Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My NFP plea: Stop giving warnings, and rejoice!

Okay, so now I write something that could start a riot in some Catholic circles, but by the end of the post, you'll see why this topic is so important to me.

Two points, then I will elaborate.

1) It is impossible to use Natural Family Planning (NFP) with a "contraceptive mentality", so please let us stop using that term.
2) Those who use NFP should be encouraged, not be scolded or have their motives questioned.

Let's start with the first point. I used to say and believe that NFP could be used with a "contraceptive mentality". I was wrong. Contraception is something very specific, and NFP is its nemesis, its antidote. Contraception is "any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means" (Humanae Vitae, 14). NFP is nothing of that, so the word "contraceptive" cannot be used in conjunction with it, period.

I believe that when well-meaning Catholics warn that "NFP can be sinful when used with a contraceptive mentality!" what they actually mean is that "NFP can be used selfishly!"

True, but both statements are regrettable. The first statement is simply erroneous, and the second statement is accurate but unhelpful.

Which brings me to my second point: Those who use NFP should be encouraged, not be scolded or have their motives questioned.

Unlike contraception, which is intrinsically evil, Natural Family Planning is not only permitted, but is promoted and taught by Mother Church, all around the world. Mother Teresa's sisters give instruction in NFP to the poorest of the poor, for example, and my own diocese requires a full course of instruction for every engaged couple.

NFP and fertility awareness (for achieving and/or postponing pregnancy) is morally licit and a positive good.

And yes, NFP can be used selfishly. But so can any good thing.

Think about it. Buying a house is licit and moral. But can a house be bought for selfish motives? Yes. Accepting a job offer is licit and moral. But can a job be taken for selfish motives? Yes. What about giving a speech, getting an education, having a child? You get the idea.

When discussing NFP, some Catholics want to jump immediately past the good of it to the dire warnings of how many ways and degrees NFP can (in their subjective opinion) be misused to our spiritual peril!

In what other area would we do this?

Let's take cohabitation, for example. If a couple living in sin for years were moved by grace to right their wrongs and get married, I pray their noble decision would never be met with, “Well, marriage is allowed by the Church of course, but if you conduct your marriage with the same ‘cohabiting mentality’ that you had when living together, then you might as well still be shacking up! Be very careful to examine your motives or you remain in grave sin!”

That response is just… wrong. Obviously. No one would say it. So, why do we say such things when it comes to NFP?

Here’s why it bothers me enough to make such a big deal out of it. I taught RCIA for about five years with my friend Kim. We laid out the case for the truth of the Christ and His Church, leading up to the “hard sayings” in the moral law, including the teaching about contraception. Among the couples we taught (usually one was Catholic and the spouse was converting) most had not previously known or followed Church teaching. As they approached the Easter sacraments, the majority wanted to do God's will but were frightened about the real-life costs of doing so. The switch from contraception to NFP felt, as one couple described it, “like jumping off a thousand-foot cliff". They believed and trusted the Church, but it was still terrifying to follow through.

So, imagine a couple, steeped in the values of a sexually confused culture, bravely doing what the Church asks of them, taking that leap of faith off a very scary cliff, only to be immediately lectured that even after giving up contraception there is every chance that they are still in the same gravely sinful place they were before, with only the tiniest sliver of hope that they are using NFP for the one or two reasons good enough to keep them out of hell!

Why do we do this to our brothers and sisters who may have just set their feet upon the path?

Why would we do it to anyone, actually? The fact that any couple is not contracepting is enough to rejoice about, and if we let grace do its work, NFP use has a funny way of changing the hearts of the fearful or the not-quite-convinced. They may start off using NFP selfishly (which is none of our business anyway, and how can we possibly know?), but they may end with wills conformed to God, souls full of grace -- and many welcomed children.

People are fragile. Let's be careful.

Thanks for hearing me out.



Related post: Natural Family Planning is not contraception!



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224 comments:

  1. This may not be what you're referring to, Leila, but when I became pregnant with my 5th child, my family was very upset with me. (I should say certain members of my family, not all.)

    I should also add for those that don't know-that pregnancy was not "permitted" as I had had a severe heart attack right after the birth of my 4th child.

    Although the pregnancy was in no way planned or intended by us, my husband and I practiced NFP. We were successful in avoiding pregnancy for 19 months. When the baby was conceived, it was during what we thought was a "safe" time.

    What bothered me, is that even though no one actually used the words "contraceptive mentality", it was implied. We should have been more careful, we had been irresponsible, what were we thinking, ect. This sort of talk was used A LOT among the good Catholic people that we know, and I've gotta tell you, it was disappointing.

    So I don't know if this really goes with what you're talking about (correct me if you want), but this is what comes to mind when you talk about the contraceptive mentality. (Until now, I have never heard anyone use that term.) I do think that there can be a contradicting attitude, even among good Catholics who may not know any better, of a mistrust of NFP and a mistrust of God. I have never totally understood NFP, but I thought that the very core of it was putting off pregnancy (for very dire reasons only, such as health or financial issues) but in the end, the rest is in God's hands. When I became pregnant, I was very scared and worried, but as I always did after being with my husband, I would tell God that I would never refuse a child if this is what He wanted.


    So I agree that this attitude can also be implied w/o words and that we need to be careful about voicing what we think are helpful suggestions, especially with those who are taking their first hopeful plunge in trusting in God and NFP.

    And furthermore, I will never forget what a slap in the face it was when my son's therapist jokingly told me that she considered me her "contraceptive". My attitude of fear of having more kids, and even my attitude of having "so many kids" scared her and only convinced her that she also couldn't handle pregnancy. Since then, I've tried to change my attitude. And the truth is, I'm easily overwhelmed whether it be with just one kid or five. It's just my personality.

    Sorry this was so long and all over the place.

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  2. Amen!!! We taught PreCana and this was always a huge deal. Thank you!!!!! You don't"contracept" with NFP!

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  3. I teach NFP and I don't currently have any couples that use NFP contraceptively, but actually, I couldn't really judge that.

    When working with Catholics (since about 50% of my clients are not Catholic), I clarify that the Church allows NFP for serious reasons.

    I know for myself when we need to postpone a pregnancy, it comes at a time that is very sorrowful for us.

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  4. Thank you for this article.
    I have had this discussion with people in the past. When they claim that NFP is just "Catholic contraception" I remind them that we are not called to stand in a position that is more extreme than the Church. I think we call that heresy. I also remind people that this whole issue isn't about producing large amounts of children as a point of holiness. I am all for big families but we aren't all called to have a ton of kids. People who are on the side of nfp as catholic contraception want "grave matter" to be defined with exact guidelines and circumstances. The Church doesn't do that for good reason. At the end of the day God gave us a brain and expects us to use it to make proper decisions based on what we think He is asking of us and what our present practical circumstances are. It isn't "person who dies with the most kids wins"! It is terribly sad that there is such division in the very very small circle of Catholics who actually follow the teaching of the Church and avoid artificial contraception.

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  5. Oh thank-you for this Leila!

    When The Man and I teach NFP, and we talk about "just cause" and "serious reasons" we are careful to point out that there is NO LIST from the Church that will tell them what these reasons or what "just cause" might be. That is because it is unique to each individual couple, to be discerned through communication and prayer.

    If a couple is prayerfully considering family size and following the teachings of the Church, how could they possibly be doing anything wrong? And even if they start out using NFP selfishly, one thing we know for sure is that NFP changes hearts, there is something very powerful about removing intrinsic evil from a marriage.

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  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! NFP, or fertility awareness, is an inherently good thing (although I realize some couples really do struggle to use it due to confusing signals from their bodies, so I am not saying they have no right to express their frustrations over NFP. But that's not the point of the post!).

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  7. Well considering that about 95% of the people on your blogroll use NFP to ACHIEVE pregnancy and to correct infertility, #1 is especially ludicrous. It's just plain ignorance. And I think that criticism is usually used by people who have never struggled to conceive children.

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  8. Totally agree. Share your frustration.

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  9. Can't see anything to argue about! :-)

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  10. Great job, Leila. It is truly nobody else's business what reasons a couple decides are serious enough to delay pregnancy.Selfishness and immediate gratification are put to death by the very practice of abstinence during times of peak fertility. How dare we discourage couples from using their minds along with their bodies to build healthy families?

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  11. Good post! the Quiverfull method can also be used selfishly. A husband could use the quiverfull mentality to get his physical needs met while having no concern for his wife's well being and health.

    There are so many women struggling trying to get pregnant, I wish NFP would get out there more to help them out. We need to talk more about the health benefits of charting. We are charting know just so we know exactly when I get pregnant. My last baby was "late" and I was afraid they would induce, I wish I had known the exact date I got pregnant so I could have easily avoided any unnecessary interventions.

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  12. Thank you all for adding things I wanted to say or should have said but didn't. (And if Nicholas can't find a point to argue, I'm feeling pretty satisfied right now, ha ha!)

    Here's a note I received from Chasing Joy, with permission to reprint:

    Blogger doesn't let me comment on most blogs anymore, but I just wanted to email to tell you that I love your NFP blog post! The issue you brought up, "really burns my toast," so to speak. Frankly, people who toss around the "contraceptive mentality" phrase don't really understand NFP to begin with (or Theology of the Body for that matter). Once again, the issue highlights a larger issue of preferring a legalistic ethic that legislates ethos and forgetting that is not how ethos works. We need both, sometimes one is harder for us than the other. Good thing each one offers us the opportunity to dispose our heart to the other and grow in holiness through it!

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  13. I understand your point, but I have also experienced another. We teach NFP and when we started (ten+ years ago) we reminded couples that they should discern God's Will for them and that they should postpone for serious reasons. Over the years, people have taken issue with the term "serious" and have slanted toward "just" or "responsible parenthood" which in our current cultures do not share the same meaning a serious.

    We never ever tell a couple how many children they should have, but we remind them that they are called to continually discern God's Will. I hear too many couples starting out with a magic number in their minds (we have three kids, etc.) and I remind them that there is no formula and God may change their plans in either direction. Since God doesn't reveal our whole life's journey from the start, we shouldn't try to. We should focus on what God wants today.

    We tend toward selfishness and so I think it is an injustice to pretend that we do not. We should remind one another that God is generous and calls us to reflect Him, but that it is our nature to hold back out of fear (not just in NFP but in all things). You used the example of being selfish in the purchase of a house. Why wouldn't it be more helpful to own up to that and to encourage others to reflect on God's will when looking at homes, as opposed to falling prey to our own selfishness that might lead us to buy a home bigger than we can afford or maintain or a home that we think will garner us more attention and envy. Surely, there is a right way and a wrong way to admonish the sinner (we are all sinners) but as we've seen in the news a failure on the part of Church leadership for so many years has not helped the people in the pews.

    Lastly, I want to share an opposing grievance. My husband and I discerned many years ago and continue to feel called to total openness. We use the sympto-thermal method not for timing but for health reasons (NFP has so much more to offer aside from family planning). Our firstborn son died from complications due to heart defects, but we trusted that God still wanted us to be open. We went on to have six more healthy children with one miscarriage in between. Then, the suffering began with four consecutive miscarriages, two in the second trimester. An NFP counselor advised that I might be negligent if we didn't avoid the fertile times going forward. Another consultant suggested that if we didn't use NFP to time our relations we might be displaying a lack of restraint (hysterical when you consider our energy level in the evenings after caring for our big brood all day, it is a blessing that we ever have time and energy for intimacy). Needless to say, I felt accused and wondered whether I had any ability at all to discern God's Will in my life since clearly others thought I was totally wrong. Thankfully, God placed four separate priests along my path, who refuted these accusations. They each, unbeknownst to each other, encouraged me to total openness and called my suffering a gift to be embraced.

    My point, is that fault can be seen on both sides. The use of NFP involves a continually discernment. God is generous and He calls us to reflect Him, but obviously for some couples He asks them to carry a serious cross and sacrifice their desire for intimacy at times. We need to remind one another to pray, pray, pray and do God's Will in our individual lives with heroic courage and surrender. There is much to rejoice about, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't charitably remind one another to keep our tendencies toward selfishness in check.

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  14. Leila, is there anywhere that the Magisterium actually uses the term NFP? I've never been able to find it--not in an encyclical, papal address, or the catechism. It seems to me that the expression itself was popularized by groups such as the Couple to Couple League, but is now widely used to define/explain official Church teaching. This in and of itself seems problematic to me, because the focus of the Church in this area has always been on love, openness to life, and the primary purpose of marriage--not as much on charting and harnessing fertility for our purposes.

    I personally believe that much of the NFP movement is a far cry from--and poor substitute for--the beautiful, timeless teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. I would encourage anyone to read the related encyclicals, Blessed John Paul II's series of 129 papal addresses from between September 1979 and November 1984 (upon which Christopher West loosely based his Theology of the Body), as well as JPII's "Love and Responsibility", for an accurate and robust picture of Church teaching in this area.

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    1. Charting can be very helpful to women to help them understand their body and be aware of any changes that can signal a health problem. Charting can show thyroid problems, low progesterone and other hormone problems. God is a God of Order, and our fertility is not random.

      I do wish my CCL class talked more about Theology of the Body, but it's hard to do that in just 3 classes. Thankfully our church offers theology of the body study every month.

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  15. Oops! I used the reply function:

    Here's what I said and removed:
    From Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae Section 16:

    "If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained."

    (Really, I recommend reading all of Humanae Vitae. It is a beautiful, timeless (and easy to read!) encyclical. Believe me, if I can read it - ANYONE can :)).

    While the term "NFP" is not specific, it is very clear that the Church allows for it. :)

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  16. Is there a less scholarly book that one can read instead of JPII's Love and Responsibility? I do NOT want a book geared for teen-agers and young adults.

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  17. Brianna,
    I also want to say, I agree the teaching of the Church is beautiful and JPII's talks are amazing! I've done quite a bit of studying the Theology of the Body and Love and Responsibility.
    As someone who went from contracepting to using NFP (and had no idea about any of this a mere 5 years ago), AND who did not switch from the pill to NFP b/c of Church teaching (learned it after), I can say that anyone teaching NFP should be including a clear discussion on the beauty of human sexuality in their teaching. If all we are teaching is the "technical side" and "how to avoid or achieve pregnancy" then we are missing an amazing opportunity to evangelize and change hearts.
    Just because NFP is promoted poorly (and it so often is) doesn't mean that NFP in and of itself is a bad thing.

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  18. Lena,
    Men, Women and the Mystery of Love by Edward Sri - it has great insights from Love and Responsibility.

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  19. TKEB, thank you! Your points actually make the point of much of the post. No one can ever know (on either swing of the spectrum) what a couple has discerned, or what is God's will for their particular family.

    That is why I stress that it really is not our business to judge or presume, but only rejoice that a couple is using licit means of either birth spacing, postponement or achieving. If we cannot know if a couple buys a particular house for a selfish reason (again, how can we judge even that, and are we permitted to? I don't think we are), then we certainly cannot know why a couple would be using NFP.

    Ironically, infertile couples who use NFP to try to achieve pregnancy are often in anguish knowing that there are those who see them sitting in the pews without children (or only one or two) and might be "judging" them… even assuming that surely they must be using contraception! We should have no place for that kind of thing in our hearts or communities.

    It is enough to say generally that selfishness is a sin (people can grasp that, and will grow in understanding of that as they grow in holiness), and not to then presume to apply that specifically to another's house-buying, child-bearing, Christmas shopping, career discernment, marriage choices, etc., etc., ad infinitum. We must discern our own selfishness, but not someone else's, unless they are under our charge (i.e., a child, or a spiritual directee).

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  20. Rebecca, thanks! And here is another quote from Humanae Vitae, number 16:

    “Neither 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 […]. In reality, these two cases are completely different.”

    So, "taking advantage of the infertile periods" cannot be actually be done in practical terms unless one knows when those infertile periods are. NFP is just the name or term that some have given to the science of what and how we know. It doesn't have to be a theological term, but the truth of its licitness is clear. It's not the term used (there can be and are many), but the concept which is important to understand.

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  21. Brianna - Humanae Vitae refers to natural methods as well as medical and scientific study of human reproduction; encourages understanding and working with the natural design. I'll have to dig out the quotes, but whether or not the term "NFP" is used exactly or not is superficial as the concept is well-supported and encouraged by Rome.

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    1. ah! quote is already up in comments! :)

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    2. Sarah I must respectfully disagree--it is not superficial. The Magisterium's teachings on marriage emphasize charity and the two-fold purpose of marriage--NOT something called "NFP". It should give us pause when the focus on love in marriage has morphed into a belief system built around an expression the Church never herself uses, and which all too easily reduces the beauty of married love (an integrated love, as JPII said) to utilitarianism.

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    3. Brianna - I never said "NFP" sums up the Church's teachings on marriage??? I would *never* say that. My marriage preparer is a priest who received his doctorate in Marriage and Family Studies from the institute in Rome. He never even once touched on "NFP," and I was required to read "Love and Responsibility." We even discussed a lot of the problems with the emphasis on sex in marriage even among Catholic circles. I consider our marriage prep fantastic and agree that NFP is not at the center of marriage all by itself. But the Church still encourages it's use, and that was what I was responding to.

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  22. How can NFP be used selfishly (sinfully)? In the post "Isn't it the same as contraception?" you stated that it is not a sin to abstain from sex. If a couple simply does not want more children, whether they think they cannot handle more, or feel content with the ones they have, does that make them selfish and sinful?

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  23. Rebecca I have read "Humane Vitae", and I guess my point is that the Magisterium's FOCUS is not--and has never been--on charting and fertility awareness to avoid/achieve pregnancy. Yet modern Catholics often use the term NFP to define and explain married Catholic sexuality, and something intended to be the exception has often become the rule. I believe this is part of why people warn about using NFP improperly (as did Blessed John Paul II himself, incidentally).

    I am not saying it isn't valuable or good to understand one's fertility, and of course I abide by the Church's teaching that pregnancy avoidance through natural means is acceptable, provided it is within the larger context of the Church's teachings on love and marriage. I just think it a shame that this teaching on marriage has been reduced to NFP and Christopher West's TOB.

    Lena, "Love and Responsibility" is not a quick read, but it is worth the read, without a doubt. I've found that popularizations often distort or at least fall short of conveying the truths and meaning of the original work, and I believe JPII's book is accessible to the average person. By far one of the best books I've read. His series of 129, related Wednesday audiences convey much of the same information and are available free online, as well.

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    1. Just to clarify.... Theology of the body was the vision of Pope John Paul II and Christopher West is just the best know author on the subject. I figure this is know by most and my reply is for those who are not familiar. I am assuming Brianna is referring to Christopher West interpretation of the Theology of the Body.

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  24. Brianna,
    I agree, that to use the term NFP to define and explain married sexuality isn't the right way to go about it. NFP can certainly be a part of married sexuality, but it isn't the whole story, nor is it necessary. No couple is obligated to use NFP, only those wishing to avoid (or in our case, achieve but are having difficulty) pregnancy.

    I have to ask have you read anything of Christopher West's recently? I've had the privelage of hearing him present for over 60 hours and read his most recent book (well, up to this Tuesday when his newest came out) and he has deepened his teachings and matured in his presentation manor so much in recent years (even he admits his early work was inadequate in some ways).
    The Theology of the Body (JPII's compiled works are called this) is a rich, deep teaching. For many, NFP is the door that opens up the world of TOB and authentic Catholic teaching and thought on sexuality, human dignity, and the meaning of the body.

    I agree that Love and Responsibility is worth the read, it can just be hard to get going. Sri's book is great to read alongside it or before it, really helps to get the overall themes and gives a frame of reference for reading Wojtyla (JPII)'s work. He writes in a very circular manner that can be difficult to follow on a subject that is dense all by itself.

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  25. Carrie, it can be used selfishly in the same way that any good thing can be used selfishly. One of the three things that makes an act moral is the intent or motive (the others are the means and the end). So, even though it is most definitely not objectively sinful to abstain from sex, it can be sinful for a couple to abstain from sex if the intent is selfish. While I hate to put "reasons that using NFP might be selfish" out there (that's sort of the point of the post… not to try to get in someone's heart and head), that might include things like refusing to have more children because a couple wanted to buy a second home and a boat, or because a vindictive spouse wants to punish the other spouse who desires more children by watching the chart and withholding, or because a woman wants to keep her girlish figure so that she can be the envy of the other moms, etc. Who knows? There are many reasons an objectively good act could be made immoral due to intent. But that is not for us to know or judge, unless, as I mentioned, we are a spiritual director or in some capacity where it's our business.

    I hope that makes sense.

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  26. Brianna, I have a sincere question for you. My bishop is one of the holiest and most courageous in the nation (or world), Bishop Thomas Olmsted. He is the one who, among other things, was vilified nationwide for his stripping of St. Joseph's hospital of its "Catholic" designation, because it authorized an abortion to "save the life of the mother". (He has also publicly written that this diocese "will not comply" with the HHS mandate, and wrote the excellent "Catholics in the Public Square" booklet.) He is humble, gentle, kind, prayerful, and full of moral courage. His reputation for orthodoxy and personal holiness is well-earned, and we in his flock have often said we would follow him anywhere.

    He also worked very closely with Blessed John Paul II in Rome for many years. In fact, Bishop Olmsted was intimately involved in the actual translation into English of JPII's Theology of the Body series of Wednesday talks. That was part of his job (can you imagine the joy of that? Ahhh! But I digress.) The way Bishop Olmsted speaks of those years, that project, the content of TOB and the personal sanctity of JPII is astounding, and he has great insights into those talks, and the man himself.

    Bishop Olmsted recently revamped the entire marriage prep in our diocese, to encompass not only theology that had been lacking (we now use West's "God's Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage"), but also practical instruction for NFP. Whereas before there was only an introduction course required of all couples seeking to be married in the Church, now the diocese requires an entire four-month course of NFP, with charting, for every engaged couple.

    What do you think of that emphasis and requirement? Do you think he is simply a good bishop who is sadly misguided or has an unbalanced view of these issues? I know you can't hear my tone, but I promise you I am not asking in any accusatory way, but in real curiosity. What are your thoughts on it, esp. as he worked so closely with JPII on TOB?

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    1. SN: I really respect Bishop Olmsted. He used to be in my home diocese when I was in high school and he is such an incredible man! I pray for him often! :)

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  27. Rebecca I am indeed familiar with Christopher West's works. I have read and watched some of his books and lectures, and have also read his critics. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, in my opinion, has the best treatment which can be read in her essay here: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=999

    I know he is quite popular and has no doubt impacted some individuals for the good, but I do not believe his treatment of Blessed John Paul II's words and ideas is always in keeping with the Church, or with the spirit of those words and ideas. I also know many disagree and so I have no desire to get into a big Christopher West debate, but I did want to share my two cents. :)

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  28. At Leila's request, a real-life example (mine) of how NFP can be the door that opens the beauty of the Church's teaching:

    Without first having negative side effects of contraception and then second seeking out an effective way to avoid pregnancy, then third finding NFP (and Alison yay!), we might never have heard that “unitive and procreative” are the 2 EQUAL ends of a sexual relationship, that our sexual relationship is an icon designed to point us to God. For us it truly was NFP that opened the door to the beauty of all of the church’s teaching. If someone had come at us telling us “you’re sinning by using contraception and not honoring the procreative aspect of your sacrament and turning away from God by not honoring Him in your love-making” we, 100% guaranteed, would’ve told them they were craaaaaaazy. Our process opened our eyes and hearts to the beauty of the Church’s teaching, and it is what happens more often than not.

    I think sometimes when people approach the Church's teaching from the other side (fully grasping it) and then come to NFP it can seem like focusing on NFP is missing the point. If we stop at the practical charting side of NFP it is missing the point, but we must meet people where they are. For many young couples it is in a situation where they feel they have serious reasons to avoid a pregnancy and need a reliable option. NFP is that option, and can lead to so much beauty. So. much.

    Here is a little more about our story and why we've got to meet people where they are :):
    http://theroadhomewv.blogspot.com/2011/05/intrinsic-evil-and-grace.html
    http://theroadhomewv.blogspot.com/2012/06/healing-grace.html

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    1. I would agree with that.

      We tried NFP early in our marriage for health reasons, but Church teaching never made any sense. Unfortunately, the method we chose wasn't reliable for her, so we gave it up for contraception, convinced that the Church was nuts. The material was so heavy-handed and preachy, that we never really trusted our practitioner or NFP, especially when she was struggling.

      It wasn't until we ran into problems with contraception and found the "feminist fertility awareness" material that we were able to appreciate that NFP was a good thing for women and for couples. This, combined with a method that fit her body allowed us to trust in NFP.

      Being able to trust NFP and seeing it as good allowed us to be open to Church teaching. We knew that secular FAM was great, but why was NFP better? That frame of reference allowed us to find ACTUAL CHURCH TEACHING, which is far more moderate, reasonable, and understanding of couples than a lot of the garbage that some Catholics put out there.

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  29. 1. I am the oldest of 12 children, most born during the 60s. My parents practiced (to the best of my knowledge) "divine birth control", i.e., whatever God provided. Somehow, my parents (and others with similar attitudes) found a way for this to work.

    2. I support and have read Humanae Vitae as well as NFP books. I read it during college, during marriage prep, and last year. It's still good.

    3. When I was married 20 years ago or so, NFP was essentially presented during pre-canna as Catholic birth control. I suspect this how most of the mainstream society (including most Catholics) views NFP.

    4. NFP puts most of the burden on the woman for temp, mucus, charting, etc. My wife quickly tired of it and gave up. I suspect this was a significant factor going forward in the sexual aspect of our relationship; perhaps a contributing factor to her eventually filing for divorce.

    5. The most important aspect of the birth control issue (in my opinion) is the role of "woman." Since the advent of cheap birth control pills and the sexual revolution, the aspects of family and motherhood have been denigrated by our society to the point that anyone who seriously looks at motherhood as a FT vocation is perceived by the mainstream as either weird or abused.

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  30. I had an experience similar to Rebecca's, in which I learned about NFP has a Protestant and it softened my heart and made me more receptive to learning about the teachings of the Church (which, of course, I came to fully accept). I wrote about my experience here.

    Brianna, I don't see where anyone claimed that NFP = Catholic teaching regarding marriage and sexuality. It is an ASPECT of that teaching, but neither Leila nor any commenters have claimed it is the sum total. If a Catholic believes the latter, then s/he is mistaken. My husband and I certainly don't teach that in our parish's marriage prep classes.

    fRED - re: your #4, I don't see NFP as a burden at all. I love tracking my own fertility and seeing what my body is doing, regardless of what my husband and I discern what to do with that information in a given cycle.

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  31. Also, Brianna - that essay you cite was written in June 2010. As Rebecca mentioned, since that time Christopher West has taken the criticisms of his work to heart and has revamped some of his materials.

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    1. JoAnna I am aware of when the essay was written, and the issues addressed run far deeper than the changes he made to his presentations.

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  32. Where is TCIE? She is going to love you for #1!!!

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  33. Leila I would never, ever presume to know whether your Bishop is misguided in his approach to marriage preparation in his diocese! And I certainly don't think charting or fertility awareness is wrong. But I do think it is presently, in general, receiving undue emphasis outside of the larger context of love in marriage. Surely there are reasons that the great encyclicals touching on married love (Casti Connubii, Humanae generis, and Humanae Vitae for example) don't spend the bulk of their time on basal body temperature and cervical mucus observation. :)

    And I DO think it is telling that people use the term NFP, as opposed to terms used by the Magisterium, like openness to life (defined by JPII as "I may become a father/I may become a mother", within the context of a marriage oriented towards life). It may seem an arbitrary distinction, but I believe it has real implications. In "Love and Responsibility" for example, Karol Wojtyla even references an undue fixation on fertility awareness--both from the perspective of avoiding pregnancy AND from the perspective of trying to conceive.

    Again, nothing wrong with charting, but when it becomes the primary focus of and synonymous with God's design for married sexuality, something is amiss. And this is, I suspect, what people who warn about NFP are oftentimes reacting against.

    I don't personally use the expression NFP anymore, outside of a medical context. When someone asks if a child was an "accident" or if we're "done" having kids, I explain that my husband and I are Catholic and therefore open to life, and that we do not use contraception. If they ask further questions, I explain about the beauty of God's design for marriage and the two-fold purpose of marriage. If it comes up, I explain that the Church teaches that abstinence is appropriate in a situation where a couple cannot presently welcome a child.

    I promise I'm not wanting to argue, and am happy to agree to disagree--I just believe there ARE legitimate reasons for people to "warn" about the NFP movement. These people are not all saying you have to have as many children as is humanly possible, OR that abstinence in hopes of preventing pregnancy is not permitted in serious circumstances. They ARE however often saying that the emphasis has gone off-track, and that some of the ideas behind the movement and term are not in keeping with the heart of historic Church teaching, or of God's design for marriage.

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  34. And more from Humanae Vitae:

    "24. Our next appeal is to men of science. These can "considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family and also peace of conscience, if by pooling their efforts they strive to elucidate more thoroughly the conditions favorable to a proper regulation of births." (28) It is supremely desirable, and this was also the mind of Pius XII, that medical science should by the study of natural rhythms succeed in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring. (29) In this way scientists, especially those who are Catholics, will by their research establish the truth of the Church's claim that "there can be no contradiction between two divine laws—that which governs the transmitting of life and that which governs the fostering of married love." (30)"

    Scientists can't study this without charting. Gotta run, needy baby today...

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    1. Which is why I have said several times that there is nothing wrong with charting. :)

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    2. Sorry, I've been unable to read all responses due to a fussy little one. But I am not just posting in response to you but for the benefit of those who might be reading and wondering where the references are.

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  35. Brianna - you are not the only one who would prefer to ditch the term "NFP" for a variety of reasons. Another objection I've read is that the term "family planning" is one that was more or less "coined" by the contraceptive movement and simply putting "natural" on the front of it does seem to call to mind a "contraceptive mentality." But... I'd prefer to tackle bigger problems than the use of the term, I guess. For example, in my diocese, there is very little focus (or at least in the past this has been the case) on giving couples thorough information on natural methods. So most are just clueless or overwhelmed and default to the cultural standard of contraception. We're dealing with a culture where contraception is a "given" so we have to be proactive in teaching couples (many of whom are very scared about regulating births when they first get married) about the beauty of natural methods. Also, as others have pointed out, many, many couples find they need NFP to conceive (and I think marriage prep should focus on this aspect too). Not just *want* NFP to conceive but *need* it. I am so, so, SO greatful that my Dh and I learned Creighton as an engaged couple because it gave us a head start on dealing with fertility problems (I had no idea I'd have trouble until I started charting). Just think of how learning NFP early can help prevent many couples from even going down the ART or IVF route because they will have resources at their fingertips. Far too many couples come to me (I teach the Creighton Model) having felt very alone in their infertility for years before they stumbled across a way to treat their condition(s) in a way that is consistent with their faith.

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    1. Great response, so many women are clueless when it comes to their own reproductive system! We have been told for so long how to prevent a pregnancy that most of us don't understand our own bodies. We have to remember too that a problem with fertility means way more than not being able to have a baby. If you have problems with your reproductive system it effects your overall health and well being.

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  36. fRED - Obviously each teacher is different, but I was trained to teach couples together (if possible), and to encourage husbands to keep the chart. My dh kept our chart for the first year of marriage. It was a much more shared and unifying experience than contraception could ever be. And like JoAnna, I don't find making observations a burden. So sorry you and your wife didn't have a better experience.

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  37. Much of the discussion has been technical and theological. I think this is a turn-off to the average person/Catholic because the issues can build up to the point of confusion and overwhelmingness. Therefore, a person just defaults to the social norm. Especially, when there is little support or understanding of the Church's position. (I saw this when I went thru my divorce).

    The gist of the issue, I think, involves the manner of living one's faith in the context of the sacrament of marriage. I think this aspect has been drastically overlooked, particularly by Catholics. Perhaps more attention to Eph 5:21-32 would be in order, especially at the start of marriage. I wonder how many couples see their marriage and family as a manifestation of their faith.

    Just read a thoughtful piece by Msgr Charles Pope about the incarnation of faith (http://blog.adw.org/2013/01/faith-has-to-become-flesh-2).

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  38. Sarah I never meant to imply that the use of the term is the main problem, just that it is INDICATIVE of a deeper issue.

    I would also argue that most contracepting Catholics are NOT ultimately contracepting simply because they don't know how to recognize when they are most fertile. And in any case, the Church's role, in my humble opinion, lies not primarily in presenting information on charting, but in expressing and affirming the glorious vision of the vocation of Catholic marriage. And in teaching God's truth with clarity and love.

    Providing resources for couples to learn about fertility awareness is perfectly reasonable, but it ought never replace or even eclipse clear exposition on what God teaches about married sexuality.

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    1. Brianna - Like Leila said, I think we are all saying the same thing, not on different "sides" here. Leila's original post - at least the way I read it - was not saying the Church is primarily a teacher of fertility awareness. I don't think any of us here see marriage prep or Church teachings as primarily about "NFP." I am a huge advocate of teaching the "meat" of our faith. I was drawn into the faith thanks to the "meat." Fertility awareness, however, helped me see how certain big, beautiful truths of the faith (openness to life) can be lived in practical ways (although one certainly doesn't need "NFP" to be open to life). I also come from a background (not that my background matters much since this discussion isn't really about me, but just thought I'd share :)), where I saw a lot of damage done by the "Quiverfull" movement. So I think it is important couples know about various natural methods should they need that resource - and engagement is the perfect time to teach this practical tool and to meet a lot of folks where they are at.

      I disagree regarding couples' knowledge... being involved in marriage prep, at least in my area, most couples do not realize there are viable options other than contraception. It's just never been presented to them. Most of us go to our OB's and are presented only with contraception, and it's a rare couple who doesn't express an interest in trying to plan their children.

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    2. "being involved in marriage prep, at least in my area, most couples do not realize there are viable options other than contraception. It's just never been presented to them. " Yes!!!!After my 1st and 2nd pregnancy I asked them if there were other options besides hormonal birth control, the only answer I got was the copper IUD. I had no idea about NFP and fertility awareness. Learning about NFP through catholic blogs helped lead me to the Catholic Faith. I thought it was so beautiful that the Church concerned itself with the well being of women.

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    3. Bartley - that is awesome you found your way to the Church through NFP and Catholic blogs! The lack of info on natural methods from OBs is maddening, isn't it? Even my Christian, pro-life OB says nothing about it as an option and at your 6-week, post-partum check up he asks, "So what birth control are you going to use?" Sigh.

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  39. Brianna, I adore both Chris West and Alice von Hlidebrand, which is why it pained me so greatly to see the controversy that sprung up there. Although I see some of the issues she mentioned as valid, I tended at the time to come down more on the side of West (even though I love Dr. von Hildebrand so much!), because we are dealing with a very, very different culture now than what existed even thirty or forty years ago. Your average person in need of catechesis back then then was at least able to grasp the idea of a sexual morality and an ideal for marriage and chastity, etc. Today, even the vestiges of any standard are wiped away. Today, we have to meet this very base, very morally confused populace where they are, and it's at a pretty low level.

    So many people are so jaded, so fearful (full of control issues!), and so suspicious of anything the Church has to say, that I think we need to speak their language, in a sense, and give them the practical before we can give them the theological, in order to not scare them off immediately. This is not true for everyone, of course, but for many. Part of what we do is discernment. Where is this or that person? What will "speak" to them right now, where they are (not where we wish they were)?

    I don't think we are saying contradictory things, you and I, I just think we are envisioning two different types of "hearers", and we are meeting them in different places.

    Interestingly, for me, it didn't take much for me to embrace Church teaching, as I have always innately been drawn to the idea of a big family (even as I was prepared to sign for my husband's vasectomy!). So, when I came back to the Church, it was natural for me to love the "second chance" or permission to have more children than the culture said was okay. But I don't know that I am the norm. I think most young people, who are newly inquiring into the Faith, would be scared to hear right off the bat that their sex needs to be "open to life" and skip the stuff about NFP, because their stark terror at the thought of having "zillions of kids" will make them run the other way before they even get to the beauty of Church teaching.

    Again, I hope I am making sense.

    And, just FYI on a personal note, I am a charting minimalist. Maybe we are just lazy or uninterested in that level of knowledge (though we've learned it), but we have found a way to make things simple, and it's been a real blessing. We are in no way obsessed or focussed on charting or details. Some people need to be, and I can't judge that. I can't know where they are on the path or in their lives.

    I just hope we both agree that we have to give milk before meat, depending on the soul we are trying to reach. Meet them where they are so that they can come forward and not run away in fear before they get a chance to get in the door.



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    1. This was very well said, Leila. The difference in culture is crucial to understanding how to meet people and what is and isn't important to emphasize, don't you think? I was literally raised to think that you were irresponsible and stupid, yes STUPID, if you were not on birth control. Yes, the church's teaching on marriage goes SO FAR BEYOND not using contraception, but unfortunately that is just a turning off point for many, many people. Or at very best, a point that young Catholics write off as outdated teaching. "NFP" and yes, having something to call it instead of "periodic abstinence" at least gets the attention that there is a medically reasonable way that our bodies were created to space births, all following the idea that natural law and Catholic teaching are intrinsically linked anyway. It really is beautiful and brings it home for many people. I guess I am partial as learning about NFP literally helped open my heart to the beauty of the truth that the Catholic church possesses.

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    2. "I guess I am partial as learning about NFP literally helped open my heart to the beauty of the truth that the Catholic church possesses." Me too :) It also helped my husband realize his role in my fertility, and he respected me more for it.

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  40. PS: My diocese's marriage prep includes both the "vision" (the theology, TOB) and the practical (NFP instruction). The theology class (all day on a Saturday, two fully faithful couples teaching TOB) is required to be completed prior to the NFP classes. And there is also the FOCUS test, the three sessions with faithful marriage counselors to go over the test, etc. I believe there is another retreat over a weekend as well. It's all really amazing, and I think it's comprehensive. Much better than the drivel I received 23 years ago in a different diocese, which did not touch on ANY of this. Looking back, it was so deficient, so secular, just stupid and a waste of time.

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  41. I commented earlier but just wanted to add a thought after reading these comments. I think there is truth on both sides of this discussion as Leila has pointed out. I was raised in a Catholic family with parents who were very open to life in all ways. As we all know we live in a culture that is so far gone and so steeped in its contraceptive mentality that there is literally a fear of children in some ways. Something like 5% of Catholics aren't using contraception. Having said that I think that those of us in the "open to life camp", either people using NFP or those who choose to leave their family size up to God and not abstain to avoid pregnancy, need to realize that we have to meet the culture where they are at and start with baby steps in changing minds and hearts. Most people in today's culture, including most Catholics, would have a panic attack at being told that they should be open to life and to toss their birth control. The teaching on this is not an easy pill to swallow in some ways - no pun intended! For example, when my husband and I took our marriage prep course the couple who taught the section on TOTB and NFP were past their childbearing years and hadn't contracepted in their marriage and had three children. I thought they did an excellent job of presenting the teaching to our group. Every single person in the group, minus myself and my now husband, were freaked out and stunned at what was being taught. As discussions ensued during the Q+A I realized that the only credibility that the instructors had, in the eyes of the couples taking the course, was they they only had 3 children. If this had been a couple with 6 or 9 kids I seriously think people would have tuned them out entirely and written them off totally. Is this sad and unfair? Yes but it is where the culture is at.
    My very long winded point is that the Church allows NFP to space children for legitimate reasons determined prayerfully and practically by the couple. To get to this stage of understanding is a very long road for someone who is contracepting. I agree that the teaching of the Church on marriage and openness to life is about a whole lot more than NFP. But quite frankly most people who are contracepting are not going to hear the providentialist mindset without writing it off as crazy!
    At the end of the day I think we should put our energy towards changing the minds and hearts of today's culture and not worry about the rest too much. If you have legitimate reasons to postpone pregnancy and are using NFP - great! If you choose to always be open to new life and never chart a day in your life - great!

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  42. KK, that's pretty much exactly what I wanted to say! Thank you!

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  43. Leila thanks so much for sharing your insights.

    I agree that our culture has changed over time, and I think there is certainly a place for engaging that culture. However, I personally think we do a disservice to people when we skirt around the core of Church teaching (on any number of issues, not just this one). A couple wanting a Catholic marriage (as evidenced by their participating in a Catholic marriage prep course), for example, should know what that means. And a couple dead-set against openness to life should at the very least, when they attend these classes, be lovingly exposed to what the vocation of marriage entails. We must give couples--and God--more credit than we do at present.

    One might argue that a contracepting couple is better served by NFP being presented as a legitimate alternative to artificial contraception, while avoiding some of the harder truths about marriage, but a couple could just as easily see the Catholic heralding of NFP as a substitute, and use that as an excuse to KEEP using the pill. So that argument is, I think, often a wash.

    I am of the opinion--and I realize not all share this opinion--that in an age of such confusion and distortion of values, people need clarity all the more. We can dress difficult or radical dogmas and doctrines any way we wish, but perhaps it is better to simply share the truth, in love, and trust the Lord with the rest. Catholics are at an incredible advantage in that we have the Church and the deposit of faith, and the Sacraments. And if we can't share this truth in earnest with self-professed Catholics attending our church, who CAN we share it with?

    I've been planning to do a series on my own blog regarding the Church and competing views on marriage and love. Maybe I'll finally get around to starting it soon! :)

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    1. Your second (well, really the third) paragraph hints that you seem more upset at the quality of NFP instruction rather than instruction in and of itself? Almost all NFP classes have a marriage/theology component which to me is the most important part of the class. It should never be taught to Catholics without it. I agree!

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  44. This is such a great discussion! I am enjoying this very much. I teach the Creighton Model Fertility Care System and I usually don't call it NFP. My husband and I do teach a marriage prep course on Church teaching about the purpose of marriage, the dangers of contraception, and Humanae Vitae. We NEVER tell people how many kids they should have, we always say that it us up to them to discern what God calls them to do in their marriage.

    We do talk about NFP in that class because it is a common term in catholic circles because most people in our culture do not understand the term "openess to life". To be able to help them understand that term we must talk about someting they are familiar with hearing like Family Planning. As someone who knows that God is the ultimate planner of families i understand why this term of family planning might bother some people but we have to meet people where they are at. We live in a selfish culture where everyone is always busy and planning out their life so it is familiar for people to think about planning their family. Once you establish a relationship with people then that is the time where you can share deeper things and people become more open to God changing their hearts and mindsets.

    Great post Leila!

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  45. Brianna, I can't wait to read it! But I have to admit to being somewhat confused. Who is saying that we should present only a distorted view of Catholicism, avoiding the "harder truths"? Maybe we are misunderstanding each other, because I never meant to imply that.

    Also, when we present NFP information, even as a full course, it does not in any way imply that the rest of the truth and the fullness of the teaching on human sexuality and married love is not being or cannot be taught as well.

    Okay, out the door for a bit… I appreciate the conversation!

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    1. Oh Leila I never meant to imply that you (or anyone here) are advocating a distorted view of Catholicism! My original point was just that many people concerned with the heavy emphasis on NFP have legitimate concerns about the direction things have taken.

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  46. What I'm really confused about in this whole discussion is the fact that "NFP" as such is not theology, it's science. We're all arguing about "NFP", but really, we're not arguing about NFP because it is what it is. It would be like arguing about cell division. It's information, nothing more, nothing less.
    It seems like the problem some people have is with what couples choose to do with that information. I'm not really sure why it's anyone's concern how I interpret my fertility, and what choices my spouse and I make with what we have reasonably ascertained. All you need to know is that I'm not breaking the moral law, and even that, I have no obligation to freely offer to anyone. Unless I bring it up, it's none of your business. It is a terrible state of the Catholic faithful when we assume people are sinning without any proof. It's like we orthodox Catholics are so paranoid that we walk around making snap judgements about the state of people's souls based on how well their ovaries work.

    If one more person at my ultra-traditional parish casually asks me when the next baby is coming, if I'm familiar with the Church's teaching on "openness to life", or gives me a dirty look because we have a 2 year old and no child visibly on its way, I am going to SCREAM or perhaps stamp INFERTILE on my forehead so everyone will just shut the hell up already. Get your nose out of my personal life, and stop assuming people are sinning because they don't have as many children as you do. In case you couldn't tell, this is a real source of pain for myself and I'm sure for many other infertile people who read this blog and are living as faithful Catholics and having other people look at them sideways because they don't have "enough" children.
    Family size is not indicitive of how open to life a couple is. There are women I know with 7 kids who have used contraception off and on for years, and couples I know who have never once used contraception or even NFP to avoid, and who have 0, 1 or 2 children. We need to get over our obsession with how many children someone has (or doesn't have) being some kind of measuring tool for holiness or openness to life. No offense Leila or any other mom of many (most of my close friends have many children). It's just absurd the way this has become some kind of yardstick for holiness, meanwhile no one had ANY WAY OF KNOWING what goes on in anyone else's house or heart.

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  47. Also wanted to add, that comment isn't directed at anyone in particular, just addressing what I see as a very troubling tendency to assume that someone is more holy or open to life because they have a large family. And I tend to see that attitude more among people who are NFP naysayers.

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  48. KK you wrote: "Most people in today's culture, including most Catholics, would have a panic attack at being told that they should be open to life and to toss their birth control."

    That is undoubtedly true. I completely agree. Of course the culture at large (including many Catholics) would also have a panic attack upon reading Catholic teachings on homosexuality, women's ordination, and abortion--so does that mean the pope should refrain from speaking forthrightly to the faithful about these important topics?

    Watering down doctrines in an attempt to make them more palatable, no matter how well-intentioned, will never ultimately reform or inspire the culture. Because for one thing, the culture sees right through it, and for another, introducing further confusion cannot produce the fruit of clarity. Saints, people living out love even when it's difficult, holy men and women speaking up and bringing God's light to the world, couples faithfully living out their vocations--those are things with the quiet but steady power to transform.

    So while I'm certainly not advocating beating people over the head with fire and brimstone, I believe Catholic marriage prep ought to be open and clear about God's perfect and holy design for marriage. Which addresses the "why's", affirms the dignity of the person, and is rooted in self-giving love. Not everyone will accept that, but a Catholic marriage preparation course, of ALL places, ought not shy away from it. Where else will people hear it?

    KK you also referred to a "providentialist mindset", but I think this is where some have set up a false dichotomy. I would never identify myself as a providentialist--I merely adhere to God's design for marriage as set forth by the Holy Catholic Church in Magisterial resources (such as encyclicals, Tradition, the catechism, and JPII's series of 129 addresses).

    And, as a formerly-Protestant convert to Catholicism, I have to say that I had to work through many difficult doctrines and issues. This process took roughly four years. And I will tell you that the apologists, theologians and resources I appreciated most were the ones that clearly, boldly, and faithfully proclaimed Catholic doctrine--even when I vehemently disagreed. Even when I tossed my book down in frustration. Because I wanted to understand, in no uncertain terms, what exactly the Church believes. I knew that I could not truly engage with the concepts if I did not get beyond the vague, wishy-washy veneer of palatable "ecumenism."

    And these writings and books were not unloving. They weren't harsh. They didn't disrespect Protestants like me. But they DID proclaim Christ's Church with confidence. Casti Counnubii, for example, was one of the first Catholic things I ever read as a Protestant--and in spite of its clear emphasis on controversial ideas like openness to life, it was the most beautiful and profoundly wise piece on marriage I'd ever read.

    So, it can be done. And I'm profoundly grateful for the men and women (including Leila!) who are willing to openly share their beliefs, unpopular as they may be in our day and age, because were it not for them I would surely not be Catholic today.

    The Church and Her wisdom are an immense treasure. How blessed we are to have this gift!

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  49. In any discussion or teaching on NFP that I have ever listened to there is always the teaching on openness to life and the Church's view on marriage as unitive and procreative. And in any teaching on openness to life you will generally hear a segment on NFP. You can't have one without the other. I really do not think that anyone is presenting NFP as an alternative to b.c. B/c that is actually impossible. I will also add that it is seriously pathetic and sad but most or at least many Catholic couples at Catholic marriage prep courses are not wanting Catholic marriage. Quite frankly they don't even know what that means. The level of complete cluelessness of most Catholics about their faith is astounding. 7 times out of 10 they are taking a marriage prep couse b/c it is required to get married in the church they were baptised in. The vast majority don't even go to Mass. I ABSOLUTELY agree that they need to hear the truth but you have to find the open door to get them to listen first.

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  50. Brianna - I think you may be misinterpreting what Leila said. Meeting people where they are does not mean skipping over or leaving out the theology behind NFP.

    An analogy would be feeding a six-month-old baby pureed vegetables instead of steak. No one's advocating throwing the steak in the trash and never offering it to the child; we're simply saying that you need to hold off on the steak until the baby is developmentally ready to digest it.

    The same goes with engaged and/or married couples who may have had little to no exposure to Catholic teaching. It's a lot to take in all at once. When I was Protestant and I read "The Art of Natural Family Planning," I was disgusted by the theological discussion it contained regarding openness to life. That was my gut reaction to Catholic teaching after being spoon-fed the junk food of liberal Lutheran theology my entire life. But as I started learning the science of NFP and applying it in my own life, and seeing how my relationship with my husband improved as a result, I started appreciating the more "nutritious" content of Church teaching and was able to "digest" it better.

    (Sorry if the food analogies are overkill... I'm actually not hungry at the moment, believe it or not.) :P

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    1. I would also actually argue that it is very important that engaged couples learn about NFP (about it, not necessarily its details) BEFORE they have children since it is decidedly harder to learn once has had children and perhaps may have more grave reasons for postponing (pregnancy complications, etc.).

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    2. Yes! I didn't learn about it until after I was pregnant. NFP and post partum with breastfeeding is a nightmare to learn for the 1st time.

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  51. Leila, yes those reasons for abstaining from sex make sense as being selfish, which leads me to my next question. If couples should only abstain from sex during the fertile period for a just reason, does this mean that couples should actively seek to have sex during the fertile period, whether they are trying to conceive or not? That's what I'm getting from this. Or is it a case of 'have sex when you feel like it but don't actively avoid the fertile period'? Is this a teaching of the church and if so, is there anywhere you could direct me to understand it more clearly?

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  52. Ok, I am going to stop commenting b/c clearly I am not very good at stating my view without sounding like a flake. I am a cradle Catholic and I know my faith well. In terms of where I stand on all the teachings of the Catholic Church - if i were much further to the right I would fall off the edge. Hence why I subscribe to blogs like Little Catholic Bubble and Just Showing Up!!! Ha ha. Seriously I am absolutely not suggesting watering anything down. Ever.
    Sarah - I have a friend in your position and she has to field those questions from people all the time too. She was infertile for years and then had two kids and is again unable to have more. It's terrible that people make those judgements.

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  53. Brianna, I understand where you are coming from and also agree with many of your points. I think you and Leila really are saying much of the same thing, just perhaps on different pages in the same chapter of the same book.

    I think the term "contraceptive mentality" defeats the entire purpose of exposing couples to this life-giving, life-affirming work we do, and therefore I do agree that it is completely at odds with "NFP.". However, I struggle with something on the flip-side of the same coin (next chapter of the book?) when I see couples taking advantage of the times of fertility while trying to achieve pregnancy. I'll be a big girl right now and say I first discovered it in myself. NFP, even for the infertile woman with gynecological health issues, charting to address and improve underlying problems, should not be taken advantage of the way it was by me, my husband, or any couple longing for children. I am sure that the fact that we were "open to life" the way we had defined it in our heads as being open to pregnancy did not diminish the facts that we were quite literally forcing intimacy on each other and using each other as means to an end. That is neither open to life OR loving.

    And because I can identify this now from my not so distant past, and recognize it in others, I do also see the avoiding pregnancy side of the debate here. And, to me, it's more than just "abstaining from intimacy on days of fertility for selfish reasons," but rather speaks to how the couple relates to each other through their intimate lives- are they denying each other when the desire for intimacy is strong, in the same way I was forcing intimacy when desire was dead? That is a deeper issue than "NFP," and speaks more to the couples sexual health, BUT, I do believe that it can be brought to a head during charting, knowing exactly the times of fertility and infertility, and MIS-using that knowledge.

    Leila, I know you were making the same point here. And I do not advocate for judging any couple's sex life or trying to decipher their intentions or discernment. But understanding this abuse of NFP from my perspective has allowed me to counsel couples a little differently than I did in the past. In the end, I am all for anyone and everyone trying NFP/charting their cycles, because it plants more seeds than we even know... when the seeds fall upon weeds, my job has now been to try plucking those out from the root so the seeds of NFP can yield the most fruit possible.

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  54. My original point was just that many people concerned with the heavy emphasis on NFP have legitimate concerns about the direction things have taken.

    Brianna, you know it goes without saying how much I adore you! So forgive my obtuseness. I just don't know what the "direction things have taken" means. I came back into the Church around 1995. Before that, I knew or cared very little, even as a cradle Catholic. Since my "reversion" the only direction I have seen, blessedly, is that more and more people are being taught the truth and meaning of human sexuality, and yes, turning away from contraception and learning about NFP. So, I see things going in a good direction, which is what is confusing me, I think. I see dioceses around the nation actually embracing Theology of the Body, teaching it, establishing NFP offices, etc. I don't think it goes hand in hand with any watering down of the truths of our Faith. It would be hard for things to get any more watered down than they were, sadly! I realized it can vary from diocese to diocese, depending on the bishop. But the momentum is going in the right direction, I believe.

    KK, you do not sound flakey at all! Sarah, I totally hear you. It is troublesome, for sure, and it's why I wrote the post. JoAnna, you are making me hungry, girl.

    Carrie, the Church never says that a couple must actively have sex during the fertile periods. That would actually be amazingly creepy and weird, I think we can all agree, and dictating when a couple has sex is not a role of the Church. There is no Church teaching which would ever attempt to discuss or micromanage when a couple has sex. That is extremely personal, and nothing like that would ever be a teaching. I think this goes to Chasing Joy's comment about not legislating ethos. The Church doesn't have a 'teaching' on when it's right to buy a house or not, either, if that makes sense. These are matters for the individual couple, prayerfully considering many factors, possibly in conjunction with a trusted priest or spiritual director (and the thing discussed would never be "You had better have sex on your fertile days!" but rather a discernment if the couple feels they have a just reason to abstain and postpone a pregnancy… or not).



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    1. Leila I adore you too! I'm sorry I am just now responding to this. As far as "the direction things have taken", I believe the culture (and therefore many Catholics) have been drifting this way for some time. Here are a few things I've observed:

      --charting and fertility awareness (essentially scientific language) replacing/eclipsing/superceding expressions like "openness to life in marriage" and "generous parenthood" (essentially faith language) in the Catholic lexicon,

      --people equating what is, for example, found on the Couple to Couple League's website with magisterial teaching,

      --the popularizations of magisterial teaching having a far greater influence and hold on people than the actual/original teaching itself.

      I won't expound on any of it now, but it is a subtle shift in focus that does indeed matter, because the way we speak and conceptualize married love shapes our views and mindset. This is why many Catholics fear they are sinning when they don't "practice NFP" and keep charts (and no I don't believe JPII ever said good chart-keeping was virtuous), and why many non-Catholics find the matter fairly puzzling. (fRED alluded to this earlier. While I do believe there is a HUGE difference between artificial contraception and NFP, I also think he speaks for many when he says it doesn't make sense.)

      As I've mentioned various times throughout the thread, openness to life is not about having as many children as is humanly possible, and certainly not about policing other peoples' behavior. It is about living and loving according to God's design, as a married couple. And the fact that what the Church has ALWAYS stated as the EXCEPTION ("serious" or "grave" circumstances) has become the rule, should at the very least make us stop and think.

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  55. Amy, beautifully stated! Thank you! You have perspective on multiple sides of this issue!

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  56. I disagree that it is impossible to use NFP with a “contraceptive mentality ” (Leila’s Point #1). Based on that, Leila’s Point #2 becomes something of a moot issue for me. Essentially, I see NFP as a sort of “green” and holistic means of birth control.

    Despite all the finely argued tomes promoting NFP as an antidote to artificial birth control, I think most people aren’t able to grasp the difference (including me). If the definition of contraception is "any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means", then NFP falls into this category if it is used for the purpose of avoiding procreation.

    I remember when I read Humanae Vitae the first time and questioned the Newman Ctr priest about why HV was against artificial BC but accepted natural means when they both are used for same end. He just winked at me.

    I suspect most Catholics also fail to grasp this difference since we are told that 95% of RC woman are on the pill (or whatever the stats are). People see NFP as just another option and a difficult one. It’s so much easier to just take a pill.

    I have high blood pressure. For years I tried to lower it naturally but without any discernable success. And so I reluctantly started medication. For several years I have been taking a small pill each day. This reduced my blood pressure to an acceptable level. However (like many), I discovered some side effects that weren’t stated in the literature. Nonetheless, essentially the only option of getting off “the pill” is the return of high blood pressure. And so, like others, I continue with the practicality of taking a pill.

    The “Church” is so wrapped up in its fine points about contraception that they have failed to understand that most people don’t get these differences. The “Church” spends a lot of time substantiating its position in highly detailed and lofty treatises while most folks just shrug it off and try to get on with the practical side of just living.

    Perhaps the issue is not so much methods of birth control, but how one lives a Christian life. What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?

    In pre-V2 days, we were taught that Catholicism was the ONLY way to heaven. But post V2, Catholics are more open to other Christians who often have more liberal views. So if non-Catholics can go to heaven, then it seems logical that anyone who believes and lives similarly also can reasonably assume they are on the road to heaven. Thus, we end up with members who have little idea of what it means to be Catholic and it really doesn’t matter to them (especially since it all comes down to them and God anyway).

    So we can debate the theologies of BC, abortion, marriage/divorce, sexual orientation, war, capital punishment, etc., etc. but most Catholics in the USA don’t really care anymore. They feel comfortable with their own individual choices because that is the American way now plus they see many bishops and parish priests and nuns who openly articulate and promote and tolerate anti-Church positions (e.g., communion to politicians who support abortion).

    This is further reinforced by the notion that our goal in life is to get to heaven (instead of loving God with our whole heart, soul, and mind). This all fits in nicely with the materialistic and me first attitude so prevalent in our society today as well as the notion of the salvation of the individual (i.e., "I, alone. am responsible for my life and my judgment").

    Therefore, the root of the issue, in my opinion, is that most people have no idea what it means to live as a Catholic/Christian. This has become merely a personal preference and no one must dare to judge (thus, all behavior becomes relative). Thankfully, there are some in the Church who are trying to revive Catholic Christianity but there are still many “idiot” shepherds (Ezek 34) who are causing the flock to stray.

    A good shepherd is needed. "Lord, Son of David, have pity on us. Let our eyes be opened." [Mt 20:31.33]

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    1. fRED - I am sorry that priest winked at you. That was not an appropriate or accurate response. In line with what Brianna has been saying, I believe most folks *can* grasp the finer details of this issue and many do. Also, regarding your analogy of blood pressure meds... fertility is not a disease that needs medical treatment. Left alone, our fertility is a part of our health. Natural methods allow our fertility to stay healthy (or help identify health problems that need treatment). The Pill breaks our fertility so that it doesn't work anymore. High blood pressure is a disorder or illness that needs correcting. The analogy doesn't quite work.

      I am also curious as to why you think NFP would somehow "prevent procreation" during a marital act. How? With NFP, if you are not ready for a child, you abstain completely from marital acts for a brief time; you don't change the act itself (thus honoring the dignity of the act). When you do engage in a marital act, nothing alters that act to prevent conception. As Leila pointed out, means and end matter... it's not just the end result of "no baby" that is taken into consideration.

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  57. fRED, I don't have time right now to address all the many different points you raise, but I will say that the Church teaches that there is a very big moral difference between NFP and contraception.

    There are many Catholics who see the difference clearly, as well.

    Because some Catholics (even many) don't grasp the difference doesn't affect the veracity of the claim. The difference, as some may not realize, is not in the "end" (postponing a pregnancy), but in the means. Both means and end (and intent) must be moral for an act to be moral. Any act. Contraception is an evil means to a licit end. Not so, NFP, as we are morally allowed to take advantage of the natural rhythms of infertility that God put in place. It's his design we are respecting, and using self-control and sacrifice to respect that design. Unlike contraception.

    Part of being Catholic, and accepting the authority of the Church (which was delegated by Christ) is accepting those teachings which we don't necessarily grasp. God often then gives the grace to see it, after a docile acceptance.

    Tell me if this makes sense to you:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/03/important-follow-up-to-natural-family.html

    More later, on your other points. Blessings!

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  58. Ooops, I've been hitting reply this whole time. dang it!

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  59. Thanks, guys, for putting the comments at the end! I know it's a pain, but otherwise it takes me forever to find the comment (I read them initially in my email inbox. If I came back here to read new comments, I would never find them; I'd have to look at each comment from the beginning). And, once the comments spill to the second page, it's really impossible to find them. So, the newer comments at the end really help. Sorry, it's a blogger thing. It didn't used to have the "reply" option unless I wanted it.

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  60. I will witness that NFP was the first step towards my conversion. I wasn't Catholic when I got married, but I agreed to use NFP because my DH is Catholic. It very clearly demonstrated to me that what the Church teaches is the best for us, NOT what the world teaches. Praise God! And, although some NFP methods don't require labor-intensive charting, we use a chart and my DH does the recording--I don't want to feel like I'm driving the train alone.

    Some Catholic couples want to avoid children, or more children, because they are afraid. Maybe they don't think they can afford another child, maybe they don't think they have the energy, maybe they have marriage problems, who knows? But it's not helpful to warn someone who is already trying to follow Church teaching that they might be sinning through their fears. If they need admonition, I'm sure there are other faults that can be illuminated! Haha. We should be praying that their fears or difficulties be lifted.

    It's good to shed light on the fact that any good thing can be used selfishly, and that we as Catholics are called to try and root out our own selfishness through prayer, reflection, and confession. However, it seems to be easy to wound people in this area that is extremely intimate between the husband and wife. Nobody can know another couple's circumstances, whether they are infertile or having marriage troubles, extended family requiring support, health problems, or any other number of things. We should assume the best, and it will help us all to be more cheerful, while not discouraging people who are honestly trying.

    fRED, on who can be saved--did the Catechism change pre- and post-VII? I only know the current version, which seems to say that non-Catholics can go to heaven. 848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”338 (1260)

    Great discussion everyone, and wonderful post Leila. Blessings!

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  61. fRED, Sarah is right… the blood pressure analogy doesn't work. Fertility is not a disease or a pathology. We treat diseases and pathologies with medicine and pills and surgery. We don't take healthy body functions and derail them, and call that "health". Contraception is the opposite of fertility health. It makes healthy fertility break and go wrong. Same with surgical mutilation of healthy reproductive organs (sterilization).

    Forgive me, but for the rest of your statement, you lament that Catholics don't really know what it means to be a Catholic, but then you simultaneously state that you don't believe what the Church teaches, even almost pooh-poohing that teaching. It seems incongruent, no? Also, why would you put the word "Church" in quotes like that?

    I see that you are struggling, but the Church is saying the same thing she always has. The job of the Catholic (what it "really means to be a Catholic") is obedience, docility and trust. If you have that, the rest will fall into place.

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  62. I'm sorry I can't comment on every comment. I truly thank all of you, and I am reading every word. And again, thanks for remembering to put the comments at the very end of this thread, and not hit "reply".

    fRED, here is something that discusses what the Church teaches about non-Catholics and salvation, in addition to what Amanda said:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/12/can-non-catholics-be-saved.html

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  63. Sorry I hit reply! I didn't think about it since the button was there :/

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  64. We can't possibly learn every aspect of what marriage is in one premarital course. It develops over time and through experiences. It seems to be from reading these comments that premarital counseling and NFP classes do talk a lot about marriage and theology. It's up to the couple to keep seeking and studying marriage theology throughout their marriage.

    When I read in my NFP book that contraception can cause abortions I was completely convinced to never use it. I read in my NFP book about the harmful side effects of birth control that were never presented to me in school or my OBs office visit. Would a marriage theology class talk about that first thing? They should, because learning that your pills you've been taking every day for 10 years has been poisoning you and increasing your chance of cancer, you start to listen to other alternatives. My husband was convinced 100% to stop contraception when he read what it was doing to my body. He didn't have to mull it over. Now if we had just been presented with marriage theology then I'm sure we would have taken longer to stop using contraception.

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  65. Oops, I too have been hitting "reply"! Sorry!

    Lena - another resource is Carl Anderson's "Called to Love" (http://www.amazon.com/Called-Love-Approaching-John-Theology/dp/0770435742/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357783367&sr=1-1&keywords=catechesis+on+human+love)

    Although... if you haven't tried to read "Love and Responsibility" yet, I say give it a try. My husband is not a big reader (at least not of theology), and has a very linear, literal brain, however he found L&R a very easy to follow read. And I too was surprised at how easy it was for me. I am very glad I read it.

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  66. Leila-
    Read your post at http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/03/important-follow-up-to-natural-family.html. Contraception as sexual bulimia – Hahaha (very clever and apt).

    I “get” how the Church tries to differentiate between NFP and artificial BC but I don’t think it makes a lot of sense which is probably why so many ignore it. I see it as the church hedging against its position of “divine” BC. It is throwing a bone to those who still want to officially remain part of the church but practice BC. I see it as the same as annulments (which “coincidentally” increased around the time of HV and BC). I see both NFP and annulments as examples of the Church fudging in an attempt to maintain membership.

    CCC 2366 states that the Church teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life. But then with CCC 2368 the fudging begins when the spouses are given permission to space the births of their children as long as they have “just reasons” and their behavior conforms to the “objective criteria of morality.”

    These are fine sounding words but reasonably intelligent people quickly pick up on the ambiguity. Periodic continence is validated in CCC 2370 as being in conformity with the “objective criteria of morality.” But then we are told that “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil.” On the face of it, it would seem that this standard of evil would also include periodic continence since its intent is to avoid procreation.

    Couple this ambiguity with more ambiguity and chaos about what the Church teaches but actually lives (eg., "just" war, pro-abortion clergy, etc.) and it’s no wonder that so many ignore the official position (pun intended). For many, just because the Church says so is not enough.

    I am not trying to rationalize or justify artificial birth control but neither can I support NFP as a means “spacing births.” I understand the limitations of the analogy of meds vs the pill but my point was that is how many perceive the issue.

    As one of 12 kids, I saw how my parents had faith in God to provide and He saw us through. Nowadays, people need to space their kids (and limit to 1 or 2) in order to have that bigger house, annual vacation, more expensive car, etc. In the context of so-called global warming crisis, there are plenty of excuses to limit the number of children. Curiously, this is typically not offset by increased charitable donations and volunteering.

    Sorry, but mark me as in favor of trust in God. I am trying to point out the larger issue of living a Christian life but it seems like many are missing that point and instead lauding the benefits of NFP (which I concur). I won't take up any more space on this issue but thanks for the discussion.

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  67. fRED - the Church has never taught that spacing children was wrong - ever. So all the years prior to HV and BC when divorces were lower, Catholics were still living according the standard that spacing children is okay. Modern "NFP" adds a little more information to the process, but spacing children has *always* been okay according to the Church (for example, the natural method of spacing by nursing has been around since Adam and Eve). So I don't think NFP or HV can really be to blame here. Also, regarding "rendering procreation impossible", it's my understanding once again that they are talking about individual marital acts... not simply periodic abstinence. Is it wrong for a couple to decide to watch a movie instead of engage in the marital act? It would be hard to argue that the couple is being immoral. They are not corrupting the marital act by watching a movie. They are simply not engaging in it, period. Periodic abstinence is even in the Bible. Birth control is novel in that it literally disturbs the very marital act... it prevents the person's body from functioning as designed and thwarts the unity of the couple engaging in it. Early forms of birth control were less effective than more modern ones but all BC is disordered (whereas natural methods work *with* the natural order/design of our bodies).

    I agree that nowadays the fear of children and focus on materialism are huge problems. Leila's post even acknowledged that one *can* space children with selfish motivations. But spacing children (which is really the issue here), is not inherently wrong.

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  68. fRED, you're not making sense. How does NFP interfere with the marital act? In other words, how can an act be interfered with if there is no act taking place?

    Artificial contraception works against God's design for our bodies. NFP works with it. Boiled down, it's that simple. Artificial contraception injects something artificial and unnatural into the marital act -- a barrier (condoms), a metal device (IUD), synthetic hormones (the Pill), surgical instruments (sterilization), etc.

    NFP does none of that. It only provides information, and then it is up to the couple to discern whether or not to engage in the fully procreative and unitive marital act.

    If the woman happens to be in the infertile phase of her cycle when they engage in the marital act, she is in that phase by nature and God's design, not by any doing of her own or her husband's. The act is kept sacred and intact and unaltered by anything artificial before, during, or after it takes place.

    Sorry, but mark me as in favor of trust in God.

    But you don't trust His Church to teach correct doctrine in terms of marriage and spacing births? How is that logical?

    Here's what I don't think you get - "spacing births" IS NOT MORALLY WRONG. The Church teaches it is morally licit to space births. If your intentions are selfish (motive), or if you use artificial contraception (means), then you run into problems. But the end of spacing births is not objectively wrong.

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  69. I understand what you're saying Fred. I think we need to keep reading marriage theology all throughout our marriage so we are open to life and the purpose of marriage.

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  70. Also, fRED, I encourage you to read the following: Is NFP A Heresy? by Fr. Brian Harrison. The Church has said that periodic continence is licit to space births since long before NFP was proposed as a an area of study.

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  71. I think we can trust God that he made our fertility ordered, and not random. If he didn't want us to know how our bodies work, then fertility would be completely random.

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  72. Also, regarding annulments... declarations of nullity are not "Catholic divorce" but necessary acknowledgements of reality. The Church has to have a way to define whether a Sacrament was validly performed. This process has been abused in modern times (and probably throughout history), but just because the process has been abused doesn't mean the Church can throw out declarations of nullity. I don't say this lightly... my parents' marriage was declared null, and I was never thrilled about it.

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  73. fRED, right now I am making conception impossible. I am sitting at a computer, not having marital relations with my husband. There is no way conception is happening. Am I in sin?

    Other have made the point, but really think about that.

    I want to ask you a basic question, if you will allow me: Does the Church teach rightly and infallibly on issues of faith and morals (the Deposit of Faith)? Or do you believe that the Church is fallible when it comes to morality and moral reasoning?

    I guess I'm not sure what you think the Church is, what her role is, and what your role as a Catholic is.

    Also, forget NFP, but just generally, the basis of moral reasoning is that for an act to be moral, the ends and means (and the intent of the actor) must be moral. I think you are confusing ends and means.

    It is not (nor has it ever been) intrinsically immoral to space births. It is not (nor has it ever been) intrinsically immoral to not have sex. But it has always been immoral to use contraception, or to in any way defile or deform or change the nature of the actual sex act.

    When one abstains, there is no sex act at all. Nothing is being defiled, distorted, deformed. The nature of the sex act is not being altered, because there is no sex act.

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  74. Thank you for the book recommendations. I did try reading Love & Responsibility, and just did not have the fortitude to slowly plod through it.

    One of the many things I do not like about today's society is that people think it's perfectly fine to question others about their reproductive plans or that to comment on family size. It is not. It is RUDE, and it is very, very personal.

    Why do people want to stop at two children? Why is two the magic number? That's a rhetorical question. As an only child, I say the more the merrier. I've written about being an only child. That's just how things turned out. It's not the end of the world.

    I hate when people ask others is a pregnancy is planned, an oops or a mistake! Again, that's nobody's business. That's rude. My mother use to say that there are no mistakes, just surprises.

    From my perspective, having sex according to a chart to try to conceive a child sounds more like a job and nothing like romance and love. I don't think charting is wrong. Once I read a book about fertility signs and starting keeping track of signs and cycles, I came to appreciate the wonderfulness of my body. It's cool to learn about one's body.

    I think it takes a lifetime to learn about the mysteries and wonder and applications and deepness of our Catholic faith and scripture. Hopefully it all comes together in the end and in Heaven.

    Natural Family Planning has the phrase "family planning" in it, so it sure sounds like a method of birth control.



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  75. "Those who use NFP should be encouraged, not be scolded or have their motives questioned."

    Yes!

    I would also add that couples who are charting and trying NFP, even if they are still occasionally using contraception, should be encouraged. NFP IS "like jumping off a thousand-foot cliff", and some couples may feel like they descend the wall more slowly. Giving up hormonal contraception for charting is by itself saying no to the culture that treats fertility as a disease and yes to respecting women's bodies and our sexuality. Even an imperfect response is opening the door to God and should be encouraged.

    I believe John Paul II said charting well was a virtue. It gives couples the knowledge they need to be able to carry out their discernment of when to have children. It allows spouses to become "co-creators with God".

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  76. Wayward son, I like this: "Even an imperfect response is opening the door to God and should be encouraged."

    fRED, when you said this, "I see both NFP and annulments as examples of the Church fudging in an attempt to maintain membership" it made me chuckle, since there are millions upon millions who have left the Church because of the teachings on contraception and divorce and remarriage. So, who would the Church be appealing to, to maintain membership? Not a very good tactic, if that's their goal! ;)

    Also, please remember that declarations of nullity are just that: A declaration that the sacrament never happened. This can also happen with other sacraments, including Holy Orders (if they were invalid) or even baptism (wrong matter or form?). So, it's not a ploy, it's a real, true thing. Sometimes, despite appearances, there is no sacrament. And that determination is the jurisdiction of the Church.

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  77. I spent the last hour reading all the comments on this post. Thank you to all (most especially Leila!) for the opportunity to "sit in" on the conversation.

    NFP has been a surprisingly difficult concept for me to accept. I used to be a Protestant who believed strongly in providentialism. It made perfect sense to my husband and me that family planning came down to one thing: trust in God. For five years of marriage we've remained open to life. I'm pregnant with our third child. Life is good and we're very blessed by God.

    For people like us, new devout Catholics with a deeply providentialist "Quiverful" mentality in our recent past, it actually IS quite difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that spacing our children is objectively... okay. I do understand that NFP is not the same as contraception, as there is no interference during the act itself. I do struggle a bit when I imagine ourselves saying "no" to intimacy during a fertile period with the specific intention to avoid having a child, no matter the motive behind it. Someone above called it "harnessing our fertility." That's what I fear is wrong.

    At the end of the day though, I know two things are true. 1) If the Church teaches it, its true. It's ME that is the problem, so I continue to learn. 2) Deep down, the Catholic concept of openness to life is slowly making more sense to me than providentialism. Perhaps God gave us cycles for a reason! Perhaps God does indeed allow us to have a voice in the matter, just as He does in other matters which involve both trust and human discernment(i.e. tithing, money management, etc.). Little by little, I feel my moral compass being corrected from an overly-binding "don't-think-just-have-sex" lifestyle to one that grants us an active role in creation with God.

    And as soon as I get all of THIS worked out in my head, I will begin the arduous task of determining exactly what is and what isn't "serious reason" to postpone pregnancy. I'm very type-A and like standardization, so this will force me into some serious introspection and discernment. Sometimes I do wish there was a list! :P How weird am I?

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    1. Christina, that was beautiful to read, thanks for sharing :)

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  78. Hello. I'm sorry but I think you are spreading error, and deceiving yourself. And that's sad because otherwise you are a very good Catholic (ready to take the next step and to start going to some Traditional Latin Mass). Please, for the sake of your own soul and of all those who read your blog, do read all of Dr. Jay Boyd's posts about NFP which you can find in her blog 'Philothea on Phire.' The fact that Mother Teresa and her daughters teach NFP doesn't mean anything and it doesn't speak in favor of NFP, as they (yes, including Mother Teresa) also spread the errors of modern Ecumenism. They were children of Vatican II in many ways that are not precisely good ways. NFP is another of those children. The fact that learning NFP is required in your Diocese doesn't really mean anything, as most dioceses are incredibly liberal nowadays. Please, do read the posts. I am a priest. I'll be praying for you and remembering you in my daily Mass.

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    1. Catholic teaching on the licitness of NFP (and its predecessor, rhythm) dates back to when it was first theorized in 1853.

      http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6452

      Pius XI approved of "rhythm" in Casti Connubii. (The Sacred Penitentiary issued a statement clarifying this shortly thereafter and Pius XII quoted him as doing so.) Pius XII spoke multiple times about the morality of rhythm vs. the immorality of contraception.

      This was all in the Latin Mass, pre-Vatican II Catholic Church.

      And there are multiple statements in support of it from Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.

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  79. "I do struggle a bit when I imagine ourselves saying "no" to intimacy during a fertile period with the specific intention to avoid having a child, no matter the motive behind it."

    I agree and feel the same as Cristina on this. I have also struggled with the same issue--especially now that I cannot have more children due to my health. Regardless of my health, I feel a lot of guilt and sadness as I puposely avoid having children. It feels like I am rejecting one of my future children. People may scoff at this, but it's just how I feel.

    I also agree w/ Cristina when she says she understands that the Church is wrong and that it's she that needs to learn more--I also realize that my feelings are coming from something I haven't yet learned, so if anyone has some insights to help us with this (or anyone else for that matter--I have a feeling a lot of women struggle with this), that would help.
    Thanks~

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    1. Sorry, didn't mean to say that the Church is wrong, that was a typo. I meant to say that we understand that the Church is CORRECT--it is we who misunderstand. Thanks for pointing that out to me, Leila!

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  80. My family (myself, husband, three small boys) is currently in RCIA to become Catholic. It is so good to hear a perspective that doesn’t harp that you have to be a living saint or jump out of the boat. It is also good to hear the Truth. NFP is a sensitive issue for me. My husband and I are in totally different places on it. I am totally against birth control pills now, and, by an odd Grace of God, my body could not tolerate them, although it took many years to figure that out. (An important, but completely side issue, is how many women have mental and physical ailments that are directly related to their BCP, but have doctors and a culture that would either never tell them or flat out deny the possibility.)

    Before exploring the Catholicism, my husband and I agreed he would get a vasectomy after two kids. Our third son, only eight months old, was an unexpected blessing, but my husband was adamant about the vasectomy. As we were exploring the Catholic Church, I gently asked him about it and NFP. He insisted we would not be good for NFP and that what he learned in his Catholic boarding school was that contraception was one of those “highly recommended” Church teachings and that the Church “understands” if people use contraception due to financial or health reasons. We are really in neither category, though my husband believes we are in the “financial” category. So, anyway, I was really confused and prayed, and decided I needed to let him be the head of the family. So I gave my blessing for his vasectomy, with reservations, saying if he felt it was best for the family, then he had to do what he had to do. And he did. So now he is all excited that we can “have fun without worrying about a baby”, but that mentality just doesn’t appeal to me so much. I regret what’s been done, but what can I do now?

    So where do we go from here? I’m still working on that. I still have sooo much to learn and I do pray that I will be released from other ignorance from my past so that I can go forward in Truth. I trust my husband to God and pray that as our boys grow he (and I) will learn the Truth and pass that on to them instead of misguided half-truth. I obviously won’t be practicing NFP, so in some people’s eyes my husband and I will never be “good” Catholics. But please don’t kick us out of the boat! Help us to grow in Truth! This brings me back (after a long circle) to your post. Please encourage the people who are trying to follow the Truth, no matter NFP or some other area. Teach the Truth without shame. And for goodness sakes, don’t kick them out of the boat if they don’t have it perfect right away. Our culture provides a strong current these days, and someone tossed away might not make in back onboard.

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  81. Fr. Edmund Campion, thanks for your vote of confidence.

    Leila, you won't start a riot, because your view is the most common one on NFP, I think. Read Fr. William Gardner's articles on NFP, too; he is very gentle and pastoral, but makes the point that "NFP is licit, but perhaps not virtuous". It's not about scolding or making people using NFP feel guilty; it's about teaching the truth. The truth is, NFP used to prevent pregnancy takes something away from God.

    Those who are saying "I do struggle a bit when I imagine ourselves saying 'no' to intimacy during a fertile period with the specific intention to avoid having a child, no matter the motive behind it" - that struggle is your conscience speaking. Listen to it.

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  82. Hello, Fr. EC and Jay! Could you please cite the official Church teaching for the unvirtuousness of NFP? Or the error of what Mother Teresa did? If Mother T was spreading error, why is she up for canonization by the Church? Are you of the opinion that Vatican II was invalid, by the way? Or that the current Pope is not legitimate? Thanks so much! Fr. EC, who is your bishop or superior, if you don't mind my asking? It's all well and good that you give your opinion and cite the opinion of others, but at the end of the day, I want to hear from the Church, who trumps all private opinions on this.



    Christina, thank you for that beautiful witness! You are not "weird" at all, as I have heard many folks say they wish there was a list, ha ha! But the Church in her wisdom does not micromanage us, nor step on our freedom in those areas where we are free to discern. Simcha Fisher had a great post on that issue of a "list":

    http://simchafisher.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/why-doesnt-the-church-just-make-a-list/

    Becky, I think you would love this, too!

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  83. Nicole, first, welcome to the Church!! You are not alone in what happened to you. I had an RCIA student who just "knew" (at age 26ish?) that she and her new husband would never hear anything from us (the teachers or the Church) about contraception that could possibly sway her, so she decided to go ahead and get her tubes tied (they each had at least one child from a previous marriage), before RCIA got underway. By the time she was through with the classes, she was filled with regret. I assured her that the Church did not obligate her to reverse her tubal (though certainly she could!) and that confession was enough (she had been baptized as a Protestant, if I remember correctly). She did.

    Fast forward about ten years, and I get an email telling me that she is pregnant! She and her husband had decided to take that step and she reversed the tubal, and got pregnant on Mother's Day! She has a little boy now with her husband. She was fearful in all of this, but God gave her the grace to overcome the fear, and what a reward!!

    I also have two friends, personally, whose husbands had vasectomies, and then later had them reversed, and welcomed more children. Again, there is no obligation to do that, but it's amazing how grace works on the heart, over time.

    So glad to have you in the Church! You are a real blessing to her. :)

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    1. To clarify, she confessed the tubal back then, but it was years later that they did the reversal.

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  84. Aaaannnd, a little comic relief from our friend Dr. Stacy, Catholic convert extraordinaire, scientist, loving wife, and mom of many:

    http://www.catholicsistas.com/2012/08/07/charting-is-for-faithless-sissies/

    ;)

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  85. Here is a quote from Benedict XVI about how learning NFP can be important for a marriage, how it takes nothing away from the sexual relationship, and how such self-knowledge and self-control in a marriage can be virtuous.

    "It is true, moreover, that serious circumstances may develop in the couple's growth which make it prudent to space out births or even to suspend them. And it is here that knowledge of the natural rhythms of the woman's fertility becomes important for the couple's life. The methods of observation which enable the couple to determine the periods of fertility permit them to administer what the Creator has wisely inscribed in human nature without interfering with the integral significance of sexual giving. In this way spouses, respecting the full truth of their love, will be able to modulate its expression in conformity with these rhythms without taking anything from the totality of the gift of self that union in the flesh expresses. Obviously, this requires maturity in love which is not instantly acquired but involves dialogue and reciprocal listening, as well as a special mastery of the sexual impulse in a journey of growth in virtue."

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/pont-messages/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20081002_isi_en.html

    That is, if you accept Benedict XVI as an actual Pope. :-)

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  86. waywardson, that is a beautiful quote, and speaks to the issue perfectly! Thank you!

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  87. Leila, if you read my posts on NFP, you will find that I cite Church teaching and do not rely on my personal opinion. Fr. Gardner does the same.

    I do not consider Vatican II "invalid", but I think there are some issues that need to be resolved. There are a lot of documents, and they are not all dogmatic. By the way, do you think that the documents prior to Vatican II are still valid?!

    And I am not a sedevacantist by any means!

    There are a lot of comments here, so I'm not going to write a whole post and paste it in here! I have written thousands of words on the topic already on my blog, so anyone interested can visit me there and follow my line of reasoning. http://philotheaonphire.blogspot.com. See the "NFP" tab at the top for a list of NFP posts. A good place to start is with the very first post, "NFP and the Duty of Motherhood" (it's at the bottom of the list) which is a transcription of a sermon by an FSSP priest who cites Church teaching throughout his presentation.

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  88. Jay, it's super hard for me to go to other blogs and then comment back here again, so if you could put some of the Church citations here, that would be helpful for this particular discussion. Just the Church quotes would be fine. What do you make of Pope Benedict's quote, from waywardson?

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  89. Jay, sorry, I didn't answer your question: I believe that the Deposit of Faith has never been contradicted or reversed in all of Church history, but that there has of course been development of doctrine, deeper understandings of truths, different emphases during different eras, etc. (Disciplines are changeable and reversable, but doctrines of faith or the moral law are not.)

    If you show me what documents you are talking about, and what their context is and level of authority, that would be helpful.

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  90. Dr. Boyd,

    I'm a little confused. Is it your belief that the Church has taught error as doctrine in regards to spacing births?

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  91. Although there are selfish ways of using NFP (as Leila acknowledges), I think more people need to hear the message that the Church recognizes that there are times when it would be prudent, if prayerfully discerned, that a couple should not attempt to conceive a(nother) child. And, that women are made by God to be fertile only certain days, and that by observation those days can be identified.

    The message the world sends is that it's irresponsible to have more children, and that every woman of reproductive age needs to be on the Pill unless she's actively trying to conceive. If Catholic families could shine like a joyful light through the world's incorrect messages, it would be a stronger witness than discussing how NFP is harmful. There may be some that need to hear about how NFP could be used for selfish reasons, but the much larger audience is the one who needs to see families living their Faith with joy, and needs to be encouraged even in baby steps away from the contraceptive mindset.

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  92. I have a few questions for Jay Boyd and her cohort. Is it "unvirtuous" to use NFP to try and achieve a pregnancy if a couple is infertile/subfertile? What about to help diagnose and treat a reproductive disorder which would be otherwise ignored by the secular medical community? I have issues for which if I went to a non NFP- doctor, the "solution" would be birth control pills to "regulate". Also, how can information be unvirtuous? NFP is information, nothing more, nothing less. That's why it is used for a variety of purposes (to achieve pregnancy, diagnose reproductive disorders, and to avoid pregnancy). Do you think women should remain ignorant of potential medical problems in order to not be "unvirtuous" by using NFP?
    Do you recognize mental illness as a valid reason for the use of NFP? Andrea Yeats had five children in rapid succession with post-partum depression that got worse with each child. Then, she murdered all of them by drowning them in the bathtub. Were she and her husband "virtuous" to continue getting pregnant when she knew she had serious mental health issues that would make her a danger to her children? Is that more "virtuous" than the use of NFP to space babies?
    One last question, Do you think God was wrong in the way He designed our bodies (with men being fertile all the time and women only being fertile for 24-48 hours per cycle)?

    Your theory has more holes than swiss cheese.

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  93. @Amanda
    Thank you for your post regarding prayerful discernment and prudence. Many of my friends have newborns and I can feel myself coming down with Baby Fever ;)
    It's sometimes difficult for me to see that avoiding pregnancy isn't selfish, especially when you know children are truly a blessing from God. NFP forces us to discern and discuss this. I know God has a plan for us and we believe He is calling us to wait a little longer. My mother said, "Preparing for pregnancy is like training for the Olympics." It's okay that I need some extra training time ;)
    I think it is important for other women to believe that God's plan for them is unique, and NFP is an effective tool for following that plan.

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  94. Sarah, you bring us back again to a point that keeps getting lost: That natural methods give us information about our health or lack thereof (as well as helps us to conceive). I would never have known of various health issues I had if my Dh and I hadn't learned a natural method before marriage. So many Catholic couples would not even know they needed to see a doctor if they hadn't started charting. First and foremost, NFP is simply information on how God designed us. The Pill - or any contraception - cannot give us that information. It also cannot help us conceive. To conceive, a person on contraception has to discontinue the use of it. Hence the term contra-ception ("against conception"). There is nothing "against conception" about simply understanding your fertility and the information can be vital to helping a couple conceive (or treat a myriad of health issues).

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  95. The truth is, NFP used to prevent pregnancy takes something away from God.

    Disagree.
    NFP uses no mechanism to take anything away from God's ultimate design. Nothing is used to obstruct or inhibit the chance for life to occur.

    Those who are saying "I do struggle a bit when I imagine ourselves saying 'no' to intimacy during a fertile period with the specific intention to avoid having a child, no matter the motive behind it" - that struggle is your conscience speaking. Listen to it.

    Disagree.
    A struggle doesn't imply a guilty conscience. A struggle implies confusion, cloudiness. And, I don't know about you, but in times of uncertainty, I like to apply the brakes, not the gas. Seeking clarity and peace before going ahead with the next pregnancy is not only wise, but is part and parcel of being a good steward.

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  96. Toni Ellen, that "baby fever" might be a very nice little sign from God!

    I have to say, I never "trained" for pregnancy, ha ha! My training came after the baby was born, and goes on to this day… 21 years and eight kids later. :)

    To the Sarahs, I am so grateful for our NFP-only doctors and practitioners! They are such a godsend, esp. to our infertile or suffering sisters. Cycle issues are so common, and it makes me sick that the vast majority of girls and women are told to go on the Pill, like a panacea. It's just standard practice, reflexive and unthinking. What a shame.

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  97. Awesome post!! I think the phrase "contraceptive mentality" should be banned from the Catholic blogosphere. Along with "grave" reasons. For the billionth time, the word is "serious!!"

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  98. sdecorla, agreed! I like the word "just" even better!

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  99. Ok. I have read every comment and I love all the discussion about the Magisterium, Church documents and what NFP really teaches. What I think is left out of the discussion is the purpose of children. When God rested on the seventh day, He never "created" again. He gave the planet and all the things on it the power of either 1. regeneration through seeds, i.e. plant life or 2. procreation. The purpose of human intercourse is to work with God to help him "fill" Heaven. There are no souls to worship Him for eternity unless we give our fiat. And no where do I see that ever discussed in NFP. I agree with Leila that often people use it for their own selfish purposes, and with that they view it as Catholic "contraception". It is merciful that God would give us knowledge to help us manage such an awesome responsibility; ease illness; and even achieve health. But with that knowledge comes the power to say, "I will not serve". I will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and be able to answer that I can account for all the souls He sent me and not the number I thought He wanted me to have. I tremble for the people who stop at 2 children because "it's expensive", or "I don't have room for more", or "my nerves are shot", or whatever else they think is "just cause". I know I can't discern clearly the Will of God on a myriad of important issues, let alone my single most important relationship with Him as co-creator of sweet little souls. I find it unimaginable every month on 3 fertile days that every couple that uses NFP is praying with each other to ask God to guide them to the marital bed, or not. If that is the case then sign me up, because that has to be a path straight to sanctification of unprecedented measure!

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    1. All of those reasons you listed are certainly serious reasons for some couples to avoid pregnancy. Not everyone can handle the same things. Maybe they would not be serious reasons for you, but they are for many. And it's definitely NOT just 3 fertile days - it's at least 10. And finally, how on Earth do you know if other couples are discerning God's will every month or not?!

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  100. In honor of my mom’s birthday today, I'd like to contribute one more comment. (My mom is the mother of 12 children and she remains a practicing RC).

    Much (or all) of the support expressed in the comments for NFP concerns the benefits to a woman (and sometimes her spouse) of the information learned from its practice. This is not the question and I don’t think anyone is seriously debating this. If anything, NFP should be part of a High School curriculum. I would also suggest a version of NFP to orient males. (There also appears to be very little info about male fertility or male cycles-no one talks about this).

    The issue in question is (from Leila’s Point #1) about the ability to use NFP with a “contraceptive mentality.” Leila contends that NFP does not fit the HV [14] definition so, therefore, NFP cannot be considered contraceptive and is never sinful, only selfish at worst.

    I disagree. There is no question that one of the strong selling points of NFPA for the overall Catholic population at large, especially the soon to be married, is as a method of birth control. Some, including the CCC, euphemistically refer to this as regulation of birth [CCC2368] in order to space the births of their children. HA! Look at the HV 14 definition again: contraception is defined as an action; it is specifically intended to prevent procreation; and it can be an end or a means. Therefore when NFP is used to avoid the potential for pregnancy it surely is a contraceptive act. NFP may not be a distinct, manufactured device but it surely has the same end in mind if used to avoid pregnancy.

    Leila’s Point #2 exhorts us to encourage the use of NFP and to abstain from anything that might make NFP users uneasy lest they be scared to leave the Church and/or return to the use of artificial contraception. My response is to question why Catholics have to encourage any type of family planning other than when a marriage occurs you should plan on a family. [I realize the concept of “family” in our society is pretty broad and sometimes even includes, informally, the pets; however, I am referring to the traditional definition of family].

    If Christianity is the “Good News” and Catholicism is the true church established by Christ, there should not be any fear of offending potential converts (or existing members). There should be so much joy and enthusiasm for our life with/in Christ that any potential doubts of the interested party are resolved. We have the Holy Spirit on our side. However, if we have to tread carefully so we don’t scare them away, something is not quite right.

    If we live as a light to the world, we won’t have to worry about attracting others. If we build it, they will come.

    The question of NFP is quite contraversial and emotional as indicated by the number of comments. But Catholics need the courage to step away from the secular world and its values. The HHS mandate is going to provide plenty of opportunity for those who are looking to be saints.

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  101. Look at the HV 14 definition again: contraception is defined as an action; it is specifically intended to prevent procreation; and it can be an end or a means. Therefore when NFP is used to avoid the potential for pregnancy it surely is a contraceptive act.

    fRED, you keep avoiding this question: WHAT ACT? What action is being used to prevent pregnancy with NFP? That's the whole point of NFP -- THERE IS NO ACT. The act does not take place. Abstaining from the act is not analogous to thwarting the act.

    If you believe that merely abstaining from the marital act is inherently immoral, does that mean that women are required to have sex every time they are in the same room with their husbands? Or is it only during fertile periods?

    Where is this command found in Church teaching? Does it apply when a woman is pregnant as well? What if a woman is having a medical issue and her doctor recommends no sex -- are we, as Catholics, disallowed from abstaining from sex in that case?

    Your belief opens quite the large can of worms.

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    1. JoAnna-
      Peace! The act is the whole process of NFP. NFP is not a passive process, it involves making observations, taking measurements, and interpreting data. And based on the information, a course of action can be determined. Abstaining is a conscious act. It takes will power.

      Non-catholics understand this, that's why NFP is commonly viewed as "Catholic birth control." It can be denied and theological documents cited but that is not how the rest of the world views it.

      And if we are to be a light to the world, they have to recognize our light. If they see Catholics practicing NFP and perceive it as BC, then NFP will be seen as hypocrisy and that will undermine an evangelization. I am reminded of Paul in 1Cor 8:8-13. "Make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. If someone sees you reclining at table in the temple of an idol, may not their conscience too, weak as it is, be 'built up' to eat the meat sacrificed to idols? Thus, the weak person is brought to destruction. Therefore, if food cause my firend to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause my friend to sin."

      The questions about medical issues, etc are straw arguements designed to show occasions when exceptions are prudent. However, I must caution that all medical advice is not the same. Ask Terry Schiavo.

      The only can of worms my position opens are for those who are looking for Catholic BC. NFP is optional not mandatory. The primary reason for the controversy over NFP, in my opinion, is because there is now widespread availability and acceptance of artificial BC and NFP appears to fit right in as another option. To use the cliche, if it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, it probably is a duck.

      I apologize for any of my comments that have been less than gracious. My intent is to be on the right way.

      In closing (from Rom 12:1-2], "I urge you therefore, friends, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect."

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  102. "a good mother" - where is your belief found in Church teaching? I know children are called the supreme gift of marriage, but I'm not aware of any teaching saying that we must try to conceive every cycle in case God attempts to send us a child.

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  103. NFP may not be a distinct, manufactured device but it surely has the same end in mind if used to avoid pregnancy.

    It is okay to avoid pregnancy. We're not called to be in a constant state of pregnancy. We're called to discern how large a family we are called to have.

    My response is to question why Catholics have to encourage any type of family planning other than when a marriage occurs you should plan on a family.

    But we're not called to plan it blindly. There are shifting factors to consider within every family. What was planned for yours won't necessarily work for mine. We don't rebuke people for being methodical in their decision process.

    If Christianity is the “Good News” and Catholicism is the true church established by Christ, there should not be any fear of offending potential converts (or existing members)

    It's not a "fear of offending converts". It is an exercise of tact and an extension of grace. We don't deluge people with a teaching that calls for a very clear moral and theological understanding, and a very direct bending of the will, and expect them to pony up without question or hesitation simply because they're Catholic.

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  104. Brianna, because my house is currently crawling with kids, let me ask one question at a time. You said this: "...I do believe there is a HUGE difference between artificial contraception and NFP…"

    What is the difference?

    (Also, could you put all the comments at the very end of the thread? Otherwise, I have a very hard time finding them. Thanks and sorry!)

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  105. JoAnna, great questions, and I hope fRED answers.

    fRED, you didn't answer my questions, I think. I had asked you why you get upset that people are not good Catholics, but then you don't accept the teachings of the Church, which is an obligation of a good Catholic. So, what gives?

    And, does everyone see that indulging in sex but defiling it and deforming its nature with contraception is different in kind from sacrificing sex if one is not prepared to welcome a child?

    The way some comments have gone, it sounds like folks are not discerning the difference.

    And Nubby is exactly right: It is NOT immoral to avoid a pregnancy. So, the ends of NFP and contraception may be the same (that's okay), but it's the means that are drastically different -- one means to the end is moral, one means to the end is not.

    Christian Morality 101: We simply must know the difference between ends and means.

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    1. Leila,

      I want to answer your question so you don't think I'm avoiding it. The short answer (I hope) is that I don't know anymore what it means to be a good Catholic. We now have Catholic BC (NFP), Catholic divorce (annulments), eucharist in the hand in some places and others not, eucharist with wine in some places and others not, pick your own sacrifice Fridays instead of meatless, yoga, celebrity priests, Catholic schools with only lay teachers and prayer is optional, catholics for choice/abortion, Catholics for War ("patriots"), diminishing Holy Days of Obligation, Catholic healthcare facilities that don't look any different from secular facilities, Pre-V2 or Post-V2, Latin or vernacular, Right to die or sustenance, etc. etc. etc. This is all over the place-Chaos!

      In the recent presidential election, the Catholic vote was spread all over (and surprisingly a lot for a pro-abortion candidate). And here we are debating NFP. Oh sure, there are the theological docs (e.g. CCC) but why must I be a Canon lawyer?

      I want to be part of a group that seeks to love God and be a blessing and a light to the world. It is hard to find that in a RC parish in the USA today. Being a RC to me is more than a bunch of papers that justifies my behavior.

      I'm exhausted by this exchange. No one has changed anyone's mind. Our positions are unchanged. Nothing has been solved, no progress made. Very little talk about God. In an intellectual way, it has been rather entertaining but it has used up a lot of time to read and respond with little to show.

      That's all for now.

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  106. fRED, the sin of Catholics causes scandal to the world. Not the knowledge and application of NFP. Sin and sin alone causes scandal. If you see your brother sinning, tell him privately. Using NFP is not a sin, so you needn't worry about those who do, or how NFP use looks to the world. In the world I live in, and considering the level of rejection of NFP and its inherent sacrifices, NFP use is not the scandal to the world, its only perceived as a scandal by those who reject the Church's teaching on NFP for some "higher" morality that even the Church does not hold. Now, that I think of it, that might actually be the scandal.

    We must never, ever hold ourselves higher than the Church and her own teachings. It's a sure way to find oneself outside the Church. I've seen it many, many times, and it breaks my heart.

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    1. "If they see Catholics practicing NFP and perceive it as BC, then NFP will be seen as hypocrisy and that will undermine an evangelization."

      fRED, this comment is troublesome, as it matters not one whit what the world perceives as hypocritical. Think about it. The world sees the Church's stance on abortion as hypocritical. The world sees the Church's stance on gay "marriage" as hypocritical. The world sees the Church's stance on male priesthood as hypocritical. What is that to us? It matters not. Only if we are truly being hypocritical is it a scandal and sin, and to believe that about NFP, then you will have to actually believe that the Church is sinful and hypocritical in her teachings on NFP and spacing births, etc.

      You don't really believe that, do you? What do you think of the Church and her teachings?

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  107. fRED, sorry, I just want to explore this some more.

    The Cross is a stumbling block and foolishness in the eyes the world. The moral teachings of the Church are a stumbling block and foolishness in the eyes of the world.

    Sin (the sin of Catholics) is also stumbling block and will undermine evangelization.

    The people we want to evangelize perceive all these things written above, and each or all of these things may turn them from the Church.

    Into which category do you place Natural Family Planning?

    I'm mean the question sincerely. I am trying to understand and get clarity. Thanks!

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  108. Note to any new readers: As we approach 200 comments, beware that at 200 (I think) the page stops loading automatically, and you have to actually click the "load more" that is at the end of the comments. It is a real pain, and most people just assume the conversation has stopped. To avoid this confusion, be sure to "subscribe by email" at the bottom of every post you are interested in, and you will get the comments emailed to you, so you won't miss a one!

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  109. fRED, I understand that you are frustrated, and I think the problem lies to some extent in the difference between doctrine and discipline. You are not alone in not realizing the distinction, but it's absolutely crucial that you learn, as I had to. It will clear up so much:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/09/catholics-you-must-understand-this.html

    I hope that's a good starting point to clearing up the chaos you are feeling/seeing.

    The principles and truths surrounding human sexuality and the sacredness of marriage are part of the moral law (doctrine/truth), and do not have anything to do with canon law (discipline/changeable).

    Trust the Church. If she teaches something regarding faith and morals, OR when she binds you to a holy day or a day of fasting, trust her. She can be trusted. She was founded by Christ Himself, and is guided by the Holy Spirit.

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  110. PS: I am begging you all, please, please, please, unless you are correcting your own typo, please put your comments at the very end of the thread. You can cut and paste a quote you are responding to, and that would be helpful, but please don't hit "reply" to respond.

    Blogger stinks.

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  111. "a good mother would", you said:

    But with that knowledge comes the power to say, "I will not serve". I will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and be able to answer that I can account for all the souls He sent me and not the number I thought He wanted me to have.

    And the person you are responsible for, the only discernment you can do, is for yourself. No one else. You have absolutely no right or knowledge to discern for someone else or for their circumstances. Not for their use of NFP, not for their buying a house, not for their donating (or not donating) a kidney to a family member, not for their choosing marriage instead of priesthood, not for anything. You discern for yourself alone and your own situation.

    Wouldn't you agree?

    How on earth can you discern if another couple is sinning in using NFP? You do not have those types of powers, and neither do I. It is not our business to judge it.

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  112. Hello again. I hope that by now you all have read Dr. Jay Boyd's posts about NFP. If not, please do so because you may end up getting into Heaven in spite of NFP, but you will certainly not achieve holiness during your lifetime, and I guess that's what we all want, right?

    When did we become so smart that we actually started thinking that we can cheat and trick and deceive God Almighty? What fRED says about NFP and annulments and all that is the simple (oh, 'the simple', where art thou?) truth. Abandon youselves to His Providence. Stop making plans for yourselves and trust Him. He's quite smarter than we are, believe me. And His plans are always better for us than whatever we can imagine or design for ourselves. Abandon yourselves to Him. He does take care of the birds in the sky and the lilies of the field, doesn't He? Won't He take care of you and your children? This is the Truth that is a scandal to most people, even Catholics... This is the Truth that most people won't accept and will say it's madness, even Catholics. Simplicity has been banished from our lives.
    And He does need you (those who were called to marriage) to populate Heaven with souls. Whatever you do that may prevent that, you will have to answer for. The Sacrament of Matrimony gave you all the graces you need in order to have and raise as many children as God wants you to have (according to HIS plans), and whatever else you may need, He will provide. Abandon yourselves to Divine Providence. And you will find the true joy.

    God Bless you all. I know you are all well-intentioned. But seek the Truth. And remember that seeking comfort for this life (this short, fleeting, brief life) is the worst mistake we can make: it is the same as renouncing to be holy in this life, and that is the worst mistake anyone can make. I'll keep you in my prayers.

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  113. I'd like a providentialist to explain to me why they don't chart to take advantage of every fertile period by charting? You only have intercourse when the mood strikes? What happens when a married couple hits a rut and they don't feel like having sex? Are they sinning and are they selfish? A man can have physical access to his wife whenever he feels like it without ever having to ask himself if this would be good for his wife? He never asks himself " Is my wife healthy enough to get pregnant right now?" THAT sounds incredibly selfish. I am asking honestly without sarcasm.

    It's not healthy for women to get pregnant every year. It takes time for your body to recover. Even when you exclusively nurse you are only protected 98% against a pregnancy for the first 6 months. I got pregnant 4 months after my first pregnancy and we only did it 5x!

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  114. If not, please do so because you may end up getting into Heaven in spite of NFP, but you will certainly not achieve holiness during your lifetime

    Where does the Church teach that people who use NFP will never achieve holiness? Citation from papal documents, please?

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  115. "Edmund Campion", could you tell me what your authority is to determine/interpret the moral law? You seem to have set yourself up above the Magisterium. Thanks so much in advance for your credentials.

    Bartley, great questions.

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  116. Leila - I agree with what you said and I said it my very first comment as well - we are not called to stand in a position that is more extreme than the Church.
    Fr. EC - I really wish you would stop. With all due respect you are completely out of order and entirely misguided. I read your last entry with my jaw on the floor. So full of misinformation and bizarre judgement. Could you please seek the Truth?

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  117. fRED, I still don't understand. How does me taking my temperature in the morning or checking my cervical mucous or testing my urine with a fertility monitor act to prevent pregnancy before, during, or after the marital act?

    What if I take my temperature during the day because I feel like I have a fever, and I end up having intercourse with my husband later that evening? Will I somehow be preventing pregnancy if I do so? How does that work, biologically? Can his sperm detect the fact that I had a thermometer in my mouth at some point that day and self-destruct?

    I'm honestly asking because I can't figure out the science or biology behind your theory, that checking my fertility signs and recording them somehow alters the very nature of the sexual act regardless of when my husband and I choose to engage in it.

    My husband and I have also used NFP to discern the optimal time for conception to occur - five of my six pregnancies were achieved in that way. If NFP somehow alters the marital act to prevent conception, how was that possible?

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  118. I could take "Campions" statements apart one by one, but let's start here:

    "Abandon youselves to His Providence." Only in the area of procreation, or in all areas? In other words, should I ? What about looking both ways before I cross the street? If I have cancer, can I treat it? I want to be very clear about what you mean by this statement.

    "Stop making plans for yourselves and trust Him." I plan to send my kids to a good school and then to college. I plan to save for retirement. I plan to get a physical this year. I plan out my budget. Should I stop all planning, then? Should I stop making any choices at all? Or again, are you talking only about procreation?

    You were the one who essentially called Mother Teresa a heretic, right?

    Why do you set yourself in opposition to Mother Church? I would really appreciate your credentials.

    Also, are you a sedevacantist?

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    1. Sorry, that blank spot should read, "Should I refuse to wear a seatbelt?"

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  119. KK, that's the problem exactly. I lived it myself.

    When I was full of zeal when I found the Church (after being an ignorant cradle Catholic), I almost did the whole "in the Church through one door, then out the Church through the other door" by almost falling for the schismatic line of the LeFebvre types. I had come from such laxity, that their arguments seemed to make sense: The more strenuous, the more rigid, the more opposed to any leeway, the better! I read all their literature, listened to their speeches. Even to the point where I started to question the wisdom, holiness, and theology of Pope John Paul II!

    I snapped out of it, praise God, but I remember well the indignation and judgement I felt toward good Catholics. Even the Pope "didn't get it", I thought! The Church and her teachings were so liberal, modernist, disconnected from what came before -- I truly believed that! I don't talk about that time very much, and thankfully it was short lived. But looking back, I am horrified. I know others who have "holied" themselves right out of the Church, but being above her and knowing more than she.

    There is a scary pride there, and when I recognized it in myself, I ran from it.

    There are two things every saint possessed: Obedience and humility. Please God, give me the grace for those virtues.

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  120. Well the Church has survived and been steadfast in it teachings through all kinds of crazy over the years so let's all just stay the course. The bottom line is that there is no actual backing within the moral law of the Church for the position of Fred or Fr. E.C. Aside from that, if a couple feels that they are being called to always be open to children and never use NFP as a way to postpone pregnancy that is all fine and good. As HV states - it is the discernment of the couple to make these decisions.

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  121. Whoa, was not even searching, and this article popped up on someone's facebook page. I think it's the perfect example of why we may never judge family size or spacing, and how hurtful it can be to very good and faithful folks when we do:

    http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/wait-do-you-only-have-two.html

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  122. Whew. Well, I after a long day (including teaching a natural method of family planning), I am finally caught up (I think) on reading the latest comments. I don't know if I can add much of value at this point, but I have to second the comment asking insight from a providentialist (or those who say family planning is immoral). Because I am having a hard time envisioning in a practical sense how one lives that out... is there some kind of mandate to be spontaneous? And if so, how long can a couple go without engaging in the marital act before they are "abstainers" and need to run to Confession? Is a woman allowed to acknowledge the existence of her cycle? (Because most women have a hard time ignoring the reality of their cycle even if they are not charting).

    I guess what also baffles me is that it seems some folks don't grasp that child spacing and periodic abstinence has been around since the beginning of humanity. NFP allows for more accuracy, but it's not like couples never considered or prayed about their readiness for a child/another child - and made sacrifices accordingly - before NFP arrived. The "traditional" approach comes off like to me like some odd obligation for couples to be together at least every x amount of days (or basically, to always be trying to conceive, which is just so weird and creepy).

    Also, from the perspective of one who has struggled with scruples, this admonition against ever abstaining or "planning" would drive me mad. Here's what my life would look like if I truly believed NFP was equivalent to the evils of contraception:

    "Oh no! My period arrived and we weren't together this month! (or wait... can I acknowledge that periods exist, or is that too close to tracking my cycle??? Oh no!!!) Was I, deep down, trying to selfishly contracept because it was a busy, tiring month, and I couldn't imagine another baby right now????". And on and on and on. I am tired just thinking about it. :)

    This sounds like a form of slavery to me, not the freedom of two unique individuals to express love to one another in the Sacrament of marriage.

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  123. Sooo...coming late to the party and really this isn't a substantive argument but...

    I wish there were more resources for helping couples make these decisions. Sometimes making the decision to be open to life again is scary - and it feels lonely (especially the postpartum period). I know NFP isn't required, I know that it can be used selfishly, but what I want is to know the will of God for my family. I know that requires prayer and prayer and MORE prayer, but with a 3mo I'm a little short on alone time!! :)

    Sooo lets all grab coffee together, ok? Thanks!!

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  124. Sarah, well said!!

    And Martha, there was a link in the comments somewhere to Simcha Fisher's post about "why don't they give us a list?" Hang on…

    Found it!!

    http://simchafisher.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/why-doesnt-the-church-just-make-a-list/

    And this one might be good to check out, too…

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/05/catholic-freedom-of-choice-is-freedom.html

    But I'm also up for coffee (or tea)!

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  125. Leila, I can totally relate to what you're talking about in the in through one door, out through another thing. I was at first attracted to the more extreme views myself. Fortunately, I was quickly able to discern that those who hold them (not only for themselves, but also demanding them of others) are, in actuality, "so Catholic they're Protestant!" What business has anyone demanding that the faithful live up to a different standard (that they have personally determined to be somehow higher) than what Holy Mother Church demands? Did the Church's authority cease at the point of the second Vatican Council? I think not. I recognize that many of the faithful have misinterpreted the teachings of said council, and that the so-called "Spirit of Vatican II" has been used to justify any number of heresies. BUT, the misuse or misinterpretation of a council by the faithful does not nullify the council itself, nor does it strip the Church and Magisterium of their rightful, Christ-given authority.

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  126. Also, since I am just coming home from teaching tonight, I was mulling over people who have come across my path in the past couple of years since I've been teaching NFP. I wish I could say that most engaged couples have beautiful healthy cycles and that they only needed to learn to chart just in case someday they needed it. But the majority of the time I am preparing a spiel for couples that goes something like this: "Hmm, wow, these first two months of charting look interesting. I don't want to alarm you, but there are some biomarkers here of concern that could put you at risk for x, y, and z. I can recommend a doctor to run some tests if you'd like... "

    Health concerns are not rare, sadly. And as Alison pointed out earlier, it's best to learn about your fertility long before a crisis emerges. No one wants to be taking a class on charting when life is falling apart.

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  127. Here is my experience with how NFP really works with morality, the contraceptive mentality and the teachings of the Church... I teach NFP and fertility awareness, and lives are changed!!! I have seen marriages strengthened, families grow, viewpoints change, conversions of heart happen, and love beyond measure!!! I teach the "method" and God gives the growth!!! It is like eating healthy foods.... even it your original reasons for doing so are at first selfish, the change from unhealthy junk still brings about GOOD!!! I have also felt condemnation for "not trusting God" in our marriage because we discerned that God called us to NOT seek to achieve pregnancy anymore. Few have understood the anguish I have endured with this decision because we "have plenty of kids" and fewer still understand how much I still long for the joys of bringing forth new life. So, great points made by many and thanks especially to Leila for starting the conversation!!!

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  128. Cassi, well stated.

    Sarah and Marca, thank you for the thoughtful comments, and thank you for your service to the Church. You won't get rich doing it, but you are changing hearts and minds in this relativistic, secular, sex-saturated culture.

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  129. I just did a little calculation based on my fertility so far. I have been married 4.5 years and I got married at 32. I have had 4 pregnancies - one was a miscarriage and then three boys in 2.5yrs. The youngest is now 9 months. With ecological breastfeeding and babies who do NOT sleep through the night(!!!) my fertility returns at 4 mos postpartum. If we continued at the pace we were at I would have 12 babies in 13 yrs, assuming I had fertility until I was 44-45. If I had gotten married at the average age which is about 28yrs old in North America, I would have had 16 babies in 17yrs! Imagine if I had started at 19 or 20! I'll stop there! Now there are people who do operate this way. The Duggars come to mind and quite frankly I do admire their commitment and it seems to work really well for them. I seriously doubt that this is the case for most people, it certainly isn't for me!
    Simcha Fisher also also wrote an article about the idea that there may be times throughout marriage where you feel called to providentialism and times you feel called to use NFP. It was a great article - she is so balanced.

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  130. Leila, Edmund Campion has not "set himself in opposition" to the Church any more than you or any one else commenting here has. He doesn't need to present credentials to "determine/interpret the moral law" any more than each couple you claim has the absolute right to form their own conscience regarding whether or not to use NFP! What are your credentials for saying what you say on this blog? What you say to Fr."Campion" amounts to an ad hominem attack; you're saying he doesn't have a right to his opinion, but you have a right to yours, as does everyone who agrees with you.

    The arguments against NFP can't be easily summed up in little nuggets (as I mentioned in my email to you). Thomas Aquinas and Augustine both speak volumes on marriage and the primacy of procreation that lies therein. Our culture now has become one that glorifies birth control, especially in the sense of limiting the number of children born. NFP is birth control. The question is whether we really want to embrace birth control as a Catholic value.

    Abandoning onself to Divine Providence is of great value in the quest for holiness, and is recommended by most saints that I can think of. No, that doesn't mean you sit in a corner and let life unfold. We are expressly told to do or not do some things, as in the 10 commandments, precepts of the Church,our own rule of life (especially in religious life, but the laity can have a rule of life, too) - we know God's will in that way. In other ways, God's will is made clear to us in the things that happen to us on a moment-to-moment basis. It is in responding to those moments that we learn to abandon ourselves to Divine Providence. See some of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's writings on this topic.

    It's important to look at Church documents in greater completeness than can be examined in this comment section; it's important to consider the steadfast, constant teaching of the Church when we look at an issue like this. In today's society, the justification for NFP GENERALLY (not always) involves at least an implicit separation of the procreative and unitive ends of marriage, and places an emphasis on the unitive at the expense of the procreative. As Fr. Campion notes, that's not what will get us to heaven, because in that emphasis there tends to lie an overemphasis on the temporal - the physical intimacy of spouses, the "standard of living" we might have to forfeit for more children, the "good education" and "college" that might be less than we desire for our children, etc.

    Feel free to visit the NFP tab on my blog at http://philotheaonphire.blogspot.com. And anyone with questions for me, feel free to email me at drjayboyd@msn.com. I don't frequent comment sections as a general rule, but I am happy to respond to any questions by email. Thanks.

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  131. KK, you seem horrified by the prospect of 12 children in 13 years. Why??? Those are SOULS that GOD would give you to give back to Him!!! Why is that a bad thing???? How are you certain that isn't for you??? How. do. you. know? Please, please, please tell me how you know!! I so desperately want to be that sure of something in my life. The peace and joy must be beyond measure!

    How many saints are not being born because good Catholics are afraid to have them? Saint Catherine of Siena was the 23rd child of her parents with her twin being 24! They went on to have another child after that. She wouldn't be born today. At least not by a Catholic!

    Leila, my point of reference is the many good Catholic people in my area and family, that I know personally, who will tell you they stopped at 4 because THEY were "done" or two because "we can't afford braces and college and....blah, blah, blah". And that IS against the church's teaching. I'm judging them from their example and their own words. But I'm certainly not condemning them.

    My understanding of NFP is to space children, never to stop co-creating. So the people I know are clearly abusing the intent of NFP. Is it uncharitable to point that out??? I absolutely refuse to believe that every couple who uses NFP wakes up on the fertile days, confirms it with what ever it is you do to do that, then prays about if they should have a baby or not! I suppose that is a judgement call from knowing my own fallen nature and the example of those mentioned above.

    The point I was poorly attempting to make is that we have lost focus on the purpose of children and our role in co-creating them. In all of the threads...not one person has addressed that point. We just to control our fertility. Have the "number" that is "right" for us in the spacing that "I can handle". That is how far we have separated the martial act from Heaven.

    I apologize if I sounded judgmental. I agree with you 100% that we cannot judge someone's motivations as we are not soul readers. And if you're point in starting this conversation is to draw attention to people judging other people's motives on how they are using NFP then it was largely successful. But it is naive to think that there are people who are using it and are never abusing it. And that are abusing it because they are afraid to have children.

    Just as God alone has the power to know the state of souls, I believe that He alone has the power to limit the size of families. He knew from the moment you were knitted in your mother's womb how many children you were destined to have, or not. To presume to read the mind of God to determine that is a fearful prospect for ME. I would assume that I'm not the only one to view it that way. Shouldn't everyone who uses NFP view it as the awesome power that it is, with the respect it deserves?

    My question is how does everybody else achieve such certainty??? No one ever says how they know with certainty, (that which impacts the state of their eternal soul), that God has told them they shouldn't have any more children.

    Again, I state, that if NFP gives you that kind of relationship with God that He communicates so clearly on the purpose of your marriage, then I need to sign up. I am a way too lowly wretched a sinner to have been able to discern anything so clearly! I totally and seriously want that!!

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  132. you may end up getting into Heaven in spite of NFP, but you will certainly not achieve holiness during your lifetime,

    I'msorrywhat? I didn't realize an external holiness meter was one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Interesting.

    He knew from the moment you were knitted in your mother's womb how many children you were destined to have, or not. To presume to read the mind of God to determine that is a fearful prospect for ME.

    Here's the beauty and freedom of being Catholic using our intellects in conjunction with our faith: we don't have to presume to read God's mind on anything. We just need to follow the flow, the spiritual cues, the markers, the invitations.

    Fear isn't part of the equation to me, it's more an intellectual and spiritual clarity, to be sought rather than an emotional one to be quenched.

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  133. Edmund Campion has not "set himself in opposition" to the Church any more than you or any one else commenting here has

    Yes, he has. He's not been able to produce any documentation that Church teaching mirrors his belief. For example, his claim that those who practice NFP can never achieve holiness. Can you, Dr. Boyd, please provide documentation (specific quotes and citations) from Church teaching that say people who use NFP can never achieve holiness? I'm a busy working mom (as in, I work full-time outside the home) of four, so I don't have the luxury of time to go to your blog and read all of your NFP posts. I've read and commented on a few and I understand your viewpoint. I think that you are mistaken, and I think that your beliefs do not align with Church teaching or the development of doctrine regarding spacing pregnancy with periodic continence.

    I trust the actual Magesterium of the Church, not the one of which you claim to be a member.

    Dr. Boyd, you never answered my question - do you believe the Church has taught error as doctrine regarding spacing pregnancy with periodic continence?

    "a good mother" - you have yet to back up your beliefs with Church teaching as well. Where does the Church teach that a couple must try to conceive every cycle, or that more kids = more holiness?

    Our last two Popes came from families with three children. Were/are they less holy men as a result?

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  134. Hi.

    Jay Boyd, I'm curious about you and your credentials.

    Speaking of popes from small families: every time I hear about Blessed John Paul II's young life, I get sad because he was left alone. But then he had the Church as his family.

    If the Church had a list for when it's okay to avoid conception, we would complain. And it would be a never ending list.

    fRED, yes, it does seem sometimes the modern people of today's Church (thus, the Church) has gone off the rails.

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  135. a good mother would - where in my comment did I say that I was "done" or that I had a predetermined number of children already set???
    I have no idea how many children we will end up having. FYI - I have always hoped that I would have a big family.
    How do I know that 12 kids in 13 yrs wouldn't be good for me? - B/c right now I am maxed out with 3 in 2.5 yrs. That is how I know. Therefore we are postponing pregnancy at this point. So if I want 12 in 13 yrs I am now running behind schedule! I would need twins to catch up and they don't run in my family! The way I figured that out is through prayer and by using the brain God gave me. Motherhood isn't all about reproduction, I have to be fit enough mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically to serve and mother the family I presently do have. All of that factored into the decision.
    I have no guarantees that I am making the right decision right now. God hasn't given me a road map for my life. Maybe I am wrong and when I stand before God and give an account for my life I might find out that I made some wrong decisions. But I don't fear that one tiny bit!! Here is why: I have made this decision and many others based on a sincere examination of my present situation with practical factors being taken into account, regular confession, and through a prayerful process asking for the God's guidance and for me to be open to His Will for my life. I do not drive myself crazy wondering and fearing making the wrong choices. God has it all covered off and taken care of. I am confident that I am presently making the best decision for my family by postponing pregnancy at this point. That is the best I can do and if I die and find out that God just wanted me to continue have babies on nonstop rapid succession and I chose the wrong path then I guess it will then suck to be me! But you can just let me worry about that end of things.

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  136. I didn't get a chance to read every single comment, but I will share my frustration with NFP. My husband and I have never had a reason to chart, either because of infertility or serious reasons to not have children. It sometimes seems as though Catholics are divided into the typical contracepting Catholic, the orthodox NFP Catholic, and those crazy providentialists. First of all, a Catholic providentialist is just a Catholic who has no reason to put off having children. My husband and I don't work to have as many children as possible. That isn't the point. We come together both unitively and procreatively, and when children result, it is a blessing. There is no stress to that aspect of our life. If we're exhausted or a child has joined us for a snuggle, it isn't an option, but it has nothing to do with charting. I'm pregnant with my eighth child in twelve years, and with each child, have come to understand more and more completely how incomplete my life would be with each one of them. My issue with teaching an NFP course as part of marriage prep is that we, as humans, are prone to selfishness. My first baby was tough. We call him our trial by fire. Intense, never sleeping, always crying. If I had the tools available, my next baby might not have happened for a few years. Instead, his little brother ended up being the best thing possible for my first.
    I have nothing against NFP for serious reasons, and I would never judge anyone for using it. To be honest, I can't imagine using it for anything but serious reasons as I find having to say no to my husband for a certain number of days per month only to feel somewhat obligated to say yes on the days I'm less excited about the whole idea sounds less than ideal to me.
    That is exactly it. I hate the idea that NFP is held up as the Church ideal, when it is really supposed to be something you go to when the ideal can't be had. Mostly, I get tired of being the crazy lady when for most of Catholic history, I would have been typical.

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  137. Food for thought: Children are a route to sanctification. One of many routes. Marriage is another. Suffering, yet another.
    If you've got the gifts and the supernatural longing to have a large family, go for it. It's entirely a discernment issue. But let's not hold everyone to the same standard.

    It's like expecting everyone without the gift of say, understanding higher math, to take Calc IV or else...

    Jesus is about tailored relationships, not broad brush strokes.

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  138. Okay, I am trying to get out the door and will be back later, but I did skim a bit and I really think folks are misunderstanding that where the Church does not bind us, we are not bound. And, God allows us to determine our choices, actions, futures and destinies, even as He (who is outside of time) sees at once what we will chose. I hope and pray that you all will read this post, to understand a little more about Catholic freedom. We are not puppets, we are not bound to any certain "future" or number of children that has been "predetermined" for us by God. Free will is the BIGGEST gift God gives, next to life itself.

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/05/catholic-freedom-of-choice-is-freedom.html

    Also, Jay, yes, Mr. Campion has most definitely set himself outside the Church in his views here. He said that NFP users will not become holy (what poppycock!), and he even dissed Mother Teresa as some kind of quasi-heretic. He is free to have his opinion, of course, and I allowed him to spout it here, but I will never, ever let such opinions be passed off as if they were compatible with Church teaching. I will not do it. The whole point of my blog is to lead people towards clarity as to what the Church says and teaches, and I will not let misrepresentation of the Church's teachings stand.

    He has been quite silent in answering some of our pointed questions.

    No one is allowed to misrepresent Church teaching on this blog without correction.

    Thanks!

    Back soon….

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  139. Unknown, quick question: What part (if any) of my actual post do you disagree with? I'm not clear on that from your comment. Thanks! And it sounds like your path is very peaceful and clear for you, for which I am glad. I don't think anyone here would question you on it.

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  140. A good mother- Please answer my questions posted earlier.
    I'd like a providentialist to explain to me why they don't chart to take advantage of every fertile period by charting? You only have intercourse when the mood strikes? What happens when a married couple hits a rut and they don't feel like having sex? Are they sinning and are they selfish? A man can have physical access to his wife whenever he feels like it without ever having to ask himself if this would be good for his wife? He never asks himself " Is my wife healthy enough to get pregnant right now?" THAT sounds incredibly selfish. I am asking honestly without sarcasm.

    You said ""KK, you seem horrified by the prospect of 12 children in 13 years. Why??? Those are SOULS that GOD would give you to give back to Him!!! Why is that a bad thing????"

    Well for starters, when you have children back to back like that, it takes years off your life. It also puts your babies at risk for low birth weights and being born premature. It also puts you at risk for the placenta partially or completely peeling away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery (placental abruption) AND
    The placenta attaching to the lower part of the uterine wall, partially or totally covering the cervix (placenta previa), in women who previously had a C-section
    Research also shows pregnancy occurring within six months of a live birth increased the risk of induced abortion by 650 per cent, miscarriage by 230 per cent, death of newborn below nine months 170 per cent, maternal death by 150 per cent, pre-term birth by 70 per cent, still birth by 60 per cent and low birth weight by 60 per cent.

    pregnancy depletes your iron stores and folate and other nutrients essential to having a healthy pregnancy. It takes time to rebuild those nutrient stores after you have a baby. I think the research shows that God would like us to use some discernment, self control and be responsible when it comes to using our spouses for pro-creation. We eat healthy and exercise to keep our bodies in working order to serve God right? We don't just leave it to providence and eat whatever we want and expect God to work it out.

    I got pregnant 4 months after I had a baby. I almost bleed to death on the table, and had to have a bunch of blood transfusions because my body didn't have enough time to rebuild my Iron stores. We had many complications during that pregnancy and I was constantly monitored for heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure.

    We didn't get pregnant again until 4 years later. I praise God my husband saw me as more than a tool to use for pro-creation. You say the purpose of marriage is procreation. How does that make us any different than animals? The purpose of marriage is to raise children and help get those souls to heaven. the purpose of a husband is to care for and protect the family.

    you said "Again, I state, that if NFP gives you that kind of relationship with God that He communicates so clearly on the purpose of your marriage, then I need to sign up."

    How did God communicate to you what your vocation was? How did you know who God wanted you to marry?

    Oh, and exclusive breastfeeding can prevent ovulation. Should we stop doing that?


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    1. Bartly's,
      I'd like to respond, if I may. For what it's worth, Providentialism isn't the same as Quiverfull. The goal isn't to have as many children as possible, which I think can be disordered in its own way. Anytime you do something unnatural to run your life your way instead of God's way, it can be a problem. For example, bottle feeding just so that you can get pregnant again as soon as possible. If you make love to your husband during a natural period of infertility, then the primary purpose becomes unitive because of the way God made your body. It isn't a choice you are making. Trust me, I've been pregnant and/or nursing for most of my 12 years of marriage. If I limited myself to fertile times, we'd pretty much be living as brother and sister. Making love to your husband when either of you are infertile because of the way God built your bodies could never be sinful. Making love to your husband only when you are infertile without reason to do can be.
      I understand why married couples use NFP. I just don't think it should be the norm.
      Maeana

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    2. "Making love to your husband only when you are infertile without reason to do can be." Who said anything about not having a reason? I believe the above health reasons would be a very good reason.

      Thank you for explaining the difference btwn providentialism and quiverfull.

      Also Leila wants us to reply at the bottom instead of to each individual comment so it's easier to view :) I was doing that earlier :p

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  141. Leila,
    First of all, I want to apologize for signing in as "unknown", but I don't seem to be able to sign in as anything else.
    My concern is with teaching NFP to all engaged couples as a pre-requisite for an orthodox Catholic marriage. In doing this, it seems to hold it up as the ideal instead of as the less than ideal, to be used when there is a struggle for fertility or when serious reasons to not have children come up. For many married couples, the ideal is possible. Instead, to many in our church, the ideal is anything but. With our secular, contraceptive society, we need our church to highlight the incredible blessings of children. Maybe it is because my path is so peaceful and clear that I want others to know that they can join me on it. That ideally, most Catholics could be on that path. If NFP can be taught in just a few months, it might be best to wait until it is actually needed. For many marriages, it never will be. If most people have to jump off a cliff to consider NFP, why not just take that leap a little bit farther? There is nothing more freeing than diving right in.
    Maeana

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  142. "Unknown" - you are assuming that NFP is taught primarily as a means to space children. Most methods today are taught as fertility awareness. Charting can help to achieve pregnancy (you don't have to be sub-fertile to benefit from knowing when you are fertile so you can more easily achieve pregnancy). Also, it really does not work well to just wait until it is "needed" to learn it. First of all, many will not know they need it if they aren't charting. Severe PMS is one example. Many women live with this condition thinking it's "normal" to be a wreck every single month. They don't know they have a condition that is causing this and would not seek charting out to solve it. Meanwhile their marriage suffers.

    Secondly, those that know they need to chart because they are now facing a serious situation - this is a very, very stressful way to learn NFP. Much more abstaining needs to be done and the cycle may be harder to interpret thus less effective.

    The key here in teaching engaged couples is teach them the beauty of having children and the beauty of their fertility and God's design for their bodies as well as the Church teachings. Not to just throw NFP instruction out the window altogether.

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  143. Unknown, it's actually incredibly offensive that you would say that we should wait until it's "needed" to start learning NFP. Had I not waited until it was "needed", I may not have had to suffer through 4 years of secondary infertility. We hadn't been using artificial BC, but I truly wish I had been charting and learning about my own body long before I was in the throes of heartbreak.

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  144. I have actually been in both the "providential" and the NFP camps... we learned NFP as part of pre-cana and used it to achieve w/i 6 weeks of our wedding... we used "our" method of NFP to allow my cycles to return fully before conceiving the next baby... we love kids, I could stay home with them, it worked for us. Then I started miscarrying every baby I conceived and by the time I found the Creighton Model System and got a diagnosis, life had changed dramatically and we felt led to avoid for a time. Then my health started failing and after a blood clot that led to years of debilitating vertigo, I realized that God had always know my future and He had arranged it so that we could survive my illness (these are NOT all the details). One thing we discovered during that incredibly scary time of miscarrying was WHY some people feel like contraception is their only option.... we were not tempted but we finally understood. That is where a reliable form of NFP came in. Our only other option until then was total abstinence, and that was OK too. I thank God for leading us to a system where we did not feel like we were sacrificing children on the alter of our selfish desire to have more children. I also thank God He called us to avoid when He did. That is the point here though, each couple has their own story and each is called to different lives. We can no more judge others stories than we can predetermine our own. If we could, I would have 9+ healthy, live children, and some little ones under foot now rather than 5 healthy, live adult (almost) offspring, and 4 in heaven.

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  145. Chasing Joy has asked me to post something (blogger won't let her). She is hitting on something important here, about this discussion and why it's so confusing:

    There seems to be a semantic issue popping up in the discussion. It appears that some individuals are using "NFP" to describe the practice of learning and tracking the data of fertility signs/symptoms. Others appear to be referring to the education of data collection combined with the Church's teaching of love and fruitfulness in a pre-cana situation. To be honest, at times I am having trouble distinguishing whether those with criticism are criticizing the instruction of data collection, that same instruction combined with the Churches teaching, or solely the application of the instruction in a couple's daily life.

    That being said, it appears that some are concerned with teaching the methods of data collection because it "could" be applied inappropriately. I find it concerning that it is being suggested to withhold basic knowledge of biology because someone perceives its application as selfish, inappropriate or borderline sinful. We take data on our bodies all day every day. It might not look like "charting," but we still do it. If we experience thirst we make the assessment that our body may be becoming slightly dehydrated. If our eyes are having trouble focusing, we may make the assessment that we are tired and need sleep. Sure, these examples don't directly pertain to reproduction, however; this pattern of "data collection" for our basic life functions is a common occurrence.

    Unless given reason to suspect otherwise, a man can assume that he is fertile all the time. It is unclear to me as to why the cyclical nature of a woman's cycle changes things so drastically that it is not something that women should be able to determine as well. We already live in a world where women have very little understanding of how their bodies work. For example, in a mother's nursing group I am involved with, one mom in her early twenties was under the impression that she would continue to have a monthly period even without ovulation. Yes, we know that happens in particular infertility cases, but that is definitely not the norm. This young woman did not understand how the basic mechanics of her body worked. What a shame. If you don't like how NFP is applied, fine you are more than entitled to your opinion. However; the solution is not withholding information from people.

    As Nicole C and Sarah stated, being in a moment of "crisis" is not the time to finally provide education. Similarly, couples should not be hearing about the Church's teaching on infertility intervention for the first time when they are in the throws of infertility. We do a huge disservice to these couples by not educating them as teens, then in marriage prep and also in the pews. We shouldn't hide this cross away until someone is in the middle of it and is trying to navigate the moral interventions available.

    Of course, people are not forced to use NFP. It is a tool, whether or not someone selects to apply it in their life is up to the couple to discern. However, wouldn't it be amazing health care if at an annual exam, an OB/GYN had you bring in your data collection (if you happened to be documenting it at that time) to see how your system looked over the course of more than a 15 minute visit?


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  146. Unknown - I also want to thank you for explaining the difference between providentialism and Quiverfull. Most of my questions are for those who say planning is immoral (not just those who are "open" and not charting).

    But I guess I am still a little murky on how it all works even with providentialism. Is providentialism based mostly on couples' desires? That they should have intercourse whenever they are in the mood? What if a couple or spouse struggles with low libido (a common issue when a hormonal imbalance is present)? Is God just not calling them to have many children? I guess what stuck out to me is that you said (and correct me if I am wrong) that [intercourse or the unitive/procreative aspects of it] isn't so much a *choice* with Providentialism. I find this hard to wrap my head around. I thought the marital act was all about choosing to be together, exercising our free will to love... choosing to show love, to be united (even if sometimes it takes some effort, and yes some planning, to get in the mood and plan around distractions). Is it not okay to ever "choose" to be in union with your spouse? And if it IS okay to choose the unitive aspect, then why is not okay to think about the procreative aspect? (The comment from another providentialist about "Just don't think; just do it" really jumped out at me... we're not supposed to think??)

    I think it's wonderful when couples don't feel the need to chart an are just open... don't get me wrong... but does this mean these folks *never* plan or choose or think about the implications of intimacy on their unity or family size?? Hope my rambling is making some sense.

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  147. Maeana, you said: "If most people have to jump off a cliff to consider NFP, why not just take that leap a little bit farther? There is nothing more freeing than diving right in."

    I understand your point, but again, I don't think it's helpful. The vast majority of engaged couples coming to be married in the Church have no clue what the Church teaches and asking them to go from contraception and likely cohabiting to "diving right in" with no contraception and no NFP is not "freeing" to their mentality, but in fact, it would probably be the difference between 1) staying to at least learn and 2) leaving for good because "these people are crazy!" We meet the need where it is. We meet people where they are. There is NO sin in teaching NFP, and it is the perfect bridge for meeting the secular culture where it is, and teaching couples that their bodies were made beautifully, wonderously, and the Church is not some remote, disengaged dictator who has no understanding of the deep complexities of life and relationships and circumstances.

    I have been a faithful Catholic now for 18 years, completely immersed in all the teachings of life, and I have never once seen or heard anyone in the NFP community who did not believe in the Church's teachings on openness to life and the beauty of large families and welcoming children. In fact, quite the opposite, which is why what people here are saying is so confusing. Are they arguing a straw man? I can't figure it out. The NFP community (if we are to call it that… I just call it faithful Catholics, or the Church) is fully embracing of children and families and life in abundance! It is all around me. I don't really understand what the problem is that is worrying folks here.

    Bottom line, the use of contraception perverts and distorts and defiles the sex act. It is intrinsically evil. NFP is moral and licit and does nothing at all to defile the sex act or change its nature. It requires a sacrifice and a self-discipline. If anyone argues that NFP is sinful or unvirtuous in itself, they are speaking in opposition to the Church. As to the individual use of it, by any given couple? That is utterly a matter of prudential judgement, and no one outside the couple themselves or their spiritual director (and God!), has any business judging it.

    I might liken it to this: A couple may buy a mansion. We may sit and cluck about how selfish that is and how much waste it was, how greedy they are, etc., but in reality, it is not inherently sinful to buy a mansion, and all your talk and judgement is simply gossip. That is the point I am making here and in this post.

    We just cannot know if a couple is using NFP selfishly. That is not up to us to decide. We cannot know. We can only rejoice that they are respecting God's design for sex and not defiling the marital act. And like I said, NFP use has a way of opening the heart. As one husband said, "The great thing about using NFP is eventually you don't want to use it anymore!" Great graces come when we walk the moral path, even if we are only at the beginning of the path. If you don't think people are as wise and holy as you, just be patient. They may catch up to you and even surpass you (or you may be humbled because you were mistaken all along). (Royal "you" used here.)

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  148. One other thought: The Church is miraculous in the way it adapts to every age and era. Just as the secular culture ramped it up technologically by introducing the evils of the Pill (and its widespread use), the Pope was writing Humanae Vitae and faithful scientists were learning more about the science of fertility.

    While the secular culture uses science to dominate and destroy nature (instead of simply discovering its beauty and working in awe-filled respect of nature), the Church dives deeper into understanding the design of God. That is what NFP has done. It has met the culture where its at. The evil of the Pill is met by the deeper understandings of fertility via NFP.

    This is a good thing, not an evil thing. And not one part of it that I can see in 18 years has negated the idea that children are a gift and a blessing to marriage and that couples must always be open to life. Again, that is what is so confusing to me. My husband is on the diocesan NFP board, one of our best friends runs it, and so many of my friends know it and use it or teach it. The way people are talking here, we should all have 2.1 kids and be selfishly enjoying a comfortable, child-bare life. And yet, we all have tons of kids (those who do not have fertility struggles or illnesses) and embrace life and the Church with both hands. What gives?

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  149. There could be a lot of harm done by discouraging people about the use of NFP. Examples: assuming people with few or no children are contracepting when they are actually infertile, scaring the engaged couple from even trying NFP, or guilting a married couple with just reason to avoid a child (false guilt is not helpful)

    If the focus is on encouraging married people (Catholic or not) to stop contracepting, baby steps away from the Pill is a great start. This is the majority of married people (I believe).

    If the focus is on encouraging engaged people to not use contraceptives, I also think baby steps would be best. There may be cases, with two young people who both came from strong Catholic upbringings, who understood Catholic teaching on marriage and children, where a discussion of how NFP might be selfish might be helpful. I don't know any couples like this.

    If the focus is already married Catholics who are using NFP selfishly to avoid having children, the discussion might be helpful, but probably what is needed is more prayer, education, and confession.

    However, as part of an infertile couple, I wish I had learned fertility awareness since puberty. It may have helped me identify and treat my problems, instead of listening to my doctor and masking them with the Pill for years. Second, as a convert my experience with NFP was so positive at the beginning of my marriage, that it opened the door to my conversion. I see a lot of good in NFP and agree that people who are using it, or considering it, should be encouraged.

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  150. My own daughter used Creighton to learn about her cycles, due to some serious PMDD issues which debilitated her. Thank God that the Church has encouraged pursuit of such knowledge! Catholics came up with the scientific method, we invented the university systems, we are all about education and science. But for some reason, in this case, some folks want Catholics in the modern world to know less not more. I don't get that at all. And it's not the mind of the Church.

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  151. Sigh. I have returned to add another 2 cents (perhaps more).

    Leila- I’m glad that you added (1/11/13, 12:30 pm) "Chasing Joy’s" observations about semantics. I agree with that. I don’t think there is much disagreement about the use of NFP in order to understand the body better and to deal with health issues. In one of my earlier comments, I suggested that NFP be taught in High School as part of the health curriculum. No problem with science and education.

    So I would agree with you that NFP is not inherently evil just as money is not inherently evil. Where things start to get controversial is the “marketing” of NFP, specifically when it’s presented in pre-marital programs in practically the same breath as birth control. At that point, it becomes “Catholic BC” and that is where my major objections begin. Therefore, just as money may not be inherently good or bad, the judgment on NFP should be on how it is used.

    I’m not sure what the answer is to that (for pre-marital prep). I know that 20 years ago when I went through it, it was surprisingly secular. If it’s still like that today (and I suspect it is), then less time should be spent on secular subjects (e.g., managing finances, birth control, dividing up household responsibilities) and most of the time to the sacramental aspects of marriage. I wonder how many new couples even realize that marriage is a sacrament and what that means. The Church would do itself a big favor if it devoted more energy to the promoting the benefits of the sacraments. (I’m sure someone is going to respond and tell me that this already happens.) Perhaps, every couple preparing for marriage be given a copy (or two) of the CCC as their textbook or manual.

    It’s too bad there’s not a program ala NFP that helps a person tap into all the graces available via the sacraments. I wonder if that kind of stuff could be charted.

    Have to say that I am aghast at your 12:48 pm comment on how NFP bridges the gap for the engaged couples coming to be married in the Church that have no clue what the Church teaches and are already cohabiting and using BC. At one time, the Church was not supposed to marry couples in this situation. But today it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Apparently, the church has sold-out the sacrament in hopes of drawing in these people. Don’t bet on it. Instead, the Church has undercut the sacramental aspect and creates confusion for those who know what is supposed to be. The sacrament has been stripped down to a mere ritual. Sadly, Holy Communion is treated similarly.

    Finally, does anyone have any stats on how many people are using NFP? I did an initial Google but didn’t turn up anything recent or definitive. I am looking for primary sources. I wonder if the MSM is possibly overstating the percentage of those who use artificial BC. Also wondering if the number of NFP practitioners has experienced any significant growth compared to a few decades ago. My sense is that it has but I wonder if anyone is tracking this. Calling all you charters.

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  152. fRED - you raise good points about marriage prep and I will be that person to say that many programs have been revamped to address those concerns.

    Regarding when to teach NFP, I agree much benefit could come from teaching teens or OBs being more familiar with it. But the beauty if teaching engaged couples is that you have unique opportunity to teach NFP in proper context of Church teachings on married love

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  153. fRED, are you also, then, "aghast" at what St. Paul did for those whom he was evangelizing, when he had to meet them where they were (1 Cor. 3):

    Brothers, I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ.
    I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now


    I am glad that you anticipated that I would say that yes indeed, my diocesan program teaches the theology of marriage and the sacraments very thoroughly. Also, the two parishes I have been a member at for the past 12 years or so do not marry anyone who is cohabiting. Nor will they allow strapless wedding gowns in church, either, for that matter. Does any of this satisfy you, or would you like to further correct the situation here?

    For the record, I agree with St. Paul that it is better for some to marry rather than to burn, though, don't you? Should we allow anyone to marry in the Church, or only the saints? I think that marriage prep (ours has been lengthened to nine months, to be as thorough in all aspects as possible) is the exact opportunity we must use to draw in those secular, uncatechized Catholics and begin to minister to them and teach them, with love. Don't you? Aren't we on the same page there?

    Do you think your approach to the Church and to evangelization helps draw souls to Christ? Again, it seems that you don't even much like the Church yourself. I can't figure it out, in all honesty. What are your feelings toward the Catholic Church? Do you love her?

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  154. So, I've been reading through this post and all the comments (subscribing via email helps a lot!) and I must say I appreciate learning the varied perspectives of NFP. I'm just starting to think about it as I'm 22 and single, but from what I've read, I should probably start charting so I'm not caught off-guard later on.

    For the most part I agree with everything Leila, JoAnna, Nubby, etc. have so well explained, yet I found something from fRED's latest comment that I actually somewhat agree with. Not to get too far off topic, but I have seen Holy Communion become more of a ritual without people truly understanding the significance of receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. My older sister was home for Christmas and admitted that she hadn't been to mass in awhile, but was still planning on going on Christmas for the sake of tradition. Upon hearing she had not been to mass in awhile, I attempted to explain to her the necessity of going to Confession prior to receiving the Eucharist and she just laughed at me and seemed confused as to why as she was under the impression that Holy Communion was just another part of mass.

    I'm not as sure about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I would hope that the pre-Cana programs at parishes is effective enough in thoroughly describing the difference between Marriage as a Sacrament and the secular wedding ceremony. And to defend Leila's comment about engaged couples cohabiting/fornicating/using BC, I do not believe for one second that she was insinuating that the Church blindly marries those couples. Her point was (and Leila, please correct me if I'm wrong) that the Church has to meet people where they are at to avoid scaring them off. I would think the pre-Cana/NFP program would gradually explain why fornication/cohabitation/BC is immoral and guide couples away from it and towards repentance . So, I doubt there is a "don't ask, don't tell" mentality. It is not the Church that has sold out, it is humans that have sold out their faith. HUMANS (not the Church) have made Holy Communion a mere ritual, which is gravely sinful.

    Sorry for this long comment, keep up this intriguing discussion!

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  155. sorry, phone freaked out and I got cut off! But regarding more users of NFP than ever... I don't have stats, but I have no doubt it is more common now because it is even the secular realm (known as FAM) for those trying to conceive. Gotta go, baby is crying...

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  156. fRED, I went back to look at some of your comments on other posts, and I am getting a better understanding now. In other posts, you said that you do not identify as a Catholic anymore. You are an ex-Catholic. That is really necessary for us to be able to have a productive discussion. I had assumed that you were a believing Catholic. So, a lot of confusion has just been cleared up. Sorry that I didn't remember that!

    I did have a question for you earlier that I would still love answered, if you will, regarding the perception by others that Catholics are hypocrites due to the teaching of things like declarations of nullity and the practice of NFP. You said it hinders evangelization, and I responded:

    fRED, sorry, I just want to explore this some more.

    The Cross is a stumbling block and foolishness in the eyes the world. The moral teachings of the Church are a stumbling block and foolishness in the eyes of the world.

    Sin (the sin of Catholics) is also stumbling block and will undermine evangelization.

    The people we want to evangelize perceive all these things written above, and each or all of these things may turn them from the Church.

    Into which category do you place Natural Family Planning?

    I'm mean the question sincerely. I am trying to understand and get clarity. Thanks!

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  157. Margo, bingo! Thank you. In our diocese, which is my frame of reference, the new marriage prep program is designed to encompass all aspects of the Truth and meaning of human sexuality and the sacrament of matrimony. We know full well that up to 75% of the couples who approach the Catholic Church for marriage are cohabiting, and a higher number than that are having sex before marriage! Our program is designed to unveil for them the beauty of Christ's plan for marriage, and bring them from sin to grace.

    How can we hope to evangelize and teach people if we scold them from the outset and don't let them in the door? How would that work to bring the lost sheep home? We are grateful that they, fully secularized and ignorant in many cases, are still asking the Church for marriage. Why would we do anything to turn them away? We have had questionnaires after our theology weekends that show up to 3/4 of the engaged couples want to stop having premarital sex after the classes, and almost as many want to give up contraception and commit to NFP. This is a movement of grace, a placing of one's feet upon the path. I rejoice in it! How could anyone disparage this and say that we are not hard line enough, or that these completely un-catechized folks should be told to jump of a zillion foot cliff "all the way" with no mention of NFP, a licit option for marriage?

    Sorry, it just all makes no sense to me. We have the ideal (which is perfection -- we call that heaven), and then we have the fallen world, physically, emotionally, mentally, morally, in which we live. We meet people where they are, to bring them to the Light, just as St. Paul did, just as Jesus Christ did.

    And, if anyone can tell me which diocese is pushing, pushing, pushing NFP but with no mention or emphasis on the sacrament or the truth and beauty of human sexuality and the gift of children, please I want to know. I just haven't heard of it (usually, the dioceses that don't like to talk about sacraments also don't like to talk about NFP), but maybe I am just spoiled being in a very good diocese?

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  158. p.s. fRED, also be aware that are just as many pitfalls to teaching NFP to teens or strictly in a medical setting. For example, people could start claiming that NFP classes for teens are basically the Catholic equivlent of secular programs that hand out condoms to prevent teen pregnancy (same line of logic that pre-Cana NFP courses are just "Catholic BC for married couples").

    But teens would need to be taught in a way that promotes chastity and then, guess what? When they got engaged, they would need at the very least a refresher or a class to update them on using NFP in the context of married love because it IS different. Plus, another advantage of working with engaged couples is that you can really can tailor the teaching to the unique couple and draw the man into the process (a concern you expressed earlier. That would be almost impossible to do with teens or just strictly in OB offices).

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  159. Just want to throw a quick comment in here. I'm a cradle Catholic, and was non-practicing for over 10 years but just recently returned to the faith - and I'm infertile. Luckily, I found NFP during my non-practicing days of early marriage - and never found the need to go on birth control. We avoided pregnancy for the first 2 years of our marriage because my husband was deploying regularly (he was active duty Army, and this was just after Sept 11th). I knew from the beginning that we would have trouble conceiving because of the info from my charts! I have encouraged my younger sisters to also chart (both unmarried), because with a family history of endometriosis, I want them to be able to get the treatment they need before they "need" it. We went on to adopt almost 2 years ago, which has been wonderful for us, but I don't want them to have to face the heartbreak of infertility if it can be avoided.
    I'm finding this conversation (argument?) fascinating, and can't help but wonder what it would be like to be on the fertile side of the fence - would I be completely "open to life" and have 5 or 6 kids (or more) by now? My mom had 6 kids, but the last pregnancy caused her some serious health problems and she ended up having a hysterectomy because of uterine prolapse. She tried spacing her pregnancies with the "rhythm" method after my older brother was born with serious health problems and was having surgery after surgery (13 in 8 years, I believe). The gap b/w my brother and me was 3 years - but the method didn't work for the next 3 and they came every 2 like clockwork despite extended breastfeeding. She couldn't handle the physical demands of childbirth, nursing, managing the other kids, running the household (cooking, cleaning, making all of our clothes, homeschooling and even the yard work since my dad had bad allergies) and her health deteriorated to the point of developing chronic fatigue and later on fibromyalgia. My dad left after 18 years of marriage - in a large part because of her health problems.
    I do believe if NFP had been available to my parents, they would have had even MORE children, but spaced in a way that allowed my mom's body to recover after each child. And if my mom had not developed a debilitating disease, my dad might have stuck around (that is conjecture, of course). And also - did you know that the condition your body is in when you conceive will have an effect on the health of your unborn child? I don't just mean at the time of birth - I mean for their entire life. With the amount of info we have today on prenatal health, etc. why shouldn't we give our unborn children the best start in life we possibly can? We're talking higher IQ's, lower rates of asthma, allergies, ADHD, even better formed palates (healthier teeth!), and the list goes on. In some traditional cultures, tribes even provided betrothed couples with the most fertility-enhancing foods before their marriage to ensure a healthy pregnancy. I don't think women are quite as sturdy as they used to be, and some physically wouldn't make it past 3 or 4 kids now!
    Anyway, I know it's slightly off-topic, but that's what I thought of when people were questioning the morality of spacing their kids...

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