Related Notes

Wherever Two or More are Gathered » Notes » Openness to Life

  • Openness to Life

    Posted by Mary Wilson September 11, 2018 - 428 views - 0 comments - 0 likes - #Life  #Humanae Vitae  #openness to life  #artificial birth control  #contraception  #***  #abstinence 

    by Daniel J. Hennessy

    I have enough training and experience in public speaking and writing to know that humor is the best way to capture an audience. Hence I apologize from the start if what follows seems to reflect not humor, but some anger in my soul.

    I am pro-life. I am pro Humanae Vitae. And so, I am kind of afraid to admit it, but in discussions about artificial birth control and Humanae Vitae, I really despise the phrase, “openness to life.” I wince when I write that, because “open” and “life” are such beautiful words. I guess what I despise is the way the phrase was often used to end all argument about the whys of Catholic sexual morality. So I find it ironic, and rather pleasing, perhaps even providential and prophetic, that I am creating my very first blog post on the 50th anniversary of that watershed document. Nowhere in the document does the phrase “open (or openness) to life” appear. The concept shows up in a somewhat tangential way, but in context, is almost beside the point. And hence my bone of contention.

    I think that - and I’m pretty certain that every kind of evidence, scientific to anecdotal, to everything in between, points toward me being right about this - the fundamental prohibition that Humanae Vitae puts on any kind of artificial contraception is difficult to understand and difficult to live by. I am quite sure that in a brief blogspot I am incapable of making this radical rule of morality, namely that artificially contracepted *** is evil, any easier to understand: just in case someone of you, had some illusion that this was going to be sexual morality made easy. It is not easy. Not in concept and not in practice.

    Here’s where it is personal for me. I studied theology at a Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome. I knew this was a big discussion in the cultural wars in America, and I wanted to get it. I wanted to have an unassailable, once I’ve explained this to you in about four minutes you will see it all clearly, kind of argument. What I got was thousands of pages of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which even today is intellectually revolutionary, and challenging by anyone’s standards. (Don’t get me wrong, I love John Paul II and his Theology of the Body, but it is not for dummies.)

    What irked me was that a lot of my peers seemed to reduce the whole thing to the “openness to life” quip. If you’re having *** without being open to life, that’s evil. Artificial contraception is by design not open to life. Therefore artificial contraception is evil. Nice, neat syllogism. Here’s my problem, and in this Humanae Vitae agrees with me: when a married couple has *** knowingly during the time when the woman is not fertile, they are not being open to life. They know that their act will not lead to the conception of a new life, and they want it that way. And guess what, the Catholic Church says that’s okay. The only thing they are not allowed to do is frustrate the conception of a new life by some artificial means - and there are many of them, which I don’t think I need to explain. So if it’s not the openness to life thing, then what is it that sets apart good *** from evil *** when no child is intended?

    Well, after reading and rereading the document, particularly paragraph number 16, until I felt as though I had drilled the words through my brain, I consoled myself with this. What makes the good *** good, even when it is intentionally not open to life, is that it is done “rightly using a faculty provided them by nature,” and “husband and wife are ready to abstain from *********** during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable.”

    In other words, if we want our *** to be holy, it has to be done obeying the way God made things. So basically, if we don’t care about holiness, or we don’t believe in God and in his loving providence by which he makes things to work for our own good, it’s going to be impossible to understand why artificial contraception is wrong. The other piece of it is that, in some way, periodic abstinence is positively a good thing, and not simply a nuisance to be tolerated.

    Here again, I ask myself why and how. How can abstinence really be good? And here I would love some feedback from all of you. The document gives an indirect answer to that question by listing some of the evil consequences of artificial contraception. Among them, this: “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” (Hmmm. That sounds like an altogether too familiar scenario.) Here’s how I put the two together. Periodic abstinence is good because it helps the man in his struggle to reverence his wife, to be attentive to her physical and emotional needs, and to surround her with care and affection as his partner.

    Wow. Who doesn’t want to be good at surrounding the woman he loves with care and affection? As gut wrenchingly difficult as it is, I love the prohibition of Humanae Vitae on artificial contraception. I wish there were an easier way, but nothing of value ever comes without effort.

    Image via CCSearch/Flickr by Flavio~