The following is my homily from this past Sunday, July 21, 2013.
“I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” This was good news for Abraham and Sarah. Children were seen as a blessing. Sterility was seen as a curse. But notice how this has flip-flopped in our culture. The opposite is often the case. Human fertility is seen as a curse rather than a blessing. Fertility is seen as a liability. The culture says something must be done about the fertility monster.
Today begins Natural Family Planning awareness week. So, in this week we are given the opportunity to remind ourselves that new human life is a blessing, not a curse. Fertility is a gift from God, not a liability. He invites husbands and wives to be co-creators with him; what an awesome responsibility and privilege. Nobody denies the fact that sacrifices will have to be made for each new life. But sacrifice is the Christian way. The cross is our reminder. Christian history is 2,000 years of sacrifice and generosity. But notice how it has deep roots in the Jewish faith. In our first reading from Genesis, we heard that Abraham and Sarah were extremely generous and hospitable with three complete strangers. Later they were credited for having entertained angels. We are called to no less. We are reminded today that we are to be extremely generous and hospitable as well. We also will be recognized as having cared for God’s little angels. If everything is a gift from God, how could we not be generous gift givers ourselves?
Now, why NFP awareness this week? We are commemorating the 45th anniversary of the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae. In this encyclical in 1968, Pope Paul VI made some predictions on what would happen if the use of artificial contraception became widespread.
All of his predictions came true. In these 45 years, we have seen a general lowering of morality with the destruction of youth and family. We have seen a proliferation of out-of-wedlock births, and single-parent families. We have seen a great increase in venereal diseases. And we have seen an increase in marital infidelity, divorce, and spousal abuse.
Finally, what’s further repulsive is that our government is now forcing organizations to pay for the very things that help bring about the decline of our society and calling it healthcare. I was recently talking to an elderly gentleman who was a child during the Second World War He told me he remembers hearing about Hitler promoting the sterilization of certain groups of people, and how he just can’t believe that our own government has gotten in that business.
Yes contraception is a problem because it’s unhealthy for the human body, but it’s especially problematic because of the harm it can do to relationships. Human biology shows us that the conjugal embrace brings about two physical things: new life, and unity of the couple: procreative and unitive dimensions, if you will. It’s procreative because it’s God’s way of bringing new human life into the world. And it’s unitive because it’s God’s way of bonding a man and woman in married love for the rest of their lives. People who are open to both unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal embrace are presumably giving themselves fully to each other. There is a full self-giving for the benefit of the other. Sounds like love, doesn’t it? Nothing is held back, not even fertility.
When a barrier is placed in the way, there is no longer a full self-giving. Now something is held back. We would never say to a spouse, “I love you except for your fertility. Hold back that part of you.” So we shouldn’t say it in our actions either.
So we see that in diminishing the procreative meaning will take the risk of diminishing the unitive meaning of the conjugal embrace as well. Imposing barriers in this most intimate of settings can quite often manifest itself in emotional ways too. If the physical barriers are in the way, it becomes easier to put up emotional barriers or communication barriers as well.
As human beings, we are designed to have a very powerful unitive bond, but we can do things to diminish it. The worst thing about contraception and sterilization is that they reject God and his plan for our happiness. Furthermore the contraceptive mentality feeds the despair of the culture that new life is a curse. But life is a gift and a blessing. Natural Family Planning keeps the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal embrace intact while effectively helping married couples space children if they prayerfully discern they have a grave reasons to do so. NFP is more effective than contraception but without the destructive side-effects. And it has proven to enhance marital love rather than diminish it. It forces the husband and wife to communicate, thus building their relationship, rather than taking the risk of using the other for selfish reasons. I just heard new data on statistic this week that reinforced what I heard several years ago: Married couples who are not contracepting have the most satisfying sex lives. Of course; it’s God’s plan. It makes sense.
Today’s gospel tells us Mary sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha was anxious and worried. Martha is busy working her own agenda. Her trivial distractions take her away from his presence. Obviously something is a little off in her soul. She even tells God what to do, saying to the Lord: “Tell her to help me.” We are called to be Mary and sit beside the Lord at his feet and listen to him speak. He is still speaking to us through his Church, and his way is the way that works. Jesus says, “There is need of only one thing.” We hear what that one thing is in the Psalm today: to live I the presence of the Lord.
Christ is still trying to teach us something very good through his Church. Will we sit beside him at his feet and listen, or will we reject him? The invitation is here for us to learn what the Church teaches and why. And we all know people who need to learn it as well. Let’s have the courage to trust in the Lord and invite others to the happiness that only he can bring.