Editor’s Note: The following homily was given yesterday.
In our First reading today the Lord speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah says, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.” I can assure you those are not words that any priest or bishop wants to hear the Lord say to them. And so today–which begins the week the U.S. Bishops have proclaimed as “National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week”–I want to make sure that none of us are misled as to what the Church teaches concerning God’s vision of human sexuality.
On July 11th there was a summit in London on Family Planning that promoted a campaign to expand artificial contraception and abortion around the world. Melinda Gates, the wife of billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates, pledged her support to this cause by donating $560 million to family planning services. That Melinda Gates claims to be a practicing Catholic is a sad fact–but not a surprising one, because she is just one of many confused Catholics who have disregarded the teachings of the Church on this matter in order to create their own morality and follow their own commandments. They falsely believe the Catholic Church is“out-of-touch”, “outdated”, “anti-women” and just plain wrong concerning this issue. And in doing so they completely disregard the words of Jesus who promised Peter, as head of His Church, that “what is bound on earth is bound in heaven.” And that ministry and promise is passed onto Pope Benedict in our own day.
To justify her views, Ms. Gates claimed that if we understood that 200 million women around the world wanted birth control then we would start to say, ‘Okay, that makes sense.’ Her logic seems to be that numbers or even a majority dictate and define morality. Now as I read her comments I couldn’t help but hear how my own Mother might respond to this misguided reasoning (and my mother knows a bit about conception, haven given birth to 12 children). I am sure my mother would say something like: “Ms. Gates, if 200 million women jumped off a bridge…would you?” And that wouldn’t be a bad response because that is exactly what society, in embracing artificial contraception, is doing: they are jumping off the spiritual bridge into the depths of the culture of death, to their own demise.
The Catholic Church for 2,000 years has always taught that love, marriage, sex and procreation are all things that belong interconnected. Each of these is a gift from our Creator and meant to be enjoyed only within the Sacrament of Marriage. Further, it is God’s will that each and every act of sexual intimacy contain two elements. First, it must be open to life. Second, it must involve the physical union of the husband and wife. Anything less is a violation of God’s gift to married couples and a serious offense against Him.
Therein lies the sin of artificial contraception. Artificial contraception wants one of these elements without the other. It says “yes” to physical union, but “no” to the possibility of new life. And as Pope Paul VI prophetically warned in his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, there would be at least 4 serious consequences if the world embraced birth control: 1) a lowering of moral standards 2) a rise in infidelity and illegitimacy 3) reducing women to objects of pleasure to satisfy men 4) government coercion in reproductive matters. All of these should sound familiar because it is the rotten fruit that the world bears today. This is certainly proven through rampant immorality, the breakdown of marriage, the rise of single parent families, the growing addiction to pornography, and our own governments’ forced mandate for artificial contraception, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs.
But the Catholic Church offers another way to responsible parenthood by embracing Natural Family Planning. This week, which is meant to raise awareness of NFP, gives us the opportunity to educate ourselves about the beautiful ways it can influence married life.
Now, many who use birth control like to say that artificial contraception and NFP are the same—but they are wrong. For where birth control sees pregnancy as a disease that needs to be avoided—NFP views life as a gift from God who is Love. Where birth control separates the unitive aspect of sexuality from the procreative; NFP always unites these two elements. While birth control practices unrestrained indulgence; NFP teaches self-restraint and occasional abstinence as part of responsible family planning. Couples who practice NFP know its benefits. They understand that marriage reflects the love of Christ, which is generous, self-sacrificing, passion-filled and life-giving. They know when they live their married life in agreement with the teachings of the Church that their faith is deeper. In fact, many who practice NFP report better communication, growth in patience and holiness, and a deeper respect for God as the head of their household. On top of that NFP is totally green, does not cause cancer, is completely free, and it is successful. And although it involves work, responsibility, and commitment—like all things that matter—it is worth it!
Last week Melinda Gates proclaimed that the universal desire of mothers to give their children “every good thing” can only be fulfilled when access to contraceptives is universal. I would like to remind her that the only “good” that truly matters is God Himself and living our life in conformity to His will. And so perhaps Ms. Gates and many others who are truly interested in making sure mothers give “good things” to their children should carry out the advice of Blessed Pope John Paul II who once said: “the greatest gift that you can give your child is a sibling.” For then maybe our society and our world would begin to see that children are a precious gift from God—and not the burden that the selfish culture of death claims them to be!
Fr. Don Siciliano is the pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church in Cincinnati, OH