God’s Design for Human Sexuality and the Creation of a Culture of Life
By Derek Remus
(2005 Alberta provincial Knights of Columbus Scholarship)
Have you ever wondered: what is the root cause of a culture that accepts the legal extermination of babies through abortion? Have you ever wondered: what is the root cause of a culture with an over fifty percent divorce rate? Have you ever wondered: what is the root cause of a culture that has equalized homosexuality with heterosexuality and that has allowed children to be so-called “adopted” by homosexual persons?
The answer to this question may surprise you, but it is true: the cause of this culture is the contraceptive mentality. This anti-conception mentality is the choice that children are burdens and pleasure is supreme, and therefore marital intercourse can be deliberately interfered with to prevent the conception of children.
Pope Paul VI predicted this, (and more that has come true) in 1968 in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), in which he said that the acceptance of artificial birth control would lead to widespread “marital infidelity”; “a general lowering of moral standards” (noting especially the effect this would have on young people); the reduction of women to “mere instrument[s] for the satisfaction of [men’s] own desires”; the use of coercive anti-population measures by governments, and the degradation of the human person to the level of a machine. For this reason, we will never create a culture of life unless we recognize what is wrong - contraception and contraceptive sterilization.
The Catholic Church--the one true Church--has always taught against contraception and will always do so, but even every Protestant denomination taught against it until 1930, when the Anglican denomination became the first one to permit it. Pope Pius XI responded to the Anglican denomination’s decision with the Catholic Church’s constant teaching on the grave immorality of contraception in his encyclical Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage).
The prohibition against contra-conceptive methods, however, is not specifically a matter of religion. It is a matter of the natural law--the law of right reason, written on the heart of every man. (It is because of the natural law that everyone knows stealing or lying is wrong.) But by virtue of the infallibility granted to it by Jesus Christ, who is God Himself, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, has the competency to interpret the natural law, so that, in condemning artificial birth control, it simply reaffirms the natural law’s verdict.
Here one might object: But what about my conscience? Isn’t artificial birth control morally good if my conscience says it’s okay? No. The Church teaches:
“…[C]onscience ought to be conformed to the law of God in the light of the teaching authority of the Church, which is the authentic interpreter of divine law.”
That is a direct quote from the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (50). So if I decide that stealing or lying or cohabitation or sodomy or contraception or sterilization is okay, then my conscience does not conform to God’s laws. It is erroneous.
So why does contra-conception violate the natural law? The answer is: because it violates God’s design for the marital act. What, then, is God’s design for the marital act--for human sexuality?
First of all, the marital act obviously involves a union of bodies. But John Paul II notes in his Theology of the Body that the body is not “merely an organism of sexual reactions” but expresses the entire mystery of the human person, so the marital act involves a fundamentally personal union and not just a physical or biological one. In it the spouses express themselves in the entire truth of who they are as human persons and as man and woman. So love between the spouses and their potential capacity to procreate children can never be separated because they are both elements of the person and they both occur at the same time through the fundamental structure of the same act (the marital act). If they are split apart, the person himself is split apart. That is why, when the marital act is closed to life, it “ceases,” as John Paul II says, “…to be an act of love.” All that is left is a purely biological union in which the spouses, whether they consciously realize it or not, seek to use each other as objects, not persons, for their sensual pleasure and enjoyment. The very opposite of loving occurs because as John Paul II says in his book Love and Responsibility, “To love is the opposite of to use.”
In sum, the natural law tell us that every marital embrace must be open to the procreation of new human life, and that the procreation and education of children is the primary purpose of marriage. Methods that close the marital embrace to procreation assault the “intimate truth” of the human person and human sexuality--creating a radically distorted concept of them--, and so assault the Supreme Will of God, who is the Author of the human person and human sexuality.
By now it should be clear how contra-conception has led to the evils I mentioned at the beginning of this talk. By saying no to the procreation of children, it has led to abortion. By separating sexuality from fecundity, it has led, as Pope Benedict XVI has said, to “the equalization between homosexuality with heterosexuality.” By destroying mutual love and personal union between the spouses, it has led to divorce. And by separating the procreative from the unitive dimensions of the marital act, it has led to numerous other attacks against human life, such as artificial reproduction, which takes procreation out of the context of a loving union between two parents. The only way, then, that we can create a culture which respects the human person at all stages of life is if we are open to life in the very area where life begins: human sexuality. There is no other way.
That is why, as Fr. John Hardon, Servant of God and a great Jesuit theologian, said, “our greatest moral responsibility” today is “to convert the contraceptive mentality.” We need courses for couples in natural family planning--fertility awareness--because fertility awareness conforms to the natural law and the truth of the person, and it “demands…from husband and wife,” as John Paul II says, “a definite family and procreative attitude.” We need ministries that are devoted to healing those suffering from the effects of contraception and sterilization, just as ministries like Project Rachel are devoted to healing those suffering from the effects of abortion. We as Catholics must be apostles of the Sacrament of Confession, in which God, through the sacramental absolution of the priest, absolves our sins, no matter how grave they are.
We must be open to life; we must be open to the virtue of chastity; and we must be open to God’s splendid plan for marriage, the human body, and human sexuality, and then--and only then--we shall see the creation of what John Paul II called “a culture of life” and “a civilization of love.”
I would also like to mention that yesterday was the anniversary of the murder of Terri Schiavo, so let us pray for the repose of her soul, for her family, and for the conversion of those who took part in her murder. And may John Paul II, whose death we remember tomorrow, pray for us, and may Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, pray for us as well, that we may be courageous witnesses to the Gospel of Life. Thank you very much. God bless you and God love you all.
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* These references constitute part of His Holiness Pope John Paul II’s series of Wednesday general audiences, delivered from 1979 to 1984, under the title of Theology of the Body. This series, the Holy Father said, “can be summed up under the title: ‘Human love in the divine plan,’ or more precisely, ‘The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.’ ” It is available online at http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2TBIND.HTM.