With Great Love Comes Great Responsibility
Chapter 9 of The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen covers several reasons for contraception being unlawful, in addition to the basics of why abortion is immoral. Venerable Fulton Sheen gives some wise insights as to why the Church teaches what it teaches, including what unconditional love is and what it demands, and reflects on the gift of children.
With regards to contraception, Sheen emphasizes God’s plan for human sexuality, and how we wander from it by rendering it sterile. Perhaps the most compelling of Sheen’s points is that contracepting “‘exclude[s] from God the opportunity to create another to His image and likeness’” (95). In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of life, we need to stop and recognize the blessing and the wondrous miracle of new life. When we deliberately put a blocker in the way, we are saying no to God’s gift.
Another important point of the chapter is that contraception is inconsistent with real love. Love is meant to be free, total, faithful, and fruitful. But with barriers and pills, it becomes far from any of these. If a man and woman do not wish to have a child, or if one has a disease that could be passed sexually, and out of a lack of self-restraint they resort to a condom, there is very little freedom involved. If one is unable to say no to sexual activity, what does his consent mean? It is no longer a free and total gift of self, but rather a grasping of the other person’s gift. When we insert a blocker, the language of our bodies no longer says, “I give myself to you and only you”, but rather, “I will take you now, and whoever I feel like later.” Without the full vulnerability of the marital act, we are not making the commitment it calls us to make. As far as fruitfulness is concerned, it goes without being said that taking the pleasurable benefits of the marital act while refusing children is not conducive to fruitful love.
On page 98, the chapter analyzed Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, explaining how the pill results in the degradation of women, increased infidelity, and no incentive to avoid what is evil. If a couple has just reason to avoid a pregnancy, the husband must respect the nature of his wife’s body, abstaining during the time she is fertile. To ask her to put chemicals into her body to thwart its procreative purpose, while using her for his own gratification, is a profane abuse of her body and a disregard for her heart.
Children are a blessing from the Lord, and part of the marriage vows is to accept them as such. We carry on the responsibility of the first couple to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). With this basic doctrine in mind, there are just reasons to avoid conceiving a child. If a couple is not financially stable, or if a pregnancy would be a physical or psychological danger to the mother, the couple can practice Natural Family Planning. They can avoid conceiving by abstaining from marital relations during the woman’s fertile periods, as previously mentioned. We have already addressed the basic reasons for the prohibition of contraception, but the most important is that some contraceptives result in abortion.
One could go on explaining arguments against abortion, but this chapter focused on the fundamentals. Venerable Fulton Sheen wisely observes, “‘Perhaps the most materialistic birth-controller in the world would admit bringing a son into the world if… he would become President’”(104). Every unborn baby has this potential. This suggests that every unborn baby is a human person; every life has sanctity worth fighting for. Although not every baby will become president, each can be adopted into God’s family, and this is a priceless gift.
An insight I had never heard before was that contraception “sends to God a message that he was mistaken, that he did not know what he was doing when he created us as fecund, sexual beings” (96). This helps make sense of the big picture: when God made us, He blessed us with both sexual desires and the ability to regulate them. These desires and regulations are meant to work in harmony with our fertility, not against it. God created sexuality, and saw it as very good: the human body and mind are not meant to be at odds.
Another thing that never occured to me is that birth control relives the evil of King Herod’s scourge. In an attempt to destroy the baby Jesus, Herod obliterated the whole population of babies. Sheen sees all birth control as another vain rejection of God’s gift of His Son (99).
I also realized while reading the chapter is that contraception lessens our awareness of the meaning of sex, and thus desensitizes us to the graveness of unchaste behavior. When we throw the purpose of sex out the window, basing it all on lust, the distinction between premarital sex and total self-giving love becomes very unclear.
In the times that Catholics are facing, Sheen’s words must be taken to heart: “‘right is still right if nobody is right, and wrong is still wrong if everybody is wrong’” (95). Or as Pope Emeritus Benedict would say, “Truth is not determined by a majority vote.” As long as there is a God above us, there will always be objective truths; even if the whole world is supportive of abortion and contraception, that does not change the truth.
In a recent advertisement, Planned Parenthood had the audacity to show a video of a smiling, cooing baby, with the caption, “She deserves to be a choice.” I have never seen a more raw example of Satan twisting the good and the beautiful. While it is true that every child has a right to be wanted and to come into the world through marriage, surprise babies are an equal blessing. God can work beautiful wonders in the most unexpected situations, and while we may not have planned on having a baby, God has made a choice to send the baby into the world. No person is a mistake. All this being said, Planned Parenthood has never made me feel more special–I am an NFP baby! My parents intentionally chose to be life-giving, bringing a third child into the world, even though they already had a boy and a girl. This was all the world thought they needed to be happy, but they chose more!
Since Roe v. Wade, 60 million lives have been lost to abortion, and the divorce rate has sprung up to 50%. Many people see the Church as a book of rules, enslaving humanity. But in the midst of the misery and catastrophe the world is in, the Church’s light guides our feet in the path of freedom. God’s plan does not include heartbreaks or diseases; He created us for authentic love and joy, and He makes no mistakes. Through His plan, we can live freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.
Zia, Mark. The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen. Franciscan Media, 2015.
Note: This is essay is written by Maureen Francois, a writer for Clarifying Catholicism, where this was originally published.
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