Contraception is Creeping Death by Rev. Father Anthony Zimmerman, SVD

Published in Fidelity Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 5, April, 1990

Napoleon, his health deteriorating slowly while in exile on St. Helena, did not know that there was arsenic in the wine he drank. His legs became unsteady; his vision blurred; he stopped riding his horse, but to the delight of the people who were trying to kill him, he drank his favorite wine until the end without knowing it had been poisoned. Contraception is for married couples much like wine was for Napoleon. The poison of contraception is smooth and works slowly. But marriages collapse gradually, much as Napoleon’s legs became wobbly with time. Couples can no more keep their spiritual health high when contracepting, than Napoleon could exercise his gallant horsemanship while drinking poison.

If people stop coming to Mass on Sundays is the first reason for this not the lack of charity in the hearts of the parishioners? Entire parishes and dioceses and nations suffer from a “drought” of graces when contraception is done on a massive scale, just as Israel suffered from the drought called down by Elijah:

When clouds no longer make the rain to fall, people must move elsewhere or starve to death. Contraception is the curse which closes the skies from yielding the plentiful rain of graces from God. This massive evil blocks graces from reaching our people in the parishes, in the dioceses, and even in the nation on a disastrous scale. This practice is like the moon which eclipses the sun and causes darkness and cold. You may ask why Mass attendance is down, why couples refuse to marry, why many couples divorce, why doctors and mothers abort nice babies, why vocations are few, why monasteries and convents go on sale, why budgets are in the red, why churches are closing. The most visible and prevalent cause, in my opinion, is the widespread and unrepentant and unchallenged practice of contraception.

New Testament writers tend to avoid attributing to God terms of divine anger and rage, perhaps to play down any notion of divine arbitrariness and passion as such, as occurs in Greek literature (cf. Harper’s Bible Commentary, 1136). Although the wrath of the gods plays a major role in many religions, the wrath of the God of Israel is presented more truthfully as God’s response to human provocations that run counter to the divine majesty and holiness. God thus asserts His presence in the face of, and in spite of, human suppression of the truth. God present with His truth everywhere, drives from sight all that is untruth, all that is not compatible with His holiness and majesty.

Wisdom 11:16 tells us that God punished the Egyptians in a form which exactly follows the line of their sin: God “taught them that punishment for sin takes the same form as the sin itself.” The Egyptians had worshipped snakes and other disgusting animals, so God punished them with a plague of millions of such animals. In Romans 1:20-21 Paul speaks of God darkening still more minds of people who had already closed their minds to the truth. God accelerates the baleful process which people have initiated, making still more stupid the minds which have elected to suppress His truth.

In Wisdom 5 we are told that God uses nature itself to punish and destroy those who oppose Him: the forces of nature will join Him in battle against those who are foolish enough to oppose Him. Bolts of lightning will strike right on target, as if the Lord had made a bow out of the clouds and was shooting arrows. Hailstones will beat down on his enemies with terrible force. The oceans and rivers will come rushing over them in a devastating flood. Great windstorms will blow them away like straw. Lawlessness will be the ruin of the whole world. Evil actions will cause governments to fall (Wisdom 5:20-23).

Paul speaks of the anger of God who punishes those whose evil ways prevent the truth from being known by making them even more insensitive to truth: “Instead, their thoughts have become com­plete nonsense, and their empty minds are filled with darkness” (Rom.1:21). Similarly, because they have done evil things, God hands them over to the punishment of becoming even more perverse:

Because they do this, God has given them over to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts. In the same way the men give up natural sexual relations with women and turn with passion for each other. Men do shameful things with each other, and as a result they bring upon themselves the punishment they deserve for their wrongdoing (Rom.1:26-27).

It is because those people refuse to admit the true knowledge about God that God then corrupts their minds, continues Paul. Paul describes them as vitiated beings entrapped in a maze of many evils: vice, greed, jealously, murder, fighting, deceit, malice: they are hateful of God, insolent, proud, boastful, disobedient to parents, without conscience, unfaithful to promises, unkind, pitiless, deserving of death. Paul is grieved at this appalling deformation of God’s creation.

There is a moral dimension to this distortion, as the vice list shows, but the depiction itself is surprisingly free from moralizing. Idolatry and the abuse of sexual distinctions are not here the objects or cause of God’s wrath but the symptoms of its operation, examples of the disorders that result from the root failure to honor God or give thanks to Him. The worst distortions are those of human religious practice. “One does not thumb one’s nose at God” (Gal.6:7b): suppressions of His truth produce corresponding negative realities to press with a new fatefulness upon the human race and shape its world. This - a wrath traditionally associated with God’s final judgment - is already now being disclosed (Harper’s loc. Cit.).

Ignorance is bliss, we sometimes say, perhaps facetiously, thinking vaguely that if people ignore the evil of a practice, it will neither damage them nor harm others. But Paul indicates quite something else:

Ignorance which is induced by suppressing truth is very harmful indeed, to individuals, as well as to social groups. Ignorance of God’s law, suppression of the truth about His commandments, is only the beginning of evils. Sin operates according to the law of malicious dynamics: malice feeds upon itself to grow in size and ugly shape. If contraception is a lie, and a sign of mutual contempt, shall we be surprised that it finally generates disgust for each other and then hatred? And when the practice becomes widespread and is unchallenged, shall we wonder why we become an ungodly society, a decadent Church and nation?

Did the wrath of God finally send us the epidemic of AIDS? We need not say this at all, because it is we who draw AIDS into our lives, and it is we who rid of AIDS entirely. We know that there are innocent victims of AIDS among us, and we sympathize with them. We sympathize as well with those who contracted AIDS through sin, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of Christ’s saving.

But we also know that if everyone in the world would abstain from premarital sexual intercourse, and live faithful monogamy after marriage, AIDS would fade into history on the day its final victim passes away. Virtuous life is the perfect and effective preventive of AIDS. Without saying that AIDS Is a disease sent by God who is angry with a world gone mad with the sin of contraception, we can say we punish ourselves with AIDS by perverse sexual practices. If an AIDS epidemic should reach a critical concentration, it could presage the point of no return to a civilized and orderly society. A remnant of survivors will have to start civilization anew.

Paul described how people who keep a lid on God’s truth live stupidly and ignorantly during this present life, becoming hateful of God, and deserving of death. There are, of course, many degrees of malice which affect lives of sin­ners, not all of them going to this extreme. But we know that any evil in us can indeed make us displeasing persons to live with. The distress which contracepting couples cause to their partners because of difficult moods and stubborn ways is surely one reason for the association between a lifestyle of contraception and eventual divorce. When conjugal partners can no longer bear to live with sin-dominated personalities, they make that final break.

We reflect also that we shape our characters in this life into that form which will be ours for eternity. People who die in the condition of hatefulness to God and deserving of death are condemned to remain terminally so, fixed in this misery forever. Apocalypse gives an example of people who suffer because of their sins but remain unrepentant: “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast. Darkness fell over the beast’s kingdom, and people bit their tongues because of their pain, and they cursed the God of Heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not turn from their evil ways” (Rev.16:10-11).

Are pastors really kind to couples if they condone contraception? Pastoral prudence must be used indeed, but not in a manner which occasions eternal misery for our people. There is no such thing as a condition in which a person cannot follow God’s commandments, such as the law against contraception. We are obliged to keep all of God’s laws, even at the cost of our lives. The martyrs teach us that truth and bear witness to it. It is the task of the Church and of pastors to create conditions in which people can understand God’s laws more easily and follow them by paying the necessary price. Pastoral prudence tells us not to break off a bent reed nor to extinguish a flickering lamp (cf. Mt 12:20), nor to pull up the weeds prematurely lest we pull up some of the wheat with them (Mt 13:25).

But pastoral zeal also prompts us to create occasions of grace access to confession, missions, retreats, celebrations of the liturgical year, and by the grace of God pastors can call to obedience the erring sinners and pull them back into the flock with the shepherd’s crook. People who live in an irregular condition but continue to pray and to attend Mass also prepare themselves for eventual conversion. “May He (Christ) make us an everlasting gift to you and enable us to share in the inheritance of your saints” (Canon 3) is a prayer which God cannot fail to hear.

“The teaching of the Church on birth regulation,” we read in Humanae Vitae, “which is a promulgation of the divine law, will easily appear to many to be difficult or even impossible to put into practice” (HV20). Despite the difficulties, the Church calls for serious commitment and many efforts on the part of individuals, families and society. Couples are asked to practice mastery of self. Educators are asked to create an enviroment favourable to chastity. The media are asked not to overstimulate the senses to the loosening of morals, governments are asked to not allow that by legal means practices contrary to the natural and divine law be introduced into the family.

The task of restoring respect for the sixth commandment to our families, to our nation, to the world, is enormous. But to continue running in the wrong direction is no help. The farther we run that way, the longer we make the return route. Not yet do we see real signs of a recovery Nineteen sixty; the year the Pill was introduced, is a kind of modern landmark after which sexual moral decadence entrapped the western world. Not yet do we see signs of a recovery – a universal serious commitment, of social self mastery, of a change in the media, of laws which protect families from in­roads of sexual immorality. Must we slip even lower to eventually bottom out?

Indeed, will there be a bottom for nations which may have already slipped into a perhaps irreversible slide of decline? The Church has for 2000 years been present perennially to greet the remnants of decadent civilizations. She is always there, still young, always ready to start anew. The remnant of the decadence brought on by excessive practice of contraception and related vices, will be families who have kept themselves clean. Apocalypse speaks of the victory of the 144,000 celibate men, virgins, who “have never been known to tell lies; they are fau1tless (14:5). Contraception is a lie, and those whose lives terminate in the contraceptive mentality will not be admitted to that victorious group.

The law of God which forbids contraception, then, is not just a mild warning, like the label which states: “Smoking may be harmful to your health.” Contraception is a far more deadly poison which corrupts the spiritual lives of individuals and couples and entire nations. It is poisonous gas which corrodes the lungs of all who inhale it. It is arsenic, poisoning all who imbibe it. But, like Napoleon, we may not yet be convinced that contraception is poison to spiritual lives. We do not yet seem to be convinced, as a Catholic community, that contraception should be stopped. The clergy, the bishops, are not sounding the bugle that calls us to battle; nor are the believers clamoring for reform and for education of themselves and their children in self control.

To say that everybody contracepts is an exaggeration, but to say that half the couples in the whole world contracept is probably not an exaggeration. The evil practice is probably as prevalent in the world now as the worship of the beast will be in apocalyptic times:

The beast forced all the people, small and great. rich and poor, slave and free, to have a mark placed on their right hands and on their foreheads. No one could buy or sell unless he had this mark, that is, the beast’s name or number that stands for the name (Rev. 13:11-12;16-17).

Great pressure, including economic pressure, was exercised by the beast to manipulate the multitudes into compliance to his wicked plan.

The text of Revelation leads us to believe that many Christians of the eastern provinces indeed caved in to pressures and offered sacrifices to the emperors to save their lives and businesses. Wholesale breaking of the commandments is not something new to the Church. Revelation, however, warns about the terrible consequences awaiting those who come into God’s presence with the mark of the beast. The ubiquity of sin by no means softens the severity of the judgment:

A third angel followed the first two, saying in a loud voice, “Whoever worships the beast and its image and receives the mark on his forehead or on his hand will himself drink God’s wine, the wine of His fury, which He has poured at full strength into the cup of His anger! All who do this will be tormented in fire and sulfur before the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of the fire that torments them goes up forever and ever. There is no relief day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, for anyone who has the mark of its name (Rev. 14: 9-11).

All the more reason, then, for exhorting Christians to endure: “This calls for endurance on the part of God's people, those who obey God’s commandments and are faithful to Jesus” (14:12). Those who from now on die in the service of the Lord will enjoy rest from their hard work, “because the results of their service go with them” (14:13).

We are thus forewarned about facing God’s wrath in the next world if we do not become reconciled with Him while on our pilgrimage. The overpowering message of the New Testament is God's love, not God’s anger. The mission of Jesus was to take God’s wrath upon Himself, and so to save all of us from experiencing that wrath. Only those who do not believe, and who do not obey, have need to worry about God’s wrath. God forgives us and reconciles Himself with us through the merits of Jesus our Savior, who nailed the sentence against us on the cross where it has become meaningless (cf. Col 2:14).

Hermas the Shepherd whose writings perhaps span the period from Pope Clement (d. 97) to the middle of the second century, urged sinners to repent before the expected imminent parousia and when the parousia was delayed beyond the expected time, he urged all the more that they take advantage of this extended duration of time to do penance during the time still remaining. Recidivists may have a hard time, he feared, convinced as he was that the impending parousia might catch them at an inopportune time of their lives. Be that as it may, all sins can be forgiven provided there is true repentance, continued Hermas. And true repentance is none other than true understanding, which some may not achieve until late in life. What sinners did not understand earlier in life they might understand later on, to be forgiven before the end. Hermas presents himself as being instructed by the shepherd:

And I asked [the shepherd] again, saying: “Since the Lord has accounted me worthy to have you live with me always, permit yet a few more words of mine: for I have no understanding and my heart has been hardened by my former deeds. Give me understanding; for I am very foolish, and I comprehend absolutely nothing.” He answered me and said: “I preside,” he said, “over repentance, and I give understanding to all who repent. Indeed,” he said, “do you all realize that this very repentance is understanding? To repent, “he said, “is great understanding. For the sinner understands that he has done wickedly before the Lord; and the deed which he has done comes into his heart, and he repents and does wickedly no longer; rather he does good abundantly, and humbles his soul and puts it to the torture because it sinned. You see, then, that repentance is great understanding.” (Hermas Par.9,31,4; Translation in W. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 37).

Understanding about the evil of contraception may come late in life to many. After the menopause of a wife, the fear of another pregnancy is no more present. The same is true after sterilization. Perhaps during our period of history, many couples suffer from socially-induced invincible ignorance about the evil of contraception during their childbearing years. The media, the tyranny of public opinion, the example of the neighbors, economic pressures, the drive to conform to fashions – all throw sand into their eyes. Without full awareness of what they do, couples may be induced to suppress the truth about the evil of contraception. Furthermore, when the media, and perhaps some priests, sneer about natural family planning as though it were below human dignity; couples may be ashamed to give that option the place it deserves in the lives of many living in modern circumstances. Nevertheless, such couples still have time to achieve understanding and to repent during the decades of life which follow the menopause. Young Hermas had little hope for recidivists because he expected the parousia to happen very soon; when the parousia was delayed, he extended the invitation once again to come to understanding and repentance. Shall we not extend the invitation to all couples to repent, even if this comes late in life?

The Good Shepherd goes in search of the lost sheep constantly, we know. Sheep who may have got stuck in thorn bushes and can no longer flee from Him: sheep who have “bottomed out,” who may have been brought to their senses by the trauma of divorce, of abortion, or attempted and failed re­marriage. Christ picks them up, carries them on His shoulders, and they feel a new confidence and comfort in His presence. Pastors and confessors rejoice with the repentant sheep. They wait with the father for the prodigal son to come to his senses, to rise and return to the house of his father.

For that reason, it is most important that shepherds preserve in themselves a clear conviction about the doctrine of the evil of contraception, so that they can call to penance sinners late in life as well as early in life. Pastors of souls must not allow themselves to be influenced by the prevalent acceptance of contraception which is all around them. As Hermas wrote:

If the shepherds themselves be fallen away, how shall they answer for the flock? That they have fallen away because of the sheep? They will not be believed. It is beyond credibility that a shep­herd should be harmed by his sheep; and their punishment will be and their punishment will be greater because of their lie. I, too, am a shepherd, and I have the gravest obligation to give an account for you (Par.9, 31,4; trans. in Jurgens 37).

We live at a time when perhaps half of mankind is being swept along by the evil lie of contraception; some may be in real ignorance, others may be suppressing truth culpably. We cry out together in a condition of ambiguity and indetermination:

What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!…In all these things we have complete victory through Him who loved us! For I am certain that nothing can separate us from His love; neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below – there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 7:24-25; 8:37-39).

Christ can still show the devil that He is in charge of this world: the devil thought he had half of mankind in his clutches, but along comes understanding and repentance, and back they go to Christ! 0 happy sin, which merited to give us such a Redeemer! Eastern Europe is even now emerging from the trap of communism; Christ’s happy people can just as easily spring the trap of contraception and come to a better understanding of their duties before God. May it be so. May it happen soon. May it happen to all who are near and dear to us.

2001 Catholics Against Contraception