Abundant Life

Brian Murphy
Reproduced with Permission

Jesus Christ said: "I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly." John 10:10. This is a remarkable statement. Too often, we are caught in a view of our Christian life that is restrictive. Perhaps we view it as filled with "don'ts." Our loving Father in Heaven wants us to have life more abundantly. Without Christ, we cannot have it because without him, we are trapped in sin which chokes out abundant life. Jesus Christ wants us to be free so that we can have abundant life. He gave us the means to become free. After we repent of our sins, he gives us the holy Spirit to empower us to become free. When we become free, we can have life more abundantly.

To have this abundant life, we must constantly examine our current situation with truth and humility. If there is behavior which is not in conformance with His commandments, we can be sure that such behavior will, to at least some degree, choke out abundant life. Abundant life does not just mean abundant spiritual life. It means material prosperity, peace, family, joy and balance between physical and spiritual entities. We must seek the kingship of Christ to have abundant life.

In our culture and in our own congregation, there is widespread behavior that is sinful and which chokes out abundant life. I am referring to the sin of contraception and sterilization. A 1995 Government survey shows that in this country, 76% of married couples in their childbearing years use artificial contraception or permanent sterilization to avoid offspring. This behavior is gravely immoral. It is an offense to God's very loving plan of procreation. For those who do these things, it chokes out abundant life. It not only chokes out abundant life in a literal way -- by preventing life itself, it chokes out the spiritual life of its practitioners. Some of you may be a little surprised to hear this. Admittedly, there has been some timidity from our side, the clergy side, to proclaim this truth frequently and with clarity. For sluggishness and temerity on my part, I repent.

The Magisterium of the Church, which is the collective teaching authority of the Pope and the Bishops, has been unceasingly and consistently clear on the subject of contraception and sterilization for the past two millenniums. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that both are gravely immoral. The problem that we face in today's world is not just the fact that this is sin. The problem we face is that many want to call this sin "good". As children of God, we have a loving Father, who, through His Son Jesus Christ, will forgive us our sins, IF WE REPENT. However, if we prefer to call this sin "good," then we have set ourselves up in a deadlock situation, which prevents us from moving forward and receiving the fullness of abundant life.

In the great papal encyclical "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI, in 1968 invited Catholics and all men of good will to have a generous attitude in carrying out the responsibility of procreation. For Catholics, this is a duty of great importance, both to ourselves and to the world. The Pope re-defined responsible parenthood. He said, "In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth." This teaching is very sound doctrine. I invite you to study the encyclical Humanae Vitae and with prayer and the holy Spirit, to ponder all of its teachings.

Towards the end of the encyclical, the Pope predicted that if the Church's teaching on this subject was not accepted, there would be an increase in conjugal infidelity and a lowering of morality. The Pope also expressed concern that the man, growing used to contraception, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion. Unfortunately, these predictions have been fulfilled. The loss of respect for women that takes place in a contracepting relationship is a principal contributor to divorce. The divorce rate among Catholics is 40% to 50% and is no different from the general population because both groups are contracepting and sterilizing. The Pope also predicted that governments would introduce fertility control into public policy. This prediction has been fulfilled in China with its public policy of one child per family and it has been fulfilled in this country because millions your tax dollars go toward domestic and international programs to distribute contraceptives all over the world.

In 1968, when Humanae Vitae was released by Pope Paul VI, many rebelled against it. Now, its predictions have come true. Certainly, this should cause us to humble ourselves and reflect more seriously on its teachings. These teachings came from the Vicar of Christ. These teachings are a fulfillment of the promise of Jesus Christ to provide us with abundant life. Divorce is not abundant life. Contraception not only deprives life itself, it leads to divorce. United families provide a starting point for abundant life. The Church is not saying that women should have babies every nine months. The decision as to the number of children to have belongs to the parents. What is being taught is that our attitude should be generous and our behavior morally correct. The divorce rate among those who practice Natural Family Planning is only 3%. That is a dramatic difference. Compare 40% to 3%. Couples who believe and adhere to Humanae Vitae often witness to the abundant life that it has brought to them not just large families but good stable families and stable marital relations.

There will likely be obstacles on your path to receive abundant life. Perhaps the most common one is that you may be inclined to say to your yourself. I have had "special circumstances" in my life. I had to contracept or sterilize, myself or my husband, and my conscience is clear. I know that God will understand. This is an erroneous conscience. An erroneous conscience is not a good conscience. It is a conscience that has been miss-informed with the idea that one can decide for oneself what is right and what is wrong. The truth is that God decides what is right and what is wrong. He does so for our benefit. He decides what is right and what is wrong so that we do not become deluded and miss out on abundant life.

As Catholics we are blessed in that we can be certain that the Church's teaching is true. This is not a call for blind obedience. Informed obedience is much more powerful. Informed obedience is a Christian witness to the world and much more likely to lead to abundant life. With some further study, you will find that the Church's teaching in the area of regulation of birth is totally consistent with the dignity and intelligence of man and that it can be defended from every scientific and non-scientific vantage point. If any of you would like to pursue this further, I will be happy to direct you towards the multitude of available resources on the subject.

Again, I invite you to reflect on these matters, to repent if necessary and to support one another in the truth that will lead you to abundant life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. As we prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist, let us rise for the profession of faith.