Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Another Voice on "Heroic Parenthood"

A reader sent me a link to an article in Christian Order magazine, and I’ve seen it in various places since then – it was featured on Tantamergo’s blog, and also on Rorate Caeli blog.

The article, “Heroic Parenthood”, by Christopher Gawley, is an excellent summary of the issues surrounding NFP. The amazing thing, to me, is that Mr. Gawley’s article is essentially a concise and eloquent summary of my book, Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom?  - but he wrote the article without any awareness of what I have said on the topic (which I maintain is what the Church has said). I think the Holy Spirit enlightened each of us independently, along with others like John Galvin, Fr. William Gardner, Carey Winters, Randy Engel, and Michael Malone, who have also written on the topic, and who helped me to think about it.

 Mr. Gawley has stated the concepts in a way that is fresh and inspirational to me, so I am going to present some excerpts from the article here, with a few comments interspersed. It was difficult not to just copy-and-paste the entire article – it’s that good! - but you can read it for yourself in its entirety here. For the moment, I want to give you a taste to whet your appetite, and also highlight some of the outstanding points Mr. Gawley makes.

The article is divided into four major sections, and I will arrange the excerpts and my comments accordingly.

The Problem Stated: An Ever-growing Contraceptive Anti-Culture

Mr. Gawley makes clear from the beginning what he sees as the source of the problems in the Church today. “Of all of the symptoms that demonstrate the disease in the Church, none does so more meaningfully than the decline of the Catholic family (and all families by extension)…” He notes that

The reduction in the Catholic family — indeed, all families — is undoubtedly due to rapid advance of artificial contraception. Taken together, "legalized" abortion and artificial contraception have formed a one-two punch to drive down family sizes much to the joy of modern-day Malthusians.

The Proposed Solution: Responsible Parenthood and Natural Family Planning

The NFP community – and now the US bishops – have promoted NFP as the solution to the unfortunate Catholic propensity to run counter to Church teaching by using artificial contraception.  Gawley asserts that

The history of NFP cannot be divorced from artificial contraception. In the context of condemning birth control, Holy  Mother Church has taught that NFP, as a dispensation from the normal relations between husband and wife, can be morally acceptable…

He quotes from Pope Pius XII’s Allocution to Midwives regarding the need for serious motives to avoid pregnancy while still engaging in the marital embrace. He also notes that, regarding Humanae Vitae,

… what essentially began as qualified dispensation from normal marital relations and obligations has morphed in recent years into something very different in the minds of the Church leaders.  A negative – that is, a permission to deviate from the norm for grave reasons, has been transformed into a positive.

Mr. Gawley goes on to examine the stance of the US bishops, who seem to have made NFP “a de facto teaching as the way in which married couples ought to relate to one another — a holy good in and of itself… “.  

There can be no question that NFP has eclipsed — at least from official diocesan sources — any other way that marriage and fecundity should be understood. …NFP is styled in almost mystic terms as one of the greatest revelations regarding married life in the history of the Church. What you are more likely to hear at a real-world Catholic marriage preparation class is the following on the question of children – usually by a mature Catholic co-teaching married couple with a few children:

Catholicism does not require that you become parents of a large family – rather it wants you to be responsible parents. NFP offers you a reasonable alternative to artificial contraception: a way for you young couples to be responsible while not availing yourselves to drugs or devices that degrade your humanity. You should use these NFP techniques to grow closer, to communicate better, and prayerfully consider whether and when you should bring children into the world in a responsible manner. If that
means that you need to delay — even permanently — having children, that is acceptable today with the use of NFP. And what's more, NFP is proven to be 99% effective for avoiding pregnancy — just as effective as the pill.

Yes, always we are reminded that NFP is as effective as the Pill…not that anyone has a “contraceptive mentality” where NFP is concerned...

Why Natural Family Planning Has Failed

And regarding the argument that NFP cannot possibly be used with a “contraceptive mentality”, Mr. Gawley says:

I thought hard about it but realized at the end that this argument was sophistry. What critics of NFP zealotry mean by "contraceptive mentality" is that people – many people – use NFP as the practical substitute for contraception to avoid children altogether while still enjoying the sensual pleasures of marital relations. Truly it is a form of conjugal bulimia. While NFP brings you to a place without children in a markedly different manner, it nonetheless still brings you there.

Mr. Gawly talks also about the failure to consider the necessary moral grounds for using NFP – i.e, “serious” or “grave” reasons. He follows it up with this important consequence:

A corollary principle that follows from ignoring the moral requirements of availing oneself to NFP is that our rightly ordered disposition towards it – and childbearing – has been inverted. Because NFP advocates treat NFP as a good without qualification, couples are encouraged to view using NFP as a positive part of their conjugal lives. But Catholic couples ought to feel a sorrow by having the necessity to resort to NFP. By analogy, NFP is a type of bankruptcy in a technical sense. Bankruptcy is also a legal dispensation – from our lawful debts. Bankruptcy also should be used for serious and grave reasons. While we should not judge the bankrupt or cloak him in shame, we should not celebrate him or the dispensation either. NFP is similar: for grave and serious reasons, we cannot fulfill our obligations to be totally open to children (for a time or permanently) – we should not celebrate this as a good thing but rather endure it.

I particularly like his argument about bankruptcy and “dispensation from our lawful debts”; it meshes nicely with the comments in the sermon I transcribed here, which also mentioned the “marriage debt”.

And then there’s the modesty issue:

Another problem with NFP in practice is its vulgarity: its pedestrian treatment of something intimate, something exalted, something requiring modesty tends to desacralize marital relations. Must engaged Catholic couples be subjected – in a room full of others – to the science of charting the appearance of cervical mucus and vaginal discharge? Must they discuss what one hopes is their future sexual life in the midst of strangers? … Count me as one of the few, I suppose, who does not believe that the assiduous monitoring of my wife's menstrual cycle – and discussing it in mixed company – will make me a better communicator or husband… If I sound prudish, perhaps I am, but others have seen in this type of forced public discussion of sex and the science behind it as the risk of vulgarizing the holy.

The Solution Stated: Heroic Parenthood and the Cult of Embracing Large Families

I’ll let Mr. Gawley take it from here:

Simply stated, the idea of "responsible parenthood" sells the faith short and is pregnant (pardon the pun) with concepts that are inconsistent with Catholic heroism. We should not settle for "responsible parenthood" but aspire for "heroic parenthood." Our Lord did not come so that we may have a dispensation or a life centered around infertility; he came for us to have an abundant life
…More than any other visible social institution, large Catholic families contradict all of the ill-conceived assumptions of modernity. They are, as it were, a collective middle finger to an anti-culture that would tell us that God is dead, that man and life are worthless, and that it would be better if we were never born. The shining radiance and exuberance of large families is a living, breathing rejoinder to the dour and childless chorus. But large families are more than a counter-cultural expression, they epitomize Catholicism in practice because the parents are blessed by living out their married vocation in the fullest sense. God's blessing of children and fecundity itself seems to be a forgotten part of this debate

…. We have an answer to those who would maintain that life should be little more than a titillated distraction before rotting into nothingness: they are a death people that want to organize society around preventing babies, killing babies, killing disabled people, and killing old people. Their world is a more than a social malaise: it is gripped by despair and thirsting for living waters. We have to offer the living waters of the Gospel; we are a life people and nothing communicates our trust in God, our love of life, our belief in each other than our unconditional embrace of children. The world will be re-converted by such families.

Mr. Gawley ends with this Postscript:

While it would be virtually unthinkable that a diocesan marriage preparation program might say something as follows, we can still dream:

For you young Catholic people who are marrying in your twenties, you can expect, God willing and absent a physical impairment or grave reason, to have a home filled with many children. You should mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for seven, eight, nine or more children given your ages. You should be prepared to accept the hardships that come with having a large family for two important reasons; children please our Lord and your cooperation with the Lord in bringing forth new souls will in turn please our God, which will bring you many graces. Second, having a large family will help you be saved, it will re-focus your attention from the material attachments that are both rampant today and hazardous to your eternal destination. Your many children will help you to become better and holier people and will stand as a contradiction to a world that has forgot how to live the abundant life. You, and your large faithful families, will turn the tide against the scoffers and misanthropes who would revile God's creation and man's place in it. We cannot promise you it will be easy because it won't, but if you persevere in prayer and virtue, you will overcome with God's grace. And should you live to see your children's children, you will praise God all the more that he saw fit to give you the gift of faith.

Have life and have it abundantly — have children.


  1. Congratulations on having your message confirmed. It's always nice to find out that you're not alone. Thanks also for finding another great b/w photo!
    -John Galvin

  2. John, it's certainly a confirmation of your message, too.

  3. This is so excellent!! I'm so happy this issue regarding NFP is being addressed. I am a 45 year old mother of eight children. I'm sure God may have blessed us with more but we married when we were almost thirty years old. I cannot begin to express how uncomfortable it has made me to be asked questions from younger Catholic couples about how many children my husband and I intend on having or what would I consider grave enough reasons for us to use NFP. I love that he talks about the vulgar and immodest nature of discussing personal and intimate subjects. Some of these folks act like they are discussing the weather. And then the free information tossed around..."We are praying to the Holy Spirit to see if we should have another child.We are discerning God's will for our family". I thought,perhaps I'm wrong, that the discerning children part of marriage occurred when we said YES to accepting children lovingly from God in our vows. Thank You for this. A boost I dearly needed.

  4. "...the discerning children part of marriage occurred when we said YES to accepting children lovingly from God in our vows". EXACTLY!! I love that, Kathy - thanks!

  5. I am having a difficult time separating (a) the article's criticism of the contemporary rhetoric that is frequently associated with NFP from (b) criticism of NFP itself and, more broadly, of any conscious attempt by whatever means to limit family size.

    I don't see that the author distinguishes in principle between NFP, pre-1950s rhythm method, complete abstinence of whatever duration, and even artificial contraception -- since all of these are ordered toward the limiting of family size, and what he seems mainly to be concerned with is precisely that limiting.

    To my mind NFP is simply a tool whose use the Church has approved within certain moral limits. Certainly when the tool is exalted beyond its proper place, or when its moral limits are disregarded, or when the use of the tool is taught or promoted immodestly -- all of those things can rightly be criticized. And I 100% agree that we can always do more (in some cases, MUCH more) to encourage large families.

    But I don't see the use of denigrating the tool itself, and that seems to me to confuse the issue when what is needed is a deeper and clearer understanding of the principles and magisterial sources involved in the question. One source in particular that I've never seen discussed is Pope Pius XII's address to the Family Front, which he gave a few weeks after the famous Allocution to Midwives, and in which he glosses some of the key language in the Allocution. I don't know if it's ever been translated into English but is available in Italian in AAS 43 (starts around page 850).

    Gawley's passage in particular about "feeling sorrow" about needing to resort to the "bankruptcy option" of NFP strikes me as, if you'll pardon the bluntness, sentimental nonsense. A couple who has exercised the virtue of prudence and acted in a morally licit way has no need to be sad about that -- any more than they should mourn the fact that they aren't celibate religious (which, like having more children, would certainly be ontologically superior to their current situation). But perhaps I'm just misunderstanding the sense of that passage.

    Finally I'd be interested to know more about what Gawley means by the "obligation to be totally open to children" and what sources he has in mind here.

    In any case, and on a totally unrelated note, thank you very much for transcribing Archbishop Sample's address to CMAA! I listened to the first 20 minutes of it today and am very much looking forward to reading it through a few times slowly. Would have transcribed it myself if you hadn't done it already!

  6. Ben - you're welcome for the transcript!

    As for Gawley's article, I found the "sorrow" part very compelling...and I don't consider myself a sentimentalist. And it IS the limiting of family size that is the issue - no matter how it's done. The "birth control" mentality has many logical flaws of its own; the bottom line is, in the world today, we need more children. Period. If we truly valued children and were truly open to life, we would see the large family being prized and encouraged.

  7. Thanks for bringing out the truth about NFP. It really isn't to be used except under exceptional circumstances!

  8. I saw your book recommended by another blogger and I cannot wait to read it. We joke with our priest (a priest of the Fraternity of Saint Peter) that NFP should just be called "barely licit birth control". My husband and I have also had many conversations about how the unitive and procreative aspect of the marital union is so very separated with NFP. Either you are having relations just to have a child or having relations just to have fun. So sad.

    We were 24 and expecting our third child when all the NFP comments started; you would not believe how many people criticized our lack of child spacing or not waiting until we were "mature enough" to have a larger family. Our 3rd son has a potentially fatal genetic disorder (he is 11 months old now) which has made all the NFP pushers come out in full force. Because of course we should want to really space and limit our children since there is the potential that some of them would die early in life.

    Maybe we are just radical thinkers, but the Church has called us to be radical and to give fully and generously of ourselves. I pray that we are given as many children as God intends and the grace to raise them all well!

  9. This article has very much influenced my thinking on NFP,
    and I think it serves as a counterpoint to the Christopher Gawley article, which I've been told by an authority on this topic is "dead wrong."

  10. I'm curious to know your "authority". Christopher Gawley is not the only one who thinks along the lines of his article, and I can cite "authorities" who think is "right on".

  11. My father-in-law is very familiar with this topic, has studied it at length and written articles. He may weigh in at some point, so I'll let him speak for himself. Ultimately our authority is the Church, of which John Paul is a part. I would not disregard him so easily.

    But basically, Dr. Boyd, the fact that the Church exhorts us to large families is true. But it is only PART of the truth. To leave out a crucial component of the teaching is misleading, though I'm sure that is not your intention. (A half truth is worse than a lie, so they say.) The Church's teaching forms a cohesive whole. It does not conflict or contradict what went before. It clarifies and expounds on previous doctrine.

    I have never denied that having a large family is an ideal. I just say that the Church in her wisdom allows NFP use, and I don't think it is honest to limit it in ways no theologian does.

    Please consider Familiaris Consortio:

    "When, instead, by means of recourse to periods of infertility, the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as "ministers" of God's plan and they "benefit from" their sexuality according to the original dynamism of "total" self-giving, without manipulation or alteration.[90]

    In the light of the experience of many couples and of the data provided by the different human sciences, theological reflection is able to perceive and is called to study further the difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle: It is a difference which is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality. The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the person, that is, the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control.To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognize both the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity. In this context the couple comes to experience how conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality in its physical dimension also. In this way sexuality is respected and promoted in its truly and fully human dimension and is never "used" as an "object" that, by breaking the personal unity of soul and body, strikes at God's creation itself at the level of the deepest interaction of nature and person.

    33. In the field of conjugal morality the church is teacher and mother and acts as such.

    As teacher, she never tires of proclaiming the moral norm that must guide the responsible transmission of life. The church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection.

    As mother, the church is close to the many married couples who find themselves in difficulty over this important point of the moral life: She knows well their situation, which is often very arduous and at times truly tormented by difficulties of every kind, not only individual difficulties but social ones as well; she knows that many couples encounter difficulties not only in the concrete fulfillment of the moral norm but even in understanding its inherent values."

  12. Second part:

    "But the necessary conditions also include knowledge of the bodily aspect and the body's rhythms of fertility. Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors and experts. Knowledge must then lead to education in self-control: Hence the absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it. In the Christian view, chastity by no means signifies rejection of human sexuality or lack of esteem for it: Rather it signifies spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it toward its full realization.

    With deeply wise and loving intuition, Paul VI was only voicing the experience of many married couples when he wrote in his encyclical: "To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value.

    It demands continual effort, yet thanks to its beneficent influence husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence on the education of their offspring."[94]

    Dr. Boyd, anyone who disregards this, it would seem to me, would be trying to set up a parallel Magisterium. I urge you to reconsider your position on NFP!

  13. I respectfully would like to suggest that, rather than setting up a parallel magisterium, Dr. Boyd’s position on NFP implies an effort to salvage the credibility of the Magisterium in the face of an unprecedented and massive upheaval against Christian morality, both within and outside of the Church. This situation is well described by Christopher Gawley’s insightful article: “If results matter, and they should, NFP as a movement has utterly failed in its intended mission to present a viable alternative to a contraception-crazed world.”

    I also believe that the effort to preserve the credibility of the Magisterium will be successful to the extent that the Magisterial teachings which are most consonant with the timeless doctrine of the Church on marriage and family life are highlighted and promoted unabashedly.

    On the other hand, if the commenter believes that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with the status quo and is perfectly content with the gradual extinction of the large Catholic family and the pervasive Catholic acceptance of contraception, then he/she would likely prescribe more of the same, and perhaps even more aggressive promotion of NFP. But hopefully the commenter would at least grant that it seems counter-intuitive to encourage large families by the widespread promotion of a form of birth regulation?

    1. Fr. Gardner, it seems to me that Dr. Boyd's position would only make sense if systematic abstinence were per se immoral, per accidens licit. As it is, as far as I know it has been settled by appropriate papal authority that the practice is morally indifferent in and of itself.

      When Fr. Griese wrote in 1942 he said that if the Vatican failed to say anything, its silence could be construed by the faithful as approval.

      Since the Church has upheld it, we could only conclude that the Holy See in doing so, is leading us astray.


  14. Fr. Gartner, are you familiar with a work by Fr. Orville Griese of 1942, entitled the Morality of Periodic Continence? My husband is a philosophy professor, and acquired it for me through the university.

    In it Griese says "to avoid doubts and anxieties in the minds of the faithful it would be well to refrain from expressions which classify periodic continence as 'Catholic birth control' or misrepresent the doctrine as something intrinsically wrong."

    "The Sacred Penitentiary said that those who observed periodic continence were not to be disturbed. 'Inquitandos non esse.'

    He gives general norms and pastoral applications.

    "If the penitent reveals a reason which, considering all circumstances, appears to the confessor as sufficient to justify the practice, he should not disturb the peace of mind of the penitent by making her feel that she is living in sin; e.g. a woman mentions that she already has five or six children and that the strain of rearing and educating them is getting to be too much for her especially for the time being."

    You see, Father, I am exactly such a woman.

    If the practice is mentioned as matter for confession, the penitent is not to disquieted unless a prudent investigation reveals the absence of a justifying cause. The word in the decree is not "disquietandos" but "inquietandos non esse."

    Given that this was the mind of the Church from at least 1880 until 1942, and given that the Church has said nothing otherwise following this dissertation, but instead has spoken definitively, to deny the above makes no sense to me. Obviously I have picked selective quotes, the ones that are pertinent.

    Our excellent pastor who celebrated the Latin Mass has recently been transferred. His replacement is an extremely good and holy priest whom I could consult once he gets settled in.

    For now, though, I am working on principles (having already consulted a different priest who seems maybe not quite so well-versed in this, and who was satisfied our reasoning and judgment was sound.

    Mrs. Mike

    1. Father Gardner, I'm sorry I misspelled your name unintentionally!

  15. Mrs. Mike, it sounds to me that you are seriously considering the reasons why you might avoid pregnancy at this time, and that you are consulting spiritual directors who have some competence. You will not find anything in my posts that contradicts your position in that regard. I have never said that NFP is illicit, because it clearly is not. I have only said that it is misused, and many couples do not consider what "serious reasons" might actually mean.

    Also, again, I would say that Fr. Griese is probably not referring to NFP, but to periodic continence in the sense of "we will abstain completely from marital relations for a period of x months". To me, this seems very different from the NFP way of "how can we avoid pregnancy and still have marital relations?" That "mindset", to my way of thinking, makes NFP a remedy for concupiscence. That is not illicit either, but let's just be honest about how it is used, and the motivation behind it.

    1. The introduction states: "The discovery of the Ogino-Knaus theory [aka rhythm] has created a very unique moral problem. Considering the many advantages of such a method of fertility control, many leaders among both laity and the clergy have not hesitated to hail this new discovery as a providential solution to many of the evils--domestic, moral, social, economic--of our spiritually impoverished twentieth century. For the theologian, however, attention should be centered primarily on the question of how any scientific discovery in its application and divulgation, squares with the 'pure law of Christ.'

      "To that end, it is necessary to suppress all enthusiasm over the 'safe period' method until we have investigated calmly and thoroughly whether or not the application of such a method in itself involves any culpable opposition to the laws which God has established for the married state. We must "shape all our ways of thinking and acting" in regard to this new discovery in conformity with the conclusion of such an investigation.

      Since the publication of this discovery about twelve years ago, several outstanding theologians have expressed and defended the opinion that the application of this "safe period" method in marital life is objectively unlawful--lawful in a particular case only if there is objectively sufficient reason for not having children. [He may mean at all].

      Such an opinion coincides with the general feeling of the fervent faithful who sense that there is "something wrong" about any practice in marital life which is designed to exclude the procreation of children. Although the majority of contemporary theologians seem to hold that the application of the "safe period" method is objectively indifferent from a moral viewpoint, the above opinion should not be discarded without having received serious and thorough consideration...."

      "Since the Holy See has indicated no approval or disapproval of the practice of the "safe period" as such, it is highly desirable and advantageous to discuss the practice carefully from all possible angles before deciding on our own personal attitude.... This study represents a humble attempt to bring the arguments of the minority opinion back into the active discussion of the "rhythm" question."

      Mrs. Mike

  16. “If results matter, and they should, NFP as a movement has utterly failed in its intended mission to present a viable alternative to a contraception-crazed world.”

    What evidence is there for this?

    In my experience, my friends have 7, 8, even 10 children. We are in our mid-30s. They may use NFP to get a little more space here and there, but precisely because it is so difficult to practice NFP (dare I say it is predicated on virtue) and the urge to procreate so strong, that NFP is not in general going to severely impact the size of the family, not that size of a family in and of itself matters. What matters is the holiness and admirableness of the people in it. Heroic people may in fact have large families, though not all do.

    With fallen away Catholics being the largest denomination (!) in the country, and 90% disobeying Humanae Vitae (because either way, it can be exceedingly difficult to follow), I'm sure that all Satan needs is to drive a wedge between the remaining 10%, of which 2% are periodically abstaining, and the tiniest fraction abusing NFP to limit their family to one or two, or using it over the course of their marriage without grave reason to avoid children altogether. Why alienate that 2% of people who are striving to follow Church teaching albeit in a different way than might be preferred?

    No, the problems in our society run deep, and I think that the fact that people limit their families is a symptom, not the cause of the problem. The traditional family is in crisis, owing in large part to women entering the workforce and making it more difficult for men to support a large family singlehandedly. We often lack the support of extended family.

    Pope John Paul understands this situation, and speaks to it in Familiaris Consortio, which I haven't seen addressed here yet. That is a papal pronouncement, and bears consideration.

    Mrs. Mike

  17. You probably will not see Familiaris Consortio addressed here any time soon, for a variety of reasons. One reason is that the pertinent parts of teh document are not consonant with previous Church teaching, and I've addressed the discontinuity between pre- and post-Vatican II treatments of marriage in other ways.

  18. The Church does not err. The Holy Spirit specifically protects and guides the popes so that they will not contradict what went before. Even St. Thomas and St. Augustine were wrong about some things.

    Obviously you are free to ignore Love and Responsibility, but the ordinary teaching magisterium and extraordinary Magisterium alike are worthy of assent, and binding on Catholics.

    Such is my understanding. Thus, when the pope charges parents with having an attitude that is 'extremely responsible,' I will obey. God gave us 5 beautiful children that we might not have "planned" in any sense, but now that we are in the thick of the educating part of our duty, we are weighing the matter rather carefully, as the popes have said is our right as parents. We're the ones that have to stand before God after all for how we raised our family. Not that God couldn't bless us without child. He may yet. Maybe several more. My children would love to have another sibling, as would my husband. The responsibility rests very heavy on our shoulders, though we trust God to grant us the graces of the sacrament to help us carry it out.

    Mrs. Mike

    1. should have said bless with *another* child!

  19. Mrs Mike is in a difficult position. She is trying to reconcile post-conciliar teachings like "Familiaris Consortio" with the perennial tradition of the Catholic Church like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius XI, etc. She deserves credit and sympathy for attempting such a difficult undertaking.

    But I do want to address one particular question she raises, "Why alienate that 2% of people who are striving to follow Church teaching albeit in a different way than might be preferred?" This is the heart of the matter raised by Fr. Gardner when he pointed out the utter failure of modern Church teaching on marriage since Vatican II and "Humanae Vitae." We all know and we all agree that the Church has lost the 98%.

    Imagine that there is a great ocean liner like the Titanic. It is sinking and all the people try to get off. Unfortunately, 98% of the passengers drown, but 2% are able to get onto lifeboats. Now a generation has passed, and the passengers on the lifeboat think that being on a lifeboat is normal, and they do not remember that there ever was an ocean liner, or if they do recall the days of the liner, they are told about how horrible it was back then, and how much better off they are on the lifeboat. The fact that 98% of the passengers were lost and eaten by sharks does not dismay them as long as they are part of the 2% on the lifeboats.

    Which highlights two problems with the lifeboat approach: 1. Only a small handful are saved and the vast majority are consigned to perdition. 2. Even for the small handful, life is not normal. The passengers were never intended to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a lifeboat. But they do not realize the incongruity of their position since it seems normal to them.

    To make the allegory more pertinent, we need to remember that "periodic continence" was always permitted at best as a lifeboat. It was always supposed to be an emergency escape hatch. It was never intended to constitute normal everday practice.

    To understand the view of Dr. Boyd and Fr. Gardner, one has to imagine that the ocean liner never actually sunk at all. Despite the panic of the passengers and crew which led them to abandon ship, the ocean liner is still there. The true boat, the original boat, the boat that can hold all the passengers in the world, the boat that will be able to get you across the ocean instead of wandering aimlessly, the boat that has everything that is necessary for an ocean voyage and not just a bare minimum for survival, that boat is still available for anyone who wants to avail themselves of it.

    The crew of the lifeboat will try to scare any passengers who try to return: "No, don't go back," they will say, "The ocean liner was a terrible place. There were 1st-class and 2nd-class passengers back then, but today we are all equal on the lifeboat. The captain ordered 'Abandon ship,' and you will be disobedient if you go back."

    In order to leave the lifeboat and return to where he belongs, a passenger first has to overcome his shock at realizing that the ocean liner didn't sink despite everything that he has been taught his whole life. He has to trust his eyes and say, "Look, I see it right over there." Then he has to overcome the fearmongering that will try to keep him from returning. But when he finally arrives at the ship, imagine his astonishment to see that the band is still playing, faithful passengers and crew have kept everything operational. The ship will still take him across the ocean to the other side. And it will do so with beauty and decorum and generosity in place of the ugliness, wretchedness, and deprivation that characterized life wandering aimlessly in a lifeboat.
    -John G.

  20. I'm confused. So you are saying that Pope John Paul, Pope Paul VI, and Pius XII (all of whom have upheld the licitness of NFP) were never on the ocean liner, even though ostensibly to all appearances they were pope? And why? Because those others you mentioned didn't address the question of systematic abstinence? Well, you do know that they couldn't do so, for the simple reason that they DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THE BIOLOGY OF FERTILITY because it hadn't been discovered yet. Of course they couldn't talk about it.

    Surely you're not saying that soon to be Saint John Paul is a 'modernist' just because he upholds this modern science? I have read Fr. Gardner quote from Familiaris Consortio. So I have to, as Catholic, believe that the document is thus worthy of belief. With all due respect, it seems quite selective to hold part of a document as true but not other parts of the same document.

    Believe me I do not deny the fullness of tradition, or ANY of the truths which the Church holds and teaches. As I have said, what comes later can not contradict what went before. We can't be holier than the pope, as they say.

    Mrs. Mike

  21. Mrs. Mike, sometimes what comes later DOES contradict what went before. Not everything a pope says is infallible, as I am sure you realize - even if he says it in a document like Familiaris Consortio, which is a little lower on the totem pole than other types of papal statements.

    The difficulty in coming to see eye-to-eye on this is outlined very nicely by Fr. Chad Ripperger in an article at Christian Order. You might find it helpful. http://www.christianorder.com/features/features_2001/features_mar01.html

  22. Sicut Ambrosius, "ubi Petrus, ibi ergo ecclesia." Est ergo impossibile catholicos neglegere doctrinam quamquam ecclesiae nec nobis est iudicare partes aliquas epistulae encyclicae aut non considerandas aut non credendas. Recte Thomas Aquinas declaravit quia "ipsa doctrina Catholicorum doctorum ab Ecclesia auctoritatem habet, unde magis standum est auctoritati Ecclesiae quam auctoritati vel Augustini vel Hieronymi vel cuiuscumque doctoris" (ST 2-2, 10, 12). Oportet eapropter ecclesia iudicari, non ecclesiam iudicare.

  23. Mrs. Mike asked: "So you are saying that Pope John Paul, Pope Paul VI, and Pius XII (all of whom have upheld the licitness of NFP) were never on the ocean liner, even though ostensibly to all appearances they were pope?"

    The analogy wasn't about the popes, it was about you. You are living on a lifeboat. You are treating an emergency escape hatch as a permanent living situation. And if you receive the grace to discover the traditional Catholic Faith, you will be astounded to discover that it is much bigger, much wider, much more beautiful, much more generous and much more effective at carrying you over to the other side.

    Mrs. Mike said, "Believe me I do not deny the fullness of tradition, or ANY of the truths which the Church holds and teaches. As I have said, what comes later can not contradict what went before. We can't be holier than the pope, as they say."

    The article suggested by Dr. Boyd is a very good place to start to understand what is my "operative point of view."

    Another article which helps us to understand where our hearts should be, the spirit of generosity we should have, is the "Address to Large Families" by Pope Pius XII.

    -John G.

  24. Dear Dr. Boyd,
    In an effort to reach out to that 90% group that accepts contraception, I recently sent this letter to our local newspaper:

    Letter to the Editor,

    Since I choose to have no Cable TV at the rectory, my brother forwarded to me a video of a recent TV commercial that appeared during the prime-time viewing hours. The commercial was sponsored by Huggies (disposal diapers) and it portrayed a couple that was elated to discover that they were now expecting (presumably) their first child. The husband joyfully declared to his wife, pointing to her womb: “There is a baby in here. There is a human being growing inside your stomach!”
    May the Lord have mercy on this nation which legally sanctions the killing of its own children both before birth, and sometimes even during the very process of birth.
    One congresswoman blasphemously declared that the killing of unborn children is the "sacred ground" of legal protection for a woman's right to choose the size of her own family. What a chilling disregard for little ones, more than half of which are probably little girls.
    Yet please note the clearly practical implication for the above-mentioned diapers manufacturer that babies are consumers. Babies are consumers, in fact, not of superfluous luxury items or services (such as those that sustain the pet industry, or the gambling world, or the whole slimy spectrum of adult entertainment), but of the very basic items and services which favor productivity. In other words, children are not only consumers, they are moreover wealth generators. People bring prosperity to a community; and young people bring also their creativity and youthful resourcefulness.
    On the contrary, abortion, contraception and those so-called “alternative lifestyles” bring short-term financial gain, but inescapable long-term decline. Only the Devil and his minions can be pleased by the more than 50 million babies who have been destroyed by abortion in this nation alone, and the countless souls who have never come into existence because of the obscene use of contraception and the absurd promotion of sterile loving.
    As Americans decide to have fewer and fewer children they are actually allowing fewer and fewer babies to be born, which is restrictive, or stifling. But sexual relations are naturally ordered to fruitfulness, which implies growth and prosperity; and existence is always very good for the babies themselves!
    God will not be outdone in generosity. So live modestly and chastely; marry youngish (preferably before the age of 25); allow children to come generously; flee far away from Sodom! Love mercy and “walk humbly with your God!”

    Fr. William M. Gardner

  25. I just want to share my favorite article of all time (it makes me cry every time I read it.) This mom had cancer after her first baby and was told she would never have another. Now she has nine children. The piece is entitled "Don't Blink"


    1. Here is one more (first two entries). http://www.shortstopblog.com/

      I just think that these really capture the beauty and nobility of motherhood and make us want to aspire to this, that it is something worth doing, yet it's difficult. A little empathy goes a long, long way when you're struggling.

      That is why I like Humanae Vitae. The popes are so paternal, so loving, so...empathetic. Just like we picture Christ being, whom we want to please and model our lives after.

      (Sorry to monopolize your blog, Dr. Boyd. I should really be quiet now and go mother my little children!)

      Mrs. Mike of course :)


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