Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bishop James Conley Razes Sterile Sex

As I see it, the Bishop (and Prophet) of Lincoln, Nebraska, has raised (maybe re-surfaced!) the bar for the American Bishops on the subject of contraception. In his exceptional pastoral letter of March 25, 2014, he tackles the scandal of contracepting Catholics, calling them back to “The Language of Love.”  “Today,” he says, “our culture rejects love when it rejects the gift of new life, through the use of contraception"

Oh, for more faithful and courageous Bishops who would turn back the tide of evil in our land…

“Contraception robs the freedom…” to “…bring forth new human beings, children of God, created with immortal souls.”

One powerful paragraph proclaims: “The Church continues to call Catholic couples to unity and procreativity. Marriage is a call to greatness—to loving as God loves—freely, creatively, and generously. God himself is a community of love—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christian marriage is an invitation to imitate, and to know, and to share in the joyful freedom of God’s love, an echo of the Holy Trinity.”

Bishop Conley recalls the words of his predecessor, Bishop Flavin, whose strong stance against contraception led to a similar pastoral challenge to his diocese in 1991. “Dear married men and women: I exhort you to reject the use of contraception in your marriage. I challenge you to be open to God’s loving plan for your life.” He reveals to the faithful a glorious aspect to human sexuality which few Catholics today imagine, let alone believe: “I know that in this openness to life, you will find the rich adventure for which you were made.”

He soon broaches the subject of children, the fruit of sexual union, cautioning, “children should not be feared as a threat or a burden, but rather seen as a sign of hope for the future.” Echoing Pope John Paul II’s words on the hedonistic mentality of today, Bishop Conley emphasizes that “generous, life-giving spousal love is the antidote to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.”

Raising the eyes of his flock skyward he declares that “the sexual intimacy of marriage… is a pathway to sharing in God’s own life” and “Contraception impedes our share in God’s creative love. And thus it impedes our joy.” Here is a shepherd unafraid to put to chase the wolves and to unveil the secret of experiencing God’s joy, so rarely experienced—even less understood—today.

Bishop Conley then recommends to married couples Natural Family Planning (NFP) as “a reliable and trustworthy way to regulate fertility” but is not hesitant to note that in some few instances NFP “is used by couples with a contraceptive mentality.” He is quick to encourage husband and wife to be “very open with each other concerning the reasons they think it right to limit their family size, to take their thoughts to God, and to pray for his guidance. Do we let fear, anxiety, or worry determine the size of our families? Do we entrust ourselves to the Lord, whose generosity provides for all of our needs?”

What of Catholic physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals who participate in some way in promoting contraception? “No Catholic healthcare provider, in good conscience, should engage in the practice of medicine by undermining the gift of fertility. There is no legitimate medical reason to aid in the acts of contraception or sterilization. No Catholic physician can honestly argue otherwise.” Bishop Conley points also to the inevitable relationship between failed contraception and abortion, as well as to the fact that “some contraception destroys newly created life.”

He calls on physicians and pharmacists to refuse to cooperate in the contraceptive trappings of modern “medicine,” suggesting any resultant “antagonism, financial loss, or professional pressure” be embraced as “an opportunity to participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ.” What grit! Imagine a Bishop who believes in the supernatural grace of God!

Closing out his letter, the Bishop scores a direct hit on the damage done to society due to neglect and denial of Humanae Vitae: “Cultural attitudes that reject the gift of life lead very easily to social acceptance for abortion, for no-fault divorce, and for fatherless families. For fifty years, America has accepted the use of contraception, and the consequences have been dire.”

Finally, he urges the faithful to read that papal encyclical, admonishes his priests to “preach about the dangers of contraception, and to visit with families in your parish about this issue,” and advises all those who have used, prescribed or supported contraception to avail of the healing that is available in the sacrament of penance.

Brushing aside the faithlessness of modern society in welcoming and celebrating children into the world, this GoTo Bishop is unequivocal in saying, “No, the Church does not ask too great a sacrifice,” since sacrifice is the language of love. “And in sacrifice, we speak the language of God himself… I am calling your family to share in the creative, active love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…I pray that in true sacrifice, each of you will know perfect joy.”

Clearly Bishop Conley is a Bishop who takes his office quite seriously and is willing to address the hard issues of the day in order to save the souls of his flock. He seeks to set his people free from the sinful oppression of contraception into the joyful liberty of Christ. Given the twisted thinking and devilish outbursts of the day, the Bishop has taken a very gentle approach in presenting the truth of Humanae Vitae—which may be the wise route. But broach the subject he has and his fellow Bishops now have one further challenging example of what it means to be a true Apostle of Jesus Christ in the 21st Century.

There hasn’t been the kind of coverage and conversation from this pastoral letter that I had expected but, rest assured, this letter will be leaven in the loaf and will, in time, yield its holy fruit.

Here are some related news items worth reading:


Imagine (and I do mean I-M-A-G-I-N-E!) if this letter had been issued by our own Archbishop Martin Currie who, like Cardinal Dolan, is totally gun-shy on anything to do with the Moral Law. Rather than the headline in Bishop Conley's hometown paper, The Journal Star, the headline in The Telegram might have looked something like this:

As I said, I-M-A-G-I-N-E!
Lord help our Archdiocese!

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