Recently, there has been a lot protesting in several different cities. Certainly, protesting against the injustice of H.H.S. mandate by Catholics is a good thing. In the long term it has limited value but it does raise public awareness of the issue at hand. No doubt, the Catholic Church in America ought to exhaust every political and social strategy there is in opposing this overreach by the government. But while we are doing that, it is important not to lose sight of that which lies underneath the surface. Not a few protest leaders- some clergy, some laity –have voiced their opinion that it is not about birth control but about freedom. I would have to part company with these Catholics who make such a claim. In reality, it is about both freedom and birth control.
I know what I am about to say sounds impractical and perhaps too remote to have any real bearing on the problem, but the real fix is to be found in how worthy custodians we are of God’s revealed truths. Over the last five decades it is fair to say that we, as Catholics, have been pretty ashamed of Our Lord’s teaching on contraception. If we do not inspire people to be open to life with each and every sexual act between husband and wife- if we do not tell people how to behave in this regard -then is it any wonder that the world, i.e. the State, is telling us how to behave with regard to contraception?
I have written about this just recently but I will continue to repeat it: When Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, confirmed in January of 2012 that Catholic institutions have until August of 2013 to comply with the HHS mandate, it just so happened that it was on the tenth anniversary of when the priestly scandals broke out and made the headlines. By and large, it was the secular media that exposed this and forced the Church to reform.
But here is what many of us may have missed: The Church’s failure to protect children from sexual predators was but a symptom of a deeper problem. And that problem was the failure on the part of Catholics to protect souls from sin. For years there has been barely any mention from the pulpit (and diocesan and parish ministries) about the sin of contraception and why it undermines marriages and our salvation. Because we have failed to liberate souls from this sin out of fear of displeasing them, we are now tasting what it might mean to lose our liberties. In response to the election of President Obama, Cardinal Francis Stafford indicated that somehow or someway, Catholics would suffer. In a speech to Catholic University students in November of 2008, he said, “The Garden of Gethsemane will not be marginal; we will know that Garden!” Indeed, we are becoming acquainted with it.
Catholic doctrine on contraception does not originate with Pope Paul VI when he penned his famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae. It is Christ’s teaching! As such, I am afraid that as a body of Catholic believers we have been too ashamed of this truth taught to us by Christ. In fact, we barely mention it in public and we dare not require that married couples repent from it. I am told that there would be no Catholics left in our churches if we required couples to repent from contraception, cohabitation and pre-marital sex. It is almost as if we have given up and surrendered to the world.
Again, bringing it back to the protests and what the mantra is: both Catholic clergy and laity are out there saying that the injustice about the H.H.S. mandate is not about contraception but rather it is about liberty. The problem with that position is that it is a half-truth. It is much more true to say that it is about both!
Maybe if the world heard- from our own lips –why the distribution of contraception violates our conscience and offends Our Lord (we need to say that contraception does offend God too) then people would be more likely to oppose the contraceptive mandate with us. But the fact is that we do not even talk about it amongst ourselves (with few exceptions); not from the pulpit at Mass, not from marriage preparation classes, not from RCIA classes and not from several other Catholic venues. Even with the demographic challenges Europe is facing and America is beginning to face, we still do not hear about why the widespread use of contraception leads to the downfall of civilizations.
Protesting is a legitimate form of publicly expressing your disagreement with the government. I do hope some good comes from it. But protesting is what the world does; it is what they rely on most when they express their grievances. Yet, the Catholic Church has a much more powerful arsenal. Her weapons are spiritual. Her spiritual weapons are the proclamation of Gospel truths, binding and loosing, and forgiving and retaining sins. If we explained, without being embarrassed, why contraception is a sin and followed up by pastorally enforcing repentance, then, sooner or later, society would benefit from this. So many couples carry this baggage in their marriage because they have never been told the truth. Too many have not experienced the liberty and joy that comes with being open to the Creator with each and every sexual act. Now, if most Catholic couples who attend Mass practice contraception, how worse off is the world going to be? How will the world ever know about sexual openness to life if we do not talk about it and hold souls to account on it?
For many reasons Catholics have been silent about Christ’s teaching on contraception. But Our Lord said that to sin is to be a slave of sin; this includes the sin of contraception. By the Church tolerating this sin, it also tolerated the slavery that comes with it. Unfortunately, history shows that when God’s people tolerated evil, the world becomes intolerant of good. As we know, in recent years the State has been intolerant of the right to life of the unborn, of religious expression in the public square and it is now demonstrating its intolerance of religious liberty.
The HHS mandate is not just a political problem. Consequently, protesting cannot be the whole solution. What we have is a moral and spiritual problem on our hands. As such, the solution will be moral and spiritual in essence. The bottom line is that the challenge to religious liberty is the effect of our tolerance and silence. It all begins with us- the House of God (cf. I Peter 4:17). It always has and it always will.