The Little Sisters and the Times

Thomas Griffin (7/27/20)

Gail Collins of the New York Times recently wrote an article entitled “Sex, Sisters, and Dr. Donald” which makes extravagant claims against the mission and apparently evil existence  of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the misguided and ignorant spirituality of the Catholic Church as one focused on the heart, and the controlling nature of Catholic sexual morality on the topics of abortion and contraceptives. 

Admittedly, most of the tyraid by Ms. Collins is directed at President Trump and his role of stifling women’s health. Collins would love to see another political response to her mostly politically biased report, but this will not be one of them. The main point of contention is what Collins admits as well: “The bottom line is basically whether women should be able to have sex without risking pregnancy. There are a lot of people, including conservative Catholics and evangelicals, who say no. There are a lot more who think that’s one of the keys to living a happy, well-planned life.”

In order to discuss the topic of the Church’s understanding of contraception it is pivotal to understand both the genesis of and mission of the Little Sisters. The mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor is a vow to “promise God to consecrate ourselves totally to the service of the elderly poor.” The founder of the sisters’ religious order was a simple, gentle, and loving woman named Jeanne Jugan who was born during the French Revolution (1789-1799) and began her missionary service to the poor in 1839. Staring out of her small apartment window, Jeanne was moved to give aid to a homeless woman on the street who was paralyzed, blind, and helpless in the midst of the brutal winter night. 

This one act of mercy acted as a springboard which resulted in her entire life being devoted to caring for the elderly. People in her town began to leave the poor and destitute at her doorstep and Ms. Jugan never refused to give aid to anyone who found themselves in her gaze. A following of men and women began to give aid to the helpless and her mission grew rapidly. In her lifetime, her group of sisters spread to England, Belgium, North Africa, Spain and Ireland before she died in 1879. A group of sisters arrived in America in 1868 and have been caring for the elderly across the nation for 150 years. 

The Little Sisters have been making national headlines for several years because of their Supreme Court case which revolves around their resignation to provide abortifacients and contraceptives to their employees through their health coverage. Their reasoning is founded upon centuries-old and consistently sound teachings on sexual morality and the health, happiness, and dignity of the human person. 

Contraception is “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.” Artificial contraceptives, such as the pill, are taken as direct acts which inhibit the woman from conceiving a new life. Other artificial contraceptives, which men may use, also block new life from occurring. As a nation founded on inalienable rights, the first among them being life, the Little Sisters of the Poor stand with the helpless found in any category including the elderly and the unborn.

Most healthcare plans provide access to pills which can be consumed when contraceptives fail, which they do at times, and these pills act as abortifacients which directly kills the life within the mother. This life contains all chromosomal elements which are found in a full-grown adult. However, Collins claims that a woman cannot be completely healthy or happy if she does not have “a well-planned life.” Here, we have another argument against the dignity of the unborn, our planners and timetables are more valuable than an unwanted and unplanned human life; not planning  a life leads to an unhappy life.

The logic would follow that those who plan their pregnancies and use contraception are the happy and healthy couples, and individuals. Let us take a glance at the statistics. In 1960, we had the invention of the first oral contraceptive and in the decades that followed there was an exponentially higher divorce rate than we had ever seen in the U.S.

Contraception leads to unhealthy relationships because it strips the sexual act from its specifically dynamic and beautiful end of giving new life. The coming together of husband and wife is so profoundly wonderful that it cannot be contained in itself, it results in another person. When that love is stifled by contraceptives the sexual act becomes one of taking from the other out of selfish needs and desires rather than giving oneself in unbridled love. 

Love never holds anything back. Conjugal love with contraception says I give you all of myself, except my capacity as mother or father. I hold this back from you out of some fear; my love for you becomes more about a feeling than about a sacrifice, a self-gift, and irrevocable vow. 

The Little Sisters of the Poor have fought for the unconditional love and respect for the poor and most vulnerable for almost two centuries. It should stand as no surprise that they continue the cause to defend the sanctity of marriage, sex, love, and the unborn. A message to the New York Times: don’t politicize love and relationships; live a truly healthy and happy life by holding nothing back in love of the other, and follow the lead of the sisters.

Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.

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