A recent letter appeared in the Anchorage Daily News by a writer identifying herself as Catholic. She states that use of birth control is basic health care and thus Catholic employers should be forced to underwrite it, regardless of what the church teaches. She is referring to the use of contraception, abortifacients and sterilization rather than natural family planning (NFP).
The letter also states that all of her Catholic friends use these artificial methods. Alas, as a teacher of natural family planning since 1995 I believe this last statement. In fact, it is what motivated me to become an NFP teacher.
The letter came shortly after Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz asked area Catholics to oppose the recent mandate from the Obama administration, which forces Catholics to pay for methods of family planning that contradict Catholic teaching about God’s divine law. How did we come to this place where someone who identifies as Catholic thinks this is a good idea, not recognizing the bald face violation of religious liberty it involves?
I think it can be traced to the confusion that many experienced when the church dropped the requirement to fast from meat on Fridays. Let me explain.
Many Catholics at the time this change occurred, did not understand the difference between divine law and human law. So when meatless Fridays were dropped, many thought that God’s laws were thus subject to change. This resulted in a widespread carelessness towards church teaching, the assumption being that these were just guidelines subject to many loopholes.
The truth of the matter is, there are no exceptions to God’s law because it is perfect and covers every situation. It will never change. Human law, however, is not perfect and can’t cover every situation. Thus it can change. The Catholic Church has both kinds of laws. It is important to understand the difference.
An example of divine law would be the Ten Commandments. Each one of these can always be followed by every conscious person who has achieved the age of reason. An example of human law in the Catholic Church would be the precepts of the church. These cannot always be followed in every circumstance, hence there are exceptions.
Take the Third Commandment, “Keep Holy the Sabbath.” No matter where you are or how you feel, you can always obey this divine law. If you are sick in bed, you can offer your sickness to keep the day holy. If you have no access to Mass, you can offer personal prayer. There are no exceptions.
On the other hand, consider the church precept, “Assist at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.” Although this precept binds under pain of mortal sin, there are exceptions to it because it is a human law and thus can’t cover every situation. Meatless Fridays is another human law subject to change.
Being a practicing Catholic in good standing involves obeying both divine and church (human) law, with the understanding that there are times when we are exempted from the human laws of the church, but never the divine ones.
Contraception, sterilization and abortion are all violations of divine law. Hence a Catholic should never engage in them. The truth is, they shouldn’t be engaged in by any human because God is God of everyone, and his divine laws apply to everyone in every situation. After all, these laws are road maps to the life of joy that God wants for each of us.
However, original sin has blinded our intellect and heart so we need the grace of the sacraments and the assistance of the church to see this road clearly. Avail yourself of these as often as possible. And oppose the contraception mandate!
The writer is a registered nurse who teaches natural family planning for the Couple to Couple League in Anchorage.