I have tried to present the logical, tradition-based reasons for not using NFP (unless for “serious reasons”), and have purposely avoided looking at individuals’ reasons for using it. This has resulted in accusations that I’m judgmental: that I have no right to “judge” people’s reasons for using NFP; that they have every right to follow their own consciences; that what is not a “serious reason” for one couple might be “serious” for another. I’ve been scolded for not applauding couples for using NFP when they could just as easily be using artificial contraception.
None of those accusations are really true. I’m not judging people. I’ve been arguing for the principle that we should be open to God’s will for our lives and not try to thwart it while trying to appear virtuous at the same time.
That said, I do know that we’re all on a journey toward Heaven, and we are at different points along the road. Growing in holiness is a process.
My friend Stacy Trasancos at Accepting Abundance blog, doesn’t agree with me completely about NFP, but I have enormous respect for her anyway. ;-) Stacy recently wrote an article entitled “Open to…Miscarriage?” (please go and read the whole thing!). She said, in part:
One of my greatest fears is that I will see one of the children I have raised die. Miscarriage left me empty, imagining the dead body of a child I have raised for two, ten, or twenty years fills me with terror. Motherhood can be a curse and a blessing.
Stacy had linked to her article on Face Book, and in the comments there, I wrote:
I have never had a miscarriage, but I think about the babies I might have aborted via the Pill. Anyway, "being open to" is all about accepting Divine Providence even when we don't understand why He allows something to happen.
I suspect this "being open to all" is a wisdom gained with maturity. We want to live a long life, but if we do live long enough we'll see all our loved ones die.
Yes, being “open to life” means being open to sadness, suffering, and even death. But then, we should actually be open to all those things anyway…not just as a counterpoint to being “open to life”. Death is a fact of life, so to speak. Suffering has salvific value. Death of the body means that eternal life is possible.
Being open to life, sadness, suffering, and death isn’t something we embrace all at once, though. This was made very clear by a commenter on Stacy’s Face Book page who, referring to her state after losing a baby through miscarriage, said (my emphases):
… I couldn’t pray the Our Father for months, because I couldn’t bring myself to sincerely pray, “Thy will be done.” I knew instinctively…that meant my heart had to be open not just to receiving new life, but letting it go, should God choose. I still sobbed painfully the first few times I prayed the full prayer… [S]ubmission to even another loss was unimaginably hard to offer to God, but it also helped me move beyond the paralyzing fear that had gripped me since [my baby’s] death.
No, we don’t become saints who submit graciously to Divine Providence overnight! It’s a struggle to understand and conform to God’s will. That’s how sainthood happens.
On the other hand, God’s “will of good pleasure” encompasses the things that happen to us in our lives, things which God may ordain, or which occur because He permits them. The author notes that “it is in tribulations especially we must recognize the will of God”; this is where He offers us the opportunity of “remedying our failings, of healing and sanctifying our souls”.
Even when we begin to understand and accept some semblance of submission to God’s will, there are stages of growth involved. Dom Lehodey discusses a progression that starts with seeking to avoid trials and afflictions, but accepting them as a “rigorous duty”; at the next stage the soul still does not wish for pain and suffering, but when they come, they are “accepted and endured willingly, because we know such afflictions enter into God’s designs with regard to us”. Finally, in the most perfect degree of conformity to God’s will,
…we are not content with just accepting and suffering cheerfully, for the love of God, all the trials He may send us; but in the ardour of our love, we long for these trials and rejoice at their advent, because we know they come from the hand of God and are ordained by His adorable will. (p. 25; my emphases)
Obviously, abandoning ourselves to Divine Providence requires ongoing effort, and it doesn’t apply to just one aspect of our lives. It’s not specific to NFP, of course! But in NFP promotion we can see, if we are willing to look, a resistance to accepting God’s will in our lives.
I think it is ludicrous that dioceses and parishes would actually require NFP training for engaged couples – at least in the way I’m seeing it promoted on various websites. NFP is for use when there are “serious reasons” to avoid pregnancy (and actually it can be argued that the same “serious reasons” rationale applies to using NFP to achieve pregnancy, as well – which is an area I’ve not touched on this blog…yet).
Teaching couples NFP as a matter of course and without due respect for “serious reasons” does not even hint to them about the path to holiness that is opened by truly trusting Divine Providence. Promoting NFP encourages couples to remain bound to the world, to earthly “values” and thoughts. It binds them to the trends and opinions of the times we live in, because it does not lift our minds and hearts toward our heavenly homeland.
Currently, I believe that the idea behind the push to spread the tenets of NFP far and wide is perhaps well-intentioned, but misguided, and a little dishonest. It’s really a vote of no-confidence in the targeted couples: what if they use artificial contraception?! Quick, substitute NFP!
Yes, NFP is morally licit; however, it still perpetuates the notion that we should limit the size or our families. It perpetuates the glorification of the sex act beyond what the Church has traditionally taught. It perpetuates the idea that providing for the material
What if diocesan and parish programs for engaged couples included actual encouragement to have large families? Now that would be both counter-cultural and traditional. And it would open a discussion in every pre-marriage class, I’ll bet!
And then there could be discussion about how we travel the road toward abandonment to Divine Providence. We could talk about how not everyone is “there” yet, and if you’re not, then it’s permissible to use NFP for a time, if you have “serious reasons” to do so. This is where Leila’s (Little Catholic Bubble blog) post on “My NFP Plea: Stop Giving Warnings and Rejoice!” comes in. Certainly, we must sympathize with and listen to couples with fears about having “too many” children; but let’s encourage them to be truly open to God’s will, and suggest using NFP only as a last resort.
In society in general, I’ll bet we’ll see the “large family” idea make a comeback in the very near future. Let’s help our Church be a leader on that front, instead of bringing up the rear.