Catholic Families, NFP, and the Upcoming Synod

Catholic Families, NFP, and the Upcoming Synod

nfpPatheos is hosting a symposium on the upcoming Synod on the Family and blogger Calah Alexander has some frank, honest points about the Church’s teaching on procreative generosity in practice. It’s worth reading.

Calah observes:

Even so, what rankles the most is never the lack of material help. I don’t expect the Church to pick up the bill for all the kids she says I should welcome. I do, however, expect the Church to welcome them as well. And that is something I almost never see.

The reality is that obedience costs a young couple something — sometimes it feels like it costs us everything. But it seems to cost the larger Church nothing. So little valued is our obedience and the sacrifice it entails that most Catholics don’t even know what the Church teaches on contraception. They’ve never heard it from the pulpit. If they do hear it, they jeer and mock, because the prospect of life without contraception seems so impossible that it’s frankly ludicrous. Equally ludicrous are those who embrace it, willingly or no. We are targets of scorn and derision, while the Church stands silently by and watches us suffer to uphold her teaching. Sometimes she even joins in the fray, building “cry rooms” to put us undesirable, multiplying masses out of sight and out of mind; providing nurseries so our children can in fact NOT come to Christ, but be put aside so the grown-ups can come to Christ in peace and quiet; interrupting homilies to ask mothers to leave the Mass with their babies, since the babies are disturbing the rest of the parishioners; in short, treating us as second-class citizens for the crime of actually obeying her teachings.

I’ve made no secret that NFP “doesn’t work for us.” In this article from last summer, I confessed that we conceived 3 children in the space of 5 years of marriage. As of this moment, I’m bouncing baby #4 in my lap, strapped up in a baby harness hanging from my shoulders, trying to urge her to sleep. That’s right. 4 kids in 6 years. I guess I wrote my article too soon.

4 kids in 6 years. Nope, NFP doesn’t work for us. Except that it does. Every single time we’ve conceived – every time, including #4 – its been in spite of ourselves. It’s not that we don’t want kids. We’ve always wanted them. Tons of them. The timing has just been off a bit with each, even when we were kinda ready and hoping in the back of our minds for #3. It’s not NFP’s failure, it’s ours. And from that failure, a multitude of lessons in generosity. From those lessons, a genuine hatred for contraceptives. Calah talks about the temptation to give up NFP. My wife and I aren’t in danger of giving up on NFP. You could gift wrap a basket of contraceptives right in the middle of our bedspread and it wouldn’t be even a remote occasion of sin. That’s not to say we’re sinless, far from it, but we would practice NFP even if the Church allowed contraception. We hate contraceptives. We love generosity.

Unfortunately, the article is dead on about the shaming in the Church, about how there is no support from lay people, church employees, and many priests. With the exception of the occasional grandmother who, in a slip into delusion, applauds us on our children’s behavior at Mass, most of what large-familied faithful receive is stares and suggestions to use the cry room – which is, by the way, already taken up by all the adults late for Mass, leaning back in their jean shorts and paging through the bulletin, leaving standing room only for parents-of-many-children who are trying to get the most they can out of Mass and would die to have a seat to lean back on while kneeling at the consecration and holding a squirming toddler simultaneously. (Not that I speak from experience or anything.)

The purpose of the upcoming synod on the family is to better evangelize the family and better evangelize about the family to the culture at large, so let’s talk about evangelization.

More than 2 years ago, when this blog first started to hit the mainstream Catholic blogosphere because of our coverage of the contraception mandate, I begged our bishops to take the crisis as an opportunity to teach boldly the Catholic doctrine on family, on the importance of generous childbearing, and on the evils of contraception and the goodness of natural family planning. That plea has been largely ignored. NFP-practicing couples could have used the support and contracepting couples could have used the salvation. Why do so many leaders in the Church ignore this issue?

It’s all a matter of image. So many Church leaders care more about how they’re seen than Whom they show. I get the sense that quite a few folks in the Church don’t have a problem with *other people* using NFP, as long as they use it to be stingy and not generous. For a lot of folks, families that use NFP and have “too many” kids make the Church look bad to outsiders, and for that, they aren’t being good Catholics. It’s nonsense, of course, just like its nonsense that I’m a bad Catholic father for not caring so much about my toddler’s minor interruptions at Mass. As much as one might argue that my orthodox practice of my faith makes the faith unattractive, difficult, laughably impractical to outsiders, and therefore unevangelizing, I would argue that to evangelize a mediocre gospel of compromise with the world is not to evangelize at all. In the end, the embarrassing difficulty of being a parent to many children, even if the family is as dysfunctional as Jacob’s, only demonstrates the greatness of Christian love that embraces so great a cross. And that love is the heart of evangelization. Given time and a fair shake, it will make more converts, not fewer. We NFP-users aren’t the enemy of evangelization. We should be encouraged, rather than shunned, to be images of the Holy Trinity, of divine, self-sacrificing love.

As for the Church, I guess we’d just like her leaders to show the same generosity to our kids that the Church expects us to show in our procreation.

Gotta go now. I’ve been bouncing baby #4 to sleep and she’s finally asleep.


  1. I guess I’ve seen the other side of this, not so much the people who don’t like children, but the “lay faithful [who] live and practice their faith in a ‘showy manner,’ failing to display the truth and humility required by the Gospel spirit”. The recent Vatican document called this a “counterwitness of the Church”.

    Sometimes people in the “large Catholic family” crowd can be very judgmental toward those who don’t have large families or can discuss the challenges of following the Church’s teaching in a way that comes off as humblebragging.

    I think the Church could do a lot to help families, the biggest thing being to push to make Catholic school affordable for all practicing Catholic families. (School funding is a uniquely American problem. In most countries, the government subsidies the Catholic schools. But if a Church full of poor immigrants could do it, I think our modern Church could manage.) Look for ways to make families feel included. If you want parents to show up for a program, include childcare, or better yet, childrens’ programs. All the preaching in the world on the good of children won’t do a bit of good if people don’t believe that Church is sincere about it.

    • I can’t say I’m entirely guiltless of that “other side” of this, especially the humblebragging (what a great term you’ve coined!).

      Catholic schools should be more affordable. I was a Catholic school teacher for 5 years. My kids go to Catholic school. Catholic schools have no appreciation whatsoever for the responsible use of money. I think they might even be worse at it than failing public schools that get bundles of cash thrown at them all the time to no avail. That’s another article, perhaps.

      • From what I have seen, in the USA, Catholic schools got away from their mission at helping parents transmit the faith and basically started competing with high-end private schools where cost is no object.

        My biggest frustration is that there is little accountability among clergy. The school my daughters attend had been around for years and was always well-run. Then a Fr. Spendthrift was assigned to the parish. He spent millions on unnecessary cosmetic renovations. When he exceeded the budget, he drained the reserve fund—all without diocesan approval! The consequences for Fr. Spendthrift’s disobedience? He got reassigned and the parish has to clean up the mess.

        It’s a lot like the sex abuse crisis. The problem isn’t that there are bad priests out there, it’s that dioceses often don’t do anything about the bad priests out there. There is nothing that the parishioners can do about it either other than vote with their feet and their pocketbooks.


  2. This is very interesting, I’d never thought about how the Church could be more vocal and active about the teachings on the family, I always kind of assumed it was our cross to bear. Great post!

  3. Never a sermon on contraception as we swim in a cesspool of contraceptives, fornication, abortion, materialism, divorce and false marriage.. Never a help to those who obey what the Church Teaches. Never a help to those families with more than one or two children to attend “Catholic” schools, especially high schools (that are filled with upper middle class contraceptive elite.)

    We have four children, and can attest the NFP does in fact work and makes one open to God’s grace and Life. How I hope for my children not to fall to the onslaught of this culture of death. Almighty God, please help.

    • To clarify, I do make clear in the article that NFP does work.

  4. I’m having a hard time sympathizing with this parts of this article and the quoted article.

    As a devout Catholic, husband, and father (who neither contracepts nor uses NFP: my wife and I recognize we have no *serious reason* to make NFP’s use licit, so we await with joy our next child), I don’t need sympathy for having kids; they are such a gift, and I hope to have as many as possible. I feel bad for all those Catholics in the pews who have not been blessed with them. I furthermore very much appreciate cry rooms; taking a screaming child into one of those is far preferable to having to leave the Church.

    You make awesome points in this article… I just really don’t think we should play the “look at our suffering” card. We are the happy and incredibly blessed ones; it’s the contraceptors, the dog-as-my-baby “parents,” the intentionally perpetual bachelors/bachelorettes, etc., who are the miserable ones.

    • May I, an internet stranger, beg for prayers from all of you? My husband refuses to sleep with me unless we use contraception or he gets a vasectomy. We are under 30, married for five years and have two wonderful children. I am a mess. :'(

      • Included in future petitions

    • I don’t much appreciate cry rooms, but that’s a minor point.

      I agree with you, as I think I made clear, that kids are an awesome blessing. I think we Catholic parents-of-many-children are great evangelists for that fact. My point was that the Church needs to let us evangelize by not trying to hide us or shun us or shut us up, which has often been the experience of Catholic parents-of-many-children.

      So my point is not “look at our suffering,” but rather, “stop casting us to the sides!”


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