Several years ago, a newly ordained priest in the Archdiocese of Washington took it upon himself to preach one Sunday on the topic of contraception. He reminded the congregation of the Church’s teaching on the subject, acknowledged that there were probably many in the pews that morning who did not follow it, and suggested that they go to confession. He offered to make himself available after Mass for the sacrament of reconciliation, for anyone who wanted to “get right with God.”
The response, I’m told by people who were there, was decidedly mixed. Some people walked out. Some applauded. A number of parishioners took it upon themselves to write the pastor and the archbishop letters of complaint. The result: within two weeks, the young priest was transferred to another parish.
But some preachers do manage to raise the unpopular subject in the pulpit — and very successfully. Our Sunday Visitor looks at some recent examples:
The Catholic Church’s teaching that contraception is a grave sin is based on love, said Father Roger Landry, associate pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Mass.
It follows from the idea that sexual intercourse in marriage should be an act in which a husband and wife offer themselves totally to one another, with no reservations, and with the possibility of the fruit of their love becoming manifest in a child, and it is indeed good news.
Too bad that many of the couples whom Father Landry has counseled as they prepared for marriage had never even heard that contraception is sinful, let alone why.
So, Father Landry spreads the word from the pulpit, including the Church’s teaching on contraception in his homilies at least a couple of times a year.
While a priest preaching about the sinfulness of contraception is apparently unusual enough to qualify as news in one of the nation’s leading newspapers, Father Landry isn’t the only one taking on the topic.He did it again Feb. 12, in response to the Obama administration’s mandate that all employers who provide health insurance include coverage of contraceptive drugs, devices and sterilization at no added cost. According to a Feb. 18 profile in The New York Times, the homily was met with applause.
Father Jonathan Raia, associate pastor at St. William Catholic Church in Round Rock, Texas, used the government mandate as a springboard for discussing Church teaching on contraception in his homilies the weekend of Feb. 4-5.
Father Raia, who was ordained two and a half years ago, said that after reading a letter about the Health and Human Services mandate from Austin Diocese Bishop Joe Vasquez the week before, he thought the time was right.
“I was kind of trembling as I read that,” Father Raia told Our Sunday Visitor. “It was so powerful. It had an emotional effect on me.”
“It begs the question,” he said. “It says we are opposed to the mandate because it forces us to violate Catholic teaching. Catholics who are opposed to the teaching are going to say it doesn’t violate their consciences, so what’s the problem? Why is contraception such a big deal? It was the perfect opportunity to jump into it and to continue talking about it.”While the letter focused on the threat the HHS mandate to provide contraceptive coverage poses to religious liberty, Father Raia said, he knew that he had to go a step further.
Father Raia said he has mentioned contraception in a homily before. He also had discussed the teaching in adult faith formation sessions.
But he didn’t want to arrive at his first parish — which St. William is — and start talking about contraception right away. That follows a piece of advice he got in seminary, that you have to show the people you love them before you can tell them “that kind of a hard truth.”
Finding a way to condense the teaching enough for a homily, yet convey it clearly, can be difficult, he said. But it’s just important to make sure the message is one of love.
“You have to make sure people know you’re being compassionate,” he said. “You’re not condemning them. You want to work with them.”
And you can hear Fr. Raia’s homily below. Just click on the green arrow.