Birth Control and Christian Discipleship

Sooner or later the Synod Fathers have to address the issues raised by Humanae Vitae, the encyclical of Blessed Pope Paul VI issued on July 25, 1968. Its condemnation of marital contraception is not the only issue it raised, but it is the chief issue in terms of the widespread dissent. So, like it or not, Pope Francis and the bishops of the world have to address it. They can do this effectively only if they truly believe that the 2,000-year teaching against marital contraception is the divine truth about human love. Since they are Christians and are teaching other Christians, they need to put the whole issue in terms of Christian discipleship.

So what did Jesus teach us about love, marriage and sexuality in terms of being his followers?

The first thing to be noted is that Jesus began his public ministry by meeting people where they were, to use the popular phraseology. He did not engage in any long philosophical discourses about the nature of love or the various kinds of love. Meeting them and us as we are, the first thing Jesus did was to imply that he recognized that we are sinners. His first words of public ministry are “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14). To repent doesn’t just mean to say a careless “I’m sorry” and carry on as before. It means to have a change of heart and a change in behavior. We don’t have to read very far in the gospel of Matthew before we have three long chapters called the Sermon on the Mount. They are challenging, to put it mildly. The beatitudes and the permanence of marriage in Chapter 5 (and again in Ch 19).   Don’t sweat the little things such as food and drink. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6.33). The narrow gate in Chapter 7. And more in Luke: If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself and “take up your cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” And to encourage his followers not be embarrassed to talk about the cross, he adds, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Lk 9.23-26).

Our Christian leaders need to reaffirm over and over again that the essence of being a Christian is to believe with Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6.68-69). Second, we need to understand in our inmost being that there is nothing in the teaching of Jesus that allows us to believe that authentic love is easy. The blessings of Christian discipleship—peace, patience, the satisfaction of loving and being loved, and much more—are also very much part of Christian discipleship, to be sure, but they are the rewards of walking the narrow way with Jesus, not following the wide and easy path.

This is all so basic that it is almost embarrassing to put it into print, but there has been misleading talk in the last few decades about being “resurrection Christians” who do not need to carry the daily cross because Jesus did it all for us.

Pope Francis, bishops, and priests and deacons: Just give us the straight and difficult truths about love, marriage and sexuality. Teach them from the pulpit. Teach them in the grade and high school years. Teach purity as well as service projects in preparation for Confirmation. Teach and preach Humanae Vitae. It is eminently believable and practical in the light of Christian discipleship. The fruit of 20 years of such teaching and preaching will be a revitalized Church giving glory to God.

John F. Kippley, November 22, 2014

Birth Control and Christian Discipleship is also the title of a booklet I wrote in 1985. It is nothing like the above commentary and it’s still available through the NFP website, www.nfpandmore.org. It’s historical in nature and has a number of quotes from Protestant sources showing that the teaching against marital contraception was once widely held by non-Catholic Christians.

THANKSGIVING SALE: Through November 28.  50% off the following print books: Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach (both perfect bound and coil versions), The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, and Battle-Scarred (John’s memoirs).  The Seven Standards and BF&NCS together make an excellent gift for an expectant mother.  Go to lulu.com for the discounts.

The Synod and the New Evangelization

I think it is certain that the Synod on the Family will address preparation for marriage and will probably do this in the context of Humanae Vitae. What is not at all certain is how they will do this. Considering what came out of the first Synod meeting of October 5-19, it would not be surprising if there will be at least some effort to portray the teaching of Humanae Vitae as requiring heroic virtue of everyone. Along with that there could be considerable emphasis on the dissenting priests and the numbers of couples ignoring the encyclical and practicing various contraceptive behaviors including the use of drugs and devices with abortifacient potential. Such an approach will not be helpful to the teaching Church or to the laity.

In my opinion, the teaching of Humanae Vitae needs to be placed in the context of Christian discipleship and the New Evangelization, and that term needs to be clarified. As I recall, when Pope John Paul II began talking about the New Evangelization, he was emphasizing that what was “new” was that it would be directed to those already wearing the Catholic label and that it would seek to show us Catholics that Jesus himself is the author of the teachings of the Church including its difficult moral teachings.

The New Evangelization addresses a very basic and important question. “Why should I believe what the Catholic Church teaches about love, marriage and sexuality—or, for that matter, about anything?”  Doesn’t every Catholic have to deal with that question? Doesn’t every separated Christian have to deal with that question regarding his own denomination? Can’t the Synod Fathers make an appeal to the gospels, an appeal so basic that it will make sense to all Christians who really believe that Jesus can and does keep his promises? Allow me to offer a brief practical example of how this can be done by simply quoting from page 12 of Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach.  What follows occurs in Chapter 1, Section 5 titled, “Why NFP only? The moral and religious reasons.”

“Why should I believe what the Catholic Church teaches?

“The fundamental reason for believing what the Catholic Church teaches is that Christ Himself founded the Catholic Church to keep alive his way, his life and his truth. “God developed the Church of the Old Covenant upon Abraham, and through it for 2000 years prepared the way for Christ the God-man. Christ established the Church of the New Covenant upon Peter and promised at the Last Supper that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church for all ages.  Jesus keeps his promises.

“A familiar example of common Christian faith in the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the Nicene Creed professed at Sunday Mass in Catholic Churches and also professed by the Eastern Orthodox Churches and many Protestant communions. This profession of faith did not just happen to drop out of heaven. In the early fourth century of the Christian era there were controversies about the very being of Christ and his relationship with God the Father. The bishops at the Council of Nicea made the profession of faith now called the Nicene Creed, and all who accept it as true do so because they believe that the Holy Spirit guided those bishops as Christ had promised.

“There are many excellent books about the Catholic faith. An easy and very readable one is Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn, converts to the Catholic Church. While still Protestants and studying in a Protestant seminary, they accepted Catholic teaching on birth control.”

* * *

That’s a very basic and simple way of explaining the basis for Catholic faith. Any priest in the world can sit down with his engaged couples and review this and explain things more fully. But the bottom line is that we either believe that Jesus can and does keep his promises to send the Holy Spirit, or we don’t. And if we believe that the Holy Spirit enabled the bishops at Nicea to get it right about something so difficult as the very nature of Christ, then it is no great leap of faith to believe that the Holy Spirit has guided the Church during its 2000 year history of condemning contraception and reaffirming such teaching in Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, and Familiaris Consortio when the doctrine was being attacked within the Church as well as from the outside.

John F. Kippley, November 15, 2014 also at www.nfpandmore.org where you can find related material including blogs.

Next week: Love, marriage and sexuality in the context of Christian discipleship.

THANKSGIVING SALE: Through November 28.  50% off the following print books: Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach (both perfect bound and coil versions), The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, and Battle-Scarred (John’s memoirs).  The Seven Standards and BF&NCS together make an excellent gift for an expectant mother.  Go to lulu.com for the discounts.

The Synod and Cardinal Suenens

My previous comment on the Synod noted the huge importance of attitude in receiving or refusing authentic Christian teaching regarding love, marriage and sexuality. It closed with a reference to Léon Joseph Cardinal Suenens who wrote a small but important book on these matters in 1959, Love and Control, published in 1960 and revised for a 1962 printing. My quotes are from the English translation of the 1962 edition; the bold-face emphasis is mine.

Relevant to the controversies mentioned at the Synod, Cardinal Suenens had this to say:

“No one denies that a man’s first obligation is to his conscience. But that is just the point: if a man follows his conscience and remains in the Church, then he should also follow his conscience and accept the Church’s teaching. There is no place for conscientious objectors in the Church who accept only part or reject part of what she teaches. Heresy means a withdrawal. Taking or leaving doctrines as one chooses is a basic denial of the essential meaning of the Church and her divine foundation. As Father Congar has said, the faithful must be free within the Church, but not with regard to the Church” (29).

The Cardinal, who was Archbishop of Malines-Brussels when he wrote this book, waded head-on into sex education. “At all costs, we [the Church] must take the lead in apostolic activity and sex education, otherwise all her work will come to nothing” (32). “Men have to be taught control over their sexual instincts. This is the only really humane and Christian answer to the problem of love” (34).

“For today’s Christian, the word “love” is a defeat whose losses must be recouped. The fact is that no other word has been so weakened and muddled by modern literature and the jargon used by television, radio, films and advertising. . . ‘Love’ is put forth as the one excuse which makes any sort of behavior blameless, and which is its own justification. . . Our job is to restore to real love its pristine and sacred meaning” (36-38).

The question of teaching morality in courses on natural family planning has been raised several times over the years. Cardinal Suenens addresses this: “The sins of omission and laziness of those who, for whatever reason, have the job of giving sex instruction will weigh heavier on the last day than the sins of the men and women who were never sufficiently instructed to meet their obligations” (53).

On the need for sexual self-control: “Everyone has to have sexual control and no one can begin to develop it too soon. For a married couple, however, it is doubly essential and it has a special marital aspect which needs considering” (66).

Should NFP programs say anything about family size? The Cardinal quotes from the Family Code, an authoritative document of the Union of Malines which says among other things, “If, however, some indication must be made of the social minimum of procreativity, it could be said that an average of less than three children per home would mean the death of society by suffocation” (93).   Perhaps marriage instructions should teach, “Three to survive; five to thrive.”

On the need to provide practical help: “We have no right to demand that men obey this law [the Church’s teaching against contraception] without, at the same time, doing everything we can to make obedience possible, without straining all our energies to make the way clear” (150).

“Anything which can ease the burden of enforced continence by making it last for a shorter time is an inestimable help in keeping souls in the state of grace” (152). Then the Cardinal goes on to praise the work of Ogino, Knaus and Smulders in the Thirties and the more recent work of Drs. Holt (1959) and Doering (1957) using temperature-based systems.

Next week: Humanae Vitae, preparation for marriage, and NFP instruction.

John F. Kippley, November 10, 2014; also at http://www.nfpandmore.org.

Synod Aftermath: The Importance of Attitude

In 1960 Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens, the Archbishop of Malines-Brussels authored a small but insightful book titled Love and Control, (Un problème crucial: Amour et Maîtrise de Soi.) In the 1962 second edition he writes: “At all costs, she [the Church] must take the lead in apostolic activity and sex education, otherwise all her work will come to nothing” (32). How prescient. The huge question today is, how to do this? While there may be different ideas on how to approach the issues of love, marriage and sexuality, there is probably universal agreement on the role of attitude on the part of the recipient.

The matter of attitude is absolutely crucial. Many Catholics are aware of the conversion of Scott and Kimberly Hahn. By way of summary, they were married students in a Protestant seminary. Scott prided himself as being the most anti-Catholic person at the seminary because he believed that much Catholic teaching was seriously wrong. Kimberly took up the question of birth control in a seminar, and another married student providentially gave her a copy of my book  Birth Control and the Marriage Covenant. She shared it with Scott and when he got to the key section on the covenant, he threw the book across the room—so he once told me. Fortunately, he picked it up, and he has written that it helped to persuade him and Kimberly to accept Catholic teaching on birth control while they were Protestants. As they began to live the truth about marital love, gradually they came to appreciate the whole truth of the Catholic Church. I believe that behind all of this was an attitude of searching for and following God’s truth no matter where the search led, an attitude that derived from a prayer given them by Kimberly’s father, a Presbyterian minister.

To give another example, an atheist wife and her agnostic husband became Catholics after adequate exposure to simple Catholic covenant theology. She had complained to a Catholic friend about her unhappy experiences with the Pill, and the friend gave her the 1996 book on natural family planning that Sheila and I wrote. After teaching themselves how to practice the Sympto-thermal Method, the spouses who described themselves as a truth-seeking atheist and agnostic couple didn’t stop just when they learned a healthy method of birth control; the wife kept reading the theological sections of the book. Key factor: an attitude of seeking for the truth.

It works the other way, too. In my life-before-Sheila, I lived in a guest house in San Francisco, and it was pretty obvious that one of the young men was trying to seduce a young woman who was not exactly the smartest girl in the house. He accepted my invitation to attend a Paulist inquiry forum which was truly great. But he refused to come with me to the second talk because, as he put it, “If I were to accept that as true, then I would have to change my lifestyle which I do not intend to do.”  He was a non-practicing Catholic. The truth can be scary for those who are committed to sinful ways.

Next week: More from Cardinal Suenens about sex education.

John Kippley, also at www.nfpandmore.org

 

 

 

 

Synod: What Needs to be Done

Since the Synod ended on October 19th with the beatification of Pope Paul VI, there has been ample commentary, mostly critical. The Kasper-ites have been disappointed that their hopes and plans met so much opposition. The Burke-ites, if I may use that term, are disappointed that the interim statement was published even though it did not get the required votes for real adoption and even though some paragraphs were very seriously criticized. In the Catholic press and blogosphere there is no shortage of criticism of Pope Francis because of his apparent favor for ambiguous statements that are open to the interpretation that traditional Catholic teaching about love, marriage and sexuality is being watered down.

If there are some truly constructive efforts to point out what needs to be done to bring Catholics and other Christians to accept, once again, the biblical Catholic teaching on love, marriage and sexuality, I have not seen them, but I have truly not had the time to search for them. So here’s how it seems to me.

Our leaders need to start with the basics. Who is going to believe any of the biblical Catholic teaching on sexual morality unless he or she first believes in God and that God has a plan for love, marriage and sexuality? And in this day when there are so many different voices claiming to speak for God, how do we know which voice speaks the truth? And how can we claim to know this except through faith in the Lord Jesus risen from the dead? And how many Catholics and other Christians realize in their inner being the utter importance of St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 that if Christ is not risen from the dead, our faith is in vain? Now, if the Lord is truly risen, as he is, then the events that led up to his resurrection are extremely important, namely, his Last Supper words and actions as well as his passion and death.

Somehow or other, our Pope and bishops and priests have to kindle in all Christians a renewed love for the Lord Jesus, a renewed appreciation for his passion for the truth including the truth about love, and a renewed appreciation for the privilege of carrying the particular cross called the demands of love. At the Last Supper, Jesus not only gave us the Great Commandment of love but also talked about truth and promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles and their successors into the fullness of the truth. On trial before Pilate, he testified that he had come to bear witness to the truth and that everyone who is of the truth will hear his voice.

In short, our leaders need to lead us to redevelop the basic Christian attitude of gratitude for Jesus—both for what he has done for us and for what he calls us to do.

There is certainly more they need to do, so I will continue next week. (The idea is that if I keep the blogs short, people might read them.)

Next week: the importance of attitude and how it can change a person’s world.

John F. Kippley, October 25, 2014

 

Synod Document of October 13 2014

My fear about the Synod was that it would “get it wrong,” that is, issue a statement that would have some statements that would be open to all sorts of speculation and misinterpretation. That fear was realized with paragraph 50 of its interim report issued on Monday, October 13.

  1. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing […] them […] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

As was apparent to many of the bishops and viewers around the world, that was a very questionable statement, and it was readily questioned. Providentially, the first reading at Mass on October 15 was a passage from Chapter 5 of St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians including verses 19-21. “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The first three words are different ways of saying “sexual immorality.”

Now, it is obvious that all of those who are guilty of any of these sins also “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.”   So the net effect of paragraph 50 is that it raises the question as to why the document called special attention to homosexuals as contrasted with other sinners

The vast majority of the bishops at the Synod did not take kindly to this sort of verbiage. For one thing, it appears that the wording was not approved by the entire Synod; most of it was written by one cardinal. So, as one account put it, they revolted, and they issued a number of modifying statements from the various language groups.

The bottom line is that the vast majority of the bishops do in truth believe what the Catholic Church has been teaching about love, marriage, and sexuality for some 2000 years.

To get it right, the bishops needed to come up with some practical ways to evangelize their fellow Catholics as well as make a case to other Christians, theists and even non-believers that the best thing the Catholic Church can do for humanity is to remain true to itself as the Body of Christ. They didn’t get it right this time, but they still have another year to get their act together.

Their revolt against the document of October 13 gives me hope. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us and for our bishops.

John F. Kippley, October 17, 2014

See also the blogs at www.nfpandmore.org

 

 

What the Synod and the U. S. Supreme Court Have in Common

A Catholic Synod of bishops and others convened on Sunday, October 5, to discuss matters of great importance to the family. On October 7, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to decide anything about lower court decisions that favored the acceptance of same-sex “marriage” as an arrangement that can be called marriage and entitled to the economic and legal benefits of legal marriage.

What these two events have in common is the subject of sodomy, both heterosexual and homosexual. In his commentary on the Sin of Onan in Genesis 38:6-10, Martin Luther called Onan’s contraceptive behavior (withdrawal and ejaculation outside the woman) a form of sodomy, and on this matter he was uncharacteristically correct. The whole purpose of any and every form of contraceptive behavior is to render the act as sterile as an act of homosexual sodomy.

This is the real issue at stake in the Synod of the Family. It was the real issue at stake in the birth-control debate leading up to Humanae Vitae and thereafter. About two years prior to the encyclical, Pope Paul VI received conflicting reports from his birth control commission. The report from the majority was in favor of the Church accepting marital contraception; the minority argued in favor of upholding the teaching of some 1900 years, a doctrine that had been strongly reaffirmed by Pope Pius XI on the last day of 1930 in his encyclical, Casti Connubii (concerning chaste marriage).

They also argued that there is a logic in the acceptance of unnatural forms of birth control, and that the effects of that logic will be spelled out both in theory and in practice. Specifically, they pointed out that the acceptance of marital contraception would logically entail the acceptance of sodomy. The majority spokesmen replied that they did not accept sodomy and called it beneath the dignity of human persons. That, however, was their personal conviction. They did not and could not provide a logical way of accepting sodomy for married heterosexuals and not accepting it for homosexuals. The truth of the minority  argument was illustrated immediately by a self-styled “revisionist” who argued that his fellow revisionists, in rejecting Humanae Vitae, had also rejected the entire theory of natural law and thus had no way of saying “no” to any imaginable sexual activity that was acceptable to consenting adults, including bestiality.

If we understand that most marriages in the West today are marriages of marital contraception and therefore of heterosexual sodomy, then it is not unreasonable to expect that when the Supreme Court finally has to render a decision about the constitutionality of homosexual “marriage,” it will find some excuse to decide that state laws against such arrangements are unconstitutional. After all, if the Supreme Court can find all state laws against the killing of unborn babies on the basis of a shadow of a shadow (the penumbra of one of the Amendments), it can surely find some way to legalize sodomy as marriage even though it applies to, perhaps, only one percent of the American population. Justices read the papers and see the widespread acceptance.

The effect of this will be to sharpen the need for all Christians who accept the Bible as a source of religious morality to do a better job of teaching about sexuality, marriage and birth control. The State has already decreed via no-fault divorce laws that there is no such thing as permanent marriage—whoever wants out wins. The State is increasingly promoting pre-marital sex via its promotion of contraceptives and anti-STD vaccines. The Catholic Church has its work cut out for it in this immoral environment, and the other Christian communities will need to ally themselves with Catholic teaching or lose all relevance except as propagandists for the liberal agenda.

According to popular media, the big issue at the Synod is whether to ignore biblically-based Catholic teaching against divorce and remarriage and to admit to Holy Communion such civilly remarried couples. The underlying question, I submit, is why there are so many divorced couples in the first place. One reason is that most of them have practiced some form of marital contraception. When couples do not cooperate with the graces of the sacrament of marriage, bad things happen.

Every theist has to admit that God himself put together in one act what we commonly call “making love” and “making babies.” Every form of marital contraception says in bodily language, “We can take apart what God himself put together in the marriage act.” If people really think they can do that, it is only a small jump to thinking that they can also take apart what God himself has put together in the marriage itself.

Thus, what that Synod really has to deal with is the widespread current acceptance of marital heterosexual sodomy, whether it is in the physical form of anatomical sodomy or in less obvious forms such as mutual masturbation, barrier methods, withdrawal, and other birth control agents whether physical or hormonal.

The de facto acceptance of marital sodomy under the title of marital heterosexual contraception has left its practitioners and their supporting clergy logically open to calling homosexual sodomy “marriage.” That’s why I think it is fair to say that the Synod and the Supreme Court are both dealing with the same issue.  If I am correct, and if it is true that sodomy is one of the sins that cry to heaven for vengeance, the Synod better get it right.

Next week: How the Synod could help

John Kippley, October 8, 2014,

See also Sheila’s blog at http://nfpandmore.org/wordpress/ — another factor in the acceptance of marital contraception.