NFP: Not Just Natural Birth Control

Wednesday, April 18, AD 2012

If you think you’ve found the key to a better life, the most natural thing in the world is to want to rush out and convince everyone else to do likewise. We want to shout from the rooftops, “Hey! Better life to be found here! You can too!” As someone who finds significant meaning and happiness in the Catholic understanding of sexuality and prohibition of contraception, this view (and the approach to natural family planning that springs from it) is indeed something that I think other need to hear — but as a result it’s doubly frustrating when it seems like it’s being “sold” wrong.

This is why my teeth went a little on edge when I ran into what ought to have been a very encouraging article to see in the Washington Post detailing the efforts of young and faithful Catholic women to re-explain the Church’s teachings on contraception to the modern world. Here’s the section that threw me off:

Yet the images the church uses to promote its own method of birth control freaked her out. Pamphlets for what the church calls natural family planning feature photos of babies galore. A church-sponsored class on the method uses a book with a woman on the cover, smiling as she balances a grocery bag on one hip, a baby on the other.

“My guess is 99 out of 100 21st-century women trying to navigate the decision about contraception would see that cover and run for the hills,” McGuire wrote in a post on her blog, Altcatholicah, which is aimed at Catholic women.

McGuire, 26, of Alexandria is part of a movement of younger, religiously conservative Catholic women who are trying to rebrand an often-ignored church teaching: its ban on birth control methods such as the Pill. Arguing that church theology has been poorly explained and encouraged, they want to shift the image of a traditional Catholic woman from one at home with children to one with a great, communicative sex life, a chemical-free body and babies only when the parents think the time is right.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that my limited experience of dealing with interviews is that what you say and the way you come off in the article are often very, very different. So I don’t want to suggest that McGuire was misrepresenting NFP. It may well be that the WaPo writer talked to her for a long time, wrote up the article in good faith, yet ended up infusing it with an attitude that’s just — off.  (And indeed, I see that Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary (quoted elsewhere in the article) feels like what came across in the article is not exactly what she was trying to convey.)

That said, I think the message that the article conveys is problematic in that it simply doesn’t reflect all that accurately what it’s like using NFP, and when your advertising message doesn’t fit the reality of your “product”, user dissatisfaction is sure to follow. Emily Stimpson covers this well in a post titled Truth in Adverstising:

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100 Responses to NFP: Not Just Natural Birth Control

  • So… how does this differ from birth control?

    Every line of that excerpt from Emily Stimpson makes it sound like NFP is primarily a “birth control” method, sans the chemicals.

    How many NFP practicioners understand that they need grave reasons to utilize NFP? 1%? Does that make them better people than condom users? Seriously?

  • So… how does this differ from birth control?

    There’s no form of artificial birth control that I’m aware of that people use in order to get pregnant.

  • Paul, how many Catholics do you know using NFP to get pregnant rather than specifically avoid pregnancy?

    I would put the under 30 crowd at about 90/10 avoiding pregnancy rather than getting pregnant.

  • how many Catholics do you know using NFP to get pregnant rather than specifically avoid pregnancy?

    Um, well, we did. Moreover, what’s your point?

  • I think that what JVC is trying to say is that NFP is often used with a selfish mentality and that using it for the wrong reason is potentially sinful. Note please, that that is what HE means and I am not agreeing or disagreeing with him.

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  • JVC,

    So… how does this differ from birth control?

    Every line of that excerpt from Emily Stimpson makes it sound like NFP is primarily a “birth control” method, sans the chemicals.

    The difference between using NFP to avoid pregnancy and using artificial birth control to avoid pregnancy is that NFP involves not having sex because you don’t want to get pregnant at the moment, while artificial birth control involves using artificial means to strip the sexual act of its procreative character (allowing you to have sex anyway without worrying about the act’s procreative implications.)

    How many NFP practicioners understand that they need grave reasons to utilize NFP? 1%? Does that make them better people than condom users? Seriously?

    Using NFP to avoid pregnancy is fundamentally different from using a form of artificial birth control such as a condom, because it involves not having sex — something which is always licit even between married couples. (Thus, for instance, if I rushed home right now and had sex with my wife, we’d almost certainly get pregnant. That does not, however, mean that I am morally required to do so, or that I need “grave reasons” to remain at work for the rest of the day.)

    I addressed this in detail a while back in a series of posts dealing with the question of the “contraceptive mentality” and whether one can accurately characterize the use of NFP as participating in the contraceptive mentality.

    http://darwincatholic.blogspot.com/2010/07/real-sex-vs-contraceptive-mentality.html

    Certainly, it is possible for people to use NFP in a manner that is selfish, but that remains fundamentally different from using artificial birth control which is an inherently sinful act. Not having sex is not an inherently sinful act (or sin of omission.)

  • Ive heard a lot of comments about NFP being de facto birth control. Probably, in the attempt to then make the next step to ‘just take a pill’. But wht I have only heard from my wife and never in comments sections, is the result of NFP. Which aside from not taking the well established health risks, but the fact that (my wife) has learned so much about observing her body, that go beyond just ovulation. She has shaped my opinion as a scientist who studies cancer, yet is a male who will never know what it’s like to give birth or deal with women’s issues. Does one suppress their bodies with drugs or does one listen to their body and make adjustments if,when needed to maintain health. If drugs are medically necessary for ones health, then we should consider the benefits, and not assume there are no costs.

  • how many Catholics do you know using NFP to get pregnant rather than specifically avoid pregnancy?

    Um, well, we did.

    Ditto.

    I would put the under 30 crowd at about 90/10 avoiding pregnancy rather than getting pregnant.

    “42.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.” — Steven Wright

  • Does one suppress their bodies with drugs or does one listen to their body and make adjustments if, when needed to maintain health.

    Mark, my wife and I share a similar experience here. And really, it has shaped our approach to medicine and nutrition. The human body is amazing.

  • Using NFP deliberately to avoid pregnancy without a grave reason is in fact tautologically
    birth control. Call it natural birth control, if you want. Does it carry the same moral sanction as someone who has sex but uses contraception? Obviously not. But let’s not pretend like the intent is not identical: acting in a certain way as to strip sexuality of its procreative nature.

    I can’t tell if you quoted Emily approvingly or disapprovingly, but that is the exact vibe I get from that excerpt. She cheers on the notion that there is a way to control a person’s fertility in the same way as contraception but without the moral consequences of chemicals or a condom. Totally absent from her comments is any context discussing the Church’s position that NFP must only be used for grave reasons.

    The fact that NFP cultists refuse to entertain the possibility that the Church proscribes that NFP must only be used for certain circumstances is exactly what causes NFP to be little more than “natural” birth control for most of its users.

  • Paul, you have a difference experience among young Catholics? Pray tell. What portion of the under 30 crowd that you know is using NFP to get pregnant rather than avoid pregnancy, on end, for years?

  • An “in truth very wide” latitude to use NFP to space births is Magisterial, FYI: http://zippycatholic.blogspot.com/2008/04/broadband-nfp.html

  • 63.576% Jvc.

    I don’t know, I don’t run polls among my friends to determine these figures, nor am I that much of a busybody. All I know is that my parish is nicknamed St. Baby’s for a reason, and it’s not because the parishioners there are making an all out effort to delay pregnancy.

    Although if I had to guess, if a married couple is Catholic, using NFP, and under the age of 30 – the proportion using it as a means of avoiding pregnancy is far, far less than nine in ten. Of course I’m just guessing – as you are. I’m just not pretending my guess is authoritative fact.

  • JVC,

    Using NFP deliberately to avoid pregnancy without a grave reason is in fact tautologically birth control. Call it natural birth control, if you want. Does it carry the same moral sanction as someone who has sex but uses contraception? Obviously not. But let’s not pretend like the intent is not identical: acting in a certain way as to strip sexuality of its procreative nature.

    But this is precisely the thing: NFP specifically does not strip sexuality of its proceative nature. That’s why using it to avoid pregnancy involves not having sex through a good portion (quite often the majority) of the cycle.

    What the Church teaches is not that one must get pregnant with some given frequency, but rather that sex is intimately tied to reproduction, and that if one is trying not to get pregnant this means a huge disruption (and diminution) of one’s “sex life” (to use that most modern of terms.)

    That one can use periodic abstinence to avoid pregnancy for a period of time and can also use artificial birth control to avoid pregnancy for a period of time is a red herring. It’s like arguing that because eating a healthy diet in the first place and gorging and purging can both result in being a healthy weight, that they are therefore functionally the same thing. (After all, either way you’re not obese!)

    I can’t tell if you quoted Emily approvingly or disapprovingly, but that is the exact vibe I get from that excerpt. She cheers on the notion that there is a way to control a person’s fertility in the same way as contraception but without the moral consequences of chemicals or a condom.

    I am quoting her approvingly, and precisely because I think she provides a good corrective to the WaPo piece (which does suggest that NFP is just natural birth control.) For instance, Emily points out:

    At the same time, rejecting contraception in general requires trust—trust in God’s will and God’s provision. It requires generosity—a willingness to put others needs before our own. It requires a spirit of poverty—detachment from the extras our culture says are essentials. And it requires a heart that delights in pictures of fat smiling babies, that believes babies are precious gifts from God, not a reason to run for the hills.

    Basically, it requires that we be everything our culture has programmed us not to be.

    And also

    NFP is not Catholic birth control. It’s the Catholic world view…lived out in the bedroom.

    Now, you’re correct, she does not specifically state that couples should only avoid pregnancy for “grave reasons”, but frankly I think that this is a term which people at times go a bit overboard on. As Bob notes, it’s not as if the popes have suggested that one must be in a “all our children will starve to death if we have one more” or a “my wife will die if she gets pregnant” situation in order to space pregnancies using NFP.

    “Therefore, in our late allocution on conjugal morality, We affirmed the legitimacy, and at the same time, the limits — in truth very wide — of a regulation of offspring, which, unlike so-called ‘birth control,’ is compatible with the law of God.” – Pius XII, Morality in Marriage (emphasis mine), from Papal Pronouncements on Marriage and the Family, Werth and Mihanovich, 1955

    Paul, you have a difference experience among young Catholics? Pray tell. What portion of the under 30 crowd that you know is using NFP to get pregnant rather than avoid pregnancy, on end, for years?

    Like Paul, I don’t take polls, by my observation among other young married Catholic couples (though we have now crossed over into our early 30s) is that most couples use NFP to lengthen the natural spacing they would normally experience between children out from 12-18 months to something more like 2 or maybe 3 years. Other than those struggling with infertility (or who did not find a spouse until late in life) I know very few NFP using couples you don’t have significantly more than the average number of children. (And that’s probably fairly natural, since having to abstain from the marital act most of the time — and often the times when the wife is most interested — is a very good incentive to give having more children another thought.)

  • It looks like there’s actually a pretty good article on the USCCB website dealing with the question of “When can we use NFP?”

    http://old.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/seriousq.shtml

  • NFP specifically does not strip sexuality of its proceative nature.

    By definition, excluding the possibility of procreation stripes sexuality of its procreative nature. This is what regular practitioners of birth control do, whether it is artificial or “natural.” Are they both morally evil? No. But the intent is the same. Your food example fails. The method is obviously very different, but the intent is identical.

    I am amused at how NFP enthusiasts cheer one quote from Pius while ignoring another. Have at it. What are those wide limits? It is amazing how the term “wide” for NFP enthusiasts somehow means “literally anything you can come up with.” Are there ANY restraints that you can think of? How about for most NFP users? Have the vast majority of NFP users ever restrained from using NFP due to the reasons Pius gives?

    Darwin, I don’t get the sense that you aren’t a level headed person. Including on this issue. I don’t know how old you are. But the sense I get from the majority of practicing Catholics in my age group (under 30) is that NFP is a perfectly acceptible form of natural birth control. I don’t think older Catholics have a clue to what extent this is the case.

    Paul, nice smarmy response. Have a nice day.

  • Darwin, thanks for the link. I will take a look — I have appreciated Mary Shivanandan’s writings in the past.

  • jvc,
    Frankly, I think you are wrong. If you care read through the article Darwin linked regarding our bishops’ input on this, you might scroll down and see the section on Grave and Serious:
    Paul VI in his encyclical, Humanae vitae (1968), while condemning the use of all contraceptive methods for even grave (gravia) reasons declared licit the recourse to the infertile periods if the spouses have good (just and seria) reasons to postpone even indefinitely another pregnancy.
    I think you are conflating two concepts here: Contraceptives are not permitted for even grave reasons. Also, recourse to infertile periods (periodic abstinence, NFP, etc…) is permitted for just and serious reasons. Just/serious has a different connotation than grave.

  • JVC,

    By definition, excluding the possibility of procreation stripes sexuality of its procreative nature. This is what regular practitioners of birth control do, whether it is artificial or “natural.” Are they both morally evil? No. But the intent is the same. Your food example fails. The method is obviously very different, but the intent is identical.

    The distinction I would make here is that I don’t think it’s the intent that is the actual problem from a moral point of view. (For instance, if a woman is unmarried, I’m sure she wants to avoid getting pregnant. That is good! So long as she achieves this by not having sex.)

    Similarly, I think we’d probably agree that if a couple were to decide to avoid pregnancy for a year by not having sex for that entire year, this would also be morally acceptable, even though their intent would clearly be the same (not get pregnant) as that of a couple using contraception and having sex frequently.

    Using NFP is simply a means of engaging in selective abstinence. The fact that its selective rather than total gives the couple a means to express their unitive love for one another via the marital act — which is a good of marriage — though obviously less frequently and less freely than if they were not selectively abstaining. And since they are not attempting to actually strip the fertility from the act itself, they of course realize that if they’re wrong about this being an infertile time in the cycle, they may very well get pregnant.

    What are those wide limits? It is amazing how the term “wide” for NFP enthusiasts somehow means “literally anything you can come up with.” Are there ANY restraints that you can think of? How about for most NFP users? Have the vast majority of NFP users ever restrained from using NFP due to the reasons Pius gives?

    Well, obviously the Church states that the bearing and raising of children is an end of marriage, to clearly it would be unacceptable for a couple to marry while intending to never have children by using NFP.

    I guess I don’t see that I’m competent to sit down and make our a list of what would or would not be a just and serious reason not to have another child at the moment. I imagine it would vary a lot from person to person. My own experience (my wife and I are both 33, we got married at 22, and we have 5 kids) is that practicing NFP strictly enough to actually avoid pregnancy is sufficiently frustrating that it’s a pretty good way of causing us to reexamine on a very frequent basis whether we are ready to stop using NFP and see when the next child will come.

  • From my perspective, there aren’t enough Catholics using NFP for me to get my boxers in a wad about the motivations of the tiny minority of the faithful who do. Honestly, I don’t get the need to get up in the face of those who practice it (“cultists”–nice) This discussion–which recurs with great regularity on the internet (if almost nowhere else) is a prime example of the circular firing squad in action.

    See also, “Gnats, Straining at.”

    My experience is the same as Darwin’s. Speaking from my own experience, our six-month old is the result of a re-assessment of our reasons for using NFP.

  • I read the piece by Mary. She seems to have a nice summation of the issue without providing a lot of answers. Here, as anywhere, it would be nice if the Church provided more leadership and more answers so we don’t have to argue over language from documents 50 years old.

    Darwin,

    The distinction I would make here is that I don’t think it’s the intent that is the actual problem from a moral point of view.

    You don’t think that there is a moral problem with having the same intent as the people practicing artificial birth control? I must be misreading you. Perhaps what you mean is, the primary moral problem is the method, which I would agree. But I don’t think that, given that the intent is identical, the moral position of those practicing “natural” birth control is oh-so-holier than those practicing artificial birth control.

    Similarly, I think we’d probably agree that if a couple were to decide to avoid pregnancy for a year by not having sex for that entire year, this would also be morally acceptable, even though their intent would clearly be the same (not get pregnant) as that of a couple using contraception and having sex frequently.

    I guess I can’t follow the rest of your analogy because I am not sure it would be morally acceptable for a married couple to avoid having sex for a year. That would seem fairly contrary to the intent of the marriage sacrament.

    And since they are not attempting to actually strip the fertility from the act itself

    I understand what you mean by this, that they are not stripping each occasion of the act of fertility. The problem that I have is that, when done over a sustained period of time without the reflection of serious or just reasons, they are stripping the overall purpose of that act within marriage of its fertile purposes.

    Can you see how this would run the risk of devolving into the same utilitarian errors of the culture on this issue?

    guess I don’t see that I’m competent to sit down and make our a list of what would or would not be a just and serious reason

    I would hope you are competent! You are or have practiced NFP, yes? The Church calls for you to consider whether there are serious/just/grave/whatever reasons to practice NFP. Surely you and your spouse at least discussed the reasons for this before launching into it?

    Most often today, a problem I see with my peers is that they dive into NFP as if it is the norm, precisely because they avoid or are ignorant of the fact that the Church requires cause to practice NFP. I think it is the failure to consider this that causes the practice to devolve into natural birth control and the utilitarian view of sexuality from our culture.

  • Darwin:

    What some are trying to say on this point is that the method is a secondary (though hardly unimportant) consideration in the matter. It’s the individual motivation we are talking about. If one is preventing pregnancy the motivation must be suspect, unless it is a genuine, unmistakably grave reason.

    What are those grave reasons? I’m not enough of a moral theologian to answer that question, but I do know that merely, wanting more money in the bank, a vacation every year, a second car, a 50″ tv set, the finest schools for my children, more free time between the spouses, a bigger and better house, my wife’s desire to work outside the home and many other reasons like that certainly do not qualify as “grave”. And that’s the rub. I will wager that the vast majority of Catholics who use NFP use it for a similar unimportant reason and that is why many call NFP merely “Catholic contraception”, in the same way the horrendous annulment process has become “Catholic divorce”.

    Sadly, most priests and Bishops are useless (worse than useless, really) when discussing NFP because many of them are so gutless and afraid to offend that they allow Catholic couples to practice NFP willy-nilly. This is certainly one of the causes of the extreme problems the Church is now facing, and will be facing as the years go on. The sooner we face up to the fact that NFP has been a disaster for the Church, despite some Papal encouraging words, the better off the whole world will be.

    Young, poor and foolish, my wife and I started using NFP after the birth of our first child. I cannot imagine how many little souls we didn’t bring into the world at that time that could now be a joy in our lives. It was a stupid thing to do.

  • Dale, you might not like my term cultists, but they are out there. I don’t think anyone blogging on this website qualifies, but you don’t have to look very hard to find blog after blog devoted exclusively to this issue, with many promoting it as another Solution To Everything.

  • I guess I don’t see that I’m competent to sit down and make our a list of what would or would not be a just and serious reason not to have another child at the moment. I imagine it would vary a lot from person to person.

    Bingo. The Church does not even provide such a list. This decision is between each couple and God, for every situation is unique.

  • I think DC is right; we can all agree that having sex during an infertile period is morally okay. Look at sterile people; their whole lives are infertile periods. Abstaining from sex during a fertile period seems okay too; every time we do something other than copulate we are abstaining. Doing both knowingly shouldn’t be a problem then.

  • Actually, the Solution to Everything is the Big Green Egg, which really does have a cult.

  • The Church does not even provide such a list? Did you actually read the article that Darwin linked to?

    PS- Darwin, please feel free to correct my HTML error above with the italics…

  • but definitely, NFP is not supposed to be the norm. It’s supposed to be the exception.

  • This decision is between each couple and God, for every situation is unique.

    This is the constant refrain of NFP promoters who dismiss any idea that there must be just/serious/grave/whatever reasons for using NFP. I would like Big Tex to provide a circumstance or a situation where NFP would not be proper.

    Or, rather, should NFP be the norm in Catholic marriages? Would it be ideal if every couple marrying in the Church use NFP? In other words, is NFP the ideal within every marriage? If not, why not?

  • . I will wager that the vast majority of Catholics who use NFP use it for a similar unimportant reason and that is why many call NFP merely “Catholic contraception”, in the same way the horrendous annulment process has become “Catholic divorce”.

    At the risk of being accused of being smarmy again, the plural of anecdote is not data. While I’m sure that there are people out there who do engage in the behavior you decry, but why are you so certain that this pertains to a majority of people practicing NFP? I keep hearing these rather generalized statements being thrown out there by you and jvc, but neither of you is backing these assertions with proof.

    Again, consider the population of people who use NFP. This is a subset within a subset of Catholics. As Dale said, the percentage of Catholics even using NFP is small (although the percentage among practicing Catholics would be much higher). Are these the type of people obsessed with acquiring 50 inch televisions? Perhaps your experience is different than mine, but where I am I do not see this type of behavior. Then again, maybe my experience is outside the norm.

  • Paul, it’s the majority of people I know who talk about it. You have your experience, I and others have ours.

  • Paul, it’s the majority of people I know who talk about it.

    Could you please clarify? Do you mean the majority of people you talk to about NFP, or the people you talk to and employ NFP?

  • And by the way, just so I am clear, I’m not suggesting that most people who have used NFP haven’t used it at some point to space pregnancies. I just doubt that a majority have done it for frivolous reasons.

  • The majority of people I know who a) talk about it and use it or b)talk about it with the intent of using it when they get married. In other words, the majority of people who talk about it and have an opinion about it. Hope this clarifies.

    Yes, I fully concede that this group of people may not be representative of the larger population. Nor necessarily would your social circle. It is my experience, though.

  • The Church does not even provide such a list?

    Meant to say exhaustive list. And no, the Church provides no list that details the situations in which it is and is not licit to have recourse to periodic abstinence to space children. Good luck trying to find one.

    This is the constant refrain of NFP promoters who dismiss any idea that there must be just/serious/grave/whatever reasons for using NFP. I would like Big Tex to provide a circumstance or a situation where NFP would not be proper.

    Or, rather, should NFP be the norm in Catholic marriages? Would it be ideal if every couple marrying in the Church use NFP? In other words, is NFP the ideal within every marriage? If not, why not?

    From whence did you ever get such an idea that I would dismiss the notion that there must be just/serious/grave/whatever reasons for using NFP? To your request, NFP would be inappropriate in saving up for a Porche or 747 or because mommy doesn’t look good in maternity clothes. On the flip side, NFP would appropriate in other situations. For one, a doctor may indicate to a woman that pregnancy is ill-advised based on her health. Or, an up-coming trip to visit relatives 2000 miles from home. Each family’s situation here is unique.

    I do think NFP should be the ideal within marriage. It works rather well to space the little monkeys out, as well as when the doctor says no babies for a little while. Additionally, it’s a fantastic tool to aid in co-creating another one of those little monkeys we all find so precious (dirty diapers aside). The discussions that occur with each new cycle really develop the ability for a couple to pray together as well as communicate openly, honestly, and intimately. And as phase two approaches, and the attraction between spouses intensifies (as Darwin mentioned), said attraction really helps one cut through the B.S. on a couple’s reasons for postponing a pregnancy (i.e. Is this really a just/serious/grave/whatever reason?).

    So, jvc, I think you have taken the pendulum and gone far, too far to the right on this issue. For one, I think you are too easily dismissive of the intensified phase two attraction between spouses and how it can influence a couple.

    I also think you are doing yourself a disservice in equating grave reasons and serious/just reasons. Grave reasons insinuates finances/health issues. Just/serious reasons, which is the language used by our bishops, are broader and generally address (as does HV) situations such as the time in which we live.

    Lastly, I think you (and Ike) have an incomplete understanding of NFP and the Church’s teaching here. It sounds as if you believe we are supposed to be providentialists (think Duggars) when it comes to our family sizes and situations. Rather, NFP when taught with the mind and heart of the Church emphasizes prayerful discernment. The language used in the CCL course is specific: postpone/achieve pregnancy, as opposed to (what seems to be your main thrust in this discussion) prevent pregnancy.

  • I do think NFP should be the ideal within marriage.

    Source?

  • Maybe the blog should stick to less controversial subjects like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? 🙂 I see 150 comments at least on this thread by midnight! Now I will scamper away from this particular minefield!

  • I got nothing.

    At my age, it is not an issue.

    It was once between my conscience, Father Confessor, and me. And, none of us spoke of it outside of our unique, little group: the Confessional.

    I attended pre-Cana so long ago they still had the wine.

  • I do think NFP should be the ideal within marriage.

    Source?

    Do you understand what “I do think” means? Now, do you have a source that says it should not? Moreover, you and I have a different understanding what NFP is apparently:

    jvc: NFP = way to not get pregnant
    Big Tex: NFP = way to postpone kids if need be, AND way to aid/pinpoint conception

  • Don,

    Maybe the blog should stick to less controversial subjects like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    No kidding…

    JVC,

    In not particular order:

    I do think NFP should be the ideal within marriage.

    Source?

    It seems to me that Paul VI’s section on “Responsible Parenthood” in Humanae Vitae does basically endorse the idea that couples should understand the fertility implications of the wife’s cycle and make prudent decisions about when to conceive accordingly (i.e. use NFP).

    With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (9)

    With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.

    With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

    Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

    You don’t think that there is a moral problem with having the same intent as the people practicing artificial birth control? I must be misreading you. Perhaps what you mean is, the primary moral problem is the method, which I would agree. But I don’t think that, given that the intent is identical, the moral position of those practicing “natural” birth control is oh-so-holier than those practicing artificial birth control.

    I don’t think that the intent of “not get pregnant” is in and of itself morally good or bad. A nun does not intend to get pregnant. That’s fine, because her action is being celibate.

    The thing that a contracepting couple does which is sinful is “have sex while removing the procreative element of the sexual act”. This is wrong. The thing which a couple using NFP to avoid pregnancy for a time does is “not have sex during fertile time”. This is not wrong (so long as they are mutually agreed upon it.)

    I guess I can’t follow the rest of your analogy because I am not sure it would be morally acceptable for a married couple to avoid having sex for a year. That would seem fairly contrary to the intent of the marriage sacrament.

    I’m not sure how one could get to the idea that spouses not having sex for a period of time would be immoral. I’d have to go look up citations, but there are several instances of saints (other than Mary and Joseph, who were clearly a special case) who mutually made vows of celibacy with their spouses from a certain point on in their marriage.

    The problem that I have is that, when done over a sustained period of time without the reflection of serious or just reasons, they are stripping the overall purpose of that act within marriage of its fertile purposes.

    I don’t think you’re correct on why the Church would see a couple that avoided pregnancy for a long time without just and serious reasons would be behaving wrongly. It’s not that it would be removing the sexual act of its meaning, but rather that it would be a failure of generosity and openness.

    I would hope you are competent! You are or have practiced NFP, yes? The Church calls for you to consider whether there are serious/just/grave/whatever reasons to practice NFP. Surely you and your spouse at least discussed the reasons for this before launching into it?

    There are a lot of situations in which I think it is next to impossible to lay out specific and universally applicable rules on questions like “when is it okay to delay pregnancy” or “what is modest dress” or “what sort of art will elicit lustful thoughts”. I think I am pretty capable (with God’s help — and also with the help of very much enjoying sex and not wanting to give it up half the month) of figuring out whether my wife and I have, in a given set of circumstances, serious reasons to put off having another child. I don’t think that I’m capable of saying, “In all circumstances, X is not a good reason to postpone pregnancy” unless I pick something downright silly like “because the wife wants to pursue a hobby of skydiving” or “because they want to go on a cruise every year” or “because the husband wants his wife to stay thin all the time”.

    Similarly, I feel quite comfortable telling my daughters “you may not wear that outfit” even while I am not comfortable laying down some universal law of what is and what is not modest for all people in all places and times.

    Dan,

    Young, poor and foolish, my wife and I started using NFP after the birth of our first child. I cannot imagine how many little souls we didn’t bring into the world at that time that could now be a joy in our lives. It was a stupid thing to do.

    While I can certainly see why one would regret not having been more open to fertility at a certain point in one’s life, I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s not accurate to think of there being specific little souls who get denied a chance at life because we don’t happen to have sex on the given night on which they would have been conceived. Souls are created by God at the moment that a human being actually comes into existence (at conception) and so while we might be guilty of a lack of generosity or openness at a certain point in our lives in regard to bringing new lives into the world, it’s not as if we have some sort of chute or quota waiting for us that we do or do not fulfill.

    Similarly, if a couple finds that they are afflicted with infertility, it is not as if God is denying them the little souls they so desperately want. As bodies, we just are what we are. Sometimes we conceive, sometimes we don’t.

    I will wager that the vast majority of Catholics who use NFP use it for a similar unimportant reason and that is why many call NFP merely “Catholic contraception”, in the same way the horrendous annulment process has become “Catholic divorce”.

    This appears to be a fairly wide chasm of experience. In my experience, Catholic couples using NFP are mostly just using NFP to have children every 24 to 36 months rather than every 14 to 20 months. They also have far more than the average number of kids. (Some NFP instructors we knew had 10.)

    Now, some people might see the desire to have children “only” ever 2-3 years instead of one ever year to be a failure to be open to God’s will. Maybe for a few people it would be. I think for the vast majority of families, however, that is simply a matter of prudence. Especially as one gets older and the number of kids mount, it helps for the wife to be not-pregnant for a year or two at a time. And that’s not even taking into account the people who have serious medical or financial reasons not to have more children at the moment.

  • Darwin,

    How do you make the connection between that quote from HV and the idea that NFP should be the norm? Of course couples should be familiar with the concept of fertility. How do you go from there to the idea that the Church mandates that couples practice something that regularly prevents pregnancy? Are couples that leave their family size up to God bad Catholics? Is it preferential for parents to determine the exact number of their children?

    NFP enthusiasts seem to be of the assumption that human marriage was somehow deficient before the advent of NFP. Something tells me that families got along just well before either artificial or natural birth control came along. When did we become so distrustful of the natural processes that God created?

    The thing that a contracepting couple does which is sinful is “have sex while removing the procreative element of the sexual act”.

    And they do this if they choose to practice NFP for the purpose of not getting pregnant when they have no serious or just reason to not become pregnant. Can you see that this is a possibility?

    I don’t think you’re correct on why the Church would see a couple that avoided pregnancy for a long time without just and serious reasons would be behaving wrongly. It’s not that it would be removing the sexual act of its meaning, but rather that it would be a failure of generosity and openness.

    So the Church would not have a problem with a couple engaging in sexual intercourse for utilitarian purposes, with the cover of NFP to eliminate the possibility of pregnancy?

    Do you think that it *could* remove the sexual act of its meaning, to use NFP just because a couple has no interest in having children?

  • I guess I can’t follow the rest of your analogy because I am not sure it would be morally acceptable for a married couple to avoid having sex for a year.

    Young people bug me.

  • Art, I could be wrong. I know there are plenty of saints who stopped having sex. But I thought there had to be some kind of reason, like you had to be beyond your childbearing years and you had to have the intent of permanently not having sex. Dunno.

  • But I thought there had to be some kind of reason

    Fifty years and fifty extra pounds. That’s two reasons.

  • Art,

    Young people bug me.

    The kids are looking at me funny and demanding to know why I’m laughing so loudly.

  • The kids are looking at me funny and demanding to know why I’m laughing so loudly.

    So it isn’t the scotch talking?

  • This is just my very humble opinion, but I personally believe that any couple with the commitment and motivation to practice NFP at all, for any reason, is already way ahead of the game as far as being open to life and conquering selfishness.

    To complain that a couple who is faithfully practicing NFP is not doing so for serious enough reasons is, to me, like complaining about someone finishing 10th in the Boston Marathon or “only” coming home with a bronze medal in the Olympics. Yes, perhaps they didn’t perform perfectly, but the mere fact they were in the competition AT ALL is a huge accomplishment!

    If a couple were really concerned only about making lots of money, having a nice home, preserving mom’s figure, etc. chances are they are not even interested in NFP in the first place. If they are really as selfish as the “typical” contracepting couple, they won’t even bother with NFP, or they will give it up and revert to contraception after a short trial period.

    There may be other cases in which ONE spouse is interested or willing to try NFP but the other won’t hear of it, or agrees only grudgingly to try it and eventually pressures the other spouse to give it up. In those cases, it may not matter how unselfish and open to life the faithful spouse is, if the wife or husband won’t go along, there isn’t a whole lot they can do about it other than threaten permanent abstinence, separation or divorce — none of which will facilitate being open to life!

  • Wow, a lot of riled up people her today. Some excellent thoughts. Here’s mine: (1.) When the first protestor to NFP called it “Catholic B.C.” and were not refuted loudly and strongly from the pulpit by our teachers – bishops and priests – that arguement belonged to the protestors and they only got louder as the years rolled by. In college debate I learned those many, many years ago – frame the debate, define the terms, win the debate. We did that and one season went 147-0. (2.) Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing.” For the first 4 years of our marriage we used NFP, then accepted the Lord’s gift of three beautiful baby girls born within 20 months of each other. Then, sadly, we gave into the “power of the pill” and had no other children. A couple years ago, at a couples retreat, we admitted to each other that that decision has afflicted out marriage for at least the last 20 years. Alas, we cannot recover those lost years and lost children. The Lord has forgiven us and renewed our love and marriage in Himself. So, my advice to anyone contemplating using NFP bring it to the Lord in prayer and as someone above said recognize that it is the Catholic lifestyle. And also remember it is called, after all, narural family planning not natural family avoidance. IMy wife and I wish we had had the fortitude to live as real faithful Catholics back then. If only we had bothered to really read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “On Human Life.”

  • “how many Catholics do you know using NFP to get pregnant rather than specifically avoid pregnancy?”

    Again, we did as well–twice–both when we were under 30.

    Also, don’t discount what NFP does to your heart–starting out using it to avoid pregnancy might be opening the door to God for Him to work on your heart and your attitude about children and family size. I know I had “plans” for a much smaller family before I accepted the Church’s teaching on contraception but I’ve become open to having more children. I probably would not have even entertained the idea of having a larger family if I had used contraception, but I would not have even started using NFP if my instructor had not emphasized its efficacy for avoiding postponing pregnancy bc I wouldn’t have “trusted” it enough to get us through the end of school.

  • JVC,

    How do you make the connection between that quote from HV and the idea that NFP should be the norm? Of course couples should be familiar with the concept of fertility. How do you go from there to the idea that the Church mandates that couples practice something that regularly prevents pregnancy?

    Well, it seems to me that “responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions.” suggests that understanding how to tell when the wife is and is not fertile is okay (thus, understanding the workings of NFP.)

    When he says “With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time,” it seems to me that he’s saying that “responsible parenthood” can mean either using that knowledge to have more children (should that be the prudent course) or to avoid having children for a time or indefinitely (should that be the prudent course.)

    Are couples that leave their family size up to God bad Catholics?

    No.

    Is it preferential for parents to determine the exact number of their children?

    I don’t think it’s necessarily preferable (nor necessarily bad) but more to the point it’s usually not possible. I don’t think I know any couples who have never conceived “by accident” while using NFP. (In that sense, I suppose it is a bit like birth control. A lot of my secular friends at work had at least one “accidental” child while using contraception.)

    NFP enthusiasts seem to be of the assumption that human marriage was somehow deficient before the advent of NFP. Something tells me that families got along just well before either artificial or natural birth control came along. When did we become so distrustful of the natural processes that God created?

    I think there were simply different pressures on couples at that point. Just because there wasn’t NFP and artificial birth control doesn’t mean that fertility didn’t cause strife between couples.

    So the Church would not have a problem with a couple engaging in sexual intercourse for utilitarian purposes, with the cover of NFP to eliminate the possibility of pregnancy?

    Do you think that it *could* remove the sexual act of its meaning, to use NFP just because a couple has no interest in having children?

    I’m not clear what you mean by “engaging in sexual intercourse for utilitarian purposes” — or at least, all the ideas I’m coming up with at the moment sound more like dirty jokes than serious possibilities.

    Let me see if I can sum up:

    – I do not think that periodic abstinence can ever remove the reproductive meaning from the marital act.
    – I do think that a couple might in some circumstances be guilty of a degree of selfishness in using periodic abstinence to avoid pregnancy without good reasons — and given that selfishness is sinful, I do thus think that it is possible to use NFP sinfully.
    – I think that for the majority if couples, using NFP will in and of itself prove a very good safety mechanism to prevent them from behaving selfishly, because at the age you’re most likely have cause to actively avoid pregnancy, abstaining during the fertile parts of the cycle is seriously un-fun.

    (And now I see that Elaine has summed it all up more concisely and better than me anyway, so I’ll just post.)

  • Very few individuals have sex using contraceptives because they are loving, cherishing and appreciating the other, or being delighted in each other and each other’s company, or being in love with the other person to whom they are promised. It is an abuse of another person to whom they may be married to work off uncontrolled sexual urges, frustration or need for exercise which is what most sexual activity is about with contraception. “Saint Teresa (Martin), the Little Flower’s parents Louis and Zélie met in 1858, and married on July 13, 1858. Both of great piety they were part of the petit-bourgeoisie, comfortable Alençon. At first they decided to live as brother and sister in a perpetual continence, but when a confessor discouraged them in this, they changed their lifestyle and had 9 children. (from Wikipedia)They intended to devote themselves to prayer and did so for one year. Devoting oneself to prayer is the intent of and reason of Natural Family Planning. To grow spiritually and come to realize in one another, each person as a gift from God, who may become another child or remain in a secret place in our hearts. My girlfriend told me she used to lie in bed and listen to her mother and father giggling affectionately most of the night, two friends who happened to be married. The expression of God’s love for mankind expressed in the conjugal act is a gift that remains ever present, ever fulfilling, never needs reworking unless one chooses to bring another person into creation through procreation. The two concepts of prayer and procreation that are the substance of NFP, whereas the use of contraception is an insult to God, to the other person and to oneself.

  • “families got along just well before either artificial or natural birth control came along. When did we become so distrustful of the natural processes that God created?”

    Well, people were able to prepare nutritious meals before vitamins, carbohydrates, calories and proteins were discovered. Does that mean that someone who reads the nutritional information on their food labels and counts the calories and carbs in their food because they want to lose weight, control diabetes, achieve maximum fitness ahead of a marathon, etc. is being “distrustful of the natural processes that God created”? Or does it simply mean they are exercising their KNOWLEDGE of those natural processes in a way that is best for their health?

    There are secular promoters of NFP, or as they prefer to call it, “fertility awareness” who practice it not for religious or moral reasons but simply because it allows women to work with their nature rather than against it — not only for purposes of avoiding or achieving pregnancy, but also as a means of knowing what their “normal” cycles are like and knowing when something is “off” or wrong. God created women to be fertile in cycles and NOT all the time, so how can it be wrong to know about it, and exercise that knowledge prudently? I think this knowledge would be valuable for no other reason than knowing exactly when you could expect “Aunt Flo” to arrive every month… but I digress.

    I’d like to run with the food analogy a little farther because I think it might help us understand how NFP differs from artificial contraception. To me, NFP can be compared to losing or managing one’s weight by proper diet and exercise. You still eat real food with real nutrients, and digest it normally, so you are still fulfilling the natural purpose of eating; but you are doing so in moderation. (Total abstinence would be like going on a permanent fast, with the difference that while YOU won’t die of starvation if you “fast” from sex permanently, your marriage might!) Contraception, on the other hand, is like resorting to bulimia or diet pills to lose weight. You are attempting to go on enjoying food as much as you want and whenever you want, but in a way that actively interferes with the digestive process and ultimately will be very bad for your health. See the difference?

  • Well, I’m a total noob about NFP, and we used the little I know to get pregnant…. Family friend asked for help, I made some simple suggestions to her; their firstborn is adorable and nearly two.
    So non-observant non-Catholics use it to get pregnant, too!

  • I hate these NFP arguments because it usually goes nowhere. Anyway, as I intend to write a book or article series on this issue someday, I guess this is the price I will have to pay …

    No one answered the thrust of jvc’s original objection.
    Basically, these NFP promoters are appealing to women who desire to practice contraception in an attempt to get them off ABC. Despite the fact that their goal is an openness to life, it is marketed in such a way as to convince these women that NFP is a better approach while running the risk that the women they are appealing to will be convinced to go natural, but simply as an alternate means to ABC. So they still do not have the openness to children that really is at the heart of what is wrong with contraception. Almost all the popes and saints who spoke of contraception said it was wrong because it is unnatural, but said that the consequence of that unnatural act was wrong too – it limits the number of children without “just” reason(s).

    It isn’t either/or. It’s both/and. It is not enough simply to practice NFP. You have to do it for “just” reasons, which Dr. Taylor Marshall demonstrates by quoting past Magisterial teaching – most Catholics only reference Humanae Vitae and interpret discontinuously from the broader Tradition (i.e. see Bob’s comment). He also says, drawing on that same Tradition, that the “just reasons” are not as many as we would like to believe (because most couples unwittingly use NFP selfishly too – something Dr. Marshall stated as well), and that there are some objective standards – it isn’t all left to the couple.
    cantuar.blogspot.com/2012/02/you-can-only-use-nfp-for-grave.html

    Btw, if it is true that the “just reasons” are very few, then that would make them also “grave reasons” – which would take the substance out of the semantic argument that NFP promoters often use.

  • @ Big Tex and Paul Zunno
    1. Most people use NFP more to avoid (or “space” or “delay”, if you prefer) pregnancy than to achieve pregnancy. No statistics necessary – just have to talk to enough people, read enough articles, and use common sense.
    2. Most of the NFP couples do have a lot of children – at least relatively speaking, but those families are still half the size of families 50-75 years ago, and half the size of some couples I know who I am guessing have used NFP seldom or at all. In other words, sure, most NFP couples are “open to life” – at least in the sense of not practicing ABC, but that does not mean they are not using NFP for “unjust” or mainly selfish reasons.

    @ Big Tex
    “The Church does not even provide such a list. This decision is between each couple and God, for every situation is unique.”

    An unfortunate necessity because, yes, every situation is different.
    The downside to this is it’s a lot easier to practice NFP without “just reasons”. And many do.

    @ Big Tex
    jvc: “I do think [not using] NFP should be the ideal within marriage”
    Big Tex: “Source?”
    Dr. Taylor Marshall, citing the Magisterium, with ensuing comments:
    cantuar.blogspot.com/2012/02/you-can-only-use-nfp-for-grave.html

    @Darwin Catholic:
    You say: “Not having sex is not an inherently sinful act (or sin of omission)”.
    Yes and no.
    Perpetual continence has always been highly praised.
    However, sexual union with the intention of avoiding children has always been condemned.
    The Church, being the common sense mother She is, says if you have “just reasons” for doing so, it’s okay, but if not, it is a sin – not of “omission” (abstaining during fertile periods) but of “commission” (consummating during infertile periods).

  • The four statements that pretty much hit the nail on the head on this issue:

    1. Dan: “I will wager that the vast majority of Catholics who use NFP use it for a similar unimportant reason [I would qualify this by prefacing it with “sometimes”] and that is why many call NFP merely ‘Catholic contraception’, in the same way the horrendous annulment process has become ‘Catholic divorce’”.

    2. “Sadly, most priests and Bishops are useless (worse than useless, really) when discussing NFP because many of them are so gutless and afraid to offend that they allow Catholic couples to practice NFP willy-nilly”. [Or because they don’t really understand the Church’s teaching themselves – or dissent from it]

    However:

    3. Darwin: “Practicing NFP strictly enough to actually avoid pregnancy is sufficiently frustrating that it’s a pretty good way of causing us to reexamine on a very frequent basis whether we are ready to stop using NFP and see when the next child will come”. [However, I would say that the more we talk about the spiritual benefits to NFP – and NFP promoters do that in spades – the more likely these will override the desire for sexual union]

    4. Dale Price: “There aren’t enough Catholics using NFP for me to get my boxers in a wad about the motivations of the tiny minority of the faithful who do”.

    Out of all these points, I think the one that is most pertinent is Comment #4.

  • Wade St. Onge,

    I’ve run into the Dr. Marshall piece before, but it strikes me as a flawed piece of guidance for the following reason. He (rightly) quotes Pius XII in his address to midwives in which the pontiff says:

    Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles. [emphasis added]

    But what Dr. Marshall proceeds to do is to take the list of indications “medical, eugenic, economic and social” and define them so as to make them things that arise only very rarely.

    So, for example, on medical reasons, Dr. Marshall says:

    The women’s life is in jeopardy or a circumstance would endanger the newly conceived child’s life (eg, the mother is going through chemotherapy or other treatment that would damage or kill a newly conceived baby). In regard to serious medical reasons, Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae n. 16, also spoke of “reasonable grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife.” So then, psychological problems could also be considered serious. If mommy is clinically schizophrenic, or clinically depressed, then I imagine a spiritual director is going to give the green light on NFP.

    The thing is, Pius XII and Paul VI don’t say things like “only if the mother or baby will actually die” or “only if the mother has severe, clinical psychological issues”. The popes say something fairly broad (Pius XII even specifies that the circumstances he’s speaking of are not rare) and Dr. Marshall seems to be at pains primarily to narrow things down a great deal. I don’t necessarily see him as performing a helpful service in implicitly telling people who may be suffering from scrupulosity, “Look, it may be that your wife is having a really hard time dealing with the two kids currently under two (not to mention the other four) and that her body is taking longer to recover from the last pregnancy than it did back in her 20s, but by golly if you don’t think she’d die if she got pregnant you just don’t have just cause to wait an extra year to get pregnant!” Dr. Marshall’s discussion of the other criteria starts to border on the silly. (For instance, when he specifies that “social” reasons would mean “Viking Invasions. Concentration Camps. Black Plague. Hiroshima.” but then backs down and suggests that “perhaps” if a couple were living under the brutally enforced one-child policy of China it might be okay for them to use NFP to avoid pregnancy.)

    If people actively feel called to be providentialist in their approach to fertility, more power to them. I just think it’s a really bad idea to “bind up heavy burdens for others to carry” when the Church doesn’t actually tell us that we have to.

  • What the hell is a “providentialist”? Is that the new NFP cult word for people who let God determine how large their family size should be rather than programmatically deciding for themselves the same way the ABC people do?

  • Oh, I see. Protestants. Nice slur. Yeah, the people not practicing artificial or natural birth control are Protestants. Right.

  • I just think it’s a really bad idea to “bind up heavy burdens for others to carry” when the Church doesn’t actually tell us that we have to.

    You mean like the NFP cultists who insist that a Catholic marriage is incomplete unless the couple is practicing NFP?

  • Oh, I see. Protestants. Nice slur.

    Aside from the fact that it’s not a slur nor the intention of the use of the word, would you have preferred Darwin use a term like, say, cultist?

  • Paul, do you actually deny that there is a cult following among many NFP-ers?

  • If by “cult” you mean “tiny number of adherents, routinely subjected to suspicion and ridicule,” then yep.

  • jvc, a providentialist is one who uses no means of fertility regulation whatsoever. There are Catholics and Protestants who take this avenue. The Duggar (you know, the one from the TV show) family is one such extreme example.

  • Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.

    That’s a pretty important catch from the allocution–“such as those which not rarely arise.”

    Unless, of course, I was being a frivolous cultist for wanting to delay bringing a sixth child into a two bedroom, 880 square foot house with no basement, garage or even driveway.

    As they say, mileage varies.

  • And Darwin beat me to the punch on Dr. Marshall’s commentary. Good show, old boy!

  • “Psychological reasons” – sounds like the same clause upon which most of the annulments are granted today (apart from lack of form).
    Dr. Marshall gives examples because most NFP bloggers shoehorn every conceivable reason in to these four in order to use NFP – just as canon lawyers shoehorn every possible human defect into the “psychological disorders” clause in order to get an annulment. I don’t think his examples are too far off from the thinking of Pius XII – considering the examples orthodox moral theologians of the time gave.
    ….
    Perhaps Dr. Marshall is too strict – but then again, NFP bloggers are too lax – but they (you?) don’t acknowledge that as a possibility.
    ….
    If you’re scrupulous, it’s best to err on the side of the NFP bloggers. If you’re too lax, it’s better to err on the side of “providentialism”. That’s a good rule of thumb – coming from a scrupulant whose seminary run ended because of it.
    ….
    “I just think it’s a really bad idea to ‘bind up heavy burdens for others to carry’ when the Church doesn’t actually tell us that we have to”.
    So should I feel content to go to confession and Holy Communion only once a year during the Easter season?
    And should my priests quit urging me and my fellow parishioners to go to confession every two to four weeks?

  • Whoa there…

    Most providentialists I have known have been Protestants, but I have also known Catholic ones.

    I had certainly not been aware that the term was pejorative (other than to people who think having lots of children is in and of itself bad — and those people already think I’m bad). It’s not my intention to use it as such. I just needed a term to specifically designate people who make an active decision to simply have as many children as God gives them. Another term I’ve heard is “quiver full”, but to my knowledge that’s more an approach of actively trying to have the maximum number of children rather than doing nothing to space them out further and just waiting to see what God provides.

    You mean like the NFP cultists who insist that a Catholic marriage is incomplete unless the couple is practicing NFP?

    I’ve never heard anyone claim that — though I have heard people at least claim (reasonably I think) that Catholic couples getting married should at least know the rudiments of how NFP works so that they’ll be able to turn to it in more depth should they ever need it later. And yes, there are some (perhaps slightly odd) people who more or less make talking about NFP online a hobby. I think that’s a bit odd, but then I spend time online arguing about politics and talking about brewing beer and shooting antique military rifles, so what do I know?

    At the risk of being seen as playing the age trump card: I think you said you were in your mid 20s, which means I’m roughly ten years older and have been married a good bit longer. (At least, I’ve been assuming you’re married.) If I can speak from that vantage point for a minute: Because it’s so counter-cultural to be a young married Catholic these days (whether using NFP or just trusting in God in relation to family size) there’s a tendency of people to get very, very absolutist about their marriage choices. NFP, theology of the body, providentialism, whatever it is that they’re into becomes The Most Import Key To A Good Marriage. While the enthusiasm is well motivated and good, it often gets worn down quite a bit by the realities of 10-15 years of married life. Not that marriage isn’t good: it’s a constant source of joy to me. But there is something to the old saw of “I used to have five theories and no children. Now I have five children and no theories.”

    In the process, a lot of people who can be annoying because they were talking about NFP all the freakin’ time realize that there’s more to life than charts and mucus (and that NFP is not as fun to use as they thought.) And other people who really felt like NFP was all a bunch of trying to ignore God’s will realize that when you have three kids under four and are out of seats in your car and have a mountain of consumer debt from a couple of family emergencies over the last year or two — you’re too tired to have sex most nights anyway. And that abstaining off and on in order to actually have two or more years between the next few children is not that big a deal.

    It’s from that perspective that I think it’s important to stick to the bottom line: The Church says that you may NEVER using contraception, but that spacing pregnancies using periodic abstinence is not a problem so long as you have a good reason.

  • One last thought: It seems to me (and I think this follows pretty naturally from Pius XII’s quoted statement) that the degree of seriousness one needs as a just reason is pretty directly proportional to the length of time one is seeking to delay pregnancy.

    Thus, for instance, “We have to make a major family trip in three months and I don’t want to be in the middle of morning sickness while we’re traveling” might be a perfectly good reason to abstain during the fertile parts of the cycle for a couple months, but “We like to go on a trip every year and that’s hard with a baby” is a bad reason to simply never get pregnant again.

    If I seem like I’m being fairly lax here, one of the contexts I’m working in that all the NFP users I know really just use it to get a 2-3 year spacing between children — a spacing which is totally natural for some couples, but those who are very, very fertile would otherwise find ourselves having children less than a year and a half apart. As the number of children mounts, that kind of spacing can become very hard, not only on one’s ability to raise one’s existing children well, but also on the wife’s body.

    If I thought most NFP users were using it to put off pregnancy indefinitely, I might be more interested in looking at when it’s acceptable to use. But the only people I know who are doing that are people who do have medical problems such that any pregnancy would end up being a major danger to both child and mother.

  • Wade St. Onge [However, I would say that the more we talk about the spiritual benefits to NFP – and NFP promoters do that in spades – the more likely these will override the desire for sexual union] Notice that a spiritual director instructed Louis and Zelie Martin to abandon their perpetual continence and bring forth children. A relief because there is one more capable and willing to assume responsibility for the decision in procreation.

  • Mary: “Notice that a spiritual director instructed Louis and Zelie Martin to abandon their perpetual continence and bring forth children. A relief because there is one more capable and willing to assume responsibility for the decision in procreation”.

    A relief – and yet a burden. They desired religious life but were not accepted, so sexual intercourse was a bitter-sweet thing – a good that brought forth children, but also a reminder of the greater good they were missing out on.

  • Mary: ““Notice that a spiritual director instructed Louis and Zelie Martin to abandon their perpetual continence and bring forth children. A relief because there is one more capable and willing to assume responsibility for the decision in procreation”.

    So then you would disagree with Dr. Taylor Marshall that decisions about whether or not to practice NFP should be done with a trusted spiritual director – and should not be practiced without his agreement?

  • Pingback: NFP: Not Just Natural Birth Control | St Anne Center for Reproductive Health
  • I used NFP to get pregnant with my second child. It took us 3 months to get pregnant with our first and 1 weekend to get pregnant with our second. My best friend tried unsuccessfully for 10 months to get pregnant and once I taught her how to chart, she took her charts into her doc who could tell her why it was taking a while to get pregnant (late ovulation in her cycle due to coming off of Norplant 10 months prior). She had scheduled a doc appointment to help with her fertilization and got pregnant the week before, thanks to using NFP and understanding her body.

  • Hey everyone. This is my first post here. I wanted to say DarwinCatholic and Elaine’s first post I agree with. My situation is a little different. So before I go on with my 2 cents I’ll tel lyou what it is. I’m single, 23 , in college, I read about NFP from many places so I know what I am getting myself into when I get married. I’m preparing for it now so when the “hardness” of it hit’s the pill may be less bittersweet. I trust in God and I’m doing what I can to be a good example of a young Catholic. When I get married I will probably still be in debt, live with my folks and just getting started out on a job if there are any left. My wife will be paying off her debts and be starting to work. I will also have a $500 truck payment.

    Are there people in worst cases than me I’m sure it is, but am I going to use NFP? YES! First any method is not 100% effective, I leave the other 2 percent up to God so he wants that 2% to kick in than so be it. BUT ABC is different it’s telling God to take a hike I don’t want any chance of being open to life. SO JVC that is the difference. It’s not about wanting to have a 60″ tv, a beach house, or a Porsche I don’t want any of those things. I want to be able to give a life, a life from God a good life, and in order to be established as such I would need and we would need as a married couple to postpone pregnancy. The cost of ABC and what it has down to society is way more important and worse than bickering about just/grave/ this that upside down and sideways.

    I know it’s going to be hard, Katie at NFPandME has said so. But I am not shutting out the potential for a life.

    Honestly JVC I think when people read your post who want to know more about NFP. They see that if they don’t have those grave reasons then say “well so I shouldn’t use NFP, than what are the options”? ABC is the option they’ll see and go for. I don’t like the bickering, and I’m not saying this in anger, and I’m not saying this like I’m an expert on the matter. Nor am I a Saint, I’m a hopeless sinner who found hope in Christ, and I want people to see the joy had in NFP. I know so many couples who don’t talk with each other or who when board have sex. We put a grand canyon between sex and procreation. NFP closes the gap. I think about it almost daily and make sure that I’m not doing it for me, I’d be doing it for my future wife. I’m the last of my family so Jesus knows that kids are on the docket for me, ideally 3-4 would be nice. So clearly postponing YES, plus if she wold decide hey Nate I can work part time and so I’d like to be a mom, then I’m all open to have kids, will it happen like that it could it could not, that’s why I’m not just thinking of me or something vain. Just wanted to give my two cents, not trying to start a fight. God Bless you all.

  • Wade St. Onge:
    The word I ought to have used is “counseled” instead of “Instructed”. “Instructed” carries the weight of obedience without consent, or cooperation. Persons willing to use NFP are usually more self-directed. God is missing from much of what is written. Thomas More wanted to be a priest, but was sent home, too. It is God’s will pointing the way. Accepting God’s will in all things, not only NFP, makes life joyful. Marriage, children are all gifts from God to help us to mature into the human beings we are supposed to be. The greatest good is doing God’s will in whatever He tells us. “Do whatever He tells you.” Our Lady.

  • Wade St. Onge:
    You are dealing with a person who believes that sexual surrender to a spouse is valid for the other only when there is a possiblity of another person being conceived and it is no more different putting off intercourse than waiting for heaven.

  • Your analogy does not work.
    Waiting for heaven is not a choice. Abstaining from intercourse is.
    Furthermore, it is not the abstaining that is a problem – it is the sexual intercourse deliberately only during infertile periods without just reason that’s a problem.

  • Wade St. Onge: Haven’t you answered your own question? “it is the sexual intercourse deliberately only during infertile periods without just reason that’s a problem.” 1) natural intercourse is ALWAYS open to children. St. Elizabeth, St. Ann, St. Camillis de Lellis whose mother was 68 years old when he was conceived. This is a fact, as doctor said once about popping an egg, or two after menopause. To those who expect to practice NFP, let it be known that the possibility of procreation is ever present. Although there may be less likelyhood, then when it is probable. Increased intercourse brings forth more likelihood. Not trusting in Divine Providence completely imposes the fear and anxiety. But what you are saying is that there are times when a couple is forbidden to have intercourse and that is not right, that the couple is not free to have intercourse during low fertility because the couple did not have intercourse during high fertility. A married couple is always free to have intercourse. A man’s conscience tells him when he has avoided doing God’s will.

  • Mary, you are contradicting Church teaching.
    If a couple practices NFP without just reason, it is a sin. That’s what the Church says, not just what Wade St. Onge says.

  • Actually Wade, I think Mary is closer to Church teaching on this one that you are.

    You appear to be claiming that if a couple didn’t have a just reason for abstaining from intercourse during the less fertile parts of the cycle, then it is immoral for them to have intercourse during the more fertile parts. As Mary points out, this is not true. It is not, immoral for a married couple to engage in the marital act, whether it is at a time likely for them to conceive or not.

    It is true that a couple may be guilty of selfishness and failing to fulfill the purposes of marriage if they tried to avoid pregnancy for reasons that were not just — but neither the act of abstaining from sex (during periods when conception was more likely) nor the act of having intercourse (during the periods when conception was less likely) would be the sin in such a circumstance. The sin would be a sin of the will — the resolution to try to avoid the gift of children for bad reasons.

  • What frustrates me here is the reduction of NFP to a mere method of birth control. Sheesh… NFP involves more than avoiding pregnancy. The thrust of the original article here is that NFP is NOT just natural birth control, but those here who seem to be down on it are indeed reducing NFP to natural birth control.

  • “What frustrates me here is the reduction of NFP to a mere method of birth control. Sheesh… NFP involves more than avoiding pregnancy. ”

    This is why I hate the term “NFP”. “Natural Family Planning” is not Natural (really, is it natural to temp every morning, stretch your cervical mucus, and chart?) and it’s not “Family Planning”, because let’s face it, a high percentage of the children conceived from NFP are marginally planned at best, frequently after a couple of glasses of wine on a night when the older children went to bed early.

    But seriously, I vastly prefer the term “Fertility Awareness” because that is what the couple is doing: Charting the woman’s symptoms to become aware of the couple’s combined fertility. The couple can use this awareness to achieve or avoid a pregnancy, or they can just not care. Whatever they do, this awareness is an excellent barometer of the woman’s help.

    While some people are worried about people using Fertility Awareness to improperly not become pregnant, this isn’t much of a worry. Although the “perfect use” rates for all methods of FA are quite high, couples have to be very highly motivated to actually avoid pregnancy using FA.

    You see, it is no longer socially acceptable to want more than 2.3 children, and we assume that this is the norm, but people have been having larger families for years. A couple who relies on merely FA and self-control to prevent pregnancy will have their motives tested every month. On one side is the rational mind of man and woman. On the other side is millions of years of evolutionary biology urging reproduction. Unless there truly are “serious reasons”, the rational mind has no chance.

  • There is one aspect of Natural Family Planning that ought to be heard but is dissociated from the whole. This is nursing an infant into childhood. A nursing mother does not ovulate and the chances of a nursing mother becoming pregnant while she is nursing a baby is not in nature’s plan. Pharaoh’s sister called for a wet nurse for the found child Moses and Moses’ sister brought the child to his mother. There is a note of a child being weened at four years of age and a celebration that the infant survived into childhood, and the mother is now ready to bear more children, spacing her children at five years apart, in the bible, but I do not remember who the child is. It may have been Isaac. But of course, in Israel, the men had many wives who would give them many children. In modern America, there are many voices who discourage nursing an infant and outright deny a woman’s right to freely practice her motherhood. I know several women who did indeed nurse their children as well as speaking of experience. After one year I was sidelined as a weirdo, and after a while I thought that the government was going to be called.

  • Paul, how many Catholics do you know using NFP to get pregnant rather than specifically avoid pregnancy?

    I would put the under 30 crowd at about 90/10 avoiding pregnancy rather than getting pregnant.

    In response to jvc….I didn’t read all of the comments but I just wanted to say that I am under 30 and not only am I using NFP to achieve pregnancy but I live in a Catholic community with my husband (he is studying for his PhD) and every woman I know on the street (most under 30 or in their early 30’s) are also using NFP to achieve pregnancy. It’s only common sense that a woman would use NFP to also achieve pregnancy.

  • Mary,

    In the main, yes. The one thing I would point out,though, (from experience!) is that some women simply do not have much infertility after birth no matter how conscientiously they nurse. (The which I bring up only because for a while CCL tended to rather coy about this fact, but we’ve known a lot of other people who found themselves quite surprised by it.)

  • I’ve been thoroughly pooped out by this thread, so I stopped responding awhile ago, but I have to ask a follow-up to Katie’s comment.

    Out of curiosity, what do you mean by you live in a “Catholic community”? Like a Catholic university? A particularly Catholic town?

  • DarwinCatholic says:
    Thursday, April 19, 2012 A.D. at 11:40am

    Darwin, thank you for the clarification. Perhaps it would just be easier to describe them as non-NFP, non-ABC practicing Catholics? Seems like the most accurate description, especially if the term “providentialist” is an explicitly Protestant term.

  • What frustrates me here is the reduction of NFP to a mere method of birth control.

    Perhaps the problem is that this is exactly what every promoter of NFP that I have ever heard has sounded like. And it is always discussed in the context of how ABC is wrong. It wasn’t even until years after I heard about NFP that I found out that some people were using it to get pregnant.

  • Jim says:
    Saturday, April 21, 2012 A.D. at 9:22pm

    I agree with the jist of Jim’s comments. Making oneself aware of the nature of fertility is prudent. Making it out to be another solution to everything, which the term NFP and marketing of NFP fall into, is the reach.

  • Nathan, thanks for your kind words, and welcome to this blog! I’m encouraged to see a young Catholic man like you taking an interest in this topic. I think you are a good example of exactly what I was talking about… you wouldn’t even be interested in NFP if you were totally selfish and unconcerned about doing God’s will.

    As for all the “bickering” you see taking place about what reasons justify NFP, for what it’s worth… I seem to remember that the most accurate translation of the actual term used in Humanae Vitae is simply “serious” reasons — meaning, not frivolous or selfish, but it doesn’t have to be a life or death reason either.

  • Darwin: “It is not, immoral for a married couple to engage in the marital act, whether it is at a time likely for them to conceive or not … Neither the act of abstaining from sex (during periods when conception was more likely) nor the act of having intercourse (during the periods when conception was less likely) would be the sin in such a circumstance. The sin would be a sin of the will — the resolution to try to avoid the gift of children for bad reasons”.

    That makes no sense. This “sin of the will” is carried out in concrete action. How else do you “avoid the gift of children” than by limiting sexual intercourse to the infertile periods?

    You could say what you said above about any sin. You could say stealing is not a sin; rather, theft is “a sin of the will – the desire to possess an object that is not yours”. That is true, and that is what motivated the sin, but the actual sin that was committed was taking the object, just as with using NFP for unjust reasons the sin is committed when the couple limits sex to the fertile period. So the act of sex itself is sinful …

    Pius XII: “If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, ***while continuing to satisfy to the full their sensuality*** [i.e. having sexual intercourse only during the infertile periods], can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.”

  • Wade St. Onge,

    Pius XII is saying exactly the same thing that I am: “the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to the full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.”

    Now, while it’s true that all sins involve an act of the will, and that it is that act which is actually the sin, I don’t think your stealing analogy holds. The difference is that stealing something actually is wrong. Thus, while it is the act of taking something which is not yours that is the act of the will in relation to the sin, the taking of something not ones own is itself wrong. (The act of the will remains key in that if you stole something, believing you had not right to it, but in fact it was something you were free to take, your sin would be just as great even though your action, from an objective point of view, would not actually be wrong.)

    A man having sex with his wife is not wrong. Neither is a man not having sex with his wife at a given time — even if the purpose of not having sex at that time is to avoid the possibility of getting pregnant during his wife’s current cycle.

    I think your error here is in seeing that mis-use of NFP in order to treat sex as a strictly non-procreative form of sensuality is sinful, you’re trying to zero in on some specific act on which to locate the sin. Given that periodic abstinence consists of having sex during less fertile times and not having sex during more fertile times — the obvious options are 1) labeling abstaining from sex during more fertile times as sinful or 2) labeling having sex during the less fertile times as sinful.

    What the Church actually teaches is that neither 1) nor 2) is sinful. It is not wrong for a couple to perform the marital act or not to perform the marital act. Nor is the marital act made wrong because one believes it to be highly likely that conception will not occur (as is the case not only with certain parts of the normal monthly cycle, but also with couples who are afflicted by infertility or who have passed the age at which the wife is likely to be able to conceive.)

    What can be sinful is the desire/attempt to experience a “full sensuality” completely unconnected with procreation.

    Now, that said, I think, frankly, that one of the best ways to defeat this “false appreciation of life” that Pius condemns is the practice of NFP, which you seem so suspicious of, specifically because using NFP to try to avoid conception very much does not allow for a “full sensuality”. Trying to avoid conception via NFP means abstaining about half the time, and typically the time when the desire of the spouses (particular the wife) are much, much greater. As such, for the couple which starts out just wanting to space their children farther apart or put off having more children for a while, using NFP creates the awareness that it is impossible to have a “full sensuality” that is not procreative.

  • “I think, frankly, that one of the best ways to defeat this ‘false appreciation of life’ that Pius condemns is the practice of NFP, which you seem so suspicious of, specifically because using NFP to try to avoid conception very much does not allow for a ‘full sensuality’.”

    1. I am as suspicious of NFP as Pius XII was.

    2. NFP is just a subset of “temporary continence” – something that the Church has always encouraged and something that the Catechism of Trent suggested Catholics practice during Lent. Most Catholics who practice NFP today seem largely ignorant of the rich Catholic Tradition of temporary continence within marriage, which was encouraged as a fast from sex the way that we are also to fast from food and meat during specific days and seasons. Most people who practice NFP today do not realize that the benefits of NFP are simply benefits that come out of temporary continence or “fasting from sex”. Due to this ignorance, most Catholics think the only reason to practice temporary continence is to space children. But even if you are trying to conceive, temporary continence is still a good and beneficial practice that the Church recommends. How many NFP practitioners today know that and practice that? I would say the number is close to zero.

    3. You obviously did not read Pius XII in context, because he was specifically referring to an abuse of NFP in that quotation. How can the practice of NFP be the best remedy to an abuse of NFP? If it was, there would be no need for Pius XII to warn against it, because its practitioners, by the very practice of NFP, would defeat this “false appreciation of life”.

  • “A man having sex with his wife is not wrong.”

    Even if he wears a condom?

  • I have a feeling that we’re going in circles, so I’m going to give this one more response and then I’ll leave it to you to have the last word should you so wish.

    Most Catholics who practice NFP today seem largely ignorant of the rich Catholic Tradition of temporary continence within marriage, which was encouraged as a fast from sex the way that we are also to fast from food and meat during specific days and seasons…. I would say the number is close to zero.

    Well, FWIW:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2010/10/26/nfp-and-fasting/

    You obviously did not read Pius XII in context, because he was specifically referring to an abuse of NFP in that quotation.

    Pius XII talks about the danger of people seeking to “avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to the full their sensuality”. My contention, based on experience and that of all other NFP users that I’ve had occasion to talk to, is that abstaining half the time (and because of the way in which women’s hormones work — the half during which their desire is much higher) is very much not “satisfying their full sensuality”. Yes, it’s a step up from the long periods of total abstinence which a prudent husband and wife might need to have were they not able to track the wife’s fertility, and were there serious reasons for them to not conceive at the moment, but it is very much not a satisfying “sex life” (to use the modern term). It feels incomplete.

    Indeed, the times that do tend to feel complete are when they are not engaging in periodic abstinence — either because they are hoping to conceive or in the few months right after having a baby. Thus:

    How can the practice of NFP be the best remedy to an abuse of NFP? If it was, there would be no need for Pius XII to warn against it, because its practitioners, by the very practice of NFP, would defeat this “false appreciation of life”.

    That is, in fact, exactly my point. And I would argue that it is because of the increasing realization of this over the last 50 years that the Church has come to promote NFP fairly actively: because it is to a great extent a self correcting system which, through experience, teaching Catholic couples the Church’s understanding of the nature of sexuality.

    This doesn’t mean that those who don’t use it (or any other way of spacing children) have a less perfect understanding. Rather, it is the best practical counter to the contraceptive mentality. Those who wish to space their children and commit to doing so through NFP (rather than succumbing to some immoral means of avoiding conception) learn at a very deep and experiential level the inextricable connection between sexual intimacy and procreation, and that the “fullness” of marital intimacy can only be achieved when the couple is ready to get pregnant.

    “A man having sex with his wife is not wrong.”

    Even if he wears a condom?

    Now you’re knowingly taking me out of context. You and I both know that to the Church’s mind there is no similarity between a couple having fully natural intercourse while knowing they are unlikely to conceive, and using artificial means to strip the marital act of its fecundity.

  • Darwin Catholic: While nursing a child may not have an impact on ovulation, nursing a child does make an impression on the husband who surrenders his wife to be the mother of his child. Perhaps that is what makes his wife so desireable. “To have and to hold” to remember that moment of procreation in each other’s arms….

  • Having sex while married is licit.
    A married couple agreeing to not having sex is licit.
    Becoming aware of your fertility so that the couple knows when sex is unlikely to lead to conception is licit.
    Using this information to make a decision about whether or not to have sex is licit.

    Therefore, using fertility awareness to avoid pregnancy is, in itself, ALWAYS morally licit.

    Like anything else, of course, it may be done for selfish or improper reasons. But the sin is the selfishness, not the means of how pregnancy is avoided. Still, the abstinence is difficult enough that this problem is often self-correcting in most couples. For those for whom it is not, there is usually some other relational, sexual, or emotional problem or the couple is sub-fertile and the abstinence is shorter and not that much of a burden.

    I think the idea that fertility can be pinpointed with 99% accuracy is “too good to be true” for some people and they are trying to find sin where there is none.

    As for re-marketing, Billings LIFE (Australia) http://www.thebillingsovulationmethod.org/ seems to have done a good job in marketing NFP (which they call “fertility education”) to a secular audience. They put medical information first, which is what fertility awareness is. Fertility education and Catholic theology are two different things and combining them weakens both. Often this leads to the absurdity of promoting something that is “99% effective at preventing pregnancies” as a way of being “open to life”.

Some In Mainstream Media In Full Anti-Catholic Meltdown Mode

Thursday, February 23, AD 2012

Some in the mainstream media are so angry about the existence of faithful Catholics that they can’t help themselves in becoming unhinged. I will reference the main points, but suffice to say that I could write a book on the subject. These latest quotes have caused me to scramble to get information to my editor so as to include at least some of this in my upcoming book; The Tide Continues To Turn Toward Catholicism, a follow up to my first book.  For starters it seems some in mainstream media are so ignorant of religion that even though 90% of Americans belong to some form of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, which all believe that evil is manifested through a figure known as Satan, the media still finds it in their power to mock anyone who thinks evil exists. Some in the media seemed to take glee in pouncing on Catholic and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. He was called a kook, a nut, deranged, a mullah and an ayatollah, not by nameless posters on leftwing blogs but named writers in serious newspapers.

Leading the charge was that maven of militant secularism and angry people everywhere Maureen Dowd. Here are some of the spoiled nuggets from her dung heap. She calls Santorum a “mullah” who wants to take, “women back to the caves.” She goes on to deride anyone who actually believes in the teachings of the Catholicism that she once practiced.

Never one to miss a chance at apostasy and heresy; Chris Matthews entered the fray with both of his tingling legs.   Matthews claimed the reason the Catholic Church is growing is because homophobic converts are coming into the Church. It would appear that Mr. Matthews is off his meds. Has anyone ever informed mister leg tingler that groups like Courage; the Apostolate run by those who are same sex attracted, is a rapidly growing organization with men and women from all walks of life? They feel the comfort and assurance of living in God’s chaste plan for their lives. The New York Times of all papers did a favorable story on Eve Tushnet, a popular Catholic writer who has ties to the group. She is a successful woman and an Ivy League grad. Are these militant secularists going to claim that she is homophobic?

David Gergen and Donna Brazile (who is Catholic) didn’t take any pot shots at Catholics per see but did point out that liberal feminist organizations didn’t seem smitten with any of the GOP candidates, because they kept talking about religious liberty instead of the rights of birth control? David Gergen even said it with a straight face, which should really frost Rush Limbaugh who has dubbed the Washington establishmentarian; David Rodham Gergen. As much as they refer to the New York Times, they somehow missed Ross Douthat’s op-ed piece on the growth of Natural Family Planning and the number of women who help teach this non birth control view of family planning across the country and world.

The coup de grace of hate came from David Waldman who writes for a number of publications. This little nugget would make the Know Nothing Party of the 1840s smile. I would rather not give him the pleasure of repeating such delusional hatred; if you want to read his screed click here.   UPDATE In a Lisa Miller Washington Post article just out; Ms. Miller not only mocks Catholics but calls bishops “zealots” three times in her article.

If the Catholic Church is so irrelevant why would the likes of Dowd, Matthews and Waldman froth at the mouth at her beliefs? The simple answer is the Catholic Church is growing while their favorite liberal religious bodies are not only dying on the vine, but shriveling in a complete statistical freefall. Catholics and Evangelicals continue to increase in numbers which drive these mouthpieces of militant secularism nuts.

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22 Responses to Some In Mainstream Media In Full Anti-Catholic Meltdown Mode

  • “22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.” St. Luke

    Love them with Christian charity. Instruct them. Admonish them. Counsel them. For as long as they live, and we pray and set good examples through good works and prayer, they may come to a better “mind.”

    They are infallibly ignorant. We will annoy them!

  • I think this might be more ignorance of the culpable variety. Though their consciences are so scarred by their support for abortion and their reduction of Catholic social teaching to the perverse “social justice” variety that their culpability is likely lessened.

    Though culpable they remain. Their souls are at risk and we should weep for them.

    Fast and pray.

  • Iam one of the faithful but I also am becoming a Militant Catholic tired of the Bidens Pelosi,, Sebilius, Mathews,Kerry, and any other that publicly denounces the teachings of our faith.Heres a thought find another Religion one moe to your liking if you dont like the churches teachings LEAVE by the way why are they not EXCOMMUNICATED!

  • No, no, no, you’re not going to get me this time, Dave! I’ve fallen for the “link to a Maureen Dowd column” virus before. One click, and it fills your computer screen with gibberish.

  • Phillip,

    I think you are correct.

    They may be like the seeds that fell among thorn bushes. They hear the Gospel, but love of power, riches and/or the state chokes the Word. They do not bear fruit. Also, they may like be weeds the enemy sowed among wheat. (Matthew 13: 18 – 30; Mark 4: 13 – 20; Luke 8: 11 – 15)

    Their appropriate Bishops need to ex-communicate such persons out of charity to try to save their souls.

    I looked it up. Ex-communication is a reproach more than a punishment. The rite concludes with, “We exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church.” The priest: Closes the book. Rings a bell – symbolizes the toll of death. Extinguishes the candle – symbolizes the removal from the sight of God.

    OTOH, interdict is a punishment.

    They need prayers. Sadly, I have many more needful of prayers.

    Pinky, I stopped following links after having to replace a lap top and a flat-screen TV.

  • Ann Coulter’s latest column, entitled “What’s Their Problem With Romney?”, disparages the other candidates including the “crusading Catholic who can’t seem to move the conversation past contraception”.

  • Pingback: THURSDAY AFTERNOON EDITION | ThePulp.it
  • “mainstream media” (sic)

    The DLEMM – Dominant Liberal Establishment Mass Media – does not reflect mainstream thought. Referring to the DLEMM as “mainstream” is inaccurate and a mistake. Liberals are not mainstream.

  • Here’ a bit from Nancy Pelosi talking about how the Church should not complain about the mandate as there has been no enforcement by the Church of the ban on contraception. There is a logic to her heresy. Let this awaken the bishops from their long slumber.

    http://cnsnews.com/news/article/pelosi-catholic-church-has-not-enforced-its-teaching-contraception

  • May I add my voice: I too am tired of Catholic bashing! I heard that some time ago in Canada there was a porn shop that neighbors objected to. Many of them put religious medals inside the cracks of the brick walls, and after some time the building burnt down by no apparent reason. My tought would be to send green scapulers and/or miraculous medals to all who hate the Catholic Faith with praying on our part to change their ways. I have done something simular to that in leaving such materials on job sites. May our Great Nation be filled with coversions to our Great Faith…..

  • Grandpa Dave, I like your ideas. Also Dave Hartline, great post! You are always so on target.

  • T. Shaw,
    “22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.” St. Luke
    “…and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” I believe Jesus bent down and wrote the name of the Pharisees trying to stone Magdalene. A person’s name is the BEST thing and the WORST thing anybody can say about a person. Congress tried to “BORK” Clarence Thomas. Obamacare. It may be that Obamacare is the best thing anybody can say about Obama’s presidency and that Obama’s constitutency has to go to hell because of the way Obama practices the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It has occurred to me that the reason that the Media oppresses the Catholic Church with such vitriol, slander and lies, is simply because the administration, our culture, Obama and Pelosi and the like, have done and are doing nothing good to speak of. “infallible ignorance” is not an oxymoron, but the path of Obama’s adminstration. The picture of Dorian Gray is hanging in the White House, and the Emporer’s New Clothes are being advertized in the Media.

  • My friends prayer is most needed after reading other sites (and the comments left) who linked to this story. Those sites are hardly in our corner and though they mock us, if you read between the lines the anger is really vented at God Himself. Why you might ask? Sadly, arrogance, vanity, and pride makes some think they know better than God. We must never back down from them, but we must also never stop praying for them!

  • Dave, you are bang-on, as always.

    But this awkward fact remains — many Catholics and other Christians voted for the present administration, despite their then-obvious hatred of the faith, of this nation, and of civilized discourse. Why, why, why?

  • “many Catholics and other Christians voted for the present administration, despite their then-obvious hatred of the faith, of this nation, and of civilized discourse. Why, why, why?”

    Well, in 2008 the current administration-to-be’s “obvious” hatred of all things good may have been obvious to committed Catholics, evangelicals, and conservatives who frequent blogs like this and make it a point to judge all candidates by their record on moral issues. However, it was NOT so obvious to people outside of our traditional/conservative circles who had to rely upon the mainstream media for most of what they knew. We cannot assume that what is obvious to us is obvious to everyone else.

    That said, I think THIS time around the situation is much more obvious to everyone. When EVERY single U.S. bishop speaks out against the HHS mandate and a long procession of noted evangelical Protestants joins the effort, it’s pretty hard to ignore that. Plus there is an actual record of what Obama has done as an executive (rather than a legislator) to point to.

    I will concede that it MIGHT have been possible for a sincere (but not conservative) Catholic who wasn’t involved in the pro-life movement to persuade themselves in 2008 that voting for Obama (with McCain as the alternative) wouldn’t be so bad. I DO NOT think they have that excuse this time around.

  • Mack thanks for the kind words, and yes too many of the faithful voted and are still smitten with the Left’s agenda. It is as old as time itself, the belief that you can outsmart God and common sense and somehow everything will turn out just fine. It kinda reminds of two drunks at a party upset that anyone thinks they are drunk. By their strong and slurring protestations they think they can prove their sobriety. However, everyone knows the truth. Sadly, we have a lot of drunks at the party right now. However, the dawn is fast approaching and so is the hangover!

  • Elaine, just saw your post. Good point!

  • If something similar to the Q’ran burning fiasco aand concomitant murders of four US service members had occurred in 2004, it would have been 24/7 MSM shrieking “Bush must go!”

    In 2012, it’s crickets . . .

  • I see by the comments here that mutual masturbation is not considered a sin among the faithful.

  • You know I find this rather fascinating that we have so many non believers who read this site. It reminds me of all those converted atheists and agnostics who said there was a strange pull that kept them coming to religious sites. Unbeknownst to them, it was their conscience which they had tried to erase but God kept bringing up. I believe it was Mark Shea who said something to the effect that; if these atheists thought we believed in nothing why would they care? They don’t make fun of pagans worshipping Thor or Isis; yet they have to mock us with little juvenile comments that they learned in 8th grade. Very telling.

  • It is hard to spell atheist Dave without l-o-s-e-r. Most atheists are very angry people and troll atheists tend to be among the angriest of a very bitter group. A truly pathetic way to live.

In The Birth Control Controversy; The Mocking of Conservative Religious Women By Militant Secularists Will Soon Backfire

Sunday, February 19, AD 2012

We have all seen the supposed polls indicating that 99% of Catholic women use birth control. However, has anyone ever bothered to look at who conducted the poll? It was the Guttmacher Institute; the driving force behind abortion and other leftist social movements.  Finally someone in the Mainstream Media (The Washington Post) has weeks after the fact realized the untruthful nature behind this canard. This is just one of many red herrings thrown at religious conservatives to discredit and mock them. It seems some in mainstream media are making it their mission to ask former Pennsylvania Senator and Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum every question imaginable with regard to birth control. Whatever happens to Santorum in the primary race, it does seem as if the Hand of Providence is helping bring up the topic of birth control and the faithful alternative of Natural Family Planning.

While there is some dispute between Catholics and some Evangelicals on birth control; there are signs that many Evangelicals are seeing what Catholics and some Orthodox Jews have long believed about birth control. In my previous book and forthcoming book; The Tide Continues To Turn Toward Catholicism, I cite quotes from Chuck Colson and R Albert Mohler, two towering figures in the Evangelical world. They have genuine affection for Pope Paul VI’s 1968 prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae which cemented the Catholic view on birth control in the modern birth control pill era. If you want to really rile up a militant secularist you might mention that it wasn’t until 1930 that the first religious group (the Anglican Church) even approved of birth control. The Progressive Teddy Roosevelt said the idea of birth control was “ridiculous” and even liberal hero Dr Sigmund Freud said the whole concept was “narcissistic.”

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) the late women’s rights activist, who used birth control back before any religious group approved of it, spoke out forcefully against abortion and birth control once she converted to Catholicism later in life. She told men and women that in using birth control they were becoming engaged in a culture that was disconnecting them from God’s plans, along with not using their bodies in accordance with the Holy Spirit. Though her women’s rights and libertarian economic views remained, she became a social conservative, who lashed out at Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, something you aren’t likely to hear or read in the mainstream media.

Families that adhere to the clinically proven facts of Natural Family Planning are treated as if they are some sort of religious nuts. Militant secularists in the corridors of power (Legislative and Fourth Estate) have even thrown out their favorite term “sexually repressed.” Now this term is so widely repeated in our popular culture, perhaps we should examine where it came from. Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) of the infamous Marxist “Frankfurt School” came up with the term. Marcuse left pre-World War II Germany and taught at Columbia. Marcuse believed in free love and surmised that the more narcissistic society was with regard to sexual relations, the better the world would become. Before his death, he claimed his prized student was 1960s militant radical Angela Davis. Marcuse was way out in left field in his day and yet the militant secularists in our pop culture have made him seem as mainstream as Dr. Phil. When societies turn away from religion they embrace the crazies like Marcuse; sadly something has to fill the vacuum and it is usually the ideas which come from the half baked among us that do so.

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3 Responses to In The Birth Control Controversy; The Mocking of Conservative Religious Women By Militant Secularists Will Soon Backfire

  • Your last paragraph is a good prayer for Lent – I won’t limit it to women though.
    Having read the Left in Tatters from 1/25/10 link, I saw that Fr. George Rutler commented; and think you would enjoy his 2/19/12 column on the Church of Our Savior site.

  • PM, thanks for bringing Father Rutler’s column to my attention. As usual, he gives us something to ponder, pray over and act upon. Initially a year or so ago when I wrote the article to which I linked and he commented, I had no idea that he read this site. I contacted him to thank him and he thanked me. It was all so very humbling. He told me that a friend suggested he read my article. He went on to say that we all have a part to play in building up the Faith. In retrospect we should all do more to thank God for giving us those like Father Rutler.

  • Pingback: MONDAY EXTRA: GLOBAL CULTURE WAR | ThePulp.it

Not Everyone Has To Get Married (Or Go Into The Religious Life)

Wednesday, February 15, AD 2012

Mary at the blog Young and Catholic has a good post up responding to a reader question about Church teaching on contraception versus NFP. Her handling of the NFP issue is great, but I was struck by the framing of her reader’s question, because it struck me as getting at a common impression one can get from being around conservative Catholic circles. Her reader writes:

I’m an 18 year old female college student, and I have just gotten back in touch with Catholicism…

…I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting back into my faith, but there is something that REALLY continues to rub me wrong. I’ve prayed and prayed about it, but I am not getting any answer. I’ve researched it, but just hear the same things over and over and it just doesn’t sit right with me, and that is the issue of contraception. I’ve read humanae vitae, I’ve researched “natural family planning”, and it all still leaves me completely unsatisfied still. I see where the Church is coming from on this issue, however, I feel that God has called me to do something else with my future besides staying at home with my “loving” husband and having a billion children…And then I went to the church and asked my female minister about it. The gist was this: If you have the financial capability, happiness, and wealth, your job is basically to be popping out children.

This just honestly does not sit right with me…Some women love being mothers, and being a mother is certainly an honorable duty, but I don’t think I’m cut out for it. I’m very ambitious and have goals of working for the Department of Defense, not sacrificing all my happiness because the Church says I should.

She goes on to ask about why the Church teaches against artificial birth control, and as I say, Mary’s answer is great. However, I think the other thing worth touching on is the impression people sometimes get that from a Catholic point of view you should either be in the religious life or else you should be married and having lots of kids.

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22 Responses to Not Everyone Has To Get Married (Or Go Into The Religious Life)

  • DC, I could be wrong on this, do think it’s a default assumption that the married life and the religious life are the two dominant vocations. They are the two which are reinforced through sacrament or consecration, and they both provide communal life which is a natural human desire.

    Some may be called to the single life, hermitage, or an early martyrdom. Some may be called to live as if single following a divorce, and some may have same-sex attraction to such an extent that it prevents them from living the married or religious life. Some – actually, everyone – will struggle to find the right fit for themselves. But the working assumption for the average person should be that their earthly mission is best pursued as a married person or religious.

    If I’m wrong on this, I welcome the correction.

  • I realize this young lady won’t like hearing it- and that the gentle response was absolutely correct in not over stating this- but I noticed that her question was a lot about how *she* feels and what *she* wants and *her* happiness and not really about God. God wants us to be happy, but that doesn’t always work out the way we think it should. There are a lot of times where our happiness has to be in the Lord alone and we just have to persevere and endure the rest of life. I know that’s counter cultural, but even if we’re eventually called to do or be something that isn’t what we wanted for ourselves- like being a parent or a celibate single, etc- then we should still be joyful in that life because God loves us and we should be living our lives for Him and not ourselves.

    This is such a common problem and it’s something I wish it were addressed more often when this stuff comes up. There comes a time when we all must choose God and often times that means giving up some or all of our own desires.

  • Well said, Mandy.

  • To me, the takeaway is this young woman’s impression that her greatest responsibility is reproduction. I think this is indicative of the fertility cult mentality that grabs many evangelical Catholics. Father Angelo Geiger has written about this in the context of the Christopher West phenomena.

    We’ve turned from teaching authentic Church teachings about the proper order of values, including placing sexual activity within marriage and the complete unity of procreativity and unity in sexual relations, to a mentality where sexual relations (and even reproduction) are the epicenter of one’s spiritual existence.

  • Pinky,

    DC, I could be wrong on this, do think it’s a default assumption that the married life and the religious life are the two dominant vocations. They are the two which are reinforced through sacrament or consecration, and they both provide communal life which is a natural human desire.

    Certainly, if you either take religious vows or marriage vows, you’re in for the duration, whereas if you’ve decided to remain a single lay person for personal or career reasons, you could always change your mind later. So I suppose one could see those as the most settled vocations.

    And given the choice, most people who aren’t vowed to do otherwise would rather have the companionship of marriage than not — so I don’t think it’s a big surprise that as our society has grown more affluent few people who abide by the Church’s teaching that sexuality belongs only in marriage are going to choose to remain single laity permanently.

    But I don’t think that means that people must choose to follow one of the two.

  • jvc,

    I do not think that there is a “fertility cult mentality” among “evangelical Catholics” — though for the reasons that I pointed out people do end up spending a lot of effort on defending the decisions to get married young and/or to have many children, so I can certainly see how one might get that impression.

  • Pope Pius XI in Casti connubii (December 31, 1930) and Pope Paul VI in Humanae vitae (July 25, 1968) both address the sanctity of marriage and the family, with special emphasis on the principal threat against them in modern times: artificial birth control.

    “Be fruitful and multiply” appears six times in Genesis. In the first case, God blesses living creatures allowing and requiring them to procreate His creation.

    The second time (Genesis 1: 28), the Lord issues the order to mankind. After the flood, God repeats His blessing on animals (8: 17) and twice upon mankind (9: 1 and 9: 7).

    God chooses Jacob for His last such blessing: “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins” (Genesis 35: 11).

  • @jvc,

    I think it’s more a clash of a traditional mentality and the more common cultural mindset where children and family are seen as a burden instead of a blessing. For someone steeped in the popular culture, I’m sure the idea that marriage isn’t just about love and sex is intended for both pleasure AND procreation is quite a bit of culture shock. I can’t honestly tell you the last time I saw a positive image of family life portrayed in the popular culture. Marriages are all about the elaborate weddings- what happens afterwards is almost universally portrayed in the most negative light possible- and children are treated as if they were accessories- like a meat handbag- or, if they’re inconvenient at the moment they’re portrayed as a punishment. When we do see people in a family seeing, the focus is almost always on how hard it is and how people are tied down (“the old ball and chain” mentality). There’s never any attention given to how, despite the hardships- which are a part of ANY lifestyle, not just the family kind- marriage and family can be extremely fulfilling and, if you’re doing it right, it should make you into a much better, less selfish, more self-giving person.

  • I remember a line from my pre-cana that I think applies. “Your vocation should help you live for others and God and not only for yourself.” Having children and being married make living only for yourself very very difficult. The same is true of religious life. Living as a lay single person, there are many temptations to selfishness, especially if you are financially successful. However, it’s not impossible, and it may very well be the best life for many people. I know someone who isn’t even Christian who lives this life beautifully without even knowing it.

    I also seem to know many married couples now in their mid to late thirties who are deciding not to have children. I really find it very hard to be charitable to these people and their reasons. I think these couples assume they will be young and healthy forever. Even if they are financially stable into their elder years, it’s got to be a lonely life to be elderly and childless. Many of these people don’t have siblings with children. So no nieces and nephews no grandkids. I keep picturing my children as the only young adults living on a street with block after block of elderly people who can’t shovel their snowy drives. Or who need a ride to the grocery store. Or who are just plane lonely because they’ve lost a spouce. We need the next generation, and you can’t just opt out of contributing to it without expecting some consequences.

  • I cannot understand people who profess to have found God or found a new religion or returned to Catholicism be stuck in the mire of ” I want sex-when i want it how I want it and that is it”. Going just to the basic commandments-the sixth commandment
    You shall not commit adultery-speaks to the fact that sex is a union between husband and wife.
    Truth be told the majority want to be ” Buffet line” Christians-only putting on their plates that which appeals to the pleasures of the body, yet disregarding that which strengthens the soul.
    If you call yourself Christian, ask yourself “where is Christ in your action”?????

  • “I feel that God has called me to do something else with my future besides staying at home with my “loving” husband and having a billion children…And then I went to the church and asked my female minister about it. The gist was this: If you have the financial capability, happiness, and wealth, your job is basically to be popping out children>” There are three clues to this dilemma: 1) The word “loving” husband. 2) having a billion children and 3)female minister. There are truly loving men who become husbands in the truest sense of the word. “Having a billion children” is the giveaway. God promised Abraham that for his faithfulness, his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, literally in the billions. God’s promise to Abraham is as true today as it was in the time of Abraham. Faithfulness to God will bring billions of children, spiritual children, for spiritual motherhood, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Spiritual fatherhood, as St. Jose Maria Escriva in Opus Dei, Pope Benedict XVI. There are so many saints who are spiritual fathers and mothers, Saint Nicholas as Santa Claus, the children’s saint. St.Joan of Arc, patroness of France, and Jesus Christ’s mother Mary, to whom Jesus gives all of us. It would be advisable to seek more, not less, spiritual guidance than that of the female minister, who thinks “popping out children” without appreciation for WHO they are and their dignity, leaves much to be desired. ASK and ask and ask. Someone once said to me that if I was old enough (to marry) I would not be asking. Ask anyway. Seek out the saints in heaven for their advice and do not forget your guardian angel. You’ll be just fine. You are one of God’s billions upon billions of children.

  • Christ did not come among us from suffering or to give us Heaven on Earth.

    Jesus Christ came to save us from sin and by His Life, Death and Resurrection to purchase for us the rewards of eternal life.

  • This 18 yr. old, who has just returned as a practicing Catholic and says she ‘enjoys’ it, seems to be putting life into separate areas that look mutually exclusive to her. Fortunately, she may get over her anxiety if she does follow her work plan, only thing she seems sure of, and leaves the rest of her life open to God’s plan.

    Kind of worrying that she seems to be demanding an answer to her praying. She’s not the Boss and needs to learn patience. Maybe ‘vocations’ are a subject of urgency around her. If she has no ‘possible’ husband yet, then proceed with career plan until …

    Husband and family is the ideal for a young woman and that doesn’t preclude education or career. We just don’t know the end of the story. I dreamed the ideal and God’s plan was different – but I still got to care and homemake(not nurse) for family elders and friends through the years as a kind of love fulfillment as i look back. And also do some interesting work. No ideal led on to other strengths (like overcoming weakness). Not my plan, got to be His. I would tell the girl to go work at the D of D, practice her faith and give God thanks for what she has and can do for others.

  • Mandy P. and PM: Please remember that the young lady in question is 18. An 18 year old is a bit self-absorbed and lacks patience – stop the presses!! The very fact that she has returned to the Church and wants to be a good Catholic impresses me very much. At 18, I was running away from the Church as fast as I could.

    I would caution her that not feeling maternal at age 18 does not mean that will always be the case (sorry for the double negative there). I was not at all interested in motherhood at 18 or at 30, for that matter. Nor was I really that interested in marrying, although I thought I was. If I had been, I would have made an effort to date men who would have made good husbands and fathers. Instead, my common sense (what little I have) completely deserted me when it came to men. I blamed “bad luck” with men for many years, but I’ve stopped kidding myself. It was my own rotten taste for Mr. Hard to Get Alpha Male, soap opera, tears, dramatic breakups and makeups that did me in – yuck, I cringe to think of it. I laughed (ruefully) when I read “Bridget Jones’ Diary” because that silly character reminded me very much of myself, and I also had no trouble recognizing her caddish boyfriend.

    Now that I am middle-aged (and childless), well, I would like to time-travel back and kick my younger self in the rear, but I can’t undo a thing. Well, what should I do? Drown myself in Scotch and regrets? Slit my wrists? No, I can try to be a good aunt and friend and sister to the loved ones in my life and I am working on being a good Catholic, which is very difficult. I’m not sure if I would call that a “vocation” – it’s just doing the best you can with the deck of cards you have in front of you right now. Yes, sometimes, it’s lonely – but on the other hand, I am so set in my ways that I think that marrying and living with someone at this point would be very difficult to get used to. I like having people over for dinner and I like going to parties, but the second they leave or I come back to my empty place – I breathe a sigh of relief!

    That said, I think Mrs. Zummo makes a good point: I know a woman (an only child) who married her high school sweetheart (another only child) back in 1962. They did not have children. He died 2 years ago. She continues to work fulltime, despite being financially able to retire – because what else does she have to occupy her? At least I have siblings and an extended family. She does not. I felt awful for her when she said she ate a Lean Cuisine turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.

  • This young woman, like many others assumes that without contraception, a normal marriage or ongoing sexual relationship will automatically equal having “a billion children.” What she does not realize is that not everyone is the Duggar family, not every woman gets pregnant at the drop of a hat, and oftentimes you do not know how fertile (or infertile) you are until you “get there.”

    The large families of the Baby Boom era were probably as much or more a result of couples marrying very young (in the 1950s, the median age of first-time brides was 20, and lots of women were getting married in their teens; I think the average first time bride is now about 27) as it was due to the unreliability of the “rhythm method” or any other birth control methods available at the time. Women have a limited number of fertile years and if you wait until age 30 or later to marry you are not likely to have “a billion children.” You may be lucky to have even one or two children if you wait that long.

  • “What she does not realize is that not everyone is the Duggar family, not every woman gets pregnant at the drop of a hat, and oftentimes you do not know how fertile (or infertile) you are until you “get there.””

    Precisely! My wife and I were married for nine years before we were blessed with our twin boys. Three years later the miracle happened again and we had our baby girl. We never used contraceptives, so assumptions based on family size can be completely off base.

    Past generations understood that fertility is a gift from God, and not a punishment.

    “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

  • “Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice, married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the DUTY to procreate. Among the couples who fulfil their God-given task in this way, those merit special mention who with a gallant heart and with wise and common deliberation, undertake to bring up suitably even a relatively large family.” GAUDIUM ET SPES, Vatican II. Note how the council said that married couples have a DUTY to procreate. A woman who wants to forego having children (but also be married) to pursue a career sounds about as selfish as a man wanting to forego additional children because he is tired of changing diapers and waking up in the middle of the night. Good comments here.

  • Oh, and one last thing: this 18 year old undoubtably has glamourous notions of the workaday work, just as I did at that age. She is banking on the idea that her main satisfactions in life will come to her via your job. Well, I (unfortunately) bought into many of the bad ideas of 70’s feminism, including the media portrayals of career women. I thought I was going to be Mary Tyler Moore. I actually landed what I thought was a glamourous job as a paralegal in a DC law firm. Although it certainly had its’ interesting moments, I can promise you it was not “Ally McBeal” or “Boston Legal” or whatever the popular law firm show is at the moment. Those shows (inaccurately) portray the dramatics of the courtroom, but not the painstaking drudgery that goes into producing those motions and briefs. (For good reason: who would want to watch someone cite checking or coding documents?) An iron law of DC law firms: if you have any exciting plans for the weekend, there will certainly be a 5 p.m. Friday phone call which will ruin those plans.

    I have had jobs and bosses I liked very much and other ones I couldn’t stand. While it is a good thing to take pride in your work, I think most people get their main emotional satisfaction and meaning not out of what they do to put food on the table (unless they’re artists of some sort, or in a helping profession) but from the lasting attachments and relationships they form with other people outside of work, whether they are married or not.

    As a wise man I once knew said to me “Donna, I never heard of anybody on their deathbed saying ‘I’m really sorry I spent so much time with my family instead of at the office.”

  • “Those shows (inaccurately) portray the dramatics of the courtroom, but not the painstaking drudgery that goes into producing those motions and briefs. (For good reason: who would want to watch someone cite checking or coding documents?)”

    Tell me about it Donna! For every hour of court time I have five hours chained to my desk fighting piles of paper work that never seem to diminish! Note that in the old Perry Mason show we see a stack of Corpus Juris Secundum in the closing credits, and that is as close as Mason ever comes to doing any legal research on the show!

  • I apologize in advance. But, my wife laughed.

    First Guy (proudly): ‘My wife’s a saint!’

    Second Guy: ‘You’re lucky, mine’s still alive.’

  • To elaborate some more on my previous remarks, the birth rate among women over 40 has indeed risen considerably in recent years, and much publicity has attended celebrities and others who have had children at advanced ages (45 or even past 50). This often leads young women to assume they can or will be fertile practically forever (25-30 years does seem like a long time when you’re 18).

    However, it is my understanding that the majority of successful pregnancies in women over 40 are the result of medical interventions such as IVF or other fertility treatments, and do NOT happen “naturally.” And success is by no means guaranteed even with these interventions (some of which, of course, are also contrary to Catholic teaching just as contraception is).

  • Donald, heh, here I grew up with the impression that Perry strolled into the courtroom and just winged it, coming up with his always deadly cross-examination off the top of his head!

    Just like the ER doctors on “ER” were able to handle everything from delvering babies to calming down raving psychotics to doing brain surgery, why, it made me question why there was any need for the rest of the hospital or any other physicians;-)

A Few Thoughts on NFP

Friday, July 10, AD 2009

Sometimes you run across an argument which strikes you as wrong in such a way as to crystallize and clarify your thinking on a topic. Such a case, for me, was running into this debate from last week at InsideCatholic on the topic, “Is NFP Misogynous?”

The “yes it is” argument contained the following key elements:

Assuming any methodized sexual intercourse devised to avoid pregnancy by an otherwise open-to-life-marital-couple can actually “work,” who bears responsibility for the method? I seriously question whether NFP, for many, isn’t a misogynous practice — imposing upon women an undue share of the physical and emotional burden of the theologically questionable quest of planning pregnancy.

First, we must be real. Modern NFP practices demand daily bodily measurements of women, not men…. A woman most desires sexual intimacy when she is at her most fertile…. This is also the moment when we are most likely to conceive a child. It’s the moment NFP-practicing women measure and chart and predict as “fertility awareness,” a “maybe-child” zone. For NFP-practicing women avoiding pregnancy, it is the moment they must say “no” to both themselves and their spouses….

I don’t buy it. It sounds like a scheme to impose on women who wish to time pregnancies an almost penal practice of self-measurement, self-control, and self-denial, while requiring, at a minimum, a sort of suffering acquiescence from a spouse whose interest in the chart becomes rather strategic….

NFP needs to go the same way as the rhythm method — which did not “work” and was, more importantly, female unfriendly. In its place, perhaps we all need to suck it up and admit what the theology asks of us: Have sex whenever you both want to… and expect a baby every time. Otherwise, don’t copulate. That’s a fair burden on both spouses.

The woman presenting the “no it isn’t” view did a perfectly decent job of presenting the standard arguments for NFP, but I’d like to dig into one aspect in particular, especially given that by the sixth comment on the article we already see a theology student trying to argue that the “planning” involved in Natural Family Planning is really no different than the use of barrier methods of contraception since it involves “the intention of having sex without baby” and is thus “using one’s intellect to create a tool which limits the possibility of procreation”.

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19 Responses to A Few Thoughts on NFP

  • I suppose pregnancy is rather misogynistic as well. Women bear this responsibility as well, and bear is a literal word. Men just sit around the house smoking cigars and pounding the table and grunting whenever they want some food. Then when the baby finally comes they’re out buying more cigars and drinking with their friends, bragging about how fat their wife is.

    Well, your mileage may vary. I hope it does.

  • That’s a pretty cynical view. It is not without truths, but I’m not sure there isn’t a bit exaggerated — or rather, the whole ordeal is reduced merely to this activity.

  • If we look to the Orthodox, it amounted to roughly half the year they were required to abstain from relations. Many moons ago, sex wasn’t to be had on Sundays. I’m not sure if abstaining was ever required during Lent. I think we moderns tend to underestimate our ability to regulate our sexual desires.

  • MZ,

    Lent plus Sundays still add up to rather less than half the year — and I must admit to a certain curiosity as to what percentage of people actually lived up to that. However, I would say that there’s also a big difference between giving something up for religious reasons as a known sacrifice and doing it for pragmatic reasons.

    Example: I find it quite easy to give up alcohol for Lent, but rather hard to “not have much” beer in order lose the proverbial last ten pounds. I would say that by the same token, it would be rather easier to say “we won’t have sex on Sundays” or “we won’t have sex during lent” than “Well, we shouldn’t have sex very often.”

    More to the point, that is simply not our discipline in the Catholic Church at this time, and given that we do have a full understanding of human fertility I’m not clear how it would do people a great deal of good to urge them to maintain ignorance in order to bind up a heavier burden for them to carry.

    Honestly, the approach described by the woman in the InsideCatholic article sounds to me like it’s practically designed for (or perhaps from) spousal conflict.

  • Having learned and practiced NFP myself, I see nothing misogynistic about it. If nothing else, charting one’s cycles helps you to know when to expect your next, ahem, monthly visitor, thereby enabling you to avoid lots of potential embarrassment 😉

    Don’t forget, it’s also a very cost-effective method for both avoiding and achieving pregnancy; once you learn the method, you don’t need to spend a single penny more on it (you can create your own charts). Also, some methods (Creighton, Billngs) do NOT require the daily temperature taking that can be a hassle for those following the Couple to Couple League’s Sympto-Thermal Method.

    IMHO the fact that the “burden” of fertility awareness/NFP is on women is no more inherently unfair than is the fact that women often have to work harder than men at losing weight and keeping it off. As for the self-discipline required, I see it as comparable to the discipline required to maintain a healthy diet.

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t think NFP would be that big a burden to women unless their husbands decide to make it so.

  • Also, in the “if you think we’ve got it bad” department: Orthodox Jewish practice requires abstinence throughout the menstrual period and for 7 days afterward — usually about 12-14 days out of EVERY month.

  • Everything after the first sentence was Latin rite.

    Not to get overly personal here, but we withheld relations for a year.

    I tend to find a major premise of the NFPers false though. That premise is that sex unitive in the absence of desiring children. I’ve met plenty of people in sexual relationships that were otherwise sterile. Plenty of men and women have managed to have sexual relationships without a growth in personal affection. Outside the context of desiring to create a family, that seems to be the dominant case.

  • I tend to find a major premise of the NFPers false though. That premise is that sex unitive in the absence of desiring children.

    That is not the major premise of NFPers—at least not of those who understand and accept the Church’s teaching that temporarily restricting intercourse to the infertile period must be for “serious reasons,” which do not include paying off the student loans or trading up to a better car. The major premise of NFPers is that NFP can respect the unitive dimension of sex, unlike contraception, which cannot.

    That is why you are right to qualify your statement with the phrase ‘the dominant case’. Sex that is both physically and spiritually sterile is indeed the dominant case in a materialistic and over-eroticized culture; but it is far from being the only case. I know plenty of cases of the right sort.

    I’m really getting tired of people overstating Catholic teaching and proceeding to knock down the resulting strawman. I usually have to deal with that in the context of discussing the papacy and/or the Marian doctrines. But since Catholic doctrine on birth control is almost as distinctive and even more unpopular, I suppose I should not be surprised it gets the same treatment.

  • I tend to find a major premise of the NFPers false though. That premise is that sex unitive in the absence of desiring children.

    I guess I’m not entirely clear what you’re getting at here. Are you saying that NFP is a false paradigm in that in HV and elsewhere it is suggested that couples may continue to have sex during infertile times for unitive purposes while avoiding it during fertile times when there are serious reasons for them to space children wider than might be natural — but you don’t think that sex can be unitive unless one desires more children at that time?

  • There are two common stress points I see in marriages. The first one is having the first child. The second one is the cessation of child bearing. Without commenting on the liciety of NFP, the unitive dimension of sex is lessened significantly when the marriage is no longer purposed toward the making and raising of children.

  • The second one is the cessation of child bearing. Without commenting on the liciety of NFP, the unitive dimension of sex is lessened significantly when the marriage is no longer purposed toward the making and raising of children.

    I’m not clear that has anything to do with the unitive dimension of sex, so much as that when it becomes clear that the number of distractions living in the house is only going to go down from here, and the couple likely has another thirty years of life together ahead of them, couples either realize that they actually have very little in common and have problems, or else they look forward to getting the chance to spend more time actually interacting with each other than during the diaper changing, kid chasing, and fight breaking up period of life.

    Also, how would your explanation fit with your point that a certain number of couples run into problems not long after first having children?

  • Darwin, I believe marriage counselors recognize certain statistical crisis points in the average marriage–if I recall correctly around 2 years is one (neatly coinciding with the start of a family for many.) Agreed that childrearing, empty nesting, and major life changes tend to make or break a marriage–the problem isn’t that you are no longer making babies together (as articulated by MZ), it’s that there wasn’t much besides the babies holding you together to begin with.

    My response to his view of the “major premise of NFP” would be that the level of communication necessitated by the use of NFP encourages couples to consider each other’s needs as well as their joint plans for a family. Does this mean there aren’t going to be unitively “sterile” marriages among NFP users as well as among nonusers? Of course not. But I think (and I believe stats bear me out) that NFP confers some advantages in terms of couple communication, and that those carry over into the post baby-raising stage of life. Are you sure you’re not overgeneralizing based on anecdotal evidence, MZ?

  • In some ways, I think the effect that NFP has on marriages is sort of a “chicken and egg” (pardon the pun) effect — does NFP CAUSE couples to communicate better, or do couples who use NFP tend to have better communication and negotiation skills to begin with?

    I kind of lean toward the latter explanation since successful NFP practice requires give and take on the part of both spouses. If a couple is having serious problems communicating or learning to adjust their expectations regarding sexual intimacy, either they won’t try NFP at all, or one spouse will want to try it while the other flatly refuses to consider it or agrees to it only grudgingly and under protest.

  • Actually, Michael, depending on how big the student loans in question are, how much other debt the couple has, and how long it’s going to take for them to pay those debts down or off, that COULD be a sufficiently serious reason to postpone pregnancy.

    I remember reading a book on Catholic marriage that had belonged to my parents — written in the early 1950s — that had a chapter devoted to “periodic continence” (which, back then, meant calendar rhythm) and a discussion of various medical, economic, and social reasons that justified the use of the rhythm method.

    Having large amounts of debt (payment of which is an obligation in justice to one’s creditors) WAS listed as a justifiable reason to postpone pregnancy. However, trying to save money toward a child’s college education (which parents are not obligated to provide for their children, and was not an absolute necessity for their future well-being, at least not in the 1950s) was not considered a serious enough reason. Obviously, trading up to a better car or better house (assuming the house the family currently occupies is reasonably safe and sanitary) would not qualify either.

  • Actually, Michael, depending on how big the student loans in question are, how much other debt the couple has, and how long it’s going to take for them to pay those debts down or off, that COULD be a sufficiently serious reason to postpone pregnancy.

    Which raises the question why the couple should marry into such a state in the first place. If you aren’t ready to raise a family, don’t get married.

  • It seems that a lot of people get caught up in the worry about whether NFP can be contrary to God’s plan,m if motives affect the use of NFP, and the tensions involved in some marriages relating to same. Then there was the Inside Catholic article which really went all over the place. Here are my thoughts.

    1. Knowing NFP, whether one uses it or not is a good thing. Why? It teaches the guy something about women that he may not know. that is always a good thing = especially in a marriage.

    2. When God made us, he did not make the woman fertile every single day of the month. Yet he gave the desire to the guy all the time. And we guys know when our wives are most desirous. so this means a couple of things. Either the couple talks, or someone is not going to be happy. Early in my marriage, I encountered a powerful truth, and I know that it was a grace, to wit, the marriage embrace is not satisfying in the fullest sense if the beloved is not satisfied. That insight opened the door to a deeper understanding of God’s involvement in marriage and the freedom He gives to couple to work out in His presence the timing, placement and number of children for that family. Again we approach in wonder and awe, hoping to cooperate and open to God’s “blessing” which may or may not be “planned” or desired. given the limited time frame for such blessings, an openness to the self giving of the spouse to the other allows for the marital embrace to be a communion of souls in the mystery of the sacrament of matrimony. Simply enjoying the pleasure of one’s spouse in the beauty of the sacrament is in itself one of the blessings of marriage.

    3. for some this may mean great sacrifice given their personal situation: health factors, financial difficulties, stress, job loss, temperament, etc. God invites us to include him in dealing with any difficult situation. He gives us the freedom in the marital relationship to make the concrete decisions. He only asks us to respect the sacrament and mot violate the natural order. to consider this takes a certain maturity and understanding. This is what is hopefully taught to us both through family life and by the church.

    Finally after all is said and done, one may simply decide to chuck the whole thing and let God be the family planner. It takes a lot of faith or perhaps it is laziness. But in the end if we seek to do His will, we should be okay.

  • Actually, I WAS going to add the argument that observant Catholics or Catholic couples who aren’t financially ready to have children shouldn’t get married in the first place, but omitted it as my post was getting rather lengthy.

    Also, not every couple who has student loan debt necessarily incurred it BEFORE they got married or had children. My own husband had to go back to college in his early 40s due to the fact that he could no longer get work in his chosen field without such a degree. Fortunately, he had veteran’s benefits that enabled him to do so without incurring a huge amount of debt.

  • My few thoughts on NFP.

    It’s not misogynistic to use it and anyone who says that is is probably more motivated by Misandry than any high ideal of justice.

    If you have good reason to space children or want to increase your chances of conceiving a child, consider using it – but follow the rules.

    The Rules:

    1. The science is pretty good but not perfect, and often times leaves you wondering whether you’re still fertile or not. Don’t be anxious over it, wait a day or not, the worse thing that can happen is you get a little earlier than you were planning.

    2. Ignore Internet pontificators like myself. You know that whole opinions are like a-holes thing. It’s your life, your marriage, and your soul. God knows what “serious reasons” are and aren’t even if you’re unsure or mistaken. He will determine whether you’re culpable and to what degree. Besides, even if you are mistaken in thinking your reasons for spacing are valid, your desire to do it through NFP means you’re open to God’s grace, He will inform your conscience long before some guy on the Internet with his snarky comments or feeble attempts at Thomistic extrapolation.

    3. There are a lot of important things on a personal/marital level to consider as well, but those are as varied as each couple and I won’t mention them because you’d be a fool to think some dude on the Internet should have a role in your marital relationship – and you should be leery of anyone who insert themselves there.

    — Wives love your husbands and husbands love your wives.

  • John J, Elaine, and Rick,
    Thoughtful remarks, all!

Is "Planned" a Dirty Word for Catholics?

Monday, December 1, AD 2008

Taking a quiet Saturday morning to catch up on reading the newspaper, I was perusing a WSJ article on the lost virtue of prudence in our modern American society when I came across this jarring note:

The puzzling thing is that, under normal circumstances, our Americanus prudens should be flourishing. By looking ahead and exercising self-control, these unassuming homebodies tend to do well in school, form solid families and make lots of money — which they compulsively save, tucking it away in banks or mutual funds (once-sturdy institutions recently found by scientists to be hollow). The prudent have only the children they can afford — prudential parenthood is inevitably planned — but these offspring tend to thrive thanks to a stable home environment in which education is emphasized.

This threw me because the most financially prudent people I know at work are those with single incomes and large families

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14 Responses to Is "Planned" a Dirty Word for Catholics?

  • Well done. My wife and I got married at 22 right out of college. Due to some medical issues, we didn’t know if we’d be able to conceive and just figured whatever happened, happened. Two weeks later, doctors told my wife she wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. Two weeks later we conceived.

    Our more cosmopolitan friends tripped over themselves asking if our son was planned. It only baffled them more when we said, “We didn’t really think about it.”

    Though it touches on a slightly different issue, I think the Epistle of James makes the same point you are making:

    “Come now, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business and make a profiit.’ You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead ou should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’

    I think this is the same approach to take to raising a family.

  • Not long ago, American Spectator gave Strange New Respect Award to Conservative who curried Dem favor most in year- John McCain would win in heartbeat during ’08. Now a new kind of SNR Award to The American Orthodox Catholic Family. More than three kids, generally one income, no credit cards maxed out, making 10-year-old minivan last another year. Maybe you saw something on Drudge regarding Brit Catholic prelate going spastic on Disney Co. for reinforcing fantasized greed in children. Would ask the good father to chill and worry about more important stuff like terrorists killing children in hotels. But seems to make the point clear. But just when MSM will lionize these families, then scary facts come to forefront. Many homeschool the younguns. If it’s not EWTN, Veggie Tales, the occasional Disney DVD, the horrors of teevee do not imprint their young minds. Worst of all- horrors- Mom and Dad accept newborn sib as sign that God wants them to be fruitful and multiply. So maybe they’ll scrap that feature story in favor of something more gloom and doom.

  • I have to admit that even I’m not completely immune from the larger cultural mentality. My best friend just got married, and he and his wife immediately conceived (and I don’t think it was quite “planned”), and I was a bit surprised at first – and my wife and I were ones who did want to have children right off the bat (we had to wait a little longer, but thankfully not too long).

    That said, and maybe it’s the company I keep, but it does seem that it’s not completely alien anymore to express a desire for many children.

    Homeschooling, on the other hand, is a different story.

  • All of your children will be planned at least in this sense, that you waited until you were married to have them. By that standard the planning of even a couple who says “we will take however many God wants” exceeds the level of planning of a lot of folks.

  • It’s interesting. I have had similarly awkward conversations with law students recently. We are expecting our third child in May, and so the topic seems to come up quite a bit. I haven’t really mastered a short, pithy way to handle it at this point. Explaining the mechanics of NFP is not really a thirty-second conversation, and a vague reference to it yields blank, skeptical looks. With Christians one can reference about 19 centuries of consensus on the immorality of artificial contraception, however most people are not practicing Christians, and so any explanation of contraception/NFP/the nature of marriage has a lot of ground to cover. As regards the title of the post, I do not think ‘planning’ is a dirty word, but it certainly means something very different to practicing Catholics.

  • John Henry,

    Agreed. I was on the point of saying something along the lines of, “Well, Catholics don’t use birth control, but we do often use natural family planning to put off getting pregnant again for a while. So we plan, but it’s different.”

    But to my mental ear that sounded too much like “We don’t divorce, but we have annulments” or some other distinction which outsiders see as hyprocracy without a difference. I’m not sure what the good explanation is.

  • “Coworker (who had just been talking about how her “clock was ticking” but her boyfriend seemed in no hurry to propose): “I can’t believe you’ve got four kids already. Are you guys done?””

    Not to hijack the thread, but I am always amused at how ready people today are to discuss fairly intimate aspects of their life and expect other people to be equally willing to do so. Something big changed in our society circa 1965-70 and we are still working out the ramifications. In my profession I often have to be much more familiar with the personal aspects of my client’s lives than I would wish. When I first became an attorney I often had clients who would be hesitant to disclose personal details of their lives, even when such information was crucial in their case. Now I can be representing a client in some fairly innocuous matter, for example a minor traffic ticket, and it is surprising the number of them who feel compelled to tell me their life story, even when the information is not requested by me, and is not of utility in the case at hand.

  • Your co-worker’s observation that it’s the fear of hell (and so fear in general) that motives Catholics to have big families might best be countered not with detailed explanations of Catholic teaching, but rather with expressions of the happiness that often comes with each addition to the family.

  • Just chiming in from a stay-at-home mom’s point of view. Whenever I bring up NFP to friends, I get one of 2 responses: “what’s that?,” which is somewhat enjoyable to explain, and the…oh yeah that, well we use it and birth control so I know more about my body. It turns out that there are quite a few folks (other non-Catholic moms anyway) out there who know what NFP is, but they call it by a different name (e.g. ‘taking control of my fertility’).

    I don’t tend to run in predominately Catholic circles at the moment, so most of them don’t know anything about what Catholics believe. They are usually shocked that practicing Catholics don’t believe in birth control, and wonder what Catholic families do. I’ll admit I actually enjoy these conversations.

  • This is a tangential quote, but too juicy to resist.
    =====
    [Ivan] Illich told the story of asking his friend, Jacques Maritain, why the concept of “planning” did not appear in his philosophy. Puzzled, Maritain asked if “planning” was the English word for accounting. Illich answered, “No.” “Engineering?” “No.” Finally, Maritain understood. “Planning,” he said, “is a new variety of the sin of pride.”

    -Daniel Grego, Illich’s Table
    ====
    This is in the context of government or economic planning, though it certainly reminds us about pride and the need for humility in whatever we plan.

  • I was going to reply to this in a separate thread, but then I thought better of it and decided to just make my points here. When I talk to non-Catholics and/or Catholics who disagree with the Church on contraception, I usually frame the discussion in a certain way.

    I usually make the distinction that the Catholic Church does not oppose birth control per se—if we’re clear on what “birth control” really means. Any sort of “planning” in regard to family life presupposes a control, even if limited, over such matters. The problem arises, as I see it, out of the fact that what is usually referred to as “birth control” actually is birth prevention. This is what the Church opposes. Artificial contraception, as we all know, disrupts the natural fertility cycle and/or acts as a mean to entirely block the possibility of life being conceived—period. It is objectively against the sexual order. (You’ll have to explain why, of course; no need to go into it here).

    NFP is essentially a couple’s choice to, or not to, engage in marital sexual activity during the natural infertile periods of a woman for subjectively pure intentions of spacing of the birth of children and without closing God out of the marital act. This method (NFP) is in accord with God’s design of sexuality, the moral order, and man’s capacity to understand own physiological and reproductive powers and to choose a moral course of action accordingly. From scientific study, we know that NFP is 99.9% effective (same as birth control pills) without the side effects of artificial methods of birth control, and it fosters more intimacy and communication in marital relationships, not to mention a starkly lower divorce rate (1%).

    Darwin as you pointed out, there is a discomfort to use certain terminology because of the obvious contradiction that it seems to entail, e.g. we don’t have divorces, we have annulments. It’s sometimes hard to make that distinction. I think this is more common than we like to think it and it’s embedded in our culture. No good Catholic can be a feminist, that is, pro-woman. Right? Given that mentality (which I think is predominant), feminists easily present anything opposed to them as “anti-woman” and that’s how they accomplish so much. We’ve really got to steal our terms back!

    Is the term “planning” bad? Not at all. Though, we have to talk about it in terms of morality—intention, action, and object of the act. Why isn’t NFP like any other “birth control” method? What we usually call “birth control” redesigns fertility and locks the door of fertility—it is really protection (as it is called) from God. Man and woman deny their responsibility as co-creators with God explicitly whereas in NFP man and woman acknowledge this reality and take it so seriously that they wish to plan to embrace it fully. The former leads to casual, recreational sex and the contraceptive mentality—a divorce of procreation from unity in the sexual act as if both are not built in to the act inseparably; the other leads to the incarnation of the rich symbolism in man and woman in the human drama of salvation that reflects in the inner life of God Himself. One is sinful, the other is holy. The fundamental question that needs answering before this can be understood is what is the nature and end of human sexuality, particularly marital intercourse.

    I think it’s all about how one frames their argument and even more so, word choice.

    One last thing and it’s not directly related to the topic, but I think it draws a clearer picture and it really is just good food for thought. If married couples are a sacrament of the ultimate Bridegroom and Bride—Christ and the Church—then the sacrament is visible in the self gift of one to the other, which, of course is not possible with contraception. The marital act is, in a sense, the “work” of marriage, in the same way that the Eucharist is the “work” of the Christian liturgy. Every sacrament of the Church has a moment, in which God acts. The moment of conception wherein God creates new life is analogous to the consecration during Mass. In their own respective way, the sacraments are like doors through which God enters the world. The use of contraception then during the marital act is like a priest saying the prayers of the consecration with no bread or wine on the altar; this obviously robs the very action—the end trying to be achieved—of its meaning and defiles it. Ultimately, it closes the door on God in His very sacrament, which is why Catholics deem contraception to be a moral evil.

    I’ve found that this argument even to some non-Catholics have given them great pause, particularly when you bring to their attention that there is tendency to divorce sexuality from spiritual life. Is that not modernity? I’ve heard it said that the Church should give “spiritual” teachings and be less concerned with morality and sexual behavior. Why do people have this striking tendency?

    It seems to me that sexuality is so personal, so intimate a reality that it is the perfect place for the devil to begin his attempt to divide man from God. It is clear from Genesis that this is the case—after all, sexuality is not solely about sex itself.

    I think especially when Catholics disagree with the Church on contraception, which doesn’t help our dialogue with people not in the Church one must ask them a serious question. The Catholic Church is the visible sign of the New Covenant established by Jesus with His promise to be with her until the end of the world. Given this as true, Christ cannot be separated from His Church. Therefore, when one denies the teaching of the Church on marital acts, one denies the will of God. If Christ is not in your bedroom…who is?

  • I hope the inclusion of basic teaching on contraception to draw out my point doesn’t seem patronizing. I’m pretty sure we’re all clear on the teaching, I was just trying to draw connections.

  • What is clear from this post is that we all are presented on a regular basis with the opportunity to evangelize the world on the Church’s basic theology of the body. We need to get the message out there more and be more forth coming in discussing these personal topics, because you had better believe that ‘catholics for choice’ et al are getting their message out front and center. Now is not the time to be timid or mince words. When co-workers or other aquaintances bring up these topics it is our invitation to jump into the thick of it and educate.

    One thing that is often lacking is discussion of the very real ill affects of artificial contraception and sterilization. We have lost the public narrative on issues of sexuality and it will take a lot of courage and water cooler conversations to get it back.

  • You can’t evangelize those who have turned a deaf ear to the Truth. Even God Himself can’t work with someone who refuses to cooperate.

    In my experience, there are very few opportunities to evangelize about something as complex and, ultimately, transcendant as the Theology of the Body.

    Most people I know have experienced no ill side effects of contraception or sterilization. I’m not denying that the effects are objectively real and deleterious. What I am pointing out is that I don’t know anyone who is sterilized or contracepting who is unhappy about this, deems it a source of emptiness/misery/etc. in their life, and is in any way open to ToTB.

    I disagree that we need to discuss more, talk more, compete for attention in the marketplace of ideas.

    We need to preach the Gospel by our lives, using words only when necessary. And we need to accept that our “culture”, that of the post-Christian West, is lost and dying. It suffers the vices of ancient Rome, but does not hunger for the liberation of the Gospel. Our culture is, as C.S. Lewis noted, a divorcee, not a virgin.

    So count me in the camp opposed to the Water Cooler Evangelization, especially on topics such as sex.