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.

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