In my view the contraception affair should be seen as opportunity rather than crisis, for it will have had a positive result if it forces Catholics to recognize the necessity of making a choice. Either we must somehow set ourselves apart from the corrupting influence of American society as it slides further and further away from the Church – call it the ghetto option, the catacomb option, the secessionist option, the Benedict option, the Amish option – or so far as possible we must actively seek to dislodge and replace liberalism’s decaying tenets with those of the Church. The first step is acknowledging that — no matter how many times George Bush may have repeated the word in his speeches — freedom is not the Good. So long as Catholic voters agree to be fettered by the phrase “separation of Church and State” and conservative Catholic politicians fear to run on explicitly Catholic principles, they are no different from President Kennedy. The faith which can be set aside before the voting booth or campaign or political office is no faith at all; it is a hobby.
Cardinal Dolan seems to me to imply that this lack of catechesis constitutes a reason for which Church spokespersons, when asked about that teaching, keep saying that this is not about contraception. But, I don’t see when the opportune moment might be, other than now. There was just such a towering catechetical challenge in 1968, and in paragraph 30 of Humanae vitae, speaking to world’s Bishops, Pope Paul VI said,
We invite all of you, We implore you, to give a lead to your priests…and to the faithful of your dioceses, and to devote yourselves with all zeal and without delay to safeguarding the holiness of marriage…Consider this mission as one of your most urgent responsibilities at the present time. As you well know, it calls for concerted pastoral action in every field of human diligence: economic, cultural and social.
The urgency of that summons was due to the ripeness of the teaching moment. This moment right now is a reincarnation of 1968 in the sense that in both cases the whole world had/has its ears perked up concerning Catholicism and contraception. The first time there was deafening silence from the pulpit, and in two ways I think that was understandable: I don’t think they knew what to say and I don’t think people wanted to hear it. Things are very different now. Now we know more, now we can explain the teaching. It’s like that old saying, “if I only knew back then, what I know now.” Well, it’s back then, right now. How often in life are you given a second chance like this? And secondly, now people are thirsting for this teaching. Consider this heartening account of a priest who recently gave a homily on contraception and after a few moments of pregnant silence the congregation erupted in applause.
How happy we should be, my friends, that the Enemy has picked a fight over contraception. What more glorious cause could we be offered, but the holiness of the conjugal embrace? How the martyrs of lesser disputes must envy us! The Enemy has struck not on some obscure procedural point, like our form of government or economy. For once he has come to the point: is the creation of life a sacred mystery in which we participate through a calling written in our bodies, or are our bodies and bodily relations mere raw material for the gratification of autonomous wills? It often seems to me that all the important battles were already fought, and already lost, before I was born. All of my most passionate beliefs are things the collective “we” of American culture have already decided against. “That’s already settled”, they say. I would be very happy to have a core issue unsettled, and that the Enemy has himself done the work of unsettling it is that much the better.