Opportunity for an NFP Homily
Advent and Christmas both contain readings in which the plan of God rests on the abandonment of his chosen ones to divine providence and their openness to life/children. The fiat of Mary in the annunciation—and to a lesser extent, that of Elizabeth—exemplify the unfolding of God’s plan through the parents’ openness to children. How many of us could rule out the possibility that a prophet might be born to us, someone who will help heal the world in extraordinary ways? How would the world have been different if Mary and Elizabeth, or Abraham and Sarah, or Adam and Eve had not accepted God’s invitation to children? What would have become of the poor and indigent people of Calcutta if Mother Teresa’s parents had refused their gift of fertility?
The Easter Season is all about new life and rebirth. Easter reveals to us a new humanity definitively redeemed—children of God and heirs to God’s eternal life. Christ’s resurrection is the consummate sharing of life, the transference of humanity from the state of servitude to the state of "children of God" (Rom 8:14-17). The Resurrection elevates humanity to divine filiation, that is, it makes us children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. There is, perhaps, no better catechesis on the value and nature of childhood, therefore, than the Easter mystery, for children are the fruit of love. In the same way that our spiritual childhood is the fruit of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church, children are the visible fruit of marriage. Love is always life giving and fruitful. This is why Christ’s offering of love on the Cross did not end in death but in glorified life. If marriage is the visible sign of Christ’s laying down His life for the Church (E ph 5:25-32), then it, too, must be oriented to giving life.
Trinitarian communion was revealed in the glorification of the Son in the Resurrection. The Resurrection is the sign, par excellence, of the life-giving power of God. The family, reflecting the Trinity, is a communion of persons that more effectively witnesses to God when it, too, gives life. Christ’s resurrection applies God’s life-giving power to humanity, creating the family of God. We, in turn imitate, or rather, participate in this act when by our transmission of life, we create a family.
The family motif is carried on in The Feast of the Ascension, which anticipates our coming of age as children of God, and our consequent reception of the inheritance of the Father, the beatific vision. Trinity Sunday would likewise pertain to the Trinitarian significance of procreation and family as well as The Feast of Pentecost, because, just as children proceed from the mutual love of parents, the Holy Spirit proceeds as the personification of the mutual love of the Divine Persons. Our human relationships (communion among persons) naturally reflect the essence of God written into the creation. All creation bears the mark of its creator.
Preaching on NFP during Christmas and Easter has the added advantage of reaching Catholics who might not attend Mass regularly, but come out for special feasts. Pastors and parishioners alike are well aware of how much pew count swells during these two holy days. It may well be that this group of parishioners is the one most in need of catechesis on fertility and NFP, and what a brilliant opportunity to lend significance and solemnity to the message.
Lent is a time to accept our call to examine our consciences and repent from sin. Advent, too, with its emphasis on judgment and the bold preaching of John the Baptist to repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ, is a time to clean house spiritually. We must be ready to admit that, in light of the scandalously high number of Catholics who practice contraception and sterilization, we have distorted God’s design for marital sexuality. Since Lent and Advent emphasize new beginnings, both might be occasions to introduce the subject of sterilization reversal, a real possibility for most sterilized couples
Presentation of the Lord (Feb. 2)—Jesus is portrayed by the prophet Simeon as a sign that will be opposed, a sign of contradiction. Jesus is the quintessential symbol of standing against the prevailing sentiment of the age, of rising up against bondage to sin and error without counting the cost. The Presentation of the Lord, traditionally associated with the virtue of obedience so well modeled by Joseph and Mary’s keeping of the Law, is well suited to the message that Christ has designed marriage to be fruitful despite the contraceptive mentality that so characterizes modern culture. We see in this feast a twofold offensive against a sinful culture: (1) Mary and Joseph’s acceptance of a mission that would require radical self denial, and (2) an instance of parents redeeming the culture surrendering their parenthood to divine providence. Generous openness to children in marriage is an exercise in both of these virtues. Accepting parenthood can change the world; Mary and Joseph are a testament to that.
St. Joseph, Husband of Mary (Mar. 19)—Husbands are often a stumbling block to the use of NFP in marriages. Saint Joseph cooperated with Mary’s call to parenthood, accepting God’s will with complete docility. Husbands must guard the purity of their wives, just as St. Joseph guarded Mary’s purity. Joseph admirably fulfills the ideal established by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the Church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (5:25-27). Husbands should not allow the purity and holiness of their wives to be compromised by supporting or coercing the use of contraception. This goes for sterilization as well, even to the male, for both spouses hereby participate in an act of coition that has been sterilized.
The Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), The Annunciation (Mar. 25) & The Assumption (Aug. 15)—Mary, along with Abraham, is held up by the Church as an exemplar of the obedience of faith (CCC 148). Her will was wholeheartedly aligned with God’s will, that is, she willed only what God willed, consenting even to the death of her beloved son, a horror spared Abraham. Disobedience to the plan of God was foreign to Mary, who surrendered her maternal rights in order to give her son as a sheep to slaughter. Likewise, disobedience to God’s design for marriage, and the teaching of the Church He commissioned as our shepherd, should be equally foreign to us. Dissent was not an issue for Mary—she did not pursue loopholes; she was not concerned with whether Christ’s will for her life was infallible or not—she gave herself without reservation because she loved Him truly: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord" (The Annunciation, Lk 1:38). Than ks be to God for such love that brought us eternal redemption. Rebellion against the Church’s clear and unwavering teaching on contraception, and the attendant desire of this rebellion to dominate and subvert our fertility, opposes the very archetype of redeemed humanity and deprives us of the divine life realized in her Assumption.
The Birth of John the Baptist (June 24)—John the Baptist is known for his passionate and hard-hitting preaching in preparation -for the New Covenant. He called the world to repentance, urging it to make way for the Christ by making amends for its wrongdoing. His life was devoted to the circumcision of the heart (cf. Rm. 2:29) that would universalize salvation, making it possible for anyone, Jew or gentile, to be justified. His death came about as the result of his public condemnation of Herod’s unlawful marriage to his brother’s wife. The issue over which John gave up his life was the sanctity and right ordering of marriage. Can we not call ourselves to account for the disordering of marriage in our use of contraception and in our self-mutilative practice of sterilization? John the Baptist was no wild man, but a man of extraordinary conviction who deeply loved his people. His challenge, like that of the Church, is to clear the w ay for Christ by removing obstacles to full reception of His grace. Contraception is such an obstacle and until it is removed we cannot fully receive the gifts with which Christ has endowed marriage.
Saints Peter and Paul (June 29)—Out of the heroic sacrifice of saints Peter and Paul emerges a confirmation of the Christological ethic of leadership and service. Like Jesus before them, Peter and Paul laid down their lives to lead the Church, validating their commission as Apostolic fathers. Though this leadership exists today in the successors of the Apostles, rank and file Catholics too commonly dismiss Apostolic Succession by disobeying the teaching authority of the magisterium. Dissent from the Church’s teaching on contraception, because this teaching has been the clear and continuous exercise of the apostolic office that resides in the Pope and the College of Bishops, is an implicit repudiation of the apostolicity of the Church. To reject the teaching authority of the Church on this matter is to reject the apostolic office sustained by Peter and Paul at so great a cost.
Body and Blood ; Triumph of the Cross (Sept. 14)—Although we may not be proficient in the theology of redemptive suffering, most of us are familiar with the expression, "offer it up." Most of us are vaguely cognizant of the value of suffering for ourselves and others, though we do not like to suffer. The Triumph of the Cross opens up for us the mystery that our suffering can be united to that of Christ, not in such a way that Christ’s offering on the Cross was insufficient and needs to be supplemented by our own suffering. Rather, it teaches us that our suffering is made efficacious because it is a participation in Christ’s suffering: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Pt 4:12-13). Indeed, because Christ to ok upon Himself all human affliction on the Cross, he has already realized our suffering and offered it to God.
Our suffering has been, as it were, nailed to the Cross. Our personal self-sacrifices become one with Christ’s self-sacrifice. We express this connection in the Mass during the offertory when we say, "May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of God, for our good and the good of all of His Church." This shared sacrifice is redemptive to us and to the rest of the Church ("for our good and the good of all His Church"). Jesus does not offer Himself apart from us, exclusively. On the contrary, He offers Himself in union with humanity, incorporating us into His once-for-all sacrifice. He is our corporate representative, allowing all of the merit he earned to be applied to us, not juridically as if God simply demanded a pound of flesh for the wrongdoing of humanity, but communally, drawing his brothers and sisters (us) into an offering of love. Our every trial and our every act of love has meaning to the extent that it proceeds from the self-offering of Christ.
So what does this all have to do with contraception? We live in a hedonistic culture that tells us to pursue only what feels good, and to avoid all that feels bad by any means necessary. Parenthood and children have been assailed by this self-serving ethic. In the pursuit of sexual pleasure, material gain, and personal gratification, contraception has become the means of thwarting our fertility. Children are perceived by too many as an inconvenience—too costly, too time consuming, too needy. Yet, in keeping with the tenet that pleasure must be pursued at all costs, hedonism is not willing to let go of the sexual act that is designed to produce children. Modern culture is practically obsessed with the refinement of methods and gadgets that could "liberate" our sexuality from the threat and demands of parenthood. The result has been the objectification of persons: the turning of human beings into objects of sexual gratification. Love, which is the foundation an d goal of romantic interaction, is replaced by infatuation and lust, creating counterfeit relationships that often end in separation and divorce.
Contraception, because it is aimed at mutual self-gratification instead of mutual self-gift, fuels this decline. Couples are trained to say with their bodies, "I give my whole self to you," while in truth withholding part of themselves from their partners. Standing against this degradation is the Triumph of the Cross, in which Jesus’ heart matched perfectly His action. When He said, "This is my body given up for you," he enacted this promise bodily on the Cross. In His sacrifice is the very definition of love: the complete offering of self in recognition and service of another’s God-given dignity. Jesus put the definition more simply: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (Jn 15:13).
Holy Family — What feast could be more suited to the message of the blessings of children and the harm of contraception? Mary and Joseph, despite the most difficult of circumstances, devoted themselves to the Christ child. Their openness to life was not hindered by the inconvenience of God’s call for them, nor by the interruption of their plans for the future. Unlike the contracepting couple that says "no" to God’s call to parenthood, Mary and Joseph said "yes." The faithfulness of the Holy Family in service to life, brought life to us all in the person of Christ. In the same way that Mary and Joseph found themselves in the vocation of parenthood, so too do we discover ourselves in our acceptance of this holy calling. The marriage of Joseph and Mary reveals to us that the raising of a child enhances the love of spouses for one another and deepens their shared sense of meaning in life. Theirs is a shining example of a sentiment common among parents: "It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s worth it!"
Anniversary of Humanae Vitae (July 25)—Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae is a concise summation of the Church’s teaching on contraception. It defines the duties and responsibilities of conjugal love, the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, the morally impermissible methods of regulating birth, the morality of Natural Family Planning, and the consequences of artificial birth control for the world. There are, in fact, three consequences outlined by Pope Paul VI that have unfortunately been confirmed:
(1) marital infidelity, (2) a general decline in morality, and (3) the abuse of contraceptive methods by public authorities. The high divorce rates we have experienced, the scandalous rate of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and fatherless families, and the coercive contraception and abortion policies that have emerged around the globe all prove Humanae Vitae right. The encyclical goes on to explain pastoral directives that emphasize self-mastery, and the creation of a climate of chastity. Appeals are made to public authorities, scientists, spouses, medical personnel, priests, and bishops, to uphold the truth about contraception and support openness to the blessings of children. It is a timeless document that, contrary to popular misconception, did not invent a new doctrine on fertility in marriage, but reiterated and clarified what the Church had always and universally taught.
Anniversary of Roe v. Wade (Jan. 22) & Respect Life Sunday (first Sun. in Oct.)—Since 1973, nearly 42 million babies have been killed in the U.S.—a rate of approximately 1.5 million every year. While there is widespread agreement among Christians that abortion is an evil that must be eradicated (though agreement is not universal), there is much less awareness and agreement that contraception has fueled the demand for abortion. Beyond the fact that the birth control pill is an abortifacient, contraception is based on intolerance of new life. Contraception assumes that fertility is a disease of sorts that must be treated with medication and which must be avoided by the use of prophylactics. The belief that we can artificially sterilize sex acts so as to avoid children implies a lack of appreciation for their value and opens the floodgates for a spectrum of other artificial measures that seek to achieve the same end through similarly illicit means. When we accept the use of contraception, we play into the hands of those who conspire against life: "It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the ‘contraceptive mentality’—which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act—are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected" (EV 13).
For this reason Pope John Paul II has described contraception and abortion as "fruits of the same tree" (EV 13). In an audience with the Austrian bishops, June 19, 1987 he was equally direct: "It is ever more clear that it is absurd, for instance, to want to overcome abortion through the promotion of contraception. The invitation to contraception as a supposedly ‘harmless’ manner of the relation between the sexes is not only an insidious denial of man’s moral freedom. It fosters a depersonalized understanding of sexuality which is directed merely to the moment and promotes in the last analysis that mentality out of which abortion arises and from which it is continuously nourished. Furthermore, it is certainly not unknown to you that in more recent methods the transition from contraception to abortion has become extremely easy" (L’Osservatore Romano, July 13, 1987).
Used by permission from
Called to Give Life
A Sourcebook on the Blessings of Children and the Harm of Contraception