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!