What has contraception to do with celibacy? The quick witted might observe that celibacy is the most effective contraception. It’s also a sure fire way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
However, that’s not the point of the headline. Instead I’ve been thinking about the way artificial contraception has radically changed the whole idea not only of sex, but of celibacy, and especially the celibate priesthood.
Artificial contraception has changed celibacy because it has separated sexual activity from procreation, and once it separated sexual activity from procreation it followed that sexual activity might as well also be separated from marriage, for marriage is not only for the support and love of the spouses, but also for the security and well being of children. If sex isn’t about children, then it’s not necessarily about marriage either.
Artificial contraception has made sex into recreation rather than pro creation, and marriage has therefore changed it’s meaning. Marriage is intended to be a sacrament of self sacrifice. Now for the majority of Americans it is a sacrament of self gratification. Consequently, celibacy has also lost its meaning. Celibacy only has meaning when you understand marriage. Marriage is a life long commitment within which two people grow into the maturity of love and (ideally) do so within the natural dynamic of a large and loving family. Celibacy reflects that love when the celibate person sacrifices marital love and family love to make their own life long commitment to the greater love of God and others.
The husband and wife love one another and their children completely and fully for life. The celibate loves God and the human family of his parish and church as fully and completely as he can for life. Contraception, however, reduces the fullness of marriage and family life to unlimited sexual gratification and thus pulls the meaning out from under marriage and not only pulls the meaning and purpose out of marriage but also pulls the meaning and purpose out of celibacy.
Because artificial contraception turns marriage into little more than sex it therefore turns celibacy into little more than “not having sex.”
Both celibacy and marriage, however, are far richer and deeper and move beautiful than “just sex” or “not having sex”
Artificial contraception has not only de-graded marriage, but it has completely altered the popular conception of marriage. This, as a result, has changed totally the conception of the celibate priesthood.
Let me explain with a practical example. Before artificial contraception, marriage was a sacrament of self sacrifice. For the vast majority of men and women, marriage meant a large family, long hours of hard work to support that family and a difficult, but rewarding life of sacrifice, work, trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows. To be a celibate priest was also a rewarding life of self sacrifice but by a different path.
Think for a moment of the choice a young man would have had in a Catholic community in a place like Philadelphia in the 1940s. Read More