By the Publisher
Man cannot create animate things. He can create a robot, but this is only a lifeless mechanism. Man cannot breathe life into the product of his hands. Only God gives life.
We hear the phrase, “let’s make another baby,” as though it was the fruit of the parents’ work and effort. Thousands of people have been at work for many years endeavoring to produce a slightly improved artificial kidney or an artificial heart. But compare an artificial kidney with a natural kidney, an artificial heart with a natural heart, the handiwork of man with the handiwork of God. The great efforts expended by teams of men, scientists, physicians, engineers, while indeed worthy of recognition, are like a child’s drawings compared to the works of the great masters, or even worse.
A married couple may choose not to invite God’s cooperation in the creation of a new human being by refraining from the marital act during the woman’s fertile period, or they may choose to invite Him into the marital act. There is yet another possibility that is sadly being taken advantage of all too often these days. One can choose to invite God’s cooperation by engaging in the marital act during a fertile period and at the same time place an obstacle to prevent His entering in. One can invite Him –– and at the same time slam the door in His face. This is what takes place when we resort to contraception.
Let’s put ourselves for a moment in God’s place. For various reasons a couple do not wish to bring a child into the world at a given moment. The woman determines her fertility cycle and the couple refrain from conjugal relations during the days of fertility. God is present in their life, He is loved and respected, but is not invited as Creator. Since there are serious reasons for this, God is not offended by not being invited.
Now here’s another situation. For certain reasons, at a particular moment, a couple do not wish to bring a child into the world. They wish nevertheless to enjoy conjugal relations precisely at a time when they think the Creator could well drop in. Not wishing to forego their pleasure, they prefer to close the door on Him by resorting to contraceptive means. What are they saying to God in this way? “We suspect You may be coming. Your presence is not wanted, so, all right then, we’ll close the door.” If we were to discover this, especially about somebody who was very close to us, we should feel very hurt. It is a clear and great affront. One closes the door on an intruder. A contracepted marital act is a very grave transgression of the love of God, and hence of the First Commandment.
Natural family planning methods respect God’s plan for human fertility. The couple want to submit to God’s plan. Contraception, on the other hand, overrides God’s plan. Man manipulates God; imposes his own plan in the interests of his own enhanced pleasure. Pleasure takes precedence over God’s will. But violating God’s plan brings with it endless complications and hardship. Man never achieves happiness by acting in spite of God. On the other hand, respecting His plan brings with it peace, joy and a sense of fulfillment.
The couple can express their mutual love and desire for oneness in boundless ways. Among these, however, the marital act enjoys a special significance. It unites the couple more intimately than, say, a kiss, a warm word or an embrace. (It is also true that conjugal relations can be rendered so trite that they express nothing in particular or arouse even negative feelings. But here we will not touch on such pathological situations.) Acts of the body, like words, have their own precise meanings.
The marital act can express something extraordinarily deep and important for the couple. By this means, through the language of the body, they can communicate to one another something much more important than through other gestures and words. But this occurs only when the marital act is open to life. It is then that the couple can say these felicitous things to one another. An act that is open to life is one in which the couple plans to conceive a child or –– which is more often the case –– do not plan to conceive a child, but are ready to accept it if it is conceived: “We love and desire children. For serious reasons we cannot have a child right at this moment, but of course we’ll accept it with love, if it is conceived.”
Through the marital act, which is thus open to life, the couple convey the following message to one another: “I’m ready to have a child with you. I’m ready to experience with you that great and also demanding task of giving birth and rearing a child. I know that this task takes many years, but I am ready to share this labor with you even for many years.” Thus, in each marital act that is open to life we renew once more our wedding vow: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” In this way it becomes not so much a physical experience as a touchstone of love, not so much a source of pleasure as a way of expressing the deepest spousal love. Its meaning does not consist in fleeting, transient pleasure. This union endures, even when pleasure is lacking –– which may also occur.
What does a contraceptive union, i.e. a union that is closed to life, express? To say to one’s spouse through the language of the body: “I am ready to have a child with you” is not the same as to say “I want to enjoy pleasure with you.” The contraceptive union does not express spousal love and does not build it up. Such a union may well arouse the suspicion that the act in which I am taking part is merely a selfish taking of pleasure or an availing of sexual favors for recreational purposes.
The marital act is also an act that enables the couple to give themselves to one another totally, to merge two “I’s” into one. The couple can become not just one flesh but one whole being. Authentic love desires precisely such total giving of one to another (total giving and hence forever). In this love the husband accepts his wife unconditionally, and the wife her husband. This does not happen when the couple resort to contraception. Consider, for example, the situation where the husband insists that his wife take contraceptive measures. In this case he is telling her indirectly that there is something evil, threatening, undesirable, and unacceptable about her body: “I cannot accept and receive you whole as you are. I can accept you only when you are barren.”
The conscious rejection of the ability to give life violates the most basic meaning of womanhood. Contraception is shot through with a profound anti-feminism. It is invariably accompanied by an unconscious conviction that there is something evil about a woman’s body, since it is liable to the threat of new life — pregnancy.
When a couple resort to contraception they do not become one flesh, one soul. They remain divided, since they do not accept one another in love. They only seem to take part in the act of total self-giving. Their bodies say something that the couple neither feel nor wish to say at all.
By God’s design the marital act serves two functions: the procreative and the unitive (it bears fruit and builds spousal love). The ability to reproduce is not simply a biological function as with animals. It cannot be separated from our personhood. It is intimately bound up with the whole person. So closely connected are these two functions of the marital act that to destroy the fruitful function is to destroy the unitive one. Where a couple deliberately destroy the ability of the marital act to give life, they destroy at the same time its potential to express love. Love impelled God to create man. Authentic human love, which is in the image and likeness of God, is also impelled to be life giving. Love that consciously, deliberately declines to give life is self-thwarting; it becomes stunted and starts to wither. To thwart life is to thwart love. Love grows and flourishes only when it is open to life.
Fr. Wojciech Mainka, OFM
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010