The Challenges of Communicating Life and Love
In anticipation of and in the days following the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Hobby Lobby case, several commentators opined that the Catholic Church is ignorant about the necessity of birth control for the world’s women. Meanwhile, the world’s bishops addressed the topic of contraception in the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or the working document and agenda for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family (Oct 2014). In this document, the bishops say that what is most misunderstood in the discussion about contraception is the nature of the human person.
The “Instrumentum Laboris,” as noted in an earlier Marriage in the News column, summarizes the responses received from bishops throughout the world on topics related to marriage and the family. After discussing the challenges of “Communicating the Gospel of the Family in Today’s World” in Part I, the pastoral issues regarding marriage and the family are presented in Part II, “The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges.” The topic of contraception, however, has its own section in Part III, “An Openness to Life and Parental Responsibility in Upbringing.”
The bishops acknowledge the difficulties of openness to life for families today. They refer to the struggles of understanding and living the Church’s teaching as an “agonizing situation” (# 122). Many couples today view the Church’s teaching as “an intrusion in the intimate life of the couple and an encroachment on the autonomy of the conscience” (#123). The term “responsible parenthood” is frequently interpreted as choosing the best form of birth control for a particular couple.
How has Church teaching on contraception come to be so misunderstood and rejected? The “Instrumentum Laboris” says that many bishops believe the key is a “basic difference in anthropology” (#126). For example, what does “natural” mean? What is the meaning of the body? Does gender matter? These questions are at the heart of the issue, say the bishops.
The document summarizes, “The response, therefore, cannot be only on the issue of contraception or natural methods, but should be placed at the level of the decisive human experience of love, discovering the intrinsic value of the difference that marks human life and its fruitfulness” (#127).
The bishops further recognize the need “to propose a coherent anthropological vision in revitalized language, not only in pre-marriage preparation but also in instructional courses on love in general” (#128). Some bishops suggest integrating experts from the field of medicine with catechetical leaders. The need to address adequately the topic of contraception and natural family planning within seminary formation is also mentioned.
Social challenges to welcoming children within the family are also addressed. The bishops note the need for legislation promoting “childcare, flexible working hours, parental leave and an easiness at integrating raising a family into a work situation” (#131). Similarly, some bishops recommend “providing family counselors in dioceses and associations dedicated to caring for the family, who can thereby bear witness to the beauty and the value of a couple’s assistance in rediscovering the deep anthropological meaning of the moral character of conjugal life” (#131).
In acknowledging the challenges of explaining the nature of life and love to the world, the “Instrumentum Laboris” remembers that Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, called the Church a “sign of contradiction” (#18). The bishops note that the positive aspects of the Church’s teaching on openness to life are largely unknown.
Herein lies an opportunity for the Church to share the good news of the gospel of life. The “Instrumentum Laboris” notes well the challenges, particularly those in a secular culture, but the Extraordinary Synod in October will be a timely opportunity for the bishops to explore more directly how to engage the culture with an understanding of love and life that embraces the full truth and beauty of the human person.