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Contraception and God's Merciful Love

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By Basil Cole, OP

Before we begin to think about the topic, first it is necessary to recall that marriage is a union until death for the sake of growing in the perfection of charity between the two partners and also to raise saints as the fruit of this partnership. Second, a third vital important partner of the marriage is God, without whom the married cannot remain exclusive, faithful and permanently joined subjectively. Third, one very important virtue needed before entering into marriage is the virtue of chastity, otherwise, understanding the evil of contraception seems absurd.

Humanae Vitae: What happened?

Recognizing there was a population problem in the world and "wanting to make certain that the "moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded," Bl. Paul VI continued to teach even more clearly than his predecessors that all contraceptive actions are intrinsically evil and that one can never sever with any instrument the unitive meaning from the procreative meaning of a conjugal act. If that is morally good in principle, then all of sexual morality is eliminated from social morality and civil law. Today as a result of earlier and present dissent among a few Catholic theologians, the demise of Protestant ethics, and the rise of many persons of wealth wanting to eliminate populations among third and fourth world countries, together with the UN's failure to keep the original rights document of 1948 intact, now we find no fault divorce in our country and many others, the legalization of abortion as a human right, easy extramarital or hookup sex, cohabitation, toleration of sex education, homosexuality with a right to marriage, spouse swapping, prostitution of sex slaves with the result of a disintegration of family life, child abuse, pornography, absent fathers, sperm and egg donation, surrogate motherhood, gene manipulation, transmitted diseases and emotionally fragile youth looking for safe zones from ideas that disagree with their own. Unfortunately at the time, Bl. Paul VI did not know of the deleterious effects of contraception on woman's health.


Furthermore, a strange paradigm shift has taken place socially. Today there is a moral relativism creating a certain sense of the autonomy of the individual to decide what he or she thinks is right "for me." This in turn has led to gender mainstreaming denying there is such a human nature of male and female, that is, one can choose one's gender. Any sexual behavior is reasonable in a multi-cultural and diverse population. Children's rights are on a par with parental authority. Abortion and contraception are placed under the euphemistic phrases of family planning and reproductive health. The new global ethic looks down upon truth, natural law and morality, authority, hierarchy, conscience, husband, wife, chastity, purity, evil, and many other terms. This new cultural revolution did not come about exclusively by governments so much as by wealthy think tanks influencing the medi,a and to a large degree a decrease in religious convictions.

Bl. Paul VI predicted that if contraception was morally permissible, governments would compel people to make themselves infertile when he wrote:

Let it be considered also that a dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies. Who could blame a government for applying to the solution of the problems of the community those means acknowledged to be licit for married couples in the solution of a family problem? Who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious? In such a way men, wishing to avoid individual, family, or social difficulties encountered in the observance of the divine law, would reach the point of placing at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy (HV 17b).



In this stew of immoral license, it is very difficult to teach chastity because as the Catechism pointed out in 2344 this involves a cultural effort. So if the culture of a society is anti-life, anti-family, and anti-chastity, then growing in this virtue of chastity at an early age requires greater conviction of reason and faith to press forward.

When persons are married, the temptation to look upon a child not as a gift but as a burden or an interference with one's personal desires, and scientific atmosphere being what it is, techniques to avoid the child while still having some bodily intimacy is the solution rather than the struggle to continue the journey to master one's impulses. The pleasure for sex itself trumps moral principles especially since science has stepped in and solves "the problem" with plastics (the condom, rings, and coils), pills and operations prevent, that undermine or destroy fertility either in the name of heath or personal desire.

When we take an objective look at the consequences of contraception and the sexual revolution that has happened because of the deliberate separation of the unitive and procreative meaning of the conjugal act, we can see how in principle, it has led to the social chaos going on in the globe today from foreign aid given with contraception as a rider to a limited child legal policy in some countries, especially under the false rubric that we have too many people on this globe, many of whom are considered worthless, either because they are poor uneducated masses or hindered by disease and illnesses.


When Bl. Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae appeared, it was not a Church ban against contraception but an affirmation of marital chastity based on the law of God going back many centuries and into sacred scriptures (contrary to the Wijngaards Institute For Catholic Research). It is a much further sin of lust committed after many other sins are committed against purity and chastity. In other words, it is not a sin committed immediately. Likewise, it is also necessary to understand the meaning and virtue of chastity or purity or continence before marriage even begins. God's mercy is such that he gives many actual or assisting graces to people who desire to cooperate with him in order that they might grow in this virtue in particular and holiness itself. Even when people fall into sins of weakness such as impure thoughts, desires and actions, God still gives his graces together, with, and after repentance and confession, all of which provides a new strength to grow in chastity and other virtues from sacramental grace. His offered graces of repentance are not always as strong with sinners of malice because of their ill will, but they too can repent.

More often people who are ignorant, lacking in proper catechesis, or overwhelmed with financial problems in their marriages, by having recourse to contraception are probably not committing sins of malice. Likewise, a person with AIDS who may be using a condom to protect a partner from the disease may not be acting from malice either. What many Catholics do not seem to know is a very important definitive teaching of the Council of Trent, namely, "For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes you to do what you can, and to pray for what you cannot (do alone), and helps so you are able to do it." Developing and growing in the virtue of chastity is not easy but not impossible, because God's grace is stronger than human weakness. So his mercy to enable virtue to grow is a definitive doctrine of the Church, besides God's willingness to forgive the sins of those who possess true sorrow and wish to make amends.

Sexuality

It is the constant teaching of the Church that human sexual activity is only appropriate within the framework of a mutual commitment in marriage. This has been taught as revealed since Christ. This commitment must be based upon the free consent of both partners placing no obstacle to the natural ends of marriage, openness to children and their education, fidelity and permanence to each other until death. It is vital that before marriage, one develops the ability to abstain from sexual acts so as to be able to possess oneself in order to give one's self to the other. By surrendering oneself to sexual passion in the marital act, the human goods of marriage become expressed and actualized. The act itself is virtuous and even a meritorious act to those in the state of grace given upright motives. Abstinence, when necessary, also expresses and fosters marital love in principle just as intercourse does but in a differing way. It manifests to the other that I love you as a person, not simply the legitimate pleasure of sexual intercourse. Fidelity to one's partner expresses respect for relevant divine goods (grace), and is conducive to a moral wholehearted dedication to other human goods, such as truth, justice and holiness, all necessary for educating one's offspring for the common good of a society.


Human persons are inherently bodily realities, and the bodily life and sexual function of human persons are intrinsically valuable for their personal fulfillment in virtue and the common good of society which needs upright and virtuous citizens to flourish. No one owns his or her own body because the body and its functions are intrinsic to a human person, whereas ownership of material things are exterior goods. Human life and sexual acts are not mere objects of manipulation, which in part is why certain acts in the sexual realm are wrong: they attack, undermine or main the human person from within when sexual pleasure becomes isolated as an end in itself, as a mere thing. A person's sexual capacity and acts are especially important in marriage because the human person's virtuous goods are immediately at stake in the very biology of human sex in relation to the mind and heart. The many sexual sins in marriage, such as adultery, attack personal unity, and contraceptive acts do this as well to the interpersonal good of the handing on of human life (some of which are abortifacients which kill tiny embryos). Moreover contraceptive acts do not give to each the whole self of the other but merely takes something.

If we are designed by the Creator to reproduce other people, then it stands to reason that we need incentives such as pleasure and communication on the biological and psychological order. And if generating people is a positive commandment of God ("Be fruitful and multiply"), then a lifelong marriage is a necessity because an offspring ordinarily needs a mother and a father in a unity to mature for many years (with some exceptions as in the death of one spouse).

Therefore, when puberty comes along in the offspring, a natural attraction for members of the opposite sex occurs because of their positive differences, together with sexual desire based on the perceived beauty and handsomeness that stirs from within. The natural appeal of the exotic in the opposite sex normally takes place. What is not natural according to common sense, though not so well known in our present time, is that to be ready to become married, among other things, one must learn how to discipline one's imaginations and thoughts lest marriages are entered into predominantly or exclusively from alluring and impulsive feelings rather than from the virtues of prudence aided by chastity so that a couple can aim at cooperative friendship to attain the other goals inherent in family and societal life. Moreover, the desire for generative/sexual activity can become an end for its own sake, rather than for the sake of manifesting conjugal love for one's spouse and the production of offspring, especially if many virtues (including chastity taming self-centeredness) are not formed before marriage.

Supernatural common sense also knows that the human will and intellect are easily mesmerized or hypnotized by beauty and sexual pleasure, so that achieving a modicum of self-control in the sexual sphere is not easily acquired. In other words, sexual experiences are intoxicating whether inside or outside marriage. And what should be self-giving can easily become self-seeking after sexual pleasure for its own sake, the definition of the capital vice of lust. This self-mastery requires strong convictions to acquire the personal strength of self-possession, based on reason and faith. It is not simply a question of avoiding damnation but also growing in all the virtues, since they hang on one another as fingers on a hand.

Moral evangelization of children


There are many links among the vices, either as causes or effects prompting or urging the vices to continue and multiply in many deleterious acts. Children can learn extreme anger or envy at an early age to get their own will, which leads to pride. Or, they may be deprived of ordered affection and praise from their parents and experience sadness caused by a sense of rejection, and thereby look for the inordinate pleasure of food or sexual experiences such as viewing pornography to feel good. On the other hand, they may be overly praised or spoiled leading them to think themselves better than they are. When learning their limitations later in life by experience and realizing that they are not as talented, gifted or special as they thought they were, this realization can lead to envy of others or a pervasive discouragement, which can hinder married life.

Because of original sin, human nature has a strong propensity to choose the pleasurable and avoid the difficult and painful. We are not impassible and thereby suffer pain with great difficulty (apart from masochism, a form of mental illness), and enjoy pleasurable things quite easily, both morally good and bad. For example, children do not like doing chores around the house or doing tedious homework unless they are very task oriented. Obedience to parents does not come easily for a host of reasons, usually from forgetfulness or willfulness and the desire to control their lives by self-will. Children need training for their physical needs but education in the virtues of gratitude, generosity, forgiveness, politeness, self-sacrifice, and appreciation for what God and others have given them, besides developing a respect for the elderly. More could be said here, as was said in Amoris Laetitia.

Inordinate parenting as a cause for lustful actions

More often than not, sexual expression in youth is the yearning desire for affirmation and affection, which young persons and adolescents may not be receiving at home from their parents. Often, home life may not be based upon mutual trust but rather mutual manipulation, sometimes from overly indulgent parents giving their offspring whatever they want materially and never correcting their faults. The opposite is seen with excessively strict parents who rarely praise their children or show them much affection. Neither kind of parenting knows the art of modeling true virtue. As a consequence, the child becomes either a selfish or self-centered young person or one emotionally starved for reasonable affection from one's parents. This too is also self-regarding preoccupation, that is, "it's all about me." Because of these consequences of emotional deprivation, St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa teaches that inordinate or disordered self-love is the basis of all sin (ST I-II 77, 4). It is also related to the queen of the vices, called pride, which refuses to accept the limits God has placed within human nature, nor follows the plan God has created for human nature found in his precepts and commandments (ST I-II 84, 2 ad 2). Lust then enters the picture as kind of lieutenant of this queen of vices called pride (ST 162, 8).

Raising children not merely to succeed by developing their talents, but also to attain holiness is a long term process, and requires much sacrifice of time and energy. It must rest upon a bonded pair who live to bring true fulfillment in goodness to each other and their children. If marriage is a call to holiness (called a quasi-consecration to God, as Gaudium et Spes teaches concerning a sacramental marriage: GS 48c), it then should mirror by example to offspring the importance of seeking God's wisdom and will, especially during the turbulent time of being a teen or tween in a present culture that does not believe in any of the aforementioned truths, and accepts eroticism as normative.

The place of religion and chastity


Where there is a strong prayer life and a home life of affirmation, that is, correction of faults as well as praise for actions well done for a child, children then feel good about themselves. In such a home, trust reigns because the expectations are clear. Thus, when the onset of puberty occurs, and the trials of growing in chastity take place, they are met, more or less, with a measure of confidence in self to cooperate with the graces received from Jesus and also the external graces that come from the encouragement of the parents and religious praxis. The Catechism teaches the subject of chastity this way:

Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. "Man . . . day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth."



We must say "more or less" in regard to the virtues because the effort of growing in all the virtues takes many years:

Self mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. [128] The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.



Moreover, chastity becomes more or less successful as the young person begins to understand that self-refraining from the sins of the flesh is meant to influence him and her as a future parent and spouse. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says so well:

So that the "I do" of the spouses may be a free and responsible act and so that the marriage covenant may have solid and lasting human and Christian foundations, preparation for marriage is of prime importance.



The example and teaching given by parents and families remain the special form of this preparation.
It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honorable courtship and enter upon a marriage of their own. [134]



As members of both sexes sacrifice their sexual urges toward each other or even toward themselves for their future marriages and possible children, they develop many other social abilities and skills. These range from choosing a wise spouse to becoming good teachers of their future children regarding growth in chastity and the other virtues. And, making wise choices for the good of one's spouse is what marital love and friendship is all about. Hence the words of the Catechism are meant to be a foundation for this notion:


Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.



When this integration occurs, then the remarkable words of St. John Chrysostom, a celibate bishop, are very poignant and beautiful:

... I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us .... I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you [cited in CCC 2365].



Chastity effort: a school of matrimony

If St. Thomas Aquinas is correct in asserting that the deepest human friendship there is can be found in the state of matrimony, then the preparation of this friendship has to begin long before a couple meet and choose each other for this vocation. This school of true love begins in part, but not exclusively, with a formation in chastity among other virtues at a certain age of discretion, or the appropriate age of development in a particular culture:

Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God's fidelity and loving kindness.



The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends,[133] who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.
Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.




The desert fathers of Egypt more than 1500 years ago, among other learned saints and theologians, discovered by experience that one must not directly fight temptations of the flesh but rather flee them with other distracting and noble thoughts. Normally praying during temptation only increased the temptations unless they were more immediately caused by the devil, which is not ordinarily the case. So ordinarily, after a very short prayer, it is good to get up from one's setting and go for a run, do a hobby, read joke books, play solitaire or listen to a radio program one normally gets angry listening to, or play a musical instrument. This usually breaks the mesmerizing or hypnotic effect of sexual temptations.

Other than hormones roaring, often temptations of the flesh occur for other reasons. As Pope St. John Paul explained in this weekly conferences on The Theology of the Body:

...The body is not subject to the spirit as in the state of original innocence, but carries within itself a constant hotbed of resistance against the spirit and threatens in some way man's unity as a person ... in the man of concupiscence does not rule is own body way in the same way, with the same simplicity and naturalness as the man of original innocence ....



When one is depressed over failures or insults of one's person, or just experiencing some very saddening effects, pleasure seems to be a kind of sedative to alleviate sadness and even anxieties. Lack of sleep can be another factor. These are innocent dispositions, yet they open the door to temptation not only of the flesh but of the spirit as well. However, putting oneself in an occasion of potential sexual arousal without reasonable cause is yet another cause for a lack of growth in this area of one's life. It has often been said that masturbation is the ordinary man's tranquilizer. Sometimes, a chocolate bar may be better, and other times fasting might do the trick, depending one what works for differing temperaments. One has to learn from one's trial and error for avoiding sins of the mind and action.

But more importantly than these above-mentioned strategies, it is also essential that one develops a deep relationship with God so that out of his mercy his assisting grace becomes more intense, even though we may not feel it. After all, he desires to save everyone and be with him forever. It was St. Gregory the Great who said that contemplation dries up the menace of lust by which man is possessed by lustful desires. And St. Thomas, following Aristotle, teaches that if one does not have enough spiritual delights, one will turn to carnal ones. If these two Doctors of the Church understand the problem, then it is so necessary for each and all to learn how to become more contemplative in one's life to balance out an overactive lifestyle of rushing and running around. But what does it mean to become more contemplative?


Learning the art of delighting in the truth of one's faith is a first for someone who wants to become chaste. Obviously if chaste acts or resisting lustful thoughts and acts are prompted by faith and charity, then the more one affectively loves to give God glory and honor through doing his precepts or tries to understand and delight in the truth of one's faith, the more delight one will have as contemplative persons. Attempting to understand a portion or a sentence of one's faith and then being delighted to see its connection with other truths of reason or faith gives one a sense of direction, confidence and devotion. Second, developing a spirit of mental prayer each day by a loving conversation with God including prayers of petition for the grace to remain chaste in thought, word, and deed brings about a more affective love for God so necessary for recollection. Third, growing in a knowledgeable love of the Blessed Virgin Mary brings about a great love for modesty. This yields to the fourth measure, that is, developing the habit of spiritual reading. Fourth, going to Confession and receiving Holy Communion frequently only adds to one's intensity of love and delighting in God in front of the Blessed Sacrament. These are counsels of the saints and the Church herself for growing in any virtue but above all to grow in the formator and inspirer of all the virtues including chastity, namely the divine love of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the soul while in the state of grace.

On the natural level, one needs to moderate one's love for music, the arts in general, sports, movies, the television, sports shows, and excessive texting so that these legitimate pleasures do not become overly desired and blot out time for pondering the delight of truth. However, the virtue of chastity does not rule out the enjoyment of these natural gifts. The real issue is not to becoming glued to them, which is disproportionate. Consuming food and drink should be reasonable and sometimes sparing. Looking for recreation by going to the malls and maxing out one's credit card leads a person to becoming anxious which can stir up the desire for carnal pleasure as well. The virtue of chastity has to work with other virtues but, above all, with the spirit of merciful love for others. Cutting back on rash judgments helps as well as learning how to control one's tongue.

St. Gregory the Great in his Moralia is always relevant for he realistically says that the vice of lust produces certain dispositions and potential vices to many other sins. They are called blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, disordered self-love, hatred of God, excessive love for the present world and abhorrence and despair of the next. The first four daughters deteriorate and attack the virtue of prudence, which is the charioteer of all the virtues. Attempting to make a good and wise decision under the influence of the unbridled desire for sexual pleasure causes a certain blindness of mind toward fundamental moral principles that does not easily go away. Further a failure to seek counsel produces actions without foreseeing the deleterious consequences such as depersonalization, disintegration, and unintegrated impulsiveness. Being out of control undermines self-possession and sexual self-integration due to sexual self-gratification. Finally, even if one can come to a reasonable conclusion about sexuality and decide to act chastely, carrying out that plan more often than not is easily overturned as the will is often too weak to follow through.


What is even more interesting is that as the vice of lust grows it seems to directly and indirectly attack the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and likewise strengthens the vice of greed or avarice, which is another enemy of the spiritual life. The more one becomes immersed in sexual pleasure for its own sake, the more likely the majority of people will be repelled by spiritual delights coming from the loving acts of the theological virtues, because actions from these above all produce contemplative delights of the spirit. Lust enhances itself when established as a vice and shuts down these spiritual delights making one's life a swamp of sexual desires and/or covetousness. Fortunately, just as no one is impeccable, so no one is so fixed or deep seated in sin in this life that God's merciful grace cannot overcome and help one's will to change by repentance and turning back to the life of virtue. Nevertheless, active lustful acts lead to trivializing of sexuality and then a certain contempt for offspring a spouse, children, and men and women in general.

Finally, chastity before marriage strengthens one's ability to sacrifice self for others, especially for one's spouse and children. Authentic conjugal acts are not acts of pure pleasure for one's self but are meant to be a gift of self to one's spouse. This is a great difference between love for one's spouse as an object of self-love and pleasure, objectifying the other person, and love of the other for his or her sake in the conjugal act, a gift of self to the other.

So far it is evident that one of the primary purposes of pre-marital chastity is to prepare for a sacrificial, long-lasting and holy marriage. As a teenager masters this powerful impulse for the potential of conjugal union before an actual marriage, he or she is able to master it within marriage, and live up to the call of fidelity, indissolubility and openness to life, and giving love to their spouse. This fixed attitude counteracts the temptations of adultery, contraception, among other sins of the flesh, including abortion of offspring. But, in addition to this great value or virtue, chastity also may bring about a love of the religious and/or priestly life whereby one wants to serve God by transcending the marital state. As Thomas Aquinas argues:

... But in the time of grace there is an obligation to insist rather on spiritual propagation for which those living a celibate life are more fitted; and therefore in this state it is considered more virtuous to abstain from the procreative act.



The great difficulty facing parents and educators for motivating the young to preserve and control their sexual drives before marriage is giving them goals explained by reason and faith why this is so necessary for choosing the behavior which implants chastity. The young need to understand why chastity will strengthen them to persevere in a future marital state, as well as grow in other virtues and remain protected from the downward spiral of lust. Temptations from lust overcome is the raw material for disposing the young for authentic conjugal and even celibate love.

Faithful Marital love presupposes a great deal of self-possession in order to give oneself totally in all aspects of the common good of the family, and not simply use the other exclusively for pleasure. Pre-marital sexual intercourse (fornication) on a regular basis shatters that ideal, and so makes marital chastity and fidelity for a whole life-time more difficult than it already is, notwithstanding that grace is stronger than weak human nature (2 Cor 12. 9-10; Rom 5. 20). Otherwise, it becomes a satiation of the vice of lust or an interior paralysis of the will and not simply sins of weakness.


Reasonable control over the sexual sphere is also essential for growth in the other virtues, because without it, the human person is led, or rather leads himself, to a path of self-indulgence or narcissism, and so, uses people as his or her objects of pleasure rather than respecting the dignity of the human person for his or her own sake.This reasonable control over the dynamism of sexuality has three phases: premarital chastity, marital chastity and post marital chastity. Notwithstanding, without the virtue of chastity lived in the ordinary way, one easily becomes a slave to one's disordered emotions in any state of life. The Catechism reminds us of this fact when it teaches:

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. "Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end."



Lust the enemy of chastity

With this virtue, one becomes free from intoxicating pleasure and also becomes enabled to exercise restraint in many other fields of human life. The great enemy of chastity is lust, its immediate adversary, which is defined by the Catechism as "...disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes"(2351).

Barring a miraculous intervention by God, as was the case with a few saints like St. Thomas himself, the Catechism reminds its readers in a previous entries (2337 & 2342) that successful integration requires time for this virtue to become fixed in the desires of the human person. This is why the Catechism is realistic about growing in this virtue together with the help of others:

Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is "an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society."[130] Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.



This last entry makes it quite clear that the society or the culture in which one lives has to make its contribution to helping individuals grow in the virtue of chastity. Without this contribution, coming from families, churches and society at large, it is difficult to keep the populace interested in developing this virtue. If a pagan culture no longer believing in the existence of God and thinks its contribution is not important through laws to protect the young in this area of life, then growth in lust will be the ready result. For the follower of the Lord Jesus, on the other hand, St. Augustine's words are consoling:

God is faithful. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.




Now where does God's mercy fit into this equation?

When lust becomes the guiding principle of a society and its government plans to cut down population, it is mandatory that we take a good look at the effects of lust on the human person through the eyes of St. Thomas Aquinas. We must never forget that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more, as St. Paul said (Rom 5.20).

During the last Synod on the Family held in Rome, a great effort was made by some few bishops to argue in favor of giving Holy Communion to the civilly divorced and remarried under certain conditions. It was argued the a crashed marriage and second "alive" marriage was more often than not done in very trying circumstances and the lasting second marriage was not really adultery especially if children were involved. Notwithstanding, it often appeared naive on the part of those bishops who think that chastity was merely an ideal rarely, if at all, achieved. Furthermore, the sexual revolution which has claimed that the "feel good" of a couple outweighs the rights of children, has made no-fault divorce its mantra for happiness. So, it is likewise naive to think that all divorced persons normally seek a second marriage while the first one still exists in good will for highly upright reasons. Are they are really trying to overcome loneliness in addition to finding a good father or mother for the offspring of their "failed" first or second or third "marriage?"

From a Catholic perspective, this decision is a following of one's ill formed and erroneous conscience caused by seeking an apparent good, namely, sexual fulfillment in adultery to provide for children or any other value. Failed marriages are sometimes caused by the lack of prudence, and instead of choosing someone who thinks and feels about Catholic or moral values, one chooses a pseudo soul-mate. Deeper, some of these ill-fated choices were more often than not caused by the lack of cultivating the virtue of chastity before marriage because the culture claims that children are not important and interfere with personal pleasure and fulfillment. Instead of growing in authentic marital love for each other, the couples perhaps grew in lust as a result, with a host of psychological and often medical costs for a-sexual reproduction as well due to the ill effects of contraception, abortion, and same-sex liaisons, adultery, and believing that gender is merely a social construct.

St. Thomas Aquinas has a very important article in the Summa Theologiae where he asks the question: can one sin be a cause of another? He presents several objections why they do not do this formally or strictly speaking. Yet in a certain way he also shows there is a certain influence of each sin on many other sins. Since this is a theological issue, Thomas begins in the sed contra with a quotation from St. Gregory the Great: "a sin that is not quickly blotted out by repentance is both a sin and a cause of sin." Then he continues:

.... that which removes an impediment is called an accidental cause of movement; for when a man, by one sinful act, loses grace, or charity, or shame, or anything else that withdraws him from sin, he thereby falls into another sin, so that the first sin is the accidental cause of the second.




What Thomas means is that a grave sin removes sanctifying grace, which in principle tears down a barrier against further sins, that is, other sins more easily ensue. Thomas further confirms this when he says "a man is disposed to commit more readily another like act because acts cause dispositions and habits inclining to like acts."

Following the thought of St. Gregory the Great, St. Thomas teaches that each major vice has its daughters or consequences, which flow from each of the seven vices. While, one major vice may easily inspire other vices, some daughters of the vices may influence other vices and its daughters as well since they are like "first cousins" of disordered acts. They often act together, or one influences the other and interacts with each other but not to the extent that the theological or cardinal virtues work together under charity. The daughters all share in one common feature, namely, an inner disarray toward created goods, and so each daughter has the potential of influencing other daughters, though not all. For example, the scurrilous person (a product of gluttony) would not immediately be given over to violence or treachery (the consequence of avarice). Yet these latter daughters easily stir up quarreling, the daughter of anger.

The decline of marital unions

If none of this faith-based theology makes any sense to the current family and culture, then with few exceptions lust enters, the capital vice against temperance and the consequent undermining of the right or ordered relationship of sexuality and the common good of society. Lust (the lieutenant of pride) and his daughters, become a kind of a moderator or secondary originator of a vast number of other vices after his queen, pride, who casts a wider net or shadow on all the capital vices. Certainly, other sins may undermine the soul's sanctifying grace and even result in sins against faith, hope or charity, and the other cardinal virtues, even just from weakness, ignorance and surprise. However, when the vice of lust takes over a person's life and becomes settled (like evenings of viewing porn), it becomes like an anti-form or inspirer of all the other vices, undermining the virtues necessary for salvation such as humility, prayer and penance due to the daughters of lust.

As I have already said earlier, traditionally from Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, lust's daughters are named blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, all of which undermine solid prudence producing the vagaries of folly (stultitia) the vice which produces the love of the things of this world and a disdain for the realities of the next world. Decisions of right and wrong, and when, how and where to do any good act become murky. Failure to think before acting, thinking too much and never acting, rarely seeking advice from persons of virtue all go to stymie one on the road to a reasonable life under grace. Following one's deformed conscience is following a fool in this scenario.


Also closely related to pride is lust's other daughters, namely, hatred of God and her sister, abhorrence of heaven, and of eternal life. These daughters within the soul battle in varying degrees against God the creator and redeemer, but above all God the consummator of human life. Damnation or eternal death comes easily as the daughters entrench themselves, either because one forgets or denies their existence, or falsely assumes heaven will be granted anyway, which is the sin of presumption. The idea that there is no final prize (ultimate glory) to strive for slowly deteriorates, and all striving for heaven vanishes when the heart is captivated by lust. Put simply, anger, blasphemy, vainglory and envy are not easily pushed back, unless the foundation of chastity is not solidly informing the will.

To grow in the virtue of chastity (whether pre-marital, marital, or post-marital), prayer, the sacramental life of communion and confession, together with sustained effort to control sexual impulses that come from within and avoid near occasions of sin, are absolutely necessary. Secondarily, a conviction about the dignity of the human person, marriage and family life helps put to death these upstart impulses to vice that can undermine a mature character. While knowledge as such does not produce virtue, it can aid it by offering insightful ideas about the moral good of the human person, and so motivate personal and interpersonal dignity with conviction.

To conclude, if Catholics today do not know their catechism very well, even more they do not practice chastity. If only .2% of the US population practice NFP, and up to 90% practice contraceptive "love" in all its various forms to limit or exclude children, how can these parents convincingly teach pre-marital chastity? And if 80% or more of teens and young adults watch pornography from time to time, how can there be long lasting marriages, even if they are going to Holy Communion without confession of their sins? We Catholics here and in Western Europe seem like a ship that is sinking deeply. While the clergy enthusiastically shouts about the joy of the gospel, they tend to exclude warning about another fundamental option, the horrors of damnation.

The good news of Jesus Christ is the solution to the very bad news of sin and eternal death. Otherwise the good news of the paschal mystery makes no sense and leads to a "so what" or a "whatever" attitude about one's human destiny. Moreover the good news about the mercy of God does not mean the sinner is given a get out of hell free card simply for the asking. Rather to receive the grace of mercy one has to be penitent, which is also a grace from the merciful love of God. What does it mean to repent? The Catechism has the answer:

Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).[24 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551) DS 1676-1678; 1705; Cf. Roman Catechism,II, V, 4.]



The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand "[38 Mt 4:17]. Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man [39 Council of Trent (1547): DS 1528].




If we were created in grace without original sin, not subject to concupiscence, and assuming that we would still age and die, and suffer occasional physical ailments, we would probably relate to God and to one another with great love and care for the common good of community or with great malice. Yet we could certainly still resist God's graces, and our first grave sin would not be due to sins of the flesh since our reason, will and emotions would be well ordered. Would God treat us as mercifully as He does now? Given these conditions, it would seem most certainly not, since we would not be as debilitated as we are at present.

In the present dispensation, we can sin very often and be forgiven our sins, provided with even the least degree of sincerity we intend to avoid sin, by doing penance as the sign of making amends. Sanctifying grace in this present life does not make anyone impeccable even with the best of intentions. Human contrition, purpose of amendment, and doing penance does not make us impeccable either but it does enhance our ability in the fallen state to combat temptations, overcome or lessen our potential resistance to the graces of the moment. Yet that spirit of resistance to God's assisting or actual grace still exists.

The point is that given the human condition as it is now, God's mercy stands out more profoundly, and so calls all to imitate this attribute of God in the face of life's insults, misunderstandings, and wounds from others. Because of the effects of original sin, we fall more easily into sin notwithstanding God's assisting or actual graces as a result of the Redemption. Sins of ignorance can be caused by lack of education in the moral sphere and the bad example of others. Often, some ignorance is willful when a person does not make the effort to discover the moral truth. On the other hand, sins of weakness occur when persons are surprised by near occasions of sin they did not anticipate, perhaps in reading books or viewing movies, or surprised by dangerous circumstances that cause fears or sorrows leading to sinful decisions. Bad sinful habits of the past often emerge again and again, and instead of warding them off with reasonable anger, sinful disorders are given into, as in alcohol, drug or pornographic addictions. Further, fears, sorrows, discouragements, worries and other negative emotions can interfere, swamp or overcome right reason leading to sins of the spirit or the flesh (e.g., suicide, or murder). Traumas of the past often rear their ugly heads inclining one to sin. In the supernatural order, initial doubts of faith and lack of trust in God can emerge out of nowhere, and lead to real doubts or despair, as distinct from reasonable questions trying to understand the meaning of one's faith.

It is easier to see that from God's perspective, if He wants to save everyone, He has to be exceedingly more merciful with poor weak sinners with forgiveness and healing graces, since he suffered and died for each and all. We in turn have to be willing to bring our weaknesses and sins to him in humble sorrow, beg forgiveness and keep aiming for the perfection of charity and the virtues, no matter how distant we are from the goal. Because of so many falls into sin, we are like beginning piano players who can play "chopsticks" perfectly, but can hardly play one of the first few bars of Beethoven's Sonata.

So the meaning of the Year of Mercy pushes us forward to believe that God's love is more merciful than we can understand. Further, the more mercy we give to others, the more mercy will we receive from our Creator, Redeemer and Consummator. The weaknesses and malice of the human person cannot prevent the mercy of God from continually offering his grace to repent, heal and sustain each and all, because the grace of the Holy Spirit is stronger than inclinations to sin. As St. Jerome put it:


The Lord is gracious and merciful and prefers the conversion of a sinner rather than his death. Patient and generous in his mercy he does not give in to human impatience but is willing to wait a long time for our repentance. So extraordinary is the Lord's mercy in the face of evil, that if we do penance for our sins, he regrets his own threat and does not carry out against us the sanctions he had threatened. So by the changing of our attitude, he himself is changed...



Therefore, given the mercy of God's grace and its power, those in the throes of contraception can repent and become free of this clogging vice of contraceptive lust.


1 HV 23
2 Cf. WWW. communications@cultureoflife.org. Culture of Life Foundation, Margaret Datiles Watts, J.D., "Medical Health Risks of Contraception Medical Health Risks of Contraception," posted: October 23, 2012, accessed Sept. 2016.
3 See The Global Revolution, Gabriel Kuby , James Patrick Kirshner (tr.) (Kettering OH: Angelico Press, 2015) pp. 1-63
4 See also Culture of Life Foundation Blog, Margaret Datiles Watts, J.D., "Medical Health Risks of Contraception" Posted: October 23, 2012.

5 . 6, Cap. XI: Deus impossibilia non jubet, sed jubendo monet et facere quod possis, et petere quod non possis, et adjuvat, ut possis. Likewise this same doctrine is found in canon 18 of the same session of Trent. St Thomas Aquinas, in his De Veritate q. 24 a. 13 taught the same, which goes back to St. Augustine.

6 2343.
7 2342.
8 1632.
9 2337.
10 III SCG, ch. 123.
11 2346.
12 2347.
13 Man and Woman He Created them: A Theology of the Body, Michael Waldestein (tr.), (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006) 28.3, p. 244
14 ST II-II 35, 4 ad 2.
15 Moralia XXXI c. 45, n. 87 (PL 76, 621A).
16 On Evil, 15, 2 ad 13, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jean Oesterle (tr.), (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995).
17 2339.
18 2344.
19 Taken from The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. 3, Office of Readings, for Sunday in the 25th week of Ordinary Time, from a sermon On Pastors by Saint Augustine, bishop, On weak Christians; see also 1 Cor. 10: 13.
20 Ibid. body of the article.
21 CCC 1431
22 CCC 1989
23 From a commentary on Joel, St. Jerome, Liturgy of the Hours, p. 215

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