editor's note: This fight with HHS and the Administration is beyond mere politics or even mere religious freedom...it strikes at the heart of our beliefs. Hence, the beliefs themselves must be addressed.
Over the past year or so, I have studied more and more the teachings of Blessed John Paul II concerning love, marriage, and human sexuality. They flow from the book “Love and Responsibility’ he wrote long before becoming the pope. The teachings that flowed from this revolutionary book designed to explain Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality and marriage, was an answer to the common acceptance of most Catholics to artificial contraception, and the lesser acceptance of abortion, divorce, and such. These teachings are the basis of a program called Theology of the Body. Whereas most Catholics and non-Catholics would characterize incorrectly Catholic sexual moral teachings as a litany of ‘that shall nots’ and a belief that women should be baby factories, Blessed John Paul II comes from a different angle; an angle that wants to see the creative and inherent beauty of human sexuality as something to be treasured and respected as a part of the respect owed to the individual as whole. For Blessed John Paul II, the mystery of God is written into our very bodies and into the totality of our entire being. He points out how all Church teaching on sexuality flows from this positive vision of the inherent dignity and integrity of the human person. Hence, the Church’s teaching on sexuality, now under incredibly heavy fire, flow entirely from the complete respect for the integrity and dignity of each human person; a person to be respected on all levels of their beings, including their sexuality.
When God commands humanity upon its creation to ‘be fruitful and multiply’, it is a command flowing from the fact that God wants us to participate in His power to create new life born from love. The tools of that power are holy and special and to be treated as such. However, over time two camps developed that got this wrong. One was a type of puritanical misunderstanding which saw the human body and sexuality as evil, lesser, and ugly…something to be ashamed of and avoided. The other was one that saw human body and sexuality as a mere means to an end where the individual was served to self-seeking ends. Both reduced this great and wonderful gift of God to something tawdry and shameful, as if the divine gift to create new life born from mutual self-giving love was a divine mistake. It is about the nature of love, particularly marital love, that the Bl. John Paul II wanted to recapture. For him, the body was not an ugly and shameful thing, nor was human sexuality. Both are gifts from God to be respected and loved.
Catholic teachings on human sexuality flow from the use of that sexuality in the manner for which it was given; to be an act that is mutually self-giving (not self-taking) love and from which will naturally flow a stronger union and the possibility of new life. The Church does not believe that sex is solely for ‘baby-making’ but neither is it only for pleasure. The church sees the human person as an integrated whole: mind, soul, and body. Anything that takes away from the dignity of that integrated whole is seen as problematic if not outright dangerous. From this understanding flows our teachings on artificial birth control (which does not respect the integrity of the body, mind, or soul), pre-marital sexuality (which simulates an act for a reason for which it wasn’t given), pornography ( a complete breakdown of any respect for any part of the human person)and the other teachings about the correct use of human sexuality. These flow from high ideals to be sure, but does not all of our teachings? Self-giving love is the very foundation of all actions, words, motivations, teachings, and actions found in our Scriptural teachings and in the teachings that flow with and from them. The same foundation must be present for all. This is why the Church cannot back away from her teachings on birth control and other sexual teachings; to do so is to strike at the very foundation of that self-giving love of God from which our common lives flow! Self- giving love (aka agape) is the rock upon which our faith is built, it is the very nature of God, and hence to be the very foundation of our own human lives.
This stands in stark contrast to how the world views the human person. History over the millennia shows that humanity has viewed itself more as a herd animal (albeit a highly developed one) that operates on little more than instinct. Our culture, especially from the 1960’s and on, has seen sexual expression as a basic right to be followed without any real sense of respect for others and as a function of animal instinct. This was an over reaction to the equally wrong ‘shame and angst’ version of human sexuality. We went from ‘if it feels good it must be bad’ to ‘if it feels good, do it’ without stopping anywhere in the sane middle to ask what are the deeper issues. When the sexual revolution of the 1960’s broke wide open, it brought startling repercussions: an increase in unwed pregnancies (in some communities the norm), abortion, abortafacients (the pill, the morning after pill, RU-486, IUD), a myriad on new and fatal STD’s (HIV-AIDS being the scariest of these), and helped to contribute to the assault and destruction of the family unit in this country. This was as Pope Paul VI wrote in his letter on human sexuality, “Humanae Vitae” which was widely panned by secular leaders and even some religious leaders but was all too correct on what would happen if the contraceptive mentality were to take hold. Both Paul VI and Bl. John Paul II knew that God wanted so much more for His people. The Church, in her teachings, knows that God does want what is the absolute best for us because of His self-giving love for us! That does not mean it will be easy.
Catholic teaching always wants to flow from the self-giving love of God and challenge us to make that love our own way of doing things. This is why the Church will not back down from this fight with the administration even if 100% of Catholics disregard the teachings on contraception. We hold to those high ideals and challenge ourselves to reach them through God’s grace. I know not all that have used contraception did so with expressed evil in mind, but as a practical solution to a problem they have. Most people think the church teaches what she does about sexuality because it views sexuality as shameful. Quite the opposite is true. Because we view human sexuality as so precious and special, we want to protect its integrity as we would any other part of the human person. When we fail to treat that sexuality with respect, as happened in the clerical sexual scandals of the last 50 years or so, it brings confusion and pain. We are capable of better all around!
For this reason, we have been using the Theology of the Body series in our Middle School, Confirmation Class, and marriage preparation classes. Because this teaching wants to appeal to our higher, stronger, and better selves, we are using it extensively. Items on this are also available in our parish library. Remember, as Catholics we always strive through the grace of God to be the best version of ourselves. That includes the use of our sexuality as well.