Catholic Teaching and Contraception
Many people know that the Catholic Church opposes contraception. What is often less well known is that this was the teaching of all Christians until the first few decades of the twentieth century, and that the Catholic Church is simply continuing a teaching which had already been there for hundreds of years - and which is still not well understood.
To understand this teaching, we need to start with God!
God: a Trinity of Persons
All Christians share the understanding that God is a Trinity: One God, yet existing as a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Catholics see this as a relationship of love and life, each of the three Persons giving hiself totally in love to the others. And this is the nature of God expressed in one beautiful, continuous act of love which never ceases, without beginning or end, for God is infinite and eternal.
Human Beings: in the Image and Likeness of God
At the beginning of the Bible, the story of the relatioonship between God and mankind, it is said that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). God made us to share in the outpouring of His life and love; if we are made in His image then we share His qualities. He pours Himself out in love for us, so we must pour ourselves out in love for Him. He has stewardship over all creation, we have stewardship over all the earth. He exists eternally, we are to live eternally. He is fruitful and multiplies, we are to be fruitful, to multiply. He loves completely the Persons of his own being, we are to love completely the persons of our own being: each other.
Genesis also tells us that God made us, male and female, and that we are in the image of God in this togetherness (Gen 1:27); so it's in being male and female together - ultimately in marriage - that we must express this most closely.
Through the union of husband and wife, human beings reflect the Trinitarian image and likeness of God: separate persons in a complete union as one in love; total self-giving; fruitfulness in the generation of more persons. Thus human marriage actually is a physical, earthly expression of the divine reality of God.
Human Sexuality: expressing God's love
Our call to love as God loves is written into our very being and expressed most profoundly in our sexuality, which was never intended to be used for self-gratification, but for total self-giving in love and in selfless openness to life in the permanent union of marriage. Men and women are meant to be gift for one another, permanent gift. This is the essence of marriage and the purpose of sexuality. When married man and woman give themselves to each other this way, they become the image and likeness of God. Sex itself, rightly expressed in marriage, is the image and likeness of God.
Any sexual expression less than permanent giving of self in marriage, with loving openness to life, is less than the permanent self-giving of God, is less than what we were intended to be, and is therefore contrary to the very nature and totality of our being.
When someone uses contraception, he or she is holding back one of the two essential qualities of sex, which are the two essential qualities of our very being: life and love. To withhold one part is to withhold a part of ourselves from the other we are with. It injects a little seed of selfishness into the relationship, and makes it possible for one to begin to objectify the other and to focus on sex as a means of self-gratification, rather than of self-giving.
It interferes with the presence of the Holy Spirit in the marriage, as the Holy Spirit is the giver of life, and it can even - and often does - change the thinking about children as gifts from God and truly belonging to God, to something we can control and get for ourselves, like commodities, so that in some manner we even think about our children selfishly.
It changes the image of the marriage from God-centered, to self-centered and human-centered. It closes off the unitive act to the presence of God - spiritually deadening the sex act by closing it off to Divine life and action.
This is not to say that Catholics believe that every sexual act must result in the creation of a new child. For Catholic couples who for good reason need to limit or space the birth of children, the Church offers Natural Family Planning (much more than just the rhythm method), which teaches couples to live and love with respect for the natural cycles of female fertility.
The Catholic Call: become what you are
So the teaching of the Catholic Church isn't something negative; it's a call to be truly what we are made to be, to be truly loving and self-giving - to be truly human. Anything less is simply not what we were made for; the challenge is to become truly what we are, and live in the light of God in our marriages.
(with thanks to Aimee Milburn Cooper, on whose blog article much of this page is based)