Why Natural Family Planning Isn’t Catholic Birth-Control

By The Sisterhood Team

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “marriage is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and procreation and education of offspring.”[1] Pope John Paul the II’s Love and Responsibility echoes this point when he writes that, “marriage is above all to serve existence, then the relationship between a man and a woman and finally [to] correct the direction of concupiscence”.[2] So when a married couple rejects the possibility of parenthood, they in turn reject their mission to co-create with God. There are of course exceptions to this rule, such as couples struggling with infertility. But as their infertility is out of their control, they cannot be seen as rejecting parenthood. On the contrary, God still gives these couples the opportunity to be parents in other ways. They can become parents through adoption or tap into their spiritual parenthood and serve their community in extraordinary ways.

This is not to say that husbands and wives only serve the purpose of creating children. It means that they have the great responsibility of being co-creators with God. They work with God in furthering the human race, because they love one another and look forward to serving new life together. And so, it is imperative that when a couple decides to use NFP for means of preventing pregnancy that it be for just or serious reasons. Such as being in a situation where having more children would harm the welfare of the family. On this issue JPII says “we cannot therefore speak of continence [abstaining from sex] as a virtue where the spouses take advantage of the periods of biological fertility exclusively for the purpose of avoiding parenthood altogether.”[3] He goes on to say “giving children siblings…form[s] a community that helps shape a child.”[4] In short, a couple must not use NFP to postpone for selfish motives.

So how does a couple decide whether or not they have just or serious reasons to postpone a pregnancy? One answer is prayer and constant communication with one other. The couple must bring the possibility of preventing pregnancy before the Lord and ask him if it is truly His will or if it is their own unwillingness or fear to become parents. Every month, for a married couple, should bring about a new conversation with God as to what he’s asking of their fertility.

Make no mistake; practicing NFP to postpone pregnancy for an extended time is quite difficult. Many times couples simply realize the difficulty and recognize that their reasons to postpone pregnancy aren’t that compelling. In these instances, things sort of right themselves. Of course the married couple should ask God: “Lord, what is it that you desire for our fertility?” They should also speak with one another and keep each other honest in their intentions for either limiting or growing their family size. Having a faithful priest to go to, who is well versed in the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, is a good resource to have. Hearing a voice outside of the husband and wife can be useful when this difficult topic arises.

Ultimately, the default state of marriage is one of being open to life and always ready to receive children. But sometimes, there are circumstances where a couple finds themselves in need of halting their procreative abilities. God understands that money is often tight for families, and that there are health issues, among many others, that arise. Sometimes pregnancy is a risk to the life of the mother. Maybe not a life or death risk, it could be mental, physical pain, or the inability to care for the children she already has. There needs to be more support for couples in this situation. Others who have successfully navigated such challenging circumstances are the natural source for encouragement. The scriptures tell us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.​[5]

So a couple need not feel they have to force themselves to be open to life at a time when they are not prepared. Humanae Vitae says, “With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those, who for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”[6]  So, prudent parenthood can also mean postponing pregnancy for serious reasons.

With so much suffering, economic instability and broken families in our world, some may feel that having children is a curse rather than a blessing. This temptation to despair can creep up on even the most catechized of Catholic couples. In the moments when couples are apprehensive about being open to life, it’s important for them to recall that “perfect love casts out all fear”.[7] They can look to Our Lady as she gave her courageous yes to God’s will in her life. Couples can say just as Mary did “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.”[8] If couples place their trust in God, they will realize that God in His goodness will take care of them in all of their needs.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church (The Sacrament of Matrimony), 2nd ed., 400.

[2] Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility,  trans. Grzegorz Ignatik (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2013), 50 -51.

[3]Edward Sri, Men Women and the Mystery of Love (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2007),  242.

[4] Sri, Men Women and the Mystery of Love, 242 – 243.

[5] 2 Cor. 1:2-4 NASB

[6] The Pope Speaks, 13 (Fall 1969), 329 – 346.

[7] 1 Jn. 4:18 NASB

[8] Lk. 1:38 NASB

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