I had an amazing time praying the Rosary this morning. I was thinking about Mary being pregnant with Jesus after having just posted my interview with Christopher West and reading one of the most insightful/convicting posts I've come across in ages, Denise Fath's What Went Wrong in the Presidential Election? (It has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with becoming a passionate saint.)
West has me thinking about the awesome beauty of human sexuality and of women in particular. Who is more Christ-like than a mother? Throughout pregnancy she says to her child, "This is my body, given for you ... This is my blood." She manifests Christ's redemptive love in her body, in her femininity. Astounding! And we can't forget how a woman becomes pregnant - a man who gives himself completely to her, through his body. This is love, a love that images God's. It's a love that can even be a Sacrament, a conduit of Divine Love, one for the other! A man surrendering himself to his wife, and a wife surrendering herself to her husband, both of them accepting the other exactly as he and she is ... and the two of them cherishing and nurturing and guiding the child who comes from them to do the same - that's the awesome dignity of the family - of men and women. How can we not find that beautiful, not desire it for everyone we love?
That's why I not only can't embrace contraception personally, but believe is it harmful to everyone who embraces it - most especially women. I want to see women loved in their entirety, for who they are - as God made them. I want to see a woman's fertility cherished for the indescribable gift it is and a woman never made to feel that there is something wrong with her - that she needs to be altered chemically. (And she should never have to consider "improving" herself through cosmetic surgery either!) Her fertility can't be thought of as something that "holds her back," it is her. You love a woman for who she is; you don't divide her up into different aspects or parts! But that's exactly what I see us doing. Every one of us is looking for LOVE - for someone to accept us, totally and completely, and to give himself or herself to us in that same way. BUT then we adopt the mindsets and go forward with actions, that make this kind of true marital love next to impossible!
There is deep confusion throughout our culture, and Christians by and large have proved just as susceptible to it as everyone else. We have mistook Sentimentality for Love. Sentimentality is all about feeling - desire, warmth - whereas Love is powerful feeling joined to an absolute commitment. Love knows desire and warmth, but it is able to endure distance and cold. It is able to sacrifice, if that it is what is needed to meet the needs of the beloved. Sentimentality will deny reality or seek to distort it when abnegation is called for, whereas Love recognizes sacrifice as something inherent to itself.
Sentimentality is when a man or woman says to the other, "I have to have you." But Love is when each says, "I want to give myself to you."
Sentimentality is at peace with a lie: "I'm in no position to build a life with you. I have to finish my education and start a career before I could actually stand up before everyone we know and vow to love you until death ... but I want the pleasure of your body now. I want the warm emotions that come from having you next to me ... lets pretend for tonight ..." It's a lie! It's selfishness wrapped up in pleasurable emotion.
And its compounded by another lie and even more selfishness when contraception enters the picture: "I need you, I have to have you right now ... but not all of you. I don't want your fertility. Right now we're not in a place for our love to become anything more than pleasurable sensations and emotions."
Love acknowledges our physical attraction to the beloved but disciplines it for the sake of the beloved. Not only is that living in reality - it's about the most romantic thing imaginable! (Look at all of the thirty and forty-something ladies pining for Twilight's Edward Cullen!) Chastity, abstinence before marriage - that's authentic love.
"But Shane, kids are going to 'do it'! We have to protect them from the consequences. Teens need to be given contraception." Sure, if you want to continue the cycle I've been describing. If the goal is to keep men from truly loving women, from being willing to forego the urge of the moment, then by all means please keep giving kids contraception. But if we want to teach them that they are something more than an animal unable to control its urges, then we'll tell them what it actually means to love a woman! Make the expectation known - extol the virtues of self-control and chastity.
Yes, we will see pregnancies. That is the natural end of the sexual act. It's not an "accident;" everything happened exactly the way it was designed to! And we cannot pretend these unborn children are accidents to be "cleaned up" through abortion. No, these children are precious; and we must help their young parents assume their roles, their responsibilities. That's what their bodies were saying "yes" to when they came together sexually. Until our society comes to grips with that fact - that sex is the manifestation of a life-long commitment and that the creation of new life is an inherent part of it, we will continue to spiral out of control. Women's fertility will be looked upon as a detriment instead of a gift. There is a "War on Women," but it's being waged by those pushing contraception, sterilization, and abortion as "healthcare."
The way out of this mess is for each of us to desire and work at becoming saints - and to begin expecting the Christians around us to do the same! I'm not saying "condemn them when they fall;" but make known the standard of Love that we are expected to live up to, and then provide loving support on those occasions when someone does not live up to it. But we have to stop pretending like real Love isn't possible, that fertility is something bad, that a child is ever a "mistake." That's a lie. It's being propagated by the powers that be, but like all great lies it has a demonic origin. Who today is fighting for women? Look at who is still standing up and speaking the truth ... the Catholic Church.
And the way this fight will be won is for each of us to embrace and joyfully live this vision of human persons and human sexuality, to celebrate each new life and all of the responsibility they call forth from us. We have to live with the vision of the saints and recognize the beauty of humanity as it comes from the hand of God. With that gleam in our eye (and love in our actions) others will be drawn and the culture changed.