Every engaged couple should be taught why artificial contraception
by Rev. Eric James Albertson
"Beloved priest sons, by vocation you are the counselors and
spiritual guides of individual persons and of families. We now
turn to you with confidence. Your first task-especially in the
case of those who teach moral theology-is to expound the Church's
teaching on marriage without ambiguity." (Pope Paul VI in Humanae
Perhaps the most difficult task before the priest in the area of
marriage preparation is helping the couple to understand the
Church's teaching against the use of artificial contraception. So
difficult is this task that some priests will omit it altogether;
either because they themselves do not understand the teaching, or
worse, they believe the Church is wrong in this area of moral
Yet failing to present this most critical teaching places the
couple at an extreme disadvantage and may lead to the eventual
collapse of their marriage. Catechists, parents, priests, deacons,
religious and couples themselves must be able to explain this
teaching readily if they are to effectively evangelize and protect
the integrity and sacredness of the marriage vow.
A Biblical teaching
A common objection is that the Bible does not mention this
teaching. If one looks closer, the opposite is true. Jesus said,
"A man will ... be united to his wife, and the two will become one
flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has
joined together, let no man separate" (Mt 19:5-6).
Traditionally, the understanding here has been that divorce is the
man-made separation. However, there can be other kinds of man-made
separations, contraception being one of them. Condom use, for
example, separates the couple. Such methods are even called the
"barrier methods." The two are not becoming one because there is
something between them, specifically, a man-made latex shield.
It is not as clear when one considers the birth control pill, but
the principle still applies: where God is to join the two as one,
man is present to separate. In this case, the couple uses a
manmade chemical to prevent ovulation or embryo implantation (the
Pill's abortifacient potential).
It is interesting that those who question the Church's presence in
their marital bedroom think nothing of inviting a condom
manufacturer or contraceptive pharmaceutical company to be a part
of their most intimate moments. In any form, artificial
contraception comes between the couple during their sexual union
and so interferes with God's ability to join them. Jesus teaches
us that this union is a sacred moment. God's presence makes it
sacred and man's interference removes this sacredness.
Fundamentally, if man separates, God cannot join.
It is important to understand this type of separation. Marriage is
defined as a union in Christ that involves the absolute giving of
self to the other, simultaneously open to the creation of new
life. It involves no holding back, no reservations; it is selfless
and sacrificial, like Christ's love for the Church (Eph 5:1-2).
The marriage vows are the highest form of human commitment. No two
people can give themselves to one another any more than through
this spoken exchange of love. Marital sexual intimacy is the
highest form of human physical intimacy. Two people can be no
closer physically than through this expression of love where the
two become as one flesh. Yet the sexual union is more than
physical; it also spiritually unites a couple.
Jesus teaches that so powerful is this committed union with its
creative potential, that God reveals marriage to be a Sacrament.
This is because God Himself is the bonding force (what God joins
together), the example of absolute giving (Jn 3:16), and the
source of creation.
Artificial contraception violates this definition of marriage. The
two equal ends (reasons for becoming married) are unitive and
procreative love. United with one another in Christ, the two
become as one, and at the same time the couple respond to the
Genesis directive to be fruitful and multiply.
Intrinsic to marriage itself are these two ends. Without them,
Christian marriage ceases to exist. This is the Church's objective
definition of what is present in Christian Matrimony. It is not an
opinion. Rather, it is a refinement of what is truly there.
Use of artificial contraception removes these two ends. Within the
realm of procreative love, the couple intends to remove fertility
from the sexual union. specifically, the couple is not open to the
possibility of new life and will deliberately introduce a man-made
separation to reduce or eliminate any chance of conception.
The contraceptive couple also fails to express unitive love.
Because of the separating effect of contraceptive use, they are
not united. In the highest form of human commitment, and during
the most intimate expression of that commitment of love, there is
reservation, a holding back.
It is as if they say to one another: "I will not give myself to
you entirely. You can have all that I am except my fertility. This
you cannot have and so I will hold it back from you." Was not the
vow an expression of total giving? With this reservation, the
sexual union fails to be an expression of total giving, and
therefore of total love.
Selflessness leaves the marriage, and selfishness enters. If there
is selfishness during the most intimate expression of marital
love, then there will be selfishness elsewhere. This is because
selfishness is like cancer. It does not remain stagnant, but grows
and infiltrates every area of marriage, destroying the Christ-like
beauty of a totally united love.
Marriage as a vocation
Note how these two ends are connected; if one is missing, the
other will also be missing. One can also see why the Church
teaches the necessity of every act of sexual union being open to
the possibility of new life. Couples can only preserve the
sacredness of the sexual union, and therefore of marriage, by
ensuring the two ends of marriage are always present.
We must also remember that marriage has its origin in God. It is a
vocation, a calling by God for two people to be united in His
love. The goal of the couple is to continually remove anything
that separates or interferes with this union in God's love.
Through selfless charity, their union takes on a mystical
dimension. Leaving behind the realm of worldly love, they begin to
love one another on an entirely new level, the level of
supernatural love. By stripping away the obstacles, marital love
gradually becomes perfect and complete.
It becomes a pure, radiant love; a love that reflects the very
love of Christ for His people (the Church). Such a love was the
most perfect and complete the world has ever known, setting the
standard for discipleship. This is the holy (whole) love that God
calls His couples to know in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
On their wedding day, the bride and groom respond to this vocation
by inviting God into their marriage, asking Him to Join them
together through the exchange of vows. Marriage is not a
partnership of two, but of three.
This is why the Church traditionally compares marriage to the
Trinity. God is the unseen Presence who serves to
sustain and supernaturalize this love of husband and wife. He does
not, however, restrict His presence to the wedding day. He is
present every day and in every way of their married life. In
particular, He is present during the sexual union where the two
become one flesh. Simply stated, the Church is in the bedroom
because God is there.
Mere secular love
A humble respect for and adherence to this teaching will allow
God's love to flow freely and supernaturally between husband and
wife. Indeed, it is only through observance of this sublime
teaching that a couple protects their marriage from being reduced
to a worldly, secular love.
Only when procreative and unitive love are present can the sexual
union be elevated as God wills it to be. The presence of either
end alone marks the sexual union on the level of masturbation.
Although this may be difficult to hear, the point must be made.
Contraceptive sex reduces marital sexual union to a selfish action
that falls- into the same category as premarital sex, adultery,
solitary sex, homosexual relations and all other forms of
extramarital sex. This is because all these have the same common
foundation: an absence of unitive and procreative love.
With this in mind, we can see the inherent danger of contraceptive
use. Physical dangers exist, but the potential for spiritual
disaster is far greater. A couple may disagree with this teaching,
but that does not change the outcome of contraceptive use. We can
disagree with the law of gravity, but if we walk off a cliff, we
will suffer the consequences.
Where there is contraceptive use, God is not able to join the two
into one. The couple remains separate, growing in selfishness, and
thus growing apart. So tragic has been the promotion of
contraceptive use, one can conclude that it is perhaps the reason
for divorce today. Without God joining couples, there is no
bonding force to hold them together.
Preserving marital union
The Church teaches that only the natural means of birth regulation
preserve the sacredness of sexual union by allowing unitive and
procreative love to always be present. Rather than removing their
fertility by means of a man-made separation, the couple using
natural means is working in harmony with God's created order to
delay or achieve pregnancy.
Recognizing that not every act of sexual union will result in
pregnancy, they are always open to the possibility because they
have not introduced anything foreign to positively exclude this
possibility. Unlike the contraceptive couple, this couple's
intention is not to interfere, but to work in harmony with what is
Namely, they respect the divinely established cycle of fertility
and infertility that calls for periodic abstinence.. Without any
interference, God's bonding force takes hold of this couple,
joining them in a remarkable union of love that, sadly, the
contraceptive couple will never know.
These reflections have helped my couples to become enthusiastic
about Catholic Matrimony. By giving them this understanding, they
are sufficiently equipped to defend the Church's teaching and
practice it with conviction.
Rev. Eric James Albertson has taught marriage preparation couples
for many years. This article is excerpted from an upcoming booklet
Taken from the January 1997 issue of "HLI Reports."
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