Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15
Luke 1:57-66, 80
As I begin this homily today I ask that you would join me in a prayer to our Blessed Mother:
Thank you. The reason I asked you to join me in prayer is that what I am preaching on today is difficult to say and for some of you it may be difficult to hear. For months the topic of contraception has been on my heart and after much prayer, it seems to me that this weekend is the time the Lord desires me to preach about it since we celebrate the birth of a child and hear readings reminding us that it is God who creates us and who invites us to take part in carrying out His divine plan.
When the Church’s teaching on sexuality – and particularly contraception – is brought up, it is often said that the Church just needs to ‘get with the times.’ But the reality is that Truth is not determined by periods of time nor does it change according to majority opinion. Truth is eternal and it has been entrusted to the Catholic Church, who is guided by the Holy Spirit. For two thousand years the Church, our spiritual mother, has told us that contraception is not only sinful; it is also unfulfilling.
The problem, though, is that our culture has given us this idea that freedom is absolute. If we want to do something, then we ought to be free to do it and to say otherwise intrudes on our freedom. But that logic is based on a false concept of freedom, one that sees freedom as license to do anything. The true concept of freedom, the Catholic concept of freedom, is not the freedom to do what we want, but the freedom to do what we ought to. True freedom allows us to follow the teachings of Christ that bring fulfillment. Rather than being a restrict list that shows God’s harshness, the law of God is actually a guide to happiness that reveals His great love for us. After all, what parent would say that not allowing their child to touch a hot stove, drink something poisonous or run into a busy street is an intrusion upon their freedom? God our Father is no different, and so he tells us to do and not do certain things because He Himself knows the real consequences.
Now, this may be news to some of you who have never heard this preached before or read much on the topic, but the reality is that the Church maintains that the act of contraception is gravely immoral and that every sexual act (which ought only to happen within marriage) must be open to human life. Because contraception within the sexual act is contrary to God’s plan for life, love and marriage, it is ultimately a big ‘no thank you’ to God’s plan for us, whether we intend it to be so or not.
The Gospel today reminds us that God seeks to have us join in His plans. The birth of the forerunner and the subsequent ministry of preparation for the savior’s coming depended upon the ‘yes’ of Elizabeth and Zechariah. We miss a part of the back story, but when the angel Gabriel first comes to Zechariah in the Temple to announce the good news of John’s conception, Zechariah doubts God and is struck mute. With the child’s birth and Zechariah’s cooperation with God’s plan to name him John, Zechariah is once again able to speak and we see the blessedness that accompanies our choice to trust in the Lord and His plan for us.
In order to do God’s will though, we must first know what it is. In the Book of Genesis, we see the blueprint of God’s plan for sexual love. In the beginning, one man and one woman came together in an inseparable union and gave themselves to each other freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally. The problem is that when the marital embrace is contracepted, it can be free and faithful, but it is never intended to be fruitful or total. The entire purpose of contraception is to exclude the fruit of the marital embrace, namely, children. The act of contraception is of itself anti-life and thus against the plan of God who is the giver of life.
Moreover, the choice to contracept is one that keeps love from being total. No right-minded person seeks a spouse who is going to love them only under certain conditions. Everyone wants to be loved unconditionally and to love the other unconditionally in exchange. Unfortunately, contraception takes the most beautiful act of total self-gift and makes it a lie. Because of the contraceptive mentality that a child is something to be avoided, barriers are put in place – sometimes literally, sometimes chemically - to ensure that a child does not result from a particular sexual act. Without words the partners say to one another, “I love you, but not enough to allow this action to bear its proper fruit.” These barriers keep the partners from total self-giving and tries to take the act of procreation out of God’s hands and place it in our own, effectively kicking God out of the act that most vividly represents the mystery of His own nature: love giving itself to another unconditionally.
In the end, contraception is not about following laws. It’s about finding love and fulfillment. I’m sure that some of you gathered here today are currently using contraceptives, using contraceptive methods or engaging in sex outside of marriage. I’m not here to pass judgment or point fingers. What I am here for is to invite you to see a different view of things. The Church has a rich teaching on the gift of our sexuality. It doesn’t mandate that every couple have ten kids, it doesn’t mandate risking a woman’s health to have a child, and it doesn’t say that every marital act should conceive a child. It does invite us to see that the God who created the gift of marriage and told us to multiply and fill the earth has a plan for us. If we carry out that plan and follow those loving guides set up for us, we will indeed find fulfillment in this life and the next, where we will join Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist and all the saints as we behold God face to face and enter into the great mystery of the God who is love poured out unconditionally.