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by Bishop Michael Sheridan
In article 9 of Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI identified four dimensions or characteristic features of married love. First, married love is, above all, fully human. Married love is qualitatively different from the natural instincts that drive animals to reproduce. For human beings the conjugal act is an act of the free will that expresses the communion of persons that is a married couple. Animals reproduce, but human beings procreate. This means that humans are partners with God in the creation of new life. Placing an obstacle to procreation makes the conjugal act something other than is intended by God.
Second, married love is total. Marriage is the total and free gift of a man and a woman to each other. “Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself” (Humanae Vitae, 9). When contraception becomes part of the marriage act, the partners are saying to each other: I give you myself entirely – except for my fertility.
Third, married love is faithful. Married love is a reflection of divine love. Even though God’s people have been unfaithful to him countless times in the course of salvation history, God is never unfaithful to his people. Fidelity and exclusivity in marriage derive from the bond that is created between a man and a woman in marriage. This bond allows for no exceptions. If a man and a woman are to live their fidelity completely and perfectly, it must be by way of the complete union of persons, not a union that is mitigated by a less-than-complete conjugal act.
Finally, married love is fruitful, i.e. life-giving. Just as the mutual and perfect love of God the Father and God the Son is fruitful – their love being the Holy Spirit – so is married love to be fruitful and life-giving. Trinitarian love overflows into creation. Just so, married love must be understood not only as an act of love between married partners, but also an ace that is ordered to bringing new life into the world. Even though not every conjugal act produces a new life, the couple is not permitted to place an obstacle to that fruitfulness. The act of contraception under any circumstances violates the integrity of the marriage act.
For these reasons, the unitive and procreative aspects of every conjugal act must never be separated. To sever the unitive from the procreative – which is exactly what contraception does – is to betray the consent given in marriage, by which a couple freely agree to give themselves completely to each other.
— Bishop Michael Sheridan is currently the bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs and is an active member of CCL’s Board of Directors.
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