Saturday, 21 July 2012

Contraception Or Holiness

Last week Sky News television presented an interview[1] with Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft founder, Bill Gates.  (The Gates Foundation was hosting a Contraceptives Summit in the United Kingdom.)  After broadcasting the interview, Sky News then immediately followed it with a broadcast of a television report[2], by their journalist Alex Crawford, about the high mortality rate amongst women in Malawi.

Melinda Gates explained, in her interview, that the objective of the Contraceptive Summit was to give 120 million women, in the developing world, access to contraceptives by the year 2020.  She emphasised that for many women, particularly those in Africa, the lack of family planning creates a life and death scenario, because the women are not able to feed either themselves or their children.  As a result, explained Melinda Gates, this often leads to the tragic and unnecessary death of the mother.

Melinda Gates also emphasised that money being raised by the Contraceptive Summit was not only to supply contraceptives to the 120 million women, but will also allow research and development of new methods of contraception; specifically contraceptives that will last longer and that could, for example, be taken only once every seven years.

When asked about the religious and cultural objections to contraception, Melinda Gates responded that she believed these could be overcome.  She explained that Muslim leaders in Africa had shared with her that the Koran does not prohibit family planning.  She stressed that it was therefore now important to educate Muslim women that they are permitted to practice family planning and ensure that they have access to contraceptives so that they can indeed do so.

Immediately after the interview with Melinda Gates, Sky News televised the report on Malawi, which had been prepared by their journalist Alex Crawford.  I am certain that it was no coincidence that this report was conveniently ready to be aired by Sky News immediately after the Melinda Gates interview.  It was clearly intended to shock the viewer and spur them into support of the objectives of the Gates Foundation and the Contraceptive Summit.  It highlighted that the highest cause of death amongst women between the ages of 15 and 19, in Malawi, is childbirth.

Footage of an interview of the president of Malawi, Joyce Banda, revealed the president’s objective to break the culture of families having lots of children.  As if to demonstrate the countries support of the president’s policy, a scene is shown of a handful of young women dancing, clapping hands and singing.  The scene, though completely unrelated to the president’s actual announcement of her policy, is coupled with commentary that these women were celebrating sterilisation and contraceptives.

In order to illustrate why the president’s policy is appropriate, Alex Crawford contends that young pregnant women in Malawi, some as young as 12, are being abandoned by the father of the child.  As a consequence the women almost certainly face one of only two possible outcomes.  They will either die giving birth or they will face a life of abject poverty.

The report reveals that even when pregnant young women do have access to a hospital, which many do not, the hospitals are inundated with so many pregnant patients, that there is simply not enough beds for each of them.  Beds are therefore allocated to the weakest women, while the other women are shown lying on the floors in the hospital wards or in the passageways of the hospital.  There they will apparently give birth.

The women who do survive childbirth may actually wish that they had died, because of what waits for them after childbirth, suggests the report.  The shame of being an unmarried mother means that no one will marry her.  In addition, with this shame hanging over her head, finding work is virtually impossible.  So, in the absence of the father, the mother, though alive, is now destitute, with no hope of anything other than a bleak future for her and her child.

I felt so dreadfully sorry for these young women of Malawi.  Seeing the women in the hospitals, yet unable to get access to adequate medical care, struck a raw nerve with me, maybe because of my own severe health issues and my dependence on good medical treatment to keep me alive.  Seeing so many poor hungry women and children was equally traumatic.

Like Alex Crawford, Melinda Gates, President Joyce Banda and, I am sure, many others who saw the report, the knee-jerk reaction is most certainly to angrily call for an immediate tangible course of action that will nip the whole tragic saga in the bud.

This is such a typical human reaction, particularly in our modern world where we presume that we have the power and the answers to solve just about anything that the universe can throw at us!  Come on, stop being pathetic and helpless, we know what must be done; there, hand out contraceptives, sterilise the women, perform abortions and let’s immediately be done with all the unwanted pregnancies, the poverty, the suffering and the needless deaths.  There is no time to waste!  It’s entirely up to us!

Sadly, this approach forgets that God has not created the universe and then simply abandoned it.  The truth is that God “does not abandon his creatures to themselves.  He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end.  Recognising this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence.[3]  So, we would be wise if we were to always remember that: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.[4]

So we may say, what is the purpose of God?  Do you think God wants us to allow this suffering to continue?  Do you think God does not want us to do something to end the suffering?

Of course we know that God does not want us, or anyone else, to allow suffering to continue if we have a solution!  Remember what happened when the leper approached our Lord and said: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.[5]  Our Lord replies without hesitation: “I will; be clean.[6]  That certainly does not sound like a God or portray a God who wants suffering to continue?

This however still does not imply that we can simply go ahead and begin handing out the contraceptives, sterilising the women and, if need be, performing abortion to bring an end to this suffering.

If we thought it did, it indicates that we have missed something significant.  This may well be because, by nature, we tend to focus on the physical and ignore the invisible.  After the miracle of physical healing, our Lord says to the leper: “See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.[7]  Our Lord is clearly very intent on the leper being integrated back into society without delay and is clearly not just focused on the physical well being of the leper.  Our Lord wants the lepers days of being an outcast to end.

In the same way God wants all of us, like the leper, to end our days of being spiritual outcasts.  He wants us to be in a state of grace so that we can ultimately share in his infinite love and happiness.  This is, after all, the entire reason that God created us!

The root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God.  From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God.  For man would not exist were he not created by Gods love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator.[8]

We must therefore always be guided, even when we are faced with such terrible suffering, by the principle that whatever we choose to do, or not to do, it must always lead us, and others, to share in the infinite love and happiness of God, because that is the reason that God created us!  It must end our days of being spiritual outcasts, like the prodigal son returning home.  It cannot, must not, cause or perpetuate our separation from God.  Instead it must restore or keep us in a state of grace.

So then, how do we react to the terrible suffering of these women in Malawi, or anywhere else in the world for that matter?

Well, firstly, we most certainly shouldn’t be adopting the attitude that large families are a disaster and neither do we start spreading the message, as the President of Malawi wishes to do, that having a lot of children is a source of poverty and heartache.  We must see children as a blessing and treat them as a blessing!

Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents.  God Himself said, "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18) and "Who made man from the beginning male and female" (Matt. 19:4), wishing to share with man a certain special participation in His own creative work, blessed male and female, saying: "Increase and multiply" (Gen. 1:28).[9]

Children are equal in dignity to any human person and no person or society should ever consider, let alone promote, a message that children are for any reason a source of suffering and disgrace.  Instead “parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons.[10]

The fact that children are a blessing does not of course give us carte blanche to be irresponsible and reckless in our behaviour.  If we just wildly abandon ourselves to our every passion and urge, it would, no less than presenting children as a cause of suffering and disgrace, also be an insult to the dignity of the human person.

Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.  Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.[11]

Family planning, as is true of the Muslim faith to which Melinda Gates refers in her interview, is not a practice ‘forbidden’ by the Church.  The Church teaches us quite clearly that parents should “thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring.  For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life.[12]

Melinda Gates, who is a practicing Catholic, knows the Church’s position on family planning.  She also knows the position of the Church on contraceptives.  She understands that there are not insignificant differences between the two and that they are quite clearly not one and the same thing.  Despite this, she, and others like her who promote contraception, do all they possibly can to focus on the term ‘family planning’, thereby attempting to portray contraceptives as nothing more than a ‘method’ of family planning.  This is of course just blatantly untrue and they all know this!  Melinda Gates knows this!

True family planning always acknowledges and respects the dignity of the human person and is intent on remaining always open to Divine Providence.  When practicing family planning, parents are required to be “aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself[13]

Parents must also be constantly aware that “divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfilment.  Thus, trusting in Divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice, married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfilment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate.[14]

The true family planning process demonstrates the ability to truly exercise the free will with which God has endowed us, instead of just being a slave to our passions and urges, like animals.  It involves saying no to sex at certain times in our marriage, no matter how powerful the passions and urges may be.  It offers this refined behaviour and abstinence to God to give him the glory for creating us with the free will to choose our behaviour.  It also shows a complete devotion and trust in God.  It shows that we accept the reality that His will may in fact be different to our will and that, even though we may abstain except during infertile times, we may still conceive a child, thereby demonstrating our trust that he will always care for us.

Contraception and sterilisation has no place in family planning.  Here are three reasons, though I am sure there may be more.  Firstly, it takes God completely out of the equation and is intended to put human beings in absolute control, with no place whatsoever for Divine Providence!  It sends a message that says, whether we like to admit it or not, God we don’t want you to have a role in what happens in this area of our lives.  Therefore we are now putting a barrier into place to keep you firmly out of this part of our lives.  We will decide, not you.

Secondly, contraceptives and sterilisation allows us to avoid any responsibility for our actions.  It allows us to use sex as a means of pleasure without consequence.  It frees us to have sex not only whenever we want to have it, but also with who ever we want to have it, married or not.  It allows us to be selfish animals, focused only on what it is that we want.  It removes our human dignity and lowers us to the level of the animals, governed by our urges.

At this point it is important to note that the Church does not teach that we should be prudes, or that we should avoid enjoying the pleasures of sex with our spouse.  It was God who created the pleasures associated with sex and God, who is infinitely good, does not, cannot, create what is evil.  Pope Pius XII said this of sex: “The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit.  Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment.  They accept what the Creator has intended for them.  At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.[15]

The third reason that contraceptives have no place in family planning is because some contraceptives are really just abortifacients and so, by making use of them, we become accomplices in another depraved evil act.  They drag us down an even more slippery slope, further away from God, as we become the murderers of newly created persons.

So, here we are and still we appear to be no closer to solving the problem in Malawi.  This is of course not true.  We know, naturally, instinctively, what the solution is!  It is written in our hearts from the day we were created.  The solution lies in the universal call to holiness that has been given to each one of us.  It is through each individual striving towards personal holiness, avoiding what we naturally know to be wrong, practicing abstinence when we know it to be the responsible thing to do, that we will begin to make progress towards ending the root causes of problems like unmarried mothers and unwanted children, not to mention taking significant strides towards putting an end to the spread of HIV/Aids.

All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.  All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’[16]

This is however not the solution the world is looking for because it requires from us an effort to exercise self-control and self-denial.  It requires that we fight, with our whole being, the effects of concupiscence.[17]

The “baptised must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires.  With God's grace he will prevail:
·                by the virtue and gift of chastity, for chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart;
·                by purity of intention, which consists in seeking the true end of man: with simplicity of vision, the baptised person seeks to find and to fulfil God's will in everything;
·                by purity of vision, external and internal;
·                by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God's commandments; and
·                by prayer.[18]

So the world and, sadly, many Catholics who actually know better, stubbornly refuses to acknowledge their need for God in every aspect of their lives.  The idea, that the solution to this problem may lie in our response to the universal call to personal holiness, is considered as just simple nonsense.  It is ridiculed as pure wishful thinking because it is not based on any scientific method that offers a proven solution.

Instead of God, the solution the world continues to adopt remains contraception and sterilisation; man made solutions to a problem that is not just a natural problem but also a supernatural problem.

[1] Sky News, Melinda Gates Interview,, July 11, 2012
[2] Sky News, Alex Crawford Malawi Case Study,, July 11, 2012
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #301
[4] Proverbs 19: 21
[5] Matthew 8: 2 - 4
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Gaudium Et Spes, #19, Dec 7, 1965
[9] Ibid.  #50, Dec 7, 1965
[10] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2222
[11] Gaudium Et Spes, #17, Dec 7, 1965
[12] Ibid.  #50, Dec 7, 1965
[13] Ibid. 
[14] Ibid. 
[15] Pius XII, Discourse, October 29,1951
[16] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2013
[17] Ibid.  #978
[18] Ibid.  #2520

No comments:

Post a Comment