Catholic Marriage and Family in Conflict
In light of the mixed messages from society and even from the modern church.
Love and Marriage
The question of marriage in a Catholic context is focused on the joining together of one man and one woman, in mutual love, respect, and submission. A high priority is placed in the Church on the intent of God for the married partners to be participants in the creation (procreation) process. In a Catholic sacramental marriage, the church teaches that a couple mystically encounters God, and is bound together for life in an indelible, covenantal relationship. In this blessed relationship, we find analogies to the relationship between Christ and his Church as well as our calling to love God and neighbor. In marriage, we should experience the ultimate in self-sacrifice, selfless care, and compassion.
Procreation, like every other question which touches human life, involves more than the limited aspects specific to such disciplines as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. It is the whole person and the whole mission to which we are called that must be considered: both its natural, earthly aspects and its supernatural, eternal aspects. In this understanding, the modern concepts of sexual freedom and same-sex marriage are antithetical to the Christian understanding of sacramental marriage.
Marriage is Not Focused Solely on Sex
Our modern society, thanks to folk like the recently deceased Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy Magazine, reduce human sexuality down to being little more than simple lust and gratification of the human appetite. In this attitude, the physical act of coupling is primarily fulfilling selfish desires. Marital love, self-sacrifice and the prospect of progeny are antithetical to many in the new-age, sexual revolution.
In the 1968 landmark encyclical letter, HUMANAE VITAE presented by pope PAUL VI we see a compassionate and open view to the realities of life, and the realities of our modern world. The letter tempers the nature of our modern-day life with how the Church views God's plan for marriage and the formation of healthy families.
It is against this understanding that the modernists attempt to justify artificial methods of birth control. This modern mindset is even encroaching on the minds of young, Catholic faithful. However, as Christian men and women, we must put aside our youthful lusts and worldly desires, always being mindful of God’s revealed truth and master plan for marriage and family — mutual love, and responsible parenthood. These are the two important realities of married life and must be accurately defined and analyzed.
Counting the Costs
One of my often repeated topics is the need for Christians to experience a “Radical Transformation” — being counter-cultural, thinking and acting differently than mainstream society. Very few areas in life are the costs higher that of our human sexuality.
Many complain (even some in magisterial roles) that the church spends too much time on "below the belt issues." My response is that considering the costs, "we don't spend near enough time on this subject." Sexual promiscuity and lack of chastity cause immeasurable amounts of pain and suffering in our world. When the divorce rate and instances of abortion among Christians are as high as that of the secular world, you must admit that we have a problem. To the extent that much of that problem is related to insufficient catechesis from the church hierarchy down to the local parish, we need to recognize our shortcomings and prayerfully move towards a more effective polemic, or teaching. On the personal level, each Catholic Christian is responsible for their own action and faith formation. You must, as an individual, internalize God's teachings on chastity, self-control, marriage and the family, making them an integral part of your being.
Most everything in life has a cost, emotional, psychological, physical, monetary or spiritual. The arena of human sexuality is no different. The era of the sexual revolution exasperates the costs of sexual promiscuity to levels of unimaginable proportions in our great-grandparents day. There have always been broken hearts and families. Sexually transmitted diseases are not new either, they may, however, be more deadly. Abortions have been around since early in recorded history. Neither is same-sex attraction a modern novelty. As we read in the book of Ecclesiastes, “vanity of vanities, there is nothing new under the sun.” The big difference is that the costs are higher.
Lies of modernity are creating a culture of death. Millions of pre-born children are being aborted via legalized murder. This is not due to health reasons as commonly reported, but primarily as a means of birth control. In this manner, selfish, sexually irresponsible people disregard the costs of their actions, choosing to end a life rather than be responsible. Taking this to the next level is the fact that many modern means of contraception are actually abortive. This means that instead of chemically preventing conception, a newly created life is unceremoniously aborted. The costs of modern sexual liberty are reaching astronomical heights.
Christians are called to deny our selfish desires, the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life, pick up their crosses and follow Jesus. Have you counted the cost? A certain rich young man was told to sell everything to follow Jesus. For him, the cost was too high. He was not willing to give up his wealth. What cost are you unwilling to pay? For many in this day and age, the cost of denying their sexual lusts is just too much. In fact, there are countless organizations around dedicated to the demand that the Church change its position on sexual morality.
In the Christian marriage, the cost is abandoning our personal ego! We are to put “the other’s” needs first and foremost above our own. This understanding is not just limited to requiring us to be "nice" to one another. But rather, we are to take this as an ethos of love, to become the foundation and cornerstone of a strong, life-long relationship, partnering together in mutual giving, life-giving, and chastity.
In the Roman Catholic Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, we read about the very real concerns of balancing both the spiritual and economic costs of raising a family. In reflecting on this subject, I am reminded of a very old joke: “What do you call a couple practicing the ‘Rythm Method?’ Parents.” The simple truth is that natural family planning is not an effective means of limiting family size. This is exasperated even more when you consider the fact that most prescription birth control drugs actually induce abortions by making it impossible for the newly conceived life to attach itself to the uterus and continue normal development.
Along with Pope Paul VI, we agree that each married couple must be mindful of God’s plan for marriage and family. We don’t believe that abortive (abortifacient) contraception is appropriate casual, unmarried sexual conduct, as this sort of activity is not appropriate in a Christian context. Christians must always put God in the number one position in their lives. This is especially for those within a sacramental marriage. A Christian couple must always be open to life, not in opposition. The reality is that one must be conscientiously cognizant of their situation, and maintain a Christ-centered focus. If you’re making your decision to avoid creating a family because it will limit the number of toys you can stack up in your garage, you need to rethink your priorities.
The Catholic Church in America is supportive of our families. We seek to help young families develop strong, faith-based lives. While we do not agree in entirety with Humanae Vitae, we do value natural family planning where couples are adequately informed and understand the natural rhythms of life, however, we allow for other means of contraception, as long as they are not abortifacient.
Remember my brothers and sisters, become something different — be the Radical Transformation!