Marriage and Sexuality: Biology or Theology?
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - You may be surprised to learn that prior to 1930 every Christian denomination agreed in their opposition to contraception. In 1930, the Anglican Church, motivated by increasing social pressures, stated that contraception could be allowed in some circumstances.
Shortly thereafter the Anglicans gave in, allowing contraception. Since then, all other Protestant denominations followed the example of the Church of England.
Today, the Catholic Church stands alone in opposition to contraception. However, even though the Catholic Church affirms that contraception is intrinsically evil, the majority of Catholics in America completely reject and ignore the Church's teaching on procreation.
The first cries for change within the Catholic Church came about in the late 1950's and the early 1960's with the availability of the birth control pill. In July of 1968, Pope Paul VI published an encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) which reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Catholic Church that artificial birth control is intrinsically evil.
The encyclical was confronted by a massive revolt within the Catholic Church and it is believed that 96% of Catholics in this country completely reject Humanae Vitae.
Why does the Catholic Church affirm that contraception is intrinsically evil? The reason is founded on this principle: every marital act must keep together "the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act." (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 12)
This fundamental principle contained in Humanae Vitae is true because the nature of sexual intercourse, which is both life-giving (pro-creative) and love-giving (unitive), reflects the plan of God for marriage.
A man and a woman must not intervene to separate their fertility from their bodily union in the marital embrace. To do so is to disrupt the plan of God for marriage, sexuality and married love. Therefore, the Church's teaching is not only affirmed by Divine law, but by natural law as well.
Sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God's gift of sex must not be abused by frustrating its natural end-procreation, which is always integrally connected to the unitive dimension and the mutual expression of the gift of self which reveals the heart of the meaning of the marital embrace.
However, this does not mean that married couples only have sexual intercourse when they want to conceive a child. Mutual love or the good of the spouses, one of the three purposes of marriage, indicates that sex is good, sex is holy and that the sexual union between the spouses enhances, in a very deep way, the intimate love between husband and wife.
Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that the three purposes of marriage: the good of the spouses, the procreation of children and the education of children, are equal and form one single entity. The first purpose of marriage is not superior to the other two.
The Catholic Church continues to affirm that every conjugal act must be open to the transmission of life. The Catholic Church continues to affirm that all forms of contraception are intrinsically evil. However, the Catholic Church does teach that there is a moral, ethical way to regulate births. The moral way to regulate the procreation of children is through the use of Natural Family Planning.
Humanae Vitae explains this clearly with these words: "If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which we have just explained." (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 16)
True Christian love is what makes a marriage a good marriage, a happy marriage and marriage filled with joy.
Married couples that are imbued with Christian love would never consider using artificial birth control or Natural Family Planning for selfish reasons.
Furthermore, husband and wife cooperate and participate in the on-going miracle of God's creation. The fundamental task of marriage and family life is to be at the service of life.
Responsible parenthood is lived out within the structures which God has established in human nature. God's design is that the nature of sexual intercourse is both life-giving (pro-creative) and love-giving (unitive).
Married couples are called, through holy matrimony, to cooperate with God the creator in the continuation of the human race.
Every husband and every wife must be in tune with God and what He wants.
Too many Americans make all of their decisions, especially the size of their family, based on selfish motives. Christian marriage, by the very nature of Christianity and the very nature of the Sacrament of Marriage, calls a married man and a married woman to seek God's holy will in their lives.
Thus, when married couples prudently discern the number of children for their family, most importantly, they must be in tune with what God wants for them; what God is asking of them.
Every child is a gift from God. Some married couples are called to have a large family. Some married couples are called to have a smaller family. Some married couples cannot have children and within that great suffering, they find another calling subordinate to their vocation to marriage.
In order to be in tune with God and His holy will, a married man and a married woman must have a profound, intimate and personal relationship with God. This relationship is fostered and deepened through a daily and well-disciplined life of prayer.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is the perfect model of a creature's relationship with God the creator. She listened attentively to what God was asking her through the angel Gabriel. At first she was afraid, but then she trusted. Trust is essential. Trust God. When we do not trust God, we take our focus off of Him and we turn inwards and our ego takes over.
When we begin to understand the mystery of the Sacrament of Marriage and how it is a reflection of the marriage of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5: 21-33), we can then begin to understand why contraception is intrinsically evil.
This is why we must gain a new vision of sexuality that not only considers the biological dimension of the conjugal act, but above all the theological dimension.
Father James Farfaglia, is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics.
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