“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.”
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.