Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Benedict XVI and contraception

by Nick Bagileo in
Human Life International e-Newsletter.

The overwhelming affection for Pope Benedict XVI during his recent visit to the U.S. surprised many people. The positive reaction to the Holy Father was a result of his unmistakable spiritual depth and humility. It is hoped this initial attraction leads many people to discover the Holy Father's beautiful vision of the moral life, which is, equally penetrating and genuine.

Benedict XVI's comprehensive pastoral approach to so-called hard issues like contraception and related topics might astound many people. As a teacher and apostle he is second to none in his ability to proclaim the truth in a holistic fashion. Despite spending the majority of his adult life as an academic and Vatican official, the Holy Father is a master of evangelization not only to intellectuals but to the common man as well.

In a 1996 interview with Peter Seewald, then Cardinal Ratzinger was asked about the issue of contraception. Seewald asked him if he understood why most people today do not understand the Church's teaching on contraception. Cardinal Ratzinger replied he did understand people not understanding the issue since it is complicated and that we "ought to look less at the casuistry of individual cases and more at the major objectives that the church has in mind."

Benedict's genius is to view an issue like contraception through these fundamental objectives with the mind of the Church, which allows us to see the totality of the problem and not just an isolated aspect of it. This way the relationship between contraception and the good and happiness of the human person is revealed. The major objectives are: First, children are a great blessing not a threat or burden. Secondly, once you separate sexual expression from procreation the action harms not only the male-female relationship but also the individuals. Finally, our age tries to solve moral problems through technology rather than realizing that moral flourishing rests upon pursuing an integral way of life reached through life decisions based on true freedom. Authentic freedom "is linked to a yardstick, the yardstick of reality - to truth." Christ proclaimed, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (Jn 14:6) What is true and what is good cannot be separated. As Benedict reminds us "truth and love are identical."

More recently the Holy Father was interviewed in preparation for his Papal trip to Bavaria. The reporter noted that while the Pope was in Valencia, Spain for the World Meeting of Families, the Holy Father never mentioned the words "homosexual marriage" nor did he speak about abortion or contraception. The reporter then asked Benedict XVI if "clearly your idea is to go around the world preaching the faith rather than as an 'apostle of morality'."

The Holy Father's response is a remarkable blueprint for parents, teachers and all who work in diocesan and parish apostolates. Benedict responded:

"obviously, yes. Actually, I should say I had only two opportunities to speak for 20 minutes. And when you have so little time you cannot immediately begin with 'no'. Firstly, you have to know what we really want, right? Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet."

One of Pope Benedict XVI's most interesting talks dealing with the problem of couples not having children came during an address to the Curia in December, 2006. In his remarks he said an astounding thing about his trip to Valencia, Spain for the Fifth World meeting on Families. He said, "The visit to Valencia became for me a quest for the meaning of the human being." How does the search for the meaning of the human being relate to married couples not wanting children? Answering this question will get to the root evil of contraception and related issues.

In this talk, Benedict pointed out that, in the West and Europe in particular, many married couples no longer want to have children. Couples are afraid to have children because becoming a parent seems too great a risk, and sometimes even a burden.

Benedict noted that children need loving attention, which requires parents give their children time, the time of our life. "The time we have available barely suffices for our own lives; how could we surrender it, give it to someone else? To have time and to give time - this is for us a very concrete way to learn to give oneself, to lose oneself in order to find oneself."

Benedict observed that another aspect of the fear of parenthood centers on the awesome questions involved in raising children, such as, how do we ensure our child follows the right path, how do we respect his or her freedom, what is the correct way to live? These questions arise because the modern spirit has lost it bearings, leading to insecurity about the future.

Benedict asks, "Why are things like this?" The Holy Father realizes that issues like contraception and same sex marriage are signs or symptoms of a much more fundamental problem. This larger problem is a theme Benedict XVI has lectured and written on since the Second Vatican Council. The Holy Father reminded the members of the Curia that "the great problem of the West is forgetfulness of God. This forgetfulness is spreading. In short, all the individual problems can be traced back to this question. I am sure of it."

Relativism is the philosophic view that there is no absolute truth or certitude and results when Man disregards God, ensuring the impossibility of establishing common moral and religious standards. The Pope's teaching has been so profound and clear that President Bush recently quoted the Holy Father's, now famous, "dictatorship of relativism", line at the White House welcoming ceremony.

As a true man of the Council, Benedict is applying the teaching of Gaudium et Spes to our time. "Once God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible." (#36) Benedict notes that forgetfulness of God leads to the dictatorship of relativism, "which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desire."

As noted above, Benedict XVI sees issues like contraception, cohabitation and same sex marriage as signs of a deeper problem. Once God is forgotten, Man and the institutions God created to fulfill and nourish his soul become meaningless. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the area of marriage and family life. Note how the primary relationship between man and woman - marriage - has been adversely affected the past half century. One of the great blessings of marriage, having children, is now viewed as a threat or burden, by a large sector of the population. Then, the institution itself was attacked further by the epidemic of cohabitation. Marriage itself is no longer viewed as a blessing to be cherished. Now, we have the absurd notion that there is something called same sex marriage. As St. Paul taught us, "...God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen." (Rom.1: 24-25)

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