The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and from it flow all the other mysteries of the faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that this mystery is the mystery of “God in himself.” All that is revealed about the meaning of God’s creation, particularly the image of God, male and female, is built upon this most fundamental and essential teaching.
The life to which men and women are called from the moment of their creation is found precisely in friendship with God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints. This pattern inherited from the Most Holy Trinity, a unity of life and love, is essential to all human relationships, and, in a particular way, to that special form of friendship between husband and wife. Spousal love that is authentically human, after the communion of the Most Holy Trinity, is open to new life. Why? Because God, Love, is the source of all life and generates new life. To prevent life is to kill love. To step in and block the gift of the human faculty of generating new life is an insult to God who created that power.
From the beginning of the Church, in fidelity to the teaching of the Jesus regarding the human person and human love, she has expressed the truth about the Most Holy Trinity in the moral principle that being faithful in marriage means that every act of marital must be open to life. Throughout the Church’s 2000 year history this truth about the human person and human sexuality has been taught consistently by the Church’s pastors. Practically, this means that doing anything to prevent the procreative end of the marital act is an offense against the pattern of human married love who is God Himself. The time since the formulation of the first oral contraceptive pill, which prevents life, has been devastating for family life because the family is patterned on God. Now, sexually transmitted diseases are epidemic, as many people divorce as remain married, and almost half of all children born in the US are born out of wedlock.
A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states, “Contraceptive use in the United States is virtually universal among women of reproductive age: 98 percent of all women who had ever had intercourse had used at least one contraceptive method.” A significant portion of this percentage is attributable to the “pill,” now in use for slightly over 50 years.
The moral teaching in the Catechism is clear: contraception in all its forms is a grave sin and intrinsically evil. When the Catechism says intrinsically evil, it means there is no motive that would allow one to contracept directly. More serious still are the forms that can result in the death of the embryo, such as the pill.
Given the very clear teaching on the matter and the widespread use of contraceptives, particularly the pill, over the last 50 years, the Church in the US is faced with a chronic and pervasive pastoral problem. It would be a mistake, however, to think that this problem is one that is only practical--only a failure of priests to teach or in the failure of the faithful to adhere to this teaching. What is missing is the authentic concept of the human person that the Church has a duty to uphold in society. It is the Church’s responsibility to stand as a beacon in society, illuminating the truth about the dignity of the human person. What is lacking, however, in the preaching and teaching of many of the Church's pastors is that pastoral connection between the sin of contraception and the loss of the sense of human dignity.
The loss of human dignity associated with the rise to dominance of the pill and other forms of contraceptives in the place of human love provokes a profound sense of sadness. Men and women united in the state of Holy Matrimony have received the gift and responsibility of showing the world a reflection of the mystery of “God in himself.” From that perspective, the sadness of the matter comes not so much from the sin committed, which God forgives and heals, as from the good that is lost.
Within the Church many of us, priests and lay faithful, are living with a woefully impoverished concept of the human person. We have all but replaced the concept of the human person modeled upon the Most Holy Trinity with a false concept that leaves little room for vigorous faith and authentic human love, something we need to work to rediscover. The only way we could be content with the status quo is to give in to the materialistic notion that life requires choices of economic prudence over the value of the divine image. When we rediscover the truth of the Most Holy Trinity as the divine pattern for love and believe again in who we are, Catholics, all Christians, and many others will, again, see the pill for the awful curse upon the human family that it is.
(For about 12 years I wrote editiorials for the St. Louis Review. I wrote this in 2010 and reworked it here for the blog.)