IF you’ve ever been to one of my retreats before, then you’ll know I prefer to speak from the heart. I find it leaves room for the Lord or Our Lady to do whatever they want—like change the subject. Well, today is one of those moments. Yesterday, we reflected on the gift of salvation, which is also a privilege and calling to bear fruit for the Kingdom. As St. Paul said in Ephesians…
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. (Eph 2:8-9)
As St. John the Baptist said, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Matt 3:8 So God has saved us precisely so we can become His handiwork, another Christ in the world. It’s a narrow and difficult road because it demands a rejection of temptation, but the reward is life in Christ. And for St. Paul, there was nothing on earth that compared:
I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Phil 3:8-9)
And with that, I want to share with you an intimate testimony, a calling down the Narrow Pilgrim Road in the first year of my marriage. In fact, this is timely given the Pope’s controversial comments recently on contraception….
LIKE most Catholic newlyweds, neither my wife Lea nor I knew much about the Church’s teaching on birth control. It wasn’t mentioned in our “engagement encounter” course, nor at any other time during wedding preparations. We’d never heard a teaching from the pulpit on it, and it wasn’t something that we had thought to discuss much with our parents. And if our consciences were pricked, we were able to quickly dismiss it as an “unreasonable demand.”
So when our wedding day neared, my fiancée did what most women do: she started taking “the pill.”
About eight months into our marriage, we were reading a publication which revealed that the birth control pill can be an abortificant. That is, a newly conceived child can be destroyed by the chemicals in some contraceptives. We were horrified! Had we unknowingly ended the life of one—or several—of our own children? We quickly learned the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception and decided then and there that we were going to follow what Peter’s successor was telling us. After all, I was bothered by “cafeteria” Catholics who picked and chose whichever teachings of the Church they would follow, and those they wouldn’t. And here I was doing the same thing!
We went to Confession shortly after and began to learn about the natural ways that a woman’s body signals the onset of fertility so that a couple can plan their family naturally, within God’s design. The next time we united as husband and wife, there was a powerful release of grace that left both of us weeping, immersed in a profound presence of the Lord we’d never experienced in that before. Suddenly, we remembered! This was the first time we united ourselves without birth control; the first time we truly gave of ourselves, one to the other fully, holding back nothing of ourselves, including the awesome power and privilege to procreate.
THE SPIRITUAL CONDOM
There is much talk these days about how contraception prevents pregnancy. But there is little discussion on what else it prevents—namely, the full union of husband and wife.
Contraception is like a condom over the heart. It says I am not fully open to the possibility of life. And didn’t Jesus say He was the way, the truth, and the life? Whenever we exclude or deter life, we exclude and deter the presence of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. For this reason alone, birth control has silently divided husbands and wives in ways they cannot comprehend. It has prevented the deepest unity of souls, and therefore, the deepest of unifying and sanctifying graces: life Himself, Jesus, who is the third partner of every sacramental marriage.
Is it any wonder that scientific surveys have found the following results among couples who do not use artificial contraception? They:
- have a dramatically low (0.2%) divorce rate (compared to 50% in the general public);
- experience happier marriages;
- are happier and more satisfied in their everyday lives;
- have considerably more marital relations;
- share a deeper intimacy with spouse than those who contracept;
- realize a deeper level of communication with spouse;
(To see the full results of Dr. Robert Lerner’s study, go to www.physiciansforlife.org)
LIKE A TREE
Within a year of our decision to follow the Church’s teaching put forth in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, we conceived our first daughter, Tianna. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and saying to my wife, “It’s like… it’s like we’re an apple tree. The very purpose of an apple tree is to bear fruit! It’s natural and it’s good.” Children in our modern culture are often viewed as an inconvenience, or at the very most, an acceptable fashion if you have only one, or maybe two (any more than three is perceived as distasteful or even irresponsible.) But children are the very fruit of married love, fulfilling one of the essential roles designed by God for a husband and wife: be fertile and multiply. Gen 1:28
Since that time, God has truly blessed us with seven more children. We have three daughters followed by five sons (we had the babysitters first… kidding). They weren’t all planned—there were some surprises! And sometimes Lea and I felt overwhelmed amidst job layoffs and accumulating debt… until we held them in our arms and couldn’t imagine life without them. People laugh when they see us pile out of our van or tour bus. We are stared at in restaurants and gawked at in grocery stores (“Are all these yours??”). Once, during a family bike ride, a teenager caught sight of us and exclaimed, “Look! A family!” I thought I was in China for a moment.
But both Lea and I recognize that the decision for life has been an overwhelming gift and grace.
LOVE NEVER FAILS
Above all, the friendship with my wife since that decisive day has only grown and our love deepened, despite the growing pains and difficult days that come to any relationship. It’s hard to explain, but when you permit God to enter into your marriage, even in its most intimate details, there is always a newness, a freshness that keeps one falling in love all over again as the creative Spirit of God opens up new vistas of union.
Jesus said to the Apostles, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” Luke 10:16 Even the more difficult teachings of the Church will always, always bear fruit. For Jesus said:
If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31-32)
SUMMARY AND SCRIPTURE
The call of the pilgrim is a call to obedience, but an invitation to joy.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. (John 15:10-11)
First published December 7th, 2007.
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