“Ask a Priest: I Fear to Bring Children into the World. Am I Wrong to Use Birth Control?”

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Q: I am a married Catholic. My faith is so very important to me and a very important part of my life. I am having a struggle. I have felt since high school that I did not want children. I love kids, but this world makes me very fearful to have children. I also have many concerns with the way they will “turn out.” I was put on birth control when I first married due to a medical reason. I have continued to take them ever since in fear of getting pregnant. My husband shares my same views. We are both very active in our church. I am a Eucharistic minister and we both receive Communion regularly. I feel like the biggest hypocrite/sinner. I struggle because I feel that God understands the way I feel, but I know accordingly to my Catholic religion this is wrong. I do attend confession, but I have never confessed this sin because I know I will continue to use birth control. I am looking for guidance/help/advice of how to address this issue. -S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I can understand your fears about raising a family in the world. The culture doesn’t support marriage and family the way it used to. Every generation has its share of darkness to deal with. The proper response as a Christian is to look to the Resurrection and realize that, if Christ could overcome death, he can overcome anything. “Put on the armor of God,” exhorts St. Paul in Ephesians 6:11, “so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.”

Put another way, the world has had its nasty sides ever since the fall of Adam. The way to battle the evil in the world is by living our faith to the full as best we can. Your e-mail would indicate that you are not doing that. In fact, at least in this area of your life you are doing very much the opposite and, perhaps unwittingly, adding to the darkness. Let me explain.

First, marriage is meant to be a sign of Christ’s love for his Bride the Church. Marriage involves a self-giving of a man and a woman totally to each other. That involves openness to each other and openness to the gift of new life that God might want to bless you with. The use of contraception to avoid pregnancy undercuts the gift of a husband and wife to each other. Fertility, even potential fertility, is part of who they are as human persons, and for them to “hold back” this part of themselves would be to deny the total gift of themselves to each other. It thus hurts the unitive dimension of marital intimacy. Contraception also slams the door on the potentially procreative dimension of this intimacy — and further thwarts God’s plan for marriage.

No. 2370 of the Catechism notes that a contraceptive action “is intrinsically evil: Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.”

What makes the situation more problematic is the sin of sacrilege that is being added, each and every time Communion is received in a state of grave sin. Deliberately withholding mention of grave sins in confession renders the sacrament invalid and is in itself a sacrilegious act. Someone in this position should refrain immediately from receiving Communion. Perhaps some confusion and poor catechetical instruction has lessened the culpability in your case, but now that the Holy Spirit has moved you to seek guidance, this is clearly a danger for you.

If you intend to continue to contracept, then you need to do some serious praying and thinking about the faith. A practicing Catholic by definition is someone who is trying to live the Commandments and the precepts of the Church. To say that “God understands the way I feel” overlooks some obvious facets of our faith: namely, he was the one who instituted marriage as a sacrament, he was the one who created sex and ordained its proper use, he was the one who established the Church, and he guides the Church in its teaching. If something is wrong according to the Catholic faith, it’s because it is wrong according to God. Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16).

You might consider looking for guidance from a good confessor or spiritual director who is faithful to Church teaching. Your husband might want to consider the same. In fact, I would recommend that you go together to speak with someone about your situation and receive the support you need to take the beautiful step that God is clearly inviting you to take — the step of trusting in his infinite wisdom and goodness by obeying more fully his plan for marriage.

In a global sense you need to cultivate a spirit of joy and hope. This is not naïveté but rather Christian faith in action. If the world seems like a mess, well, it’s always been a mess. And it will remain a mess until the end times. That is part of the human condition.

The way to counter this is not by contracepting. Rather, we are to live the faith robustly. What the Church teaches us is that, with the grace of God, we can bring the light of the Gospel into the world — and even become saints. It is not impossible. “For God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Often, a source of hope and joy for married couples is the arrival of children. Little ones have a way of changing a parent’s view of the world. Instead of being focused on the misery of the world, a parent becomes attentive to the child who needs her, a child who embodies a reason for hope. By catechizing their children, parents will see their own faith strengthened. Parents need to trust in God, too, who also loves their children. Even in this crazy world, you and any children that God may give you can experience joy and meaning, and with the help of God’s grace even become true saints.

Maybe you fear that somehow the world is so bad that you can’t do anything to improve it. Set aside that fear! You can do something, or rather God can do something through you, by your sincere living of your faith.

Pope John Paul II once exhorted a gathering of young people not to be discouraged by the difficulties of the world but rather to focus on what they could do positively. “Part of Christian realism is to understand that great social changes are the fruit of small courageous daily choices. You often ask yourselves: when will this world of ours be fully conformed to the Gospel message? The answer is simple: when you first think and always act according to Christ, at least a part of that world will, in you, be entrusted to him” (click here for the speech). In other words, Jesus doesn’t ask you to change the world. But he does ask you to cooperate with him to change your little piece of it.

I pray that you will put on the armor of Christ and be courageous enough to live your faith in an integral way. Only then can you experience what real Christian hope means. Only then can you realize that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. God bless.

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