Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Great NFP Debate

Response to Sarah's response from the RCPStudy. My words in italic paragraphs.

Sarah said...

Jimmy V.,
It's admirable to see a man coming to the defense of his wife, although I do think Jen was doing a fine job expressing herself. She is intelligent and sincere - I'm always hoping that more women will engage in the discussions on the blog.

I appreciate the compliment about my wife as well as me. I have found her to be intelligent and sincere every time that I stop the chattering in my head and listen. I was not intending to come to my wife's defense, so much as to stand with her in defending our beliefs.

You make a very valid point. There is a tendency among Catholics to believe that you are somehow more Catholic, or a holier Catholic, if you have a large family. But that is not what I believe, nor what I intended to express. One is a good and saintly Catholic by doing God's will and accepting His graces. You are absolutely right: saints have come from small families, including the Blessed Mother and Jesus Himself. Small families are good IF (and this is a big if) that is God's will for you.

Always good to have points of agreement.

I want to clarify that in my last comment I did NOT say that we should all have large families. Rather, I said that we should be "open" to having a large family. Only God determines what is best for each particular family. But that is precisely my point. IF God only gives us one or two, then we should count them as the blessings that they are and raise them to be saints. If God deigns to give us 12, then we should count them all as the blessings that they are and raise them to be saints. It seems to me that NFP introduces the idea that we can licitly control (albeit through self-control) the size of our family. My point is precisely that we should leave that up to God.

Here we start to address the misunderstanding. As my wife and I struggled with infertility for years, we learned the hard way that NFP is not control. NFP allows us to ask God for the blessing of children, explicitly, through marital relations in the fertile time. Relations during the non-fertile time implicitly accept children as a possiblity, exactly like marital relations of spouses who are unaware of their fertility. "Leave that up to God" can be said about every aspect of our lives but God still requires most of us to eat a healthy diet to stay healthy. We have to work like everything depends on us and pray like everything depends on God.

As for the firearm analogy, you're right in one sense. It isn't the direct responsibility of the instructors to teach gun-owners the morality of gun use. However, wouldn't our world be a better and safer place if the instructors did teach not only how to use a gun, but also when to use it - as a way of supporting the pastors who are responsible for teaching the ethical use of guns?

The analogy here was that NFP Instructors should not be required to pass on the teaching of the Church since catechesis is the job of the bishops and priests, much as the job of firearms instructors is to teach how to use a gun correctly, not how to use a gun morally. In both situations, the students should have been instructed in morals well before they ever approached the gun or the thermometer. However, given the current level of catechesis of the average Pre-Cana attendee, NFP instructors should pass on Church teaching as well as they can. A more ideal situation would be a Pre-Cana which passes on the morality component followed by NFP instruction which reinforces that morality and provides the physiological knowledge.

I must admit, I'm failing to understand a few of your statements.

"Procreation can be done for selfish reasons as well as holy ones." This can be true, I suppose. Although it doesn't have much strength as an argument for the widespread use of NFP. Typically I think it's unlikely that a man in our day and age is selfishly having many children. There are, I'm sure, a few out there, but not enough to warrant the requirement of all couples to learn NFP.

I disagree with her assertion that it is unlikely that a man in our day and age is selfishly having children. It seem to me that most men have children for selfish reasons, that is, having children to appease the wife or the future grandmother or having children as some kind of status symbol to show that he has finally grown up. Also, a commentor from the original post stated that he hoped God would send twins to "teach him a lesson" if he ever is tempted to think that a better car might be more desirable than another child. Learning a lesson, even a spiritual one, is still a selfish reason.

Then you said, "When you see large families, especially in the older days, they could have been a result of: repeated rapes by the husband since 50 years ago the law let a husband rule the roost..." I really don't understand what you're getting at here...

I apologize entirely for my words here, they were inappropriate hyperbole. I meant to suggest that although God loves and blesses every child conceived, he does not always bless the manner in which they are conceived (rape, fornication, ...). I further suggest that he wants us to practice holy prudence in regard to our family size and He may not be pleased with imprudent conceptions even as he is overjoyed at the birth of another soul.

I suppose large families "could have been the result of repeated rapes". Anything is possible and even the most heinous sins have been committed by someone. But do you have anything substantial to justify this claim? What "law" are you referring to? And what exactly do you mean by "rule the roost"?

As I said previously, more inappropriate hyperbole. I apologize again.

Secondly, I have to ask, what are you implying? That we should always be suspicious of large families because they could be the result of rape? Do you honestly think that a man who is so selfish as to rape his wife would want several children to have to provide for? And is this still a recurring problem today, and that's why we need NFP - to teach these men some level of self-control? Are you implying that couples who do not learn NFP will have so little self-control as to be likely to fall into a relationship of repeated rape? If you could clarify your point in making this comment, I'd appreciate it.

I hope I sufficient elaborated my point earlier. I will try to clarify that NFP use requires much self-control and develops continence every month when avoiding pregnancy. On the opposite side, practicing "temporary abstinence" can be an excuse to avoid abstaining every month by a couple with little self-control. I'm not saying that these are common occurences but merely that there can be temptation on either side.

You said "heroic virtue is not required of anyone"...What do you mean by this? We are not required to be heroically virtuous? Didn't Jesus say that we must be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect? Isn't it our duty, and shouldn't it be our desire to excel in virtues - out of love for Our Savior and in an effort to encourage others to do His will? Isn't that what the saints have done: been heroically virtuous? And aren't we supposed to imitate their example and become saints ourselves? Perhaps I'm misreading your comment.

The article in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, which I linked in a previous post, covers this point well but I will try to explain. Sadly, in our modern times, nearly all external forces are aligned against the family. Especially in the Western World, there are very few refuges which can be found. Many people, including myself, feel that it can take heroic virtue to raise a large family up to the Lord. I believe, and the Church teaches, that it is not right to expect every family to directly fight this gruelling battle. By analogy, if religious orders in the Dark Ages had not retreated to their monastaries to preserve our patrimony, where would we be today? If those orders had not practiced humility in knowing they couldn't fight the battles of their time, the battle of our time would be even more difficult.

May God bless you and your family.

And may he bless you and yours abundantly.


Sarah said...

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment.

I only wish to address one minor point. I said "it's unlikely that a man in our day and age is selfishly having many children".

Your reply to this is "I disagree with her assertion that it is unlikely that a man in our day and age is selfishly having children"

My assertion is that it is uncommon to see the very selfish having many children. Certainly people having children for selfish reasons. That happens all the time. "Sure, I want children, one or two. Three at the most." But are there many couples out there who are having several children, all for selfish reasons?

Again, I wouldn't doubt that there are some people out there who are open to having a very large family but it's all associated with selfishness but my objection is that these rare occurences do not warrant mandatory NFP instruction for everyone.

Otherwise, thanks for the clarifications.

JimmyV said...


I am sorry that I missed the qualifier of "many" since it would be another point of agreement.

God bless.