To be fruitful or not to be fruitful, that is the question. In the very first chapter of Genesis we see that it is God’s intention for married couples to procreate when He says to Adam and Eve, “be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). Genesis also tells us that we are created in God’s Image (Gen 1:27). If we are to image God, then our love like God’s love is intended to be life giving. For a married couple, this new life is made evident in the form of children. This is an over simplified explanation, but it is the basis for why the Church teaches that contraception is a contradiction of God’s original plan for marriage, and why the Church is such a strong advocate for families. This message even shows up in the wedding vows when the priest asks the couple, “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up knowing the love of Christ and the community of Christ’s Church?” But to what extent should a married couple accept children? While a family with a dozen or so kids is an extraordinary sign of God’s blessing on a marriage, having such a large family without taking important factors into consideration wouldn’t exactly be responsible parenting. For this reason, the Church also teaches that when a married couple has just reasoning free from selfish motivation for spacing or avoiding future births, they may do so by using methods of Natural Family Planning, but what is “just reasoning?”
My girlfriend and I have decided that we will practice Natural family planing when we get married, but we are finding some of the lines between right and wrong regarding NFP to be a bit blurry. My goal here is not to debate the morality of contraception. NFP is not a contraceptive. It is a method of understanding the fertility of a woman’s body as designed by God and respectfully using that knowledge to responsibly space and/or limit children by abstaining from marital intercourse during the fertile period of each month. My objective is to clarify some of my own thoughts, which have been racing through my head, regarding this topic and to gain some insight through the thoughts of others.
While part of me finds the prospect of supporting a significantly larger than average family a bit overwhelming, there is also a very big part of me that has a deep desire to do God’s will in my life. I believe that children are a gift from God and should be received openly. I suppose if God chooses to bless my future spouse and I with a large family, and we can not determine “just reasoning” to limit this blessing, then we must be open to that. However, I also believe that married couples have a responsibility to exercise their free will and their self control when it comes to determining the size and shape their family takes. Why else would the Church teach Natural Family Planning in the first place? I realize every marital act of love, even when accompanied by ideal fertile conditions, does not always necessarily result in pregnancy. Some couples try for months or even years to successfully procreate. I also realize that it is possible for pregnancy to result from a marital act of love that takes place during a time which was believed to be infertile. There are, however, still circumstances under which it is acceptable and even necessary for a couple to make a conscious effort to avoid a pregnancy by using the NFP method. Seeking guidance from Vatican II in his book Good News About Sex and Marriage, Christopher West quotes the following: “‘[Spouses should] thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born, and those that the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God’ (Gaudium, n. 50).” These guidelines are pretty difficult to decipher. So, I am curious: **What are your views on how a married couple should distinguish being open to God’s plan from becoming guilty of either: **
**A) having a number of children that surpasses the couple’s ability to meet the families’ material and spiritual needs, or **
B) setting a limit on the families’ size out of selfish motivation? Under what circumstances is it justifiable for a couple to consciously monitor the fruitfulness of their marriage by abstaining from marital intercourse during the fertile portion of each month?