More Blessing than Burden

In my previous blog, I commented on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to accept homosexual sodomy as marriage. I pointed out that this follows logically and sociologically from the wide cultural and legal acceptance of heterosexual sodomy as marriage, understanding that all unnatural forms of birth control are essentially forms of sodomy. I noted that the big question of the day is this: What can leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States of America do about this? I think certain things are obvious.

First, Catholic bishops and priests need to revisit Humanae Vitae. They need to see that this encyclical is far more of a blessing than a burden. They need to preach and teach what Jesus taught—that his burden is light and that his yoke is sweet.

Perhaps they would also do well to revisit the arguments. I have tried to help by providing an analysis of the Birth Control Commission majority and minority reports in Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality. It is clear that the arguments for contraception cannot say a logical NO to any mutually acceptable sexual behaviors. Revisionist theologian Michael Valente made it strikingly clear that the rejection of Humanae Vitae logically entailed the rejection of the entire natural law theory on which he said it was based. He used the example of bestiality to make his point. Yes, according to the principles of dissent, he and his fellow revisionists could not say a firm NO even to bestiality. In an article in the liberal Theological Studies, I showed that the decision-making principles of arch-dissenter Fr. Charles Curran cannot say NO even to spouse swapping.

Second, Catholic bishops and priests need to get over their fear of requiring something that is for the good of the persons involved. The Bishops’ Committee on Pastoral Research and Practice had it right in 1989 when it urged that every engaged couple should be required to attend a full course on natural family planning. Current experience shows that almost no engaged couples take a course in natural family planning unless they are required to do so. Ironically, they have had to take required courses all their lives, but as they approach one of the most important things they will ever do, they are not required to take the one course that addresses the one issue that is the biggest issue in the Church today. Couples will take an NFP course if required. As Church required, such a course ought to be teaching much more than just fertility awareness. Well informed priests can do much to help couples understand that the teachings of the Church about love, marriage and sexuality are far more of a blessing than a burden.

Third, the contents of a required NFP course need to be adequate for the task at hand, and that means that it will be a holistic approach that is more than just teaching fertility awareness.

  • The course must be a New Evangelization effort. Young people need to learn that Jesus truly is the Author of all the teachings of the Church including those dealing with love, marriage, and sexuality. The blessings of increased discipleship far outweigh any effort put into helping the couples understand some of these basic facts of Christianity.
  • The course must include specific teaching against immoral sexual behaviors. Silence or ambiguous statements to avoid genital contact during the fertile time are easily interpreted in an exclusively pregnancy-avoiding way. Couples have told us how their interpretations of that terminology led them to adopt immoral practices. As a result some or many poorly instructed “NFP couples” practice periodic contraception instead of periodic chaste abstinence. Catholic moral teaching also includes the call to generosity in having children. Systematic NFP is not “Catholic birth control.”
  • The course must teach the abstinence-free form of natural spacing with breastfeeding. That means teaching the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding. To the extent that couples adopt this form of natural baby spacing, both babies and mothers will be healthier. The blessings are far greater than the “burden” of frequent nursing.
  • The course must teach a supporting theology that is easy to understand. We have found that the renewal-of-the-marriage-covenant theology is easily grasped and almost immediately makes good sense to people of open hearts and goodwill. St. John Paul II used this concept in his Letter to Families, but it is still unknown by many. Regarding hearts, a priest can do much to help open hearts if he takes the time to help couples appreciate the love that Jesus has for us and our need to show our gratitude by following his commandments of love. Again, the blessings of this understanding of the meaning of Christian love and marriage far outweigh the very slight burden of teaching.
  • The course ought to teach all the common signs of fertility and infertility. Comparative studies have shown that systems that use crosschecking signs have a higher user-effectiveness than those that focus just on cervical mucus. Couples have a God-given right to know about the cross-checking signs. That gives them the freedom to make an informed choice about which fertility sign or combination of signs they will use. I do not care what system they actually use, but I think it is imperative that they should have the knowledge-based freedom to choose for themselves. The blessing of having this legitimate freedom of choice far outweighs the slightly greater effort to teach more than one sign.
  • The course ought to be available via a Home Study taken at the couples’ own convenience and speed. The Home Study Course offered by NFP International is being used very successfully by couples all over the States.
  • The course ought to be affordable. The NFPI Home Study Course and its classroom course are both available for a requested donation of only $70.00. Very low cost and yet the most complete.

Bishops and priests who make use of the resources offered by NFP International will be gratified by the results. Priests and bishops alike would benefit by taking the course themselves. They would learn the scientific bases for Ecological Breastfeeding and a cross-checking system, and, best of all, they would also see how all of the above elements are easily integrated into a teaching program. They will see that the NFPI effort is a working example of lay evangelization and accompanying practical help. They will receive expressions of gratitude for having been required to take the course as preparation for Christian marriage.

John F. Kippley, July 2, 2015 for posting on July 8.

 

Rebuilding the Church

This series of blogs started because a picture of a former Catholic Church in the Netherlands now turned into a skate park continues to haunt me. It is a reflection of the neglect of the Church, specifically in Europe but also throughout the West, to proclaim the teaching of Humanae Vitae with confidence and conviction.

The intellectual debate about Humanae Vitae was completed very quickly. It was clear very soon that the rejection of the teaching of Humanae Vitae entailed the rejection of the natural moral law. Dissenters still calling themselves Catholic spelled out the logic of birth control, including even the acceptance of bestiality. Other dissenters spelled out their new principles for moral decision making. I pointed out in a liberal theological journal that Fr. Charles Curran’s principles cannot say no even to spouse-swapping. At least by the end of the 1970s, it was clear that the logic of birth control cannot say no to any imaginable sexual behavior between consenting persons of legal age. That is moral absurdity, and that should have been the end of the so-called “debate” about the merits of Humanae Vitae and Catholic teaching against all unnatural forms of birth control.

Instead, a majority of Catholics as well as other Christians became part of the contraceptive-based Sexual Revolution. Through contraception, sterilization and abortion, the Western once-Christian world stopped having enough babies to replace themselves. The Church and the world are in crisis and in need of a solution.

The solution is both simple and stupendous.

Simple: The Church needs to preach and teach God’s truths about love, marriage, sexuality, and the call to be generous in having children and raising them in the ways of the Lord. The Church has these truths, and everyone in the world needs them. The leaders of the Church need to preach and teach these saving doctrines with the confidence that they really are true and the conviction that they come from God and are for the benefit of every man, woman and child. Then they will also experience the joy that comes from seeing more Catholic couples internalize and live these truths.

Stupendous: The Church needs to inspire its members to say no to themselves and yes to serving God and others. The symbol of Christianity is the Cross. The teaching of Jesus about love, marriage and sexuality involves carrying the daily cross. Somehow, pastors of souls need to reawaken in themselves and their laity a true and personal love for the Lord Jesus. As his disciples, we will understand that the sacrifice of chaste living is just a normal part of walking with the Lord Jesus. Every day young men and women sign up to give their lives, if necessary, for the life of their country. What we need is that every day all men and women sign up again and again to live their lives on the narrow path of Christian discipleship, an adventure that we know involves the daily cross of saying no to ourselves and then the joy of saying yes to the Lord Jesus.

Next Sunday, May 10th, is Mother’s Day.  John F. Kippley, May 2, 2015

Visible consequences of rejecting Humanae Vitae

In my comment on January 4, 2015 I wrote about abandoned Catholic churches in the Netherlands and Germany now being used as athletic facilities, a mute testimony to the Dutch and German bishops’ general failure to support Humanae Vitae. We have some beautiful churches in Western Cincinnati where I live. Ever since reading the WSJ article the first weekend of January, I have occasionally thought about the fate of the Churches and schools in this part of town. We live within 2 miles of three churches. Extend that to a three mile radius and there are seven more churches.   A five mile radius would include at least another five. You get the picture.

When we started teaching NFP here in 1972, we taught four courses simultaneously in different parts of the city and suburbs. A brief bulletin announcement would bring 15 to 20 or more couples. Most of them wanted spacing, not great limitation. They had formed their consciences prior to the post-Humanae Vitae explosion of dissent. But by 1981, things were different. We were then 13 years after Humanae Vitae, and people with 12 to 16 years of Catholic education had never heard a good word about the encyclical. As far as we can tell, although there are a number of HV-accepting pastors in our part of town, only two of them require their engaged couples to take an NFP course as part of preparation for marriage. All the parish statistics except funerals are down. There’s talk about parish consolidation. You get the picture.

The acceptance of contraception by most of the Catholic laity in the West is having visible effects. It’s not primarily a matter of money—we just recently read of a Catholic school in an affluent Cincinnati suburb being shuttered. Catholics can indeed speculate how their beautiful churches will be used a hundred years from now—as Catholic churches, or as mosques, museums or athletic facilities.

It is not too late to reverse the process, but more than bare bones survival requires more than what’s happening now. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has embarked on a campaign to raise 130 million dollars for an endowment fund, and it will probably succeed.  Half of it will help with student tuition assistance. The rest goes for other worthy projects. More money can be helpful, but it is certainly not the key problem. The Church in Germany has lots of money, but it’s falling apart because of the lack of believers who have sufficient faith and trust to have children.

What the Church needs more than money is a systematic effort to make every diocese and every parish a Humanae Vitae diocese and parish. That will prepare the ground for a very practical solution to a great need—more families who are generous in having children. More on that on Mother’s Day.

Next week: The dissenters are running scared.

John F. Kippley, April 18, 2015