“Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous. If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done.'” [Ez 33:12-13]
Fr. Robert Barron stated in one of his videos that moral-legalism is not only bound to conservative trends but also liberal trends. Meaning that both the liberal and the conservative (if I may use such categories), can both hold to a moral code, without ever internalizing the spirituality of that moral code. Recently I encountered a priest who held to this very type of moral outlook when he spoke on the issue of contraception with regard to a family that regularly practiced NFP.
First, it must be simply noted that the speaker did not take into account the Church’s teaching which clearly defines the usage of contraceptives as “intrinsically evil.” Thereby prohibiting its usage in any circumstance, concluding that as a moral object, contraception cannot every be justified by a good-intention or a complicated circumstance.
Second, in suggesting that this family had practiced NFP their whole life, thereby implying there was an “over-all” spiritual docility to the Church and the moral law, assumes a morally legalistic approach. St. John Paul II condemned this moral ideology, normally called the “fundamental-option” whereby a person’s overall commitment to God and his law diminishes any moral culpability when looking at mortal and grave matter (c.f. “Splendor of Truth” paragraphs 65-70).
Morality has a spirit to it, and is not concerned with the number of times one is faithful as much as avoiding any occasion where we offend our neighbour, ourselves, and God. To avoid offending another is most importantly born out of a love for the other and self and God. To suggest that a couple practiced their faith well, means that they loved their neighbour as themselves, and loved God. Thus, to give an exception to this practice would likewise be to suggest that they would be permitted to hate God, hate themselves, and hate their neighbour in a given particular circumstance. This of course was not explicitly stated, but would nonetheless be the logical consequences of what is suggested. I blame such a view on the lack of “internalizing” the moral law itself. Below is some reflection on why any particular act (despite an over-all goodness) is nonetheless a gravely immoral act. I realize many people at this point might roll their eyes, but I take this issue quite seriously, and I think others should.
When most people hear this today, they would likely think such a statement is ridiculous, and perhaps laugh-off the Church’s teaching, disregarding it, and leaving it amongst all the other infallible statements of the Church. And if one infallible teaching is ignored, I guess they call can be ignored. Perhaps we have not adequately meditated on why contraception wounds the heart of our spouse and the heart of our God. Perhaps there is a need for a more phenomenological approach to sin, than just a matter of cold facts about what is expected of a person from the Church’s teaching and the teleological end of mankind.
I was disappointed that so few actually spoke up in regard to this priest’s comments. Ezekiel 33 clearly reminds us that if we do not speak, not only do we fail to give another a chance to change his/her ways, but we also end up with blood on our own hands. Our silence thereby becomes a manner of condoning immoral behaviour.
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved. [Ez 33: 7-9]
We need to deeply meditate upon the gravity of sin, which allows us to weep for the wounds we inflict upon one another. Sadly, many of us inflict such wounds upon each other, without even realizing it, and we even do it consensually.
For instance, part of the personhood of a man or a woman is their capacity to create (with God) an immortal soul. This reproductive dimension of man or woman is an intense manifestation of the identity of what it means to be male and female. It is not merely a functional dimension to mankind, but an intimate and personal reality. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if a person has practiced NFP for their whole marriage, if they have not internalized the moral law (the spirit of it), they will use such a practice with a “contraceptive-mentality” as Dr. Janet Smith has said. Spiritually such a couple will compartmentalize the nature of the person they love, and actively reject that intrinsic dimension of their spouse. And if it is done consensually, not only does one spouse hate the other’s personhood in this particular regard, but they each hate themselves in this particular regard.
Think of the language used when discussing condoms: Protection. Protection from what? Your wife’s fertility? A child? The fullest expression of love in the sexual act?
The body is a kind of sacrament of the person – meaning everything about that body teaches us something about the identity and person. When we compartmentalize their fertility in a particular act, we compartmentalize one of the most essential realities of what it means to be human. The question could be posed as such: is it ever okay to compartmentalize a part of your neighbour or yourself and view that personal reality as evil or to be rejected? The answer is of course unequivocally: no.
Therefore, those who use contraception are not loving each other in a total-fashion, but vomiting out an intrinsic part of themselves and the other. Even if contraception is used irregularly while NFP is done regularly, that one particular act of hatred towards the other is significant.
We should not look merely at the law as a matter of hoops to jump through, but we need to interiorize the law itself and understand the heart of it. If the Church teaches that a sin is of a grave nature, first consider the fact that spiritual blindness often facilitates the acceptance of grave sin. And consider, you are hating not only your wife or your husband, but you are hating God, whom you are created in the image and likeness of.
And to such priests who endorse such evil through silence or ambiguous statements that do not lead them towards an informed conscience, we are merely leading people into a deeper and profound hatred for themselves and their spouse and at the same time a blindness to realize that such a hatred exists within themselves.