a naïve ideal. It will be possible to live it with God’s help. Many couples do.

There are some difficult questions which must be answered and difficult situations in which people find themselves. We need to address these issues as best we can.

v It is very understandable why even many Catholics feel they cannot accept and live this teaching. They have rarely had it explained to them properly.

Before inviting people to explore this sensitive theme in depth, it would be good to make a spiritual appeal to at least approach it with a open mind and heart, allowing God to show us where our thinking and our lives may need to change if we are to discover true happiness. It could perhaps be framed in the following terms: “If this is a challenging truth for you we ask you not to close your mind to it. Let us all ask the Holy Spirit for the light to see better and the will to grow.”

What follows is an example of one way to address this controversial issue, broken down into the following sections.

1. An explanation of the core of the teaching.
2. An explanation of why our culture finds this teaching so difficult and what’s involved in living counter-culturally.
3. Answers to some classic objections and hard cases.
4. Suggested practical ways forward for those who want to move away, as best they can, from a practice that the Church teaches is intrinsically disordered.

Part One. The Church'sTeaching on the Marital Act

The Catholic Church teaching on love and sex in general and its prohibition of artificial contraception in particular, is often misrepresented by the media and misunderstood by Catholics themselves. For example, some people think, wrongly, that it means the Church demands that married couples have the maximum number of babies possible; others present this teaching as just an ideal, not something that is an important part of Catholic moral teaching, so that it could easily change if the next Pope so desired; it is often asserted that the Church’s teaching on contraception is causing an unsustainable population explosion and even that it is a key cause of deaths from AIDS in the Third World.
 
We will try to explain this teaching calmly and properly here, to the best of our ability. Our intention is to help our parish community grow in understanding of the truth and in spiritual maturity. We particularly want to help married couples in our parish family to become more and more open to God, so that they can become even better channels of life-giving grace to one another and to the wider community. Whether that be couples who are already attempting to live the Catholic vision of marital love, or those who find it difficult and confusing, or those who have dismissed it as an impossibility, we ask you all to listen, open to the possibility of discovering a new opportunity for humble growth in the life of Christ.

1.1 The Catholic Vision of Love and Sex

The Catholic Church believes that sexual union is a special act which creates the human family within the security and commitment of married love. Sex fosters the loving union of a husband and wife and consummates their public and life-long commitment to each other in order to equip them as parents and family builders. Their sexual love-making is an act of mutual self giving that is inherently orientated to the giving of new life, even if it does not actually result in conception. It is not just an act of personal affection. It is an act of bodily and spiritual union which fosters life. It is through its very ordering to procreation that it is a real, personal union of spouses.

There is a built-in meaning to the marital act, a meaning that is written into our very bodies as male and female. When we unite our bodies in this most physically intimate way we automatically bring into action our shared powers of fertility. As such it should only ever take place within the bond of marriage, that full commitment to a love called to form family.

This means that sex cannot simply be a special case of our more general expressions of love, like a smile or a hug. Sex not only joins a couple to one another, it unites them in the work of life-giving. Through sexual union a couple become more deeply joined to the work of Christ and His Church. They become “one flesh” so that God may bring into being children destined for the Kingdom of God - through their love and their bodily (sacramental) action. Through sex, married couples actually share in God’s own creative love and action, even if He does not bless them with the specific fruit of progeny.

Any children born of their love are truly their own as well as God’s, and as parents they will go on preparing their children for eternal life for many years, bringing them to baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist and teaching them to know and love God himself. Sex, therefore, is just the beginning of a very special and noble work of life-giving through mutual self-giving.

1.2 The Core of the Teaching

The Church has always taught that these two aspects of the sexual act–its power to create life and its power to unite a couple in the loving bond of marriage–are inseparable. They are two sides of the same gold coin–our sharing with God in creating and saving the world through the sacrament of matrimony.

To engage in sex in ways that contradict and exclude its procreative meaning and dynamic will harm its power to unite in fulfilling love. It introduces a lie–an untruth–at the heart of the relationship. Actively to remove its orientation to the creation of new human life is to disorientate the relationship. It will tend to become a force for disunity, even in a relationship which is otherwise positive.

Such denial includes sex outside of heterosexual marriage and artificial contraception. The former fails to provide the proper social and spiritual context for the possible procreation and formation of a new eternal life. The latter involves actively overlaying the procreative orientation with an anti-procreative orientation. Contraception changes the meaning of the marriage act. It ceases to be something that shares in God’s creative love and becomes essentially inward looking contrary to integral self-giving in body and soul.

One of the most popular misconceptions of our times is that sex “makes love”, but if there is no love in a relationship, then no amount of sex will make up for that. Love comes from the soul, from caring and sharing and spiritual friendship. Sex enacts a love called to form family. It “makes family” not love.

1.3 Social Collapse

If sex is simply for loving without any further meaning, then there is no logical reason to confine it to the institution of marriage nor even to lifelong fidelity. Indeed its heterosexual context cannot easily be maintained. This is precisely what has happened in our society.

Pope Paul VI predicted in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae thatif we accept that the procreative aspect of sex can be deliberately excluded from the act, then the whole of human sexuality shifts ground and sooner or later familial and social breakdown must follow. We inevitably turn sex into just a pleasure drive which it is everyone’s right to satisfy in some way or another.

Once we separate out the fertile and the faithful aspects of human sexual love, it is inevitable that we end up with massive promiscuity, breakdown of stable family relationships and abortion i.e. sex without procreation and the responsibility and commitment that must go with that.

It is also inevitable that we will end up with procreation without sex – the growing mentality whereby babies are seen as commercial or technological products to which every couple or even individual, regardless of their marital or gender status, has a right to obtain by whatever means. We are depersonalising human procreation.

1.4 Our Need for Healing and Help

The core principle of the Church’s teaching about contraception - that the unitive and procreative meanings of sex must not be wilfully separated - is not new. It has been affirmed by the whole Catholic Christian tradition with the authority of Christ through the ages.

There has of course always been a need, given fallen human nature, for education, healing and help from God, in order to live it perfectly. But what changed in the late twentieth century was the arrival of new contraceptives like the pill.

In 1968 the Pope was asked to look at the whole situation in the modern world. He reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Church, but at the same time he asked doctors to give couples better information which would help them to increase their knowledge and control of their fertility within the meanings of nature and the law of God.

Many people could not, and still cannot see what is so wrong with contraception. Women were encouraged to see contraception as liberating them from the burdens of constant pregnancy, freeing them to pursue careers alongside men. Couples were sold contraception as the easiest way to limit family size when health and economic factors demanded.

These are all perfectly good and reasonable things to aim for. But the unspoken message at the heart of the contraceptive way to achieve these goals was that you could still have sex any time you wanted. Sex now was increasingly seen as having no meaning other than mutual desire and satisfaction, although ideally this should be given the context of a “deep" and "special" love. But there were no more built-in consequences to sexual activity with eternal responsibilities, no sacramental dimension to erotic love. So now there was little need to discern a distinction between appropriate and innappropriate sexual desires; little need to ask for help or healing from God or anyone else; no encouragement to foster healthy yearnings and to heal selfish and addictive ones.

The fact is that there was and is another way; a way of restraint and self-control; a way of self-denial in the name of love. It is not a cold and negative way. It is a way of profound mutual respect, of accepting the whole fertile sexuality of your spouse and living in harmony with its truths and patterns. It is a way of greater unity in one integrated sexual life and love lived for the glory of God, rather than two independent desires just seeking passing pleasure in each other’s arms.

Catholic teaching on this point can seem to go against some very deep seated needs and desires. Yet our faith also tells us that we are deeply wounded. Since the sin of our first parents, we can no longer trust that which seems to come naturally to us. We need healing and re-orientation in our deepest selves to discover what loving and living really mean. Generations of sin and particularly our own generation of media enhanced eroticism has not helped.

Even within marriage we can carry with us the confusions and addictions of a false formation. We need to listen to Jesus and his Church in order to discover alternative truths about human nature–truths that will actually set us free and enhance our lives in the end. Certainly the modern world is hardly awash with happiness, faithfulness, purity and charity.

1.5 Conclusion to Part One

Whilst it is understandably very difficult for our own hedonistic culture - a world which has been brought up to believe that love and sex are virtually the same thing–to understand this, it is actually very important for the Church and the modern world that we rediscover the true Christian meaning of sex. If someone who has not understood and not lived these things before resolves to follow it, even in part, and perhaps with difficulty and hesitation, it will undoubtedly open for them abundant channels for the transforming grace of God to flow through. As Pope John Paul II exhorted us on entering the third millennium: “Do not be afraid. Put out into the deep!”

Part Two. Going Against our Culture: is it Realistic?

We need to address some of the specific attitudes and questions which seem to lie at the heart of the widespread consternation at Catholic teaching on contraception within much of western culture. We want to suggest some corrections to some common emphasises concerning the human need for love.

2.1The 'Anti-Life Culture

The heart of the issue is that if a couple actively exclude the creative potential of sex from their love-making, then they turn it into a very different sort of act. They are no longer a husband and wife giving themselves to one other and to God, body and soul, for the building up of the family of the Church. They are engaging in an act of erotic intimacy whose meaning lies only in their mutual feelings of the moment.

It was inevitable that a culture that embraced this contraceptive mentality about sex would quickly abandon any notion that sexual activity belongs within life-long marriage or even that it belongs to heterosexual union at all. Sooner or later it will be seen to be part of any ‘loving’ relationship whatsoever.

It was also inevitable that a contraceptive culture would also accept abortion as an integral part of the practice of excluding new life from its sexual revolution. Some people presume that contraception is the antidote to abortion, but the hard truth (recognised by the UN) is that abortion and contraception go hand in hand. In fact wherever contraception is promoted, abortion rates always go up, not down. Not that everyone who uses artificial contraception is open to abortion, but as a social fact abortion quickly becomes a social policy, driven by the contraceptive choice to maximise sexual pleasure and yet minimise the creation of new life. Children and young people in our society are given the clear message that almost anything goes as long as you are ‘responsible’, by whichis meant, don’t get pregnant! But even then, something can be done about it.

However, we are well aware that many people, even inside the Church, have become convinced that artificial contraception is the ‘obvious’ solution to some of the pressures and challenges that married couples face in the modern world. The Church is portrayed as cruel, harsh or just out of touch and unrealistic when she teaches us that contraception is wrong.

Of course, the pressures and burdens on marriage and family are quite real. There are legitimate and reasonable grounds for spacing a family or even, at times, a need to have no more children at all. But the big question is what we do to achieve that, how we approach the sexual life of a marriage in the face of those needs.

The problems and the burdens of marriage do not come from the Church’s teaching, rather they come from the fallen world that we live in, from our own fallen nature, and from the overwhelming truth that sex makes babies! The world offers us a way which tries to deny this truth and to suppress and distort nature. The Church offers us a way which involves changing our behaviour and that also involves changing our minds and our hearts.

2.2 Christ will have the Key

It follows from the nature of love and of our fallen state that there must needs be calls to love which seem from the human point of view to be very difficult. The presence of such apparent ‘hard cases’ is multiplied somewhat by the fact that often little coherent explanation about these matters has got through to the man on the street or in the pew. Jesus agreed when the Apostles complained that his standards of morality were “impossible to man”, but he added “for God all is possible... My burden is light and my yoke is easy”.

The teaching of Christ will not of itself be a heavy burden or a cause of social problems. It may be a challenge but it will also be an aspect of the key to true personal and social harmony.

The Church teaches that sex outside marriage and artificial contraception in marriage are intrinsically wrong acts. If this is of Christ then an invitation to go against it, however enticing or seemingly reasonable, will never be from the good Spirit. Going against the natural moral law will take us deeper into the morass. It will unwaveringly make things worse. There will be always be another way, a way forward out of difficult situations, though it may involve the cross.

2.3 The Difference with Natural Family Planning

It is well known that the Church promotes Natural Family Planning (NFP) as a moral alternative to artificial contraception. We have all heard the jokes. But despite popular impressions, there are many couples who live happily and successfully this way, not all of them Catholics by any means.

Sometimes it is objected that there is no essential difference between NFP and artificial contraception. But if that were so, why would there be such deeply held prejudice against NFP? In point of fact, according to the British Medical Association it can be just as successful a way of spacing a family as using the pill and there are many natural and health reasons for choosing NFP rather than the pill. The reason why some people react so strongly against NFP is that they sense, rightly, that it involves a completely different mentality about love and sex. The positive action that is undertaken to reduce the chance of a pregnancy in NFP is that of abstaining from sex sometimes. This is completely different from the action involved in using some form of artificial contraceptionwhich involves actively impeding the sexual act with another imposed dynamic and orientation. Some people point out that the intention not to have children for the moment is the same for contraception and NFP.

Yes, of course, but the actions are quite different as is the accompanying attitude to sex and fertility. For if a couple using NFP did conceive, they have already orientated themselves through their truly loving marital act to make the sacrifices that married love demands. Contraception already actively shuts down the wellsprings of married love, either through selfishness or, more frequently through fear. So Natural Family Planning is not a Catholic version of contraception. It involves embarking on quite a different spiritual journey.

Of course NFP can be used with a deeply conflicted and imperfect frame of mind. Young couples especially might use NFP in an immature and spiritually imperfect way, with some reluctance and inner struggles, and perhaps a quasi-contraceptive outlook. But the very nature of NFP is educating them into a shared sexual responsibility and a rhythm of respectful control with regard to each other’s sexuality. And above all the sexual act itself remains integral and undistorted in its creative and unitive powers. Over time, therefore, the spiritual and psychological fruits of such relationships are very different from contraceptive marriages. Further information concerning the very latest and very successful methods for naturally improving fertility, treating relevant medical problems andspacing children contact FertilityCare, 020.7437.0892.

2.4 The Place of Abstinence in the Name of Love

Times of abstinence from sex are part of any truly healthy married relationship. Contrary to the adolescent fantasies of much of our media, getting married is not just a way of saying ‘brakes off’ to our erotic desires. For purely natural reasons, there will be ‘on’ and ‘off’ times for sexual intimacy. For the simple reason that two persons are involved, there must be negotiation, sensitivity and responsibility built into married sexuality, which means that there will be times of personal restraint and sacrifice precisely in the name of married love.

Sex is, of course, the foundational aspect of the committed relationship of a love which is called to form a family, but there are clearly other aspects and moments in the affective journey of marriage. We learn to love in a million ways outside the bedroom – in mutual consideration, respect and support. The Church speaks of marriage as a school of love and it is this spiritual intimacy and trust that makes the sexual act into a truly loving union between man and wife, not the other way around.

An ability to sacrifice sexual desire to some extent for the sake of the marriage is important for the serenity and security of a faithful marriage. For instance spouses may necessarily need to be apart through travel or sickness. So the habit of occasional abstinence can only serve to strengthen married love. We will take this reflection a little further when we look at some apparent ‘hard cases’ next week.

2.5 Taking up our Cross

Our world is desperately in need of people who try to live Christian love to the full. People in short who allow the pattern and power of Christ’s death and resurrection to flow through them more and more. The journey into holiness and integrity is always a journey into freedom, fulfilment and inner peace, but for all of us it also a way of the cross, a way of sacrificing some desires for love.

Sadly living and loving is sometimes, seemingly unavoidably, painful. The Christian insight is that this is because of human sin; “the wages of sin is death.” It was not God’s will. He gave us freedom in order that we might love. Because human freedom has tragically been used for self rather than love humanity is wounded.

The first sin of Adam was like a Hiroshima of the human spirit, with awful fallout across the generations. The multiplication of sins down the generations has further ‘polluted’ the human environment and poisoned the mental and social atmosphere in which we live and learn and grow up. Authentic loving no longer always comes naturally to us. Sometimes selfishness, fear, greed, addiction and moral compromise seem to come more easily.

This means giving oneself to another person becomes more of a risk and requires more courage. Letting go of pride and possessiveness is now a painful journey. To avoid doing this because of the pain can be understandable but it is always folly. It means closing in on oneself because the cost of opening up seems too much. That is false.

The lie at the heart of the dynamic of sin is that selfishness is safer or more fun than the risk of offering oneself for the purposes of selfless love. It was the lie that the devil told to Eve concerning the fact that the fruit of the tree of good and evil would “open their eyes” and that it was “good to eat.” It was the lie told to Christ that he could just turn stones to bread to assuage his penitential hunger, or that his “cup of suffering might pass him by”. Jesus tells us the truth about love post-sin when he invites us to take up the Cross, with courage, every single day. For the Good News is that through our sharing in the painful Cross of Christ our wounds can be healed and we can come with him to the fullness of Risen life.

2.6 Conclusion to Part Two

The Church’s teaching on sex seems like an intolerable burden to many. It seems to involve an unnecessary, even to some an intolerable degree of suffering. But if it is of Christ and if it springs from what it means to be a human being then any suffering it involves will be that which can purify, that which is necessary to grow in love, that which Christ will enable you to endure, that which can be a share in his suffering upon the Cross for the good of the world and the glory of God. To attempt to refuse to carry such a Cross would not just be folly, but a tragic lost opportunity for our parish family and for the family of man.

Part Three. Difficult Cases

We’ve just made the bold claim: “The teaching of Christ will not, of itself, be a burden or a cause of social problems. It may be a challenge, but it will also be an aspect of the key to true personal and social harmony.” We now test this against some difficult cases that are often presented as obvious examples which show that the Church’s teaching is wrong. Let us remember that they often describe rare situations, rather than the more general reasons why most people in our culture who use artificial contraception do so, which we attempted to describe in the previous section.

3.1 Abusive Relationships

Physical and mental violence are all too common problems in relationships across the world. Often one partner, usually the woman, is the victim. When this is linked with sexual dominance and bullying, the thought of conceiving a baby may be particularly frightening. The heart problem here is the abuse. The truth is that the victim (and indeed the perpetrator) needs help. Separation may be a sensible option, but to make a woman more available to her abusive husband through contraception is risky and not a real solution. However, where this is a means of (very partial) self-defence by an unconsenting partner against an aggressive husband, it can be a legitimate last resort1. Such abusive sex in marriage is closer to rape than to the integral marriage act.

3.2 The Marital Act as Potentially Fatal

In rare cases sexual union might even be life-threatening. To risk killing your spouse in this way would be seriously wrong. The only way assuredly to prevent pregnancy whilst continuing to be sexually active is by extreme forms of surgical sterilization. But this is to change the meaning of the marital act into something contradictory, as we described last week. Such violence against our own bodies cannot be what God is calling for.

Abstinence is then the only sure and truly loving way of protecting one’s partner from such risks. The only safe sex is no sex. If there is a serious risk that sexual union will kill then husband and wife are called, by God’s help, to abstain and to develop their mutual affection in non-erotic ways. No one pretends that this would be easy, but everything becomes easier when it is done for love. By taking up their Cross in this way they will do a great work for God and grow greatly in mutual respect and spiritual intimacy. All this is not to deny that when a fatal result is threatened through the selfish insistence of one spouse, artificial contraception can validly be used to reduce the risk[1] .

3.3 Pregnancy and Lesser Health Risks

In less dramatic, but more frequent situations, there can be a reasonable fear of having another child. There could be a risk of post-natal depression or severe economic hardship or some other significant anxiety. Again we must recognise that God may be calling a couple to hold back from the sexual expression of their marriage for a time, precisely in the name of love and unity. If this seems too difficult or stressful, they can resort to short, carefully timed periods of abstinence through knowledge of their shared natural fertility. With a little bit of training it is now possible to gain extremely accurate knowledge concerning the days on which it is impossible to conceive, even where a woman’s cycles are very irregular. (cf. FertilityCare, 020.7437.0892).

3.4 Health Risks outside Marriage e.g. The Spread of Aids in Africa
    
The crisis over AIDS in Africa has been portrayed in the press, particularly since Pope Benedict’s election, as if Catholic teaching on sex and love is its main cause. The main engine for spreading AIDS is actually promiscuous lifestyle, which is in direct contravention of Catholic teaching.

The relevant Catholic teaching concerning our approach to the AIDS pandemic is not the ‘ban’ on contraception within marriage but on sex outside it. It has become all too evident that promiscuity is a lifestyle which undermines human dignity and human society. The Church cannot directly cooperate with such personally and socially destructive behaviour. No one should.

Should we give out boxing gloves to bullies in the playground to make their punches less destructive?! That would be to become party to the bullying and the social breakdown that contributes to it. We should note that the only place in Africa which has had any success in reducing AIDS (Uganda) is where they have promoted abstinence and sexual faithfulness. Actually they’ve done better than secular Britain where 28,000 new AIDS sufferers were diagnosed in 2004. As we highlighted last week, the British “sex education” approach has had awful consequences[2]. Even if condom distribution could eradicate AIDS, the cost in increased promiscuity, selfishness and anti-life mentality would create more problems than it solved.

3.5 The Population Explosion

England is more densely populated than China. All the families of the world could be given a house and a back garden in the state of Texas. Most European countries have birth rates below replacement levels so that all sorts of social and economic problems are predicted for a generation or two’s time. These are the real facts. We have the resources and the technology to sort out our food distribution problems. The real answers to the humanity’s miseries lie in social, economic and spiritual development. So human beings should be seen as an essential resource for the future of the world, not a problem and a disaster. The fundamental problem is our selfishness, particularly in the greedy and materialistic ‘first world’.

Part Four. The Practicality of Conversion

We do not underestimate the humility and courage needed for someone to acknowledge that an important aspect of their behaviour in the past has been wrong, however much it can be excused by previous misunderstandings and misinformation.

We are well aware that in the recent past many people have been ignorant and confused, even misled about the truth of the Church’s teaching, and this can certainly mitigate personal responsibility. But we must still answer the Lord’s call to conversion when it comes. Yes, it will mean dying with Christ, but that is the heart of the Christian life. All of us must do this, either in this life or the next. Those who die to themselves in this way will bear fruit in deeper love, community and happiness in their families, in our parish family and actually across the whole world. For this is what is at stake wherever truth is concerned.

4.1 The Way Forward

Most couples in this country, thanks be to God, do not face the tragic difficulties we discussed above. Usually it simply comes down to making the moral choice within our personal circumstances. As we explained in section two above, whatever the challenges and upheavals that make us hesitate to change our lives in the short term, there will always be a fruitful and life-giving way forward for those who want to leave behind behaviour that the Church tells us is “intrinsically disordered”.

To walk the Way of the Cross joyfully we must have trust in Jesus. There are risks and uncertainties on the journey, there are in the whole of life, but if we put ourselves in his hands, he will not let us fall and be broken. It is important for instance that we are prepared to some extent to leave our future material circumstances to Divine Providence. God does not ask us to bear burdens which are beyond us. We are called to be generous in our love for him who will not be outdone in his generosity towards us. We must tell him that we truly want to know the truth and to follow it in the concrete circumstances of our life. Talk to him! Pray! Ask the Holy Spirit for the light to see and the courage to act.

For those using artificial contraception, the obvious first step is to try sincerely to stop using it. Do not dismiss this appeal out of hand. Come and seek grace and counsel in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Actively seek out those who can advise you about Natural Family Planning and inform your conscience about the whole truth.

Of course, the great challenge, as well as the great blessing of marriage is that it involves two hearts and two minds. This is an issue that will involve sincere discussion and soul searching together, revisiting issues you may have thought long decided on. It involves change and growth, ideally together, hand in hand.

Nonetheless the step of conversion on this issue can be made even in the delicate situation where your spouse does not agree with the Church’s teaching. This would not mean that you have to abstain from the marital act. It is not your duty to convince your spouse at all costs or to judge their conscience if they cannot see the truth. If your spouse uses barrier methods of artificial contraception it does not follow that you are actively co-operating in a contraceptive act.

We used the words “try sincerely” above because in the Christian life we all fail. In which case we should go to Confession where the mercy of God is freely available – here after every Mission Mass and every Saturday at 11:00 am and 5:30 p.m.
 
4.2 Last Resorts

Finally we must talk about what you do if you do not feel able to move ahead at this stage; if you cannot bring yourself even to try to follow this teaching of Christ, but still want to follow him. The simple step of remaining in the bench at Holy Communion during Mass can actually be a courageous step forward, an act of honesty and integrity about the situation as it stands. If someone feels that they cannot make a resolution to conform their lifestyle with some basic aspect of Christian life and loving, they should place themselves before God and humbly ask to see a way forward and for the power to live it.

They would not be alone in doing this. Not everyone can receive Holy Communion at Mass. This is because the moment of Holy Communion is the central public manifestation on earth of the unity of the Church. This manifestation of unity is contradicted if someone attempts to share in it whose public belief and/or practice is not in communion with Catholicism[3], or who have knowingly done something seriously wrong without having confessed it.

This is not a punishment. Nor is it saying that you are not a Catholic or completely out of communion with the Church. Holding back from Holy Communion is a way of someone being honest before God concerning their damaged communion with the Mystical Body of Christ. The alternative is to sweep a significant disharmony under the carpet, as well as possibly causing scandal.

No one is ever excluded from being present at Mass. On the contrary all are encouraged to take part in our community celebration. But those in the above categories remain seated at the moment of communion or come up to receive a blessing[4]. The venerable tradition of making a ‘spiritual communion’ is a worthy option. This means expressing to God a hunger for communion with Christ without actually receiving Holy Communion. A good Confession and purpose of amendment opens such a person to receiving Communion. This is strongly encouraged even if someone is aware that they may well not be successful in such amendment.
 
God can work through anyone, he just needs a little bit of cooperation - just a flicker of the will for him to do great things, amazing things. Just think of the “remember me” of the good thief on the cross beside Jesus, or the “only say the word” of the pagan Roman centurion, or St Peter’s “leave me Master I am a sinful man”. These were small acts of trust in God by weak and confused people, all of which bore great fruit.

4.3 Conclusion to Part Four

Our society is more and more submerged under a morass of hedonism. The need for courageous couples, who will gradually try to move toward integral marital love is very great. The struggle to be faithful opens great channels for the grace of God. The fact that you have read this far is a sign that this is happening in your heart already to one degree or another. At least you are listening. Christ is calling to his people to act on his words: “If you love me, keep my commandments”. If you open your life to him in this way we will all gain by your witness and your holiness.

[1]   This point does not apply to a woman’s use of an Intrauterine Device or the Pill, both of which have abortive functionalities. The former aims to prevent implantation of a human embryo. All Pills can also inherently have this effect under certain biological conditions if their primary purposes of preventing conception fail.

[2]   From 1995-2003 amongst teenagers Chlamydia trebled, Gonorrhoea doubled, Syphilis up 11-fold etc. etc . More than 1,000 under-14 yr old girls had abortions last year. For thoroughly sourced information on this. cf. “Thought You Ought To Know” newsletter,
Tel 07939.242335 or email

[3]   For example, non-Catholics or couples who find themselves in second marriages when their first marriage is recognised as valid by the Church and their first partner is still alive; or Catholic politicians who publicly espouse something clearly against Catholic faith or morality.

[4]   Along with those who have not received their First Holy Communion, or are not practising   
Roman Catholics, or who have eaten something within an hour of Communion.

Faith Magazine

March - April 2006