Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Divine Providence and NFP
In the process of exploring the issues around NFP, I was introduced to the term “providentialist”. Some NFP promoters have written disparagingly of “providentialists”, implying that they promote just having baby after baby without taking into account their own physical, emotional, or financial resources. They imply, I think, that God needs a little help in understanding our dire circumstance here on the earthly plane.
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange explains it this way (all emphases mine):
The doctrine of self-abandonment to divine providence is a doctrine obviously founded on the Gospel, but it has been falsely construed by the Quietists, who gave themselves up to a spiritual sloth, more or less renounced the struggle necessary for the attainment of perfection, and seriously depreciated the value and necessity of hope or confidence in God, of with true self-abandonment is a higher form.
But it is possible also to depart from the Gospel teaching on this point in a sense entirely opposite to that of the Quietists with their idle repose, by going to the other extreme of a useless disquiet and agitation.
Here as elsewhere the truth is the culminating point lying between and transcending these two extreme conflicting errors…
Garrigou-Lagrange identifies three principles underlying the concept of abandonment to divine providence, which he sums up in the following way:
Nothing comes to pass but God has foreseen it, willed it or at least permitted it. He wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for the manifestation of His goodness and infinite perfections, for the glory of His Son, and the welfare of those that love Him. In view of these three principles, it is evident that our trust in Providence cannot be too childlike, too steadfast. Indeed, we may go further and say that this trust in Providence should be blind as is our faith, the object of which is those mysteries that are non-evident and unseen (fides est de non visis) for we are certain beforehand that Providence is directing all things infallibly to a good purpose, and we are more convinced of the rectitude of His designs than we are of the best of our own intentions. Therefore, in abandoning ourselves to God, all we have to fear is that our submission will not be wholehearted enough.
He then adds a fourth principle:
…[O]bviously self-abandonment does not dispense us from doing everything in our power to fulfill God's will as made known in the commandments and counsels, and in the events of life…
Then he concludes that
…[S]o long as we have the sincere desire to carry out His will thus made known from day to day, we can and indeed we must abandon ourselves for the rest to the divine will of good pleasure, no matter how mysterious it may be, and thus avoid a useless disquiet and mere agitation.
Now, it strikes me that, in all honesty, we should step back and consider whether the charting and planning and “discerning” that are apparently inherent in the use of NFP might not qualify as “a useless disquiet and mere agitation”.
I’ve read a number of blog posts and comments that attest to the fact that NFP requires some work – charting, abstaining, etc. And NFP promoters have been accused by some of making too much of their “heroic” periodic continence. Other “providentialist” types have suggested that there is a good reason that a couple might have difficulty subduing their desire for the intimacy of the marital act which is their right (and duty): God has created male and female in such a way that they desire each other more when conception is most possible! (He has a plan, you know!)
And I would suggest that it’s a lot more difficult and more heroic to learn to trust Divine Providence than it is to abstain from the marital act for 8-11 days each month.
If every day we do what we can to be faithful to God in the ordinary routine of life, we may be confident that He will give us grace to remain faithful in whatever extremity we may find ourselves through His permission; and if we have to suffer for Him, He will give us the grace to die a heroic death rather than be ashamed of Him and betray Him.
These are the principles underlying the doctrine of trusting self-abandonment… By constant fidelity to duty, we avoid the false and idle repose of the Quietist, and on the other hand by a trustful self-abandonment we are saved from a useless disquiet and a fruitless agitation. Self-abandonment would be sloth did it not presuppose this daily fidelity, which indeed is a sort of springboard from which we may safely launch ourselves into the unknown. Daily fidelity to the divine will as expressed gives us a sort of right to abandon ourselves completely to the divine will of good pleasure as yet not made known to us.
Trusting in divine providence doesn’t mean trusting that everything will work out just fine, with no problems or challenges to overcome. It means a willingness to accept even (and maybe even especially) the trials which God permits you to experience, knowing that these trials are your path to holiness.
And there will be trials, of course – more for some than for others. Consider the family in my community, for example, whose five children have life-threatening heart problems. Now, those parents only recently discovered that the problems exist in all five children; but do you think that they even consider the thought that “if only we’d known, we wouldn’t have had five”? It’s my guess that those parents, while devastated emotionally and financially, cannot imagine life without each of those little souls, despite the hardships that their entire family is undergoing. And do you think there might be some graces bestowed by God in their trials? I suspect that they are able to look at their journey through this trial and point to many gifts from God that they would not have received otherwise.
But throughout the ages, the saints have known that a focus on the body weighs us down and prevents or impedes the ascent of the soul toward God. That’s one reason why fasting is important; it helps us to control that concupiscence we are susceptible to in eating (because eating is, by nature, pleasurable!). Focusing on our bodily needs and the pleasure of the marital act tends to make us forget that our true home in in Heaven – where, of course, there is no marriage, and hence no marital act, because there is no need for procreation.
And so, regarding NFP and the spacing of births (and even the issue of infertility) we can follow Garrigou-Lagrange’s train of thought:
What is our practical conclusion to be? It is this, that in doing our utmost to carry out our daily duties we must for the rest abandon ourselves to divine providence, and that with the most childlike confidence. And if we are really striving to be faithful in little things, in the practice of humility, gentleness, and patience, in the daily routine of our lives, God on His part will give us grace to be faithful in greater and more difficult things, should He perchance ask them of us; then, in those exceptional circumstances, He will give to those that seek Him exceptional graces.
…We have a perfect model of this abandonment to divine providence in St. Joseph, in the many difficulties that beset him at the moment of our Lord's birth at Bethlehem, and again when he heard the mournful prophecy of the aged Simeon, and during all the time that elapsed from the flight away from Herod into Egypt until the return to Nazareth.
Following his example, let us live our lives in that same spirit, fulfilling our daily duties, and the grace of God will never be wanting. By His grace we shall be equal to anything He asks of us, no matter how difficult it may sometimes be.
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