In a world where self-fulfillment is the goal, sex is a rite of passage in teenage years, contraception is viewed as a responsibility, and kids are seeing pornography before turning ten, it is an unthinkable and even laughable notion to forsake instant gratification and choose sacrifice in the realm of human sexuality.
Yet, here we are. And we’re not laughing about the issues throwing caution to the wind has led to.
We are living in a time when generations are becoming progressively more lonely. Many people are sexually confused or tragically abused. It doesn’t take much to realize that this area of life has become one of deep confusion, addiction, and personal tragedy.
No group of people is exempt from this madness. And no group really agrees on causes, effects, or solutions.
Even among those who identify as Catholic, our views vary on what is and isn’t acceptable. For example, a Pew Research Study released in September 2016 found that only 8% of responding Catholics viewed contraception as morally wrong, 41% as morally acceptable, and 48% as “not a moral issue”. As an imperfect but faithful Catholic, I am part of that 8% and stand behind what my church teaches. In fact, all Christian denominations denounced contraception until the Anglican Bishop’s Lambeth Conference of 1930 first accepted it in a vote of 193 to 67. In far less than a century, the entire landscape of family life and reproductive health has radically changed.
Some laud the development of effective contraception as finally getting with the times. But the Catholic Church has staunchly recognized from the beginning several things:
- Men and women were created for each other, as is self-evident in our complimentary nature.
- Men and women were gifted by God with the possibility of co-creating new human beings together by mirroring the creative love of God revealed in the community of persons we call the Trinity.
- Bringing a new human life into existence is a great responsibility, and a natural end of sex. So is the bonding of spouses.
- Marriage was established by God as the permanent partnership between man and woman whereby children can be raised in a legally bound and sacramentally graced union.
- Sex is meant for spouses committed to each other in marriage because by nature, the total giving of oneself with the potential of creating a child only makes sense in a committed, vowed, relationship.
To be honest, it doesn’t make perfect sense to be writing about this. I am single as they come at this point. I have no personal experience being married. But I come from a family, could certainly have my own one day, and have a vested interest in the health and well being of my fellow human beings. I have for a while.
It’s been a relatively long time since I first started reading and learning about Catholicism’s approach to these issues. I started reading a lot of current events back toward the end of high school when I got on Facebook and the pro-life movement first came on my radar. From there, it’s been a continuous process of slowly building my understanding. Why? I just realized that the world falls short of what we’re made for, and had to find out why and how and for what I was created.
I took a class on Christian Marriage in college (which was so good), and have read extensively on Theology of the Body and these issues because let’s be real: if a Catholic doesn’t do that nowadays, why stand behind what the Church teaches? How is one convicted enough to stick to something they don’t understand?
Understanding how I am made, and God’s plan for love and life is necessary in these times. If I hadn’t taken the personal responsibility to learn the why behind what people already know the Church teaches, who knows what kind of different choices I would have made. But here, now? I certainly have only scratched the surface, but am convicted that if more people could seek and grasp a deeper understanding, our world would be so different.
There is a great battle happening in our culture and in our souls for not just the unsatisfying license to do whatever we want, but the true freedom to order our lives rightly. To master ourselves. To break free of sin and slavery to ourselves. This is possible for anyone, and a necessity for everyone. As G. K. Chesterton put it, “It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” Do you want to be part of changing our culture? It seems like such a hard thing by society’s standards, but Josemaría Escrivá encourages us that “When you decide firmly to lead a clean life, chastity will not be a burden on you: it will be a crown of triumph.”
Much of the time Catholics have this discussion in terms of married people (which is undoubtedly important). But coming to understand that no matter our state in life, we are all made to love out of self-gift was a transformative realization in my life. There is something in this for everyone. It’s hard to explain, but for me, it completely changed how I love people. (And here are some ways I’ve shared how to live this as a single person.)
I realized too often I did things with an expectation of what would be given back, which left me feeling unloved when things aren’t reciprocated. Seeing acts of love instead as a free gift of myself is different, because gifts have no strings attached. They are undeserved and cannot be earned.
That kind of love is what Catholicism shows us is possible and calls every one of us to live in different ways specific to our state of life.
Though the world says sleeping around, watching pornography, and using contraception are normal, I am here to tell you that it is possible to say no to all of that. Not only is it possible, it is empowering. Beautiful. Freeing.
I am free from addiction.
I am free from the worry of STD’s, getting pregnant before being married, and the emotional baggage that sleeping around brings.
I am free to live my best life until or unless a guy comes along with the same standards.
I am free to understand and respect how my body works naturally and not pump it full of synthetic hormones.
I am free to love and sacrifice fully, with nothing holding me back.
I am free from being enslaved by bodily passions.
I am free.
With the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae next month, I wanted to share this with you in the hope of broaching an awkward and controversial conversation, as per usual. This document (written by a soon to be canonized saint) reaffirmed Catholicism’s long standing stance on the issue of contraception and prophetically foretold what would happen with the broad acceptance of contraception, when at the height of the sexual revolution the world expected the Church to bow. But it didn’t, because this is one of those issues that gets to the heart of what it means to be human, and will never change.
There are people out there committed to this too. It’s not just some fringe religious nutcases. There are well educated, faithful, joyful people living out this truth in ordinary and extraordinary ways, so this post is just the beginning of a seven part series. Each person will share a bit about how they came to understand and embrace this message of life-giving love. It is a journey. Wherever you are in yours, my hope is that this series encourages you to ask hard questions, learn more, and consider how you are called to respond in your own life.
This radical self-gift kind of love is what each of us is capable of giving.
This is what we are free to do through self mastery and right ordering of our passions.
This is the calling on each of our lives.
This is Freedom’s Calling.
Check back and follow along in the coming weeks for the remaining guest posts of this series! Feel free to contact me and participate in the comment section with any input and discussion.
Here are links to the rest of the posts:
Part 2: Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power with Amy Thomas of Catholic Pilgrim
Part 3: Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission with Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry