God wants to be your love and your life—not just a part of it
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:8).
In every Mass we hear those familiar and most sacred words of Our Heavenly Bridegroom: “This is my body… . This is the chalice of my Blood.” They are the words of Christ’s complete and total outpouring of love for His Bride, the Church. And this, too, is the response of unmeasured love that we are all called to make in the gift of ourselves, not only to Christ Our Bridegroom, but in every relationship in life.
“This is a hard saying, who can take this kind of talk?” (John 6:60). This was the reaction of the many who heard Christ speak in His Bread of Life discourse on how His “flesh is real food” and His “blood real drink” (John 6:25-72). But of all the teachings of the Church in its 2,000-year history, none have drawn as similar of a reaction to Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist as that of the encyclical of Blessed Pope Paul VI on the subject of contraception: Humanae Vitae, Of Human Life. The reason for the similar reactions is because the two teachings are profoundly related.
It is an error to think that the Church’s teaching on contraception applies only to married love. In fact, this teaching applies not only to spousal relationships but also to the family and to all our social relationships. And even more importantly, it applies to our relationship with Christ. How so?
By virtue of our baptism, Jesus calls each of us as a bride, in and through the Church, to communion with Him that we might be fruitful of His love. Married love is an icon—an image—of the “great mystery” of Christ and His love for the Church (cf. Ephesians 5:32). And through our baptism, we, too, men and women alike, are incorporated into this mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ.
What is contraception? Is it not the withholding of the gift or the preventing of it from being received so as to make sterile what might otherwise be fruitful? Isn’t this what sin is? That may not be our intention, but that is the reality of sin—sterility. What is the sin of pride but a contracepting of God’s gift of love for us, which brings sterility into our relationship with Him? What is selfishness but a withholding of the gift of our love to others, which brings sterility into our social relationships? Is this not the definition of injustice—the withholding of our due to God and to neighbor?
The reason then for the Church’s teaching on contraception is very simple and very beautiful. Christ is Our Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride. As the Church cannot contracept her relationship with her Bridegroom if she is to be fruitful of Christ’s love and life-giving to others, then neither is it permissible for us to do so in our spiritual or social relationships.
Given this profound truth, St. John Paul II reminds us that “Holiness is measured according to the ‘great mystery’ in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom.” A receptive heart is a fruitful heart. And it is the fruit of this union with Our Bridegroom that we are to share in all our social relationships, beginning in marriage and our families, and with our neighbor near and far.
It is not possible for us to be fruitful apart from Christ. For Jesus reminds us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus does not say we can do “some things” apart from Him but that we can do “nothing” apart from Him. It is the gift of Christ that makes possible our fruitfulness—“thirty and sixty and hundredfold” (Mark 4:20).
Because “God is love” (1 John 4:16), God wants to be your love and your life—not just a part of it. Baptism is a grafting into Christ, not a part of Christ, but the whole Christ. So the greatest gift we can give to our spouse, to our family and to our neighbor is the fruit of our relationship with Christ—His love in us.
May Mary’s “yes” to God always be your “yes” that you might always be fruitful of Christ Our Bridegroom!
With deepest appreciation and prayers for all who teach and promote natural family planning – God bless you in all you do.