Sunday, 9 December 2012

Something this simple shouldn't take two decades

For H: Keep up the good work!

Recently (with my Catholic Link hat on) I have been trying to find short videos or animations which explain the Church’s teaching on contraception. There is a huge want of apostolic resources on this topic and it has been something of a struggle. I was telling my brother (or unsuspecting apostolic guinea pig, as I like to call him) about this lack of videos on the topic and his response was, “Of course not, no-one wants to think about that stuff!” Eventually, I found something and then I sat down and tried to write a post. I ended up with a reflection on my own experience which was completely wrong for that site, but I decided to post it here instead.

In every parish I attended as a child there was always one family with more than four children who were regarded by the rest of the parish as more Catholic than everyone else at mass. Nobody ever explained why this was, but they were generally viewed with a mixture of superiority and guilt-fuelled admiration. Apparently being more Catholic meant that you were usually late for mass and were unable to get your children to sit still for 45 minutes.

At (my non-Catholic) secondary school that I learned that “Catholics believe that contraception is wrong”. There I also learned that contraception was the answer to pretty much all the world’s problems (and this was before the AIDS epidemic!). I had one conversation at home on the subject in which I was informed that “NFP probably works for clever people” and the clever couple cited had about five university degrees between them (and three children). I had a friend at school who was one of nine children. I used to hear people saying that they must be Catholic, which always mystified me as I knew they weren't.

In short, by the time I was 15, what I had learned about family planning was this:
  • The Church is against contraception (apparently for no reason).
  • Catholics themselves know better (and mostly ignore the Church).
  • NFP is very complicated and difficult (and ineffective).
  • Having children turns your life into chaos.
  • Contraception will allow me, an intelligent woman, to have the life and career I deserve (and should want). Without contraception, this will not be possible. I am capable of making the world a better place and if I have children this will be impossible.
What a devastating combination! The world tells me all the disadvantages of children. The Catholics I know tell me nothing, in word or deed. (This sounds like poor me, I am a sad victim of the big, black formation hole, and that is not the point I am trying to make.) The world has got louder since then. It now assumes I want to have casual sex and assures me that there is no problem with that, in fact I should probably be encouraged in that line.

Now we have to fast forward almost ten years to the time of my personal conversion. Through prayer, formation and endless patience on the part of those who did apostolate to me I discovered that I believed in the Faith and that I wanted to live by the teachings of the Church. But I was still really stuck on the subject of contraception. I ended up feeling that I would have to go along with the Church even though there was no reason for what she said. I would have to suspend my own intelligence out of some sort of blind obedience to the Church and for this I would suffer: I would be unlikely to be able to find a sane man who would marry me under these conditions, and if I did I was going to have fifteen children (and probably die young, worn out from childbirth and never being able to afford a holiday). It took a lot more years of prayer and formation for me to understand and love the wisdom of the Church, a loving Mother who cares for her children and knows what is best for them.

It has taken nearly 20 years to undo the brainwashing I underwent at school. And it still isn’t completely done. (Interestingly, the undoing hasn’t come from having endless conversations about the merits of NFP over contraception but from understanding Catholic anthropology and the dignity of the human person.) I have a fairly constant mental battle with myself every time I read about sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy etc. I know that trying to address these problems with contraceptives is like sticking a plaster on a gaping, infected wound and expecting it to heal all by itself. But the world's roots go deep.

I am not surprised that “no-one wants to talk about that stuff”. There is a wall of silence surrounding the subject that probably stems from a fatal combination of “no sex please: we’re British” and abject ignorance on the part of the majority. I finally begin to understand the weirdos people (see what I mean about brainwashing) I knew at university who wouldn’t shut up about NFP: if people, and especially young people, don’t hear about the Church’s teaching from those faithful to the Church they are going to hear about it from somewhere else. And those other people who tell them about it are not going to have the integral wellbeing of the human person as their motivation and the inate dignity of that same human person has the foundation for all their reasoning. Because of this they will, however well-intentioned they may be, get it completely wrong.

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