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By John Mallon
©1994, 2005 by John Mallon
Catholic Online

Some people say, objecting to Church teaching on artificial birth control, "The Church should stay out of the bedroom." But the Church cannot stay out of birth control, because life is God's business and God is the Church's business. The Church cannot stay out of the bedroom because the Church is the bedroom. The marriage bed is the altar of the Domestic Church.

Man and woman united in love in marriage is the image and likeness of God. Christian marriage is the image and likeness of God the Holy Trinity endowed with the power through love to create new life. Human love in marriage is God's instrument for continuing creation, creating new life, new persons to love--and be loved by--in the ever widening expansiveness of the realization of His love. Thus procreation--the couple is a cooperator with God, and since it is a gift, this sharing in creation, the couple has no right, as the instrument, to stifle the process out of convenience to self, or fear, or economic reasons. We are not smarter than God. We do not "know better." Economics is not God, nor is the fear that God is going to send us a child, and then disappear, guilty of non-support, if we remain in Him and trusting in Him. God is not a delinquent Father.

As for convenience, I shudder as I hear the network news in typical media fashion, drop a sensational half truth some years ago that Pope John Paul had condemned sex for pleasure "even" within marriage--I can hear the outbursts coast to coast. The truth, as the Pope well knew and spent his life defending, is that God is a God of more not less. God seeks unity and wholeness for us in Himself. The devil seeks to divide, segregate, compartmentalize, and chop every good thing into little isolated broken pieces, be it sex, or us. Sex, thus chopped up, for convenience sake, (i.e. this time for pleasure, this time for a baby, this time to relieve tension, etc.) becomes cheapened.

The conjugal act is designed to be an act of total self-giving, and when not open to all possibilities that this implies, the whole creative, healing, life-giving function of sex (of which conception is only one possibility) is stifled, by the necessary holding back that this non-openness necessitates.

The sex act, as a sacramental action with divine involvement is therefore a case where the total equals more than the sum of its parts. When God is "cut out of the party" as it were, by the participants placing limitations on what the results of the act may be, they are cheating themselves out of unthinkable blessings, not to mention pleasures and delights on levels we can perhaps not comprehend. Sex where the participants are not open to God's surprises and input (He, being after all, the true Source of Life) not only becomes limited, but by the act of shutting out God's positive will and plans for the union, becomes, by that very act, sin.

That God gives life through sex and a possible child is only a part of this picture. God gives life to the couple through sex in the form of communion, renewal, refreshment, joy, rest, pleasure, and countless other unimaginable ways, not the least of which is the overcoming of our fundamental problem: alienation and loneliness. Cut God out of the process by limiting Him in one area (conception) and through this sin we risk being cut off from receiving these other gifts.

Once God is cut out of the picture, (the only One in whom our alienation can be overcome) and the couple begins to place the demands created by this need on one another, a strain is placed on the marriage because a spouse alone cannot meet the need. A need that God was meeting through the spouse. When God, who once took these demands onto Himself, leaving the couple free for joy, has been cut out, resentment sets in as a result of the alienation. Where the couple once looked out for each other's needs they now look out for their own. Sex thus becomes exploitation. A lifeless, self-focused, needs-meeting machine that doesn't work. "Apart from Me you can do nothing," says the Lord. (John. l5:15) Therefore, sex is a three way street--anything less is a deception. Marital love is also a foreshadowing of our ultimate destiny when Christ returns for His bride, the Church, to sweep us off to that everlasting honeymoon in consummation.

So, in reality, Pope John Paul II (and the Catholic Church) is the best friend sex has in the modern world. He condemned neither sex nor pleasure in sex, but rather sex for pleasure alone, because, that, in its very exploitative selfishness, leads to just that: pleasure alone. It is not long before the pleasure disappears and we are simply alone--with all our empty promises. God desires us to have pleasure with our spouse (and Him) in union, but pleasure is only a by-product, a gift received only in its fullness when we focus on the Giver in selfless love, not the gift in selfishness.

Procreation is a much abused and misunderstood term; it does not mean that sex is not allowed except for the purpose of having children. It does mean giving God free creative reign in our marriages in a spirit of openness to anything it may please Him to give. And when the two are united in one flesh and then God comes down and makes love to the two made one (Church) there is no limit to the new life that that marriage may produce. The blessing of a child (that He will not abandon) is only one possibility. These fruits of true intimacy, love, pleasure, communication, family, and homeness, are the things the world is starving for, available only from God.

The John Paul II was also a friend of pleasure. Reports of his singing and dancing and funlovingness abound, but he also knows that pleasure sought for its own sake leads to no pleasure at all, and ultimately, death. We are being exhorted not to settle for just one fruit when we have been offered the whole vineyard--the whole garden and the Vinedresser besides.

If God meant sex only for producing children, He would have made us like the animals--without all the other benefits. Compare the number of times in a lifetime a couple has relations with the number of children they have. God is a giver of many gifts, but we tie His hands by saying no to one of them. We are the vehicle, not the origin of life. A child is an eternal, spectacular gift and blessing--compare the importance and lasting gift of a child to one sex act! And how our culture has elevated sex above children. One holy, healthy, and pleasure increasing method of birth control (and the only licit one) is the one God gave us--periodic abstinence according to the woman's cycle through Natural Family Planning (NFP) which is 98% effective. (NFP by the way, is not the rhythm method.)

Abstinence has become a dirty word in our gotta-have-it-now-culture, but it can be a time of refreshment and refilling and self rediscovery where we may find new things to bring back to our spouse in a growth-producing, ever renewing and delightful way. We need time to ourselves; and in God's plan (who knows and meets all our needs--if we let Him) we can mutually agree on this in love and respect without the insecurity and resentment that so often results when the individuals are more dependent on one another than on God, because He has been shut out--rather than the couple being interdependent with each other and dependent on God alone as one flesh.

Freedom lies in giving God free reign, remembering always that life is His responsibility and we dare not take it out of His hands. Limiting God is the way of bondage. Who wants to live under limitations? Better God's limitations that ours. His limitations are freedom--ours are bondage. We are called to trust. If for no other reason than that we know that we don't have a better idea. We don't know better than God. The beauty of Catholic doctrine, no matter how it looks on the surface, or how mistaught, mistated, or misunderstood it is, is that it always supports love. Love that bears fruit in life, freedom, joy, and even pleasure in all things in Him.

__________________

Mallon is Contributing Editor to Inside the Vatican magazine

This article originally appeared in the August 28, 1994 issue of The Sooner Catholic, The newspaper for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. It appears in the unpublished collection by John Mallon, "For the Real World.")

Contact

John Mallon
http://www.catholic.org/featured/reality_check.php OK, US
John Mallon - Columnist, 405 720-2575

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Keywords

Sex, John Paul II, Catholic teaching, Contraception, NFP, Theology of the Body

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