Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Issue: Liberty or Birth Control?

Many Catholics and even conservative media commentators have stressed the point in recent days that HHS mandate imposed on Catholic institutions is really about religious liberty and not about contraception. This is only half true. Actually, it is about both religious liberty and birth control. Since the mandate, it has been about religious liberty. But since 1968, when Pope Paul VI published his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, it has been about the Church’s response to the widespread use of contraception. Nevertheless, the public is apt to see that the battle between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church is about religious liberty. No doubt, that is what it is. But what lies underneath the surface has been going on for forty-plus years.

Keep in mind that it is a biblical truth that “man is punished by the very things through which he sins.” (Wisdom 11:16) To impress upon his children valuable moral and spiritual lessons, God’s chastening hand- as a loving Father -has been known to use the “very things through which people sin” to discipline or punish his people. Unfortunately, the notion that God punishes sinners as an act of fatherly love has fallen into disuse among Catholics. As such, we would do well to reintroduce this revealed truth into our discussion. It just may help us to bring down the blessings of God upon this situation.

For instance, with regard to his own Church, does God not hold us- his baptized sons and daughters –to a higher standard than the rest of humanity? St. Peter, our first pope, would have us believe that, in fact, he does: “For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God…” (I Peter 4:17) Yet, there is virtually no talk whatsoever about how Catholics- both clergy and laity –may have contributed to this injustice leveled against the Church. An examination of conscience as a body of believers is missing in this whole national debate. No doubt, the mandate needs to be vigorously opposed and publicly exposed as a grave injustice. But there are deeper issues at play.

The Catholic Church has never been as prophetic as she has in 1968 when she warned the world of the moral evils of contraception. Pope Paul VI said there would be a general lowering of morality, an objectification of women, increased marital infidelity, increased promiscuity and an occasion for the State to manipulate the means of procreation. In recent years, cohabitation has skyrocketed, marriage rates have been decreasing, the legalization of same-sex marriage is well underway and several countries will suffer from a demographic winter, the likes of which we have never seen (i.e. the social pyramid being top-heavy with the elderly and the younger tax paying/working population being half the size). These are all the bitter fruits of contraception.

As you can see, the sin of the contraception is of monumental importance for Western Civilization. Yet, barely a word is breathed about it in those venues the Church readily possesses to educate church-going Catholics. From all the years I attended Sunday Mass I only heard the word "contraception" or "birth control" mentioned (in passing…ever so quickly) from the pulpit two or three times. And as far as high profile church documents are concerned, there hasn't been any sense of urgency to communicate to married couples that they should consider having more children. Italy, the backyard of the Vatican, has a suicidal birthrate of 1.2 percent. Keep in mind that demographers say that anything below 1.6 percent is all but impossible to reverse. But I have yet to see a major encyclical or ecclesiastical document in recent years sounding the alarm that Europe is really! truly! (without exaggeration) dying of old age. There will be major cultural ramifications because of this.

I confess, I do not understand why this is not a major theme at the Vatican and among the Catholic hierarchy in general. I am perplexed over the deafening silence on such an important matter. Other countries such as Japan, Korea, Russia and China are facing a rapidly aging as well. To be sure, America is not far behind.

This brings us to a rhetorical and yet serious question: If the Magisterium of the Church, if bishops of dioceses, if pastors of parishes and if lay catechists hardly ever talk about the importance of being open to life with each and every sexual act, can contraception really be that bad? If it is never mentioned from the pulpit out of fear of displeasing the congregation, is it really that serious of a sin? Well-formed Catholics will say yes. Nevertheless, actions speak louder than words and words speak louder than documents. Yes, the moral truth about being open to life is is on paper. Yes, it is in our Catholic Catechism. But that fact that those who represent the Church hardly ever preach or teach about it speaks volumes to the average man or woman in the pew. If I, as a father of five children, simply distribute a pamphlet of household rules without the verbal and disciplinary reinforcement, can I really expect my children to be law or rule abiding? I don’t think so! People may doubt what you say (if you say it), but they’ll always believe what you do!

Can it be that because the Church (and here I refer to individual Catholics) no longer tells the world how to behave with regard to contraception, the world is now telling the Church what to do with contraception? I believe so. As Catholics became more silent and timid about the issue of contraception- because they sought to spare feelings and avoid giving offense –the world became more vocal about it and more determined to advance sexual license.

Ironically, the State today has little regard for our feelings. Indeed, President Obama and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sibelius, are not showing the slightest concern about who they might offend with this HHS mandate. And why should they? We no longer excommunicate those “Catholics” who are publicly scandalous, we no longer publicly rebuke obstinate sinners and we rarely preach about specific sins (most notably from the pulpit); most especially the sin of contraception.

Again, it is a biblical truth that “man is punished by the very things through which he sins.” (Wisdom 11:16) Our sin is one of omission; that of silence. At the very least the Church has been quiet and reluctant about addressing sin and its consequences. Whenever this happens, we can expect the world to grow more confident and more intolerant of truth and virtue.