Comments on an NFP Homily from a Pastor's Pen

I enjoyed having Fr. Daniel McCaffrey in our parishes last weekend (May 20/21, 2006). For me it was kind of a reunion because I had him come to my previous parish of St. Clement over 6 years ago in February, 2000. I did have a little apprehension when I invited him because I figured that some people might not like to hear about the Church’s teaching on the sinfulness of contraception and sterilization or that it might make them feel uncomfortable. However, I tried to prepare for his coming and his message by  printing some articles in the bulletin about this topic in the previous couple of weeks. I was impressed by the professional and also very fatherly way he presented the moral teachings of the Church. I was disappointed that more people did not take advantage of the brief informational seminar we had at noon at Marquette Hall at St. Joseph. The doctors and the Couple-To-Couple League teaching couple from Quincy outnumbered the inquirers. I appreciated Drs. Joseph and Theresa Newton of Edina who made themselves available after all four Masses that weekend as well as the seminar. Dr. Erik Meidl from Hannibal was at the 10:30 Mass and seminar afterward. Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Jamboretz from Quincy came with handout materials and gave a wonderful witness about how natural family planning enhanced their marriage. 

Several things from what Fr. McCaffrey said in his sermon stood out for me and were memorable. I heard it four times with some variations. He cited the alarming fact that 80-90% of Catholics in America are contracepting. He said that sterilization is becoming the predominant form of artificially preventing conception. The divorce rate now is 50% and that applies to Catholics as well as non-Catholics. He said that 98% of those who divorce had practiced artificial contraception. The horrifying number of abortions today and the increase of divorces stems from the fact of contraception, which is like a cancer in our society and Church. Proponents of the Pill in the early sixties told people that it would be a great advancement. It would lessen the need for abortions and it would help marriages. They were terribly wrong. Doing something that is contrary to God’s commandments will never bring about good results. Fr. McCaffrey said that artificial contraception is a serious offense against chastity and the 6th Commandment. Sterilization is a serious offense against the 5th Commandment. But he did say that many Catholics in the last two generations have probably been ignorant of the seriousness of these actions because they were not told. Fr. McCaffrey said that priests and bishops should have been preaching more often that contraception and sterlization are contrary to God’s law and against God’s plan for the gift of human sexuality. Catholic people deserve the whole Gospel, the whole truth. The basic Church teaching is that the love-giving and life-giving aspects of the marital union or embrace cannot be separated. Neither the unitive nor procreative dimensions can be excluded. He said that he did not come to judge anyone or want to make people feel badly, but that he was compelled in conscience to preach the truth of God’s moral law and the need to keep the commandments. It bears on the eternal salvation of Catholic people. He said that if anyone should be blamed it is the priests and bishops for keeping silent for forty years about the sin of contraception.

Fr. McCaffrey said he believed that the widespread practice of sinful contraception by Catholics has in some way led to the ills we see afflicting the Catholic Church today because contraception is like a cancer eating away at the souls of people and the soul of the Church. One example is the growing laxity in the practice of the faith by so many Catholics today. Another example is the declining numbers of priests and sisters. Naturally, if parents are having fewer children, there are going to be less Church vocations. But more basically, young people with generous hearts are very likely not going to be bred from homes marked by the selfishness of contraception.

Another phenomenon that could be attributed ultimately to the contraceptive mentality among Catholics is the weakening of the desire to evangelize on the part of Catholics. Catholics in past times were more eager to spread their faith and win converts to the Church, but it is much less so today. This might be due to the fact that so many Catholics are what are called today “cafeteria Catholics.” They pick and choose what they want to believe and follow instead of accepting the whole package of Catholicism. Catholics cannot be true Catholics and really committed in their faith if they decide they are going to keep only the commandments with which they happen to agree.

Some might say that the ban on artificial contraception is something that the Church made up and that it is not Christ’s teaching. Christ and His Church cannot be separated. It is His Body on earth. When the Church teaches, it is Christ teaching. Until 1930 even all Protestant denominations taught against the idea of artificial contraception. The ban against contraception was even enshrined in civil law in some states. It is true that artificial contraception is something that became very widespread when the Pill was invented in the early 1960s, but the Church’s teaching on the sinfulness of contraception is 2000 years old. It has always taught that the sexual act is ordained by God for the committed state of marital love and that the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual intercourse must not be separated. That is, the unifying and love-giving aspect and the openness to new life must be there, even though new life might not result. Contraception and sterilization deny the fertility of the woman and/or the man and treat it as a disease, as bad and undesirable. This attitude mars the beauty of the sexual relationship God intends between the husband and wife. This has probably led to dissatisfaction couples experience in their intimacy and the increase of divorce rate in our country.

Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. It is basic to keep the commandments. Disregard of God’s commandments weakens our spiritual lives and the Church as well. We will not rise to the status of Christ and His love if we refuse to keep His commandments. If 80-90% of Catholics are contracepting, this is a serious spiritual weakness in the Church. People who persist in serious sin are living apart from God and risking their eternal salvation. Of course, the wonderful thing of which Christ assures us and which the Church continually teaches is the availability of forgiveness. We have to want to be forgiven and to change our ways. Catholics who are practicing artificial contraception need to seriously examine their consciences, truly repent and stop living a lie, get back to a worthy reception of Holy Communion, decide they are going to get out of the selfishness that underlies contraception, and live according to God’s will in their marital lives.

Fortunately, today when we preach and teach what the Church has always taught about the immorality of artificial contraception, there are more opportunities for people to learn about methods of natural family planning. Natural Family Planning is not the old rhythm method of years ago. It is much more reliable and precise. It is entirely moral and just as effective as the Pill. There are certified teachers or NFP in the Diocese. Their names are listed occasionally in the Catholic Missourian. A new fertility care center has opened in Jefferson City. While that is a little far, we do have opportunities close by in Quincy. There are two couples there who are certified by the Couple-To-Couple League. One of them offers the four monthly sessions every Fall and Spring at St. Francis. I will advertise this when I get the schedule. Moreover, either of the couples will conduct the sessions in our own parishes as long as there would be a few couples to make it worthwhile for them. In the near future, I will publicize this opportunity.

I did not have Fr. McCaffrey come here to hammer parishioners nor condemn them, but to enlighten them. Sometimes an outside voice is more effective than the local pastor. At least, so to speak, the ice has been broken. Catholics who don’t want to hear the truth about sexual morality and what the Church teaches about the sinfulness of contraception and sterilization probably don’t want their consciences pricked. Yet, if priests and bishops remain silent about teaching the whole truth and what the Church teaches in this regard, even when it is hard, we are derelict in our duty. Like St. Paul who said he was compelled to preach the Good News, we priests would not be pastors of souls concerned about the spiritual welfare of our people, if we fail to preach the whole truth of Christ.   

My concern as a pastor of souls is to enlighten people with the truth, to help them live according to God’s will, to call them to reform their lives if called for, to help them live in good conscience, to help them learn methods of natural family planning, and ultimately help them get to heaven.  (June 2006)

Reverend Richard Frank
St. Joseph, Canton; Queen of Peace, Ewing; and Mission Parish Notre Dame, LaGrange