Two life-style issues have surfaced in the news markets in recent weeks: cohabitation and contraception.
The first, primarily seen in Catholic news media, was a letter written by His Excellency Michael Sheehan, Archbishop of Santa Fe to his flock. In it he addresses cohabitating Catholics and calls on them to reform their lives and sexual unions in order to live according to the Gospel and be in full communion with the Church.
The Archbishop’s letter lays out the 3 situations where a sacramental marriage is absent: those who cohabit, those who married civilly outside of the church without a previous marriage; and those married in a civil union with a previous marriage. His Excellency also clearly spells out the roles these persons can not play in parish life until their relationships are regularized.
He gives a clear pastoral response to an ever serious and growing trend in society: the decline of marriage. Ambivalence and indifference to the truth of what marriage is and its purpose have resulted in a decline in the number of marriages being sought by individuals. This, in turn, leads to the absence of church members, the decline in priestly vocations, etc.
The second issue, and one picked up by the secular media as well, was the publishing of a study done by the Guttmacher Institute which detailed the high numbers of Christian women, including Catholics, who use (or have used) artificial contraception.
Bear in mind that Guttmacher is the research arm of Planned Parenthood and therefore anything it publishes must be seen from its worldview: pro-complete sexual license, pro-death of the unborn, motherhood, the culture, etc.
The Guttmacher study is not news, really, since it is well-known in secular and religious societies that families are not as large as they once were, birth rates have been dropping for decades, economies are on the decline (impoverished Social Security, anyone?) and population demographics are shifting because of contraception.
Yes, even among church-going Catholics this is true, and has been for quite some time. Several years ago a statistic surfaced that of the Catholic American couples requesting an annulment from the church, 96% reported that they had used contraception.
Of course, while Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards takes a nyah – nyah thumbs-her-nose attitude:
“These findings show yet again that birth control is a common practice — and a common need — for women of different faiths and backgrounds.”
she reveals her ignorance about contraception, i.e., that it meets the needs of women. Contraception is the deliberate denial of the opportunity for life and doesn’t meet the needs of anyone – the woman, the family or society. It frustrates the natural outcome of an intimate act and robs everyone, in some way, of having their world expanded.
Cohabitation and contraception aren’t the only problems, here, however, as wrong as they may be intrinsically. There is another concept missing from these scenarios: Commitment! Both cohabitation and contraception seek to access the goods that rightly belong to marriage, i.e., sexual intimacy, without the commitment that such union requires, even demands, for it to be satisfying and fulfilling and for the greater good of the individuals involved and the broader culture.
Plain and simple, those who cohabit fail to commit. Despite what words the man and woman may choose to express their relationship, even to one another, the failure to actually do so publicly before God and man reveals the tentativeness of the desire for the it. When one partner knows that he/she is free to leave, they also knows that they are free not to give and to bear all – in other words, they are free to count the cost, and decide if its worth it. This applies as well to couples civilly joined outside the Church. While society may not appreciate divorce, the Church frowns on it strongly, and they know this. A sacramental marriage intertwines the mystery of God Himself, and it is a might thing to then try and disengage from such 3-fold union: Where a lone man may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken. (Eccl. 4:12) It is the presence of an “Other’ which instead gives a couple grace and strength to persevere, to heal, to overcome struggle and distress.
Contraception, too, is a failure to commit – to the whole person (his/her fertility included!) and to the future – the everlasting outcome that sexual union is designed to create: the life of an infant boy or girl. It is likewise a failure to commit to God Himself, because that son or daughter will bear His image and likeness. As with marriage, the literal, physical presence of an innocent life who in this case didn’t seek to join the union of man and woman but consents by his or her very presence, makes the relationship stronger and therefore more difficult from which to disengage. And that is a good thing, for the father, the mother, the child(ren), and for the rest of us as well.
So it seems that underlying the problem that needs to be addressed here is the inability or unwillingess to make a commitment and to take on the responsibility inherent with it. We live in an insecure, unstable society; by saying what we mean, and meaning what we say (acting on our words) we can sure-up its foundations and by doing so secure our own future as well.