Saturday, February 12, 2011

What I Didn't Learn in RCIA...

A thought occurred to me a couple of months ago and after it popped into my head I was rather surprised that it hadn’t occurred to me sooner. Here is the thought, roughly, as it was when it first fluttered through my brain:

I made it through our “Engaged Encounter” and RCIA without hearing a single word spoken about the Church’s teachings on contraception.

That is to say, I went to confession, had first communion and was confirmed without anyone ever telling me that contraception is forbidden by the Catholic Church.

Does anyone else find this deeply disturbing?

I stumbled upon the subject in a relatively old book that Paul had picked up at a Catholic books store. I was stunned when I came upon a list of sins that were considered mortal and found that contraception was a mortal sin. We were sitting in the car (if I remember correctly we were waiting to go to confession) and I glanced over at Paul and asked if this was “one of those things that changed after Vatican II” (oh I still had [and continue to have] so very much to learn!).

When I found out that it wasn’t I burst into tears.

You see, I understood by then that I would have to embrace this teaching (and let me say quickly that the teachings that were difficult to accept in the beginning were the ones that, after much prayer and reflection, have often proved to have the greatest positive impact after I came to terms with them). I had accepted apostolic succession (more on that later) and that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church that Christ founded on Peter (Matthew Chapter 16) so being a “cafeteria” Catholic wasn’t an option. It was all or nothing and I had already made the decision that the choice was gong to be “all” even though I didn’t know exactly what “all” entailed.

After growing up in a culture where life isn’t recognized as the gift that it truly is, I was frightened by the implications that this particular teaching would have on my life and my future. Sure I wanted kids, in some vague time, some distance in the future.

Thankfully God’s plans for us, while seldom in line with our plans for ourselves, can lead us more fully towards realizing our potential if we have the courage to say “yes.”

And this particular “yes,” while difficult at the time, was another step down the road I was supposed to be heading down.


  1. I am in full agreement that the principles of the Church that I've struggled with the most have been those that have had the most impact in my life. I'm sorry that you weren't given such important information straight out of the gate. I recall our RCIA class and what a difficult night that was for the Deacon & class members. But it was definitely worth having those difficult discussions early in our faith journey.

  2. Isn't that amazing?? I am older than you (I turn 50 this month) and am a cradle Catholic. I went to Catholic grade school, then public h.s. Between 8th grade graduation and 1998, I attended about 5 Masses (all with life cycle events). However, I have had many close friends who are Catholic, and all of them used artificial contraception. . .until I met ME, when I was 29 and already the mother of 4. She and her family attended Tridentine Mass (quite a drive!) and she is the 1st person to ever tell me that AC wasn't allowed. I just assumed that because she practiced what then seemed to me an old school Catholicism, she meant that she was following a "then" rule. Only after I had known her for 5 years, and had begun my reversion (and had had 2 tubal ligations) did I learn my folly. So - you're not the only one who learned of the Church's teaching well into the journey. It's shameful that this is, deliberately, held back from us by supposedly well-intentioned clergy and those entrusted with our religious education. It did teach me, however, that I HAD to assume responsibility for searching out the truths of our Faith - our Faith is too important and too beautiful to blindly trust others to do it for me. What you have come to know at such a young age is awe inspiring, and a true gift.

  3. I doesn't surprise me. I converted in 2000, and not once during RCIA was it ever mentioned that contraception was a sin, much less a mortal one. As for our pre-Cana class, one of the presenting couples briefly mentioned something about the Church being against birth control. They failed to mention that it was a sin. The book that we had for the class also mentioned contraception but said it was something for the couples to essentially leave to their consciences. They listed it as a grave matter, but, again, nothing explicitly said that it was a mortal sin. We were many years into our marriage before I came to understand that contraception was totally wrong and a mortal sin. It took me a little bit of time to realize and a great leap of faith to embrace this teaching. I often find myself wondering what my family would look like today if I had found out about this ten years ago instead of two.

  4. It's sad, but I guess I'm sort of jaded and I'm not surprised. My parents are pretty faithful Catholics - we went to church every week, for the most part Catholic schools, my mom prays the rosary, etc. But they used artificial contraception. Basically everybody did. Most Catholic families I knew had no more than three kids, four in rare cases. I just took it for granted that this was okay, until pretty recently.

  5. Well....using contraception to contracept is mortal sin. Using birth control for a medical condition like anemia or endometriosis has the double effect rule so is not sinful. I think it's something that the church needs to talk about when talking about contraception too because after listening to people talking about it on the net, there are a lot of people feeling guilty that they needed to use birth control because of a medical condition.

  6. I do find it deeply disturbing. I thought you would have heard it about it in Engagement Encounter. Sadly to many Catholics don't follow the teaching even when they know about it. The other sad occurrence is that Dr.s even Catholic Dr.s don't know, or choose not to know anything about NFP there for poisoning the well of truth regarding NFP practices. I have a friend who chooses not to use NFP but is actually on the other side of the fence from contraception. He has his own version of NFP. He says they use GFP - God's Family Planning. He and his wife are as open to life as I could imagine any couple being. He says that being the type A personality, NFP would just be an occasion of sin for him.

  7. I'm in agreement with that we know more about the uses of birth control pills for non-contraceptive purposes (compared to when they first came onto the market), it sounds like something that needs to be addressed.

  8. Our NFP counseling during pre-marital counseling consisted of a woman sitting down with us and telling us how NOT to have kids--but how to do it naturally. Never was it talked about how to CONCEIVE using NFP. My husband and I would ask her, "How is this mentality different from those who use artificial contraception? Those using NFP to NOT conceive and those using artificial contraception are both NOT WANTING A CHILD." She would just say, "Well, this is natural." I think NFP is one of those things that started out for good reasons (health, etc.) but has spiraled out of control to where the people who do actually still use it (as opposed to those Catholics who just threw in the towel and started using artificial contraception) are using it simply to PREVENT pregnancy.

    I was like you and BAWLED when I found out contraception was not allowed. I said, "We're going to have twelve kids and not be able to feed them!"

    What I noticed about being COMPLETELY OPEN to life is that you are COMPLETELY TRUSTING GOD. And I have faith that God knows when we should or shouldn't have kids, and He'll make sure it happens the way HE wants--and after having three c-sections and being told my uterus will implode if I keep having kids (an exaggeration from the docs) I have to REALLY trust in Him that He will make sure things go smoothly.

    I had absolutely no idea, though, that they're not even TELLING people anymore that contracepting is a grave sin--unbelievable.

  9. Oh, and completely agree with Delena. I made the argument myself that there was no real obvious difference in NFP and say prophylactics from what I could tell. Even though people saying NFP left you "open" to life, it seems people were using it for contraception not what it's original intention is for: space and number regulation for "grave" reasons.

    But I made a decision about it: just because others were using NFP as a contraception doesn't mean that I have to. God, my husband, and I can have nice chats about whether or not it's a good idea to have another baby at the moment. So far my husband's vote is yes and mine is no. The jury's out on God's vote. I like the fact that he has veto power too. Can't argue about whose "fault" it is that there's another baby like some of my friend's do.

  10. So many great, insightful comments!

    I would very much never like to use NFP again. The plan for the moment is to let breastfeeding space any future babies God decides to send our way.

    I was actually a little annoyed that my knowledge of NFP means that I usually have a pretty good idea of my fertility even without any effort on my part, but I am noticing that nursing mixes up the signs more than it did last time.

    I've struggled not to think to much about others motivations for NFP because it's hard not to be judgmental of what's "serious" and what's not. I got so upset reading the occasional "is taking frequent vacations a serious reason?" or "is each child having their own room a serious reason" that I've kind of avoided the discussions altogether for a while (I do realize, or at least hope, that that sort of attitude is rare).

    It does absolutely drive me crazy when people suggest (and I've seen it!) that everyone should use NFP! It's useful to know how to track fertility for various reasons but it's definitely not required learning!

    And Delena I love your point on completely trusting God. It takes so much energy to struggle against God's plans for our lives. It's so much easier to be open to His plans and rejoice when he reveals them!

  11. Well double effect is not always (in fact not usually) applicable in those situations. Actually, there are other ways of treating those conditions and they have nothing to do with BC pills. The rule of double effect only counts if all other possibilities have been exhausted and in about 99% of the cases that is not true. See:


    The majority of Dr.s know very little about natural and non-contraceptive means of helping with these problems because they are not taught them in medical school. The John Paul Institute has done a lot of research and use Napro Technology which follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Creighton Model has thirty years of detailed research backing it. I personally don't use the Creighton Model but my gynecologist is an NFP only practitioner and also my couple to couple league NFP teacher. He is very familiar with Napro Technology and is currently helping me with my hormonal imbalance which was misdiagnosed by my former gynecologist as endometriosis which that doctor treated with BC pills (it didn't help anything really) until I put my foot down before getting married. For more of my back story you can read my post:

  12. Yes! I know the tears and fears when a converting Catholic finds out about birth control, and then how it turns out be a favorite practice! I am really lucky to be in a diocese that's very careful about hewing to Canon Law. I did find out about ABC being a sin in my RCIA classes, but I was definitely numb from shock for a while. I'm not sure when I finally understood, but one day I just finally got it, and it makes so much sense.

    I keep trying to explain to my friends who think this is the weirdest thing ever that it's not that Catholicism forbids something and THEN tries to make up superstitious justifications after the fact. It's that a whole organic, integrated view of humanity just excludes certain things logically.

    Aside from trusting God with new life, I also really love how it prevents couples from using mere parts of each other's bodies for their wants. You have to accept the whole promise and reality of your spouse's body and humanity, not just bits and pieces that suit you at the moment. Amazing!

  13. That is disturbing! My husband and I just presented an Engaged Encounter last weekend. (We've been presenters for 3 years, married for 6). They have outlines for all their talks and the 'Family' talk calls for an explanation of NFP and sharing real-life experience. We also show a 20 minute video on NFP. Unfortunately, some Engaged Encounter presenters fail to follow the National Outline, causing couples to miss out on important Church teachings such as this one. During this last weekend, our Group Discussion on Saturday night was filled with questions about NFP. It's hard to convince couples to use it and that it IS as effective as birth control, but at least they get the info. And I personally have a hard time 'selling' NFP to the couples because it can be misused. But, at least it's a way for them to accept the Church's teachings and still feel like they have some control over the situation, instead of rejecting the teaching completely. We just pray it will lead them to be more open to life and God's will for their marriage.


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