19.06.2015 12:15 Age: 5 yrs
Category: Contraception & Abortion

Contraception and the Catholic Church: {Part 4} Hard Cases and an Invitation to Love

by Jenny Uebbing 

We’ve talked historical context, the problematic nature inherent to contraception, and how human fertility actually works. Let’s spend some time today talking about why sex is so good, and why the Church has so much to say about it.

Sex is good, but just like too much of any good thing, it’s best enjoyed outside of the all-you-can-eat Golden Corral mentality

And contraception, far from being the thing that frees us from the natural consequences, the burdens, if you will, associated with sex, well, contraception is actually the enemy of love.

Contraception kills love, it deadens the conscience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and it drives a wedge between the two people who are using it, ironically, to do the thing which should be most capable of bringing two human beings together.

And the Church is not in the business of destroying love.

She’s pro life, in the fullest sense of the phrase, and She has our best interests at heart.

Especially when Her voice seems to be speaking in total contradiction to the culture at large.

When that happens you can rest assured that the Church is actually most right, because it’s here that she most closely images Her spouse, Jesus.

His words were challenging, His teachings were impossible, but then He tied it all together by His blood on the cross, uniting the impossible standards with our lowly humanity through the divine perfection of forgiveness and redemption.

So we don’t have to say, with the bewildered disciples in Matthew chapter 19, “why then should anyone marry? How can anyone live this teaching?” Because we know, because He promised us, “For human beings it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”

Hard cases

Some couples struggle with real, serious, life-threatening conditions surrounding pregnancy. The common argument is that for these couples, the Church must, as an act of mercy, extend to them an exemption, look the other way while quietly condoning their contraceptive use.

But for these couples, perhaps more than for anyone others, if another pregnancy would truly threaten the life of the mother and would truly burden their union beyond the breaking point… the only sane, rational, and truly compassionate option is abstinence.

Does that sound hard?

It is hard. But it’s also the only 100% guarantee against pregnancy. Because, again, healthy sex often leads to babies. And sex, even with a condom or an IUD or a vasectomy, can still lead to babies.

And then what? What if the couple conceives while contracepting, and the pregnancy would truly end the mother’s life? What choice are the parents then faced with?

That’s the reason the Church speaks as she does, standing firm in the face of overwhelming pressure to extend a false mercy, a sort of watered down charity for those who cannot embrace this – by the world’s estimation – impossible teaching.

A gentle invitation to love

Sex is a rather touchy subject, for all the false bravado and media saturation that surrounds it.

Even the most avowed bachelor or most modern, liberated woman wants, in their heart of hearts, to experience the beauty and the satisfying depth of real, permanent, indissoluble love.

And while yes, contraception is the enemy of love – many, many couples are using it in a misguided attempt to find love, to practice love, and to facilitate love.

There are sincere, faithful married couples who truly believe that contraception enables and safeguards their love – they’re honestly afraid of having another child, or maybe a single child to begin with, and they feel God is calling them to contracept in order to protect themselves from that possibility.

There are women – I know, I’ve talked to plenty of them – who contracept because their husbands insist on it, because the sexual appetite within their marriage is such that they sincerely believe they might be resented, cheated on, or, worst of all, abandoned and divorced if they are not available for sex on demand, without the fear of conception.

To these women and men struggling to balance desire with prudence and generosity, we must offer a gentle, sincere invitation to reexamine the very meaning and nature of sexual love between married couples.

Not condemning or alienating, but inviting them to take a deeper look at what the Church teaches about sex, and why, and what the seemingly innocent use of contraception within their marriage means for the longevity of their union and the quality of their love.

Just because a couple believes they are contracepting out of love or responsibility doesn’t make their actions loving or responsible.

Drinking poison – even poison disguised as mineral water, will still damage the drinker.

Using contraception – even out of a place of misguided good intention – will still harm a marriage.

So we must approach the issue with love, especially when we’re broaching the topic with a friend or family member who sincerely believes their motives to be pure.

Love, and an invitation made in love to dig deeper and to examine the methods they’re employing to safeguard and nurture their love – are they honestly achieving their desired end?

Somebody may not be ready to hear this message, and that’s okay. It takes repeated exposure to truth sometimes, to let it seep in through a crack, a small opening, and start putting down roots.

I know for me, personally, there have been so many moments in my spiritual life where I’ve wrestled with God over particular aspects of the Church’s teachings.

But wrestling is good! Really, it is – it’s in the Bible. Remember Jacob?

Don’t be afraid to wrestle with this. It is challenging. It is countercultural. And it is, in many cases, contrary to perhaps everything that we’ve been taught about sex, love, and marriage.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Finally, I want to point out 4 predictions that our late holy father, Bl. Pope Paul VI (beatified last fall by Pope Francis at the start of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family – perhaps a message the media failed to get?) made in the encyclical I mentioned at the beginning of this series, Humane Vitae, which, if you haven’t read, I’m assigning to you for your homework. It’s like 6 pages long.

The Pope said this about what the widespread availability of contraception would do for society:

  1. A general lowering of moral standards, in all areas, not only in the sexual realm
  2. An increase in marital infidelity
  3. The lowering of respect for women, and the perception of women as instruments to serve the desires of men
  4. The use of contraception as a dangerous tool in the hands of corrupt governments or public authorities who will wield it as a form of population control.

If any of those scenarios sound familiar to you, perhaps it’s a good time to take a long look at what the Church has to say about contraception, and why we should all – not just Catholics – but all of us – be paying attention.

Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, very helpfully picks up and runs with several of these points in the newly released encyclical, Laudato Si. So read it with an open heart, receive the Church’s wisdom with an open mind, and don’t allow your conscience to be shaped solely by personal preference and media consumption. Even (and maybe especially) when it feels so right. There’s a reason we’re in the place we are, sexually, as a culture.

This isn’t working out.

Not for any of us, and not for society on a larger scale.

So let’s have honest conversations about why that might be, and let’s not be afraid to ask hard, painful questions about what we’ve been taught, about what has been modeled for us, and about what our parents and our pastors have perhaps failed to communicate to us.

He’s big enough to handle even our biggest fears, and He definitely doesn’t mind hearing about them.


{Read Part 1 The Historical Precedent}

{Read Part 2 What's Wrong with Contraception?}

{Read Part 3 Babies, Boding, and How Women Work}

Jenny Uebbing is the content editor for Catholic News Agency's marriage and family life channel. She blogs at Mama Needs Coffee about faith, sex, family life, contraception, and Catholicism. She lives in Denver with her husband David and their growing family. This blog is reprinted here with permission of the author.