I don’t know that I’ll ever run out of reasons I love Catholicism. But with the Fortnight for Freedom starting later this week, I’ve got contraception and persecution on my mind. So we’ll call this the Remember-the-HHS-Mandate-Yeah-That’s-Still-Happening edition.
I remember once talking to a woman who was in a Lutheran seminary studying for ministry. Since I was in college and knew everything,2 I was debating her about something. To make a point, I asked, “Well, what does baptism do?”
Now, any moderately-catechized Catholic will automatically spout something about how it takes away Original Sin or at least something about it making you a Christian. So I thought I was still on common ground. Her response?
“I haven’t decided yet.”
She hadn’t decided yet! Forget the fact that it’s a little silly to phrase things as though your opinion might impact objective truth, I was stunned by the realization that in most denominations a theologically-earnest person has to examine every single matter of dogma and determine her position. You can’t, if you’re being intellectually honest, accept anything on the authority of your church because your church doesn’t claim to have any authority and probably doesn’t have any official teaching on most points.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it. The logical result of sola Scriptura is that you have to examine all of Scripture for the answer to any doctrinal question.3 Being the kind of person I am, I would have felt compelled to figure out the answer to every question–without any authority to point me in the right direction. What an exhausting prospect! It’s not necessarily easier to submit to the Church on difficult matters, but it has the benefit of being right.
It’s not just confusion that the Church’s authority protects us from–it’s that powerful temptation to ignore Paul4 and conform to the world. I think we see it most powerfully these days in the matter of contraception.5
Prior to 1930, every single Christian denomination unequivocally condemned contraception. After all, hadn’t St. John Chrysostom declared in the 4th century that contraception was worse than murder?6 And Caesarius in the 6th?7 And doesn’t it seem significant that the only time anyone in Scripture contracepts he gets struck dead for it?8
But there was pressure from society (not least, I’m sure, from the esteemed Ms. Sanger of Planned Parenthood and eugenics fame) and the Church of England caved, declaring in 1930 that contraception was acceptable in marriage when absolutely necessary.
By the time 1968 rolled around and Pope Paul VI reminded everybody once again that this isn’t going to change, every mainstream Protestant denomination accepted contraception. Most even taught that contracepting was the responsible thing to do, an essential element of good stewardship.
That’s a complete 180 in less than 50 years. And still the Catholic Church stands strong, telling us again and again that sex was created to bring life into the world, pointing out the terrible damage that contraception can do to a marriage and to unborn children and to our bodies as well as to our souls. With all the pressure society is putting on us to stay out of the bedroom or to recognize birth control as a human right, still our Church holds to what is true. Praise God for a Church with authority and the guts to exercise it.
For a good 50 years now the Church has been fighting societal pressures to cave on the contraception thing. But now we’re fighting the government. I’m sure you know all about the HHS Mandate–how it’s requiring businesses and non-profits to violate their consciences by providing their employees with insurance that covers contraception and abortifacients. If not, catch up here.9
But I think that after last summer’s protests and Fortnight for Freedom we thought that it was over. As it happens, it’s only just beginning. August 1 marks the date when non-profits will have to start paying hefty fines–up to $100 per person per day, as best I can tell–for refusing to comply. No matter that employees covered by the mandated insurance are likely making more than enough money to buy their own birth control. Or that they could choose to work somewhere that doesn’t object to this requirement. Or that birth control is never medically necessary given that abstinence is vastly more effective in preventing pregnancy.10 Our government has decided that contraception is basic healthcare and can’t for a moment understand why anyone would object.
They thought we’d back down. That after 2,000 years of standing strong the prospect of fines and awkwardness would convince us to change our teaching–or at least to look the other way while funding evil. They thought we’d be convinced by their rhetoric: “Religious freedom doesn’t mean that you get to make choices for other people based on your religion.”
But we’re not. We’re not trying to limit anyone’s access to birth control, just refusing to provide it or pay for it ourselves. And as Christians–as Americans–we refuse to allow our government to require that we violate our consciences.
As our government has pushed and cajoled and threatened, our bishops have grown stronger. They’ve stood together and refused to back down. They’ve promised that they will shut down every Catholic institution before they will betray their faith. As the world closes in, the Church is closing ranks and rather than bow to the idol of free love we’re getting ready to take up our crosses.
So everybody and his mother is suing the government. And we Catholics in the pew, we sit and wait. But the atmosphere in this legal waiting room isn’t nervous. It’s more–well, excited. We may not want to die for our faith–most of us would much rather not suffer even financial setbacks for our faith–but we’re willing to. And after a lifetime of being tolerated by society, we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to join the ranks of our fathers in suffering for our faith.
Tertullian wasn’t kidding when he said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. In every era, the persecuted Church has flourished while the complacent Church has faded. In some situations, the blood of the martyrs quite literally made new Saints–when he was beheaded, Edmund Campion’s blood splashed on a worldly Henry Walpole. Walpole left his empty life and became a practicing Catholic, a priest, a martyr, and a Saint.
Okay, maybe it’s not really persecution yet. It’s just ridicule and fines and possible imprisonment. Probably nobody’s going to die. But the fact remains, as I’ve said before, that the approaching discomfort will separate the wheat from the chaff. Maybe, when we’re all done pretending to be politically correct and the gloves finally come off, people who are mostly Catholic but not in the bedroom or at a steakhouse on Ash Wednesday or alone with a computer–maybe they’ll realize that this Catholic thing is either everything or it’s nothing. Maybe they’ll decide that it’s worth fighting for when they see people being fired and bankrupted and jailed for their convictions. Maybe when it stops being so easy to be Catholic people will see how good hard is.
And maybe people who call themselves Catholic but only show up at Mass twice a year or dissent from the Church’s teaching or live in unrepentant, manifest grave sin will let go of the moniker they hold so dear. Maybe we’ll be rid of all the politicians who tell us that they’re devout Catholics and that’s why they fight for abortion on demand. Maybe our dear friend Piers Morgan will decide that calling himself a Catholic isn’t getting him ratings or street cred or whatever he’s looking for and will own up to the fact that he doesn’t much believe in Catholicism and that’s okay because it’s his own business.11 Maybe all those Catholics on the fence will pick a side–for or against.
But whether or not the upcoming persecution gains strength, whether or not the Supreme Court overturns the HHS Mandate, whether or not our Bishops are in jail in ten years, our Church will continue to teach truth. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when it’s unpopular. Even when the whole world stands against us–Christians and non-Christians alike–we will speak truth into a world of falsehood. Because our Lord promised. “The gates of hell will not prevail against it,” he said of our Church, and he was right. Not Diocletian’s hell, not Good Queen Bess’s hell, not Lenin’s or Stalin’s or Mao’s hell, and not the hell we see in the world today. Our Church will fight and our Church will win and a thousand years from now Catholic schoolchildren will roll their eyes at being made to remember Sebelius and Pelosi in a world where Humanae Vitae is just one document in a long line of repetitive statements about contraception.
I praise God for a Church that can discern, by the power of the Holy Spirit, what is true, that refuses to back down when challenged and threatened, and that rejoices even in the suffering occasioned by our commitment to the truth. Pray with me, friends, for the Supreme Court, the Church, and our nation. These are difficult times. May we stand firm in our faith and emerge from this time of trial purified.
Oh, and if the NSA is reading this–along with my mundane emails and my snarky Facebook statuses–let me just say:
Linking up with Micaela and a bunch of other people whose posts are assuredly less combative and controversial than this one. But that’s just how I roll.
- I know this is an appalling and unnecessarily large word, but it fit so well with the other two that I had to go with it. And I wish I could have listed it third so you would see why I used it but I had to be systematic and explain why we’re right first. So…sorry not sorry? [↩]
- Who are we kidding? I’d do the same thing today. [↩]
- There’s also the concern that some central Christian truths aren’t overtly in Scripture and that you don’t have a Bible without the Church…. [↩]
- Rom 12:2 [↩]
- You knew I’d get to the point eventually! [↩]
- “Indeed, it is something worse than murder and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation” [↩]
- “No woman may take a potion so that she is unable to conceive…. As often as she could have conceived or given birth, of that many homicides she will be held guilty…. If a woman does not wish to have children, let her enter into a religious agreement with her husband; for chastity is the sole sterility of a Christian woman.” [↩]
- Gen 38:9-10 [↩]
- Really–I wrote this one before anybody really read this blog, so check it out. [↩]
- I understand that this is a difficult issue and that abstinence may not be an option in abusive relationships, but why is our response to this contraception and not helping women get out of these relationships? And I know that complete abstinence in marriage is very, very difficult and generally unhealthy for the marriage but why is it the Church’s job to provide you with contraception? [↩]
- See video below. Love it! [↩]