Birth control, blessing or thief?

Birth Control

The second issue I want to speak about, after the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, is birth control. None of the issues that keep people from becoming Catholic are easy, but this may be the hardest. Pope Paul VI published his encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on July 25, 1968, which very clearly explains the Church’s view on this matters and this blog is based on that encyclical.

The problem. Today’s world can be harsh. In the third world we are flooded by pictures of starving, crying children. Most of these cases are caused by corruption in government, but no matter what the cause is, we suffer while we watch and feel helpless. Wouldn’t it be better if these innocent ones never came to exist in such a terrible reality? Wouldn’t it be better if all mothers had access to birth control, therefore preventing this tragedy? Even in our first world existence, we look at the cost per child. The web (arbiter of all truth…) puts each child’s cost to be $234,000.00, and I can tell you if you have children that have dreams of college, that figure would not touch for years in a “quality” institution. Shouldn’t we as parents, plan our children to what we can afford? Also there is the very real issue of parenting being very hard work. During the time we were raising our three, I think I became more enraged than did Stephanie when someone asked if she worked OR was a housewife. I would quickly reply that she works her tail off at home, more so than most in the work force! Parenting is hard, shouldn’t we then limit the number of children thereby keeping our wives (yes, and husbands) sane?

Society’s solution. Birth control. Let us use our God given intelligence and limit the number of children we bring to this world. Big families should be scorned, as the parents are irresponsible thinking they can care for so many children. Couples should seriously think of not having children, this is a laudable sacrifice made for societal good. The poor should possibly be forcibly sterilized preventing them from perpetuating their struggles in poverty.

The Catholic Answer. No birth control other than natural family planning. Each individual must maintain the discipline needed to remain chaste until marriage. Each married couple must know their fertility cycle and abide by the realities of natural law. Children are a blessing from God and should be seen as such.

From the outset, it would seem the the Catholic response is folly, but let me prime the conversation with scripture.

1Cortinthians 1:18   For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 1:18–19). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Lets keep this passage in mind as we talk about this issue, because we have been misled by society.

Lets put his issues in order, what are we dealing with, exactly? Why do we get married? Clearly scripture informs us there are three reasons:
1) Procreation
2) So that we might have a “helper” through life
3) Mutual love

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring, and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (CCC 1652). “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children” (CCC 2367).

So it’s easy to see, we marry to procreate first and foremost.

Pope Paul VI defines the purpose of marriage clearly in Humanae Vitae:

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 223). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

This is what we are doing, cooperating with God in producing life itself. When you put it that way it seems daunting. We may not have thought of the solemnity of the process. We have reduced it to “lets have a child”, at best, and “got knocked up” at worse! “Lets take council with God and bring a new life into existence” is a phrase few of us think about, much less speak about before we have sex. Maybe it should be though. Whether you are atheistic, Presbyterian or Catholic, this is what you are doing by participating in the “marital act”, that is entering into an intimacy that might well find it’s result as a new life. This is undeniable, as even the “best” birth control is only 99% effective. And what of natural law, sexual activity was designed by God to conceive life, this is undeniable. So what are we really doing by taking all but the 1% chance of conception away? We are thwarting God’s Natural law.

For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 224). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

So there is the hard fact, we wrestle with God when we attempt to prevent His will. Marriage is thought to be between a man and a woman; but it is so much more. Marriage is first and foremost a sacrament, it is of God. One of the hardest things I have had to do in my life is to lay down a ministry, something I wrongly for years thought of as “my” ministry. It was God’s ministry, and when God asked me to lay it down, unless I was attempting theft, I had to lay it down and walk away. Holy Orders is a sacrament, and whether it be Anglican, Baptist, or Methodist, ministry (whether it be a sacrament in the protestant realm is for later discussion) is done by God’s behest, it is not a personal earthly possession. Our marriages are the same, they are not our own, they are of God; sacramental. Again Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae states:

Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

When we take the sacrament from God, when we steal our marriage and hold it captive, it is but a shadow of what it should be. We must turn our marriages back over to God. We cannot get married without God’s permission, we cannot get divorced without God’s permission, and we cannot create life or abstain without God’s permission. God is very much in our marriages, we simply seem to ignore His presence. (As a side, lets not get free will confused here, we chose our spouse, hopefully led by God, but even if not led, we can still ask God to bless our marriage, even if it is not our soul mate (we make a willful mistake) as intended by God. We are free to chose whom we shall marry, but after the sacrament is confected, we are in covenant with God and are liable to judgement if we stray from that covenant.) So we participate in God’s plan for marriage, participating in His love. Humanae Vitae speaks of this love:

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

This is agape love, sacrificial love. Never thinking of oneself, but always of the other. This is a hard love, and few are proficient in it, but it is the goal we strive for.

So how does this translate to children? We are to practice sacrifice for our families. This is difficult I know, raising kids can be exhausting. We are called to give our all for this, as it is God’s plan. This means that we will be exhausted, we will do things that we thought impossible in taking care of and raising these gifts from God.

So we pledge our self to sacrifice, but how many??!! How many will be in your family? How many are in your family now? Sadly, those of us who were/are astray from the Church and practiced birth control may never know this answer. How much of my family am I missing because of my insistence that my plan was better than Gods? This is what we do when we “limit” with birth control. We take our own feelings and intellect and tell God that we have a better knowledge of this life and what is to come; we pridefully slap God’s hand and tell Him “no more”! God asks us to sacrifice for our family, and we reply telling our God exactly how much sacrifice we will partake in. This does not allow God to be our king, perhaps He is our mayor, or our trusted guide that we shall tip if He shows us a good trip. This reality shook me, and as I read further in Humanae Vitae I was not comforted looking back on my protestant marriage.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.”

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 225). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

Okay, I’ll admit, I had to look up “fecund”. My trusty online dictionary, even though I know everyone probably knows the definition says this: “producing or capable of producing an abundance of new growth”. Abundance of new growth. Our marriages are factories of God’s glory, producing new souls who are all capable of untold works. Glory that cannot be imagined, because only God sees what is to be!

But what about the money? The cost of raising these kids?? Twenty years ago, if you were to tell me that I would find over $300,000.00 to put my kids through college, I would have laughed at you. I did this with my highest salary being $85,000.00 a year. Does not make sense does it??!! God does not care about math, He simply grants us what we need.

In Humanae Vitae, the Church gives us a new look at marriage. If we are honest, it is a look that requires our humble submission. A submission that knows that God knows best. He gave us our lives, and we are to hand those lives right back to Him. This is faith.

But still there are a thousand questions, all but one are answered in “submit”. The one that is not answered though is “what of the health of the mother?”

On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result therefrom—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

Carlen, C. (Ed.). (1990). The Papal Encyclicals: 1958–1981 (p. 227). Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press.

If the health of the mother requires a procedure that accidentally, or by it’s nature might cause infertility, then the Church allows for that. If there are concerns that have no medical solution other than sterilization, the Church allows for natural family planning. This does take discipline but is an effective method of limiting births all the while keeping the creation of life in God’s hands.

Marriage is an adventure, and yes, sometimes plain hard work. But place your lives and your marriage in God’s hands and watch the miracles happen.

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