Every Engaged Couple Should Be Taught Why Artificial Contraception is Wrong

Author: Rev. Eric James Albertson

Every engaged couple should be taught why artificial contraception is wrong

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 Vitae)

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 theology.

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).

Man-made interference

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 already there.

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.

In conclusion

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 from HLI.

Taken from the January 1997 issue of "HLI Reports." To subscribe contact: HLI Reports, 4 Family Life, Front Royal, VA 22630, 540-635-7884, e-mail: hli@hli.org, Web address: http://www.hli.org.