Saturday, July 9, 2011

NFP: a faithful reality check

I would like to thank Danielle Bean for her article over at Crisis magazine, “Five Ways I Don’t Love NFP”. The article is good in my estimation for two reasons. First, she takes on the cheerleading vs. daily living aspects of Natural Family Planning (NF). Second, it is not a diatribe against the Church’s teaching in any way, shape, or form, but a beautiful affirmation of it. She does the latter by noting that while various methods of NFP (i.e., Billings, Creighton, Sympto-thermal) are certainly useful aids for couples who seek to live in fidelity to the truth, none of these methods are either necessary or absolutely indispensible to achieve that end.

It is very easy, as I noted not long ago in my post “Not everyone can receive this saying,” to promote NFP as a kind of acceptable form of “natural”, as opposed to “artificial”, contraception is a futile exercise in missing the point because it employs logic that is at variance with fundamental Christian morality. The logic that promotes NFP as an acceptable form of contraception cannot that hold up under scrutiny because makes the error of determining the morality of something on the basis of intention alone. Thinking all the way back to the Engaged Encounter my wife and I attended prior to our wedding, I remember that during the NFP talk, when the person talking was basically promoting NFP as an acceptable of form of “natural” contraception, one of the guys, who was certainly no trained moral theologian and none too happy about NFP, basically said, “If you’re going to contracept, why does it matter if you use a condom or NFP?” When the morality of something is determined on the basis of the intention of the persons engaging in it, then such concerns become very legitimate to point of actually refuting, or “undercutting,” the argument.

The most striking feature of Catholic morality, the aspect that often puts the Church at odds with the world, is that it is objective in nature. Rather than posting a long digression on the sources of morality, I simply refer those interested to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, specifically paragraphs 1750-1754. Hence, it is objectively immoral, according to the teaching of the Church, for couples to ever employ artificial means of contraception (see Humanae Vitae, par. 14). It is also immoral to approach NFP with what might be called a contraceptive mindset (see Humanae Vitae, par. 16).

Couples can, for serious reasons, decide not have more children either temporarily or indefinitely (an intention against children altogether on the part of either one or both parties renders a marriage sacramentally invalid) Humanae Vitae, par. 10). However, even when their determination to not have children is for serious reasons, should they choose not to abstain, they are not free put barriers against conception.

I am particularly impressed with Bean’s fifth reason for disliking NFP, which she concludes with these words:
We need to remember that abstinence inside of marriage is not a good in and of itself. I worry sometimes that the NFP promoters would have us believe that the challenge of abstinence is the same for everyone, and we can all perfectly plan the sizes of our families (just use some of that self-control, folks!), when nothing could be more potentially harmful than expecting that.

Our personal differences as individuals and couples are a good thing. Our temperaments are part of God’s providence working its way into our lives, even in places where we might be tempted to believe we have control. A married couple that finds abstinence especially difficult, for example, is more likely to have a large family, whether they were planning to or not.
I liked it because it automatically put me in mind of these words by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae:
Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here… concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out (par. 10)
Bean gets it quite right when, referring to good intentions of those who teach and promote NFP, she says, “I think we are all better served, however, when the happy talk is balanced by an occasional reality check.”


  1. Bean's post is great, and your reflection on it adds value too. Bravo Zulu all around.

  2. Fr Deacon- Thanks for this!..but no matter what, it would be amazing if all Catholics quit the birth control and used NFP as part of their marriage

  3. I'm sending you a note on fb....

  4. Did anyone else have trouble opening the link to Danielle's article?

  5. Melody:

    There two links, one to Crisis magazine and the other to Danielle's article that appears in Crisis. I just checked the link to the NFP article, it seems to work fine.