Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Church's Positive Teachings on Human Sexuality, Contraception, and Life Issues

President Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, doing their best to imitate King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, and their allies, as part of their campaign to grossly violate the religious liberties and freedom of conscience of Catholics, Catholic organizations, and other persons of good will, have repeatedly promoted the falsehood that to refuse to provide contraceptives to employees is an act against women.

Many of these same people, including not only various pro-abortion groups which have long seen the Catholic Church as the enemy, but others who have long exhibited antipathy toward the Church, including not a few people who are themselves Catholic, have also spread various mischaracterizations and distortions of the Church's teachings on human sexuality. Some of this is due to ignorance, some due to knowingly malicious intent. But their efforts over many decades have been effective so that most people do not know what the teachings of the Church are, or why they are what they are.

It is a common perception in the outside world that, when it comes to moral matters, the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) is harsh, negative, and oppressive, obsessed with sin and controlling people’s lives, imposing its will, and maintaining its power with a bunch of irrational rules and prohibitions. But all of these things are totally false.

Catholic theology -- including moral theology of human sexuality and life issues -- is not a collection of mere policy preferences or opinions. It is not the fruit of a bunch of old men dictating on-high what they think is or ought to be. And it is not a set of arbitrary negative rules dictated or revealed to us by an arbitrary God. It is not a restriction on authentic freedom.

Moreover, many people seem to think that the Church reinvents the wheel with every new moral question, that with each moral situation, in this case, human sexuality, the Church applies a unique set of rules and principles. In fact, all of the Church's moral teachings on human conduct are the same. There is not one teaching for non-sexual mattters and a different teaching for sexual matters. And there is not a different teaching for contraception, a different teaching for abortion, a different teaching for extra-marital sex, a different teaching for homosexuality. No, there is only one teaching -- the teaching in each case is the same, and it is a positive teaching.

In addition to the above errors and misperceptions, many people think -- and tell others -- that the foundational teaching in Humanae Vitae is about contraception or that the Theology of the Body is all about sexuality. In neither case is that really so if one carefully reads the relevant documents. Rather, John Paul II merely applied Theology of the Body to the context of human sexuality. Similarly, Pope Paul VI merely applied the primary teaching of Humanae Vitae to human sexuality in general and contraception in particular.

So what is that one teaching for every moral question? What is the primary teaching of Humanae Vitae if not contraception? What is the primary teaching of the Theology of the Body if not human sexuality?

Love and Truth.

Love and Truth are the two pillars upon which the entirety of the faith can be understood. We are a faith that seeks understanding, both for ourselves and to better explain it to non-believers. It is crucial for understanding to see that Love and Truth really are the answer to every question. And it is not surprising that Love and Truth should be the answer to every question because God is Love and God is Truth. (CCC 214-221)

As such, notwithstanding the many “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, including “thou shalt not kill,” and the teachings of the Church against things like extra-marital sex, contraception, and abortion, we see that Catholic moral theology is positive, not negative, and it is indeed "good news," being grounded in Love and Truth and reason. And it is all of these things even if you never actually use the words "Christ" or "God" or "sin," such that it is applicable to believers and non-believers alike.

All of Catholic moral teaching, including the teachings on human sexuality, is reducible to the supremely positive commandments which were discussed between the Jesus and the Pharisee – “You shall love the Lord thy God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And, again, as Jesus said to the Apostles, "love one another. As I have loved you, so too should you love one another."

And who and what is God, that we should love Him? God being the "I am" and Logos, is reality itself, is reason itself - He is Truth itself. So to love God means, among other things, to love Truth.

Those are the teachings of Christ and His Church in a nutshell. This is our general vocation - to love God and one another in truth. Christ does not present us with a set of prohibitions and restrictions - He give us joyous Good News, He gives us truth and thereby sets us free.

All Catholic moral teaching is grounded in and must comply with these two pillars of Love and Truth. When Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae, or Pope John Paul II taught the Theology of the Body, they were not expressing their opinions or personal policy preferences, they were not engaged in a raw assertion of power. The popes and the Church are bound in their teachings by Love and Truth. And one purpose of such teachings is to assist us in the formation of our consciences, which involves an act of reason, not feeling. In so doing, Popes Paul and John Paul were not really teaching anything new, anything that was not previously revealed by God or is not already written as the natural law on our hearts and accessible by reason; rather, they were teaching love and truth, caritas et veritas.

Now, of course, God's love is the highest love, the most perfect love, and it is that kind of true love that we are called to practice. To love perfectly and truly, we must love as God loves. Such a love is more than an emotional feeling, more than an attraction or desire for personal happiness, much less a base desire for physical pleasure. Such true and total love is turned outward, not inward, it is a conscious act of the will to subordinate oneself and unconditionally and selflessly seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of self for the other’s benefit, whether that love is returned or not and whether or not the other “deserves” to be loved. Most importantly, such fullness of love is by its very nature unitive and dynamic, it brings forth new life, it is fruitful. It was by such fullness of love that the universe itself was created and that death was transformed into new life on the Cross.

Again, to love perfectly and truly, we must love as Christ loves us. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jesus presents us with His Body, which has been given up for us. Such a love as we are called to demonstrate is not concerned with pleasing oneself and seeking to solely benefit oneself, but is instead a gift of self, totally and completely.

In practical terms, to "love one another" means that we should affirm and respect the truth of the inherent dignity of every human person from the very beginning of their creation, from the instant of existence, as children of God made in His image, no matter how seemingly insignificant, undesirable, or useless. We should treat others as subjects, not objects; as ends in and of themselves, not as a means to be exploited by us; and as persons, not things to be used up and then tossed aside or thrown away as if they are trash. We all have intrinsic value, every one of us.

Far from thinking that sex is bad and dirty, the Church teaches that human sexuality is a moral good; indeed, it is very good, it is one of the highest goods. Being created by God, it is necessarily a great good. But sex, like any other activity, is a good only insofar as it is consistent with truth, in this case, the truth of the human person, which is that we are social beings made for relationship, to love and be loved in truth, as well as the truth of the act itself, which is that it explicitly involves the transmission of procreative genetic material, sex is by its very nature and design a potentially reproductive act.

With respect to the truth of the nature of the human person, as revealed by natural observation and as further explained in the opening chapters of Genesis, there is a spousal meaning revealed in the human body. "Man," made in the image of the Trinity, is male and female, specifically oriented toward a "spousal" relationship, that is, one that is so full and complete in love that it it is unitive and fruitful, a dynamic communion of persons become one, just as the Trinity is a loving communion of three persons in one divine being who is procreative.

To be consistent with the truth of the human person, which is that we are all made to love and be loved in that pure and complete fullness of love that is both unitive and procreative, sexual activity must be consistent with that complete gift of self. In other words, in the context of marriage and without any barriers between the man and woman, including the barrier of contraception (physical or chemical) or even a contraceptive mentality (mental, emotional, or spiritual). When it is less than consistent with Truth and Love, when there is a withholding of a portion of the self, such as one's fertility, or when it involves an anti-child attitude, a lack of love for any potential children, or when sex takes place in an inherently temporary relationship, outside the union of marriage, then it begins to be something less than good, even if the people involved subjectively believe and insist that they are acting out of love. And to be "less than good" is to be not-good, it is a lie against the truth of the human person, whether one is a believer or not, although if one is a believer, then he should understand such to be called a "sin."

As with all things, in the context of our sexuality, we must love as Christ loves. Now, in His love for us and for His Bride, the Church, Jesus gave us the totality of His Body. Jesus is also the Word, the Logos, which means not only Reason or Truth, but a creative power as well, because it is through Him, the Logos, that all things were made. That means that our union with another must be a true love that is free, total, spousal, faithful, and fruitful. Jesus also loves in a Trinity of relations, such that our sexual activity must similarly take place between a husband and wife, one flesh, in union with God if it is to be consistent with authentic love and the truth of who we are as human persons, male and female. We cannot simply put God in the closet or otherwise bar Him from the bedroom and still have our sexual relations be acts of love in truth.

Whether it is sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, embryonic/fetal experimentation, euthanasia, or suicide, all of these things are contrary to the Truth. If you eliminate truth, reason, and love from the equation, then all you are left with is a utilitarianism and existentialism that practically demands that one take "charge of the process" as if he were a god himself. It is the philosophy of utilitarianism, the idea that the morality of all things must be determined, not from objective truth (or Truth), but from their usefulness, with one's happiness or pleasure being the ultimate measure of usefulness -- to the extent of allowing, if not compelling, the use of human persons as means to an end, as disposable things -- it is this corrosive philosophy, together with the related idea of existentialism, that we must create our own meaning of existence, which has brought us to where we are today, in an exploitive, hyper-sexualized, materialistic and hedonistic society awash in the blood of millions slain by abortion, the sick and elderly at risk of being medically euthanized daily, and all too many individuals despairing of life and committing suicide. These are the true negatives, not the Church’s teachings of love and truth.

To use another person (or ourselves) as merely an object for our sexual pleasure, as if he or she were a toy, and/or to allow ourselves to be controlled by our passions, rather than we controlling them, is contrary to the truth that we are persons and subjects, not objects or things. To deny the humanity of the unborn child and kill him or her by abortion is contrary to the truth that the entity in the womb is a living human being. And to assert that one has the power or right to determine his or her own concept of right and wrong, his or her own morality, as if he or she were a god, and decree that the child in the womb is merely a thing that can be eliminated by abortion would likewise be contrary to the truth that we are not gods or equal to or greater than the one God, who is Love and Truth.

Rather, we should love and respect one another as subjects, not as objects or playthings to be exploited for our own pleasure and used up. Babies, be they born or unborn, are not things to be thrown away like garbage. And the old and sick and poor are not useless eaters, taking up needed resources, such that we can eliminate them by euthanasia. There is no such thing as life unworthy of life.

Understood in the proper context, the Church's teachings are not so much against this or that, as they are teachings for Love, a teaching for Truth. These teachings are not harsh prohibitions or restrictions on our freedoms, they are not a denial of “freedom of choice,” but instead are truths that lead us to authentic freedom. These truths are already written on our hearts, but because our ability to reason and discover these truths ourselves has been corrupted by sin and the temptations of the world, in order to help, the Holy Spirit guides the Church in teaching us and explaining these truths.

However, we should be clear in understanding that the teachings of the Church on matters of morality are not a bunch of harsh prohibitions, merely a list of don’t do this, and don’t do that, but are instead a positive exhortation to do this and do that – do love, do live in truth, do live in the light of love and truth in authentic freedom. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI explains it this way:
Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet.

So, firstly, it is important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we do not want some things. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it is not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this. As far as abortion is concerned, it is part of the fifth, not the sixth, commandment: "You shall not kill!". We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.
--Interview of the Holy Father in Preparation to his Apostolic Journey to Bavaria, August 5, 2006

(To be continued: The Lie that is Contraception and the Truth of Authentic Feminism)

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