When I watched C-SPAN's coverage of the recent pro-choice movement's March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C., as I listened to the speakers, I was struck by the vision of motherhood-on-our-own-terms that so dominates our cultural landscape. Wrapped in the mantle of "freedom," speakers took turns coming up to the podium to encourage the crowd in the fight for unlimited access to contraception and legal abortion. To prove how important this agenda was to the future of women in America, many of the speakers brought their own daughters up to the podium with them, to remind the audience of "what's at stake" for young people.
As the camera scanned the crowd, I was particularly struck by one woman's sign which read: "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries." Ah, how deeply sad, I thought, when the Catholic Church is the only reality on earth that takes the full truth about our ovaries seriously.
The Truth about Male and Female Happiness
The Catholic Church insists that women be received in the fullness of their femininity, including the unbreakable link between their sexuality and their fertility. To approach a woman in any other way reduces her as a person and profoundly affects the depth of intimate relationship—and therefore, mutual happiness—that she will be able to have with the men in her life.
This full truth about the relationship between men and women is at the heart of every one of the Church's teachings. "Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator's eyes," says the Catechism (CCC 1604).
Pope John Paul II has reflected upon this profound and beautiful teaching of the "good" of the creation of men and women right from the beginning. The image and likeness of God is not a solitary man or woman alone, the Pope reminds us, but is a man and a woman united together, in a self-gift of love. And since the Trinitarian God is continually creative and fruitful by his very nature, the image and likeness of God in the real union of men and women must remain naturally creative and fruitful, too.
Why were so many of the women at the March for Women’s Lives desperate to protect themselves from the effects of real union with men?
These realities about men and women have been so central to their relationship with each other, that they have been the core of every form of society and culture since the beginning of time.
In our generation, a dramatic change has taken place that has profoundly affected the union between men and women in the image and likeness of God. By denying the truth of the fruitfulness that always flows from union, many deny the truth about themselves as persons. Consequently, the relationship between men and women has increasingly become an image of sorrow and discord.
I saw this reflected on the faces of many of the women on C-SPAN who seemed desperate to protect themselves from the effects of real union with men. I have seen it, too, in the faces of men who are deeply afraid of the fertility of their women. Yet by altering—and therefore, denying—the truth of the unbreakable link between sexuality and fertility, many modern men and women are still living in relationships of unprecedented sadness and division. And for some reason, they are having trouble seeing the source of their difficulty and disconnection.
The Checks and Balances of Fertility
Those wonderful "ovaries" the protesting woman mentioned on her sign have always played a part in the natural moral law that helped men approach women with wonder, awe, and a bit of trepidation. Why? Because the egg-producing function of those ovaries ensured that a man never forgot the fullness of a woman's bodily receptivity and full femininity—including the truth that she could be the mother of his child—if he became drawn into a "one flesh" union with her.
The God-given checks and balances of this truth shaped the behavior of men and women of good will regarding all sex outside of a committed, faithful marriage where children could be raised together in security and love. It brought some restraint to the temptations of pre-marital sex and adultery.
Now, easy access to birth control, the morning-after-pill, sterilization and legal abortion has taken away the careful approach of men to women and women to men. The age-old question that used to be a consideration with every "one flesh" act: "Do I want to be permanently connected to this person through the life of a child?" is no longer posed. Blind to the truth of who they were created to be for each other, many modern men and women find themselves unable to live as a real "communion of persons" in lasting love, security, freedom and peace. This has profoundly changed society and the way we live happily together as men and women.
'Simply because it became possible - and simultaneously profitable - we have cut the cultural ties between sexuality and fertility,' says Wendell Berry.
While the Catholic Church has often been the lone voice of enduring wisdom and discretion in the cultural dialogue, many have dismissed her teachings, mistakenly thinking that she proclaims only an unlimited, and therefore a potentially irresponsible, parenthood. In fact, what the Church asks is that a woman's natural cycle of fertility be respected and known by both spouses so that they can plan their family together, according to the Lord's will for them. This natural way acknowledges both their freedom and their circumstances, and leads them to the intimate communion and mutual happiness that their hearts so deeply desire.
Thankfully, some other cultural voices are now beginning to articulate what the Church has always recognized and proclaimed. "Simply because it became possible—and simultaneously profitable—we have cut the cultural ties between sexuality and fertility," says author and farmer Wendell Berry. "What is horrifying is not only that we are relying so exclusively on the technology of birth control that is still experimental, but that we are using it casually, in utter cultural nakedness, unceremoniously, without sufficient understanding, and as a substitute for cultural solutions" (The Unsettling of America, p. 135).