When Joseph Ratzinger stepped out on the balcony and became Pope Benedict XVI, I fell in love with him immediately. I actually felt a bit like an unfaithful spouse: I had loved Pope John Paul II so much, how could I so quickly transfer my allegiance? I didn’t love Pope Francis immediately, but I have come to do so quickly.
Pope Francis is just the pope we need at this time. He never ceases exhorting us to grow close to Christ and to take his message out to the world. He wants us to build the civilization of love so beautifully described by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Sadly, for the last 45 years, there has been so much division within the Church that we have not been able to present a united front to the world. That division began with the rejection by many of Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth), following its release in July 1968, 45 years ago. It is scandalous but true that priests were trained not to teach the truths of Humanae Vitae.
Since dissent spread to virtually every other teaching, Catholics have been woefully ignorant of the teachings of their own Church. The internal battle is certainly not over, but orthodoxy has the energy of the youth, a large number of bishops and most of the young priests on its side. There is also a plethora of theological and catechetical material, plus media resources and more and more educational institutions that train people well to take the battle beyond the borders of the Church. (A really good example of an innovative effort in that regard is the website 1Flesh.org.)
That is very good news — since we are engaged in a war of epic proportions. (Yet how much better equipped we would be to fight it, had we maintained a united front over all these decades.) Some of us saw long ago the connection between the use of contraception and the debilitating scourge of unwed pregnancy in our culture, which is the source of the "need" for abortion, of the ubiquitous practice of promiscuous sex and of cohabitation.
More are seeing the connection between single parenthood and the terrible cycle of poverty besetting a frightening portion of our population. More are even seeing the terrible health effects and environmentally bad effects of contraception.
These are a whole set of bad consequences that have been accumulating for decades. But, in a way, even worse ones have sprung up in the last year or so.
John Paul II, in Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), famously called contraception a lie that falsifies the language of the body. The sexual act by its very nature "speaks" of the connection between sexual intercourse and the bringing forth of new life. The Father of Lies has exploited that lie to advance a host of other vicious lies.
The mainstreaming of same-sex relationships has been under way for two decades or so. The American voting public has resisted the legalization of same-sex "marriages," but the "gay agenda" received a huge boost from the recent Supreme Court decision that dictated that states have the "right" to recognize same-sex "marriages."
Healthy people in healthy cultures have a natural revulsion to the thought of same-sex sexual acts, but that natural revulsion has been eroded by the fact that, for decades, our culture has made contracepted sex the norm.
Contracepted sex, by removing the baby-making possibility from the sexual act, has led our culture to embrace the idea that sex is just for recreation between individuals who are attracted to each other. No openness to children, no love or commitment is expected.
Currently, we hold that sex should be between only two relatively adult persons (of either sex), but soon logic will demand that we accept polygamous marriages and sex between adults and minors: If sex is just a physical pleasure and if marriage is whatever we say it is, we can’t say "No" to any sexual relationships or any legal arrangements.
Contracepted sex is itself deviant sex and thus paves the way for acceptance of other deviant sexual practices.
Since we buy the lie that sexual relations are necessary to happiness, despite the overwhelming evidence that that is a lie, we don’t want to deny happiness to those who experience same-sex attraction — to our siblings, our children, our friends and co-workers. We love them and want the best for them. Yet the fact is that sexual relationships not rooted in indissoluble, faithful, heterosexual marriages welcoming to children generally result in heartbreak and misery.
Acts opposed to the natural law and revealed law offer only an allusion of happiness. But already many of our schools are teaching that same-sex relationships are equal to heterosexual ones and that people who oppose same-sex "marriages" are motivated by hate — the lie concocted by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court’s June 26 overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act.
It is telling that the battle for religious liberty in this country is being fought over a government mandate that religious employers pay for contraception. Contraception, which cures no physical maladies and promotes individual sexual irresponsibility and societal ruin, is now considered so essential to our well-being that it is the only "health" care measure provided for free!
Our bishops have courageously and energetically fought the HHS mandate, but their task is made much more difficult by the fact that most Catholics have used contraception and do not understand or accept the Church’s condemnation of it.
Pope Francis is tireless in his exhortations that we must live and preach the truth and also be aware that the devil will make every attempt he can to thwart our efforts. Again, among the worst evils of our day are the breakdown of the family, poverty, the acceptance of homosexual relationships and the growing hatred and suppression of religious belief.
The rejection of the Church’s teaching on contraception contributes mightily to the growing presence of these evils. Forty-five years after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, we must make teaching the truths of Paul VI’s encyclical a priority of the New Evangelization.
I pray that the day will come when the world at large realizes how lost it is concerning wisdom about sexual morality. The Church really does possess the truth about sexual morality. Its members must be prepared to share that wisdom with the world.
Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., holds the
Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics
at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.