Does NFP Ever Really “Fail?”

JeanRiouxDr. Jean Rioux is a professor and chair of the philosophy department. He and his wife, Maria, raise their nine children in a renovated farmhouse a few miles outside Atchison. A graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, he completed his graduate work in philosophy at the Center for Thomistic Studies in Houston, earning the M.A. in 1984 and the Ph.D. in 1990. While he has taught courses in nearly all areas of philosophy offered at the College, his recent interests include interdisciplinary ‘Great Books’ courses, epistemology, and ancient philosophy. He was named the Benedictine College Distinguished Educator of the Year in 2003.

Editor’s note: hover over notes to read or scroll to the bottom

In the article “Making Babies: A Very Different Look at Natural Family Planning” H.W. Crocker defends Natural Family Planning as “the method which doesn’t work.” [1] He does have a point. Too many Catholics place too much emphasis on how effective NFP is. Between the two, it is surely better for us to “rejoice in the fallibility of NFP (that is, in the children who sneak past it)”[2] than to forget that those very children are blessings from a generous God.

But we need not choose between the two.

Practicing NFP is much like suspending judgment. Continence in the intellectual order corresponds to continence in the moral order. For example, a young couple may find that repeated overdrafts have slowly brought them to the brink of financial ruin. If they are to avoid this, they cannot, must not, make another purchase beyond their means. Prudence requires that they now begin to scrutinize each purchase carefully, avoiding (withholding assent to) anything which will bring about the feared result. The principles governing such decisions apply also in decisions to have or not to have children.

One unfortunate by-product of NFP methods is that they focus much of our attention upon when to abstain. Yet, from a moral perspective, given a sufficient reason[3] to use NFP, it is not abstaining from intercourse that requires justification, but intercourse itself.[4] Much as the above couple must now justify each purchase, so a couple rightly using NFP must justify each marital act. Where NFP is warranted, in the order of prudence, abstention is the moral default.[5] Assuming that “we must not now become a mother and father”, prudence demands that a couple refrain from sexual relations until they can be sure that having intercourse would be the right course of action for them.

In this light, the fallibility of NFP refers not so much to the failure of a method[6] as to the weakness of moral agents. Given good reasons not to have one, a child’s “sneaking past” NFP practices, however much of a blessing it most certainly is in itself, may very well be evidence of human folly, imprudence, or moral weakness.

Someone might reply that we cannot be sure what will or will not happen. In particular, a couple can never be sure that a particular marital act will not result in new life, and so would be permitted under the circumstances. Descartes, the mathematician-turned-philosopher, demanded such a mathematical certitude for truth. Need a couple faced with this decision be that sure they will not conceive? That would set an impossibly high standard for human actions.[7] On the other hand Aristotle allowed for different degrees of certitude, mathematical and otherwise. If being sure can mean more than being mathematically sure, we ought to expect only that degree of certitude which is possible in our situation. We should not (and cannot) expect the certitude of mathematics when we draw conclusions about human actions, which are variable and subject to change.[8]

To return to the couple practicing NFP, then, it really comes down to the question: should we have relations on a given day? Given serious reasons to avoid a child at this time, prudence demands that we justify life-giving acts in the light of what we know. Not know in Descartes’ sense (for the conditions affecting fertility are many and varied), but in Aristotle’s sense: with a reasonable certainty. We should do all we can to justify marital acts before we decide to engage in them. Said negatively, if we are not sure, we ought, for now, to avoid an act which brings us out-of-line with God’s plan for us as rational creatures. (Again, abstention is the moral default.)

Someone may persist, asking whether even this lesser degree of certitude is possible: perhaps human sexuality is far too variable to allow for it. Perhaps we ought simply to admit the inadequacy of reason and rejoice in any children who “sneak past” our efforts to avoid conceiving them.

The problem with this account is that it misplaces blame. If prudence requires a couple to avoid having a child, their only moral recourse is abstention, unless they are sure that intercourse would have the same outcome (that they would not conceive). Without that assurance, however much they should rejoice in the child who “slips through”, they cannot, should not, rejoice in their own weakness. The fallibility of NFP thus turns out to be their own.

But further, and after all, human sexuality is not as variable as all that. Natural events are mostly regular: that’s what makes them natural. It is only reasonable to rely upon what commonly occurs, and our experience of the natural order is of something which happens in predictable ways. This is why proponents of NFP have good reason to speak of its effectiveness. The method is based upon nature, after all, and nature is nearly uniform. Women are not so different that they exhibit symptoms of fertility in altogether different (or even unique) ways. They tend to exhibit such things in the same way, and couples act responsibly in using such signs as a basis for prudent actions in married life.

What, then, of the exceptional cases? Even if we were to allow that symptoms of fertility occur with great regularity, surely there are women who cannot determine their fertility without even much ambiguity and imprecision?

First, admitting these as exceptions, we still would not rightly characterize NFP itself as a method which does not work. Second, even in such instances, it is not NFP which fails. Couples facing recourse to periodic abstinence must have serious reasons to do so. Prudence demands that they not have a child at this time. As we concluded above, then, it is not abstinence that requires justification, but intercourse. Absent sure signs that a child will not result, the couple must avoid relations. To do otherwise would be unreasonable. Ambiguities (in their case) arising from other sources notwithstanding, their positive duty in this regard is the same as anyone’s. In the language of suspending judgment, as they cannot reasonably expect to avoid conception, they should not consent to the act.[9]

What, then, of couples who have “done everything right”? Who have judged the symptoms and acted as prudence requires, yet find themselves blessed with another child? Surely NFP has failed at least here.

Faced with this outcome, some tragically end up rejecting the child that has “slipped through” their careful plans. They forget that God’s reason for things may very well exceed our ability to discover it. To such, NFP must have failed, for the result is a mistake, something contrary to human reason. Others, in an effort to avoid such presumption, end up by allowing reason no part whatsoever in these affairs. They will simply “let go, and let God”, forgetting that rational beings have been given a share in bringing God’s will about.[10] And while reason itself acknowledges that we do not always discern God’s purpose, it is He who made us rational. This means we should rejoice in the great gift of a child, despite the possible inadequacies of our reason: for God Himself is not unreasonable[11], yet we may fail to see His purpose in things.

Focusing upon the fallibility or infallibility of NFP may distract us from a deeper issue: given our capacity to act against our better judgment, much of this problem may lie with us. Some may ignore what reason can know of the signs of human fertility, leaving them to rejoice in their children (as they most certainly ought) and in the “fallibility” of NFP (as they ought not). Others may have good reason to avoid conception yet fail to do so through simple weakness. It would be odd to rejoice in that weakness, however, as if it were the source of the goodness of God’s gift. While it is beyond dispute that children are God’s blessings howsoever they come to be, let us take care not to use that fact to justify what may very well be our own failings.

 


[1]       Crisis, December 1, 2004

[2]       Crisis, Letters to the Editor: H. W. Crocker III responds, February 3, 2005.

[3]       Anyone familiar with contemporary Catholic family life knows that this is a highly contentious issue in itself. For example, see Thomas Storck’s article “NFP: A Defense and an Explanation” in the July 2006 edition of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

[4]       A difficulty arises here, as a couple’s concluding that “we must not become a mother and father” appears to conflict with the requirement that sexual acts remain open to conception (“we may become a mother and father”). Karol Wojtyla (Blessed John Paul II) noted and resolved this difficulty in Love and Responsibility, Chapter 4, “Periodic Continence: Method and Interpretation”.

[5]       “From the point of view of the family, periodic continence as a method of regulating conception is permissible in so far as it does not conflict with a sincere disposition to procreate. There are, however, circumstances in which this disposition itself demands renunciation of procreation, and any further increase in the size of the family would be incompatible with parental duty. A man and a woman moved by true concern for the good of their family and a mature sense of responsibility for the birth, maintenance, and upbringing of their children, will then limit intercourse, and abstain from it in periods in which this might result in another pregnancy undesirable in the particular conditions of their married and family life.”” Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H.T. Willetts, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981. Chapter 4, “Periodic Continence: Method and Interpretation”, p. 243.

[6]       Failure in the use of NFP cannot be likened, say, to a torn condom, or to an ineffectively low dosage of contraceptive hormones. Here there is no technical fault, rather, conceiving a child can be directly traced back to the couple’s choice to have intercourse.

[7]       Absent complete certainty, it is one thing to suspend one’s judgment utterly and another to do so within reason. René Descartes’ way of doing philosophy, for example, requires that one refrain from assenting to what he has not clearly and distinctly seen to be so. This insistence upon withholding assent famously leads Descartes down strange paths. Since he cannot prove that sensation is real, he must withhold his assent to what his senses have to say. In the end, Descartes is left with himself: I think, therefore I am, and it questionable whether he ever gets any further than this. An insistence upon such a standard for reason, then, seems to lead to an unreasonable outcome.

[8]       To his credit, Descartes seems to have allowed for a less than a mathematical certitude in ethical matters, though it is difficult to see that this fits within his overall account of human knowledge and suspension of judgment. For Aristotle’s account, see Nicomachean Ethics, I.3.

[9]       Prudence, which is numbered among the gifts God has given to married couples, is an intellectual as well as a moral virtue. To act imprudently is to act unreasonably, then, and so contrary to what God wills for his rational creatures.

[10]     As Robert Bolt’s Thomas More observes: “God made the angels to show Him splendor—as he made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.” St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of our unique distinction in his Treatise on Law, saying “among all others, the rational creature is subject to Divine providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others.” Summa Theologiae, I-II, 91, 3, body.

[11]     Pope Benedict XVI emphasised this point, and the serious implications entailed in its denial, in his address to the University of Regensburg faculty, Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections.

31 Comments

  1. It is not the case that “serious reasons” are required for a licit use of periodic abstinence, except in the situation where a couple intends not to have any children at all or to use p.a. for a long period of time. The use of “serious” in some translations of Humanae Vitae #16 is an error, as the Latin text speaks of “justae causae.” The whole matter is discussed in my article which you reference in note 3 above, and in Angela Bonilla, “Humanae Vitae: Grave Motives to Use a Good Translation,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, May 2007. http://www.hprweb.com/2008/03/humanae-vitae-grave-motives-to-use-a-good-translation/

  2. Jean Rioux /

    I grant that HV 16 does not say ‘serious’. That only bears on my claim if HV 16 were its basis. It isn’t. There’s always HV 10. And so it goes. But that matter is not to-the-point.

    Call the reasons what you will, they must be sufficient, and so the entire matter falls within the realm of prudence (explicitly mentioned in HV). That’s the point. Supererogation (1 Cor 7:5) aside, either periodic abstinence is called for, or it is not. If it is not, one fails morally in using it. If it is, one fails morally in not using it. Either way, we have not done rightly, though God made well bring great good from our own error. May it be always so!

  3. Truly a brilliant piece! Thank you!!

  4. My husband and I had an interesting discussion on this article this morning. Long in the past were the days where this issue affected us directly, and yet we can so easily revisit it as it shaped us as a family. We can’t help but think of the ramifications this issue brings into the marriage. We are talking about the existence of human beings, souls created by God with a specific purpose. When faced with this co-creation responsibility my husband and I felt this was a daunting task. Studying, learning, discerning on this issue when we had two children and were still grad students helped us mature in our marriage in every way. Looking back at our seven children I can say with my mother, herself a mother of ten, “we could have had more but we are so thankful for NFP as it gave us peace with God”. The young couple in ther reproductive years is feebly able to make precise decisions. What goes in the human heart is beyond any mathematical model. To live in His peace, in the knowledge that we are rewarded for attempting to follow His will albeit imperfectly, that’s priceless. For my husband, who attended the “other” Great Books program, which in many ways prepared him to his Catholic life, but where truth seems (to me) to be neither sought nor believed essential, NFP was the catalyst to learning the moral life in the Church. For this, I am eternally grateful.

  5. When in doubt use the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition” from the Magisterium of the Church. It is very clear.
    CCC: ” 2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception). ”
    .
    CCC: “2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.
    These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom.
    In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:
    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.”
    .
    Lust is a capital sin.
    CCC: ” 2349 People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life.
    Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner.
    Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.
    Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence:
    There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church. “

  6. Ursula Riches /

    God gave His son to an unmarried mother who had to undergo the risk of rejection and being put away, He provided only a stable for His own son to be born in and He knew that the family would have to flee to Egypt. We may think that it is prudent to abstain from fertile sexual relations but taking the tiny risk that remains in the infertile time gives God a bit of leeway to arrange things as He wants.
    Have you ever thought that when a couple are struggling to control themselves, it may be God’s way of saying, I know its not the best time but it is My will, can you accept it? As a child may remain with parents for 20 years, perhaps not every single one of those years is a best time but some of those years will be the best time, even if the birth and conception did not occur in the easiest time..

  7. My wife and I practiced NFP for the first few years of our marriage. When we had a child with special needs she decided she did not want more children. So she has refused to have relations for the past 10 years citing artificial birth control is a mortal sin, and the NFP is not 100% foolproof. Obviously this lack of any intimacy has effected our marriage. St. Paul said it is better to marry than to burn. But what do you do when a spouse refuses relations for 10 years? She is still 20 years away of menopause.

    • charles /

      Steve,
      My heart goes out to you and your wife. I can only suggest that you begin fasting weekly for this intention. I will pray for your marriage.

  8. Fr. W. M. Gardner /

    Dr. Rioux,
    Thank you for your thoughtful essay. My understanding is that even the “perfect use” (used exactly as the method prescribes) of NFP can sometimes result in pregnancy because of the mystery involved in identifying the exact time of ovulation. The very fact that this aspect of mystery is built into the woman’s cycle of fertility might suggest that the Creator Himself wishes some mystery to be part of marital relations, and therefore part of the arena of the creation of human life.
    Ironically, NFP seems to be promoted by the Church under the assumption that it will lead to generous parenthood, but it is promoted based on the premise of its effectiveness in preventing conception.
    Rather, I would like to see the Church encourage large families by explicitly promoting generous parenthood and the great blessing which is a Catholic family with numerous children, who are destined for eternal life in Christ.

    • My wife and I have conceived 4 kids in 6 years, all due to not getting the timing right in our calculations. My wife must have a clock that runs too fast or too slow. Either way, they’re beautiful kids and we love them all. Big families rule!

    • Jean Rioux /

      Father Gardner,

      Thanks for your kind comments. I have two things I could say in response.

      First, you’re quite right. Prudent actions on their part notwithstanding, couples may very well end up conceiving, and this is a great blessing from God. (My wife and I have nine children, one of whom was such a delightful surprise.) My point here is that God does require prudence on our part, which is to say we must do our best to participate in His plan, which naturally includes human judgment, signs of fertility, and so on.

      I cannot agree with the sentiment expressed in the second part of your comment (if I’m understanding it correctly). The Church does not promote NFP as a means to generous parenthood, as opposed to promoting it as a way to avoid conception. She clearly promotes both, as both may very well fall within the obligations of responsible parents. Thus HV 10:

      “10. Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

      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.

      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.”

      Note the explicit references to prudence and serious reasons. We must (says the Church) be mindful of natural signs of fertility, as procreation is a matter about which responsible parents must be thoughtful. Nor is this posture incompatible with the sentiment you expressed and with which I wholeheartedly agree: we strive with our hearts, spirits, and minds to do God’s will, but He is God and may have His own plans.

      Let’s not forget (and this applies to Micah’s comment, below, also), that there are couples whose generous wish to have a large family is thwarted. Those one-child Catholics who, come to find out, can have no more children. Let’s not be so unkind (and unorthodox) as to think of this as a bad thing. Less good is not the same as evil. It’s not big families that rule. For faithful Catholics with families large or small, it’s God that rules.

      In Christ,

      Jean

      • Fr. W. M. Gardner /

        Thank you Jean,
        When I wrote Church I meant at the national and diocesan level, where NFP is promoted consistently and on a widespread basis. I think this is a cause for scandal. And I don’t think these entities have carefully considered the ramifications of the widespread promotion of birth regulation. For example, I heard an NFP expert admit that the average fertility rate for NFP couples is 2.1, which is a replacement level birthrate. If this is true, it implies the necessary demise of our vocations programs if all Catholic couples adopt the NFP lifestyle.
        Secondly, reflecting anecdotally, there were many times when my own parents could have been considered by some to be imprudent in welcoming children, especially when the prevailing opinion was that Church was about to change its teaching on artificial birth control. Nevertheless, despite the difficult times and sacrifices as the oldest of 10, I cannot imagine life without any of my siblings. As Dr. Jay Boyd has written, we need less family “planning” and more family “happening”!
        Finally, I would respectfully disagree that promoting large families necessarily implies the denigration of small families. There is hierarchy in nature, in the business world, in leadership roles, and also in the Church, but the existence of hierarchy should not prevent us from aspiring to greatness. Rather, we aspire to generosity in family life because it imitates the Supreme Goodness of God Himself. Those with fewer children will in turn be offered other opportunities to give generously in His service.

        • Jean Rioux /

          Fr. Gardner,

          Then I did misunderstand you. My apologies. We are in agreement, that praising a great good does not entail diminishing a lesser good.

          There are many who could not imagine life without their siblings. Each child is undeniably a blessing and a gift.

          Having made that plain, though, do you agree that any parents have ever been imprudent in conceiving a child?

          If not, I’d leave the matter there.

          If so, then I think we are undeniably faced with the prospect of God bringing good out of evil. Or is this not so? Ought we ever to behave imprudently? Ought we not, as the Church teaches us, to approach the matter of procreation with respect and diligence? It is a fearsome (not fearful!) responsibility. Let us be certain not to act imprudently in its regard. If so, we will (of course!) rejoice in the good God has given us, despite our imprudence. But we cannot call our imprudence good.

          The same point can be made with examples more morally extreme than the imprudent actions of a loving married couple, but the outcome is the same. We will naturally love the child, though should we allow the good that God does to be confused with whatever evil actions brought it about?

          In Christ,

          Jean

          • Fr. W. M. Gardner /

            “Having made that plain, though, do you agree that any parents have ever been imprudent in conceiving a child?”
            Dear Jean,
            Your question gets to the heart of the matter, but it’s beyond my pay grade. In other words, even if the child were to be put up for adoption with all the difficulties involved in that process, the child nevertheless has existence and life, which are priceless gifts. His life is by no means superfluous.
            Thus the decision of whether to have marital relations is less like a human calculation and more like a decision for giving evangelical witness, or for undertaking dangerous missionary work, or for even martyrdom. In all these cases, the criteria of human prudence yield, by God’s grace, to the calling of heroic love.

  9. Used NFP for 4 years successfully after 2 children, then 3rd arrived while using NFP. So I consider it a success because 4 years was lengthy and it was a blessing to have our 3rd…I recommend NFP because it is working in cooperation with God and man. It was not a difficult system to use and beats artificial use.

  10. Dear Dr. Rioux,

    This is a good article, thank you.

    Since my experience represents a fractional percentage in an already small percentage of those committed to being open to life in their marriages, I expect that it is often not addressed. I offer it here as something you may find worthy of consideration and mention, in an attempt to draw even more couples into God’s plan for marital chastity.

    I’d like to bring to your attention a group of people for whom nfp, in it’s many, wonderful, varied modalities, may present painful difficulties which are not surmountable. This group may include those who have survived either verbal and/or physical sexual abuse.

    As anyone familiar with nfp knows, all of the methods depend on the woman closely monitoring a number of physical indicators. Many find this empowering. Even former sufferers of abuse may find this freeing. For a small number, this kind of monitoring required for success induces rage/anger and many negative emotions, that no amount of counseling, prayer, sacraments, fasting, will solve. Sometimes God asks us to leave it to Him. Sometimes this is the only way of peace. Those who, for whatever discerning reason, choose this path, are often labeled and made an object of ridicule.

    God is good, and does not leave us orphans! His ways are many and His mercy is endless to those who genuinely seek His face and counsel. I’d like to encourage any who find themselves in a situation where nfp is not working, to go to God, prepared for subjecting your will to His. Then listen, really listen to what He puts on your heart. It may be total abstinence, until a situation changes. It may leaving the fertility up to Him. Either way, you will know what He is calling you as couple to, because His path will be the only one that gives true peace and a measure of joy.

    We have found in our marriage that surrendering our fertility to God, allowing Him to choose our family size, was our only workable option. We did use ecological breastfeeding, not for child spacing, primarily because that was what we wanted for our children, what seemed best. The child spacing part was a bonus.

    After 24 years of marriage and 8 children, we are both so very happy we both had the courage and commitment to continue to make this decision. It was not easy. There were many struggles to remain faithful and not give into fear/anxiety and that sense of rejection from those who, yes, struggle with nfp’s use, but who do not suffer rage when using it. Unfortunately, there is often a lot of judgement from that group that is blessed (yes, they are blessed!) to be able to successfully use nfp in their marriages towards those who are not.

    You are correct in your assessment that lack of discipline and strength in continence is a failing we should not rejoice in. For some reading this, especially those with fragile self esteem, this may be (wrongfully)interpreted as: “you are refuse, unworthy of mercy! Proof of this is your inability to overcome your fallen nature to use nfp correctly!”…and the cycle of abuse goes on.

    I would suggest that just as we should not rejoice in our inability for discipline, we should also be wary of rejoicing in it, and using it a weapon of pride. For certainly, while this may be a virtue one has mastered, there are certain to be others that you haven’t.

    I’d like everyone to know God is faithful to His promises and the struggle to live married life without contraception will be blessed a thousand fold. Looking back at almost 25 years of marriage, we can say being faithful was a million times a million worth all of those sufferings and struggles.

    Be encouraged!

    God Bless You!

  11. Brilliantly done, thank you!

  12. HenryBowers /

    What a disappointing message, to place the parents of NFP babies on a level with the parents of rape babies, both groups conceiving in (or victimized to) subhuman folly.

    Your mistake seems to stem from the implicit belief that every moral conjugal act between spouses must intend procreation. That belief is false, and no church documents support it.

    Abstinence indeed requires justification, as the anorexic is culpable for the abstinence she was able to choose, as is the person who voluntarily abstains from paying his workers.

    HV16 says NFP is supposed to “safeguard fidelity” _via_ intercourse, not _via_ abstinence, and HV30 says NFP is supposed to “render . . . [life] not only more tolerable, but easier and more joyful . . . . enriched with fraternal charity and made more stable with true peace.” That peace is not accomplished by a couple starving and calculating all their acts of affection, then confessing themselves on par with subhuman rapists or fornicators, when their reasonable and holy intention to enjoy intercourse without intending babies yields a child.

    Granted, it may be unfair or unreasonable to allow certain side-effects like children in certain circumstances, but those circumstances do not nullify or de facto exonerate the chosen abstinence. Chosen abstinence must be specified into a licit moral object by the agents, regardless of circumstances.

    I think your claims are false, and spread nothing but needless angst.

    • NFP is evil as it has the same INTENT as any contraceptive….satisfaction of carnal desires without the responsibility of parenthood. If you don’t want a child then you should not engage in sexual intercourse.

      • That’s really not how intent works. Intent takes into account what the act actually does, so while a person using contraception effectively intends to stop the possibility of conception, the person using NFP does no such thing. More on this at New Theological Movement.

      • Jean Rioux /

        Tim,

        Micah has the right of it.

        The alternative you supply is a good beginning toward understanding the Church’s wisdom here–if you don’t want a child then you should not engage in sexual intercourse–though the Church insists upon a change: a) that it’s not just ‘I do not want’ a child, but (as with all human actions) at this point I ‘should not’ act so as to conceive a child. So, if you should not now have a child, then, yes, by all means refrain from intercourse.

        But reality betrays your second point. Couples who refrain periodically from intercourse for this reason do not always seek to escape the responsibility of parenthood. Many who do this would very much love another child, and would embrace that responsibility one more time. Evidence of this is that they rejoice when, despite periodic abstinence, they do conceive. People who wants only to fulfill their carnal desires do not rejoice when a wife conceives. If you doubt this, speak to any loving husband and father. This ‘state of mind’ such prudent couples maintain is exactly what the Church calls being open to new life.

        I find it ironic that you would label a loving couple’s decision to abstain from intercourse for the sake of themselves and their family ‘carnal’. It is so very much the opposite, as it sacrifices the merely carnal for the sake of a higher good. It is a uniquely matrimonial sacrifice of (not indulgence in) the carnal!

        All the best,

        Jean

      • HenryBowers /

        Tim, your claim is also logically invalid. For if you think the pleasure of intercourse itself is evil, you’ve departed from Church teaching. But if you hold that pleasure is only as good as the acts to which it attaches, you would need to specify exactly how NFP is always contraceptive. That you haven’t done.

        • Please study the following:

          THE CASE
          AGAINST
          CATHOLIC
          CONTRACEPTION

          by

          Michael Malone

          THE CASE AGAINST
          CATHOLIC
          CONTRACEPTION

          an Opinion Paper
          by

          Michael Malone

          Onan spilled his seed upon the ground lest children should be born … and the Lord slew him because he did a detestable thing. Genesis 38:9-10

          SACRED HEART PRESS
          San Antonio, Texas

          WISDOM OF THE FLESH

          Saint Paul wrote to the Romans that those who live according to the flesh “cannot please God” (8:8). Natural Family Planning, in all its varieties, is advertized to be just that — “natural” — and therefore of the flesh. The question must be asked: how can natural methods of precluding, regulating or controlling births please God, since they cannot be mer-itorious in His sight inasmuch as their essential proposition is less than supernatural? The nature of man himself, of course, it not evil; but to prefer nature over supernature — flesh over virtue — makes a man something less than animal before God. “Which is more important,” the old Catechism asks, “the care of the body or the care of the soul?” Is one who rejects the specious arguments of NFP to be called a Jansenist or Manichee for striving to subject his body for the sake of his spirit? Our Lord created all men with the vocation to rise above our mere natures, to subdue our flesh, and — once having put our hand to the endeavor — to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). For “whosoever looks back is unfit for the kingdom” of God (Luke 9:62), that kingdom wherein spiritual val-ues reign supreme. Indeed, faithful members of the kingdom of Heaven express themselves in a much more exalted language:

          As a supernatural, perfect society whose members are not free to lead purely natural lives, but only supernatural lives, the Church must present higher goals. However, couples who practice NFP can never rise far above the natural, because they do not introduce into their conjugal love the supernatural dimension which only total abandonment to the Will of God can give in any state of life. The sweet security of total abandonment to God’s will is not, alas, a conspicuous fruit of NFP. Lacking the supernatural dimension, marriage must founder in the mechanics and glorification of sex. NFP offers adjustment to the world, when it should transcend it.1

          The bishops of this country, in their 1983 pastoral The Challenge of Peace, insist that “we must pre-serve a saving and necessary difference from the spirit of the world as an outward sign of the spiritual values we cherish.” For God made man in His very own “image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26), with intellect and will as corresponding images of the Pure and Perfect Spirit which He is from all eternity. As our Creator, God delights in the proper use of these faculties in us, but He can have no recourse but to despise our wilful abuse of them the moment we put one at the inordinate use of the other. Let us not follow the children of this world, whose delights are consumed in the the pleasures of the flesh, “whose God is their belly, whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). For three deadly enemies to our eternal salvation persistently confront us: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil … and behold which two are named in first place!

          After all, we Christians are required, in living the True Faith, to satisfy not only our spiritual but even our carnal appetites for one ultimate reason alone: to render honor and glory to Almighty God. “Whether you eat or drink or whatsoever else you do, do all things for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). This grand design thus subordinates all the activities of our lower nature in order to integrate our every activity with the sublime plan of the Heavenly Father to render homage to the image of His Divine Son: “Everything whatsoever you do, in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father by Him” (Colossians 3:17). And, since this very image abides in us by way of our Baptismal Character, can we truly honor Our Lord by seeking to render it fruitless? “We have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16), no longer the mind merely of our lower nature, attentive only to its carnal requirements.

          For, those who live according to the flesh mind the things of the flesh, but they who live according to the spirit mind the things of the spirit. And the wisdom of the flesh is death, but the wisdom of the spirit is life and peace; for the wisdom of the flesh is hatred against God, since it is not subjected to the law of God, nor in truth can it be.
          Romans 8:5-7

          To be honest, as Christians we must profess that our bodies and the use of them belong, not to us but to God. We are ultimately at His disposal, and the functions of our physical natures at His own good pleasure — not ours. For He tells us clearly, through the witness of St. Paul: “Do you not know that the members of your bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost, and that you are not your own?” (I Corinthians 6:19). Our bodies, and the use of them, in no sense whatever belong to us, to do with as we please, out-side of and against the eternal designs of God.

          When a man and woman marry, do they ever think to sit down and even discuss the designs of God? Or do they selfishly say to themselves: “Perhaps God in His wisdom wills for us to have lots of children, but let us make our own human arrangements, and pro-duce only one or two!” Is this an honest endeavor to do the Will of God — or the will of man? Re-member the basis of our innermost prayer: “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Thy will be done … not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 6:10;26:39).

          THE VIRTUE OF CONTINENCE

          The only supernatural prescription for postponing births, then, must necessarily be a virtuous one, in order to avoid becoming merely “wisdom of the flesh”; it must constitute a true moral virtue, such as would the practice of celebacy or even an indefinite and total abstinence from the marriage privilege. Saint Thomas Aquinas assures us that, to have mar-ital relations for the begetting of the child alone is virtuous. This is the Virtue of Continence, in which, as St. Paul attests, a man and wife may legitimately refuse themselves the intimacies of Matrimony “by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer” (I Corintians 7:5). The motive for exercising continence in marriage, then, is to devote more time to prayer and spiritually uplifting works; but in NFP this precise “time” is conscientiously spent watching the calendar and plotting the cycles of ovulation. In this, NFP’ers are directly equating a bodily exercise of our lower nature with the holiness of virtue, whether they realize it full well or not. To make use of the sexual faculty legitimately and virtuously and with the design to fulfill the ends for which God created it is not a sin, but any other use appears to be an exercise of in-continence.

          Now, the vice of incontinence can exist within the Sacrament of Matrimony just as readily as outside it, for there is no moral nor nuptial borderline to profligacy, just as there is no automatic release from the obligation to observe holy continence on the Wedding Day (cf. Tobias 6:18). The Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit are lavished on every Catholic at Baptism, and embellished with each Sacrament re-ceived. The last two named in his Epistle to the Galatians by St. Paul are “Continence and Chastity”; therefore, these apply to marrieds as well as singles among the faithful. The marvelous word continence in the Greek of St. Paul literally means “self-control” (, not “birth-control.” And where does lack of self-control leave these necessary virtues? If Continence goes out the bedroom door, can Chastity be far behind? Thus, Pope Pius XI, in his Encyclical On Christian Marriage, states that:

          If the blessing of conjugal faith is to shine with becoming splendor, mutual familiar in-tercourse between the spouses must be dis-tinguished by Chastity, so that husband and wife bear themselves in all things with the law of God and of nature, and endeavor always to follow the will of their most wise and holy Creator with the greatest reverence toward the work of God … The grace of Matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in a field unless the parties exercise these supernatural powers, and cultivate and develop the seeds of grace which they have received.”2

          You will recall the parable told by Our Lord about the distribution of precious talents to various of His servants (Matthew 25:15 ff.). The one who was ultimately judged by the Redeemer as “wicked and slothful,” had hidden his talent “in the ground” (Matthew 25:25), just as Onan spilled his seed back into the ground from which he came. Thus, the wicked servant hid his coin in the very stuff from which he had been drawn: “the slime of the earth” (Genesis 2:7), that self-same nature he had begun with in the first place. We are therefore “wicked and slothful” to pour back the treasures of our hearts into the natural things of the earth, when we have been given not only a higher direction — as at Holy Mass: “Lift up your hearts!” — but also a loftier End to keep in view at all “times,” as well as what the Pope calls “the super-natural powers to cultivate and develop the seeds of grace” which Matrimony provides its children in abundance. The holy father continues:

          And now, Venerable Brethren, we shall ex-plain in detail the evils opposed to the ben-efits of Matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the “disagreeable burden of Matrimony” and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people, not through virtuous Continence — which Christian law permits in Matrimony when both parties consent — but by frustrating the marriage act. Some men justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties, whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances.3

          Pope Pius XI here states that frustration of the marriage act is an “evil,” and upholds the Virtue of Continence — abstinence. This Virtue is defined as “abstinence in marriage, voluntarily agreed upon by both parties or forced by circumstances to abstain from marital intercourse.”4 NFP would make this abstinence into a calculated frustration of the marriage act, thus perverting the entire notion of the Virtue of Continence altogether. Pius XI declares that “any use whatsoever of Matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of grave sin!”5

          How any rational human can hold that “one cannot be said to frustrate the natural power and purpose of the marriage act by abstaining from it” is an exercise in illogic at best when, as we all know from the theory and praxis of NFP, it preaches absinence from the marriage act precisely in order to frustrate its natural power and purpose. Intentionally to limit one’s sexual activity solely to those times wherein the normal and natural result is impossible is the premier definition of frustration.

          Frustrate (frus’trate) vt. To cause to have no effect. Webster’s Dictionary

          AN ETERNAL PLAN

          A use of Matrimony which is designed to impede generation is against the Divine Law, against the Natural Law, and is a grave crime.6 Summa Theologica Moralis

          In comparing the marriage of mortals to that of Jesus and His Church, St. Paul writes, “this is a great Sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in His Church” (Ephesians 5:32), thus recalling that most perfect union between the members of Jesus with their Head. Would it not be blasphemous to compare the marriage of Christ to the often sterile union between Family Planners who endeavor to preclude — even occasionally, but always at their convenience — the true end of their union? Would it not be a species of sacrilege to envision a God who for one moment would thwart the eternal aim of the marriage of His Church with men, namely their eternal salvation, by planning a way for children not to be born of her in the font of Holy Baptism? On the contrary, it is the constant and continuous will of God that His Church be ever-fruitful in producing Other Christs: “For whosoever does the will of My Father, he is My Mother” (Matthew 12:50) Jesus tells us; and “Whom God foreknew He also predestined to be made conformable to the image of His Son: that He might be the first-born amongst many brethren” (Romans 8:29).

          At the 1993 International Humanae Vitae Con-ference, Dr. John Billings of Australia, inventor of the ovulation method of Natural Family Planning, spoke of his crusade for NFP in over one hundred countries around the world. He boasted: “NFP is a universal method, acceptable to everybody!”7 Now, if everybody in the world rejected it, this would not necessarily imply that NFP is not part of God’s plan; however, if all the world accepts NFP, then perhaps we ought at least begin to suspect that it is not a system deserving God’s automatic approval. After all, Our Lord warned us: “If you had been of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, the world hates you” (John 15:19).

          Listen now to the words of “the Aquinas of Germany,” Fr. Matthias Joseph Scheeben, renowned Rector of the Seminary in Cologne, Germany last century:
          Husband and wife can rightfully unite with each other in Matrimony only for the End which Christ pursues in His union with the Church, that is, the further extension of the Mystical Body of Christ. They can act only in the name of Christ and the Church; for their bodies belong to Christ and His Church, and consequently the right of disposing of them pertains in the first instance not to the earthly bridal couple, but to the Heavenly nuptials. Therefore, their union presupposes the union of Christ with His Church, and joins with it to cooperate with it for a single supernatural purpose.8

          Please take note! There is but a single solitary super-natural purpose; there are several other purposes: but they are utterly natural in scope and fruition. Bear also in mind that it cannot in any sense be considered a merely natural purpose of Matrimony to bring souls into this life, for the very creation of souls is a supernatural work of God Almighty. However, to frustrate that design intentionally is both a natural and a supernatural perversion.

          “So I say to those who are not married and to wid-ows,” St. Paul writes, “better to stay unmarried if you can, just as I am. But if you can’t control your-selves, go ahead and marry. It is better to marry than to burn with lust!” (I Corinthians 7:8-9).9 In short, Matri-mony is preferable to incontinence. But where does St. Paul say that preference for pleasure rather than progeny is a worthy example of the Virtue of Con-tinence in marriage? No. We are not to live as ani-mals or pagans, nor imitate in any way the morals of creatures limited to a merely worldly vision. We are to conduct ourselves solely “as becometh Saints” (Ephesians 5:3) in the Mystical Body of our Divine Spouse, Jesus Christ.

          LEGACY OF LUST

          St. Augustine charged, in his Morals of the Mani-chees: “Is it not you who used to warn us to watch, as much as we could, the time after purification of the menses, when a woman is likely to conceive, and at that time refrain from intercourse? … From this, it follows that you consider marriage not to pro-create children, but to satiate lust! Marriage joins male and female for the procreation of children … If there is a wife, there is Matrimony; but there is no Matrimony where motherhood is prevented, for then there is no wife!” He adds: “I wish young girls to marry. Why? To bear children, to be mothers of families!”10 This is the Primary End of marriage.

          Although perhaps not specifically indicting the Na-tural Family Planners of his day, St. Augustine has surely hit the nail on the head in condemning the very quintessence of what we once referred to as The Rhythm System, as well as drawing out the most essential error thereof by demonstrating how its supporters, in concert with the ancient and immoral Manichees, have denied the true motive of Matrimony: procreation. Rhythmers have placed sa-tiation ahead of procreation since they desire the benefits of the former over those of the latter: they actively pursue the pleasures of their spouses while in the very same moment they are positively desiring the non-existence of any conceivable issue therefrom. Indeed, they plan the non-existence of these children in scrupulous detail.

          On the contrary, Pope Paul VI emphasizes, in Humanae Vitae, that marital love must be “fruitful” and “open to life,” that couples must clearly re-cognize that “marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained to the begetting and education of children,” and that this conjugal love is “principally an act of the free will.”11 In this precise vein, the current Code of Canon Law declares of the partners in marriage (Canon 1101) that “if either or both parties through a positive act of the will should exclude marriage itself, or some essential element, or an essential property of marriage, it is invalidly contracted.” Being fundamentally an act of the will, and by its nature ordained to the begetting of children, then surely to make use of that will to make sure there will be no children must constitute in Matrimony a frustration of the act in its very nature and ordination to life. Let us listen to the words of St. Caesarius of Arles, another early Father of the Church:

          As often as any man has relations with his wife without a desire for children … without a doubt, he commits sin. These and similar deeds belong to the lesser sins which can scarcely be counted!12

          Here we have the commencement of proper thinking concerning all the specious methods of planned parenthood, and it directly involves a perversion of our spiritual faculties — what Pope Paul calls “principally our free will.”

          THE WILL AND THE REASON

          Cicero once wrote that “Reason should direct, and appetite obey,” but which is at the service of which in Rhythm or Natural Family Planning? It seems clear enough that Reason is lowered to the level of a slave in being put to work solely to achieve the venereal pleasures of our lower Appetites in the contraceptive schemata. God made man in His very own “image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26), with intellect and will as corresponding images of the sublime Spirit which He is. As our Creator, God delights in the proper use of these images in us, but He has no recourse but to despise our wilful abuse of them the moment we arbitrarily put one at the unrestricted use of the other.

          Now, if our intelligence is utilized to provide meth-ods in which the desires of our animal concupis-cences can be satisfied at the expense of achieving their proper ends, is this not an abuse of reason? And did not St. Thomas Aquinas define all sin as an abuse of reason?13 “Make no provision for the flesh in its concupiscences!” warned St. Paul (Romans 13:14). And yet that is precisely what we are providing for in NFP. Pleasure is not an evil in itself, no more than is “doin’ what comes natcherly,” but to make the gratification of our concupiscences an end in itself is evil; for even the most instinctive of our urges are meant to fit into a scale of priorities and to be utilized according to Right Reason, with prudence and integrity, and only in this way to see their indulgence enjoyed without sin.

          Sin lies essentially in the will, not simply in the ex-ternal, physical actions which flow from its direc-tion. Lucifer, being bodiless, was hurled nonethe-less into Hell for the purely spiritual sin of wilful pride. Thus, Our Lord specifically forbade impure thoughts and desires prior to any outward act of fornication (Matthew 5:28). If sin indeed comes from the heart, as Our Lord teaches, and if the intention of the heart is to oppose “by omission” the essential goal of the act of reproduction, then what is the real difference, if any, between artificial and “natural” forms of contraception? One may be accomplished with a physical device, and the other through the calculation of a time schedule, but each begins with the same desire of the heart and ends with a consciously planned frustration of the conjugal act in its most essential purpose.

          In Rhythm and NFP, man’s faculty of will is com-pletely focused on achieving the desired results, and his conscious intention is totally absorbed therein. As a matter of clinical fact, it requires utmost at-tention to detail to achieve success. And just what does this “success” entail? Precisely that result achieved in any other species of Birth Control. Intentionally willing the End necessitates choosing the Means which produce that End. We must, then, ask ourselves: Does the End — the conscious achievement of sexual pleasure at the intentional frustration of the prime purpose of Matrimony — justify those Means? Cardinal Edouard Gagnon observed as President of the Pontifical Consilium Pro Familia that:

          As it has since its beginning, the Church continues to teach that every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act or in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences, would have as an End or as a Means to render procreation impossible is considered an unlawful means of birth regulation.14

          This time-tested and traditional teaching of the Catholic Church appears to destroy any foundation of the validity or legitimacy of NFP; for surely this method of limiting families is purposefully planned in premeditated “anticipation of conjugal acts” specifically as “a Means to render procreation impossible.”

          DESIGNS OF THE HEART

          It is clearly in the goal and intent of the human will, therefore, that we find the tragedy of Birth Control in all its specious disposition. For “an adulterer does not seek offspring; rather, he seeks carnal delight,” explained Pope St. Gregory the Great,15 thus making a man who intends to circumvent birth by any means, while at the same time seeking to achieve carnal gratification, a species of adulterer.

          When the act of Matrimony is performed otherwise than nature dictates, or if its con-summation is purposely prevented, then both spouses are guilty of mortal sin, which ex-cludes them from the Kingdom of Heaven. The act of copulation is ordained for a spe-cial End, and in its proper method. To defeat this, or to elude the End, is to go contrary to the workings of God, and is therefore a mor-tal sin.16

          Thus wrote Fr. Cornelius Lapide, SJ, accounted by the Church as one of the greatest Scriptural exegetes who ever lived. But one does not have to be a great Scripture scholar to grasp immediately the perver-sion inherent in the conscious intention of seeking bodily pleasure ahead of and in place of the re-productive handiwork which nature and nature’s Creator has designed as Primary End. Pope Pius XI declared that “Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that pri-vate individuals have no other power over the mem-bers of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends.”17 Therefore, to seek a power over our bodies which would frustrate those very ends is not only unnatural, but reprehensible. Even those in whom the light of virtue has been blinded, such as the Jewish infidel, Sigmund Freud, can see the de-pravity in this unnatural disposition:

          The abandonment of the reproductive func-tion is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it. So, as you will see, the breach and turning point in the development of sexual life lies in its becoming subordinate to the purpose of reproduction. Everything that happens before this turn of events, and equally everything that disregards it and aims solely at obtaining pleasure, is given the uncomplimentary name of “perverse,” and as such is despised.18

          Other naturally gifted non-Catholics likewise explain the errors found in NFP as it is fundamentally related to all other forms of birth provention. The erudite Protestant, C. S. Lewis, writes:

          The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism — one flesh. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse out-side marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union — the sexual — from all other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasure of taste without swallowing and digesting: by chewing things and then spitting them out again … The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the bio-logical purpose of eating is to repair the bo-dy.19
          MEANS TO AN END

          The famous Roman dramatist, Seneca, once remark-ed that the wealthy populace of the Imperial Capital “ate to vomit, and vomited to eat.”20 The sad aspect of NFP is that it follows this exact model in many predominant ways. In seeking to thwart the natural and ultimate End of eating, namely to nourish and repair the body, votaries of our modern Vomitor-iums make use of a very natural physical reaction. After all, gagging and vomiting are not unnatural to the human body. They are normal bodily functions found in all animal nature; and, although NFP cannot be allied to these functions in a directly positive sense, it nonetheless is identical in intention: to block the Primary End involved in the act, and thus to impede an otherwise natural result designed by God Himself. The Almighty has imposed no pos-itive duty on us to produce children in every given instance; however, He surely has imposed on every man the obligation to orient every conceivable Sec-ondary End to that which in each case is Primary.

          As we know, there are certain legitimate “secondary purposes” to be achieved in the marital union, such as efforts to strengthen the marriage itself. NFP pro-moters publicly profess this to be an important goal and accomplishment in their form of birth control, as though a man’s use of his wife strictly for pleasure could possibly strengthen anything except his own selfishness! Nevertheless, it is true that secondary objectives have their proper place in the spectrum of priorities which constitutes Matrimony.
          However, none of these secondary purposes can in any way whatsoever displace or ne-gate the primary purpose, nor can the secon-dary purpose legitimatize the marital sex act if the primary purpose is impeded or negat-ed.21 The Catholic Encyclopedia

          Thus, as the famed Dominican, Fr. Vincent Mc-Nabb, writes:

          It is a principle of ethics that what is Primary cannot be set aside as though it were Se-condary, nor can the Secondary be sought as though it were Primary. To invert the ethical order is to bring in that disorder which is called sin. It is a grievous disorder, and therefore a grievous sin, to desire satisfaction in such sexual intercourse as could not result in the begetting of offspring.22

          In point of fact, wouldn’t this be exactly what Pope St. Gregory the Great condemned as “transferring the occasion of procreation to the service of plea-sure”?23

          OF THE SAME MIND

          And thus, the practical and effective contraceptive mentality employed under NFP methodology is op-posed to “the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16) which we are all meant to embrace. There is no hope what-ever that such a program will convert the contracep-tive world which surrounds us. NFP’ers have virtu-ally joined hands with Planned Parenters in consid-ering children something undesirable, at least “tem-porarily”; whereas the true faithful have always con-sidered them an undeniable blessing from God Him-self, planned by His Providence from all eternity. “Behold: children are the inheritance of the Lord; the fruit of the womb a reward. Blessed is the man whose desire is filled with them; he shall not be confounded” (Psalm 126:3,5). If man is blessed with desire for children, is it not a curse when they are not desired? “What is worse,” Ven. Mary of Agreda assures us, “if, by his carnal wisdom and diabolical astuteness, man sometimes succeeds in obtaining what he seeks, he deems himself fortunate on account of this, his own misfortune!”23

          NFP and all other forms of Birth Control dispensed by Planned Parenthood facilities — including the ul-timate contraceptive back-up: abortion — deliberate-ly reject the naturally procreative design of the body: NFP by preventing life, abortion by ending it. They share the same root and mentality: a wilful separation of the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual function. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice any species of family planning which serves to disassociate procreation from sex!

          THE MEANINGS OF MARRIAGE

          Pope Paul VI points out in Humanae Vitae that the marital act has two inseparable meanings: unitive and procreative,24 and we cannot intentionally sep-arate the two meanings and expect the act to re-present a valid function or legitimate fulfillment of Matrimony.

          The unitive good of the sexual act is that which acts to nourish and complete the bond between a man and a woman. What is it that will create a permanent bond between a man and woman? The answer is quite obviously: having a child together.25 Dr. J. E. Smith

          As a matter of fact, it has all-too-often been the fe-male of the species who has initiated the unitive ends of sex precisely to generate the permanency of this bond with a wayward spouse. A clever wife can readily see the ultimate design to which such bond-ing can be put. But when children are intentionally discounted, even the pleasure of the bond itself will often serve to weaken its survival by degenerating into a bestial functionality. What woman wants to become a mere sex-object, controlled by clocks and calendars … as well as coarse and carnal husbands?

          The pleasure attached to the use of the gen-erative functions serves a purpose, namely, a means towards the maintenance of the race. Other sensible pleasures, for example the en-joyment of natural scenery, may be sought for their own sake; they have no other con-ceivable purpose than the causing of pleas-urable feelings; and herein lies the difference from sexual pleasures. In these, the pleasure cannot be, for a rational creature, an end in itself apart from the function to which it is attached.26 Rev. Father W. Breen
          Even medically barren couples may not deliberately desire to remain so in any specific intimacy, purely for the sake of pleasure, nor to harbor the distinct intention of gratification over generation. The moral and normal desire for children must always be included in the conditions for copulation — even if not always consciously present to our minds — in order than the action itself not become a mere animalistic perversity. Thus, Cardinal Gagnon writes:

          While the person may not be fertile, the act retains the procreative meaning. Spouses are still giving totally of themselves … However, if the couple attempts to manipulate the act by contraception, they act as ‘arbiters’ of the Divine Plan, intentionally manipulating and degrading human sexuality. In this way, they are positively refusing to be open to life and, at the same time, they are falsifying the meaning of the marital act.27

          This meaning is fulfilled only when what Pope Paul VI called the “inseparable meanings” of marriage are not intentionally divorced. The procreative and unitive construction of Matrimony has been ordained in the wisdom of God to be exercised jointly, at least by design and cooperation on our part. And “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).

          TOTAL GIVING

          Is NFP not an “intentional manipulation, positively refusing to be open to life”? And how can spouses pretend to “retain the procreative meaning” required for the legitimate exercise of all conjugal union if they are not “giving totally of themselves” by refusing reproductive rights to each other in a particular sexual union? Isn’t the capacity to reproduce, in those who enjoy it, part and parcel of our human make-up? And, if a fertile couple is legitimately permitted to close this capacity to life by means of NFP, how can a “person who may not be fertile” be faulted by Cardinal Gagnon for doing the same thing?

          The bonds of Matrimony effect a total giving of self, otherwise there is no true meaning to Matrimony nor any legitimate use thereof. Pope John Paul II declared that “in the act which expresses their conjugal love, the spouses are called to make of themselves a gift, one to the other; nothing of what constitutes their being a person may be excluded from this self-donation”28 However, in contraceptive intercourse, Bishop John Myers, Ordinary of Peoria, explains:

          The married couple is saying: “We know that our love for each other can create a new life. We do not want this new life at this time. Therefore, we will, by a directly-willed positive act, destroy that creative part of our love. Although our bodies are saying we love each other completely, we do not love our fertility at this time. Thus we sterilize our love”29
          AN ACT OF THE WILL

          If we are to follow the admonition of St. Paul to our fellow-Romans, let us “do no evil so that good may come from it” (3:8). The Rule of Means to the End must apply; that is: it is nowise ever right to contend that the End justifies the Means, or vice-versa. Now, a sin of Omission is the moral equivalent of a sin of Commission, and is often even worse in the actual realm of moral offense. For example, Onanism in all its forms is a definite act, taken to prevent a specific conjugal union from achieving its normal and natural consequence, but there can be such a thing as Negative Onanism as well — and it is just as definite an act. Bear in mind that Onan was not slain by God merely for the positive act of “spilling his seed upon the ground,” but also for the motive for which he ommitted fulfilling it: “lest children be born” (Gen 38:10). The sin of Onanism just as any other sin, therefore, includes both the act itself and the motive for which it is committed.

          Making love by calendar-watching or thermometer-reading or (God help us) mucous-examination is not only a “definite act,” but certainly an unnatural one — one which no lesser creation in God’s universe can conceive of employing. For man to rely on any outward test to determine the time of ovulation is surely as definitive an action as any other step toward one’s goal. Indeed, philosophers teach that each and every Act of the Will is a definite Act. And all these, studiously undertaken in the course of Catholic contraceptive methods, exist primarily to prevent a specific moment of intercourse from achieving its normal consequence.

          The publications promoting NFP restrict sexual relations to two of three phases: one (I) after menstruation, and the other (II) some days after ovulation. The fertile phase (III) is classed as “not safe” and downright “dangerous” in this literature, as though generating new life were considered a serious breech of national security and a little infant a treacherous criminal. Since the wife’s sum total of natural systems — her drive, her nerves, her entire physical impetus toward sexual union — are biologically wired to phases I and II, she is understandably disinterested in her husband at the so-called “safe” periods. Yet this is approved and even encouraged as being “open to life”! Such careful, clinical regu-lation to find “undangerous” moments of sterility in which to amuse themselves is manifestly a positive and conscious act of the human will.

          If an Act of the Will includes a contrived reliance on calendars or condoms, it is nonetheless a specific action consciously directed toward a definite objective. Therefore, as St. Thomas writes: “Since no act proceeding deliberately from the will is indifferent, the marriage act is always either sinful or meri-torious.”30 St. Augustine agrees: “Even with a lawful wife, the marriage act is unlawful and shameful if the conception of offspring is prevented.”31 No married couple is obligated to have either intercourse or offspring, but all men are duty-bound never to seek pleasure as an End in itself — and that is the ineluctable definition of what remains to mankind once the intent to prevent pregnancy has achieved its fulfillment. This inescapable corollary will forever haunt the followers of Natural Family Planning.

          OPEN TO LOVE

          Sex, therefore, is always primarily intended to be a function of procreation. But when the Ends are re-versed, as in NFP, and pleasure without procreation is effectively made Primary, then we are necessarily faced with what often appears to have become a species of mutual masturbation, or at least in-tentional infertility, regardless of the Means used to achieve the End. Any act of sexual gratification which is deliberately rendered sterile appears shameful, even in those couples who might be barren by nature. That is, a person who cannot humanly be expected to produce children would seem to commit sin were he positively to unite his will and determination consciously to what is already his native incapacity to procreate.

          When the Popes declare that “every act of love must be ordained to the transmission of life,” they in no way limit such acts merely to those men and women who are by nature capable of transmitting life. The parents of Our Blessed Lady were sterile, so all the world thought, as were Zachary and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, and many other holy souls before they managed to conceive. Sara, the wife of Abraham, was so far past the age of child-bearing, she laughed aloud at the very notion of conceiving him any progeny (Gen 18:10). Had these saintly souls consciously determined to exclude off-spring from their sexual acts, over-and-above what they already considered their physical incapacity of producing children, those very acts would have become inherently disordered and contrary to the Will of God, besides robbing Him of the opportunity to provide Heaven with its Queen, the Redeemer with His forerunner, and the Calendar of the Catholic Church with the greatest of its saints.

          For example, the mother of St. Colette of Corbie considered herself utterly infecund and infertile, yet gave birth to the Saint long after she had passed her sixtieth birthday. Had she given in to the temptation to say to herself: “Oh, well; I cannot become preg-nant anyway. Let me just relax and enjoy sex for it-self,” she would have sinned for living less than a virtuous life and for consciously and singularly living for the flesh alone. And we are never allowed to lower ourselves to the level of mere animal func-tionality. As we will see shortly, there are valid Se-condary Ends to the marriage act, but in no way can they consciously be made Primary without inherent loss of dignity to the act of human sexuality itself.

          PRIESTLY SUMMATION

          The Church adds that, if the dignity of this human act is to be saved, and if it is to re-main in the order willed by God, then any violation or mutilation of this act for the sake of procuring pleasure and the joy of union alone, any obstacle frustrating its first natural End, is to be condemned. The act of love becomes a lie when the End of procreation is obviated by any obstacle: be it chemical, physical, or of the mind or the will. And the will to impede the order of procreation, that is, to prevent the creation of a new being, can be very effective with the aid of science, all of which is condemned by the Church. It is condemnable in view of the dignity of the procreative act, which passes from a simple, momentary act of love to the calling into being of an existence, of a human being. It is an act of such grandeur that to vitiate it is a mortal sin. Whence the Church’s conclusion: it is absolutely grave under all circumstances to cheat with love. In the end, it is an act against God, for it is God Who gives life. Every sexual being is created with a tendency to consummate the procreative act; and, once we have committed ourselves from the very preliminaries to this path of sexual love, it must be with a procreative intention. And if this act is interrupted in its free movement toward its End, then the intention to thwart the End carries a criminal responsibility from the very first action that commits us to this path. That is why the Church says — and her moralists are strictly right in saying so — that, in this order, there is no venial sin. The manuals tell us that everything about it is mortal, from the preliminaries to the full consummation. Once committed to this path, God is also involved, and to deceive the hope of the spouse and of God is to commit a sin that is intrinsically mortal. Incomplete acts, that is, acts having a certain link with procreation but which are prevented from attaining their End through the will of the person, entail a perverse will to avoid the birth of a child whilst indulging in the pleasure of procreation’s preparatory movement. This incomplete act is condemned by the Church.32
          Rev. Fr. Georges de Nantes

          THE LAW AND THE LIMIT

          It is true that the Creator Himself designed the fe-cundity of females so that, at certain times, inter-course will not naturally bring forth life; but the deliberative planning of man or woman to limit their intercourse to these specifically non-conceptive mo-ents is to impede actively and consciously the design of the Creator, by perverting it to their own ends. Yet, as Holy Scripture declares in the Psalm: “Know ye that the Lord is God: He hath made us, and not we ourselves” (99:3). It is God who generates all life in the first place (Job 26:4); and, since the Lord alone creates life or takes it away, NFP ineluctably withstands His will in its concrete potentiality.

          The Almighty’s First Commandment was to “Increase and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28), but the adherents of NFP scheme with all their might to checkmate His intended multiplications on this earth. Our Creator demands that we “walk in His ways and keep His commandments that thou mayst live and He may multiply thee” (Deut 30:16), exactly as though we are to consider a multiplication of children a blessing for our faithfulness to the Divine Law and a goal to be sought by all men of good will. If, as the Popes have declared, “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life,”33 how can we escape the judgment of sin and error when we intentionally work so hard to close those very acts to the transmission of life?

          Natural Family Planning, then, constitutes funda-mentally merely another contraceptive Means to the same contraceptive End produced by precisely the same contraceptive mentality which inspires Planned Parenthood. Catholics who make use of NFP can only do so from the identical motive which prompts the practitioners of any other form of birth control or contraceptive method being employed around the world to keep babies from coming into it. That NFP is merely another species of Birth Control is clearly articulated in Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary when he defines it as: “the controlling of human conception by restricting the marital act to the infertile periods of the wife.”34 Indeed, the Surgeon General of the United States, Jocelyn Elders, refers to abortion itself as: “post-coital birth control.”35 After all, as soon as Rhythm was concocted by Catholics, Planned Parenthood Federation of America immediately posted and published it in their world-wide crusade as simply another of their own approved, accepted, and authorized means of Birth Control — and have been sneering and snickering at their Catholic adherents ever since.
          UNNATURAL PLANNING

          To demonstrate how the Contraceptive Mentality has taken over the Catholic Body, consider this: having babies is natural; it is not having babies which is considered unnatural. Thus, “Natural” Family Planning, which seeks non-conception, is more truly defined as Un-natural. In the animal kingdom, those which do not reproduce are considered freaks of nature: biological dead-ends. Indeed, in that brutish realm (which man is meant to rise above), it would be monstrously unnatural to foil or frustrate God’s natural designs of reproduction knowingly or even with the mere sense awareness common to animals. It is obviously unnatural, therefore, to be sterile or hope to render oneself temporarily sterile like some part-time eunuch. What else, then, must we consider consciously-planned infertility but un-natural?

          What, therefore, is “natural” about Natural Family Planning? If its methodology were natural, there would then be no need whatever for planning or for premeditation of any kind! If its practice were truly native to man, there would be absolutely no require-ment for any effort whatsoever on our part to render it effective. There would be no need at all for ca-lendars or thermometers or any other of the physical accoutrements of its widespread contraceptive prac-tice. If NFP is actually “open to the transmission of life,” as the Popes demand and as its followers pre-tend, why make use of it at all? The only answer can be that its followers are seeking to limit life, not transmit it, and in this it is thoroughly un-natural. NFP, then, is a conscious, wilful, premeditated in-terruption of this “openness to life.” Indeed, NFP constitutes simply another species of artificial birth control, precisely insofar as turning intentionally to a calendar or clock to make love by is arrantly arti-ficial.

          Matrimony comes from two Latin words, matris-munus, meaning “role, assignment, or commitment of the mother”: a call to childbearing! Recall those ominous words of St. Augustine, that “there is no Matrimony where motherhood is prevented.” Per-haps there is no salvation as well, when motherhood is prevented; for women can indeed “be saved by bearing children” (I Timothy 2:15), but nowhere in Scripture is the opposite promised.

          The contraceptive mentality, in fact, denies both Motherhood and Virginity, by seeking genital grati-fication without any possibility or potentiality of re-production. NFP elicits sex without a child, the ex-act reverse of Our Blessed Mother’s Child without sex. In this regard, those who follow “Natural” Family Planning are not really following nature at all, but striving against nature, for the devotees of NFP aim to baffle and disarm that which nature is designed to bring forth from the womb. And thus, “their women have changed the natural use into that which is against nature” (Romans 1:26).

          UNWANTED CHILDREN

          We speak of Responsible Parenthood, but become irresponsible parents the moment we intentionally negate the “desire for children” outlined earlier by St. Caesarius. Natural Family Planning is inherently identical to Planned Parenthood to the extent that all species of contraception are utilized, consciously and carefully, to achieve the pleasures of our sexual-ity while intentionally and concomitantly striving to avoid the natural results of the sexual act itself, thus specifically frustrating the natural and proper End thereof.

          Contraception is participation in the sexual act with a conscious will to thwart its natural end, this most splendid opportunity to bring a new human soul into existence.36

          To prevent the birth of unwanted children is precisely the studied aim of NFP – and of any other method of contraception, including abortion. But there can be no children unwanted by God. His Son, Jesus, is the Logos, His first “Word” or “Thought,” and, likewise, the conception of each individual in-fant is a new Thought from God. “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee,” God declares to each new conception, “before thou camest forth out of the womb” (Jer 1:5). God loves and desires these little infants; and thus there are no Unwanted Babies — there are only unwanted preg-nancies. In this, NFP differs little from Planned Parenthood. God-willing, NFP’ers will never reach the depths of such philosophy, which consider pregnancy itself a venereal disease.37 But still there are the undesired potential duties or possible in-cumbent responsibilities which become physically bothersome or economically humbling to our inher-ently hedonistic natures even in Catholic couples.

          It is the Almighty Who wants us to “increase and multiply,” and we pitiful mortals who turn our backs on those divine designs by consciously contriving to circumvent them in embryo. It is Jesus Christ Himself who begs us: “Let the little children come to Me!” (Mark 10:14). Amazing, isn’t it? The only thing in existence which can foil the Will of the All-powerful God is the will of His puny creatures — for He will not force offspring on anyone, just as He will never force anyone’s will to be other than totally free, even to the point of disobeying His First Commandment to Adamkind.

          CLOSED TO LIFE

          Yet it is the foundational notion of the Unwanted Child which constitutes the quintessential motivation in all species of Family Planning, whether “natural” or otherwise. Contraception means against-conception in any man’s language for no other reason than this positive plan for non-conception of babies.

          Notice, too, the violent language of birth control: contra + ception = against concep-tion. Rather nasty language when we con-sider that it’s directed against potential chil-dren. What is it saying? Children are a curse. What has happened to us? Have we so lost touch with our own humanity that we now shudder at the “patter of little feet”? There was a time when men and women re-joiced a the thought of raising families!
          William L. Biersach
          cf. “LIFE”

          But now even Catholics are “without a desire for children,” St. Caesarius thunders in condemning this conjugal sin; a desire required in “each and every act,” as Pope Paul VI reminds us. Thus, a conscious plan to preclude conception can only be termed the fruit of a Contraceptive Mentality.

          Let those who approve and practice NFP try to show that they in no way intend to close each individual marital act to the transmission of life. Let them demonstrate their desire for offspring in every single particular instance. Let us hear them proclaim, as we do, that any resulting procreation is never an accident, a mistake, or an evil, at any time, because it is God Who wills each and every conjugal act be open to the transmission of life. In actual fact, parents have no direct contribution towards this “transmission of life,” for it is God alone who creates life and puts souls into seed. Neither man nor woman actively transmit life to that which previously was utterly unliving. Only God can do this. NFP partners, therefore, are consciously pitting themselves against the life that only God is able to transmit to their union. Is this position “open” to life?

          No. Moreover, the mentality which lacks love for children here-and-now will inevitably progress beyond the “merely negative” to something diabolically more positive and inherently wicked in the future: a desire to play God and proudly determine for its adherents the very existence of new life. Remember: the first sin ever committed was one of “merely negative” dimension: “I will not serve!” cried Lucifer (Jer 2:20) just prior to being cast headlong into Hell; and his damnable negativistic bellow has become a hollow roar of positive blasphemy for all eternity. Herein lies the greatest danger of NFP.

          Simple contraception is not the taking of a life, but is only a step removed from it. NFP does not destroy an independent human organism, but it does prevent, by human contrivance, the meeting of male and female cells by which a human being comes into existence. Its principal malice lies in the fact that it does not truly respect human life, and that it usurps a dominion over life-giving powers which ultimately belong not to man but to God. Conception control, if any, therefore, should be left exclusively in the hands of the Almighty, Who alone knows best how to handle the provenance of life and death.

          TRADITION

          Sin, whether of Commission or of Omission is invariably a sin committed, and in this sense ultimately a sin of commission. Moreover, sin lies essentially in our minds and motivations, and this bespeaks the fundamental fault of any method of controlling human births. For example, it has been common knowledge for centuries that nursing mothers do not generally become pregnant, just as coitus during menses provides another natural form of avoiding pregnancy. However, to plan these activities for the sole prospect of avoiding pregnancy is precisely wherein lies the sin. Was it not for the avoidance of the near occasion of sin that God ordained that the ancient Israelites have no relations during the menstrual period, requiring that couples remain “separated” during this time (Lev 15:19, 24)?

          Devoutly following the law of God as spelled out in the Book of Leviticus (cf. also 18:19), our elder brothers in the Faith punished even by death the man and woman who dared to have sexual intercourse during her menses (Lev 20:18). Pope Saint Gregory the Great presumed that this regulation was established in the early Church,38 and St. Augustine argued that it is still in force for members of the New Testament faithful.39 This thinking is clearly upheld by the fact that Holy Mother Church gives us this selfsame Law of Believing in her First Reading for the liturgy of August 18th, at the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which it is recited that the just man will “not come near a menstruous woman” (Eze 18: 6).

          PLAYING GOD

          In 1978, Pope John Paul II declared that “it is im-possible to reconcile the attitude of conscious par-enthood with the contraceptive attitude or with any method of contraception.” Why? Because in the me-thodical use of NFP, we are consciously seeking to circumvent parenthood, just as we intend in every other contraceptive method known to man. Again, it is our intention — our will — which must be in tune with the designs of the Creator to increase and multiply as He sees fit. God told Adam and Eve that they would “die the death” if they ate from a single tree in Paradise (Gen 2:17). It was Satan who tempted them to doubt the absoluteness of this com-mand. He lured and enticed them on, saying: “Oh, no! You shall not die the death!” With that solitary weakness, then, our First Parents betrayed the un-compromisable and irrevocable order of God — and died indeed the death. Is it not the same with God’s order to increase and multiply according to His will?

          Shall we pitiful humans become the supreme judges of when to multiply and how we may finally decide to increase? Are we not thereby presuming to pos-sess the prerogatives only God Himself possesses: when it might seem good to bring life into being, or dangerous to do so? Thus, we make ourselves, like Adam and Eve, the final arbiters of what is best for us, falling to the original temptation behind the Original Sin: “You shall become gods, knowing good and evil!” (Gen 3:5).

          ARBITERS OF LIFE

          Thus, those who practice NFP deliberately seek to become the sole “arbiters” of when new life is to be allowed existence. Implicitly, all the practitioners of the Contraceptive Mentality deny God’s sovereignty over His creation and substitute instead the indivi-dual human being as ruler over his own life and over that which God alone ultimately holds in potency.

          Birth control as such negates the primary purpose of Matrimony as understood by the Church, or at least places the achievement of the primary purpose within the arbitrary and self-willed control of husband and wife, a control which the Church could not possibly sanction.40 The Catholic Encyclopedia

          On September 17, 1983, Pope John Paul II received in audience more than fifty priests who had partici-pated in a study on “Responsible Parenthood,” and reminded them that:

          Man and woman are not the arbiters, they are not the masters of God’s creative power, since they are called in and through it to be participants in God’s creative decision. When, therefore, through contraception, married couples remove from the exercise of their conjugal sexuality its potential creative capacity, they claim a power which belongs solely to God: the power to decide in the final analysis the coming-into-existence of a human person. They assume the qualification not of being cooperators in God’s creative power, but of being the ultimate depositors of the source of human life. In this per-spective, contraception is to be judged ob-jectively so profoundly unlawful as never to be justified for any reason. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that, in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God! 41

          And yet, we have NFP Planners, in effect, deciding that they will be the ones to authorize any possible new life: on their terms, and in their names. Father Matthias Joseph Scheeben adds:

          Since it is only by acting as God’s instru-ments that the married couple can realize the End of Matrimony through the exercise of their marital rights, God willed that they should enter into the union not merely on their own authority, but in His Name. This gave an essentially new turn to the meaning of the marriage contract and of the marriage union itself. The good that was disposed of in the contract — the body as a principle of generation — was reserved to God Himself as an instrument belonging to Him, as a sa-cred thing, which the contracting parties could dispose of only in the name of God. Accordingly, the contracting parties can act only in the name of the Divine Head to whom they themselves belong, and for Whom they function as His members. In particular, they can dispose of their bodies as generative principles only with the approval of Christ, and according to the mind of Christ, for their bodies are no longer their own flesh, but the flesh of Christ. Even with respect to the material object of the matri-monial contract, all rights of earthly authority and all unrestrained use of bodily functions for the sheer gratification of the passions, are ruled out.42

          NO-FAULT PREGNANCIES

          NFP indeed plays at being God. In all methods of Birth Controlling, perhaps especially in that which calls itself “Catholic,” man becomes the omniscient and all-powerful judge, for it is we who now know best our own requirements and who thus know the most propitious time for any child to be brought into being. For so many “good” reasons, Catholics prac-tice NFP! They convince themselves that, to bring a child into the world at this moment of their lives, would be a terrible mistake. But only God can make a baby! You cannot possibly have more children than God wants you to have; you can only have few-er. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen declared: “The soul of a child does not emanate from the mother’s soul or body, but is freshly created by God Himself, Who infused it into the body of the unborn child.”43 All the copulations in human history would have been utterly barren and fruitless had God not supplied the souls! And, the last I heard, He cannot make a mistake. Therefore, there simply cannot be a “wrong time” to have a child, or a “medically inopportune” moment to become pregnant, nor an “economically inadvisable” situation in which to bring new life into the world of men or a new member into the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. As an unnamed author once remarked:

          The birth of Jesus Christ altered the course of human history. Yet, if ever a woman had reason to refuse a pregnancy, it was His own Mother.

          Consider the social, financial, and practical circum-stances in which this frail and fragile fifteen-year-old found herself: poor, pregnant, shelterless, and on-the-road. Her Baby would be born in a cold, un-heated stable and swaddled in a manger-feed for cattle. Yet Scripture assures us that “God sent His Son in the fulness of time” (Gal 4:4). Do we dare believe He made a mistake? That this was the wrong time?

          St. Catherine of Siena, one of the greatest saints in the Calendar, was the twenty-fifth child of a hard-working wool-dyer and his wife. Had they judged another pregnancy a medical “risk,” or feeding all those mouths economically “unfeasible,” or twenty-four children “enough,” the Church would have been denied one of her most eloquent Doctors, and God would have been cheated out of one of His holiest saints. I happen to be Godfather to a boy who was the fifth Caesarian delivery of his mother; I also happen to have seven healthy and happy siblings from a mother whose physician warned her explicitly all her children would die because of an Rh blood factor. But in NFP, Almighty Man is placing human prudence over that of God’s, and to that extent telling God that he does not want to subject himself to His terms or to fill up the Body of Jesus on His terms. Men have forgotten or refuse to believe that the Creator can handle His own creation with the providence and prudence which they consider proper under trying circumstances. This must be the summit of sinful pride.

          THE MIND OF GOD

          “The procreation of children is the first and principle End of marriage,” writes St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church; “hence, no one may ever lawfully depart from the due order which that End re-quires.”44 It was Onan who first “spilled his seed lest children be born” (Gen 38:9-10); thus, the Holy Spirit in His own Scriptures equates the action with the motive itself. Further on in the Word of God, we find the words of the Archangel Raphael to Tobias:

          Hear me, and I will show you who they are over whom the Devil can prevail. For, they who recieve matrimony in such a manner as to shut God out from themselves, and from their mind, and give themselves to their lust, as do the horse and the mule which have no understanding, over them does the Devil have power … But you shall take the virgin with fear of the Lord, moved for love of children rather than for lust, so that in the seed of Abraham you may obtain a blessing in children. (Tobias 6:16-22)

          Are those who practice NFP honestly able to say that they are “moved for love of children”? Can they sincerely claim no inclination whatever to “keep God from their mind”? Glennon Flavin, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, advised that “to keep God in your married life, to trust in His wisdom and love, and to obey His laws in the use of the marriage privilege will merit His special graces for you during the difficult times in married life, will deepen your love for each other, and bring to you that inner peace of mind and heart which is the reward of a good conscience.”45 Will man’s heart enjoy “inner peace” if he “keeps God from his mind” and intentions “in the use of the marriage privilege”?

          For, as Tobias assures us, “they who receive Matri-mony in such a manner … over them does the Devil has power” (6:17). And “there is no peace for the wicked” (Isaias 48:22). Can a conscience be called “good” when a man refuses to trust in the Wisdom of God to send him offspring at the moment when it is truly prudent and best for God to do so? We all experience those “difficult times in married life” referred to by Bishop Flavin. Indeed, we all marry “for better or for worse,” and what makes anyone think it’s going to get any better than the Wedding Day itself? On the contrary, in purely natural ways it is all mostly downhill fr

    • Jean Rioux /

      You’re, of course, welcome to comment as you wish, but if you want to refute what I say, you’ll need to address my argument, and to do that, you’ll need to give evidence of having understood it better than this.

      The Church in her documents clearly speaks of being prudent in the matter of responsible parenthood. Is this what you are denying? Imprudence in such matters is not (nor did I say it was…) the moral equivalent of the decision by a rapist to rape and whatever else it was that you said I said. That does not mean it is not a moral fault, and to be avoided. Do you deny that some married couples, even knowing that now is not a good time to have a child (as they understand the conditions laid down by the Church), sometimes fail to do what they know they ought? Tell me, then, whether you’re saying they’ve both done and not done what they ought to have done? There’s nothing mysterious about prudence. It is an act of love, a cardinal virtue, and an obligation.

      Please the-read what I have said again, in all charity. I do not tell anyone to equate themselves with anything. Nor will I ever say that those who intentionally acted contrary to what they judge to be the right thing have done well, though God may well (and sometimes does) choose to bring good from their actions.

      • HenryBowers /

        I’m sorry for being nasty and terse. Of course you didn’t propose the implications I ferreted out, they just came out; maybe I’m deluded about them.

        But I think we disagree about action theory and act specification. To agree on all points, I think we’d need to agree on what makes contraception intrinsically immoral. For that might determine whether the serious circumstances which justify NFP justify it by their mere existence, or justify it per their incorporation into the agent’s intention. In either case, I fail to see how NFP could ever be justified if it’s just a relief valve for moral weakness, sanctioned by bad circumstances.

        For if a couple’s living within dollars of eviction every 30 days, it would be prudent for them to not-try for a child, and NFP is exactly that, abstaining from maneuvering into earshot of the possible little one to beckon him forth, as one abstains from crossing paths with a relative they have good reason to avoid inviting to the house for awhile. Thus in the marital embrace during infertile times, the agents refrain from intending a child, and refrain from intending-against a child. They simply intend not to try for a child, and understand his not coming-to-be as a foreseeable but unintended side effect. Sometimes it may be gravely unfair to allow this foreseeable side-effect, but that grave unfairness would not be a contraceptive act, it would only be a titanic act of cowardice or sloth. Contraception requires the intention to act against the coming-to-be of a child.

        In a more serious case, like medically certain death if a woman becomes pregnant, it would be unreasonable to intend the risky pleasure and bonding, but primarily because it’s unreasonable to oppose health; that the agent happens to be lustful or dualistic enough to disregard this risk is auxiliary to, even if as serious as, the intent to jeopardize health and life. My point, then, is that I don’t think we really choose to have kids at all; it’s a stochastic process over which we control only the initiating attempt. Furthermore, I don’t think we can look into the future and compute that the coming-to-be of a new life qua life would be reasonable or not, for who can compute that? Rather, I think we need to recognize if our intentions are unreasonable in themselves, regardless of circumstances, and if our intentions are unfair, with respect to circumstances.

        Here perhaps we diverge about what makes contraception immoral, but my point is that abstinence can embody a contraceptive intention, so I only take issue with your suggestion that it’s not the pertinent factor (i.e. needing justification) in NFP.

        Thanks for your post.

        • This is all so interesting. When I taught NFP, and I especially when I talked at marriage prep courses, I felt like what I was saying was “look, you live in a contraceptive culture, the default in your mind is that you’ll get off the pill if and only when you want a baby, and I’m here to show you that the Church presents a natural, healthy way to plan your family, and that, guess what, if you learn it and live it you will have a healthier marriage and family life and you even end up understanding and embracing the teaching of the Church!”. It was like I was fishing to see if some would catch the wonderful bait! I see NFP as a bridge. Something couples in a contraceptive world can hold on until, and hopefully, they mature spiritually and realize reality as it is. Were the world not immersed in a culture of death, with artificial contraception such commonplace practice, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

          • HenryBowers /

            On the contrary, I think we would all be employing coitus interruptus. There are already many good reasons to dislike hormones and barriers. If anything is to blame, I think it’s IVF, which makes the human organism, even for an instant, a product in his very origins. IVF was the last hurdle on our path to etho-political technocracy.

  13. Priscilla /

    This is a good reflection. I have been thinking about this subject lately and wondering if perhaps God has designed sexual relations between husband and wife to be a sort of virtue training camp. Are we really supposed to be indulging our every urge? It seems that the mentality of the contraceptive culture which is embraced within Protestantism might have tainted our views of the sexual act. Is it really true that husbands and wives should be giving in to their urges or are we really supposed to be using those urges as opportunities to do the good which may often mean depriving ourselves and gaining greater control over our physical desires. Learning to fast. Learning to love without having to get something in return. Definitely worth thinking about.
    Thanks for the article

    • Jean Rioux /

      Thanks, Priscilla. That is the point. Since all of life is a ‘training camp’ for virtue, this part of married life will inevitably be so also.

      The article really has nothing to say about contraception. It’s about moral honesty among people who aspire to live married life to the full and as God intends.

      Jean

  14. Melissa /

    As one who has always wanted a larger family, but has been somewhat thwarted in that effort so far, thank you for raising that issue. So often in our Catholic culture, I feel like there is a championing of large family life as though it is representative of holiness or how devout that couple may be. My husband and I have been married for 9 years. For those years, we have had two children who were born and four born into heaven. I don’t know what the future holds for us.I hope there will be more children as we deeply love those cu in our care. However, it is nice to see someone upholding that our life is not a consolation prize for not being hyper fertile. Thank you. (Please for those in the Catholic community remember to exercise kindness in viewing your fellow Catholics with small families. For many of us, it is a painful reality coming from no fault of our own. )

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Does NFP Ever Really Fail? - BigPulpit.com - […] Does NFP Ever Really Fail? – Dr. Jean Rioux, Truth & Charity […]