"You aim at a devout life, dear Philothea, because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God's Divine Majesty," says St. Francis de Sales in his book "Introduction to the Devout Life".
And we can all be Philotheas, as St. Francis notes: "I have made use of a name suitable to all who seek the devout life, Philothea meaning one who loves God."
But I can’t say that I fully agree with the conclusions of those
two articles, either.
Here’s an excerpt from the Post article
which seemed to grab all of us:
Yet the images the church uses
to promote its own method of birth
controlfreaked [McGuire] out. Pamphlets for what the church calls natural family planning feature photos
of babies galore. A church-sponsored class on the method uses a book with a
woman on the cover, smiling as she balances a grocery bag on one hip, a baby on
She looks happy to me...
“My guess is 99 out of 100
21st-century women trying to navigate the decision about contraception would
see that cover and run for the hills,” McGuire wrote in a post on her blog,
Altcatholicah, which is aimed at Catholic women.
McGuire, 26, of Alexandria is
part of a movement of younger, religiously conservative Catholic women who are
trying to rebrand an often-ignored
church teaching: its ban on birth control methods such as the Pill. Arguing
that church theology has been poorly explained and encouraged, they want to
shift the image of a traditional
Catholic woman from one at home with children to one with a great, communicative sex life, a
chemical-free body and babies only when
the parents think the time is right.
Stop right there. Houston, we have a problem.
NFP is not supposed to be about parents deciding the time is right to
have a baby. (And although NFP can also be used to achieve pregnancy, I’m
focusing on the avoidance of pregnancy in this post.) The reason many people
think of NFP as “Catholic birth control” is because that’s how it is used by
many well-meaning couples. Claiming that a couple using NFP is “open to life”
while they abstain from sex during the woman’s fertile period in order to
intentionally avoid pregnancy – well…that’s a contradiction in terms.
Besides that, using NFP to implement the parents’ will is
also against Church teaching. In his post on
this topic, Dr. Taylor Marshall does an excellent job of explaining
why NFP is permitted only for serious
reasons, and what those reasons are. He summarized an excellent homily in
which the priest leaned heavily on the teaching of Pope Pius XII:
NFP or periodic continence can
only lawfully be practiced without sin for serious reasons or "just
causes," which [Pope Pius XII] lists as “medical, eugenic, economic, and
[See Dr. Marshall’s post for
the development of those reasons; listen to the homily here; read
a transcript of the homily here.]
The point is, NFP is not
to be used as a means to have babies “when parents think the time is right.”
The other two blog posts mentioned above make some good
points in response to the Washington Post article, but they are flawed as well.
… rejecting contraception in
general requires trust—trust in God’s
will and God’s provision. It requires generosity—a willingness to put
others needs before our own. It requires a spirit of poverty—detachment from
the extras our culture says are essentials…
I think it can easily be argued that using NFP to avoid pregnancy
is an expression of a lack of trust in God’s will and provision. It’s an active
effort on the part of the couple to second-guess God’s timing for the family’s
new members. Ms. Stimpson also notes:
…Few are able to use it to space births with the same precision the
manuals promise. Not because the methods don’t work. But rather because
wills are weak and temptation is tempting…
There’s an assumption here that many people make about NFP:
that the Church condones its use for the spacing of births at the parents’ will
– not God’s. This is not truly the case; again, there must be serious reasons for periodic continence.
Ms. Stimpson continues:
…NFP…demands that we reject our
cultural programming and embrace a different way of thinking. Not simply about
sex, but about everything: children, family, marriage, finances, work, God,
desire, love, life’s purpose, life’s meaning, human freedom, the Divine Will,
suffering, sacrifice. Again, everything.
She makes a very good point here that eschewing the use of
artificial contraception is a counter-cultural choice – heck, just look at the
HSS contraception mandate! And it’s true that a Catholic world view does mean a different perspective on
“everything”, as Ms. Stimpson says.
But then she concludes:
NFP is not Catholic birth
control. It’s the Catholic world view…lived out in the bedroom.
And I have to say, flatly: No. NFP is not the Catholic world view lived out in the bedroom – not if it is
used frequently and without serious reasons, for the express purpose of
It’s not that I don’t believe NFP can have a beneficial effect on a couple’s marriage. I understand
the point being made by DarwinCatholic when he says:
Using NFP is rewarding. It
trains spouses into greater consideration for each other, a more communicative
and other-focused sexuality, and a greater appreciation of the way that their
love for each other ties intimately together with their parenthood.
Our Lady of
But is using NFP to prevent pregnancy really trusting God?
And even if NFP can have beneficial results for the couple, it is never
permitted to do evil that good may come of it. And NFP used for the primary
purpose of preventing pregnancy – in the absence of serious reasons – would
constitute a sin. Under those circumstances, NFP is not objectively different
from any other form of contraception.
The whole idea of a married couple becoming aware of the
wife’s fertile times, and using that knowledge to decide whether or not to
engage in marital relations seems rather presumptuous if you really think about
it. How can it be that human reasoning is greater than God’s providence and His
plan to add one more soul to His Creation?
In the scheme of NFP, Almighty Man persists in placing human
prudence over that of Almighty God, and to that extent telling God that he does
not want to subject himself to His Providence, nor to fill up the Body of Jesus
on any terms but his own. Men have either forgotten, or refuse to believe, that
the Creator can handle His own creation with even greater providence and
prudence than they might imagine under the most trying of circumstances. (p.
God has a plan that’s bigger than ours – and His plan is
always the best for us.
There are souls who exist in the mind of God, and whose
conception awaits a couple who will say “yes” to God’s invitation to give that
thought life. The contraceptive mentality of our society has prevented untold
numbers of these souls from coming into existence, all because we put our own
selfish desires and concupiscences ahead of God’s plan for life, all because we
“aren’t ready” or “we can’t afford another child” or whatever other reason we
come up with that we think trumps God’s perfect will.
Pius XII, in his Address
to Newlyweds (March 1941) said:
It will depend on you whether
those innocent souls, whom the embrace of Infinite Love desires to call from nothing, shall come to the threshold of life, in order to make of
them one day His chosen companions in
the eternal happiness of Heaven. But alas! If they remain merely
magnificent images in the mind of God when they could have been rays of sun
that illuminate every man who comes into this world (John 1:9), they will remain forever nothingbut lights extinguished by the cowardice
and selfishness of man!
Openness to life means more than being anti-abortion.