"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."
On a previous (NFP)
post, a reader left a comment in which she described listening to a CD talk by
a Catholic motivational speaker who was describing her “conversion” regarding
her use of artificial contraception. The commenter said:
was enjoying the talk, until the point where she shared her new insights with
her husband and they discussed what to do. At that point, I expected her to
say, "It was so wonderful; God opened his heart, and he agreed we should
Instead, she said (paraphrasing), "It was so wonderful;
God opened his heart, and we agreed to learn how to practice NFP!" They
had 3 children at that point (and still do), and appeared to be a financially
stable, healthy middle class family. She kept going on about how horrible it
would be if she got pregnant and how upset she would be, but how they were just
going to "trust God" and abstain every month and live "according
to God's plan" (!!)
… I hope none of their 3 children ever hears that CD…
William Gardner had also broached this subject with me – what do you tell the
children? How are they affected by parents talking about how they couldn’t
handle having another child (for whatever reason); do they wonder whether they
were “wanted”, or an “accident”? What do children, especially older children,
learn about the gift of life when/if their parents talk about their own use of
NFP (or contraception)? Words must be chosen carefully in order to protect the
child’s understanding of the gratuitous nature of the gift of life! Fr. Gardner
commented on another post that, “not only with regard to one's children, but in
general, the discussion of periodic continence should be reserved and guarded.
On the contrary, the condemnation of abortion, artificial contraception,
sterilization, and the homosexual lifestyle should be firm and forthright.”
I asked Fr. Gardner
to elaborate on this thought, and he graciously wrote the following article for
** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
Teach Your Children Well,
In his Allocution to
the Italian Midwives (Oct., 1951), Pope Pius XII spoke openly about periodic
continence (the systematic practice of
restricting intercourse to the sterile periods for the purpose of avoiding
conception). Thus, argued Frs. John
Ford and Gerald Kelly in 1962, precisely because of the frank and open nature
of the Pope's discussion, information about natural birth regulation should be
widely available, indeed, it should be an integral part of marriage preparation
and enrichment classes (cfr. Fr. John C. Ford, S.J., & Fr. Gerald Kelly,
S.J., "Periodic Continence," in Theological
Studies, Dec., 1962, p. 602; http://www.ts.mu.edu/readers/content/pdf/23/23.4/23.4.3.pdf)
Fifty years later, perhaps
Frs. Ford and Kelly would be pleased to know that their recommendation has been
almost universally implemented in diocesan marriage preparation and enrichment
programs throughout the U.S. The working
assumption of most of these programs is that couples will employ some kind of
family planning; therefore, they should be exhorted to use the kind which is
not morally repugnant.
However, St. Paul
reminds us that the moral uprightness of human activity is not the only criteria
of judgment for God-fearing Christians, who are also concerned with not giving
scandal. In other words, a Christian who
wishes to avoid placing stumbling blocks in front of other believers will also
be concerned with how actions and decisions are perceived by others (1 Cor.
So, for example,
suppose a married couple has discerned sufficiently serious motives for the use
of periodic continence. If they have
children, it would seem prudent to be guarded about that information with
respect to their children for several reasons.
Firstly, modesty requires a certain discretion about the details of
human reproduction and sexual intimacy.
Certainly, parents have the primary responsibility of educating their
children age-appropriately about the facts of life. But this prerogative is also partly derived
from the desire to preserve the mystery of procreation, which has a miraculous
character even merely at the biological level.
So a certain reserve about sexual and reproductive matters is
appropriate for parents too with regard to their children.
distinction between artificial contraception and periodic continence is subtle and
not easily apprehended. One position,
held by this author, is that although it may be licit, periodic continence does
indeed have a contraceptive aspect, for it is a habitual use of the marriage
act which clearly does not increase conception, nor is it neutral with regard
to conception. Others hold that periodic
continence becomes contraceptive only when there is a lack of sufficiently
serious reasons for its use. Still others
hold that, notwithstanding the use of the term "artificial
contraception," there is no such thing as natural contraception, since the
term "contraception" can only imply the interference with individual
acts of sexual intercourse and/or the suppression of the generative
powers. Finally, there are those who
incorrectly hold that artificial contraception and natural birth regulation
differ only by degree and not by kind. In any case, one can imagine how
difficult it is for the average young person, and even for the average adult,
to appreciate the moral difference between artificial contraception and
Thirdly, the universal
hazard of exposure to contemporary culture is that of under-appreciating the
gratuitous nature of the gift of human life.
But the use of periodic continence can also lend itself to this kind of
under-appreciation. In other words, the
more that conception is controlled, the greater danger of misunderstanding the
giftedness of human life. But periodic
continence is employed precisely because of its aspect of control over
conception, or the avoidance thereof.
Bearing in mind these
considerations, an indelicate parent might say to a daughter or son: "Things were really rough, and then when
we decided it was O.K. to have a baby, you came along!" A more thoughtful approach might be the
following: "Things were really
rough, and then you came along!"
The latter statement, although not revealing all the details of the
situation, tends to emphasize more clearly the giftedness of human life.
If this is true with
one's children, it seems it would also apply for the general public, including
the average couple being prepared for marriage, or being guided for marriage
enrichment. The very nature of periodic
continence requires great discretion, lest modesty be violated or listeners be
led to under-appreciate the gratuitous nature of the gift of human life.
indiscriminate promotion of natural birth regulation will unavoidably
contribute to the contraceptive mentality, precisely because of its emphasis on
human control over conception. On the
contrary, the firm and forthright condemnation of artificial contraception,
sterilization, abortion, and the homosexual lifestyle, without explicit
reference to NFP will send a clear message that God's life-giving love is not
to be opposed.
Frs. Ford and Kelly made the unusual claim that the advent itself of successful
periodic continence has brought about the need for more prudence in decisions
about family planning. Prior to the accurate knowledge of infertile times,
decisions about the arrival of children "often made themselves," even
for couples who had made the decision to completely abstain from sexual
relations for long periods of time (cfr. "Periodic Continence," p.
Our Lady- Mother of Divine Providence
But it is precisely
that unknown and surprise aspect of Divine Providence in the work of procreation
that reminds us all of how much our mere existence is completely a
miracle. Let the enemies of Divine
Providence be widely known for what they are; that is, to be rejected always. But let the licit circumvention of God's plan
for life be announced only with great reserve and caution, lest the Lord's
command to "Let the children come to Me" be wrongly perceived to be
ubiquitous clamoring for the regulation of births, there are emerging even
today heroic parents of large families.
And not rarely these heroic parents themselves will have come from relatively
small families. We owe it to them, and
to all young people, to hand over the torch of life in such a way as to not
obstruct their vision, or their purpose.
Contrary to the
respected, but culturally-conditioned, advice of Frs. Ford and Kelly in 1962,
those involved in the pastoral care of young people and married couples will
truly be at the service of life by exercising restraint and caution in
promulgating information about periodic continence and NFP, while also clearly
condemning all abortifacient and illicit contraceptive practices.