I wasn’t raised Catholic. On the contrary, I was raised in the Baptist church with nothing but contempt for the Catholic church. It’s not a church, it’s a cult! A cult that can’t evolve with the times! One of the biggest issues I had with the church, like so many modern ladies, was the pill. How could the Catholic church be so backwards, so archaic, that they could not accept a healthy means of controlling birth? Women are more than just baby makers, and we deserve more respect than that!
Unfortunately, between leaving the Baptist church and converting to Catholicism, I went through a stretch of wilderness years. During that time, I lived in the secular culture of contraception and my experiences during those times prepared me to embrace the teachings of the church. Forgive me if I’m vague, but I don’t like to look back on those lost days.
When I was 20 years old, I was on my own health insurance and ready to start some serious dating. Which, in our secular culture means birth control. It also means condoms, but you’ve got to have a back-up, right? So, I went to an OB-GYN and got a two-month supply of Ortho Try-Cyclen. The first month went swimmingly, as I popped the little pills in varying shades of green from their little wheel. No worries; absolutely no worries.
The second month, something went wrong. Horribly wrong. My period came, right on schedule. But it wouldn’t stop. There really isn’t a way for me to describe what happened or how I felt over the course of the next month. I was exhausted; I couldn’t stay awake for more than 10 hours without having a meltdown. My emotional state was an absolute disaster and I burst into tears constantly. Every day, I wished for it to stop, but it didn’t. For 28 days, I continue to menstruate and to be honest, I lost all hope. I honestly did not wish to live any longer.
That was enough to put me off birth control. Looking back, I’m oddly grateful for that experience. Contraception was a major barrier between me and the Catholic church. If I had experienced typical, favorable results, I may not have been open to the church’s teachings. My experience also opened my eyes to the tangible, negative effects of contraception. When friends were diagnosed with any sort of feminine problems, I would do a web search of their birth control. Quite often, problems their doctors contributed to poor personal hygiene, promiscuity, or merely shrugged off were symptoms of birth control. “It’s not natural!” I cried. “You’re stuffing yourself with hormones to trick your body and your body will not react well to being tricked!” My personal crusade against birth control did little to change anyone’s mind, but that was a watershed moment for me which would bear fruit 7 years later when I came into full communion with the Catholic Church.
One of the things I’ve been doing in order to enrich my spiritual life is reading Catholic blogs. Something that keeps coming up, again and again is Humanae Vitae. I’ve certainly heard of the landmark encyclical before, but I’d never read it for myself until a few days ago. I was floored. This is not a document of an oppressive church, bent on controlling women. It is a document of love, aiming to protect the dignity of women and the sanctity of marriage and conjugal love.
Contraception separates the act of sex from marriage and starting a family. Humanae Vitae, written in 1968 by Pope Paul VI, speaks from a culture where sex was still directly associated with getting married and having children. It speaks from an absolute understanding of the true nature of marriage, which is not personal pleasure, but two people joining together, each seeking the benefit of the other, coming together in union with God, and raising a family.
” Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will. But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator.”
It is difficult to wrap my head around these principles. In our society, sex is cheap. The “goody-two-shoes” on a t.v. show insists on waiting until the 3rd date to have sex. And that’s the prude. The internet is bursting with pornography, as is the local gas station. Magazine covers, movie posters, album covers, billboards; sex is marketing tool and it’s used heavily. It’s all about personal pleasure But sex is meant to be so much more than what we make of it. Pre-contraception, sex was part of marriage, part of making a family. No one can say out-of-wedlock pregnancies never happened, but it was at a much lower rate.
Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
The “lowering of moral standards” includes out-of-wedlock pregnancies…
…and don’t mistake that drop in divorce rate for good news. The marriage rate has dropped also.
In our culture, marriage is nothing more than an arrangement of benefits between friends which can be broken at any time.
Humane Vitae also warns against government imposition of contraception.
“Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.”
10 years after Humanae Vitae was published, China implemented its “one child” policy, which has brought with it forced abortions and infanticide. Controlling the population by brute force is the stark reality.
Contraception allows men and women to treat each other as sexual objects, to take the goods without putting in any investment. When you remove the act of sex from marriage, and childbearing, and even love, the only thing that is left is destructive and selfish. No love can come out of such an act. The divorce rate soars, abortions rise, out of wedlock pregnancies become the norm, and children are raised without fathers, and sometimes without mothers.
I wish I had read Humanae Vitae in High School. Perhaps then I would have embraced Catholicism early on and wouldn’t have had to live through those wilderness years. All things in God’s perfect timing, right?
One more thing on Humanae Vitae for now: Natural Family Planning. While NFP as we know it wasn’t quite developed in 1968, it did exist in pieces and was accepted as the method for spacing births for Catholics. It is accepted since it is natural, and the couple is still open to life. Also, when practiced correctly, it plants seeds for all kinds of virtues: patience, love, self-discipline, self-denial!
The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings. For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers.
So, I’m left wondering why the same people who rail against hormones in milk, which aren’t proven to have adverse affects on humans, will pump themselves full of hormones in contraception, which (based on just the possible side effects disclosed in the ads) can cause serious illness or even death. Why aren’t more couples going natural?
After being a Catholic for 5 years, and anti-birth control for 10, you’d think I would’ve read Humanae Vitae sooner. However, as much as marriage is in the news lately, I think it was the perfect time to read such a loving explanation of what the sacrament of marriage should be, and what sex ends up being without it.
You can read the full text of Humanae Vitae here.