The parable of the fish in today's Gospel passage is one that is often overlooked or avoided. The fact is, Jesus is telling us that there will be a separation in the end times. There is parable after parable about this in the Holy Gospel: The fish, the wise and foolish virgins, the sheep and the goats and so on. Christ warns us that we will give an account to Him in the end of how we have responded to His grace.
St Thomas Aquinas reminds us that each person is given sufficient grace in order to save his soul. In the end, though, it is up to us to repond to God's grace in order to save our souls. We also have to remember that Christ said, “To those to whom more is given, more will be demanded.”
This past Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the prophetic Encyclical Humanae Vitae – The Transmission of Human Life, by Paul VI. This Encyclical was not ground breaking, in that it did not teach anything new. What made it shocking to many was that it refused to teach something new, or rather contrary to what had always been taught.
To understand why this Encyclical became so important in our times, we have to turn back to 1930. As is happening this month, the Bishops of the Anglican Communion met for their decennial Lambeth conference in that year. This conference was groundbreaking because the Anglican Communion decided to turn it's back on nearly two thousand years of Christian Teaching by allowing contraception in some instances. Until then, no Christian Community or Church allowed contraception ever.
In 1931, His Holiness, Pius XI issued an Encyclical on Chaste Wedlock, called Casti Conubii. He reiterated the contant teaching of the Church that it was not morally licit to contracept. Natural Family Planning, whereby couples make use of knowledge of natural biological cycles to abstain from conjugal relations during the woman's fertile periods is permissible. Pius XII recalled what the Anglicans did not: the teaching of St Vincent of Lerens that we must believe what has been believed by Christians always, everywhere and by all.
During the Second Vatican Council, the topic of Contaception was brought up again. A committee of theologians was established to look into the Church's teaching in order to counsel the Pope. This is a very important distinction: in order to counsel the Pope. The body of theologians that was formed did not have magisterial authority. They were strictly a consultative body. Once their research was completed, Paul VI used them as intended, as a consultative body.
Because many theologians were caught up with the spirit of the times, the thought was that the Church was going to change her teaching after 19 ½ centuries. It became a terrible fiasco because Priests were overstepping their bounds by telling people that they could contracept because the Church was going to change the teaching soon.
They misunderstood what the sensus fidelium is. The senus fidelium is the sense of the faithful. It is a collective view of what the Christian Faithful believe. Remember the Canon of St Vincent: always, everywhere, by everyone. It is not a snapshot-poll of what 97% of American Catholics believe on July 20th, 2008. It includes all Christians from the beginning. What has always been morally illicit is never going to become morally licit.
So, when Paul VI issued the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, these theologians ended up, so to speak, with egg on their faces. Here they had been telling people to go ahead and contracept because the teaching was going to change soon – and the Pope goes and releases an Encyclical saying that the teaching is unchangeable. Why? Because the Holy Spirit guarantees that the Pope will never teach error – Lambeth does not have that guarantee.
Humanae Vitae became earth-shattering because, for the first time in recent Church memory, there was open defiance. Some theologians, like one famous one from my alma mater – The Catholic University of America, stood up and proclaimed themselves to be a magisterium equal in weight to the Pope. They actually stood there in Catholic Universities throughout the western world and taught contrary to the Church's teaching. Because of tenure and legal battles, it took years, nearly two decades to remove these professors from teachings positions. It took the courage of men like Cardinal O'Boyle and Cardinal Hickey in Washington, Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome, Pope John Paul II and others to insist that those who teach in the name of the Church actually teach what the Church teaches. Imagine – standing in a classroom in a Pontifical university teaching that the Pope is wrong.
Sadly, over the last thirty years, many have been led astray be so-called theologians who proclaim themselves to be equal in infallibility to the Church. These theologians don't understand what it is to be a loyal son of the Church. They don't understand what Christ promised to Peter and his successors. Sadly, they also don't understand the Church's beautiful teaching about married love.
The Church's teaching is, was, and ever shall be that it is a mortal sin to place any barrier, physical or chemical in the way of conception. This is not an attempt to cause rapid reproduction on the part of Catholics as some say. Conjugal union has both a unitive and procreative dimension. The couple does not have to seek both, but can never separate or place a barrier between them. Every act of marital love must be open to the creation of new human life.
As Pius XII teaches, though, this does not mean that the couple cannot make use of biological information. God created the woman's reproductive cycle, and also gave us the ability to understand it. It is perfectly moral for a married couple to abstain from conjugal acts when it is like that conception would occur. In fact, couples that have used this method of spacing births have found that it enhances their marriages because they have to express their love for each other in new and different ways.
I said earlier that the Encyclical was prophetic. Paul VI says that there will be consequences if contaception becomes widespread.
It would open wide the path to marital infidelity
It would reduce respect for women: men who become used to these methods will begin to see women as objects for their own pleasure.
Governments, who care little about the moral law, may take it upon themselves to impose this upon people.
Has this not happened? We all know marital infidelity is higher now than ever before. At the very least fear of getting caught nine months later helped some stay faithful! We also know that since 1968 there has been a revolution. Once the connection between the unitive and procreative dimensions is severed in people's minds, there is no reason we can't redefine marriage as we please. After all, if the procreative dimension is optional, why can't two consenting persons marry. Who's to say it has to be limited to two? Why just persons? If you had told people in 1968 that we would have to have constitutional amendments in our states that define marriage as being between one man and one woman, they would have laughed at you! The problem is that once you allow the unitive dimension to take precidence over the procreative, there is no reason to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. It is all about two persons using – and I mean using – each other as objects of pleasure.
As for the third consequence, look at China. Look at the United Nations. China forces women who are pregnant with their second child to abort. Paul VI said that governments would soon take the power to decide from couples. The UN tells countries they must permit “reproductive rights” which is a code-term for contraception and in-utero homicide. These so-called rights are the string that is attached to much aid that comes from the United Nations.
Abortion is another consequence of the contaceptive mentality. Once a couple sees a baby as an unwanted consequence of their pleasure, they often have no qualms about any steps taken to prevent that consequence. This is not to mention the fact that many, if not most contraceptive methods are abortifacient – they cause abortions. They often work by preventing the implantation of the new human being, at least as a secondary method. This means that the new human being withers and dies. Then there is what pharmaceutical companies now call “emergency contraceptives” which definitively work by preventing implantation. 48, 589,993 persons have been put to death since 1973 by induced abortions. Countless others have died as a result of contraceptive methods that also cause abortion. This is all a consquence of the mentality that sees a child as an impediment to living the life one desires.
Too many couples have decided that it was more important to have nice cars and dream vacations than to have children. They have seen their progeny not as past generations did – a means of imortality, but as a roadblock to that big home with two cars, an SUV and a boat. There is actually negative population growth in some parts of the world, meaning couples are averaging less than two children each.
How does all of this relate to the parable of the fish? In the Gospel, fish represent two things most often. Fish are either a sign of the Eucharist or a sign of Christians. If you remember, the Greek word for fish also became an acronym for Jesus Christ, God's Son, the Savior. What are the angels sorting? Perhaps they are sorting the Christians from those who appear to be Christians. Many will say, “Lord, Lord” and I will turn to them and say, “Get away, for I do not know you.” More importantly in the case of Humanae Vitae they are sorting Catholic Theologians from those who claimed to be Catholic Theologians. These have come like wolves in sheep's clothing to ravage the flock. They would rather tell you that the Pope is wrong than admit they made a mistake.
But we have assurance. If we follow the teaching of the Catholic Church, which is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we know that we are following the truth, and not just some spirit of the times. For, the spirit of the times is rarely one and the same as the Eternal Spirit. We can know that if we follow the teachings of the Church, and put them into practice in our lives, we are responding to God's grace. We also know that if we have been led astray by one of these so-called theologians, we can be restored to grace again by the Sacrament of Penance, knowing that the arms of Christ's mercy are always open to us.
God bless you.