There is a fundamental difference between our generation’s world view, which is heavily influenced by utilitarianism and consumerism, versus the Catholic world view in which everything is given to us. This difference in viewing things touches upon all aspects of our spiritual life and earthly life.
Pope Francis mentions this again and again in his latest encyclical, Laudate Si, and I couldn’t help but make connections with everything I’ve ever heard or read about birth control, Theology of the Body and John Paul II’s (and the Church’s) view of the body and sexuality.
It is all gift
Laudate Si opens with reference to St. Francis of Assisi’s view of creation.
“Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise… His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds o affection.” (no. 6)
While the sciences of math and biology are useful, good and necessary, they aren’t complete. There is still more to nature and our world that escapes the spectrum of exact sciences. There is awe, reverence, mystery, delight and a spiritual dimension that speaks to us.
If something was made and given to you for your pleasure, there is a respect for the gift and for the giver that should make you want to care for that gift. The world was given to us not for a utilitarian use and abuse, but for us to care and keep it.
“Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that ‘man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature.’”(no. 6)
The world and ourselves are God’s handicraft.
So also our bodies and our very life are gifts to us, which demand respect and awe. Most importantly, others’ bodies and lives which are given to us demand respect and awe. Just as Adam rejoices when Eve is given to him as sister and bride (Gn 2:23), so also are we called to rejoice and respect from every gift that comes from above (James 1:17).
Contraception and the contraceptive mentality don’t accept the gift as a whole package, but see defects in the gift. Fertility in women is a defect, which a daily pill or a plastic barrier should cure. Man’s body being made for woman’s body and vice versa isn’t a gift, but something accidental, which surgery now changes. The body, like the world in Laudate Si, is inert playdough waiting for us to shape it into whatever our will, our vices, our utilitarianism and our consumerism feels like.
“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology” (no.155).
It is all relationships
In Laudate Si ecology, economy, politics and sociology are all interconnected. In fact, Pope Francis states again and again that all of the problems are interconnected in one big bag of consume, consume, consume. He speaks out about individualism, not respecting others and making profit number one priority. Instead, true happiness lies in our relationships to one another.
First of all, in family: “In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life” (no. 213, quoting St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus). Then, in cultivating relationships found in community, in the sharing of one’s life with others. Even apartments should be built with this in mind.
“It is not enough to seek beauty of design. More precious still is the service we offer to another kind of beauty: people’s quality of life, their adaptation to the environment, encounter and mutual assistance….How attractive are those cities which, even in their architectural design, are full of spaces which connect, relate and favour the recognition of others!” (no. 150 and 152)
We have lost our sense of relationships.
“Man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, [and he] cannot fully find imself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Gaudium et Spes 24) The Catholic worldview says everything is based on family: God is father, Christ is brother, Mary is mother, etc. Everything is also based on self-gift. The three persons of the Trinity give themselves completely to one another and that is love. The Son dies as self-gift for the Father, and also for us, so that we can be included in this Trinitarian love and in this family.
What really brings fulfillment here on Earth is not a frenzied consumerism of goods and others’ bodies, but the establishment of true love and connection. To be able to do that, we have to love as God loves and be open to His love. Listen to our vocation (calling) as a place in the Family and live that as number one.
It is all natural law
The world was not created by us. It was given to us and, as Pope Francis points out, it is even “on loan” to us. It has its own ways and workings, which must be respected, not demolished by our passions and vices.
Pope Francis mentions various times that indigenous peoples are the ones that most respect the Earth (no. 146). They are the ones that most know their land and see it as sacred. It is something that gives to them and where their ancestors are buried. We have lost this connection, and instead see land as something inert to be plundered at will.
Even more so, our bodies are not simple “mass” to be plundered at will. They are even more sacred, as what you do to the body you do to the person. We are our bodies. Our bodies also have their own ways and workings, which must be respected and appreciated.
This especially applies to birth control, which negates woman’s fertility and tries to eliminate that possibility from the equation, which naturally can never be eliminated. It also applies to the homosexual union, which by natural workings simply does not work.
“Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.’” (no. 155)
Pope Francis addresses his encyclical to “every person living on this planet” (no 3); however this is a message that calls for a new vision. Just as Jesus cured many blind people, we also ask that He restore our vision and that of our brothers and sisters living all over the world in our common home.