God’s plan for parenthood

Over the past several weeks, the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has been in the news as allegations of their involvement in the sale of fetal organs have come to light. Many of my brother bishops have written about the dehumanizing effect that abortion and the trade of fetal organs and tissue have on all involved: the women who have abortions; the doctors performing them; the persons involved in the sale of and research on tissue; and of course, the unborn children whose lives are taken from them. I echo their pleas - along with that of our Holy Father - to resist the temptations of the throwaway culture in which human life is lost in an economy that kills.

The name "Planned Parenthood" reflects a dominant misconception in our contemporary culture that people should have the freedom to engage in an act which is capable of making them parents while denying that reality. This philosophy deliberately and consciously separates the marital act from its intrinsic purpose and goal. This kind of understanding means a rejection of the body that one has received from God, of its limits and its powers, as well as a rejection of the meaning of the marital act. This understanding, while very prevalent in people's minds, is foreign to God's will for the good of humanity. As Pope Francis has promulgated in "Laudato Si'" :

The acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one's own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different (No. 155).

Those who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ know that in God's design "a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become flesh" and that He made it so "in the beginning" (Mt 19:5). God's plan for human sexuality is not arbitrary. Rather, Blessed Pope Paul VI characterizes it as a loving design in his encyclical "Humanae Vitae." Therefore, when we act in accordance with it, we experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22).

In contrast to the above described misconception of parenthood, Catholics believe that God calls men and women who have joined themselves together in marriage to responsible parenthood. What does this mean? In "Humanae Vitae," Blessed Pope Paul VI says that it involves the following: a respect for the biological functions of our bodies, the exercise of reason and self-control over emotions and passions; the consideration of the physical, economic, psychological, and social circumstances of a particular family; and the prioritization of our duties to God above all.

This means, then, that a husband and wife are called to prayerfully and prudently determine throughout their marriage when God might be calling them to welcome more children, or when, for serious reasons, they are not able to do so. Pope Francis has elaborated on his predecessor's teaching by reminding us that responsible parenthood should embrace the conviction that couples are open to life in their marital act, but this does not mean they must have one child after another.

So how does a couple both respect the bodies that they have received, including fertility, while also exercising responsibility? The Church continues to put forward that in God's loving design, He created periods of infertility, to which couples can have recourse. Far from being a primitive means of avoiding pregnancy, highly technical and scientific methods of fertility awareness, or natural family planning, have been developed. Couples who use NFP affirm its benefits to their health, emotional and physical intimacy, communication, self-control and generosity.

God has built into His created order an intrinsic unity between the conjugal act, marriage and children, despite any efforts to separate them. "To experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is no the master of the sources of life, but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator" ("Humanae Vitae," No. 13). To minister to the spouse and children that one has received, and not to master them: This is God's most perfect plan for parenthood.

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015