Yesterday was a bad day. Mostly because my tired, stressed-out self accidentally deleted an important document and then spent hours I didn’t have rewriting it. Accordingly, I stayed clear of the com boxes to my little post on Catholic women and contraception. This morning, however, I took a peek and found one comment that seemed particularly deserving of some attention.
Not, mind you, because it was a tight, brilliant piece of reasoning. Rather because the assumptions underlying it—that anyone who agreed with the Church because she’s the Church is a half-formed nit-wit who hasn’t given two seconds of thought to the issue of contraception—were so head-poundingly wrong.
So, I started responding. Then I kept responding. And responding. And responding. Finally, I decided the post-length response should actually be a post. Which it now is.
Here, in brief, is the comment that irked me so:
“It is not so refreshing to know that there are people unwilling to examine why they think something to be true other than that ‘the church says so.’ … Please people use the brain God gave you to understand and not just parrot. You faith is meaningless if you do not understand either what or why YOU believe – not why the church believes. The mystical body of Christ exists not just to carry yesterdays message, but the Good News of Christ’s ongoing life and action in this world.”
Okay, first things first.
To start with, it behooves every person who scores high on IQ tests to remember that intelligence and the ability to use big theological words are not everything. Yes, we’re all called to have a ready reason for what we believe, but simple faith has its virtues too. Not everyone has the intellect of an Aquinas, but that doesn’t mean they can’t love God deeply, trust him wholly, and follow him completely, all the while understanding much more about his ways than those with titles before their name and letters after.
Second, “Because the Church says so” is indeed reason enough to believe something when you have thought long and hard about what the Church is, by what authority she teaches, and what duty you owe her.
Since Day One, the Church has professed to being Christ’s Bride, Christ’s Body, and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. She has likewise professed that she is the guardian of both Sacred Revelation and Sacred Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit in her interpretation of both and protected by him from teaching error on matters of faith and morals (See: Acts 15 and 1 Clement).
If you believe the Church is all that, if you believe she is what she claims to be, trusting her teachings—even when you struggle with them—is the only sensible response. If you don’t believe the Church is what she claims to be, not trusting her teachings is equally sensible. But calling yourself a Catholic is not.
I know that sounds harsh, and I wish there were a way to soften it. But softening that hard truth is one of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in. So many people who go to Church on Sundays but disagree with the Church are not at fault for their lack of understanding. They want to be good Catholics. They think they are good Catholics. And they’re trying to be good Catholics in the best way they know how, in the way taught to them by priests, parents, and teachers.
But those priests, parents, and teachers failed them. Whether maliciously or mistakenly, they handed on a watered-down version of the Faith, not the fullness of it. And the results are millions of people who think they’re living the Catholic life when they’re actually living anything but. Seeing that, let alone working your way out of it, is a monumental task, so I have great trust that God will show mercy to people in that situation.
Which brings me to my final point.
The easy thing to do for anyone in any age is to drift with the culture. The hard thing to do is to swim against the tide. As this is not 1950, the easy thing for most of us to do would be to pop a pill, sleep around, and marry and divorce as often as we like. Those of us who aren’t doing that are making hard choices, choices that fly in the face of what the media, our neighbors, and, oftentimes, our families tell us to do. And you don’t make those kinds of choices without first having a long, hard think about them.
The truth is, the overwhelming majority of us who live the Church’s teachings on sex, love, and marriage have given great consideration to all sides and found the arguments of those opposed to Church teaching wanting. We have concluded, after much reflection and study, that their ideas have done nothing but contribute to the false understanding of marriage, love, family, and the human person wreaking havoc in the world today.
We have likewise concluded that what the Church has to say on the issues of sex and marriage does speak to the situation our culture finds itself in at the present moment, and it does offer a way forward that leads to peace, healing, wholeness, and life.
In part, that’s because human nature has not changed with the centuries. What was true of man in the days of Aquinas is true of man in the days of smart phones.
Even more fundamentally, the Church’s teachings speak to this present generation because she’s not just repeating the same old teachings in the same old way. Rather, she has found a new and powerful language with which to articulate her ancient understanding of spousal love. That language is called the theology of the body, and it is the reason why younger Catholics are more fully on-board with the Church’s teachings about contraception than their older counterparts. It’s a language we can understand and that resonates with our experience of love.
That experience tells us that the human body, when it gives itself in love to another person, speaks a language of self-gift. It says, “I give myself to you, forever and completely.” Contraception turns that statement into a lie. It warps the gift, denying the primary purpose of spousal love (the creation of new life) and preventing the two from fully giving themselves to each other. Each is holding something back—namely, their ability to create new life.
Contraception also opens the floodgates for innumerable problems, making it easier for men and women to be promiscuous, adulterous, and use the person they are supposed to be loving. It profoundly changes people’s understanding of the sexual act, allowing them to bifurcate sex from procreation and love from responsibility. It also blurs the image of Trinitarian life—a communion of total self-gift between life-giving Lovers—that spousal love is designed to be.
So very much about God, man, and creation is revealed by the union of male and female as man and wife. Contraception has truncated that revelation and is indeed one of the reasons our culture is in the state it’s in. Its acceptance, not to mention its advocacy by some Catholics, has created untold theological and societal problems, and Catholics who are living the Church’s teachings see that.
Those who think otherwise are free to do so. I just wish they would stop dismissing the opinions of everyone who disagrees with them as ignorant, unconsidered, and (my personal favorite) “hateful.” Such a dismissal may reassure them about their own decision to depart from Catholic orthodoxy, but it is as ineffective of an argument as it is untrue.
Emily Stimpson is a Contributing Editor to “Our Sunday Visitor” and the author of “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years,” where she dishes on the Church’s teachings about women, marriage, sex, work, beauty, suffering, and more.