It is puzzling: why do many Catholics receive the Eucharist, the source of all grace and the sign of being in communion with the Catholic Church, and yet support and practice contraception, abortion, and unnatural relationships such as homosexual “marriage,” all of which are in direct contradiction to the Church’s teachings? How can there be such a gulf? One would think that in time something would get through.
One reason for this gulf between the reception of communion and its fruitfulness in the public life may be because, with so many Catholics, there is a severance in the reception of their spouse and its fruitfulness in private life, that is, in marriage. In short, contraception in marriage leads to contraception in communion; both sacraments can be harmed, perhaps rendered fruitless.
In several places our Lord draws parallels between our relationship with him and marriage. Thus marriage, besides being a sacrament, is meant to show us what our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be, which is one of openness and exclusive and total commitment. If we compare what is happening between a couple using birth control with what happens when a Catholic using birth control receives communion, the results are interesting.
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Reception of the Eucharist—communion—and marital relations are both meant to be life-giving acts, fruitful acts. Both involve great risks, and, as such, require great faith in the spouse. In both, there is to be a communion of flesh. (Cf. Mark 10:8 and John 6:53 et seq.) G.K. Chesterton held the reception of the Eucharist in such awe that he is said to have sweated when he went up for communion.
Thomas Aquinas said that, while there is an infinite amount of grace in the sacraments, that does not mean that one receives an infinite amount of grace. The amount of grace one receives depends upon one’s preparation, disposition, attention, and thanksgiving. One essential disposition that should be present in both marriage and communion is openness, self-surrender. It is an act of faith in the spouse.
Our Lord does this in the Eucharist. He has surrendered his body to us on the cross; Christ is surrendering his BODY to us in the Eucharist; without reservation, without holding back, wanting, more than we can imagine, that Life comes forth.
The couple open to life in the marital act knows they are surrendering control of their lives. They are engaging in the greatest natural gamble in the world. Children change—the word is too mild—your life. They take over your plans, your schedule, your goals. They completely overturn how you deal with the world. They will make you materially poorer. They will get you strange, perhaps nasty, looks at the grocery store and at parties. Having more than 2.1 children these days makes you open season for snide remarks and raised eyebrows. The same is true for a life with Christ.
Both are terrifying. Both are also the greatest joy.
Our prayer before both the marital act and the reception of communion should be, “Let me be open to the life you want to bring forth from this union.”
Not so the couple practicing birth control. They are saying (in the best of circumstances), “I love you; I want to be one with you; I want to give myself to you; and I want you to give yourself to me … but.” But—“but I want nothing to come of it. I do not want the life that is the natural fruit of the act. I want the appearance of union, but not the risk. I want the show of self-giving and commitment, but not the evidence.” In so many cases, the unspoken reality is, not “I want to give myself to you and you to me,” but, “I want to be pleased.” It is the opposite of self-surrendering; it is calculating.
Perhaps another way of looking at it is this: Our Lord said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” If that is true concerning the least among us, how are we treating the Lord when it comes to our spouse? If we act to render the marital union sterile, aren’t we, in a sense, acting to render our union with the Lord sterile? Catholics who use contraception and yet receive communion may love our Lord and desire to be one with him; it is, though, a love that comes with a “but.” “But not enough to obey you in the teachings of your Church; not enough to give you control of my body, of the fruits of my acts.”
Peter Kreeft has pointed out the diabolical mockery of the pro-choice mantra, perverting the words of our Lord when they defend abortion by saying, “This is MY body.” To a lesser extent, but to an extent nevertheless, this is true of the Catholic practicing birth control. The defiance is still there, knowingly or not—“This is MY body.”
This applies equally to the man. He cannot absolve his guilt by saying, “It’s what she wants.” Pontius Pilate tried to wash his hands of our Lord’s death using that excuse. It didn’t work for him.
The Church is the body of Christ. Her teachings are Christ’s teachings. If one doesn’t believe that, then one is merely play-acting at Mass. As Catholics, we believe body and soul are mysteriously but truly connected. We believe in the resurrection of the body. To use contraception and receive communion is to put up a barrier not only to spouse of one’s body, but to the spouse of one’s soul.
Imagine a couple where the wife, who is open to life, discovers that the husband, on his own and knowing it is against the desires of his wife, has had a vasectomy. How devastated that wife would be. Yet that is what happens when a Catholic using contraception receives communion. How hurt is our Lord. By not receiving all the grace they could, all the grace he died for, these Catholics live truncated lives. No wonder they see no problem supporting—wittingly or not—abortion, the perversion of marriage and the destruction of the family. They have rendered the life of their family and their life of faith fruitless.
The life of the Church, physically and spiritually, depends upon the fruitfulness of her families. The fruitfulness of our families depends upon the fruitfulness of our communions. They cannot be separated. What God has joined, let no man put asunder.