The Diocesan Office of Marriage and Family and the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women hosted the fourth biennial Catholic Women’s Conference on March 10. The event, titled “Why the Pope was Right,” sought to honor and reflect on the under-read and often misunderstood encyclical “Humanae Vitae” in this 50th year since its promulgation.
The conference’s 250 attendees enjoyed two keynote speeches as well as prayer, song, lunch and time to peruse 18 booths which featured Christian businesses and ministries.
I attended the conference for the first time this year and found it to be time well-spent. The keynote speaker, Janet E. Smith, an expert on “Humanae Vitae,” was engaging and encouraging. Her two addresses gave me much food for thought and left me feeling affirmed and empowered. I came away with an appreciation of the church’s teachings about sexuality, a gratitude for how much the church loves us women and a sense of responsibility to share these beautiful teachings.
- The church’s teaching on sexuality are true, good and beautiful.
Smith began her first talk, “Why is Sex So Complicated,” by proposing that sex is complicated, in part, because it involves men and women, who by nature, are very different beings. Furthermore, sex involves an urge or desire that, if not harnessed correctly, is selfish.Smith reminded her audience that due to our intrinsic value and dignity, people are never to be used. Herein lies the problem with sex. We know that we cannot use another human being for our sexual pleasure, but sexual urges make it all too easy for humans to use one another and cause a great deal of pain and hurt.
Luckily Smith did not leave us in a state of despair about the complexity of our sexual relationships. She eloquently shared the church’s teachings about sexuality and how living out these teachings can be an antidote to many of society’s ills.
Smith shared the refreshing truth that sexuality and sensuality are not evil. In fact, St. John Paul II’s five stages of love, the first of which is called “raw materials of love,” is made up of such things as attraction, desire, sexuality and sentimentality. These raw materials of love are good because they draw us toward another person. However, these urges must be channeled properly so they do not turn into lust. This leads to the next great takeaway from the conference.
- The church loves women and cares deeply about the quality of our relationships.The church wants us to have lasting, healthy, and yes, sexually fulfilling, relationships. The church proposes to us that the best way to achieve such a relationship is to delay cohabitation and sex until marriage, and within marriage to space pregnancies using natural methods rather than contraception.Smith posits that contraception and pre-marital sex actually allow us to be used, rather than loved and cherished because they feign commitment without the consequence of children, albeit a false promise because we know many babies are conceived by couples using contraception. As Smith stated, “Sex is for making love and making babies,” and the best place for that is in a committed marriage.
Smith went on in her second speech to delve more deeply into the consequences of hormonal contraception. She cited research indicating that contraception is hurting our relationships, our health and is particularly bad for those living in poverty, for whom contraception is much more likely to fail.
The church’s teachings on sexuality and contraception are good news to us women and have even drawn the attention of secular women looking for healthier ways to postpone or achieve pregnancy.
- Women have the power and responsibility to spread this good news.Smith gave us a clear exhortation. We must talk to our sisters, daughters, granddaughters, goddaughters and friends about the freedom and empowerment that comes from trying (and I emphasize “trying” because we are human beings who will fall and sin at times) to follow the church’s teachings about sex and contraception.There are great misconceptions in our society about what the church teaches on these topics. We have the listening ears and open hearts of many women and can dispel the myths and share our personal stories.
However, we must meet people where they are and be willing to admit that sometimes these teachings can be hard. That they are true, good and beautiful does not mean they are easy. That they empower and lead to healthy relationships does not mean they are always enjoyable. But we all know from experience that many of the most meaningful and important things in life do not come easy. We do the right thing, not because it is easy but because it is right.
Molly Powers is a wife and mother of two young daughters. Prior to staying home with her children, she spent 12 years working as a teacher and campus minister. She, husband Kevin and their children are members of Holy Spirit Parish in St. Cloud.