They’re running scared

Articles that have appeared in the media controlled by Catholic dissenters seem to indicate that they are running scared. Humanae Vitae and natural family planning are not their favorite subjects except for criticism. They generally consider these subjects as settled in the negative and not worth discussing. Airplane comments by Pope Francis perhaps have made them almost giddy. After all, if the Pope can be soft on sodomy, what can he have against the use of unnatural methods of birth control that seek to make the marriage act just as sterile as sodomy? Of course, those who actually read what the Pope said and consider the circumstances in which he said it realize that he was not talking about sodomy in general but only whether that sin disqualified a particular priest for a Vatican banking job. On that one, he reserved judgment.

More recently Pope Francis not only presided at the beatification ceremony of Pope Paul VI but also praised his work including Humanae Vitae. The proponents of the Catholic Tradition regarding love, marriage and sexuality have been getting more press, even good press. If I were a dissenter and had been expecting the Pope and the Synod to say some things that further undermine traditional Catholic teaching on birth control and the indissolubility of marriage, I would be very concerned. So they’re writing.

One new trend is to treat systematic natural family planning as an ideal but not as the norm. That’s joined with the use of difficult cases to make the actual teaching of the Church look impossible to follow. For example, a long-absent soldier returns home during the fertile time, and they don’t want to get pregnant. The dissenters’ solution is simple—just contracept. Why? Well, it would be difficult to abstain. In other words, it would be a cross to abstain. Granted.

The problem is that the Lord Jesus told us—and still tells us today—that taking up the cross daily is the price of discipleship for which the reward is eternal happiness. With many words and sympathy-inducing scenarios, the message of the dissenters is the same: you are excused from carrying the cross of Christian discipleship. That is not compassion.

Compassion in this situation starts well before the actual scenario event. At NFP International, we do what we can to identify the fertile time and to keep it as short as possible when abstinence is required. Many of us who have been teaching Catholic NFP have suffered lots of rejection, but at NFP International we persevere simply because teaching chaste and generous NFP is the right thing to do. It’s a response to section 26 of Humanae Vitae that encourages couples to share their NFP knowledge with others.

The other thing that needs to be said is that through their mutual fertility awareness and Catholic faith, the couple in this situation may realize that it may be providential that they are fertile at homecoming. Do they really have a sufficiently serious need to postpone pregnancy? Perhaps seeing what he has seen may lead the military man to be all the more grateful for the gift of life.

Next week: Rebuilding the Church.

“Flee immorality,” Church Unity, & Right to Life March

It’s a big week. January 18, 2015 is the first Sunday of the Church Unity Octave. The second reading at Mass on this day is from 1 Corinthians 6 starting with verse 13c. Last week Pope Francis reaffirmed the teaching of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical of Bl. Pope Paul VI that reaffirmed 20 centuries of teaching against marital contraception. January 22 marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v Wade and will see the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. These things are not unrelated.

If there is one contemporary issue which is a big dividing point between the teaching of the Catholic Church and that of most Protestant ecclesial bodies, it is birth control. I have heard or read statements that the membership in some of the newer Protestant communions is largely former Catholics, and I suspect that the general Protestant acceptance of unnatural forms of birth control has played a major part in Catholic dropout and re-alignment. It wasn’t always this way. Martin Luther called the contraceptive sin of Onan a form of sodomy; John Calvin called it a form of homicide. In the United States, the late 19th century Federal and State laws against contraception were passed by essentially Protestant legislatures. Catholics had almost no legal influence at that time.

This is a point of division that needs to be healed and is a good reason to pray every day during this octave for the unity of all Christians once again. We also need to pray for unity within the Catholic Church, for the very real conversion of the dissenters, the cafeteria Catholics, and those in high places who seem to be confused about the Church’s traditional teaching about the demands of love, marriage, and sexuality.

The word currently translated as “immorality” in the text read in Church was translated as “fornication” in some previous texts. The real subject of St. Paul’s teaching here is every form of sexual immorality. His explanation is truly theological as contrasted with pragmatic considerations such as disease and non-marital conception. The Apostle to the Gentiles teaches that sexual sins are sins against your own body. You do not own your own body. You do not have a right to do anything you please with your body. You and your body belong to God. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you… You have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.”

When the bishops of the Church of England voted to accept marital contraception in August 1930, they listed only two options for those couples who felt a need not to have more children—either total abstinence or contraception. In February 1930 a German medical journal carried the work of the Japanese research doctor, Kyusaku Ogino, that made calendar rhythm a reality. To be sure, it needed improvement, but it offered a way out of the dilemma posed by the Anglican bishops and their contraceptive-minded advisors. But they ignored it, and they also ignored the warnings of their own conservative bishops that the acceptance of marital contraception would lead to the acceptance of sodomy. So true.

Today it is well known that the Anglican dilemma was false, perhaps even contrived. But regardless of the past, it is time for all Christian bodies to recognize that Luther and the conservative Anglicans were right, that marital contraception is a grave moral evil, and that natural family planning systems offer a way out of the dilemma that many couples still think exists today.

This week is a special week to pray for the return to unity on this issue.

It is also significant that Thursday of this week is the day of the annual March for Life in Washington D. C. The social and legal acceptance of abortion was another huge and horrible effect of the contraceptive sexual revolution. The U. S. Supreme Court based its erroneous pro-abortion decision of January 22, 1973 on its two previous erroneously concocted decisions to dismantle all the American anti-contraception laws.

Nothing will stop abortion as well as a rebirth of chastity all throughout the West, and that probably has to start with marital chastity.

John F. Kippley, January 18, 2015

The Synod and the Meaning of the Marriage Act

The recent Vatican conference on the Complementarity of Man and Woman (November 17-19) got high marks from reviewers. Pope Francis invited speakers from a wide spectrum of religious traditions including Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Jains, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Muslims and Sikhs from around the world to discuss marriage consisting of male husband and female wife. It was good to see such a widespread agreement on traditional marriage, but from the reports I read, it seems that the speakers avoided those subjects on which they would differ.

That is, there seems to be wide agreement that marriage is a divine and natural institution between one man and one woman, but nothing was said about the events that have led up to the growing acceptance of “same-sex marriage.” For that we turn to an unusual source, a book review in the Wall Street Journal (weekend edition Oct 11-12, 2014).

In Henry Allen’s review of a new book, the Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig, he favorably quotes journalist Margaret Wente as saying, “The pill decoupled sex and marriage, and it also decoupled marriage and procreation. The purpose of marriage was mutual satisfaction, not children. And once that happened, gay marriage probably became inevitable” (my emphasis).

A problem with traditional natural-law theology is that it commonly explains various evils in terms of their natural effects rather than in terms of their violation of the created order. For example, the evil of fornication can be seen in a consequentialist way—it might cause the birth of an out-of-wedlock baby with all the difficulties that entails for both the child and the parents, especially the mother who is typically the permanent caregiver. That explanation is by no means erroneous, but effective contraception makes it seem that fornication no longer has evil consequences. (Of course, it is never 100% effective in real life.) Something more is needed to explain its evil, regardless of the effectiveness or failures of contraceptive devices and drugs.

I suggest a theology that starts with a stated norm. “Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be, at least implicitly, a renewal of the marriage covenant.”

That means several things. First, God has a plan for love, marriage and sexuality. Second, in that plan, sexual union is reserved exclusively for marriage. If you believe that, then it is easy to understand that most sexual sins are evil first because they are not marriage acts and then also because of their evil consequences. Regardless of affection in adultery and fornication, they still contradict the divine plan and are evil. Third, within marriage, the marriage act ought to be a true marriage act, renewing and not contradicting the marriage covenant. Within marriage, a contraceptive sexual act is not a true marriage act; its body language clearly says, “I take you for better but definitely NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.” That contradicts the “for better and for worse” of the marriage covenant, and such an act is thus dishonest and immoral.

It seems to me that the Pope and bishops simply have to find a way to clearly express the evil of sins against love and marriage. They have to preach and teach meaning, not consequences. The renewal-of-the-marriage-covenant theology offers one way to do this. Many have found that it makes good sense, and some have found to be helpfully persuasive.

Somehow, the Pope and bishops need to make it clear that they believe that God really does have a plan that gives beautiful meaning to married love and sexuality. The marriage act is meant to be a renewal of the marriage covenant. That can help young people tempted to fornication to realize that sex outside of marriage is seriously dishonest, violating the very meaning of sexual union. It can help married couples to realize not only the evil of marital contraception but also that their marriage act ought to be a renewal of the faith and caring love they pledged on their wedding day.

The bottom line is that the sexual act has a God-given built-in marital meaning, and Pope Francis and his fellow bishops need to make this meaning clear and promulgate it enthusiastically to the entire world. They also need to clarify and preach the essential dishonesty of all sexual sins. And along with Blessed Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, they need to encourage the weak and the fallen to make good use of the sacrament of healing and reconciliation given us by the Lord on Resurrection evening.

John F. Kippley, November 29, 2014

 

 

 

Engaging Islam and the Islamists

Pope Francis was in the online news recently because of what he said about Islam in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (n. 253). In this document of 288 numbered sections, there are 217 references, but there are no references for this statement regarding Islam. In response, the onepeterfive.com blog listed quotations from seven saints and a recent scholar who would have a hard time agreeing with the papal statement.   Some of the statements by Catholic saints were made just prior to their being killed by Muslims for their refusal to convert to Islam. The papal wishful statement was in the context of hoping for mutual understanding and for better treatment of Christians in areas of Muslim dominance: “I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!” To which we can all say “Amen.”

Henry Kissinger made the headlines this week (9/9/14) with his new book, World Order (Penguin Press) in which he discusses the role of the West and especially America in responding to the rising challenge of militant Islam. According to the USA Today article (9/9/14), Kissinger thinks the United States “needs to strike the terror group in retaliation for the decapitation of two American journalists, then eliminate it ‘as an operating force in the region’ .”

That seems to be the conventional wisdom this week. But it was just a month ago that the papers were filled with reminiscences and second thoughts about the wisdom of European countries going into all-out war over the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austria-Hungary empire by a crazy Serb 100 years ago this past August. In my opinion, there is ample justification for a military response to ISIS, but the double murder of two Americans is a small part of it. Their murders have served to get the attention of President Obama, but any action based primarily on revenge or showing how tough we can be is bound to be ultimately tragic and fruitless in the long run. And, after all, America is not exactly innocent. Our liberal society murders some 4,000 unborn children every day, and the exclusion of God from public life and education is yielding such a high murder rate that these killings barely make the news.

A huge problem in America is the near deification of democracy. In terms of centuries of world history, Western democratic republics are still an experiment. They are based on Christian principles of the dignity of the human person, respect for minorities, and long-term self-interest that does not always seek what is best immediately for one’s own pocketbook. As St. John Paul II pointed out, the West is forgetting its own history and the faith on which Europe was based. It is all too easy to slip from democracy into demagoguery.

That’s sort of a long winded way of saying that as the secular but once-Christian West engages ISIS in what the latter sees as primarily a religious war, the West had better be clear about its limited objectives. May we be spared any talk about converting the Islamic world to democracy.   As Kissinger noted, the United States has “been in five wars since World War II, and in only one can we say we’ve reached the objective stated. So we should state the objective that does not get us into an endless conflict.”

For a model, Kissinger suggests the 1839 Treaty of London which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium, a small country that had been the battleground between other forces because of its strategic location. Others have suggested the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia as a model—it concluded the Thirty Years war in which northern Germany had kept trying to impose its Protestantism on southern Germany. Will it take 30 years of warfare with militant Islam to arrive at an agreement not to try to impose your religion by force? But if conquest and conversion by force is built into the nature of Islam, can there ever be a peace that is more than a truce?

It seems to me that the bottom line has to be constant prayer for the conversion of Islam. We have been praying for the conversion of Russia for almost 100 years, and today we can see great progress.   Russia has converted from its embrace of Communism. To be sure, its nationalism is up and running, and there is still much to pray for, but we have no grounds for discouragement.

So, it seems to me that there needs to be a very widespread and continued effort to spread the idea of praying simultaneously for the conversion of Islam and for the conversion of America and Europe as well as for the continued conversion of Russia. Perhaps my Seven Day Bible Rosary can help some folks in praying the daily rosary.

John F. Kippley, September 13, 2014 Click on the Seven Day Bible Rosary near the top of this website.

 

 

What God Has Put Together

Every informed Christian is aware that even in the Catholic Church today there are significant efforts to undermine the teaching of Jesus about the permanence of marriage. Fortunately, the traditional teaching is being well defended by eminent Churchmen and theologians.

What is not often pointed out is that the words of Jesus about marriage also help to illustrate the evil of marital contraception. Just ask any believer, “Who put together in one act what we commonly call making love and making babies?” The believer has to answer, “God Himself put together in one act what we call making love and making babies.”

The next question: “What is marital contraception except the deliberate effort to take apart what God Himself has put together in the marriage act?” The answer is obvious. Marital contraception is nothing less than the effort to take apart what God Himself put together in the marriage act. For believers, the lesson should be obvious. “What God has put together, let no one take apart.”

I am hoping that the Synod of the Family will make these connections. It seems to me that the Church-listening and the entire world need to hear the words of Jesus about the permanence of marriage affirmed clearly and beautifully. In his teaching, the Lord Jesus is not trying to make life difficult with artificial hoops and hurdles. Rather, as Pope Francis said so well, Jesus is teaching us the way of love and authentic happiness (“Ten Commandments are a signpost of freedom,” Wednesday, June 13, 2013).

Along with a beautiful and clear affirmation of the Lord’s teaching about the permanence of marriage, I hope the Synod will also affirm the teaching about marriage affirmed in Casti Connubii and reaffirmed in Humanae Vitae and the Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II. “In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant” (Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II, 2/2/1994, The Year of the Family).

In this statement, Blessed Pope John Paul II may be the first Pope ever to use that phraseology — that the marriage act ought to confirm the marriage covenant —  and that is significant.

First of all, the renewal-of-the-marriage-covenant theology points at the intrinsic meaning of human sexual intercourse. It ought to be exclusively a confirmation or renewal of the marriage covenant. That helps to explain why fornication is morally evil. There may be romantic love in some such actions, but there is no commitment. There is no marriage. There is no covenant to renew. This does not eliminate the traditional explanation that fornication is a sin of injustice because it may bring a child into the world with only its mother to love and support her or him. The revisionists, however, have worked overtime for the past 100 years to say that contraception does away with such reasoning. But nothing can do away with the fact that fornication is essentially dishonest because it is not a marriage act.

The same thing can be said about the other abuses of the powers of sex—adultery, incest, and so on. The evil of same-sex marriage is also illustrated and shows the need to emphasize that the covenant is not of one’s own description but the natural covenant of marriage that has existed from the beginning.

Experience has shown me that the covenant theology makes sense to those who seek to know and do what God wants them to do, and that includes not only truth-seeking Catholics but also truth-seeking Protestants and even truth-seeking agnostics and atheists.  The problem to day is not with the teachings of the Church.  The real challenge for the Pope, bishops, priests and the believing laity is to increase the number of the baptized who truly WANT to walk the path of self-sacrificing love, the narrow path of Jesus.

John F. Kippley
http://www.nfpandmore.org  where Sheila blogs every week.

Humanae Vitae: Another Approach

In his interview in early March, Pope Francis was asked about Humanae Vitae and supported its teaching as I indicated in my previous blog. Here I would like to focus just on a few words of his response as follows: “The object is not to change the doctrine, but it is a matter of going into the issue in depth. . .”

Blessed John Paul II did that quite extensively in his series of 129 lectures (1979 to 1984) known as the papal Theology of the Body, but they are not easy reading. Ten years later in an effort to reach out to ordinary people, he wrote his Letter to Families from Pope Paul II, and of special relevance to Humanae Vitae he wrote:

“In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant. The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation: in this way the marriage is called to even greater fulfillment as a family (n.12, Feb 2 1994, italics in original).

“…called to confirm the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant.” I was thrilled to see those words the first time I read them because they seem to be saying in different words something that I have been saying since 1967: “Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be, at least implicitly, a renewal of the marriage covenant.” Let’s call that expression the “covenant theology” even though it would be more accurate to call it a “renewal-of-the-marriage-covenant” theology.

Perhaps one of the problems with the transmission of the biblically-based teaching of the Catholic Church on love, marriage and sexuality—including birth control—is that these teachings are sometimes seen as separate entities and not as reflecting a basic truth about the meaning of sexual intercourse. Perhaps the covenant theology can be helpful in this regard.

First of all, if, in God’s plan, sexual union ought to be a renewal of the marriage covenant, then it is easy to see the immorality of bestiality, adultery, fornication, incest, solitary masturbation, and sodomy. Obviously, none of these are a renewal of the marriage covenant. Sexual union has a God-intended meaning:  it ought to be exclusively a marriage act.

Within marriage, sexual union ought to be a true marriage act. It ought to renew the faith and love and permanent commitment of the couple’s original marriage covenant, for better and for worse. No, couples do not have to have all of this on their mind as they approach the marriage bed; that’s the meaning of the phrase “at least implicitly” in the covenant theology statement above. But notice what the body language of contraception says (and this includes contraceptive behaviors such as mutual masturbation and marital sodomy). The contraceptive marital embrace says, “We take each other for better but definitely and positively NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.”

Thus contraception does not renew but instead contradicts the marriage covenant. It is dishonest. And that, in my opinion, is what makes it immoral.

I do not claim that internalizing this concept of the marriage act somehow automatically makes periodic abstinence easy. On the other hand, when a person sees the intrinsic covenantal meaning of the marriage act, Catholic teaching about the moral wrongness of marital contraception may become easier to accept and understand. This was the experience of Kimberly and Scott Hahn when they were still Protestants, and they are certainly not unique.

Coming next: What God has put together…

John F. Kippley
http://www.nfpandmore.org where Sheila blogs every week.

 

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Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II re Humanae Vitae

In an interview commemorating the first anniversary of his election as the Bishop of Rome on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis made some wide ranging comments.  Of special interest are his comments on Humanae Vitae. 

“It all depends on how the text of Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, towards the end, recommended that confessors show great kindness and attention to specific situations.

“His genius proved prophetic: he had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a ‘brake’ on the culture, to oppose [both] present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing doctrine, but to go into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral [efforts] take into account people’s situations, and that, which it is possible for people to do.”

It is not impossible that for some the mention of “people’s situations” will raise the ghost of situation ethics.  In that vein, I am reminded of a long sentence in which Karl Rahner wrote as follows:

“If we Christians, when faced with a moral decision, really realized that the world is under the Cross on which God himself hung nailed and pierced, that obedience to God’s law can also entail man’s death…..”  [and several more conditional clauses],

“then there would be fewer confessors and spiritual advisors who, for fear of telling their penitent how strict is God’s law, fail in their duty and tell him instead to follow his conscience, as if he had not asked, and done right to ask, which among all the many voices clamoring within him was the true voice of God, as if it were not for God’s Church to try and distinguish it in accordance with His law, as if the true conscience could speak even when it had not been informed by God and the faith which come from hearing.”  (Nature and Grace, 1964 edition.  The complete quotation is in Sex and the Marriage Covenant, Ignatius, 2005, p.205.)

Speaking about exceptions to the moral law, Pope John Paul had much to say about the doctrine of marital non-contraception affirmed in Humanae Vitae, and many of his comments are in Sex and the Marriage Covenant, Chapter 7 “Forming a Correct Conscience.”  A summary is found on page 148 as follows:

  • “to hold out for exceptions as if God’s grace were not sufficient is a form of atheism [September 17, 1983];
  • denying the doctrine of marital non-contraception is “equivalent to denying the Catholic concept of revelation” [April 10, 1986];
  • it is a teaching whose truth is beyond discussion [June 5, 1987];
  • it is a “teaching which belongs to the permanent patrimony of the Church’s moral doctrine” and “a truth which cannot be questioned” [March 14, 1988];
  • it is a teaching which is intrinsic to our human nature and that calling it into question “is equivalent to refusing God himself the obedience of our intelligence’ [November 12, 1988] and finally,
  • “what is being questioned by rejecting that teaching . . . is the very idea of the holiness of God” [November 12, 1988].

I can understand the emphasis on mercy when a confessor is dealing with persons and couples whose sexual behaviors have become compulsive and who thus may lack the psychological freedom necessary either for serious sin or for acts of love.  Such acts are the subject of moral pathology.  However, I have yet to see dissenters making the case against Humanae Vitae in terms of almost uncontrollable compulsion.

There is no contradiction between the writing of Pope John Paul II and the comments of Pope Francis, just a difference in emphasis.  Perhaps the promotion of mercy will bring about increased concern for the meaning of the marriage act that Pope John Paul II strove so hard and for so long to enkindle.

John F. Kippley, also at www.nfpandmore.org, March 10, 2014