Archive for the ‘Priests & Parishes’ Category

Humanae Vitae: The Conversion Value of NFP continued

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

The second reason why it is realistic to fear that parishioners will vote with their feet is the almost complete failure of parishes to teach the real content of Humanae Vitae and to provide the practical help of Natural Family Planning.  As a result, some think that no matter what they do, they will have ten children in a dozen years, and others think they will almost never be able to engage in the marriage act if they do not want more children.  This is a tremendously false picture, but it is fostered by the almost complete absence of relevant preaching and teaching at the parish level.

On the other hand, the wonderful reality is that the truths reaffirmed by Humanae Vitae and the practice of Natural Family Planning attract those who want to live the truth about love—and there are many such couples. Repeatedly couples have witnessed to the fact that the practice of natural family planning was the starting point of their journey to the Church or back to the Church. I am convinced that the practice of marital chastity opens the mind and heart to the fact that it is Christ Himself who continues to teach the demands of love in and through his Church.  In most cases, however, it is not just the periodic abstinence of NFP that has convinced couples; it is also the fact that they learned some of the reasons behind the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

In the early Eighties, I received a letter informing me that the writer, his wife and his family had entered the fullness of the Catholic Church.  He described himself as having been a fundamentalist married to a Baptist.  They had been practicing NFP because the wife did not want to use the Pill; he very reluctantly went along with this but only because he loved and respected his wife.  One evening as he was waiting for dinner, he picked up my organization’s newsletter and read something that rang true.  He remarked to his wife that there was a lot more to this NFP stuff than just mucus and temperatures; there were good reasons for it.  She answered that she had thought there were and had been waiting for him, the more philosophical of the duo, to explain them to her.  Then they figured that if the Catholic Church had it right on this one, they owed it to the Church to take a look at its other claims as well.  In due time and with the grace of God, he notified me of the family’s entrance into full communion with the Catholic Church.  Praise the Lord!

The names of Scott and Kimberly Hahn are well known in the Church today.  Back in their Protestant seminary days, they found something I had written about birth control and found it persuasive.  They accepted the universal Christian Tradition against unnatural forms of birth control, a Tradition taught almost exclusively by the Catholic Church today, and acted accordingly.  I believe that living this part of Catholic teaching gradually helped to open their hearts and minds to the fullness of the truth.

And the process continues.   I once read a comment from a couple applying to become teachers of natural family planning.  “Also, NFP has brought us, to a large degree, into the Catholic Church.”

Truth attracts and retains people of good will.  That’s why it is necessary to preach, teach and practice the truths affirmed by Humanae Vitae.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Humanae Vitae: The Conversion Value of Natural Family Planning

Sunday, March 4th, 2018

Ever since the publication of Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968, a great fear has cast a sickly hue over the pastoral work of the Church.  This malady is simple to diagnose but difficult to cure.  It can be stated this way:  “We fear that if we teach that it is immoral to use unnatural forms of birth control, our parishioners will vote with their feet, the pews will be emptied, and how will we pay the bills?”

There are two primary reasons why that fear can be realistic.  First of all, in recent years the educational ministries within the Church have generally failed to build faith in the Church as the Body of Christ.  All too many Catholics have a liberal Protestant view of the Church as just a religious organization in which I feel comfortable.  If it starts to preach something I find uncomfortable, I simply shop around for another church.  And no matter what my church says officially, I can interpret my Bible to mean whatever I think it means.

Catholic belief in the Church is simultaneously more demanding and more liberating.  It is more demanding because it requires the believer to believe all that the Church teaches because it has been revealed by God Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.  It is more liberating because it frees the conscientious person from endlessly trying to figure out his own interpretation of the Bible or which of contradicting interpretations he thinks is correct.

And why should a person believe that the Catholic Church teaches with the authority of God—especially today?  He needs to understand what Jesus Himself did to ensure that his teachings—including the divine truth about human love—would endure till He returns.  So the question is really this.  Why should a person believe that Christ Himself continues to teach in and through the Catholic Church that He established?  The answer starts in the Bible including some very important teachings at the Last Supper. (Jn 14:15-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15)  And the rest is history, as they say.

Truth attracts people of good will.  The fear that teaching the fullness of the truth will lose parishioners is realistic only when the local church fails to teach the saving truth that it is Christ Himself who teaches in and through the Catholic Church, regardless of the sins of those who do not follow that teaching.  The answer is simple: correct preaching and catechesis.

Next week’s blog: the second reason for fearing the teaching of Humanae Vitae.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Humanae Vitae and Three Natures

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

In last month’s column we looked at the teaching of Humanae Vitae from the perspective of the authority of the Church to teach about human love. Specifically, we saw that Jesus at the Last Supper promised that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide the Apostles and their successors in teaching the truth including the truth about human love (Jn 14:26).  In brief, the teaching authority of the Church is the continuing authority of Jesus who has positively willed to keep his teaching alive and up-to-date through his body, the Church.

This blog will look at the teaching of Humanae Vitae from the perspective of three natures—human nature, the nature of marriage, and the nature of the marriage act.  If the authority of the teaching Church can be called an outside reason for believing the teaching affirmed by Humanae Vitae, the argument from these natures can be called an inner reason.

Human nature.  It is the very nature of being human to be honest.  We know that the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex 20:16) resonates within us.  The words of Polonius to Laertes ring true: “To thy own self be true; then thou cannot be false to any man.”  We know that we are called to be true to ourselves, to God and to our neighbor.  We know how much harm has been done by the great dishonesty of pretended love.  We may not like a lot of our weaknesses, but we definitely don’t want others to think of us as dishonest.

The nature of marriage.    What makes a marriage?  Probably the easiest way to see this is to reflect on what our reaction would be if we heard these words from the couple before the minister:  “We take each other for better but definitely not for worse, in good times but not in bad, in good health but we want to be free if one of us should ever get really sick, and we do all of this for as long as everything is working out just fine.”

None of us would need a degree in canon law or even a brief marriage course to know that whatever was happening up there, it was not marriage.  It would be completely invalid.  Legalized prostitution would be the more correct term.  What makes a wedding ceremony into a marriage is the unreserved commitment to take each other for better AND for worse—for life.  It’s a very big commitment, one that the Lord Jesus raised to the level of a sacrament to give us the graces we need to live it.

The nature of the marriage act.  The marriage act really ought to be a marriage act.  That is, sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant.  I’ve been saying that since 1967, but my theological authority and a dollar won’t get you even a cup of coffee.  So it was personally encouraging for me to read in Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II (2/2/94) as follows: “In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant” (n.12,12, emphasis in original).

What does that say about contraceptive behaviors?  Actions speak louder than words, and the body language of contraception speaks clearly: “We take each other for better but definitely NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.”  The body language of contraception makes it clear that marital contraception is NOT a renewal of the marriage covenant into which the spouses freely entered.  In fact, it contradicts the unreserved gift of self that made their wedding promises a true marriage.  Marital contraception is therefore invalid as a marriage act.  That helps to explain why Paul VI called it “intrinsically dishonest” in Humanae Vitae (n.14).

Pope John Paul II put it this way in his Letter to Families: “The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation: in this way the marriage is called to even greater fulfillment as a family.”

We are called to be honest in all of our dealings with others, and this includes the marriage relationship including sexuality.  Marital contraception is dishonest as a marriage act; it runs contrary to the nature of marriage itself and to our basic human call to be true to the human nature that God has given us.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant