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\”What If I\’m Wrong About NFP?\”

August 15, AD2013

\"Jay

“What if I’m wrong about NFP?”

No matter where you stand on the use of NFP and the need for “serious reasons”, you can ask yourself this question. I’m including myself.

I have written a number of posts about NFP (go here to see the list, with links) from the perspective that spacing births is licit for “serious reasons”, per documents like Humanae Vitae and Pope Pius XII’s Allocution to Midwives. I’ve attempted to examine the general principles that are required to guide our actions in the use of the marital embrace. I’ve pointed out that there can certainly be sin involved. In fact, because of our fallen human nature, there will almost certainly be sin involved! If we want to lead holy Christian lives, we need to accept that fact, and be willing to truly examine our consciences when it comes to making a decision of our own will to avoid pregnancy.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of discussion of “serious reasons” out there. Instead, I am told by commenters to “leave it up to the couple and their spiritual director” and that “the Church has intentionally left it vague” and that I’m a “nitpicking, nattering nabob” who should mind my own business. It makes me wonder: if everyone is in agreement that serious reasons are required for using NFP to “postpone” pregnancy, why is there such defensiveness about articulating some general guidelines about those reasons?

A few people have accused me of “going beyond” what the Church teaches, and creating a “moral issue” where none exists. But I fail to see where I have “gone beyond” what the Church teaches. I’m saying, as the Church says, that there must be “serious reasons” to intentionally avoid procreation. I’m saying, as the Church says, that the sexual act is particularly vulnerable to misuse and sin because of the immense pleasure involved. And I’m saying, as the Church says, that our consciences must be properly formed so that we can correctly discern whether or not we actually have serious reasons to avoid procreation.

This is probably the most concise statement I can make regarding what I see as the problem with NFP as it is currently promoted. NFP promoters most often have responded to my posts with statements about their own circumstances, and how, for them, NFP was justified. That’s great, but I’m not writing about personal experiences per se. I’m certainly not writing in order to point a finger and ask people to justify their use of NFP; and I probably would refrain from issuing any kind of “verdict” about a particular couple’s choice – unless the justification was something along the lines of “I’m going to be in a friend’s wedding six months from now, and I can’t be showing a baby bump at that time.”

So…

What if I’m wrong? What if I’m being too scrupulous about it? What if couples really should have free rein in discerning that their causes are just when they opt to avoid pregnancy through the use of periodic continence?

If I’m wrong, then anyone who has listened to me and taken a more “providential” approach to marriage and God’s will for children within their marriage will probably have more children than they would have if they made free use of NFP.

If I’m wrong, then more souls will have been brought into the world than would have otherwise. I would argue that that means a greater cooperation with God’s will, because He is the ultimate author of life, and none of those souls conceived in the marital embrace can possibly be considered a “mistake” or a “punishment”.

If I’m wrong, then some couples will make sacrifices for their children that they weren’t really “planning” on making. My views may cause some of those who listen to suffer more than they would have if they’d used NFP. But how can this possibly be to their eternal detriment? Surely if couples are demonstrating a “generous” attitude toward parenthood, their suffering will only increase their holiness in this life, shorten any time they might spend in purgatory, and thus pave their way to Heaven and eternity in the presence of God.

In short, if I’m wrong…people who practice what I (and the Church) preach will progress along the path to holiness.

Now it’s your turn, if you are a promoter of NFP who has found my views objectionable. What if you’re wrong? What if we shouldn’t be promoting NFP as God’s gift to couples who want to “postpone” pregnancy? What if NFP really does require more objective “serious reasons” than you are willing to agree to?

If you’re wrong, then couples who intentionally use NFP to avoid pregnancy will probably have fewer children than they would have otherwise.

If you’re wrong, fewer souls will have been brought into the world than would have otherwise. I think that shows a lack of cooperation with God’s will, because He expressly told us to “be fruitful and multiply”, and He did not add, “if you can fit it into your own plans”.

If you’re wrong, then couples may practice “responsible” parenthood while forgetting to be “generous”. They may have fewer medical problems and fewer bills, and overall less suffering and sacrifice, but does that increase their holiness in this life? Does it lead them forward along the path to holiness? Or does it, on some level, encourage a bit of selfishness, all the while justifying it as “discernment”?

The bottom line is this: if I’m wrong, I am sorry for leading anyone astray. But I’ll bet that, in the end, there won’t be too many couples who will say, “Darn you! If I hadn’t listened to you, three of my children wouldn’t have been born, and life would have been so much better.”

I just can’t see that happening.

And if you’re wrong? Then at least some of those couples who were using NFP for not-so-serious reasons might find out when they face the Creator that they weren’t doing His will, but their own. And they will understand what they passed up in so doing. Imagine the pain of knowing the souls you could have conceived if you’d cooperated with God’s will and timing.

I think Fr. Gardner is right: NFP may be licit, but it is not usually virtuous. “Generous” parenthood, on the other hand, is more likely to be virtuous, and is sometimes heroic.

All in all, I’d rather be one of those doing their suffering in this world, rather than in purgatory.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

Filed in: Marriage & Family

About the Author:

Jay Boyd was received into the Catholic Church in 2002, contrary to all expectations of her cradle-Catholic husband, Jerry. Since her conversion, Jay has focused on understanding and proclaiming the true teaching of the Magisterium, especially as regards life issues and the liturgy. Several of her articles on these topics have been published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Jay earned a doctorate in Developmental Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1989, and taught a few years at the college level, but her life’s work has involved pouring her time and energy, heart and soul, into the rearing of two children who have grown up to be a couple of the most wonderful people you’d ever want to meet. She admits, however, that this has much more to do with God’s grace than her own abilities as a mother. Jay lives in northeastern Oregon and blogs at Philothea on Phire. She has recently published a book, “Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom?” which is available on Amazon.com.

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  • Shawn McElhinney

    This article is a bunch of overly scrupulous claptrap. The Church teaches that NFP is permissible for “just reasons” (iustae causae) and there are plenty of them. The couple should discern this amongst themselves and possibly with a spiritual director, not listen to the prattlings of overly rigorous quasi-Jansenist scolds who seek to tie heavier burdens on them than the Church herself does.

  • Jackie

    I have meditated on the scripture that says “Before you were in the womb I knew you.” I have come to the conclusion that we should have very serious reasons if we choose to use NFP to avoid a pregnancy of a person that may have been planned to come in to the world by God.

  • reb
  • reb

    How is use of NFP not virtuous, if it requires the couple to practice temperance and not engage in the marital embrace? It most certainly is a sacrifice, for future children, and for each other, in the case of a recently postpartum mother…

  • Imitation Augustine

    Though I don’t agree with all of the logic which seems to necessitate child birth toward the end of this article, there are valid points to be made from Dr. Boyd’s article that people are overlooking. First, John Paul II in ‘Love and Responsibility’ states that NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality and even be gulp sinful. According to the late Holy Father, it is possible to abuse NFP. You all can read his book if you don’t believe me. He reiterated the same teaching in his ‘Theology of the Body’.

    The 3 predominant reasons I’ve read for using NFP are: dire poverty, medical and health conditions, and for spiritual growth as St. Paul states to separate for a time in prayer. But St. Paul is talking in context about complete abstinence for prayer.

    But the idea that NFP can’t ever be abused is directly refuted by John Paul II which seems to be a little known fact. So, yes, it is possible to abuse this teaching. There are vain reasons which can be sinful. For example, If a healthy couple who is middle class and no pressing burden has 2 kids and a dog decides they don’t want to have children because they won’t be able to go on as many vacations, I would call that a sinful reason. Or oh, I don’t want to raise a big family because it is a lot of work. That seems shallow. I understand that some parents are at there wits end…autistic child, serious medical bills, etc. (These are serious reasons). But there are a lot of other people who don’t have these types of reasons and are just a bunch of lazy Catholics.

  • Leila Miller

    One more thing to consider as I see a bunch of great articles (even from traditionalists) popping up on the internet:

    You know what I see when I run into non-traditionalist, “JP2-ish” Catholics who actually use NFP, or who even teach NFP for the local diocese? I generally see huge families. I can think of several off the top of my head who have 9, 8, 6-child families, all of whom fervently believe in the usefulness of NFP.

    As a mother of eight who knows plenty of NFP-using couples with big broods, I concur! The fruit of NFP seems to be open hearts and many children!

    Read the whole thing, here:

    http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/the-curious-controversy-over-natural-family-planning#comment-1026709189

    • James1225

      I would like to know exactly what is wrong with a couple deciding to just have a small family and using contraception to achieve that goal. That’s what my wile and I did and we have been happily married for 37 years and have two happy and healthy sons who we were able to successfully raise and educate and who are out living on their own.

    • Leila Miller

      James, for an act to be moral, both the means and the ends must be moral, and Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that it is immoral to use artificial contraception. God created sex/marriage to be both unitive and procreative. We are not to separate those aspects, but to leave the nature of the act intact, or else sacrifice the act. Here are a couple of articles I wrote that might help:

      http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/03/important-follow-up-to-natural-family.html

      http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/12/sterilization-is-it-getting-fixed-or.html

    • James1225

      Well. What’s done is done. It was I who wanted kids and my wife took time off from her career to have two boys who we raised, educated and sent off into the world. She went back to work and we’ve been happily married for almost 40 years. I don’t see any moral issues worth discussing.

    • Leila Miller

      I am sure you have many reasons to be proud of your family. I will not dispute that. But what’s done is not “done” unless serious sins are properly confessed, or until death takes us. These are moral issues “worth discussing” because the Church deems them so and always has. And the Church was founded by Christ to teach in His name until the end of time.

      Many blessings!

    • James1225

      Your suggesting that I must confess to a priest that my wife was on the pill. No thanks. We’re good.

  • Leila Miller
  • Patsy Koenig

    You are not questioning any one couple’s serious reason, per se. You are questioning whether NFP is widely misused by many Catholic couples. Then, where are your statistics that NFP is widely misused? You have none. Second, demographic statistics would easily indicate that NFP is NOT widely misused. That statistic is the wide-spread and authentic need for two incomes to pay the rent and utilities; along with many other statistics that would indicate serious need, such as industries laying off workers – a widepead phenomena. There is far more evidence that serious reasons are wide-spread; than your false assertion that NFP is widely misused. Your “questioning” is veiled criticism. There is no need for discussion “out there” about what constitues “serious reasons.” You have the gall to question (a.k.a. insult) the motives of those who disgree with you! If your questioning (a.k.a. criticism) of NFP (proper) usage, leads one single couple to contracept instead – then you worse than foolish; you are then grieviosly sinful. That is why there is so much objection to your lame logic and your veiled criticisms. It is clear you do not care about logic, theology or salvation; you just want attention and money.

  • Cj

    Not wanting to get in the way of God’s will, shouldn’t someone tell me too when and how often I should have sex? I only have 3 children. Perhaps God intended I have more. Maybe I am not having sex enough for God’s will.