Priests have a thousand concerns in the parish — gathering God’s people together, forming them in the truth, loving them and staying with them in their sorrows.
We try to speak the truth in all things, but it’s easy to put off speaking on certain truths because they seem so private, so delicate, so unpopular.
To put it another way, we like to be liked. We like smooth sailing, no fights, no troubles. We would never deny the faith. But we might speak the hard messages only rarely, and then only with a glancing blow, rather than with both feet planted and firmness in our voice.
We sometimes count more on our human ability to manage the conflict than the power of the cross to convince the minds and win the hearts of our people. Yet, the power of the cross is revealed most majestically in those parts of the faith hardest to live.
Core of discipleship
Perhaps the most central teaching to the support of stable marriage, strong parishes and a Christian culture is the church’s teaching on sexuality (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph No. 2331 and following).
It’s the hardest to speak about, the most challenging to live, yet stands at the core of discipleship. Are we followers or not? Do we offer our bodies as “a living sacrifice of praise” or not?
The crux of the matter today is the contraceptive mentality and contraceptive practices. We can’t build faithful disciples and develop Christian families with these attitudes and practices.
The great division in society is between those who hold that the sexual act is only for the union of a husband and wife and must be a total self gift, and those who say that sex is for my personal gratification.
True marital love requires a total self gift, by which we mean that we intend our union to be lifelong, faithful, with each embrace open to new life.
Contraception corrupts the gift. It separates life from love in the sexual embrace of a husband and wife. It starts off with an altruistic sense of loving the other, but ends up loving self.
Instead of giving oneself to the other, we use the other for our gratification and the marriage is wounded. Once I diminish the total gift of myself by separating love from life, I’ve said, “This act is closed to life.” By definition, every life conceived from this point on is a contraceptive failure and unwanted, perhaps even resented. This attitude is the basis of our abortion laws.
Furthermore, since I’ve now made myself the absolute arbiter of life, if I want a child, I reserve the right to do anything to attain it. And so we have test tube babies, stem-cell research derived from aborted children and attempts at human cloning.
On a cultural level, if the goal of any sexual act is merely one’s own gratification, and that end is attained, who can say that the loving embrace of a husband and wife is better than extramarital sex, or premarital sex, or sex alone or homosexual sex?
If the goal is one’s own gratification, and the goal is attained, all acts appear morally equal. So the contraceptive mentality is the root of much of the breakdown of our culture.
What does the church propose? That when spouses give themselves to one another, they give their whole self, including their fertility. All intimate acts between a husband and wife should be open to life. What we call natural family planning, and what Pope John Paul II called fertility awareness, lets us know when we are fertile as a couple and use that knowledge to attain or postpone pregnancy.
Pope John Paul II established a natural family planning clinic in every parish in his diocese of Krakow. He had discussion groups meeting on the subject in parishes all over the diocese, and every couple preparing for marriage took the course!
At Holy Family, we preach on this message to the whole congregation, and we also expect each couple preparing for marriage to take the full NFP course.
Learning about one’s fertility is a given. Acting on this knowledge is the challenge. The many, many couples who embrace this message, which is an integral part of discipleship, find that their marriages grow stronger as does their faith. They are in communion with God and one another. They experience the inner harmony that virtue brings together with joy as a fruit of the Spirit! They come to understand the meaning of St. Paul’s words, “You are not your own . . . so glorify God in your bodies.”
So, if your otherwise wonderful priest decides to talk about these matters, don’t assume he slipped a cog. He’s spending all his political capital because he knows that on this issue turns the health of your marriage, the strength of the parish and the survival of the Christian culture.
Father Thomas Dufner is pastor of Holy Family in St. Louis Park.
Category: The Lesson Plan