Okay, so my husband and I want to do the right thing. But we are confused the more we think about it. We have 5 children right now and are open to more, however our current home and finances just couldn’t handle it.
So, when we start really digging into what’s right and wrong, we are struggling to understand the difference between contraception and natural family planning (gauging ovulation). It seems that in both cases you are deliberately preventing the possibility of procreation. So if that is the explicit directive (not to prevent procreation) then how is natural family planning okay? It seems more like abstinence is the only answer…in which case that goes against vows of marriage and (not to mention) puts a major strain on the intimacy of a married relationship.
Perhaps these excerpts from Humanae vitae will be of help to you and your husband (with minor changes from me for syntax purposes).
Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it —in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man
Humanae vitae 14
This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.
Humanae vitae 12
To many it will appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe these teachings . . . . . Indeed it cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with the grace by which the goodwill of men is sustained and strengthened.
But to those who consider this matter diligently it will indeed be evident that this endurance enhances man’s dignity and confers benefits on human society.
Humanae vitae 20
The natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed (in NFP vrs. contracepting).
Humanae vitae 11
The Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different.
In the use of NFP, the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature.
In contracepting, the couple obstructs the natural development of the generative process.
There is a question that I also have. The local college here costs $60,000 per year including the fees and required room and board. With 5 children that would amount to $300,000 per year. If the husband works at MacDonald’s or Wal mart with a before tax salary of $20 or $30 thousand dollars, and of course, from that they take out at least $5 or $10 thousand for various required fees like social security, Obamacare, and many other dues. How is a family with 5 children supposed to afford sending their children to college or even Catholic high schools. The local Catholic high school is $10 thousand per year, and there are a lot more fees piled onto that. And you cannot use contraception because that is a mortal sin. So, should this family just continue to have more children? It doesn’t seem reasonable.
The Church teaches that there are many valid, good reasons for a married couple to postpone having more children for the time being or indefinitely. There is no sin in spacing children or trying to avoid them. “Preventing conception” is not wrong, per se, because as you correctly note, couples are permitted to practice abstinence (which does not go against the marriage vows when mutually agreed upon).
The Church teaches that the marital act is special and designed in such a way as to include two main goods or ends: unity of the spouses and the procreative aspect. (This is not the same as saying that whenever a couple has intercourse they will procreate… God designed our bodies such that we women are most often infertile). Whenever a married couple engages in the act, they must do so in a way that maintains integrity of these two ends; they may not separate them. Contraception severs the procreative aspect from the unitive aspect of the marital act. Natural family planning, by contrast, does not sever anything in the act; whenever the act is chosen, it continues to be a complete gift of self as the couple is as that moment; it merely teaches the couple when conception is most likely so they can choose whether or not to engage in the act on that day.
There’s a difference between means and ends. There is nothing wrong with the “end” of wanting to postpone having more children. But your means are very different: contraception sterilizes the marital act. Practicing NFP does not.
There are a number of excellent analogies about this. Consider a family who needs to acquire money to pay for schooling. This, in itself, is a fine goal. You could choose to go about achieving it in an immoral way (by stealing the money) or in a moral way (earning the money). Likewise, with food. A person may have good reasons to avoid gaining weight. They could achieve this goal in a disordered way (vomiting after eating rich foods) or in a healthy way (avoiding foods that are likley to cause weight gain).
Why have you framed this as a false dichotomy of either contracept OR continue to have more children?
What isn’t reasonable is the idea that these are the only two things a couple can do. A couple can space/avoid children AND do so in a way that is pleasing to God and does not disorder the marital embrace.
The end of spacing children is not intrinsically wrong. There are different ways you can space/plan/avoid children. Some are moral and some are not.
Abstaining, periodically or completely, by observing the natural signs of the cycle is a moral way to do so. Any time you come together in the marital embrace it is as God designed it. You do nothing to disorder it. You engage fully in the act.
There are other ways of avoiding children and the responsibility of children that are not moral. They are:
abandoning them (i.e. in days past, people exposed unwanted infants, and gee if you watch the news some people still do)
mutilating your body through sterilization
disordering the marital embrace by contraceptive acts
Kiplinger’s has a very good issue with some good college coverage this month that you should have a look at. It has very interesting info on tuition, how much students actually pay and debt burdens–they have pages of charts on different institutions.
$60k per year for college is the very, very tippy top of the college market. It’s also sticker (i.e. sucker rich kid) price. As you’ll see from the Kiplinger’s piece, colleges that charge that on paper often actually get less than half of that from their average student per year. Interestingly the more elite a school is, the lower the debt burden on graduates. In fact, there’s a very welcome trend at top universities toward no-loan financial aid packages. One of the best examples is Princeton, where the average student with debt graduates with less than $6k (that’s right–under $6,000 in debt to attend PRINCETON UNIVERSITY). Your hypothetical poor kid with dad working at McDonald’s would attend much of the Ivy League for free–if he could get in. On the public side, our big flagship college costs in the low 20s per year (but that includes living expenses, and the kid needs to eat no matter what). Nationally, the average student loan debt burden for new graduates is now about $28k total, which isn’t absolutely terrible for 4+ years. I personally would like to get my kids through college debt free, but as long as a kid keeps their debt at or below the national average, I think they’re doing OK. The nightmare stories are of kids who go to places like NYU (which is for some reason a frequent offender in these student loan horror stories) and graduates with $100k in student loans for a BA. That is genuinely a nightmare, but it’s an avoidable nightmare.
College expenses are kind of a shell game, so it’s worth doing research before declaring defeat.
The Natural Family Planning* with all scientific and medical methods of observation of the female cycle are elements of information.* Thus, by nature it is neutral, morally speaking, no bad or no good. By nature, this type of information* is helpful and useful for understanding the femininity, the fertility of women, the mechanism of the fecundation and of the conception. For the couple, it is a good thing to know. It is helpful for the conscientization of the effects of the conjugal act.*
The use of the N.F.P. is not, per se, by nature, by itself, in itself, from itself, of itself, for itself, morally wrong. It cannot be, always, an evil act. It is not an unnatural act. The couple has the moral right to have conjugal sex during all the periods of time of the female cycle: the fertile times or the infertiles time, whatever the reasons* (pregnancy, breastfeeding, fertiles times of the cycle, infertiles time of the cycle, during the menstruation, during the menopause and after the menopause)**. The conjugal act is for all the moments, per se. Thus, the use of the N.F.P. is not a natural contraception. *
By nature, contraception is without respect of the natural order of the conjugal act. That means the use of tools: mechanical tools, medical tools, or the coitus interruptus. At each type of contraception there is a moral regime, not totally the same for the innocent spouse, the passive agent of the sin of the other.
The marital act is not, only, for the procreation. The use of the N.F.P. is not a sin of impurity, is not a sin of lust, is not a sin against the life, is not a sin against the meta structure of the conjugal act, and is not a sin against the chastity. It is, only, a possible sin against the selfishness of not hosting the life. By definition, the fact of making love during the infertile times of wife, only, is already a sign to be open to life.
I can maintain my weight by eating an entire pizza and then going into my bathroom and making myself vomit; or I can maintain my weight by being respectful of my bodies natural need for vitamins and nutrition and taking care of myself. (There are other options like exercise but I am using these two for comparison because they are on opposite ends of the spectrum) These two options can produce the same result of weight maintenance, but one is respectful of the way God created my body and the other is an abuse.
Natural family planning vs. artificial contraception (in my opinion) can perhaps be looked at in a similar way. You are right that the result may be the same, which may very well be that a woman avoids pregnancy. However one method is respectful of the way God created their bodies. God created women’s bodies to be cyclical, there is a natural rhythm of fertility and non-fertility which is a beautiful part of God’s perfect plan. Artificial contraception, tubal ligations, vasectomies and other methods seek to take God’s creation of the human reproductive system and either deliberately mutilate the body surgically or deliberately overload it with chemicals so it doesn’t function properly. Also “the pill” is an abortificiant which means she can get pregnant anyway but the baby (fertilized egg=human being) is discarded or aborted so that method is clearly against church teaching.
Prayers for your discernment, hope this helps a little. God bless you.
The ten commandments are elements of the natural moral law. The rules of marriage who are taught by the Roman Catholic Church are coming from the Natural Law and of Holy Bible. Thus, the rules of the use of the N.F.P. given by the Church are elements of the natural law and of the revealed anthropology that are inside the Holy Bible. The rules of the N.F.P. are willed by Jesus and by the Holy Ghost.
The catholic couples are not robots, they are not machines, they are not only for making babies. *The conjugal act is not,only, for procreation. *The dialogue between faith and reason, and reason and faith is important. The rules of reason, the reasonability, the rationality, the reality, the balance, the moderation, the conscientization, in the procreation, are essential rules;
i wonder about this. even if you send your children to public school and community college it’s still expensive for a family who works service jobs. whenever i read anything about catholic marriage it’s always a couple with all kinds of degrees writing the article.
I think you’re forgetting about or omitting a few things:
Children who are at least 15-16 can get part-time jobs to contribute towards their university education.
Living at home vastly decreases the cost of college because room and board is already taken care of. If this is not an option, there are other options (such as living with a roommate off-campus) that may also be cheaper than living in residence.
There are TONS of scholarships, bursaries, and student loan options available. There are literally thousands of dollars in scholarships that go unawarded every year because there are no applicants. Some institutions even offer “emergency bursaries” or “emergency funding” for students who find themselves suddenly in a financial hole.
Not every child wants, or needs, to go to a university. Some may be called to a career in the trades or something more technical, in which case they might be able to get their required education at a community or junior college.
I’m the oldest of 6 kids. My parents raised us all on one income. Now, my father is a research scientist, true, but until I was almost 6 he was a full-time student and worked part-time. Mom supplemented that through baby-sitting and doing written translation work at night. After Dad finished his education (he was a veterinarian already, but went back for graduate studies just before I was born) he worked full-time as a research scientist and we were a 1-income family. My parents managed to have RESPs for all of us, and NONE of us incurred student debt. (Dad’s income was too high for us to qualify for student loans.) None of us went to Ivy-league schools, but we have all done well. I’m a nurse with a master’s degree and I teach nursing. My sister has a certificate in early childhood education and is married and a full-time mom to 3. My two oldest brothers both have bachelor’s degrees in music and earn their living performing, teaching, and free-lancing as musicians (violists). My second-youngest brother is a violin instructor at a college conservatory, and my youngest brother is currently working as a hospital peace officer.
This is actually not that uncommon for those who begin with the ‘leave it to God’ mentality. When they get tired of leaving it to God they find themselves using their erroneous belief that ‘openness to life’ means having a lot of children… to justify using contraception. “I’ve done my Catholic duty and now have a free pass to contracept”.
(Not saying that you were a providentialist, OP. Just saying that it is quite common for providentialists to contracept when they stop being providentialist.)
Well, no we were never providentialist. We have always used NFP with great success. But we also used it without much thought into WHY it was considered moral. As we’ve gotten older, we are exploring our faith with a more mature perspective and not taking so much for granted. We are seeking to understand “why” for our own benefit and for the benefit of teaching our children the intricacies of the faith without just blind following. I believe God created us intelligently for a purpose…and that purpose is to understand our lives deeply, not just “because it is written”.
So, we are reaching out for help in understanding why is NFP okay when the ends are the same. I thank those who have posted some good analogies…especially about the fact that the natural cycle lends itself to infertility for a large portion of the month and marital sex is not forbidden then…so then abstinence during fertile periods is also still in observance with the natural cycle.
I am still trying to wrap my head around it, but that gets me much closer.
And I’m sorry, but the humana vitae only confuses me more because when I read it, it all sounds like it’s saying if it’s not for procreation then it’s wrong…but then the pope says NFP etc is fine. So, yeah, confused is the best way to put it.
Thanks again for all this feedback. I hope this thread helps others with similar questions too.