North America can still be saved.
This article was written for an American audience but applies equally to English Canada. It has been edited and shortened. The original text may be found at www.frregisscanlon.com/2009/08/america-can-still-be-saved.html. It was originally published in the March 2009 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review, p.30.
In order to grasp what happened in the Catholic Church and in America and Canada following the 1950s one must keep in mind certain truths about the mystery of God and the mystery of human sexuality. First of all, Jesus referred to Himself in St. John's Gospel as The Bread of Life and St. John says in his epistle that "God is Love" (In. 6:48; 1 Jn. 4:16). Jesus is the Bread of Life and Love which we receive in Holy Communion. This is He who is the source of all Life and Love.
Secondly, God created human sexuality to help people become holy and come to God. The Bible says that God created the first man and woman in the "image" of God and told them to: "be fertile and multiply" (Gen. 1:27-28). John Paul II maintains in Evangelium vitae that "The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love, and in this light human sexuality and procreation reach their true and full significance." (1) The purpose of human sexuality, therefore, is "life" and "love" So, every time the Catholic Church teaches her doctrine on human sexuality, she proclaims Jesus Christ's Gospel of Life and Love.
Because the Bread of Life and Love is inseparable from the Gospel of Life and Love, a complete proclamation of the Gospel of Life and Love will necessarily involve devotion to the Bread of Life and Love or the Blessed Sacrament. One should expect that the more devotion to the Blessed Sacrament increases in the Church, the more life and love will flourish among members of the Church and society. Similarly, an attack upon the Blessed Sacrament will be an attack upon life and love as it exists among the people in the Church and society.
A RADICAL CHANGE
The Gospel of Life and Love had been growing steadily in America up to and through the 1950s. Purity, chastity, charity and peace were being promoted at all levels in society. The days of innocence, however, ended in America following the 1950s with the arrival of the sexual revolution.... Today, most young people in America have in some way encountered pornography, contraception, divorce and remarriage, adultery, fornication, premarital sex, homosexual acts, and abortion.
This attack on human life and love following the mid 1960s and during the early 1970s was world-wide. Paul VI tried to check it in 1968 by issuing his encyclical, Humanae vitae. The Pope taught that contraception, or any act "intended to prevent procreation" for any reason whatsoever, is "intrinsically dishonest" and must be "absolutely excluded" by every Catholic. (2) He warned that there would be grave consequences for humanity if contraception was socially accepted. The acceptance of contraception could "lead to the way being opened to marital infidelity, a general lowering of moral standards," (3) and "man, may come to the point of considering a woman as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion." (4) Finally, he warned that, if people do not oppose contraception, civil governments "may even impose their use on everyone." (5)
Paul VI's teachings and warnings were not embraced by Catholics in America who continued to practise contraception and at the same time to receive Holy Communion. The American bishops discussed this matter with John Paul II when he met with them in California on Sept. 16, 1987. Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco, speaking on behalf of the bishops, stated to the Holy Father: "We as pastors are greatly concerned that some particular areas of the Church's teaching in both sexual and social morality are at times subjected to negative criticism in our country and sometimes even by Catholics of good will." (6) John Paul II replied:
It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not accepting the Church's clear position on abortion. It has also been noted that there is a tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence to the Church's moral teachings. It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a "good Catholic" and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the bishops of the United States and elsewhere. (7)
So, the question, which had occupied the minds and hearts of married Catholics in North America since the end of Vatican II in 1965, had finally been answered by the highest authority in the Church in 1987. Can a Catholic use contraceptives and continue to receive Holy Communion? The Pope's answer was clear and succinct. No. And, those who go to Communion while dissenting from the Pope in the area of "conjugal morality" (e.g., contraception) are making a "grave error." Grave indeed! The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in no. 2120: "Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments ... " (and that) "Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist." The bishops remained silent. Why?
Eugene Kennedy wrote in 1989: "The American bishops repeatedly pledged their loyalty to the Pope but dealt with birth control, as they do to this very day, as a pastoral rather than a disciplinary matter. The issue gradually moved away from being a test of public authority in the Church to being the proper concern of the theologically informed private conscience." (8)
This silence made a correct formation of conscience even more difficult for the laity by leaving them ignorant of the Pope's answer to a pressing moral question on contraception and Holy Communion. This decision seemed more like a political decision by churchmen than a "pastoral" decision by shepherds of the Church. Catholics in the United States simply did not hear about the Archbishop's question and the Pope's response to adequately form their conscience. Many Catholics probably continued to use contraceptives and receive Communion because they did not know any better. And the laity probably still do not know any better today in 2009!
PAUL VI'S WARNING COMES TRUE
... Paul VI'S prophecies, that contraception could lead to a "lowering of moral standards" and that "man ... may finally loose respect for women," have come to pass.
But more than this has occurred, lust as there is a link between love and life when sex is used according to God's plan, so there is a link between lust and death when sex is used contrary to God's plan. Murder has always been used to conceal the rape of a woman. Today abortion is used to conceal fornication and adultery. What is more, this complete disregard for life and love has invited perverted adults to prey on boys and girls. Divorce and remarriage has led to alternate marriage life styles in which substitute moms and dads are molesting, raping and murdering children. New born babies and toddlers are found dead in dumpsters and in rest rooms. What used to be an exceptional horrific tragedy is now often part of the daily news. Just as there is a clear connection between pornography and the degradation of women, so there is a connection between unbridled sex and violence. America says that it loves women and children, yet it permits a multibillion dollar industry of pornography to thrive.
Now some cities and states in America have ruled that the Church must cover the cost of contraceptive pills (which are also abortifacients) in the health insurance plans of its employees. (9) And, some states are requiring Catholic hospitals to dispense the contraceptive/abortifacient morning-after pill to victims of rape, or direct the victims to where they can obtain such a pill. (10) While these contraceptive pills might prevent some pregnancies following a rape, many times they are used as an abortifacient by women who have had promiscuous sex. So, Paul VI's final prophecy about the danger of accepting contraception, that rulers would "impose their use" upon their peoples, is also coming true.
CONSEQUENCES AND SILENCE OVER CONTRACEPTION
The fact, that the North American hierarchy (with some exceptions) did not emphatically and publicly teach Catholics that contraception is evil, coarsened and debased society, ... so the attempt by the Church to teach the Gospel of Life and Love has failed from the very beginning. Let us explain this further.
Paul VI taught that there is an "inseparable connection" between the "unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act." (11) In other words, the purpose of the act of sexual intercourse in marriage is "life" and "love,' and these are inseparable. (12) Consequently, when one disregards this unity of life and love in marriage by trying to separate life from love through contraception in order to have sex with one's partner in married life, one loses both life and love and makes the act of having sex an absolute value. It absolutely identifies consensual sex with love (only forced sex, like rape, is not love). Once a person adopts this notion that having sex is an absolute value, then the person needs no other justification to have sex with whomever he or she wishes. The act of sex is absolutely justified. It is its own justification.
All acts of sex are then automatically justified--adultery' fornication, pornography, masturbation, homosexual unions, even incest. Thus the bishops' silence on the evil of contraception has made it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully convince North Americans that other more vile sexual acts are evil. So we are left with a sex-saturated society.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF SILENCE OVER CONTRACEPTION AND HOLY COMMUNION
Nor did the North American bishops teach the people emphatically that practising contraception is "an obstacle to the reception of the sacraments," especially Holy Communion. If receiving Holy Communion while using contraceptives is a "grave error," as the Pope says, then the silence by the bishops on this matter was a catastrophe. Let's take a closer look at this. The bishops' silence about John Paul II's teaching, which forbids people who use contraceptives from receiving Holy Communion, jeopardized both the Bread of Life and Love and the Gospel of Life and Love. The bishops' silence about John Paul II's teaching left the door wide open for non believers and non practising Catholics to commit sacrilege by receiving Communion unworthily. These sacrilegious Communions in turn damaged the proclamation of the Gospel of Life and Love. It was no mere coincidence that, as the number of pro-contraception, pro-abortion, and pro-gay rights people coming to Holy Communion increased in the Church following the 1960s, so did the number of acts of sex and violence against women and children increase in society.
Canon 915 of the Church's present Code of Canon Law states "those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion." And Canon 916 states that "A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession."
It is obvious that the Church's devotion and reverence to the Bread of Life and Love will seriously affect the proclamation of the Gospel of Life and Love among Catholics. No one can authentically proclaim the Gospel of Life and Love without stopping abuses to the Bread of Life and Love. Someone may ask: to what extent must we defend the Bread of Life and Love from abuse? Must we embarrass ourselves and others by refusing publicly known pro-abortion and pro-gay rights politicians from Holy Communion? ... We must defend the Bread of Life with our own life.
A BATTLE FOR LIFE AND LOVE
Today, churchmen often ridicule prophets of gloom and doom who warn that God is about to punish people for their many sins. These churchmen think that God does not visit the world punishing people. They consider this an idea from the Middle Ages. Rather, they say, the problems of our times are really due to mismanagement and when we get the right people using the right formulas everything will be brought to good order again. But these churchmen must answer a very serious question: do they believe the Sacred Scriptures and particularly St. Paul when he says about "fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, and that lust which is idolatry" that "these are the sins which provoke God's wrath"? If they do, then the sex-saturated society of America ought to be in for a real inundation of "God's wrath:' Or has it already begun? ...
One has to consider that the "lowering of moral standards" during our time is in danger of leading to one of the greatest moral collapses of any nation in history. The abandonment of moral values in North America due to the social acceptance of contraception has even led to the social acceptance of homosexual marriage. As of May 15, 2008, California had become the second state in the United States after Massachusetts to legalize same-sex "marriage," (although, subsequently, through Proposition 8, the people of California rejected same-sex marriage. The battle in California continues. (Canada made same-sex "marriage" legal in June 2005, following three European countries which had preceded it in doing so).
The growing number of people practising homosexuality is strange in itself. Why now? What is causing this plague of radical deviancy in matters of human sexuality and this plague of abnormal sexual practices? This explosion of same- sex activity today resembles the moral collapse of the Roman Empire which was already occurring at the time of St. Paul. Every depraved act mentioned by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans is occurring in North America today. St. Paul says:
In consequence, God delivered them up in their lusts to unclean practices; they engaged in the mutual degradation of their bodies, ... God therefore delivered them up to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and the men gave up natural intercourse with women and burned with lust for one another. Men did shameful things with men, and thus received in their own persons the penalty ['or their perversity. They did not see fit to acknowledge God, so God delivered them up to their own depraved sense to do what is unseemly. They are filled with every kind of wickedness: maliciousness, greed, ill will, envy, murder, bickering, deceit, craftiness. They are gossips and slanderers, they hate God, are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wrongdoing and rebellious toward their parents. One sees in them men without conscience, without loyalty, without affection, without pity. They know God's just decree that all who do such things deserve death: yet they not only do them but approve them in others (Rom. 1:24-32).
Note the sentence, "They did not see fit to acknowledge God, so God delivered them up to their own depraved sense to do what is unseemly." God permitted their own senses to draw them into homosexual activity because they did not acknowledge Him. In light of this revelation from St. Paul one cannot help wondering about the eruption and rapid spread of same-sex activity in North America today. Has God "delivered up" Americans and Canadians to the practice of homosexuality since "they did not see fit to acknowledge God?" We call these differences over sexual practices cultural battles. But the Fathers of the Church called these differences spiritual battles between good and evil. Catholics in North America must realize that we are in the midst of a battle between good and evil over life and love.
Some Catholics think that it is too late to win this battle. Thus, we must also consider the biblical story of Jonah and Nineveh. Nineveh too had become evil but God knew that Nineveh would repent if a prophet spoke the truth fearlessly to them. So God chose Jonah to travel through Nineveh and warn the people that, if they did not repent of their sins, Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days. When Jonah finally did obey God and preached, the people of Nineveh from greatest to smallest repented and God forgave their sins. God did not destroy Nineveh (Jonah 1-3).
The situation of the Catholic Church in North America is similar to that of Jonah and Nineveh. Like Jonah, the Church hesitated to preach the Gospel of Life and Love within its own sex-saturated society, particularly after John Paul II'S visit in 1987. The Church still seems to be hiding in the boat of "private conscience" or in the whale of "pastoral" solutions. This silence has caused a violent storm to arise. Only a complete proclamation of the Church's teachings on human sexuality will calm this storm.
A COMPLETE PROCLAMATION REQUIRES "HOLY" COMMUNIONS
The Church must begin her proclamation of the Gospel of Life and Love with the Church's teaching on the purpose of human sexuality and the evil of contraception. The Church can then consistently point out that the more vile acts against life and love are evil, including abortion, homosexual acts, adultery, divorce and remarriage, fornication, premarital sex, pornography, masturbation, and incest. When the purpose of human sexuality and the evil of contraception are explained, Catholics will see why these other more vile acts are evil.
This battle for life and love however, cannot be won by any craft that we possess. This battle can only be won by Jesus Christ who wants from us "Holy" Communions. Consequently, people must be told from the pulpit repeatedly and regularly not to come to Communion if they are performing acts condemned by the Church, particularly contraception. The Church must point these sins out specifically. And if people are publicly-known sinners, they must be turned away from Holy Communion. If the Church proclaims her teachings on human sexuality regularly and completely, we can hope that very few if any, of these public sinners will dare to receive the Eucharist. "Holy" Communions will replace sacrilegious communions.
Once the Gospel of Life and Love is proclaimed completely, or is at least well under way, we will see whether or not Catholics accept these teachings and whether North America, like Nineveh, will be spared. If Americans and Canadians reject the Gospel of Life and Love, then you can "shake its dust from your feet," "flee to the mountains," or launch an Ark (Mt 10:14, 24:16). But (hopefully), this will not happen. Most people surely want life and love, not lust and death. If the Catholic Church proclaims the Gospel of Life and Love completely to the people, North America will be saved.
(1.) John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, no. 81.
(2.) Paul VI, Humane vitae, no. 14.
(3.) Paul VI, no. 17.
(6.) Archbishop I.R, Quinn, Unity In The Work of Service, (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1987), p.142.
(7.) ibid. p. 144.
(8.) Eugene Kennedy, Cardinal Bernardin, (Chicago: Bonus Books, 1989), p. 69.
(9.) Steven A. Holmes, "Congress and District Clash Over a New City Ordinance" New York Times, July 14 2000; Editorial, "A Win for Contraception" New York Times, June 16 2001.
(10.) Bills, statutes and legislation of different states: Arkansas Code # 20-13-1401, et. seq. (2007); Colorado Rev. Stat. 25-3-110(2007); Connecticut Public Act. No. 24(2007).
(11.) Paul VI, no. 12.
(12.) Paul VI, no. 9.
BY FR. REGIS SCANLON, O.F.M., CAP.
Fr. Regis Scanlon O.F.M. CAP is a member of the Capuchin Province of Mid-America and is director of prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado. Permission has been granted to reproduce this article.