Thursday, June 15, 2006

Family Planning, Naturally

A couple posts back I got a comment from Jackie, who said:

Just what are the good things NFP brings to a marriage? Not everyone wants to have children and I don't belive they are going to be punished for this line of thinking.

You said..."If you're using contraceptives, you are literally putting the fate of your soul in jeopardy." How does anyone come to this conculsion??

I was all prepared to put a quick comment on the post itself in reply, but then realized that I would probably take up more room than is convenient to read in a comment.

I also realized that not every Catholic has been catechized as well as I have (thank you Mary Scherr!), and not everybody who reads this site is Catholic, so when I talk about this mysterious phenomenon known as Natural Family Planning I may cause a bit of noggin scratching.

I don't believe that the gang over at the Catholic Catechism Dialog Blog has gotten to this point yet, so allow me to elaborate on the concept myself.

Firstly, I want my reader to acknowledge that even if he or she does not agree with the points I am about to explain, it does not make the points stop being right.

Secondly, I want my reader to understand that me explaining these points does not make them right. I am merely tapping into the fullness of Truth as revealed & entrusted to the Catholic Church. If you don't agree with that, then you might as well stop reading now and go check out this site instead. But if I've piqued your curiosity, I invite you to read on.

Thirdly, know that there are a million different books on this topic from authors with more wisdom and more authority than I could ever dream of having. I am no expert. I will be presenting the Truth as my wife and I live it. We constantly strive to be in harmony with that Truth, rather than making "truth" conform to our beliefs.

Throughout Scripture, when a woman is barren or infertile, she always considers it a curse, and when God grants her fertility it is considered a blessing. We see this in Rebecca (Genesis 25:21),
Leah (Genesis 29:31), in Exodus 23:26, in I Samuel 2:5, in Psalm 113:9, in Elizabeth (Luke 1:7), and cycling back around to Sarah (Hebrews 11:11).

While carrying his cross to Golgotha, Jesus prophesied, saying in Luke 23:28-31:

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' for if these things [i.e. his crucifixion] are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?'

Christ knew the connection between having children and having hope, and vice versa. He knew that beyond the horror of his crucifixion there were other horrors that would come to happen in history, and he gave a message that pierces the centuries and hits our hearts today.

So we can agree: Scripture and Christ universally proclaim that fertility is a good thing.

Now what does the Church have to add through the ages?

Specifically, I wish to address the question of how I could come to the conclusion that artificial contraceptives put our souls in literal jeopardy.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our official source of Church teaching, we distinguish between two types of sin: Mortal and Venial.

(I'll be quoting a lot from the Catechism here, but I would encourage all of my readers to click the above link for a deeper understanding of what God has revealed to us. There's a lot there, so plan a good chunk of time to absorb it.)

Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

For a sin to be considered mortal, certain qualifications have to be met:

  • The object is grave matter (i.e. what you're doing is a violation of a specific teaching, such as the Commandments)
  • It is committed with full knowledge (i.e. you are aware that what you're doing is a violation of Church teaching)
  • It is committed with deliberate consent (i.e. you do it anyway)

There are many nuances to this definition. For instance, a suicide can be considered a mortal sin or not, depending on the mental state of the person. We must also acknowledge that we in our specific state of not-Godness cannot know the true nature of the person's mental or spiritual state.

As for the whole "jeopardy of the soul" bit? Paragraph 1861 of the CCC:

Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

So there is a literal risk of losing one's salvation in the cases of mortal sin.

Now some may wonder, if you have to be aware that it's a sin, who am I to tell people that their sin is sin? Is it not more merciful simply to leave them in their state of ignorance, and thus reduce the gravity of their sins? On the contrary. Paragraph 1783 (and on) tells us of the importance of a properly formed conscience: "Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened."

So what is it about artificial contraception that makes it a mortal sin?

The Church does teach that "it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life." Bammo. That's a definitive statement, smack-dab in the section of the Catechism dealing with the Ten Commandments. Once your conscience has been made aware of this, you are suddenly held more accountable.

But for those of us who like to know why something is considered to be disordered, especially something that has so many seeming benefits, here's a brief explanation. (Again, the above link will have more detail on this if you keep reading when you go there.)

The nature of human sexuality was never intended as something to be merely fun. It was never intended as something merely to bring a couple closer together. It was certainly never intended to be twisted and warped beyond all recognition on that internet thing.

Sexuality is a God-given gift. It represents so much more than pleasure. Only through our sexuality can we become co-creators with God. Only through our sexuality can we spawn a new life into being, and it is a literal miracle every time that happens. Even those who sacrifice their sexuality for the kingdom (priests, nuns, religious) are still expressing it, for they are uniting themselves to the creativity of God.

On the flip side, sexuality is much more than mere procreation as well. If God gave us sex only so we could keep populating the planet, he might as well have given us this method instead, as there would be no difference.

Instead, sexuality is an inseparable mix of the unitive and the procreative. And I do mean inseparable. My wife and I cannot truly unite without participating in the possibility of new life. When we shut down our fertility, we are not giving fully of ourselves. We are holding something back. We are being selfish.

So is it okay for married couples not to want to have children?

From CCC 2367:

Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility.

And finally, from the wedding vows that are (supposed to be) in every Catholic wedding: "Will you willingly accept children, and raise them according to the law of Christ and his Church?"



  1. Thank you for expanding on your point of view it was very informative. I don't agree with everything you have said but I respect your positions on the subject. Thanks again and God Bless you and your family.

  2. You're welcome Jackie. And thanks for the blessing!


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