I have noticed that there is a certain topic of moral teaching from the Church which, although deeply relevant to every married couple and to the common good, is never spoken of at Mass. That's peculiar, isn't it?
Recently I met a fellow parishoner and the conversation went something like this:
Arnold Scott (AS): "How long have you been in the parish?"
Fellow Parishoner (FP): "About 30 years...my wife and I have three adult children, two have moved away pretty far...we have two grandkids...my son and his wife have the two kids...and they're done."
AS: "Have you ever read Humanae Vitae?"
FP: "I have heard of it, but never read it. What's it about?"
AS: "Well, it's about God's plan for family life. The Pope wrote it in 1968. You should check it out and share it with your son."
FP: "I will, thank you...nice to meet you, see you around the parish..."
Now, this man has been hearing homilies for decades. He is well educated and had a professional career so we can presume he is literate and has done plenty of reading in his life. Yet he has never read Humanae Vitae which is not too long and has been out for 50 years. That's okay by itself because not everyone needs to read encyclicals and Humanae Vitae taught nothing other than the constant Tradition of the Church. But we do need to be familiar with Church teaching to properly form our consciences.
Does he know what the Church teaches about artificial contraception? I'm not sure but even the fact that I could be unsure of this is a sad commentary on the catechesis this man has recieved for the past 30 years (at least 1,600 homilies including Feast Days).
"and they're done."
That phrase, volunteered in a matter of fact way, says all you need to know about the lack of knowledge of or reverence for Church teaching (Divine teaching) that is common among parishoners.
So let's take a look at what the Church REALLY teaches about contraception. Is it just a matter of personal choice behind closed doors? Is it fine if you are at peace with it in your heart? Do you have the right to decide that you just can't trust in God because He would not be willing or able to provide for your family in the future? Would God care about an issue like this that nobody even talks about? Has the Chuch changed like the Protestants have with the culture on this issue? Should we focus on more important matters and leave this topic alone or is it intimately related to a host of other moral issues which impact the whole family and the common good?
Some wisdom here from Pope St. John Paul II, St. Augustine, and Pope Paul VI:
When the spouses through contraception deprive the exercise of their conjugal sexuality of its potential procreative capacity, they attribute to themselves a power which belongs to God alone: the power to decide in the last instance the coming to existence of a human person. They attribute to themselves the qualification of being not the cooperators of the creative power of God, but the ultimate holders of the source of the human life. From this perspective, contraception is to be objectively judged to such an extent illicit, that it could never, for any reason, be justified. To think or to speak the contrary, equals to hold that in human life there could be given situations in which it would be licit not to recognize God as God (John Paul II, Address to Participants of a Study Seminar on Responsible Procreation, September 17, 1983).
Many think that the Christian teaching, although true, is nonetheless unfeasible, at least in some circumstances. As the Tradition of the Church has constantly taught, God does not command the impossible but every commandment also entails a gift of grace which helps human freedom to fulfill it. Yet constant prayer, frequent recourse to the sacraments and the exercise of conjugal chastity are needed. Today more than yesterday, man is again beginning to feel the need for truth and right reason in his daily experience. Always be ready to say, without ambiguity, the truth about the good and evil regarding man and the family (John Paul II, Address to Participants in a Study Meeting on Responsible Procreation, June 5, 1987).
CASTI CONNUBII, the great encyclical on Christian marriage from 1930 cites St. Augustine:
"As St. Augustine notes, "Intercourse even with one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it."
1968 Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI
The Church in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life (Humanae Vitae, 11).
Excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom. 8)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong (Humanae Vitae, n. 14).
What will happen if we follow Church teaching in this area? Perhaps natural family planning in some cases for a time. More blessings. More "supreme gifts of marriage." More sorrows and more joys. More love in every way. More fruitfulness. More LIFE. Life to the full (John 10:10).