There have been a number of questions about permanent sterilization during this month-long series, and while I wrote a post on it a while back, I think it deserves a fuller treatment, and a more nuanced explanation.
I know this is a question that many, many couples wrestle with. Even couples who have zero moral qualms whatsoever about shutting down their reproductive functions struggle with the permanence of surgical sterilization, because, well, it’s permanent. And that makes you feel something on a deep emotional and, dare I say, spiritual level.
We know this part of our bodies is sacred. Walk into any delivery room or birthing center and watch the miracle of life unfold and just try to remain unmoved.
There is something profound and powerful at work in our fertility.
The short answer for why Catholics don’t practice permanent sterilization is the same one you’ll get for why Catholics don’t use any other form of contraception: it isn’t broken.
For those of us who are called to marriage and to parenthood, the invitation to participate directly in God’s creative process by bringing forth new human life is a staggering, gut-wrenching responsibility.
Vasectomies and tubal ligations take the “I will not serve” of contraception and carry it a step further, beyond the moment to moment “not this time” of hormonal contraceptives and barrier methods. They allow us to say with our bodies, in effect, I will not act in accordance with my nature, not now, and not at any point in the future.
In other words, God, you screwed up. I’m not supposed to work this way.
The Church isn’t anti contraception because it’s science. Or because it’s artificial. Or because she has million dollar stock options in thermometers. The Catholic Church (and, up until about 100 years ago, all of Christianity) opposes contraception because it is in direct defiance of the very first thing that He commanded us to do, once He created us, man and woman.
Do you remember?
Be fruitful, and multiply.
(Not: have so many children your uterus falls out and you go bald/die of starvation because you have more children than can fit in your doublewide. But be fruitful, and multiply.)
Children, in Scripture, are only and always a blessing. For couples who have many of them, and for couples who wait in longing for a single one. (Ahem, Abraham.)
There is never a point at which God says, okay, I think we’re good here, plus, you guys, college is so expensive right now, you probably need to go ahead and shut things down and start maxing out that 529 because otherwise you are going to be SO screwed.
If He sends them, we accept them.
And if we can’t accept them? If we are simply not in a place where it would be prudent/loving/responsible/safe/possible to accept a(nother) child?
We don’t. Have. Sex.
If you cannot welcome a child into your family you should not be doing the thing which invites children into your family. It’s that simple. And it’s that difficult.
For couples who have grave, serious reasons why having a child would be absolutely disastrous, how could anything else but abstaining be loving?
Because what if it happens anyway? We all know that couple who still got pregnant, in spite of their best efforts to prevent it. And then what? Hopefully not abortion…but what if the reason for not getting pregnant was a grave medical complication for the mother? How is that fair or loving to her?
It’s not just that, though. It’s not just the “you might still get pregnant even though you’re fixed” argument. It’s also because it’s sexually bulimic. It’s doing one thing with your body, but meaning another. When we do that with our words, it’s called lying. So when we do that with our bodies…it’s still lying. And denying the truth has consequences. Real, tangible, physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences.
Marriage is hard enough when everything is on the up and up. But when a couple chooses to consciously and systematically say one thing with their bodies but mean the opposite, there is going to be tension. There is going to be strife. There is going to be a breakdown in communication and mutual respect. And God knows we don’t need anything more stacked against us, not when it’s already an impossibly tall order. (Matt 19:10)
This is not a condemnation of couples who have made this decision and who regret it. This is, hopefully, a wake up call to couples who have never considered the real spiritual and emotional ramifications of physically severing the connection between sex and reproduction.
While there is no guarantee that either tubal ligations or vasectomies can be reversed, there are doctors out there who are willing to try. Depending on the individual circumstances of the procedure, it can sometimes be done. And even if it doesn’t work, what a huge opportunity for grace and for reconciliation to make that sacrifice, bodily, to attempt to restore what has been damaged.
For couples who are older, it might look a little different. While there is no way to return to one’s childbearing years and make different choices, there is a huge opportunity for older couples to minister to younger couples in the trenches who are considering making this decision for their own marriages.
It’s a message that younger couples desperately need to hear, and there are far too few voices speaking this truth: your bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, sex was created for marriage, and marriage is designed to be fruitful and life-giving.
Don’t separate your love! Don’t try to undo what God has intentionally and lovingly written into your bodies. It is good that you are together, and it is good that you love each other enough to participate in bringing forth new life out of that love.
And God knows this world could use a little more love.
|Click here for the rest of the series.|