What do men and women want? What do all of us yearn for? Certainly, love and happiness would be at the top of the list. We were made to love and to be loved. Unfortunately, today our culture is awash with multiple false messages on love and happiness, especially when it comes to sex and marriage. This confusion is not only present in our society, but has taken a toll within the Church for numerous decades. Catholics need help to understand and live the full Gospel of Christ.
This is why it is so encouraging to see a broad group of Catholic scholars standing up to promote and defend the Church’s teaching on married love and responsible parenthood and the fact that contraception and sterilization are morally unacceptable and cannot lead a couple to the happiness they desire. On September 20, 2016, at The Catholic University of America (view press conference here), the scholars released a statement entitled, Affirmation of the Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality. Among other things, the statement is a resounding affirmation of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical On Human Life (Humanae Vitae) issued in 1968.
The Church’s teaching in this area is sometimes caricatured and maligned—more often, though, it is simply unknown or not understood well. The Affirmation statement beautifully and clearly summarizes the Church’s teaching. I encourage you to read the statement, to learn more about the Church’s teaching, and to pray about where the Lord might be calling you to witness further to His truth.
Sexual relations belong to marriage. Marriage is a unique and total gift of self between one man and one woman. By its very nature it speaks a language of love that is life-long, exclusive, and fruitful. In marriage, a husband and a wife give themselves totally to each other, not partially. This is the reality of married love, which is also a constant call to spouses to grow deeper in their love, as Pope Francis has taught so eloquently in The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia).
Couples who use contraception or resort to sterilization may not realize that such actions contradict the very nature of their marital love and God’s plan for them. They may not realize that, in addition to spiritual and relational consequences, such actions can be accompanied by harmful and unhealthy side effects to the body. They may also not realize that the birth control pill can at times operate as an abortifacient.
The so-called sexual revolution—erupting particularly in the 1960s by means of wide access to contraception through the birth control pill—was promised as a panacea to the challenges faced by men and women in marriages and relationships, especially women. But has it really made the world better? Do men and women truly see each other as gifts? The surge of sex outside of marriage, the proliferation of the “hook-up” culture, broken marriages, pornography use, ever increasing numbers of STDs in the U.S., absent fathers, relational wounds—all of these are signs pointing to the failure of the sexual revolution.
Another revolution is called for, one which has already been underway and given renewed impetus by the prophetic teaching of Blessed Pope Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul II and the recent, incisive teaching of Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. This is the revolution of authentic love. Here, we need look no further than Christ on the Cross, who has given us the enduring meaning of true love—unselfish and seeking the true good of others, that they might have life. Love and life were inseparable on the Cross, and they are inseparable in marriage, which itself has become the very sign of the mystery of Christ and the Church.
All of us can grow in our witness to the love which Christ has poured out upon us through His Church.
To any Catholics who have chosen to contracept, I invite you to reconsider the Church’s teaching, to pray for light and mercy, and to meet with a priest and someone trained in the methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP) (or Fertility-Based Awareness Methods) to discuss what steps can be taken to follow God’s plan for your marriage. Your parish or diocese should have information on NFP contacts and education opportunities in your area. If you are unable to find information, please contact the bishops’ NFP Program at firstname.lastname@example.org, and staff will be happy to help you.
To Catholics who have embraced the Church’s teachings, even when difficult, I thank you for being—and encourage you to remain as—joyful and merciful witnesses who invite others to the fullness of the truth. Your witness is an inspiring light for your brothers and sisters and is needed now more than ever.
Lastly, to all those in positions of leadership in the Church, especially those with responsibility for catechesis, education and ongoing formation, thank you for all you do. May our efforts truly help all we encounter to embrace the full truth of the Gospel, which includes the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, marriage, and family life.
Even when following the Church’s teaching on married love may be difficult, no couple should feel alone. The Lord Jesus is here to carry our burdens and the Church is here to accompany us in our struggles. May our renewed witness to the Church’s teaching on human love in the divine plan help bring greater peace and joy to our families, parishes, communities, and nation.
For more information on the Church’s teaching and other resources, see the following:
- NFP Church Teaching webpage
- Married Love and the Gift of Life (2006)
- Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009)
- For Your Marriage.org
Bishop Malone is Bishop of Buffalo and Chairman, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.