Natural Family Planning, Providence, and the Goal of Marriage

The great NFP debate would be greatly helped by some serious reflections on ends: teleology, as the philosophers like to say.

On one side stand the Providentialists.  At their more strident, they accuse NFP users of a “contraceptive mentality.”  Just because periodic abstinence (the means) is legitimate doesn’t mean that its every use is appropriate.  Some NFP users, say the Providentialists, seem to have pretty secular attitudes about family size.

In any case, even when not in a polemical mood, Providentialists believe that God will always provide for new life.  Trust in him and don’t worry about how many babies you might have!

On the other side are the NFP fans.  At their more strident, they accuse the Providentialists of being irresponsible, thoughtless about the needs of their children and the broader health of the family.  Yes, of course children are good: but there are limits.  Paul VI and John Paul II, they note, were rather vigorous in their insistence on “responsible parenthood”—not indiscriminate baby factories.

In any case, NFP fans see periodic abstinence as a good in itself, an exercise in self-control and a confirmation that marriage is not ruled by lust.  Moreover, they see so many, and such complicated, reasons that having another baby may not be appropriate at a given moment.  At the very least, they think it unwise to judge when you don’t know all the details of why a family is choosing—or not choosing—not to procreate.

Although there are plenty of good arguments in the above paragraphs, note that there is precious little appeal to ends.  What are these things for?  “Ends” can refer to a person’s purposes, the goals they are seeking.  But even more, “end” means the purposes inscribed in the very nature of things, where they naturally tend—or “end up”—even apart from human purposes.  Ends reveal what God has inscribed in the very nature of things, a central part of his Providence.  Traditional natural law theories look for rules of conduct precisely in the natural tendencies of the things God has made.

Consider sex itself.  Whatever purposes we may bring to it, the natural tendency of sexual intercourse is the fertilization of the female ovum that results in new human life.

Of course, the process doesn’t end there.  The end of conception is birth: that’s where it goes, and where its Creator meant it to go.  And the end of a baby is a healthy adult.  This is actually Thomas Aquinas’s primary argument for why sex ought to be within marriage.  If you’re going to be conceiving babies, you ought to do it in a context where babies have a chance of growing into healthy adults.  That context is the family, based on a healthy marriage.

Thus, to push further, the end of marriage—where a healthy man-woman relationship including sex naturally ends up—is healthy adults.  That’s what marriage is for, the difference between this friendship and every other friendship.  Sure, it is a special kind of friendship in itself, and that friendship is a good.  But its end is well-adjusted grown children.  In fact, marriage and its end are so inherently connected that you really can’t get well-adjusted adults without a truly healthy marriage between their parents.  (As those of who came from families without such marriages can attest.)

In fact, even long after they have left the house, the social wellbeing of adult children is radically undermined by the breakdown of their parents’ marriage.

This kind of thinking about ends can do a lot to clean up our thinking about natural family planning.  On the one hand, the end of marriage is children.  A marriage really cannot have too many children.  To the extent that childbearing is prevented, even by morally licit means, the marriage is deprived of the good for which it primarily exists.

On the other hand, the end of marriage is children who grow into healthy adults.  In fact, that’s why sex is reserved to marriage in the first place.  Notice a funny parallel.  The first kind of natural family planning is not periodic abstinence within marriage, but total abstinence outside of marriage.  The reason we abstain from sex outside of marriage is because children should not be conceived outside of a context where they can grow up to be healthy adults.  That’s the most fundamental kind of NFP.

But this argument applies within marriage, too.  For the same reason that we don’t have sex outside of marriage, we should be careful about conceiving children in marriage if we are unable to give them a healthy upbringing.

The Church lists various reasons we might determine that we are not now able to bring a child into the world.  But the best approach to this question is, again, through teleology.  What is the end of a child?  First, children need basic physical health.  If we are unable to feed them, we should not be giving birth to them.  That, of course, is a pretty low standard.

But children also need social health: that’s the deeper part of growing into a healthy adult.  Now, one of the most important contributors to that social health is siblings.  Big family is good for kids.  But another key to the social well-being of children is the parental relationship.  Spousal abuse, for example, is pretty hard on kids, and would be a good argument against having a child.  But so too might be serious depression, or other forms of social and psychological unhealth in the family.  So too might be problems in the neighborhood.

That doesn’t make the NFP decision especially easy.  But at least it helps to lay out the principles.  Big family is good, both for marriages and for children, because it contributes to their ends.  But anything that thwart the ends of children is a reason a couple might want to put off having a child.

A “teleology,” or serious consideration of ends, can also be helpful for thinking about periodic abstinence itself.  Self-control is a good, and worth practice—though we should acknowledge that a couple can practice “periodic abstinence” for non-NFP reasons.  Old traditions of liturgical abstinence—say, during the two weeks of Passiontide—are another way a couple can practice sexual self-control.

But self-control is not an end in itself.  In fact, the marital embrace is a greater good than sexual self-control.  The end of sexual self-control is to be able to express love, not lust, through our sexuality.  Sexual affection, meanwhile, is a good precisely because its end is to promote general affection between the couple; and the end of this is to help the couple be better parents.  The good of children, then, suggests that a couple should practice abstinence only to the extent that it helps them draw closer to one another, and that they also use sexual congress as a way to draw closer together.  This is the end of these things: they are good for a reason.

Putting off children is never a good in itself.  Children are the good of marriage.  Sometimes the virtues of periodic abstinence are sung so loudly that we miss that it is a sad thing.  A couple may legitimately abstain from sex because the good of their family currently demands it.  But the sexual disappointment that attends this decisions is a helpful reminder that marriage wasn’t made for abstinence any more than it was made for sterility.  Marriage was made for couples to come together and raise a family.

Thinking about the ends of things helps to resolve the debate between Providentialism and NFP.  Marriage isn’t meant to be an indiscriminate “baby factory”: that’s why sex outside of marriage is prohibited in the first place.  But neither is it meant for sterility and long-term abstinence.  Married couples are meant to come together lovingly to raise healthy, holy adults, and as many of them as we are genuinely able to.  To raise children requires us to use our minds.  In this way, God calls us to participate in his providence.

Finally, we are all, parents and children, meant for holiness.  That means laying down our lives, for our parents, for our spouses, for our Church.  It means, too, taking time for prayer and always seeking how we can better serve our heavenly Father.  When Vatican II reminded us of the “universal call to holiness,” that’s what it meant.

Editor’s note: The image above entitled “The Five Eldest Children of Charles I” was painted by Anthony van Dyck in 1637.

Eric Johnston

By

Eric Johnston is a father of five who teaches theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University. His principal work is on Thomas Aquinas's theology of marriage, as well as related topics in social thought and the theology of nature and grace. He blogs on spiritual theology at professorjohnston.com.

  • I enjoyed this – you raise important points. It was only after the birth of my 10th child that my psychological health broke down causing much distress to the family. By the grace of God we are all well now. The sacrificial element in raising a large family is worth exploring.

    • Gilbert Jacobi

      Jackie,
      My mother, born 1907 to family of eight, was adamant that the constant pregnancies and large families of her mother’s era were, if not deliberately cruel to women, at least a harsh burden, and one that should be alleviated any way possible. She supported abortion and contraception and I’m sure some of her attitude rubbed off on me. I had one girlfriend have an abortion, and avoided pregnancy with all the rest, frittering away the most productive years of my youth and depriving some good girls of the chance to be mothers. I finally came back to the church and the sacrament of marriage – it was the sacrament of marriage which actually drew me in – and now have two youngsters and a loving wife. But the sobering thoughts of the road not taken are never far from me. A story like yours reminds me of how much i missed but also of how hard that road could have been. I am grateful for your story, your sacrifice and your courageous example.
      Gilbert

      • Art Deco

        My mother, born 1907 to family of eight, was adamant that the constant
        pregnancies and large families of her mother’s era were, if not
        deliberately cruel to women, at least a harsh burden,

        I am looking at a report in pdf format which references Census data. The total fertility rate in this country in the years running from 1900 to 1960 varied between 2.3 and 3.7 live births per woman per lifetime.

      • Art Deco

        I think the modal date of birth for the set of people with a mother born in 1907 would be around about 1936. If you’re that age, your personal history and current state are unusual indeed.

        • Gilbert Jacobi

          Mom and Dad had a few things to sort out and put sixteen years between my youngest sister and I.
          I married late, but not that late.

      • Thankyou Gilbert. God bless you.

    • Isaac S.

      I think this is one of the best articles on NFP and childbearing I’ve read. My wife and I have four children aged four and under, and while we didn’t feel a huge amount of difficulty after the births of one through three, we are definitely feeling it now. Some good friends of ours only have two children but one has special needs and so their level of sacrifice and struggle is even higher than ours, and they can’t imagine having another child at this point. Other friends of ours started to really struggle at five kids, and still others like yourself do well up until ten. Everyone’s background and actual level of virtue is different, so it is absurd to think that every single Catholic couple is equally capable or called to have the same number of kids.

      • So true Isaac…actually my eldest daughter is a doctor and has just had her first child – Gabriel by emergency c-section. My sections were 9 & 10. It has taken a lot out of her & although she would have liked 7! – it may not be possible.

  • James

    A frequent problem is that the abstinence required to actually avoid pregnancy is well beyond what draws a couple together. Such abstinence ends up depriving the couple of the good of sexual affection.

    No, marriage is not meant for abstinence. But sometimes serious reasons to avoid pregnancy exist for the rest of the marriage. (For example, a condition that makes pregnancy life-threatening.) Also, when couples marry young, they have many years of fertility ahead of them. Even if these couples have a large family, they will probably spend a large portion of their marriage abstaining.

    For many couples, fertility exceeds ability to abstain (necessary for survival of the species) and ability to raise children into adults (more children born survive thanks to reduced child mortality).

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Once again, how do you predict “ability to raise children into adults”?

      • James

        How do you understand “responsible parenthood”?

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Accepting the will of God, and working hard to handle the blessings He puts in my life. Likewise, trying to accept the will of God when it differs from my will, and my plan.

          Trusting in God is hard. But it is always worth trying.

          I don’t try to predict the future. When I do, I try to take a control over the future that is not mine to have.

    • Ken

      We have been married for almost 5 years, with two children, aged 1 and 3. We have practiced NFP to space our children, with breastfeeding postponing fertility for at least a year after each child to help.
      I wish to speak on two issues. First, there is significant value gained of the man’s self control learned from periodic abstinence. Men need to learn how to not be cavemen. For me personally, this is a true blessing. I cannot stress this enough.
      Second, NFP doesn’t require prolonged periods of abstinence. In a regular cycle, the days of likely conception are limited to perhaps a week. Just becasue we were aware of a higher likelihood of conception doesn’t mean we had to intentionally avoid having relations. Couples need to be “in the mood”, and quite frankly, that doesn’t always happen during fertile times. In fact, while raising young children, several days to two weeks can go by without having a desire to have relations. Having relations when you’re not in the mood turns the marital act into some form of obligation, which destroys the unitive aspect- even if trying to acheive the procreative aspect. For us, the number of times when abstaining was truly a sacrifice has been limited.
      Every day we have to make two choices. Do we feel we can be responsible parents for another child, and if so, are we ready to do it right now. If the pervailing mood is “I don’t want more children”, then the pastoral solution is address what factors are causing such a mentality and to change hearts. Causing people to feel coerced into having a numerous family becasue others find it to be a path to holiness will never change someone’s heart.

      • James

        “In a regular cycle, the days of likely conception are limited to perhaps a week.”

        The amount of abstinence required seems to be the big difference between couples who find abstinence “marriage building” and those who find it “marriage harming”.

        Most couples do find NFP to be helpful, especially the wives. But some hate it. When wives hate NFP, there is often the following pattern:

        Long heavy periods (Even more abstinence)
        Long follicular phases (More abstinence during fertility)
        High sex drive during fertility (Making abstinence more difficult)
        Ambiguous peaks/Multiple peaks (increasing the likelihood of unplanned pregnancy)
        Short luteal phases (little time for sex)
        PMS (and they don’t want to anyway when they can)

        When we first tried NFP, we were told that there would be about a week of abstinence with 3 weeks available. The reality was there was three weeks of abstinence with a week available. Big difference. The problem was a hormone imbalance (a blood sugar issue related to PCOS).

        Unfortunately, many Catholic groups don’t make dealing with these imbalances a priority. Yes, there is NaPro, but our experience is that the treatment is more focused on pregnancy achievement than cycle regulation. Worse yet, the relational advise is often terrible. We were told we were selfish, that this was God’s way of telling us it was time for another baby, and that I was using her for sex. The reality is what was making NFP difficult was biological, not spiritual.

  • lifeknight

    Fortunately, I did not need to utilize NFP in our marriage. We went forward with the philosophy of the “the more the merrier.” However, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally well, and my husband was/is able to provide for us financially and spiritually.

    I do understand the methods of NFP and am convinced that it is morally licit and “do-able” in the married state. Some methods are better than others for actually pinpointing fertility. One should consider researching which methods are out there and which apply to the level of education and commitment.

    Also, the article does not mention the problem with the translation of Humana Vitae. It was a matter of the word GRAVE for using NFP in avoidance of pregnancy or the word JUST. I have forgotten who wrote the article. Actually, it was on Crisis???? I think. It gives a new perspective on the use of NFP–ultimately it is a matter of conscience.

    • James

      There is a surprising amount of difference between the methods in pinpointing fertility.

      Creighton and Billings tend to have the least. The various STMs have more. So does Marquette in normal circumstances, but it is good for sorting out difficult cycles. However, more abstinence also means a greater margin of error.

      Second, the fertile window lasts no longer than 6 days. With margin of error, this should mean 7-10 days of abstinence. If a couple is regularly seeing longer periods of abstinence, they may need additional instruction, a more precise method, or this may be the sign of a hormone imbalance that needs addressing.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      We have been using Creighton/Billings for the past 10 years as a prayer for another child, it hasn’t happened. God seems to be saying, one special needs boy with little emperor syndrome is enough.

      The Providentialists have the better idea. Trust God. I’ve been forced into doing so.

  • hombre111

    This article, plus the thread, is interesting because it is between married couples who know what they are talking about. As a celibate, I look on with awe and respect.

  • Martha

    NFP is definitely abused, and misunderstood in many, if not all, Catholic circles. Catholic contraception? Usually. Difficult? More so than secular birth control, of course.

    I do think, as another commenter mentioned, the word GRAVE is to be applied. Not being able to buy new Nikes every year or being forced to shop thrift stores is not a grave reason. Wanting free time is not a grave reason. Feeling stressed? Who isn’t? Not a grave reason. Christ called us to pick up our cross and follow Him, not grab a lawn chair and a margarita. Married life has a calling that is fraught with its own flavor of crucifixion and self-sacrifice.

    I also agree with the commenter who said that having a large family can mean plenty of forced abstinence as well (try being pregnant/recovering- you can look at close to a year in that mess!); and that the abstaining that NFP requires isn’t always fortifying but upsetting and disruptive.

    I can see both sides, but heavily favor the Providentialist view. My greatest hope is to someday hear the words, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ I think that takes just about everything you’ve got, no holds barred.

    • Thankfully, the Church has not put together an authoritative list of what constitutes grave reasons. Rather, we have Pope Pius XII putting it this way:

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

    • Margaret

      Its comments like your Nike comment that I feel cause a lot of division and hurt. I don’t know a single person who goes through the trouble of NFP for such a flippant reason. Usually I hear things about recovering from a difficult birth or C-section, having an early return of fertility, dealing with postpartum depression, dealing with a spouse who is refusing to have more children, or having difficulties with finances. When people assume your reasons are for things as silly as NIkes or affording cable, it is really frustrating.
      I have been blessed with great fertility but also have an nearly immediate return of fertility after birth despite breastfeeding. I have a scarred uterus as well which means doctors strongly recommend I wait a year between pregnancies to minimize the risk to the baby and me. Also we have very expensive insurance and each baby has cost us nearly $10,000, no easy feat to pay for.
      So no, I’m not worried about Nikes, nor am I just feeling a little stressed. I am just doing my best to care for my family and have healthier pregnancies, and NFP has helped us space our children so that we can best raise them, as this article says, to “healthy adults”.

      • Martha

        But, Margaret, clearly you have a grave reason. I personally KNOW people who do use NFP for such flippant reasons as wanting a new boat, etc. I also know many who had as many as they ‘wanted’ then kicked in NFP for the duration of their fertile years, which was at least a decade and a half. Selfishness! Humans are selfish, and it’s all too easy to fall into complacency and the ‘everyone else is doing it’ mentality. Even with NFP.

        • James

          Have they told you they were using NFP for these specific reasons?

          If not, then to make such assumptions is rash judgment. The couple who is “done” at a young age may have a condition that makes pregnancy dangerous. The couple with few children and a new boat may have trouble getting pregnant. Unless they have told you, you don’t know for sure.

    • Isaac S.

      I just want to point out that Humanae Vitae doesn’t use the word “grave.” The Latin word is “iustae” which simply means “just.” Various incorrect translations have rendered “iustae” as “grave,” but that simply isn’t what it means.

      • Actually, *both* the words “grave” and “just”–and other words and phrases–are used by the magisterium regarding the nature of the transmission of life and the reasons associated with saying “not now” to that transmission of life. It’s a “both/and” and not an “either/or”.

        HV even uses the phrase “munus gravissimum” regarding the transmission of life in its very first sentence. I wrote more on this here:

        http://catholicstand.com/supreme-gift-gravity-nfp/

        • Isaac S.

          HV does use the word grave, but only to describe the responsibility of the transmission of human life itself, not reasons for spacing children. I wouldn’t argue in the slightest that the responsibility of bearing and raising children is the gravest that their is, but saying as much has no bearing as to the valid reasons for spacing births. Furthermore, in the same address to Italian midwives you cite, Pope Pius XII says that the leeway couples have to space births is “truly very wide.” Pius’s usage of “grave” is limited to scenarios where married couples would avoid having children for extremely long periods of time, up to the entire duration of married life. I am sure you have the best of intentions on your blog, but I would recommend including the context of Pope Pius’s words to ensure you aren’t giving people the wrong idea of what he was saying.

          • As I say here and in my blog post–it’s a “both/and”. One should neither try to deny or quibble over using “grave” as long as it’s totally in the *context* of the other modifiers used. If saying “yes” to the transmission of life is a “munus gravissimum” (which I’ve described as “superlatively serious”) then, so is saying “not now” to it. Thanks.

            • Isaac S.

              I read your blog post, and I agree (as do Popes Pius XII and Paul VI) that the transmission of new life is a grave matter. What you gloss over in your argument against NFP is that it is just as grave of a matter to bring a new life into this world as it is to postpone doing so. Choosing to have a child is to take on the obligation to provide financially for that child until they turn eighteen (or possibly beyond), and to bear sole responsibility (along with your spouse) for that child’s spiritual, emotional, and moral formation. On the other hand, choosing to delay having another child means making the grave decision to not create another life. Because these grave obligations are balanced around the decision, the Church has never taught that the reasons for postponing pregnancy be “grave” in and of themselves (which implies extremely serious, unusual, and/or rare) but rather simply “just” (which implies a thoughtful process, giving due consideration to both the potential life at stake as well as the interests of the parents and existing children). In your blog post you simply quote the usage of the word “grave” in multiple documents and then imply that this is the level of scrutiny that must be applied to postponing pregnancy. Looking deeper into the documents, however, reveals that this is not the case.

              • Of course it really is the case–in *context*–that you need “grave” reasons to say “not now” to transmitting life. But the other point I’ve made is that it’s not *my* business to contextualize the word “grave” or “just” or “serious” etc. when it comes to some other couple’s use of NFP. It’s *their* job, not mine, to determine, with due “gravity”, what constitutes *their* reason for saying “not now” (or for saying “yes” to new life, for that matter). It’s God and the couple–not me–who decides. And as long as we both agree on this point, the idea of quibbling over just how “grave” a reason needs to be is rendered moot. No one gets to tell me and my wife (or any other couple) whether our use of NFP is for reasons that are grave-just-serious-etc enough…
                Surely we can agree on this approach, right?

  • sheilakippley

    One thing missing from this discussion is God’s plan for spacing babies via ecological breastfeeding. To go one or two years without menstruation after childbirth is nature’s norm. To experience menstruation within the first few months after childbirth should be the exception. There is no need for sexual abstinence with natural child spacing. For more info, read The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor.

    • musicteacherhess

      If only this were true! I was following all seven standards with my first child and still regained regular menstruation at 3 months postpartum. My husband and I are open to God’s will and plan for our family at this time, so we are not attempting to control our children’s spacing ourselves. I have been a part of many discussions on various Catholic NFP forums where I am finding this, while probably not the norm, is a common occurrence for many women. Some women’s bodies do not seem to follow these generally accepted guidelines, and I have to believe that it is all part of God’s will as well.

      • Sarah D

        I concur – there is a great variance in how soon fertility returns even while breastfeeding after giving birth, just as not all women fit the NFP textbook example of what a cycle looks like. Spend any time on an NFP forum and you’ll quickly learn the biological norm is often anything but.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      The book is missing the eighth standard, which is extremely rare in America: minimal nutrition. As opposed to the gluttony most Americans think is their natural right at the dinner table.

    • Eric Johnston

      Dear Mrs. Kippley,

      It is a great honor to have you comment on my article. You are one of my original heroes and inspirations in thinking about sex, marriage, etc. One of the main reasons I wrote a dissertation on the topic!

      I wanted to say something about breastfeeding, but didn’t know how to fit it in. It fits into what I wrote in two key places though. First, conception is not the end of sex. Healthy adults are. We are only to procreate in marriage because our children need to be cared for. I think infant nutrition is an obvious essential aspect of this. To pop off babies without properly nourishing them is, I think, morally wrong.

      Second, the natural mechanism of lactational amenorrhea is a fabulous example that nature itself prefers to give babies sufficient space to be adequately cared for.

      In fact, I have an article under review at The Thomist — pray they take it! — that argues that lactational amenorrhea should be the principal analogue (after marriage itself) for how we think about natural family planning. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

      That said, I think we have to be careful wading into this, for the reasons MusicTeacherHess gives below, and which Mrs. Kippley understands much better than I. Lactational amenorrhea doesn’t work for all people. Why not? I find it very hard to determine whether it is a sign of health (some women’s bodies do not need space in order to nourish their children?) – or unhealth (some women’s bodies don’t get the message that they need to delay pregnancy?). Bodies are such complicated things!

      Anyway, Mrs. Kippley, thank you and your husband so much for all you have done for marriage in our country, and in the history of the West!

  • Mary Phebus

    I was incredibly happy to see this article published. Although it doesn’t offer pat answers for when to avoid pregnancy via some form of continence (thank goodness), it helps broaden the conversation that my almost-husband and I have been engaged in and will be continuing.

    I think the article neglected or deemphasized the Church’s teaching regarding the secondary end of sex, which is the unity of the couple (not to be divorced from the procreative aspect, of course). Along with that was neglected the non-utilitarian end of marriage: the personal end, i.e. love. After all, the love between man and wife, particularly in sex, is the image of God’s love for us, right? So it would be wrong of us to neglect the personal end of personal love between two particular individuals.

    Thank you for writing this article and the thread. Please keep my fiancé and me in prayer!

    • Eric Johnston

      Dear Mary,

      Thank you for your beautiful response to my piece. A couple thoughts in response:

      1. You are right that my article doesn’t say enough about the unitive significance of sex, and I regret that. If sex didn’t have a unitive function, then nfp abstinence would have to be constant, not periodic. Sex also binds the couple together. But why, and how?

      What my article tries to argue is that sex is unitive because it is procreative: because it is principally ordered to procreation, and human procreation requires unity between the spouses in order to reach its end, healthy adults.

      Marriage is “utilitarian.” It serves the interests of children. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, or that the relationship doesn’t matter. To the contrary, it explains why the relationship does matter. Children need parents who love one another.

      2. You say the article neglects the Church’s teaching on the unitive “end” of sex. Frankly, as a scholar of the question, I think we should think twice about this claim. The Church does not claim there is a unitive “end” of sex. Humanae
      vitae and afterwards use the phrase “unitive significance” – in part to avoid this question of ends. Sex is unitive, but that is not its end.

      Many modern Catholic authors say all sorts of wild things about sex; I simply urge us to pay attention to what the Church actually teaches.

      To the contrary, I think these authors “neglect” the Tradition’s sobriety when it says that the primary end of sex is to procreate, and the secondary end is to heal our lust by bringing it into the civilized relationship of marriage.

      But note that in the teaching of the Tradition – which I think you will find reworded, not rejected, by the modern Magisterium – it is marriage that helps sex, not vice versa. I think it’s tremendously unfortunate to think that the marriage relationship relies on sex. That is not the heart of the relationship. To the contrary, it is sex that relies on marriage, to civilize and heal it.

      Notice in John Paul’s Theology of the Body, just for example, he emphasizes that in Song of Songs and Ephesians 5 the spouses talk abut the whole of their relationship. Song of Songs is NOT “erotic.” It treats the relationship as about vastly more than just sex. He mentions her breasts, yes; he also likes her teeth, as John Paul emphasizes at great length.

      3. And thus, no, not “particularly in sex.” There is nothing sexual in Biblical or traditional teaching about how the marital relationship mirrors our relationship with God. Not a hint of sexuality in Ephesians. Because marriage is bigger than sex. It is marriage that heals sex, not sex that makes marriage.

      Note also, by the way, that the primary metaphor of our relationship with God, in Scripture and Tradition, is not marriage – that’s second – but parenthood. Interesting.

      My best for your marriage. It’s a fabulous ride – almost as wonderful as parenthood!

      • BrianKillian

        I was following you up to:

        “There is nothing sexual in Biblical or traditional teaching about how the marital relationship mirrors our relationship with God. Not a hint of sexuality in Ephesians.”

        Nothing at all? Not even in Ephesians 5?

        Because a whole is being referred to, doesn’t exclude the sexual. In fact, the image of a man and woman becoming ‘one flesh’ seems to me to be explicitly sexual precisely in order to signify their unity as a whole.

        Isn’t the sacramental relationship between sex and marriage as a whole reflected in the manner in which this biblical image of being ‘one flesh’ functions cognitively and poetically on our minds?

        The image communicates the unity of the whole through the unity of the flesh. If there weren’t something more than sex in marriage, then sex couldn’t function as a sign of it. The whole idea of sex being a sign necessitates that marriage is more than sex. But neither could that unity be so elegantly expressed, promised, and foreshadowed than in the literal oneness of that fleshy consummation. I can’t even imagine St. Paul referring to the unity of marriage in a more efficient way than simply saying ‘one flesh’.

        Sex can act between spouses like the biblical image acts poetically on our consciousness, I think that’s why JPII spoke of the language of the body.

        • Eric Johnston

          Brian,

          Okay, you caught me. To say, “Not a hint of sexuality in Ephesians 5” is an overstatement, because there is “one flesh.”

          But “explicitly sexual”? I don’t know. (I’ll switch to “I don’t know,” instead of “not a hint.”)

          John Paul sends us scurrying to Genesis 2. “Leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” Doesn’t that sound — the parallel to father and mother — more like the unity of a life together? I also note — also more parallel to father and mother — that a standard traditional reading is that the “one flesh” is precisely the child. It seems “one flesh” could mean three things; sex is only one of those things; and in the context of Genesis 2, sex seems the least likely.

          Note that in Matthew 19, “one flesh” means “what God has joined, man must not separate.” Wow, if that means sex . . . ! But no, Jesus uses that phrase to mean the unity of life (and, perhaps, because of the needs of the children).

          We have to be careful: just because our culture is sex obsessed doesn’t mean theirs was. You are not doing this(!) but there’s the whole double entendre thing with Song of Songs, where sex obsessed moderns think every metaphor must be a sexual metaphor. Says more about the reader than about the text.

          Finally, in Ephesians 5, we have submission, sanctification, nourishing. Okay, I know we can hear double entendres if we are so inclined, but I rather don’t think that’s what Paul is talking about. I think he’s talking about life as a whole. In that context he brings up “one flesh.”

          • “There is nothing sexual in Biblical or traditional teaching about how the marital relationship mirrors our relationship with God. Not a hint of sexuality in Ephesians.”
            What do you mean here by “sexual”?
            Yours is a pretty amazing statement, depending on what you mean by “sexual”–is “eros” sexual?
            How do you contextualize the “eros” of the Song of Songs?

      • Eric–I’m not sure that your comment fully describes the “ends” of marriage articulated by Pope Pius XI in “Casti Connubii”: “For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.”
        The “cultivating of mutual love” is most assuredly an “end” of marriage, along with the “primary end” of procreation *and* education of children, and alongside the additional secondary end of “quieting concupiscence.” Most assuredly, the “unitive” dimension of conjugal relations is therefore a “help” to marriage.
        And, as HV makes clear, the unitive and procreative dimensions of conjugal relations are inseparable and willed by God. So, in this sense, one cannot really focus entirely on the “primary end” as “teleology” without due consideration for how the end of “cultivating mutual love” impacts NFP and marriage, right?

  • sheilakippley

    For those nursing mothers who have had an early return of menstruation while following the Seven Standards of eco-breastfeeding, I encourage you to fill out our survey at http://www.nfpandmore.org/Breastfeeding%20Survey.pdf . We are very interested in receiving information about your experience. We know that the return of menses follows a normal distribution curve. Our research has shown that 7% of eco-breastfeeding mothers have a first period before six months, the average duration is 14 to 15 months, and 33% were still in amenorrhea at 18 months. We lack documentation of very early-return cases, and thus would appreciate such mothers completing the survey.

    • James

      IIRC, the Drs. Billings’ research found that early return of menses despite ecological breastfeeding was genetic. Some women produce an altered form of prolactin that does not adequately suppress fertility.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if diet played a role as well. If a woman has adequate nutrition (a very rare thing through most of human history), then fertility might return early.

      • sheilakippley

        James, ecological breastfeeding does space babies. Could you please cite that research publication involving eco-breastfeeding that you mentioned above? In 2010, I corresponded with the Directors of WOOMB International about the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) which is completely different from eco-breastfeeding. The head director of BOMA-USA said that “we would not incorporate LAM” and that breastfeeding mothers must chart starting at 3 weeks postpartum (2010).

        I cannot understand why some NFP teachers are reluctant to teach LAM. It is the one natural family planning method that has been tested in abundance at many sites throughout the
        world and probably has more research publications than any other NFP method. Its effectiveness rate is at least 98% prior to the return of the first menstruation. The best LAM study concluded that 56% of the exclusively breastfeeding mothers were still in amenorrhea at 6 months. In a later study the teaching improved and the result was better: 82% of
        exclusively breastfeeding mothers were still in amenorrhea at 6 months postpartum. Why did the teaching improve? The researchers clearly defined exclusive breastfeeding, and they taught frequency day and night.

        Why start charting at 3 weeks? Studies have shown that any vaginal bleeding in the first 8 weeks postpartum for an exclusively breastfeeding mother can be ignored and treated as infertile. This fact has been researched again and proven to be true.

        What is clear is that we need good instruction when teaching a method so that a couple knows the difference between exclusive breastfeeding and ecological breastfeeding.

        Regarding genetics, I give myself as an example. I went to La Leche League meetings when
        pregnant with our first baby. I knew I should nurse frequently day and night in order to keep up a good milk supply. So I did that. However, I was not doing eco-breastfeeding and my periods returned within 3 months postpartum in spite of the frequency. With my second baby I did exclusive and ecological breastfeeding and my periods returned at one year postpartum. I do not think I had a big genetic change between those two babies.

        Again, the nutrition factor has been tested and was found not to be related to this topic.

        I did a survey of those mothers who said eco-breastfeeding did not work since they had a return of menstruation at 4 months or earlier. None of those mothers were doing the daily
        nap, the Fifth Standard. Many mothers have not read a book on eco-breastfeeding and think eco-breastfeeding is simply not using pacifiers or bottles. Some think it means you have to wear your baby 24/7 (not true). I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to read The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding (also available as an ebook from Ingram, Apple and Nook). The real problem with offhand negative comments about ecological breastfeeding is that these comments might have a negative effect on diocesan bishops, priests and family life directors. Each of the Seven Standards is based on published research. Nothing is beyond criticism, but any criticism should be based on research.

        • James

          I have not been able to find the original article, however, there is evidence that length of postpartum infertility is related to the metabolic load on the mother, which is due to a combination of nutritional, lifestyle, and genetic factors.

          http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~valeggia/pdf%20papers/jbs%20article.pdf

          (This study also noted an association between insulin resistance and return of fertility. As insulin resistance has become an epidemic in the US, especially over the past 30 years, I would not be surprised if this were also a factor in early return of fertility.)

          The seven standards can certainly increase the length of postpartum infertility, but even with this increase, it may not be adequate for many women.

          Second, it may not be possible for many women who want to follow the seven standards to do so. I can think of many reasons why mothers may not be able to get that daily nap. Other women find that their babies sleep through the night (no night feedings) at an early age. Deviation from the seven standards means an early return to fertility. One young mother ended up with months of abstinence when she no longer met the standards, but had not been trained to recognize the return of fertility.

          You ask why women should start charting at 3 weeks. Why not? If a woman finds charting burdensome, this indicates a significant issue with the method that goes beyond breastfeeding.

          You mention a problem with negative comments. My fear is of an overly positive view of NFP/LAM that does not take into account expected variation. Women find that NFP/LAM does not work as advertised and feel betrayed and are angry at the diocesan bishops, priests, and family life directors who promoted NFP to them.

    • James

      For some reason, Disqus is not letting me reply to your other comment.

      I am not able to find the original article, but I did find this, linking early return of menstruation to the mother’s “metabolic load”. This is related to diet, activity level, and genetics.

      http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~valeggia/pdf%20papers/jbs%20article.pdf

      I can understand your concerns about overly negative comments, but my concerns are about overly positive ones. 7% may sound small, but it’s not small if you’re one of the 7%. My wife was one of another 7% who had difficulty detecting fertility signs combined with unusually long periods of fertility. With few exceptions, we’ve gotten relatively little support from the Catholic NFP community, which is why we’ve had to do a lot of the research ourself. When NFP did not work as advertised and we weren’t getting adequate support, we felt like we had been lied to and were very angry at the diocesan bishops, priests and family life directors who had told us all those positive things about NFP.

      As for EBF, I also found this article, which gives a good description of EBF.

      http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/wicker/08593.html

      As for our experience, my wife unknowingly did something very similar to EBF, and got 10 months and 12 months, respectively. Unfortunately, when the Seven Standards were presented, as the article described, they seemed impossible and made her flip out for not being the “natural A+ Catholic mom”.

      Seeing as she had a lot of problems detecting fertility and had unintentionally gotten pregnant on her first cycle after our first (which was not enough spacing) the talk of EBF over charting was far more distressing than comforting.

      I’m not understanding your concerns about charting too soon. Why not chart? If charting is burdensome, then this is a significant method issue, and not just one during breastfeeding.

      • sheilakippley

        James, God blessed me with some good breastfeeding experiences for which I remain grateful; that’s why I have written in this area. I’m glad that your wife has also had some good breastfeeding experiences. That she almost discovered eco-breastfeeding on her own shows how in tune she is with the natural order. If she had known about the Seven Standards, she might have followed them. On the other hand, she might have decided
        that she couldn’t follow that pattern given factors in her life. And that’s okay. I am simply trying to clarify the conditions that are usually needed for extended breastfeeding amenorrhea.

        There are many options to natural family planning, and eco-breastfeeding is only one of them. Unfortunately many of those options are not taught. At johnkippley.com you can see
        John’s 10 blogs on the values of the various options of NFP and how the couples have a right to know these truths. Type “Right to Know” in the search box. Read the blogs showing; then click “older blogs” for the other 7. The couple should be taught all options and then feel free to choose what works best for them.

        If you have been unhappy with some diocesan teaching of NFP, you may appreciate John’s blogs. A blessed Christmas to you and your family.

        • James

          Absolutely EB should be taught! Just not at the expense of teaching charting.

          I do think there may be a communication problem. I think there is a lot more pressure on young mothers than in the past, including pressure to be “natural”. What may have been intended as “if you feel drawn to take care of your baby this way, this is natural and healthy” may have been received as “this is natural and healthy, therefore you MUST do it or you’re a bad mother”.

          As for teaching of NFP, what worked for us was finding an instructor who was about the same age, raised in a similar Evangelical background, and who had similar charting issues as my wife did.

  • sheilakippley

    The Seven Standards are good maternal behaviors related to extended breastfeeding infertility. The minimal nutrition is not a good maternal behavior. The maternal weight factor has been studied and found to be not relevant.

  • Sarah D

    I very much appreciate your more intellectual approach to this debate
    among faithful Catholics. In my newlywed experience, NFP has been a
    heavy cross, even more so when it seems both sides of the the Catholic blogosphere are eager to tell me I’m doing everything wrong.

    I am especially
    intrigued by your comment below that “It is marriage that heals sex, not sex
    that makes marriage.” I agree that our fallen world has left sexual
    relations in a pretty sorry state, and that the sacrament of marriage is
    much, much more than license for intercourse. But doesn’t the Church
    state that sexuality is a holy, sacred participation in God’s love, not
    just a broken thing that needs to be tamed? I find great meaning in
    analogies connecting marital intimacy to the Eucharist – both are
    life-giving expressions of physical as well as spiritual unity. Surely
    such a thing helps make a marriage the intimate partnership toward holiness God calls it to be.

    • John F. Kippley

      Sarah, you will find a five-fold analogy at http://www.nfpandmore.org/Holy%20Communion%20-%20Eucharistic%20and%20Marital.pdf. This is Chapter 4 of Sex and the Marriage Covenant (Ignatius, 2005). The thesis is simple: Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant.

      • Sarah D

        Thanks, John. That’s exactly what I was getting at.

    • Eric Johnston

      “doesn’t the Church state that sexuality is a holy, sacred participation in God’s love, not just a broken thing that needs to be tamed?”

      1. I didn’t say “tamed,” I said “healed.” In any case, that doesn’t make sex inherently bad.

      2. But I do think we need to be somewhat wary of the eagerness of people in our culture, Catholic and not, to take what, in our fallen state, is one of our most wayward desires and get a little carried away. One good among many. But some of the hyperbole of certain Catholic authors might be more driven by the waywardness of our fallen desires than by a more healthy approach. Good! Yes! But let’s not get carried away. There’s more to life, and marriage, than sex.

      3. Does the Church say what you say? Show me where. Yes, there are plenty of post-sexual revolution Catholics who say that. Some of them are wild enough to claim (without references) that John Paul says it. Some of them even think the hallmark of good Catholic theology is to say the whole tradition is wrong. I don’t think that’s right. Hermeneutic of continuity. And make clear distinctions between what the Church actually teaches and what our favorite popular author says.

      4. All of marriage is holy. Sex is absolutely holy, insofar as it is procreative; in a secondary way — ordered to the good of children — it plays a role in binding the couple together. But again, let’s not get carried away. Any marriage relationship that is built on sex is, in my opinion, a pretty unhealthy relationship.

      5. Ends. Think about ends.

      • Sarah D

        Thank you for this detailed response to my query.

        1) That was the clarification I sought. Your original statement left me puzzled, since surely God created sex to be housed within marriage even before the Fall.

        2) I think that you have misrepresented the implications of my comment, where I did agree with you that marriage is much more than sex. A holy, sacramental marriage is based upon the mutual self-giving of every aspect of the couple’s lives and persons. Sex is, however, a good unique to marriage and thus an important element of it.

        3) Since you asked, I will cite Part 3, Article 6, Section I of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Particularly Paragraph 2331 quoting Familiaris Consortio: “‘God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image …, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.'” Paragraph 2335 continues this theme, linking said love and communion to a sharing in “the Creator’s generosity and fecundity.” Both the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality are clearly described as being in the likeness of God.

        Again, you connect me to theological distortions I did not state. Rest assured, I am not a CW groupie. I share your distaste for hyperbolic revisionist claims that the Church did not appreciate sex until the 1960s.

        4) I agree – relationships with only sex in common will crash and burn. The unitive and procreative purposes are too intrinsically enmeshed to be compartmentalized, though.

        5) Sure thing. Your point of raising adults as an end is a good one – Catholic literature on marriage can tend to idolize childhood. Procreation isn’t just for babies, it is so those babies can become adults living their vocations. My historian husband enjoyed your apt use of Charles I’s children’s portrait – a painting commissioned anticipating their adult royal careers.

        • Eric Johnston

          The passage you cite from Familiaris Consortio is beautiful. I don’t see how it makes the point you’re trying to make. Sex is not the “mystery of personal communion,” though it can have a place in a marriage — and family life! — that is. No? Am I missing something? In John Paul — and Gaudium et Spes 24, one of his favorite passages — all of neighborly love is Trinitarian: not just sexual love. I think — and I think John Paul thinks — that the real significance of marriage is not in its exclusivity, but in how it teaches us the communion that ultimately transcends the marital relationship: first with our children, then with the earthly city, and ultimately in the heavenly.

          As for linking you to theological distortions: I apologize. I didn’t mean to do that. All I meant to say is that there are a lot of distortions out there, and I think sensible people — like you! — can hear things repeated so many times that they think they must be Church teaching. Just because the Church doesn’t say it doesn’t make it false. But neither is it Church teaching just because apologists and popularizers say it.

          And on some of these points, there are centuries-long theological discussions that get trampled in the heat of the moment. I think we should be awfully careful, for example, about shaping our Eucharistic and Trinitarian theology so as to fit our marriage-apologetic need of the moment. These topics might be more difficult and important than we realize.

          Again, not accusing you, just warning!

      • ” Does the Church say what you say? Show me where. Yes, there are plenty of post-sexual revolution Catholics who say that. Some of them are wild enough to claim (without references) that John Paul says it. Some of them even think the hallmark of good Catholic theology is to say the whole tradition is wrong. I don’t think that’s right. Hermeneutic of continuity. And make clear distinctions between what the Church actually teaches and what our favorite popular author says.”
        Eric, in the above are you referring to the analogical connection between marriage and the Eucharist when you ask “does the Church say what you say”?
        I would be greatly surprised to learn that you would challenge such an analogy–hoping I’ve misunderstood?

        • Eric Johnston

          Friends,

          I don’t want to get into endless theological arguments; I think there are often deeper questions of methodology and starting points; and I doubt comments are the best place to hash things out.

          But for those expressing astonishment, just briefly, some concerns I have about the Sex-Eucharist connection:

          1. Above all, methodology. I believe Catholic theology needs rather rigorously to hold to Scripture as interpreted by the Tradition and the Magisterium — and not as someone finds vague Rorscach-esque allusions. (I think, in fact, that’s what JPII’s Theology of the Body is really all about: reading Scripture carefully and finding what it actually says.) Many popular assertions about sex are just not in Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium; some of them are explicitly rejected by key figures in the Tradition. I prefer to stick with actual Church teaching. I think these exercises in theological creativity are more dangerous than they might appear — especially as they tend to be reductive.

          2. Sex and the Eucharist tends to reduce the Eucharist. It tends, first, to miss the proper nature of Eucharistic sacrifice. Spend enough time thinking about sex and sacrifice . . . and you end up not thinking about what a sacrificial offering really means, in your a priori assumption that it can’t mean anything that isn’t in sex.

          3. Reductive of the nature of Eucharistic communion. Yes, sex can be a sort of communion too. But not the same. Jesus gives himself as our bread — not our semen. Let’s not cover that up in our eagerness to talk about sex.

          4. Reductive of marriage, because everything has to be about sex.

          5. Reductive of Biblical teaching about marriage, where suddenly wild assertions are made that Song of Songs is uniquely about sex (it isn’t), or Ephesians is all about sex (it isn’t), etc.

          6. Reductive of marriage, because there are aspects of marriage that are not like the Eucharist. Why not appreciate marriage as what it is, instead of trying to reduce it to its similitarities to something else?

          7. Reductive of marriage, because in most of these conversations, family disappears: marriage is NOT just about two people.

          8. Reductive of community, as if the only Trinitarian communion is man-wife; that is the opposite of what Gaudium et Spes and John Paul say.

          9. Reductive of the sacramental system: as if there are only two sacraments; or as if there are not other equally interesting parallels. (If anything, Ephesians compares marriage to baptism — but again: don’t get carried away with that!) As if the Eucharist is interesting only as marriage feast, and not as culmination of all the sacraments. As if only some parts of life are sanctified — whereas the tradition view the glory of the sacramental system precisely in its sanctification of all aspects of life.

          I know this won’t satisfy some of you. But I thought it fair to state some of my concerns.

          • The irony here, in my view, is that your above explanation is what is “reductive” :-), insofar as you speak reductively of the analogy itself as though it is “sex-Eucharist” and not “marriage-Eucharist.” I’m not aware of any Catholic presenters who do this. Those I’m familiar with clearly understand that sexual union is nuptial and that the analogy exists with Eucharist precisely in the “nuptiality” (not sexuality) of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb….

      • E.g.: “It is a characteristic feature of the human heart to accept even difficult demands in the name of love, for an ideal, and above all in the name of love for a person (love is, in fact, oriented by its very nature toward the person). And so, in this call to continence ‘for the kingdom of heaven,’ first the disciples and then the whole living Tradition of the Church quickly discovered the love for Christ himself as the Bridegroom of the Church, Bridegroom of souls, to whom he has given himself to the end (cf. Jn 13:1; 19:30) in the mystery of his Passover and of the Eucharist.” [TOB 79:9]

  • Martha Oram

    What a great article. Thank you so much.

    In my observation, many people are afraid to be the family with ten kids – afraid they won’t be able to handle it, afraid of finances, afraid of health, etc. But in reality, very few people are that family – even without any regulation. Women miscarry with incredible frequency, a secret most women don’t realize until they get married and begin ‘talking shop’ with other women.

    My point is, we oftentimes assume that our fertility is wild and out of control. And while that’s true for some, it is not true for most. This very intimate discernment process, this incredibly hectic time of bearing and raising little ones, is over so fast – and I would be terrified to look back and find I had said no far more often than I realized. Our Lord is so often asking, “is there any room in the Inn?” I hope I can always at least whisper, “yes” even if I think I’m only offering a stable.

    • Avemarie

      Martha, Wow….sooo beautiful! We are discerning a third and scared…but called at the same time.

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  • Patty

    It is insulting to us as a couple who relies upon Divine Providence to have to defend ourselves and be compared to those who use scientific abstinence. The term of Responsible Parenthood is relatively new. I find it also insulting.

  • Isaac S.

    I really don’t understand all of the comments about periodic continence being this huge sacrifice that can strain a marriage. Unless you’re a special case with very unusual signs/cycles, by all modern methods of NFP you would be looking at abstaining from 10-15 days per month using the most conservative “rules.” Yes, some do require longer abstinence of 1-2 months when post-partum or starting a new method, but that isn’t far off from the six weeks that is required post-partum just for medical healing. Maybe as a twenty-something newlywed 15 days per month would be a huge sacrifice, but for the majority of married couples with kids I don’t see how it could be.

    • James

      If 15 days of abstinence isn’t a huge sacrifice, your cross is heavy enough!

  • Isaac S.

    I would also like to respond to all of the hard-core “providentialists” making snarky comments about “new Nikes every year.” This kind of thinking should be taken to its logical extreme to expose how off-base it is. Up until the last century, no one had electricity and running water, so by this logic neither is necessary and should be dispensed with in the interests of affording more children. Hospital births are a recent thing and therefore clearly not necessary, so women should just give birth at home. Pope Pius X slept on a dirt floor as a child, so clearly anyone wanting the luxury of a wood or tile floor is just being selfish. Bottom line: the Church has NEVER taught that people should have as many children as physically possible nor be forced to live in grinding poverty in the interests of having a large family, nor has she EVER used the word “grave” to describe the reasons required to postpone/space children. The Church has clearly taught that NFP is morally licit and it is up to parents to discern what a “just” reason means for them. If some people feel called to total abandonment, then that is certainly admirable, but they are under the same responsibility to get their children to heaven as those who practice NFP. My grandparents had eight kids and at most two could be described as orthodox Catholics in middle age. The true goal of a Catholic parent would be to give as many souls to God as they can, and not everyone is equipped to handle raising twelve children while still giving them proper spiritual and moral formation. Children aren’t numbers on a scoreboard and shouldn’t be treated as such; every family’s gifts and struggles are different.

  • Elisa

    Interesting article, thank you!
    By the way, I love the featured painting of Charles I and Henrietta Maria’s children by van Dyck.

  • fRED

    This was one of the best, balanced, respectful essays on NFP and marriage. The aspect of discussing the goals of marriage is often not included in the subject of birth control.

    What many fail to recognize (let alone consider) is the war against marriage and family that has been smoldering for decades and is now erupting into a conflagration.

    Not enough is being proclaimed about the SACRAMENT of marriage. Even when the sacramental aspects are mentioned, too many times the discussion ends in parsing of church documents in order to rationalize managing conception.

    An ignorance exists in the direction our society is taking. More and more emphasis is being placed on the importance of the INDIVIDUAL and their ability to make choices rather than the role of GOD in our lives.

    Why are we afraid to manifest our trust in GOD via our families? Loving and forgiving our spouse and being faithful no matter what reflects the lovingkindness that GOD offers us. Bearing children is a testament to our faith and hope of God’s love for us.

    If only the controversy were about a new pair of shoes or a boat or a vacation (etc.). Deep down the desire to limit children is a fear of losing our SELF (to marriage, family, God). The attempt to manage new life is to extinguish Love because it denies and diminishes the role of God in our life.

    I anticipate that there will be protests and rebuttals and excuses why the above is flawed and distorted. So be it.

    I am the first born of 12 children. Despite my father’s low paying job, somehow we managed to make ends meet. All of us graduated from college. Most of us (particularly the youngest ones) no longer practice Christianity. While some might twist that into a negative, who knows what God has in mind for the future? The Bible illustrates how great things can blossom from small remnants and seemingly failed lives. Trust in God and choose Life.

  • Well- thought article! I rarely found essays with balance discussion between two matters.

  • anne cherney

    How can you expect to serve He Who is Truth Itself by speaking untruths? You have puplished an untruth here by saying “65 comments.” There were at least 67, and perhaps many more. I added a comment which was valuable in that it made a few points not previously made. The count number before that said “63 comments.” Then, when mine was first published, the number read “64 comments.” Later in the day I went back to it. My letter was missing and the number again read “63 comments”. I heard that a friend had sent in a comment which was also not being printed. I checked later and saw “64 comments” again…but the last comment was not the one I sent. And now there are officially “65 comments”, but not including at least two. How do you feel it is an honest open discussion when you are apparently censoring comments, and then publishing a false numerical amount? And what is the basis of your censorship? Anne at cherneyanne@gmail,com

  • anne cherney

    So second try. The difference between those with a contraceptive mentality and Providentialists is that the former think children are conceived by chance, and the latter know each comes from the decision of an all wise, all powerful, all loving Father, who has planned each from all eternity. The essence of a contraceptive mentality is that important role of “chance”….so if we don’t take control here and put in some stops, we are going to be overrun!
    The big problem I think is the unfortunate choice of the name “Natural Family Planning” for periodic abstinence to avoid conception. It seems to say that the only thing wrong with birth control is that it is artificial! In reality, the problem is also with “family planning”, a concept and term from Margaret Sanger which the Church has never approved of! Planning, by definition, is done ahead of time…yet the Church only allows exclusive recourse to the infertile period when a serious problem is being faced. And having the Church promote something called “planning” seems to make those who don’t, be irresponsible.
    I really appreciate Johnston’s comments about self control. I saw a medieval penetentiary that recommended abstinence from marital embrace on the Fridays in Lent. That would be good self control, but not for the sake of avoiding children. Abstinence in marriage is not better than sex, and some people even seem to think that the abstinence required by NFP is truly a virtue…and more valuable than a baby!
    It is so good to see all of Sheila Kippley’s comments. She is certainly the expert on natural baby spacing through nursing. I would call that part of “Supernatural Family Planning.” A couple just leaving conceptions up to God should be doing the whole business the way He invented it: nursing the baby to the degree and for the length of time He designed is best for the baby…and provides the best time for the next baby.
    As far as Providentialists being “irresponsible”, if you look again at Humanae Vitae, par. 10, you will see just accepting children as the first method stated of “responsible parenthood”, and using periodic abstinence for just reasons as the second.
    And if you look at Catechism #2363, you will see that the two ends of marriage, unity and procreation, are never to be separated. A couple can never righteously decide to set aside the procreative purpose of marriage. Then how could the Church have ever approved of NFP? Simple: procreation is two part. You don’t just have a baby, you need to raise him. Thus, the only justification for NFP use is when you face a problem, health or economic, which would, you think, jeopardize your ability to raise another child or the ones you have….then you use NFP to enable you to fulfill procreation….the second half of it!
    Lastly, we should know this is a modern phenomenon. It wasn’t until about 1930 that the time of ovulation was known. Before that, it was thought to be allied with the period. I have a book published by a New York doctor, a eugenicist who seriously wanted children avoided, who said to avoid conception you had to abstain from 3 days before the period started until 15 days after!! When the real time was finally learned, the Church approved of “rhythm” for serious reasons. But it was never to be the norm!

  • Valentin

    My family planning so far consists of looking for a respectable girlfriend, giving her a ring, asking her to marry me, and of course getting married and raising a family God willing.

  • Valentin

    If I get married I want to have at least want 5 kids and would certainly be happy to be blessed by more children along the way. Of course that means finding someone to marry.

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