Reflecting on Humanae Vitae: Do We Really Need More Contraception?
make recommendations to him. In due course, the commission recommended that use of the pill be permitted.
After reflection, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Pope rejected this conclusion and instead issued Humanae Vitae, which prohibits contraception as a grave sin, and explains why. This was received with much anger and resentment by the Catholic faithful, virtually ignored by many clergy, and mocked by non-Catholics. The actual result has been that it has had little effect, as polls indicate that Catholics contracept in only slightly lower numbers than non-Catholics.
Was the Pope wrong? Is contraception a reasonable solution to all the social problems that are purportedly caused by "overpopulation"? Now, some 50 years later, we have the perspective to examine the effects of contraception, and to see if the Holy Father was right in the predictions he made in Humanae Vitae".
First, though, to understand the reason why contraception is intrinsically evil, we have to examine role of sex itself. By focusing on the sex act, we lose sight of the "big picture", like trying to understand a computer by disassembling the keyboard. The overriding plan in this case is the family, which is an earthly reflection of the Trinity. The human race continues by babies being born, but babies are not born as adults. They need a family structure to nourish them, physically and spiritually, as they mature. The basis of that family structure is marriage between the baby's parents, and the basis of that marriage is sexual love.
Many people confuse love with feelings. God wants us to be "fruitful and multiply", so he designed those feelings to be pretty strong. The difference between feelings and love is that feelings are not free, as Peter Kreeft says. Feelings arise whether we want them to or not. Another very strong feeling is anger. We cannot help becoming angry at someone we think is committing an injustice to us. Love, however, is a choice. We can control how we respond to our feelings, whether it be sexual attraction or anger. Animals do not control their reaction to their sexual feelings; we should.
Marriage, as an expression of the love choice, means commitment. It means choosing to remain with a spouse "for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part." Thus, the sex act has two components, a physical one and a spiritual one. The physical one is designed to create new human beings. The spiritual one is designed to create and sustain a family that can nurture that new human being. These roles are complementary and essential.
Having sex outside a marriage is attempting to defeat God's plan, because the creation of a baby is the reason for sex in the first place. You drive your car for a reason, to go shopping for example; you don't just drive aimlessly around town. Having a marriage with no intent to have children is likewise defeating God's plan. You don't keep driving to the store without ever buying anything either. What would be the point?
The difficulty arises morally when these two purposes are separated. God made the appeal of the sex act very powerful, and our sinful nature makes it difficult to deny ourselves that pleasure, or to restrict it to only the circumstances in which is it fulfilling God's plan. It is by this separation that sin occurs, because it is a misuse of God's gift. This proclivity has existed as long as mankind, and has always resulted in problems for individuals and for society, which is simply the family of man.
Until the 60's, there was always the likelihood that an illicit sexual union would result in a child, so there was a strong impediment to promiscuous sex. The pill changed all that. I can remember that originally it was difficult to obtain a prescription, and doctors ensured that the women for whom they prescribed the pill were married. Obviously this was still sinful, but in keeping with overall societal mores. Fast forward to today, and as soon as girls reach puberty, their parents have them in to get started on contraceptives because they are "sexually active".
The Guttmacher Institute, for example, says that at least 75% of teenagers have had sex before they reach the age of 20. The National Survey of Family Growth by the CDC says that a whopping 98.2% of women aged 15-44 who have ever had intercourse used some form of contraception and 62% are currently using it. Interestingly, societal acceptance of illicit sex has become so great that the same CDC survey revealed that over 49% of unmarried, not cohabiting females are using the pill!
Thus, we find ourselves today in the situation where a female law student can go before a Congressional committee on national television and say that women cannot afford their contraceptives, and that the government (read the taxpayers) must pay for that "health service".
So, what did Pope Paul VI say ...
- - -
Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Humanae Vitae, contraception, Pope paul VI, abortion, morality, Love, marriage, Dr. Frederick Liewehr
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