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