My Pastor, Fr. Vincent Hawkswell, delivered a wonderful homily this morning about parenthood & against contraception. His sermon is also on the B.C. Catholic newspaper. Here is the complete text of his homily.
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Patrick's 2008
God created the world "good," but "it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator," says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "The universe was created in a state of journeying toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained."
"God is the sovereign Master of His plan" for the universe. However, "to carry it out, He also makes use of His creatures' co-operation." In particular, He entrusts humans "with the responsibility of subduing the earth and having dominion over it." He gives us the freedom and the intelligence necessary for us "to complete the work of creation" and "to perfect its harmony," for our own good and that of our neighbours, like the "capable wife" of this Sunday's First Reading.
God's "plan" for us, then, is accomplished not just in what happens to us, but also in what we do. When we pray, in the Our Father, "Thy will be done," we must realize that a great deal of God's will is to be "done by God's creatures, including me," says C.S. Lewis. The petition "is not merely that I may patiently suffer God's will, but also that I may vigorously do it."
God grants us not only our existence, but also the dignity of acting on our own in the accomplishment of His plan, the Catechism says. This lays a burden of responsibility on us: a burden we are often tempted to relinquish, like the man with the one talent in this Sunday's Gospel Reading.
It would be nice, would it not, if we could make an irrevocable decision to follow Christ, once and for all, and after that "leave it to God," relieved of all responsibility, acting under orders like a soldier? When God does not give us those orders, are we not tempted to look for them elsewhere: in horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, tarot cards, mediums, omens, clairvoyants, lots, and even the flip of a coin? (All these forms of superstition are forbidden by the First Commandment.)
The desire to avoid this responsibility can even masquerade as "trust in God," especially in the decisions associated with human procreation. For example, one couple, asked about their next child, said, "We're leaving it to God." Similarly, a woman wrote, "We have left it up to the Lord in regard to more children. Whew! What a load that is off my mind! He's in charge -- not me, not my husband, but God!"
In contrast, "God the Creator invites the spouses not to be passive operators, but rather co-operators or almost interpreters of His plan," Pope John Paul II said during a Natural Family Planning course in Rome in 1990. "Unfortunately, Catholic thought is often misunderstood on this point, as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future.... One need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that this is not so."
In his landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae, 40 years ago, Pope Paul VI said that conjugal love "is first of all fully human" (that is, "of the senses and of the spirit at the same time") and is therefore not "a simple transport of instinct and sentiment," but "also, and principally, an act of the free will." It "requires in husband and wife an awareness of their mission of responsible parenthood." This means, he said, that spouses must have a knowledge of and a respect for the biological processes which are part of the human person so that "reason and will" can exercise "dominion" over "the tendencies of instinct or passion."
(Ignorance and lack of control over our bodies are results of Adam and Eve's Fall. It is true that ignorance gives occasion for trust in God's providence, but it does not follow that God wants us to be ignorant.)
The knowledge we need to manage our fertility in a truly human way is the exact time of ovulation. As early as 1951, Pope Pius XII said, in a talk to the Family Front, "One may hope that science will succeed in providing this lawful method [of regulating births] with a sufficiently secure base."
Thanks to modern research, the exact time of ovulation can now be pinpointed in various ways. "These methods are becoming more and more accurate," Pope John Paul II said. "An honest appraisal of their effectiveness should dispel certain prejudices which are still widely held, and should convince married couples, as well as health-care and social workers, of the importance of proper training in this area."
Some people think that there is no difference between contraception and natural family planning, since both are designed to regulate births. However, it is not the regulation of birth that is wrong (in fact, responsible parenthood demands it) but the interference with the marriage act.
Spouses who have been properly trained in the knowledge of their fertility should be able to say, as they come together, "'It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too' that we conceive, or do not conceive, a child tonight." (These are the words used by the apostles, after prayer and consultation, about their decision not to impose the Mosaic Law on converts to Christianity.) By refusing the training, or, once they have been trained, closing their eyes to the knowledge it gives them, spouses decline the full dignity of God's co-creators: they decline the sublime experience of coming together with the knowledge and the will that, under God the Creator, they are about to pro-create a new human being.
Of course, selfishness is always wrong, whether it leads to large families or small. In saying to God, "[May] Thy will be done," Lewis says, "I am asking that I may be enabled to do it. In the long run, I am asking to be given 'the same mind that was in Christ.'"