Christian Marriage and Family Life
By JOHN MARSHALL, M.D.
Reader in Clinical Neurology in the University of London
THROUGHOUT the history of the Church there has been constant persecution. We should not be surprised at this when we remember the words of Our Lord. "They will persecute you just as they have persecuted me". (John 15. 20).
In some ages the persecution has been open and bloody ; at other periods it has been more subtle. as in some countries behind the Iron Curtain today. At one time one doctrine or aspect of Catholic life has been assailed, at another time direction of the attack has changed.
THERE can he no doubt that at the present time the object of persecution is marriage and the family. Blood may not he shed, but for many, adherence to God's plan for marriage in a society which is antipathetic to that plan, demands a life of martyrdom.
The extent of the contemporary rejection of God's plan becomes apparent when we. look at the changes that have taken place in the last twenty-five years. Divorce, once a rarity, is now commonplace with well over 25.000 divorces every year. Therapeutic abortion is practised ever more frequently, the redoction on grounds of physical illness being more than outweighed by the increase on grounds of psychological disturbance. This latter trend has developed despite the complete lack of scientific evidence that abortion has any beneficial effects. and indeed without the assurance that it does not have harmful effects, Sterilisation is commonly practised on social as well as medical grounds. And contraception, at one time an unmentionable subject, is now regarded by many as an essential part of the intelligent approach to the " good life ". Reflecting on the extent and rapidity of these changes, can we doubt that marriage and the family are under fire'?
THIS challenge can only he met by fostering a deep awareness of oe true nature of the vocation of marriage among married people and among those whose work lies with the family. Without a sense of vocation married people cannot meet the difficulties facing them today. And our membership of the Mystical Body demands that we mwe give them all the aid we can to meet their task.
This aid must be given in many ways. It is often forgotten. for example, that about 10 per cent, of marriages are sterile. The investigation of male infertility can he carried out in accordance with God's law, but often teets are recommended which contravene that law. This is hut one area in which we most ensure that Catholic couples may have the beat that medicine can offer without offending their consciences.
Many couples in a joyful and generous spirit willingly undertake to rear a large family. Often they find themselves the object either of criticism or of sympathy, sometimes even from Catholics. Having a family larger than the national average appears to be regarded by many as a crime against society, Such families demand our admiration and support, not our spoken or implied reproof.
THERE are other
1married people whose circumstances make It necessary for them to regulate the size of their family. How great are the cl i flaccid ties .they encounter? They face the criticism of those who, with little appreciation of Catholic teaching, consider that any attempt to regulate the size of the family It wrong. These people, seem to be unaware that the primary end of marriage is " the procreation and education of children'', and that there is as grave an obligation upon the parents to educate as there is to procreate.
Irresponsible procreation which is the consequence of an uncontrolled sexual urge. and which takes no heed of the subsequent need to educate the offspring, is no part of the Catholic concept of marriage,
BUT with the acceptance of the need to regulate must go an acceptance that regulation most be by means Which are in conformity with the will of God.
Contraception is not in conformity and must be reiecleal. The reason for this is simply that contraception changes the marriage act from onc that is designed for precreation to one that is designed specifically to exclude procreation. It is not solely a question of the purpose of the act. The act has other purposes besides the primary one of procreation and education. It is a question of the act itself being changed in the essentials of its design and nature.
The act was designed by God as one step in thc chain of events leading to procreation. It may not always achieve procreation as when reproductive life is over, or pregnancy has ensued, or illness or surgery has caused sterility, or the natural rhythm of fertile and
infertile limes dictates it so; hut always the act remains the same, the act that was designed for procreation.
In the practice of contraception, on the other hand, the act is not the same. The act of God's design is replaced by an act of man's design.
Many people are unable to see this difference, or seeing it cannot accept that to change the nature of the act is wrong. The difficulty here is fundamental and concerns our status as creatures. God created us to use our faculties in the way He designed them. Those who deny the exiatence of God, or who recognise him only as a person to he worshipped, are unable to accept this. Still less can they accept that the Church, through whom God still speaks to its on earth. can have anything to say about the private and intimate side of our lives.
TO live contrary to God's plan must be detrimental to the true good of mankind. People often ask, therefore, why it is that the practice of contraception does not appear to have immediate and obvious Mt ffects
The reason is that sociological trends are often hard to discern except in retrospect. Their causes and effects being multiple and complex it is frequently difficult to demonstrate, especially to prejudiced minds, the evil effects of a particular practice.
We read, in the newspaper, for example, that most of the schoolgirls in a class were found to have contraceptives in their handbags. But if we suggest that adults, by changing the nature of the marriage act through contraception, have given rise to the idea that it is an act for pleasure free from responsibility, we are howled down.
Is not 'the behaviour of these teenagers the logical consequence of the attitude of parents to sex and marriage? And can we not see in many of the social problems of our times the effects of the widespread denial of God's plan for marriage and family life?
OUR obligation to help married people to uphold the true concept of Christian marriage cannot stop at ideas; it must include practical help.
The practice of periodic continence in which the design of the act remains undisturbed demands informed and skilled help. Prejudice against this practice sterna partly from the propaganda of those advocating contraception, partly from the fact that much of the advice given does not take account of recent developments in this field, and partly from the failure to follow advice.
The theory developed by ()gine and Kiwis was a tremendous advance, and for some people advice based on this theory is sufficient. For many, however. this method alone is not adequate and recordings of the basal temperature are essential. The determination of what is the appropriate method in the individual case is the task demanding knowledge and experience.
Among the objections which are levelled against the use of the infertile period is the allegation that it is unreliable. With this goes the assumption that contraception
is reliable. In fact. trials have shown that the failure rate with the various contraceptive techniques varies from 12 to 31 pregnancies per 100 woman years. (British Medical Journal, 1961, Sept. 30, page 899.)
The infertile period is not infallible, but, contrary to popular belief, neither is contraception nor even aterilisal ion. In practice, however, given that a person is properly instructed and follows the advice given, the use of the infertile period is highly reliable.
ANOTHER objection alleged is that periodic continence, unlike contraception, destroys spontaneity. Those raising this objection can have little idea of what is involved in the efficient practice of contraception.
It is of interest that only now, when the contraceptive pill is being developed, are we being told of " the existing widespread dissatisfaction with conventional techniques of birth control" (British Medical Journal 1961, Nov. 4, page 1172).
Another example of the many inaccuracies about periodic continence which received wide publicity was the recent statement of Lady Summer-skill that it is at the fertile time that women are most desirous of sexual relations.
Only once have 1 seen the readily available scientific evidence on this subject quoted, and that by a priest in the Caerteotec. lieeette. A careful study had previously shown that only six per cent, of a series of women experienced increased desire at the fertile time, whereas 59 per cent experienced it at the infertile time; 34 per cent. noticed no pattern in the fluctuations of desire. (British Medical Journal 1960, Apr. 2, page 1032,) One further objection is that recording the basal temperature is beyond the competence of many people and in any case is distasteful and a burden. There can be no batter answer to this than the fact that many women from all walks of life use this method successfully and without trouble.
MANY of these objections show that the basic problem is not one of reliability or practical difficulty, but is one of loyalty to God's will. Acceptance of God's plan for marriage. rather than man's, is the first essential. With this there is no practical difficulty that cannot be overcome.
How can people obtain help with this problem? A great deal of help is already available. The Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, through its 32 centres in England and Wales, includes advice about the infertile period in its broadly based programme of education for marriage and help with marriage problems. The address of the nearest centre is often displayed in the church porch or can be obtnined from the national headquarters at Clitherow House, 15 Lansdowne Road, London, Wet. For those, not within easy reach of a centre. a correspondence service is provided from the same address.
There are also available several helpful hooks which can be obtained from Catholic booksellers. or which the local bookseller can be asked to order.* Many doctors give a great deal of help in this field. Thus while much more remains to be done, there is more already being done than people often realise.
There are so rr.any aspects of the vocation of marriage and family life that it has only been possible to touch on a few points. Problems of housing and accommodation, securing places in Catholic schools. provision for children when, through some crisis such as the illness of the mother, they have to be taken into care, are but a few of the anxieties which may beset parents. But it is to Catholic parents that we must look for a living defence of Christian marriage and family life, and it is to them we must give all the help demanded by the charity of Christ.
* "Marriage and Periodic Abstinence," by J. C. If. Bolt (Longmans, London),
"1 he Rhythm Way to Family Happiness," by J. P. Murphy and J. D. Latex (Staples Press, London).
" Family Limitation," by John Ryan. (Shoed and Ward, Loudon).
7'hia is the second of two articles on Cisristian Marriage and Family Life. On December 15, Fr. Arthur McCormack wrote about the Thealtogical. Aspects of Fatuity Planning. Readers requiring further copies of either article may obtain them from Back Numbers Dept., Catholic Herald, 67 Fleet Street, London, E.C.4. Please enclose 7d. (postage included for each copy.