Last weekend while I was at Notre Dame, a priest acknowledged that a homily in a Catholic Church about contraception is typically rare. But the New York Times, of all places, highlights a good friend of mine today who actually does talk about just that, in the most humane and practical and pastoral ways:
As a priest, Father Landry has tried, gently, to lead couples away from contraception. “I know from their having told me that many of the couples here have stopped contracepting,” Father Landry said. “In terms of the numbers, it’s probably between 15 and 20 couples who have explicitly told me that.”
Father Landry gets his message across in several ways. First, he talks to engaged couples about their plans for a family. To facilitate that conversation, he gives them a questionnaire.
“The last question,” Father Landry said, “is always ‘Are you planning to have children? Are you planning to start right away after you’re married?’ The vast majority of couples answer, ‘Yes, we definitely want to have children, but we want to wait two or three years.’ ”
The priest asks if they are aware of church teaching about contraception. “Shockingly, 50 percent of the couples that I prepare for marriage have never heard that the church teaches about contraception,” he said.
Father Landry also gives sermons on contraception, something very few priests do. He says he relies on Pope John Paul II’s argument against contraception, which he summarizes. “That God has made us fundamentally for love,” Father Landry said, “and that marriage is supposed to help us to love for real. In order for that to happen, we need to totally give ourselves over to someone else in love, and receive the other’s total self in love.
“What happens in the use of contraception, rather than embracing us totally as God made the other, with the masculine capacity to become a dad, or the feminine capacity to become a mom, we reject that paternal and maternal leaning.”
Father Landry argues that contraception can be the gateway to exploitation: “When that petition is made for contraception, it’s going to make pleasure the point of the act, and any time pleasure becomes the point rather than the fruit of the act, the other person becomes the means to that end. And we’re actually going to hurt the people we love.”
Many non-Catholics — and many Catholics — see the church’s teaching on contraception as cruel toward women. But Father Landry says it’s women who intuitively get how divorcing sex from procreation allows men to use them; in his experience, it is almost always the woman who moves a couple toward abandoning artificial contraception.
“They have a lot of times experienced having been used in their marriage or their previous relationship,” Father Landry said.
After Mass, during the coffee hour in the church basement, parishioners expressed a range of views on the pastor’s teachings.
One couple with grown children agreed that if they had benefited from Father Landry’s teachings years ago, they would have had more children. “We definitely would not have used contraception,” the wife said, “not if we had it to do over again.”
It is the Obama administration that forced this conversation we are having about contraception, by violating the religious liberty of those of us who have a moral problem with contraception, sterilization, and abortion. The upside of the current coercion are opportunities like this piece — to explore what the Catholic Church actually teaches. It is a moment for clarification — and catechesis for the faithful — in the face of caricaturizations.