Bishop Conley’s Pastoral Letter on Contraception: The Language of Love

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September 12, 2014 9:11 pm

On March 25 of this year (2014), Bishop Conley of Lincoln, NE. issued a powerful call to Catholics to embrace the Church’s teaching on contraception.

Here it is:

 

The Language of Love

A letter to the Catholic families and healthcare providers of the Diocese of Lincoln

Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Twenty years ago, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stood before the President of the United States, before senators and congressmen, before justices of the United States Supreme Court. She spoke about her work among the world’s poor. She spoke about justice and compassion. Most importantly, she spoke about love.

“Love,” she told them, “has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.” [1]

Sacrifice is the language of love. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who poured out his life for us on the cross. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of the Christian life, sharing in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And love is spoken in the sacrifice of parents, and pastors, and friends.

We live in a world short on love. Today, love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying. Material things, and comfort, and pleasure bring only fleeting happiness. The truth is that we are all searching for real love, because we are all searching for meaning.

Love—real love—is about sacrifice, and redemption, and hope. Real love is at the heart of a rich, full life. We are made for real love. And all that we do—in our lives, our careers, and our families, especially—should be rooted in our capacity for real, difficult, unfailing love.

But today, in a world short on love, we’re left without peace, and without joy.

In my priesthood, I have stood in front of abortion clinics to offer help to women experiencing unwanted pregnancies; I have prayed with the neglected elderly; and I have buried young victims of violence. I have seen the isolation, the injustice, and the sadness that comes from a world short on love. Mother Teresa believed, as do I, that much of the world’s unhappiness and injustice begins with a disregard for the miracle of life created in the womb of mothers. Today, our culture rejects love when it rejects the gift of new life, through the use of contraception

Mother Teresa said that, “in destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife…destroys the gift of love.”

Husbands and wives are made to freely offer themselves as gifts to one another in friendship, and to share in the life-giving love of God.

He created marriage to be unifying and procreative. To join husband and wife inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new.

Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities.

God made us to love and to be loved. He made us to delight in the power of sexual love to bring forth new human beings, children of God, created with immortal souls. Our Church has always taught that rejecting the gift of children erodes the love between husband and wife: it distorts the unitive and procreative nature of marriage. The use of contraception gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy, and loving meaning of marriage itself.

The Church continues to call Catholic couples to unity and procreativity. Marriage is a call to greatness—to loving as God loves—freely, creatively, and generously. God himself is a community of love—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christian marriage is an invitation to imitate, and to know, and to share in the joyful freedom of God’s love, an echo of the Holy Trinity.

___

In 1991, my predecessor, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, wrote that “there can be no true happiness in your lives unless God is very much a part of your marriage covenant. To expect to find happiness in sin is to look for good in evil…. To keep God in your married life, to trust in his wisdom and love, and to obey his laws…will deepen your love for each other and will bring to you that inner peace of mind and heart which is the reward of a good conscience.” [2]

God is present in every marriage, and present during every marital embrace. He created sexuality so that males and females could mirror the Trinity: forming, in their sexual union, the life-long bonds of family. God chose to make spouses cooperators with him in creating new human lives, destined for eternity. Those who use contraception diminish their power to unite and they give up the opportunity to cooperate with God in the creation of life.

As Bishop of Lincoln, I repeat the words of Bishop Flavin. Dear married men and women: I exhort you to reject the use of contraception in your marriage. I challenge you to be open to God’s loving plan for your life. I invite you to share in the gift of God’s life-giving love. I fervently believe that in God’s plan, you will rediscover real love for your spouse, your children, for God, and for the Church. I know that in this openness to life, you will find the rich adventure for which you were made.

Our culture often teaches us that children are more a burden than a gift—that families impede our freedom and diminish our finances. We live in a world where large families are the objects of spectacle and derision, instead of the ordinary consequence of a loving marriage entrusted to God’s providence. But children should not be feared as a threat or a burden, but rather seen as a sign of hope for the future.

In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote that our culture suffers from a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and… a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. ” [3] Generous, life-giving spousal love is the antidote to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.

In the Diocese of Lincoln, I am grateful for the example of hundreds of families who have opened themselves freely and generously to children. Some have been given large families, and some have not. And of course, a few suffer the very difficult, hidden cross of infertility or low fertility. The mystery of God’s plan for our lives is incomprehensible. But the joy of these families, whether or not they bear many children, disproves the claims of the contraceptive mentality.

Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed John Paul II reminded us that, “man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” [4] The sexual intimacy of marriage, the most intimate kind of human friendship, is a pathway to sharing in God’s own life. It is a pathway to the fullness of our own human life; it is a means of participating in the incredible love of God. Contraception impedes our share in God’s creative love. And thus it impedes our joy.

The joy of families living in accord with God’s plan animates and enriches our community with a spirit of vitality and enthusiasm. The example of your friends and neighbors demonstrates that while children require sacrifice, they are also the source of joy, meaning, and of peace. Who does not understand the great gift of a loving family?

Yes, being lovingly open to children requires sacrifice. But sacrifice is the harbinger of true joy. Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to be open to joy.

___

Of course, there are some true and legitimate reasons why, at certain times, families may discern being called to the sacrifice of delaying children. For families with serious mental, physical, or emotional health problems, or who are experiencing dire financial troubles, bearing children might best be delayed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that couples must have “just” reasons to delay childbearing. For couples facing difficulties of various kinds, the Church recommends Natural Family Planning: a method for making choices about engaging in fruitful sexual relations.

Natural Family Planning does not destroy the power to give life: instead, it challenges couples to discern prayerfully when to engage in life-giving sexual acts. It is an integrated, organic and holistic approach to fertility care.

Natural Family Planning is a reliable and trustworthy way to regulate fertility, is easy to learn, and can be a source of unity for couples. To be sure, using NFP requires sacrifice and patience, but sacrifice and patience are not obstacles to love, they are a part of love itself. Used correctly, NFP forms gentle, generous husbands, and selfless, patient wives. It can become a school of virtuous and holy love.

Those who confine sexual intimacy to the infertile times of the month are not engaging in contraceptive practices. They do not attempt to make a potentially fertile act infertile. They sacrificially abstain during the fertile time precisely because they respect fertility; they do not want to violate it; they do not want to treat the gift of fertility as a burden.

In some relatively rare instances, Natural Family Planning is used by couples with a contraceptive mentality. Too often couples can choose to abstain from fertility by default, or out of fear of the consequences of new life. I encourage all couples who use Natural Family Planning to be very open with each other concerning the reasons they think it right to limit their family size, to take their thoughts to God, and to pray for his guidance. Do we let fear, anxiety, or worry determine the size of our families? Do we entrust ourselves to the Lord, whose generosity provides for all of our needs?

“Perfect love,” scripture teaches, “casts out fear.” [5]

Dear friends, I exhort you to openness in married life. I exhort you to trust in God’s abundant providence.

___

I would like to address in a special way Catholic physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. The noble aim of your profession is to aid men and women as they live according to God’s perfect plan. Bishop Flavin wrote that, as professionals, “you are in a position to be God’s instruments in manifesting his truth, and his love.” [6]

No Catholic healthcare provider, in good conscience, should engage in the practice of medicine by undermining the gift of fertility. There is no legitimate medical reason to aid in the acts of contraception or sterilization. No Catholic physician can honestly argue otherwise.

Healthcare is the art of healing. Contraception and sterilization may never be considered healthcare. Contraception and sterilization denigrate and degrade the body’s very purpose. Fertility is an ordinary function of health and human flourishing; and an extraordinary participation in God’s creative love. Contraception and sterilization stifle the natural and the supernatural processes of marriage, and cause grave harm. They treat fertility as though it were a terrible inconvenience, or even a physical defect that needs to be treated.

Contraception attempts to prevent life from the beginning, and when that fails, some contraception destroys newly created life. Many contraceptives work by preventing the implantation of an embryonic human being in the uterus of his or her mother.

Contraception is generally regarded by the medical community as the ordinary standard of care for women. The Church’s teachings are often regarded as being opposed to the health and well-being of women. But apart from the moral and spiritual dangers of contraception, there are also grave physical risks to the use of most chemical contraceptives. Current medical literature overwhelmingly confirms that contraception puts women at risk for serious health problems, which doctors should consider very carefully.

Some women have health conditions that are better endured when treated by hormonal contraceptives. But the effects of contraception often mask the underlying conditions that endanger women’s health. Today, there are safe, natural means of correcting hormonal imbalances, and solving the conditions that are often treated by contraception.

Contraception is an unhealthy standard of care. All doctors can do better.

Catholic physicians are called to help their patients and their colleagues learn the truth about the dangers of contraception and sterilization. The good example of a physician who refuses to prescribe contraceptives and perform sterilizations or a pharmacist who refuses to distribute contraceptives in spite of antagonism, financial loss, or professional pressure is an opportunity to participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ. I am grateful for the Catholic physicians and pharmacists who evangelize their patients and colleagues through a commitment to the truth.

___

Tragically, a majority of people in our culture and even in our Church, have used contraception. Much of the responsibility for that lies in the fact that too few have ever been exposed to clear and consistent teaching on the subject. But the natural consequences of our culture’s contraceptive mentality are clear. Mother Teresa reflected that “once living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.” [7] She was right. Cultural attitudes that reject the gift of life lead very easily to social acceptance for abortion, for no-fault divorce, and for fatherless families. For fifty years, America has accepted the use of contraception, and the consequences have been dire.

Dear brothers and sisters, I encourage you to read the encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae with your spouse, or in your parish. Consider also Married Love and the Gift of Life, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dear brother priests, I encourage you to preach about the dangers of contraception, and to visit with families in your parish about this issue.

Dear brothers and sisters, if you have used or prescribed contraception, the merciful love of God awaits. Healing is possible—in the sacrament of penance. If you have used or supported contraception, I pray that you will stop, and that you will avail yourself of God’s tender mercy by making a good heartfelt confession.

___

Today, openness to children is rarely celebrated, rarely understood, and rarely supported. To many, the Church’s teachings on life seem oppressive or old-fashioned. Many believe that the Church asks too great a sacrifice.

But sacrifice is the language of love. And in sacrifice, we speak the language of God himself. I am calling you, dear brothers and sisters, to encounter Christ in your love for one another. I am calling you to rich and abundant family life. I am calling you to rejoice in the love, and the sacrifice, for which you were made. I am calling your family to share in the creative, active love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I pray that in true sacrifice, each of you will know perfect joy.

Through the intercession of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Holy Family, and in the love of Jesus Christ,

+James D. Conley

Bishop of Lincoln

March 25, 2014

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

 

http://www.lincolndiocese.org/op-ed/bcwriting/1848-the-language-of-love

Great interview with Mary Eberstadt

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April 12, 2012 10:34 pm

Mary Eberstadt has written a book I should have written… glad she did it; it is excellent.  This interview gives a good sense of what the book is about.  Get Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, read it, gift it.

 

What would I want to know if I were going to college? I’d want to know that almost everyone who says something like that happened to them say that it happened in their freshman or at the latest their sophomore year. Which is to say that they have to be extra vigilant during the first year of college. I think that’s important statistical information to have. It was amassed by secular social researchers.  Again, we’re talking about the fact that secular social science confirms and validates and confirms things that people in the Judeo-Christian tradition have been saying for many years.

Promoting Humanae Vitae and Natural Family Planning in the Parish

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April 4, 2012 6:57 pm

Priests often ask me what they can do at the parish level to promote Humanae Vitae and Natural Family Planning. What must first be established is the importance of this task. I firmly believe that if priests inspired their parishioners to do just two things, most everything else they want to do with them and for them would be significantly easier. These two things are:

  1. promoting Eucharistic Adoration and
  2. promoting fidelity to the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

Catholics who do both are generally receptive to all the teachings of the Church and much inclined to be generous with their time, talents, and money in various apostolic activities. They are likely to have happier marriages as well, and that brings an abundant number of blessings on the family, the Church and society. If pastors only knew how the Faith and happiness of their flock would increase by engaging in Eucharistic Adoration and in avoiding fornication, contraception, sterilization, adultery, and immoral reproductive technologies, they would work hard to find the best ways to promote Church teaching in these areas. A tremendous resource for priests who wish to serve their parishioners by preaching the truth about sexual morality is the set of tapes entitled “NFP Talks for Clergy” [1] Father Randy Moreau speaks of how he preaches NFP in his parish and the remarkable consequences of that preaching, couples tell of their experience with NFP, and Dr. Philip Fleming explains why contraception is bad medicine and NFP is healthy.

Priests should never underestimate the influence they can have. A physician friend of mine told me of a conference of Catholic physicians who at one time did abortions and prescribed contraceptives where each individual spoke of what had led to his or her conversion. She said over 99% said a priest had confronted them about the incompatibility of what they were doing with their Catholic faith, and that this conversation had led to them to stop doing abortions and prescribing contraceptives. She said the Catholic physicians whom she knows who continue to prescribe contraceptives have been told by a priest that it is morally permissible for them to do so. Priests make all the difference! If priests speak to the Catholic physicians in their parishes, [2] they have the opportunity to convert his or her soul, to have an enormous influence on his or her fellow doctors and patients and a powerful effect on the parish. If the Catholic physicians in the parish are known not to prescribe contraceptives, that news gets out and is a great witness to the other parishioners.

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Same-Sex Marriage and Its Relation With Contraception

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March 26, 2012 7:53 pm

Janet E. Smith Links Rejection of “Humanae Vitae” to Acceptance of Homosexuality

DETROIT, Michigan, OCT. 17, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Culture has all but embraced homosexual activity since abandoning the principle that procreative sex within a marriage is the only moral form of sexuality, says an expert on the Church’s sexual teachings.

Janet E. Smith, who holds the Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Issues at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, shared her views with ZENIT in this interview.

A consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family, Smith is the author of “Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later” (CUA Press). More than 500,000 copies of her talk, Contraception: Why Not have been distributed.

 

Q: Do you see any connection between the rejection of the Church’s teaching on contraception and the push for homosexual marriages?

 

Smith: Not so many years ago at a conference on homosexuality, Russell Hittinger argued that there is not much ground for opposing homosexual marriages in a culture where most unions are contraceptive. He said we were already blessing unions whose primary reason for existence was sexual pleasure.

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Contraception and the Sexual Revolution

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March 12, 2012 5:09 pm

The modern world considers contraception one of the most important discoveries of the late twentieth century. And rightly so, in a sense, for our modern lifestyle is in large part made possible by contraception. Thus it is no surprise that the Church’s condemnation of contraception is one of its most controversial teachings.

The sexual revolution of the sixties was a true revolution; our understanding and practice of sex changed radically. Contraception made sex outside of marriage “doable” in an unprecedented way. The modern world thinks of sex as a momentary pleasure that requires no commitment to one’s sexual partner nor to any children that may result. Pregnancy is now considered largely an “accident” of sexual intercourse. The landscape of our lives is now cluttered with individuals damaged by unsuccessful “love” affairs (was true love really involved?), broken marriages, children born out of wedlock (1 in 3 are) and women and men hurt by abortions (nearly 1 in 3 pregnancies is aborted).

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