Is a “general openness” to life sufficient, or is each particular act one that must remain open to life? I would say that to decide that those couples who contracept, yet claim that they can and will be open to life “when the time is right” are standing on very shaky ground. We are not open to the possibility of life, but rather the possibility of the possibility of life. One wonders, then, how far we can extend this multiplication of possibilities.
The mentality that says “I will be generally open to life” has remarkable similarities to the “fundamental option” morality condemned in such documents as Veritatis Splendor. If a “general or sometime” openness to life is what justifies our marital union, contrary to our condemnation on those grounds of same sex unions, then are we really living what we claim?
To use an extreme example, many rapists and murderers in prison today are serving their sentence for just one act of these violent crimes. Rightly so, we say. But in reality, most days, in fact, on a great majority of them, they did not commit these crimes. Apparently, then, the murderer has and probably still has a “fundamental option” to not murder almost everyone he comes across. He is therefore not a murderer; it is not “who he is” but merely something he did.
I doubt many will agree with this last assessment. Of course, what we do, even once, says something of what we are. Murder is either right or wrong, and so is contraception. These two crimes (and that’s what both are) may or may not be the same in God’s eyes, but wrong is wrong. Therefore, based on our previous assessment of justifying opposite gender marriages on the principle of natural law and the openness to family that includes new life, we cannot twist this to say that a “once in a while” openness is sufficient. While we need not schedule every union with our spouse with the sole purpose of trying to produce children, we cannot render it impossible because we want only part of an action that God has made whole. We dare not tell God that we have overcome His “mistake” of making sex and new life part of the same process.
In our final analysis, it comes down to this; will we accept not only God’s plan for marital union but for the human person as such? As Pope John Paul II tells us in Veritatis Splendor:
At this point the true meaning of the natural law can be understood: it refers to man’s proper and primordial nature, the “nature of the human person”, which is the person himself in the unity of soul and body, in the unity of his spiritual and biological inclinations and of all the other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his end. “The natural moral law expresses and lays down the purposes, rights and duties which are based upon the bodily and spiritual nature of the human person. Therefore this law cannot be thought of as simply a set of norms on the biological level; rather it must be defined as the rational order whereby man is called by the Creator to direct and regulate his life and actions and in particular to make use of his own body”. (VS, 50)
The Church’s teaching on contraception, although supported by revelation, needs nothing further than reason separated from the vices that would cloud it: “But as to the other precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions, just as in speculative matters errors occur in respect of necessary conclusions; or by vicious customs and corrupt habits” (ST I II q94,a6). The condemnation of contraception is based on the very objective foundation of the human person, created in the image of God. In fact, it goes further, as God Himself became one of us. The Second Person of the Trinity humbled Himself to become man, accepting all that it means to be human, even unto death. If we call ourselves Christian, we should be at least humble enough to also accept what it is to be human, and not separate those aspects of it that we can overcome for our own selfish desires.
“What God has joined let no man put asunder”