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.
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