Marriage: Workshop for Contraception, Divorce, God's Grace (II)

Anthony Zimmerman
Seminar on NFP, Montreal
April 23-27, 1986
Reproduced with Permission

Part Two

Christ urged us to "Enter through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to damnation is wide, the road is clear, and many choose to travel it. But how narrow is the gate that leads to life, how rough the road, and how few there are who find it" (Mt 7:13-14). Christ would not tell us to make the effort to maneuver through that narrow gate if that were not realistically possible for us. If Christ says "Do it!" we know that it can be done. The other gate is there too, and drifters flow through it without much effort. "The path of sinners is smooth stones that end in the depths of the nether world" says Sirach (21:10). Traffic through the broad gate is heavy, said Christ. But He didn't say there are no U turns, that once a person entered either of the gates, the term was already fixed forever. The prodigal son went through the wrong gate, but came back. If a large part of humanity today is trying the prodigal lifestyle of contraception, it does not mean that the Father is not already waiting to welcome us back home.

Dr. Dunn on the pill and unhappiness of the wife

Allow me to cite here a letter from a gynecologist from New Zealand, Dr. H.P. Dunn, a prince of a man, of a doctor, of a Catholic, who was invited to speak here, but who had to decline because of the burden of age. I had written to him that contraception tends to destroy marriages, and he answered that he agrees with everything I say in the letter regarding NFP and its defense against divorce; also about the way the pills seem to promote divorce. In other words, the pill is the broad and smooth road which leads to the destruction of marriages. Allow me to quote from his letter dated 20 January, 1986:

One explanation (why the pill seems to lead to divorce whereas NFP defends against the same) is that NFP users are usually more in tune with nature and the design of the Creator, hence love flourishes. Contraception works by wrecking the reproductive mechanism, at least temporarily. For either partner to know that sterility is present is an invitation to infidelity, especially in those with no religious background. Another small factor that is never mentioned is that the hormones taken have an effect on mood, causing depression and irritability. The wife snaps at her husband over little matters and tensions build up. She becomes spiteful, ill-tempered. She also does not feel inclined for intercourse but he insists on it; whereas NFP users are trained to sexual discipline. Many patients remark when they stop taking the pill how different they feel and they admit to having observed their personalities changing (for the worse) over the years. But for many the chronic bad temper and temptations to infidelity have already led to divorce and it is too late. Once again God's plan proves to be the right one. The dissident theologians who push for divorce have no concept of the troubles they are generating in the privacy of thousands of homes.

We are all aware that the earthquake of contraception cracked the marriage dam, releasing muddy water to obliterate millions of homes. In the USA, for example, there were 393,000 divorces in 1960, roughly the time when the pill episode started. Then the dam cracked, and divorces increased pell-mell. Fifteen years later, when 102 million cycles of pills were being sold annually in the USA, there were already 1,026,000 divorces, 2.6 times as many as only 15 years before. And to this day, a million couples are buried beneath the mud slide of divorce each year.

If contraception is the broad gate, and NFP the narrow gate, the traffic through the broad gate is, at this point, heavier than that of the narrow gate. The following figures were gleaned from recent issues of POPULATION REPORTS:

135,000,000 surgically sterilized
60,000,000 IUD users
50,000,000 pill users
40,000,000 condom users
2,000.000 long acting progesterones
287,000,000 total

This constitutes about 36 per cent of the 800 million couples in the reproductive years. Since the rate increases when the wife reaches the mid-30's, it probably crosses the 50 per cent marker then. Abortion is also widely used as a method of family planning, maybe 50,000,000 times a year.

10,030,000 sterilizations were performed in the USA during the ten year period of 1974-1983, according to figures compiled by the New York based Association for voluntary sterilization. FAMILY PLANNING PERSPECTIVES, March-April 1983 carries a report indicating that 61% of couples in mostly Catholic Quebec were sterilized when the wife was in the age categories of 35-44; and 76% were sterilized when the couple had three or more children. The total fertility rate fell from 3.8 children per woman in 1960 to 1.8 in 1975, a drop of 53% in 15 years. --Until the mid-1970's marriage was a highly stable institution, but divorce rates have increased sharply since then. During 1967-81, 15 years, the number of divorces in Canada increased from 11,165 to 67,671, an increase of 506%. In 1981 there was 1 divorce per 2.8 marriages. (Cf. UN DEMOGRAPHIC YEARBOOK 1982.)

Divorce impoverishes the spiritual vitality of nations

What does divorce and-re-marriage do to the original bond, the vehicle of God's graces for the marriage? We know that for baptised persons whose marriage has been ratified and consummated, the bond remains until one of the partners dies. It is a participation in the mystery of Christ bound to His Church, never to part from her. When such partners divorce and re-marry, no new valid bond is formed. The remaining bond, which could be a lively vehicle of graces for both, remains largely unused; and a new one is not recognized by God. It is a no win situation for God and for the partners unless there is a change of heart.

When this happens on a very large scale among Catholics, we all lose something. The normal and expected flow of graces from God down to this earth is choked off to a large extent. If the partners were faithful, they would have available to themselves and their families, as we saw, plentiful graces to perform all the duties of married life well, with holiness, with perseverence until death, including ever ready help to raise their children together dutifully and lovingly (cf. Casti Connubii 40). The common good of all Catholics in the USA and in Canada, and of all who are influenced by us, suffers immense harm because of divorce. We should expect a depression in religious spirit. And we can look forward to a new and thriving Church again when divorce is overcome by true love, when spouses abandon contraception and allow God to work with them in their marriage again.

The evils of divorce were described over 100 years ago by Pope Leo XIII in the Encyclical Christian Marriage. Mutual kindness is weakened he says, temptations to unfaithfulness enter; harm is done to the education and training of the children; homes break up; dissension is sown among families; the dignity of woman is lowered, and they run the risk of being deserted after they have ministered to the pleasures of men; Divorce is to the highest degree hostile to the welfare of families, opening the way to every kind of evil in public and private life. So Leo XIII.

Fifty years after Leo wrote in this manner, Pius XI (Casti Conubii) stated how marriages, in which the bond remains intact brings with it a sense of safety and security; whereas when separations are considered and the dangers of divorce are present, "the marriage contract itself becomes insecure, or at least gives ground for anxiety and surprises. On the one hand we see a wonderful strengthening of good will and co-operation in the daily life of husband and wife while, on the other, both of these are miserably weakened by the presence of a facility for divorce."

A recent news release by NC makes a Catholic annulment appear easy to get: perhaps 90% of separated or divorced Catholics should be able to get annulments, he is quoted as saying: "Asked if he agreed to a recent estimate by a civil lawyer that about 90 percent of separated or divorced Catholics could obtain annulments from the Church, (Father Donald) Heintschel said his experience suggested that was true. (NC, News, NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER, Jan. 5, 1986.)

But easy "annulment" processes will have the same devastating effects on the institution of marriage as easy divorces in the secular world. Let us reflect on what Archbishop Kevin McNamara of Dublin wrote recently about divorce laws, applying the same logic to easy annulments:

"Divorce legislation, once introduced, makes it more and more difficult for the human person to exercise his or her right to lifelong love and communion in the unbreakable bond of matrimony. The state becomes actively involved in facilitating the abandonment by married persons of their pledged vow of lasting fidelity. It provides for and legitimizes their entry into a new marriage, which in turn is also open to dissolution.. Eventually in such a society the understanding of marriage is essentially changed. A new understanding, the idea of marriage as a provisional commitment which may be terminated if "it is found not to work" is being fostered and given respectability by the state" (English Weekly OSSERVATORE ROMANO, 1986/l/20).

Christ made the decision to re-order marriage to its original stability, for benefit of the partners and for the welfare of their children. Theologians who want to make annulment seem almost as easy as divorce, rob homes of stability. How can it be, as Fr. Heintschel is reported to have stated (perhaps imprecisely) that 90% of divorced and separated Catholics could obtain an annulment if they applied? In sheer mathematics it makes nonsense: if 50% of "marriages" end in divorce, and it is then discovered that 90% of them had not been married at all, then divorce becomes proof of nullity. The lesson is: divorce if you wish to change partners, the Church will okay it. This policy cannot be part of the depositum which the Church has taught and guarded for 2000 years.

Contraception: barrier between spouses and God

If divorce so changes the marriage situation that the sacramental graces are blocked out by the actual situation, we must realize that contraception is already a kind of divorce, also standing in the way of sacramental grace as an obex. As Pope John Paul II said (General Audience August 22, 1984) "the conjugal act, deprived of its interior truth because it is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, also ceases to be an act of love." And as Dr. William May holds, if a couple marry and then have only contraceptive intercourse, their marriage is still not consummated. A contraceptive act is not a conjugal act.

A contraceptive act cannot, therefore, be an instrument by which God gives the grace of the sacrament to a couple. God cannot be personally joining them in this act, to help them understand what pertains to marriage, its aims and duties, to strengthen their union until death intervenes, to strengthen their bond by grace, to provide whatever assistance they need to fulfill the duties of their state. God cannot intervene with His graces to help the two perform this deception, this unlawful exclusion of the openness to life from a putative congress, this mutual stimulation to use their bodies in a manner contrary to the laws of God, to His infinite Wisdom, and to the law which is written in the hearts of the couple.

But, you say, even if a couple use the pill or IUD, or habitually use the condom, or are sterilized, these acts of putative intercourse occupy only a minimal part of the time of their togetherness, only a few hours of the 720 hours per month. Therefore why worry so if God is set aside for a few hours per month, if we are with Him the other 99% of the time?

Contraception vitiates married life from root to crown

Let us analyze what husband and wife tell each other with the contraceptive act. He says to her: "I love you but don't want to make you a mother; I don't want my seed to be mixed with yours in a child. Yes, I know that God forbids this, and I am doing it anyway; and I know that I am not acting with the wisdom of God which I have in my heart, but am shutting out wisdom. I know that I am not treating you as a child of God who should obey His laws. Instead I expect you to cooperate with me in this evil act. We will eat this apple together, as Adam and Eve did."

And she is telling him: "You are acting not like a man but like a playboy, but I go along with that. I don't esteem you as a son of God, but despise you as a playboy, as I despise myself as your plaything, as a prostitute tied to my pleasure and yours. I don't want to mix my seed with yours either. You, playboy, should not live on in a child with me. Besides, who knows when you will leave me, and then I have to make my own living and take care of the children too. So let's just stimulate each other and have sex without God, without serious marital intent."

These thoughts are fixed into their daily lives by their intention to continue that kind of life, at least for some time. So she takes the pill 20 days at a stretch, then allows a bleeding, and begins the next regimen of pills. The intention to contracept is present not only in the bedroom, but it is fixed in her with pill taking, and with his consent to that.

Other attempts to show love and civility are to be interpreted in the overwhelming intention to have a continuous contraceptive existence together. Outward appearances may be used as old props. Couples, from custom and wishful thinking, may go to Confession and Holy Communion without achieving true union with Christ, true conversion. It is in this atmosphere that God measures out to them the graces of the sacrament. That obex of their commitment to a contraceptive way of life is an iron curtain by which they prevent God with His graces from entering their territory.

But Mary and Joseph, you say, could receive the graces befitting their calling as married persons without exercising conjugal rights; therefore, even though couples do not receive specific graces during :contraceptive acts, they can still be open to God's graces at all other times, just as were Mary and Joseph.

To which we must respond that the Immaculate One and her protector were open completely to God's action. Mary revealed her entire commitment to God's will when she spoke the words which were the key to Christ's entrance into this world, the entrance gate through which God came to start His Church on earth. She spoke: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word." And the Lord, who knows whom he can choose for His most exalted tasks sent an angel to Joseph: Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child" (Mt 1:20). Sensitive to their calling, Mary and Joseph realized that God has yoked them together for the task of being the loving couple who will rear and educate their Son Jesus. At the same time they were sensitive enough to the mysteries of God to realize that theirs must be a life of perpetual virginity. God therefore gave them the grace to fulfill both vocations, parenthood and virginity. And they placed no obex in God' s way, none whatsoever. Never in the history of mankind has God's grace been able to work so completely, humanly, and splendidly as in the family of Nazareth.

Mary and Joseph practiced the perfect chastity of their state of life and thereby blessed the entire human race. Whereas contraception blocks out God's grace from family after family after family, and thereby blocks out God's grace on a massive scale to the great loss of the entire Church and the human race.