Christmas as the Pope Sees It

New books and a recent TV documentary have asked: What motivates Pope John Paul II? The answer isn't hard to find. The Holy Father has revealed the secret himself, when he wrote that “preparing for the year 2000 has become as it were a hermeneutical key of my pontificate” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente [As the Third Millennium Draws Near], No. 23).

The Pope says that for 21 years he has been looking to this coming Christmas and the yearlong celebrations following it. He expects great things to come from it.

In this week's Christmas supplement, the Register explores some aspects of what the Holy Father expects from Christmas 1999. It also offers some helpful insights about how to find Christ amid an often overly commercialized season.

Along with gift suggestions, the supplement offers practical ways to help make this Advent and Christmas more meaningful — and the guidelines the Pope himself issued on how to get the most out of the coming year.

Starting Over for Life

For too many, any discussion of contraception as a moral issue is a personal challenge that is difficult to face objectively.

Nonetheless, recent developments in the news demand that we look at Catholic attitudes toward contraception closely. Item: The Archdiocese of Washington is criticized in the Oct. 22 Washington Post for cutting funding to a pregnancy crisis center when it began to provide contraception to clients. “Just because we give out birth control doesn't mean we're not pro-life (but) our church cannot see that anymore,” center director Mary Jelacic told the paper.

Item: New York Times columnist Peter Steinfels (the husband of Margaret Steinfels, editor of the Catholic biweekly Commonweal) is quoted in the Oct. 17 Register opposing Roe v. Wade's establishment of a “right” to abortion. Yet he also opposes Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's reaffirmation of the Church's teaching against contraception.

Item: A majority of the U.S. Senate (including many Catholic members) voted for a “sense of the Senate” proclamation of support for Roe v. Wade.

It is clear that many Catholics have parted ways with the Church on the issue of contraception. A consequence of this is that until we address contraception, abortion will continue to plague our society.

The contraception-abortion link is undeniable. As early as 1968, even Planned Parenthood's Alan Guttmacher saw that a rise in abortion rates follows greater contraception use. A decade later, the Abortion Rights Action League in a handbook saw the promotion of contraception as a way to pave the way for abortion. In 1992, the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey said, “Abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception” — and justified abortion because contraceptive users have come to rely on it.

Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) also insisted that “despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree” (No. 13).

Why the link? Because the availability of contraception allows a society to open sexual activity to all, regardless of marriage or readiness to support a family. Sex then too often becomes more like a form of entertainment and far from an expression of unity and openness to life within the bond of marriage. When contraception fails — which is not infrequently — tolerance for the contraception of last resort, abortion, grows.

For Catholics to be truly pro-life, the contraception question will have to be faced forthrightly. The jubilee anniversary of Christ's birth in the year 2000 is a time for us Catholics to own up to what we have done wrong, seek reconciliation from God and start anew as a Church.

In a special way, given the plunge in birthrates in the West, it must apply to all of us who have aided and abetted — by word, deed or omission — the cause of contraception.

A tough teaching? Certainly. But earlier generations accepted it, recognizing the wisdom and wonder of procreation through which God renews the world.