Have you noticed how Pope Francis consistently reminds us that the pro-life movement includes more issues than abortion and euthanasia? His messages always nudge us to rethink what it means to be pro-life. It seems like the Holy Father wants us to expand our thinking about life and its challenges by a deeper contemplation of God’s full plan for humanity.
Following the Pope’s lead, I decided to urge an audience of college age students to think more intensely about their pro-life stance. I started off with a question, “what does it mean to be pro-life?” Their answer came right out of the pro-life playbook. “It means that we honor life from the moment of conception until natural death.” Wanting to expand their thinking beyond the textbook response, I pressed forward.
“If you are pro-life, do you have to be concerned with God’s plan for the creation of life?” After a moment of quiet, a student said, “yes – I think so.” One more nudge. “Does that mean that a pro-lifer should practice sexual self-control?” More silence. “Yes, I suppose it does,” a small voice responded. I could almost hear the gears spinning inside their heads.
Expanding the conversation to include human sexuality was a huge challenge for these young adults. Even though they were professed pro-life supporters who vehemently opposed abortion and assisted suicide, they had never been challenged to think about human sexuality and its role in the pro-life movement. They knew there was a connection but could they connect the dots between their own sexual desires and their pro-life convictions? Were they ready to become living witnesses to God’s plan for love and life, embrace chastity and commit to a life of patient, selfless love that would focus on the good of the other?
For the rest of the evening, they focused on ways to weave Catholic Church teachings on human sexuality into the pro-life mix. We began by defining human sexuality as the ability to give and receive love as either a male or a female. Created by God, it is more than a biological reality; it… “affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of the body and the soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.” (CCC 2332)
Next, we explored how God’s plan for human sexuality draws people out of isolation and into relationships with others. We discussed how it empowers people to love as God loves. We discussed how human sexuality is commonly reflected in friendship and the good will that exists between persons. We marveled at how it can create a powerful unity between spouses in marriage. And, they were blown away that the marital expression of sexuality creates new life in a way that is blessed by God and considered noble and honorable. We identified three fundamental truths about sexuality: marriage is the only and best setting for sexual activity; spouses must love each other faithfully and exclusively; children are the supreme gift of marriage. We agreed that these three elements must be protected by a hedge of honor if human sexuality is to be respected and nurtured.
The discussion then focused on marriage as a covenantal partnership between a man and woman for the whole of life. We talked about the two ends of marriage; the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. Many of them had never learned this before.
The group agreed that marriage places sexual limits upon the spouses who must work to master their sexual love so that it becomes more than just a body needing another body. They grasped that it takes effort to love both spiritually and physically and become a holy spouse. More importantly they concurred that the effort was well worth it because that was the only way to retain the goodness of sexual intimacy as designed by God.
Finally, the students embraced the reality that marriage is meant to be fruitful and that children are more blessing than burden. They could see how marriage protects children throughout their life and creates a community in which they had the best shot at learning moral values, honoring God, and making good use of freedom.
At the conclusion of the evening, we offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the Holy Father who encouraged us to expand the scope of the pro-life mission to include the core teachings of the Catholic Church on human sexuality. Because of his prompting, the evening’s pro-life presentation became an authentic dialogue about God’s plan for life and love. The conversation went beyond the traditional pro-life issues of contraception, abortion and in vitro fertilization. In the end, the students left more empowered; more convicted than ever to be completely pro-life.
By Alice Heinzen
Director for the Office of Marriage and Family Life