The Holy Father often speaks about the contemporary battle between the Culture of Life and the culture of death. Nowhere is this cultural battle more pronounced than with regards to the institution of marriage.Undoubtedly, contraception is the weapon of choice for the culture of death. It undermines the self-sacrifice that marriage entails and it prevents both the unitive and the procreative functions of the conjugal act. In short, contracepting couples never become one – either in spirit or in the flesh. In Familiaris Consortio, the Holy Father explains these ill effects as follows:When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate [the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning] that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as “arbiters” of the divine plan and they “manipulate” and degrade human sexuality-and with it themselves and their married partner-by altering its value of “total” self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. The Rosary, on the other hand, is a weapon of mass conversion within marriage. As the Church’s most popular of popular devotions, the Rosary teaches us many of the virtues required to sustain a healthy marriage. Hence the reason why Pope John Paul II recently proposed the Rosary as the antidote to the current cultural malaise toward the family. As he states in Rosarium Virginis Mariae:
[...] the family, the primary cell of society, [is] increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis typical of our age.
In reading these two statements from the Holy Father, we begin to see the contrast between the Rosary and contraception in terms of their effects on the institute of marriage. This contrast is particularly visible when we focus upon the various mysteries of the Rosary.
Take the Joyful Mysteries, for example. In the Annunciation, we recognize Mary’s complete and total self-gift in consenting to be the tabernacle of the Incarnate Word. Her simple fiat – “be it done according to your word” would change the course of human history. Because she humbly consented to the beginning of the divine life within her womb, man was to find redemption and salvation. Yet, in contraception, we find man frustrating the beginning of life in such a way that he is a self-contradiction by being opposed “contra” to his own conception. He becomes the arbiter of life and sets himself up as a god.
Because of his selfish desires for pleasure at the expense of charity and poverty, therefore, he withholds something from his spouse in order to subject himself to contemporary hedonism and self-gratification. By withholding of himself, he sins against charity and prefers materialism over poverty. In doing so, he rejects the Visitation (charity) and denies the Birth of Our Lord (poverty).
As his relationship with his wife begins to disintegrate, his impotent communication with God also begins to break apart. Both relationships inevitably end in divorce. Do not the statistics tell us that authentic faith and marital health are inextricably tied together? This is why contraception is also an attack against a pure and zealous faith – the kind of purity and zealousness found with Our Lady at the Presentation or Our Lord among the Temple elders.
The Luminous Mysteries teach us to be receptive to God’s extraordinary grace within the ordinary events of the family unit. At the time, who could predict that the wedding feast at Cana would yield Our Lord’s first public miracle when the servants and guests followed His careful instructions. Contraception, on the other hand, prevents the miracle of new life because it contradicts Our Lord’s instructions for married couples.
The Sorrowful Mysteries, as we all know, allows us to meditate upon self-sacrifice for others and perseverance. Marriage requires both, especially when times are difficult. Our Lord persevered in his self-sacrifice, not for His good, but for ours. He persevered in his self-sacrifice for our salvation. Contraception destroys marriage because it reverses this sacrifice – one sacrifices one’s spouse for one’s own pleasure. Focused upon one’s own pleasure, one’s resolve to persevere is subsequently weakened as soon as that spouse no longer brings in this pleasure.
During Our Lord’s agony in the garden and through His scouring and crowning, our gentle Saviour taught us to resign ourselves to God’s will and to mortify ourselves by abstaining from those things which are against His divine and natural laws.
By introducing foreign elements into the conjugal act, man frustrates God’s design by altering the whole unitive and procreative intent the sexual act. And, as a man continues to engage in such disordered acts, he begins to treat his wife as a means of self-gratification which, in turn, causes him to objectify her. Failing to understand her as a human person, he therefore becomes less and less patient (The Fall) with her failings and refuses to pardon them (the Crucifixion). He does this because his whole sexual relationship with her has become one of utility and function. He is a masturbator and his wife is his receptacle. He becomes an abomination to God.
Contraception is ultimately a denial of God’s presence and movement among us. Its central presupposition is that God does not care for us or that He does not want what is best for us. In short, contraception does not trust God with the sexual act. It not only withholds something from our spouse, but it also withholds God’s participation in the most sacred act He created. As such, it is a strike against the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ because it denies the faith and hope we must have in God and His Design.
In refusing faith in God’s providence, man also ends up denying the fruits of that faith which are his children – the same children who will love him and care for him in his old age. He therefore forfeits the blessings and gifts God wants to pour out on him as the Scripture says: “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:5) In refusing this blessing, therefore, man refuses the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Glorious mysteries begin with a promise kept. On Easter morning, Christ resurrected from the dead as He promised us He would. Through the resurrection, Christ conquered death once and for all. Contraception is a broken promise within marriage – for no longer is the couple is open to their promise to be fruitful and multiply. With contraception comes death, not only of the future conception of children, but of the intimate conjugal life and of the marital vows as well.
In the Assumption and Queenship of Our Lady, we see the end to which we are called; that is, on the last day our bodies will be raised and our glorification and divinization will become a reality in and through God. This is our end. And because it is our end, the moral acts we engage in during our time on earth should always have God’s glory as their object. Cooperating with God’s plan of life in the conjugal act is a beautiful expression of our fidelity to God’s law, and it reminds us all of the eternal bliss that awaits us in heaven. Contraception, on the other hand, does not believe in the assumption or the glorification of the body. Rather, it believes in returning us to the dust. And if we do not choose life and instead prefer death, then we have made our choice to remain ‘of the world’ since from it [we] were taken; for dust [we] are and to dust [we] will return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Contraception, therefore, represents the culture of death’s principal weapon of mass destruction. Through biological and chemical means, it systematically targets the sacrament of marriage and life itself. In the face of these ominous threats of the enemy, however, we should not become despondent or dejected. If, as the body of Christ, we were only to reach into our pocket and pull out our own weapon – the weapon of mass conversion – our victory would be swift and decisive. Through Our Blessed Mother’s Rosary, we can repel the evil enslaving our culture and transform it into a culture of life. We need only raise our voice with the Blessed Mother and say: “Fiat”.
John Pacheco and Pete Vere
October 13, 2003
Originally published in the Sept/Oct 2003 issue of Lay Witness, the magazine of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF). Reprinted with permission.