The Secret Life of Mr. and Mrs. Average

I had a dream that I was cleaning a sanctuary, and there was a beam that needed dusting high in the rafters. In order to clean it, I had to put on a special suit and scoot my whole body across the beam like a human swiffer sweeper.

From my elevated perspective, I could see people down below in the Church, and I couldn’t help thinking, “None of them would have bothered to clean this beam. They can’t even see what’s up here. But I see it, and I have to do it right, even if it means I die in the process.” The whole time I cleaned, there was a threat that I could lose my balance and fall down below.

The evening before this dream, I’d had a conversation with a dear friend who, like me, has six children. She’d just had another pregnancy scare. And yes, I use the word “scare” intentionally, since even though babies are always good, meeting the news of another pregnancy with a bit of fear is not unheard of. Particularly, a seventh child moves you into a whole new realm of spiritual and material investment. The eight passenger vehicle is no longer an option. Most homes are not made to accommodate the larger family. My friend’s husband had concerns about the stability of his job, and their oldest kids are in high school.

They had been shifting into another stage of life with older children, and my friend said, “I just can’t do it anymore. I cannot have another baby, even if it means I sever my relationship with the Church.”

She already felt challenged to give all of her existing children the attention she wanted to give them. “It’s true what they say about middle children always getting the shaft,” she said, “and I’ve got a whole house full of middle children. … I realize this vocation of Catholic motherhood is about love. Who am I capable of loving? Can I love the irritating neighbor? Can I love the unknown potential child? I don’t know if I can. I am stretched out of love. I can’t go any further right now.”

I know what it’s like to feel that there’s no place left in the world in which to grow. My own six kids have filled every corner our house with people and noise and shoes. The washing machine is exhausted. Our grocery budget is tired of being trampled on. The beds are sagging with the weight of us. The table is holding out its elbows to keep its place. When emotional flexibility is also at a premium, it feels like everything in our lives is about to snap.

“But you don’t need to sever your relationship with the Church,” I said. “There’s a lot of distance between I’m out of steam and I’m outta here. There must be a place in between where you can rest for awhile.”

It’s not surprising that such a place seems difficult to find. Over the weekend, I read an article on heroic parenting: “Has the Church Succumbed to an Anti-family Culture?” by Francis Phillips. Phillips writes:

“The Church tells Catholics to follow the path of natural family planning (NFP) or natural family fertility awareness – but without stressing that it should only be followed for grave reasons…

“Few Catholics understand the Church’s proper teaching on marriage and openness to life; even fewer follow it; and the result is that Catholic families tend to look and behave just like their secular counterparts. With rare exceptions, they are not the sign of contradiction that they ought to be.”

Phillips quotes an article titled “Heroic Parenthood” written by Christopher Gawley from the publication, Christian Order. Gawley’s piece is so full of straw men about his fellow Catholics’ reasons for using NFP, it’s almost not worth addressing. He accuses them of wanting to keep up with the Joneses and of “conjugal bulimia,” among other things. Finally, he issues a sort of fantasy marriage preparation program, expunged of the “vulgarity” of discussing bodily functions pertaining to the practice of NFP:

“For you young Catholic people who are marrying in your twenties, you can expect, God willing and absent a physical impairment or grave reason, to have a home filled with many children. You should mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for seven, eight, nine or more children given your ages. You should be prepared to accept the hardships that come with having a large family for two important reasons:  children please our Lord and your cooperation with the Lord in bringing forth new souls will in turn please our God, which will bring you many graces. Second, having a large family will help you be saved, it will re-focus your attention from the material attachments that are both rampant today and hazardous to your eternal destination. Your many children will help you to become better and holier people and will stand as a contradiction to a world that has forgot how live the abundant life. You, and your large faithful families, will turn the tide against the scoffers and misanthropes who would revile God’s creation and man’s place in it. We cannot promise you it will be easy because it won’t, but if you persevere in prayer and virtue, you will overcome with God’s grace. And should you live to see your children’s children, you will praise God all the more that he saw fit to give you the gift of faith.”

Phillips agrees with Gawley’s charge:

“I find its message unassailable. It reminds me that we Catholics are not called to be ordinary, Mr and Mrs Average, heads-below-the-parapet types. We are called to be saints.”

A few things in both articles strike me as very true:

1. The Church loves large families.
2. Large families are a sign of contradiction in the secular world.
3. Having a large family can be a path to holiness and abundant life.
4. We are called to be saints.

The tone of the articles, however, misses the mark in my opinion.

Aside from having chosen the wrong pronoun with which to make a difficult point (“You” should expect to have seven or more children; “You” should accept hardships; “You” should be a hero and a saint.), by diminishing the promotion of Natural Family Planning to Catholic couples, Gawley’s vision allows only two options for married people: Be a hero or leave the Church.

These are difficult burdens to ask others to carry, and the result of laying such responsibilities on people who are too weak to carry them is that people leave the Church without ever even trying. If you had told me as a newlywed that I would have six children after 13 years of Catholic marriage, I would have turned around and joined the Presbyterians. There’s no room for graduality, conversion and growth in Gawley’s vision, no allowance for the work of grace on a soul as one child prepares a family, heart and soul, to welcome the next.

Not to mention, by saying, “I’m going to be a hero and I’m going to do it by having lots of kids,” I would be usurping God’s design for my life, dictating to him the terms by which I would achieve sainthood, rather than the other way around.

Fortunately, Mother Church is a bit gentler than these articles. She allows that when one feels arrested by life’s options–caught in a false bind between a heroism one doesn’t feel up for and being Mr. or Mrs. Average (Ew!)–it is OK to do nothing, to just…rest. Every good steward knows that fallow times are essential to the continued good health of the land.

Parental heroism is not limited to having a large brood. Sometimes the most heroic thing we can do is be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, remaining in assiduous union with Christ and his will at all times–this is what all Saints have in common.

Unfortunately, in order to hear that voice, sometimes we have to come down from our lofty position and sit with the rest of the rabble in the Church. We may be surprised at the humility and holiness Mr. and Mrs. Average bring to their vocations.

About Elizabeth Duffy
  • bearing

    There’s a big difference between “we’re all called to be saints” and “every one of us who isn’t eventually canonized is a failure.”

  • Suzy homemaker

    Dear Mrs Duffy, I am a mom to six age 10 and under. I have my bachelors degree and worked in the business world for five years before settling into marriage. I tasted the two income lifestyle, what it felt like to buy new clothes for myself, or get my hair cut/colored, meals out at restaurants. Not anymore! I sat here in the wee hours of the a.m., sipping my coffee, reading your blog. This is the only time I have to myself, in quiet. In my reply to you, I am now nursing my youngest while being beat with a hat by my two year old. The older four are outside swinging, it’s 8am now. I face a monumental day of work ahead, just the usual of caring for six very young children – laundry, dishes, paying bills, cooking 3 meals, all by myself while he works 60 hrs a week. There are no lessons or camps to distract us, no, not only can we not afford to sign the kids up, but I can’t afford to un-park my giant van from the driveway. Our local Catholic school charges $4000 per student, with meager discounts, so I am planning on homeschooling them again this year. I see no break in my future. Day after day of stolen moments for myself, a constant servant of the ever-demanding brood. I did pee on a stick this morning, grateful for the negative result. And I tell you all of this because maybe you recognize it? I wish someone like Mr Phillips would have warned me of all this before we married, but perhaps we would have been too culturally influenced and said ‘forget this!’. My life is mundane, ordinary, boring, almost monastic. I avoid having friends over, it only adds to my work and the chaos and noise. My only success are the prayers memorized, the hugs between siblings, or managing to feed everyone on a shoestring and not have echoes of “I’m hungry” as we put them to bed, exhausted, every evening. I wish someone would tell us before we got married about the months and really years of abstinence, and then having sex once only to get pregnant and spend 9 months too sick and miserable to have sex again. I’m one of those NFP failures of a woman, cycles too irregular, double peaks, screwed up thyroid messing up the basal temperature. Abstinence is the only relief from the constant cycle of ppd turned to fresh-anew morning sickness. I could go on and on but they call me – the screaming kids, the dishes, the miles long to-do list. God bless you, and thank you for the words you scribble out to us, they make me feel less alone and give me the strength to carry on, knowing I am not the only one.

    • Elizabeth K.

      Praying for you, Suzy.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/duffy/ Elizabeth Duffy

      Also praying.

    • RET

      You are wonderful -and you’re in my prayers too.

    • M.S.

      Suzy thanks for your honesty. I would consider talking to your husband and/or a priest about this situation or seeking counsel somewhere. My husband and I use NFP (effectively, so far) and it has been a big blessing for us. But I believe NFP is not necessarily for everyone. Maybe you can see what your other options are. I have a friend with a very challenging cycle and she has to be on the pill because she actually has monthly hemorrhaging… but she and her husband abstain during the “fertile” time just to avoid the abortifacient risk of the pill. I am not trying to condone birth control, but I realize this issue is not black and white, and being a good Catholic does NOT mean living a miserable life. You owe it to yourself, your husband, and your children to try to find joy and peace in your life and in your faith.

    • oregon catholic

      I think when life feels too hard, doing a gratitude inventory is more helpful than ‘unloading’ which can have the effect of keeping us on our pity-pot as we reinforce our unhappiness by listing all our problems and getting sympathy and reinforcement.

      It helps to have a go-to list of examples of people you can pray for who have it so much worse than you do. The prayer and focus on the ‘other’ will lift your own spirits as you see how much better off you are.

      There are so many women who would trade their life for yours. I know a woman who works in a care home who helped me through the death of a close relative. She has little education but a huge heart for her work. She works full time at a physically and emotionally demanding job for little more than minimum wage, yet she was always the epitome of the patient and caring person anyone would want attending them at the end of life. She also does odd jobs for hire outside of her regular job just to make ends meet and feels ecstatic when she gets a housecleaning job! She has 3 children and a home she has to take care of besides and her husband’s work situation is much the same as her own so the family struggles financially but is grateful they can find any work at all.

      Do you think this woman might be very happy to stay at home and have more babies if her husband could bring home enough money for her to do so? I can guarantee you she would think she was the most blessed woman on earth. Try to see your priviledged life as she would see it and be grateful.

      • Mama A

        I disagree with you, Oregon Catholic. I do not think it is helpful necessarily to compare yourself to someone who so-called “has it worse than you do.” (and it is not for us to judge who has it worse, right? We never know the whole story, and we’re all called to help and pray for one another).

        If anything from Suzy’s post above, it sounds like she is so focused on meeting the needs of others (her own family) that she is overwhelmed and could use a break. Praying for you, Suzy!

  • Jenny

    I can’t help but notice that they keep referring to we Catholics, but they are both men. I wonder if their wives spend the better portion of each pregnancy with their heads in the toilet? Pretty easy to tell other people to suffer.

    • Chris

      Francis Phillips is a woman.

      • Jenny

        Ha! Shows you how close I read!

        Anyway the basic point still stands. Some women have great pregnancies and other women have miserable ones. It has been my experience that the women with relatively mild pregnancy symptoms do not understand how truly miserable pregnancy can be for others. And if pregnancy is generally grand for you, it is pretty easy to write off others sufferings and tell them to suck it up.

        • oregon catholic

          I would think that any woman who gets so sick during pregnancy, to the point of not being able to function normally, has a very just reason to seriously limit her pregnancies. Same as a woman who has a menstrual cycle so heavy she cannot function normally for several days each month has a legitimate reason to use BCPs if that is what her doctor advises.

  • JMB

    I don’t know. The older I get, the less I listen to people like Gawley and the more I turn to the Catechism. There is not one perfect size family. There are no perfect parents nor children. And there are some women (and men) who would do serious harm to a large brood of children. There are many mansions in the Father’s house.

    • KarenJo12

      I think these gentlemen need to read Luke 11:46 over and over.

    • Elizabeth K.

      I ‘m with you, JMB. My journey has been such that now I do wish I’d had more children (I have three, am unlikely to have more) but I also recognize that my life has evolved in a particular way, with God leading me slowly back into the church and into ever greater understanding of her wisdom.

  • another mom

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this. It’s part of an earlier conversation about the overwhelmed mother with many blessings and little support. The Church should help large families through the ministry of Catholic schools. Most Catholic schools don’t help faithful families, they cater to well-to-do families who are happy to say a few prayers and put their envelopes in the basket in exchange for a relatively inexpensive private education for their two or three children. Although there are many exceptions to this, we have to acknowledge it’s happening, and we have to acknowledge that Catholic school is often cost-prohibitive, and not accommodating in other ways, to large families. Somewhere along the line, Catholic schools quit being a solid education for Catholics and started trying to keep up with other private schools. Religious sisters and priests faded out of the picture and now we have experts with MAs in education, who need higher salaries. We have all sorts of extra administrators who…well I’m not sure what they do, but they get paid. We have smart boards in every classroom and fancy playground equipment, sophisticated field trips and sports teams, and the majority of large Catholic families cannot afford it. I’d rather lose the upgrades and have a simple, solid school where the faith comes first. One argument I’ve heard is, well, look at all the evangelizing that could happen. That’s great, if it’s happening, but I’m not so sure. Seems to me the Catholic schools have been hijacked, and as a result they are usually not much better than all our other secular institutions as far as acceptance and support of large families. This world is not friendly to large families, by and large, and there should be a place where we can come together for support and to educate our children.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/duffy/ Elizabeth Duffy

      This is a worthy point.

    • JoAnn

      I respectfully disagree with SOME of your comments. Catholic schools are unaffordable for many, but there are also (in some dioceses) resources available for financial aid. That being said, I would tend to blame the “dear” religious sisters who are too busy changing the world with their “social justice” causes, and apparently feel that teaching in elementary schools is beneath them. When the religious sisters were still living in community, in the convents associated with the parish, they had their stipends and taught. Now, it’s very rare to see any religious sisters teaching at all at the elementary level (if at all). As for the MAs in education, I think that might be more of a state requirement to get certified to teach, not necessarily a school requirement. My two children are in Catholic school in Forest Hills, Queens (New York), and with the “discount” for being a parish member giving at least $500 per year to the Church, it costs about $7600 for their tuition. That doesn’t include registration fees, computer fees, mandatory fundraising, etc. I don’t begrudge them the money, since most of it goes to paying the teacher. I agree (to an extent) that the Catholic schools have been hijacked; I think I disagree with the cause as to why tuition is so high.

  • another mom

    Sorry if my comment about Catholic schools seems off-topic, it’s where my mind went after reading Suzy homemaker’s thoughts.

  • Kathryn King

    I wish that we could all take a deep breath and then truly understand what it is that the Church is teaching us about family size. It’s not that we all must have huge families. We are always encouraged to do what will increase the love in our household, and that requires prayerful consideration of all the resources that we have been given (emotional, physical, financial, etc). Where there are weaknesses in our characters or our circumstances, we are allowed to take those into consideration.

    I think the other half is embracing the responsibility that comes with planning . . . that we as a couple can take charge and decide that we’re going to not have sex–maybe for a while–because we cannot manage another child for the foreseeable future. Everything around us says that not having sex all the time is bad, but it’s not. Learning to give physical affection without the genital embrace (as one of my very technical NFP manuals calls it!) is a good thing for married people.

    Holy Mother Church teaches us all to have a little levity in every aspect of our lives: gain a little more control of our appetites, drives and impulses; grow a little more generous; seek the good of others before ourselves . . . in this area of our lives (ie, fertility/sexuality), it is no different.

    It irks me when we willful, stupid sinners try to make it out as being otherwise.

  • Chris

    Speaking of straw men, I sincerely believed you missed the point of my article. It was not a screed against NFP — rather treating NFP as if it were a normative way of life — it is not. Best.

    • KarenJo12

      Your article clearly stated that Catholics should have huge families regardless of the actual situation of the parents.

      • Chris

        Sorry, but it doesn’t and I am truly sorry if you think it did: my thesis was that large families ought to be the norm — and NFP the exception or dispensation. I wholly acknowledge that the Church in her wisdom allows for grave or serious circumstances to trump what is the norm. I would be the last to dispute what the Church has said on this. I do think managing for family size for non-serious reasons is a sin — not the same as using contraception, but still a serious sin nonetheless. We should be salt and light to the world — embracing the suffering of a large family is part of that witness. Again, my article was not a screed against NFP but rather against the mentality that treats NFP as if it is a wonderful thing. It is something to be endured under specific moral requirements — not celebrated.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/duffy/ Elizabeth Duffy

          Some quotes from the section of your article titled “Why Natural Family Planning Has Failed.” It does read to me as a bit of a screed against NFP:

          —”NFP as a movement has utterly failed in its intended mission to present a viable alternative to a contraception-crazed world.”

          –”Instead of attacking the banality of the contraceptive concept of “responsible” parenthood by juxtaposing it with “heroic” Christian parenthood, we lost the battle before it ever began by essentially advertising “contraception-light” as a way to keep up with the Joneses.”

          –”The emphasis on NFP as a positive has created a creeping contraceptive mentality that is suspicious of grace and faith.”

          –”But Catholic couples ought to feel a sorrow by having the necessity to resort to NFP. By analogy, NFP is a type of bankruptcy in a technical sense.”

          –”Another problem with NFP in practice is its vulgarity”

          —”Simply stated, the idea of “responsible parenthood” sells the faith short and is pregnant (pardon the pun) with concepts that are inconsistent with Catholic heroism. We should not settle for “responsible parenthood” but aspire for “heroic parenthood.””

          ***
          You seem to suggest that marriage prep programs should not promote the use of NFP. Of course, if marriage prep doesn’t promote it, there is almost no place where couples can get any information on it. From my vantage point, there are so few couples who even attempt NFP that there could not possibly be enough information or study to suggest that NFP has failed at anything–except perhaps preventing an occasional pregnancy. In fact, by and large, NFP couples are the ones having heroically large families.

          • Chris

            I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree: And I do think — obviously — all of your quotes from my article are right in context. NFP is often vulgar, responsible parenthood is a weak substitute for heroic parenthood and we should feel as sorrow that we have to resort to NFP (because, by definition, we have a serious reason for not being open to children at the present moment). After all, who could really object to the Catholic ideal that to being totally open to God in his plan for our fecundity is the aspiration for married Catholics.

            Most of the reaction I have received for the article has been positive albeit not all. I would say NFP in practice has failed because it is being cast into a role (i.e., as a way of normal conjugal life) that it never should have been — it wasn’t, at least originally, seen as a normative thing. The fact that daring to call it not normative is so controversial is proof positive that of how distorting in practice it has become. What the Church needs now — what it always needs — are signs of contradiction: obscenely large families do that in spades. I realize that not everyone can have one for a variety of reasons — but we should as Church Militant aspire for that contradiction. I assume from your experience as mother to six children, you stand out, you are a sign of contradiction to a parsimonious world. I know that I am with seven children. The final point is that many of these comments seem to take issue with the idea that my article puts upon people a yoke too great — whatever happened to the contrary idea that we are saved through redemptive suffering — that we should positively run to it. I appreciate your comments and your thoughts and the fact that you taken the time to respond to my article. I don’t think it should be, however, that controversial to remind Catholics that the aspiration generally speaking is to be open always to God when it comes to the gift of children. God be with you.

  • Kate

    Thanks not only for the article, but the comments as well. I’m one of those with a “small family”. We were only able to conceive and bear two children, both boys. Both my husband and I came from large families, six and five children respectively. We’ve used NFP to conceive. It’s rather helpful that way. It has also made an accurate diagnosis of the medical issues that have resulted in secondary infertility. I suspect that God rather had a purpose in mind, as our youngest has complex special needs. So I parent the children I teach in our faith formation classes at the parish. I parent the children I serve in the public school in which I work. I don’t take over what their own parents do, I just help them along the way. It is much easier when people don’t assume they know why people have the size families they do. I’ve seen far too much assumption and judgment of both large and small-size families. We need to help each other along the way. This kind of posting helps. The posts linked to, not so much. To those who question NFP users on just how “grave” their reasons may or may not be regarding child spacing and family size, why do you actually learn about how it works and how regular people actually use it. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised. To those who question those who don’t plan at all, leaving it up to God and nature to take its course, again learn about how those who choose this way actually live out their choice. I’d bet we have much more in common than different. I also think we need to again stand with each other and help each other out, not tear each other down. Our day to day culture does that enough already. From personal practice and experience, I can affirm that NFP, followed faithfully, is extremely effective in countering a “contraceptive mentality”. Like the other couples in our NFP class, we had all stopped the abstaining requested as part of the teaching of the class to learn how cycles worked and what our cycles actually looked like because we all wanted to have the “open to life mentality” and have babies! From what I have seen, that seems to be a common occurrence.
    To all the other moms and dads out there reading this and living out their vocations, keep on keeping on! See you around in this great worldwide Church to which we belong!
    Peace!

  • Momofsix

    Suzy,
    I can totally relate to everything you say. I have six, one having special needs. We are on our eleventh year of homeschooling. I will pray that God will console you in your mission and sufferings. What we are doing may seem mundane, but is it really?! Let us pray for love, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all the graces necessary to help our children to Heaven. I am going to start a gratitude journal for myself and a gratitude jar for my family. I think God wants joy for us, one child or ten children, He wants Heaven for us.

  • JohnE_o

    So many people so sure that they know how other people should live their lives…

  • TheReluctantWidow

    Elizabeth, I had a comment all typed out and I deleted it because it just sounded trite. Thank you for your piece. Frankly, I didn’t read the article(s) you linked to because I think the bigger point is that no matter the size of our families (mine is relatively small at 4 kiddos), we are all challenged to make heroic sacrifices for the sake of our children and to benefit others. Maybe some of the sacrifices we can make is to look around at families that are larger than our own and see if there is something we can do to make them feel welcomed and embraced by their faith community. I have experienced that kind of embrace this year, and it has gotten me through some very rough patches and all I really needed was for someone to come to my home and lighten my load just a bit – clean the kitchen for me, take one child out to do something special, come to my house after the kiddos are asleep to just talk and hang out, and so on. I think that whether our families are large or small, if we just embrace them, make kids feel welcome in our parish and at Mass, just loving families – that is what will show the world that Catholics love and embrace children. Kids matter, families matter, that should be the message of the Church. I think it is.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/duffy/ Elizabeth Duffy

    Another Mom,
    I want to be careful about indicting religious sisters and their intentions. The Nashville Dominicans, for instance, I believe are doing all they can to revitalize Catholic schools, but of course their reach is limited by their numbers. Fortunately, the order is growing.

    Otherwise, your description of Catholic schools mirrors my own experience. All families (particularly those on assistance) were required to do 20 hours of service a year or face a financial penalty. Of course those on assistance were likely to be, like us, the ones with a babe in arms and a toddler trailing close behind. I tried doing my service hours, but mostly, I chased my own children.

    You always hear about schools where after three kids, the rest go free. That was not the case at our school. In fact, there was no policy in place for extra large families (four or more kids), so that we calculated just educating our six through elementary would cost approximately 36,000.

    Also, there are very few resources in place for special needs kids so that one of ours really struggled. After graduating our oldest from fifth grade, we switched to public school and have been very pleased with our experience there so far (a little over a year).

    Clearly, our preference would have been for the kids to go to a school where their faith was fully integrated in their curriculum. For those of us who are unable to home school, the Catholic schools should be that support for families, absolutely.

    • another mom

      I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Nashville Dominicans. I know about some of their schools and I think they’re wonderful. Some of us here have been trying to convince them to come to our diocese. And yes there are other similar orders of women religious who are amazingly wonderful and I wish they could be in the schools teaching my children. By “some of the women religious and their priorities” in my earlier comment I mean the Obama-lovin-nuns-on-a-bus types. Guess I should have said so but I didn’t want to indict anyone specifically. So now I guess I am for the sake of clarity. I don’t presume to know their intentions but I think is fair to take issue with their actions. Some orders have a history in the past few decades of leaving education and choosing to spend their efforts on political action.

  • oregon catholic

    I tend to agree with the article, perhaps because I’m somewhat
    removed in years from the issue of using NFP and it’s not personal for
    me. But I also come from an era when I saw family life pre-1960′s and
    the sexual revolution.

    When Christopher talks about contraception lite and sexual bingeing he is talking about NFP buying into the prevailing cultural mindset that sexual urges shouldn’t be denied. It can come across as Catholic contraception – a poor cousin
    perhaps to BCPs but contraception nonetheless – and having to deny any
    sexual urge is seen as a huge sacrifice and burden especially within a
    marriage. The only real option most couples had before NFP (the rhythm
    method was first approved in the 1930′s) was abstinance for most of the
    month – often times intercourse during the menstrual cycle was the only
    viable option for avoiding pregnancy (there is a reason Jews had such
    strong proscriptions against it – it prevented the building up of the
    Jewish nation). Menstruation was the only visible sign of a woman’s
    infertile period. It took modern science to reveal any other information
    – so I think it is a fair question to ponder – did God’s design really
    intend for couples to have so much knowledge of how to get around the
    fertile and infertile periods, or are we playing God to a certain
    extent?

    So complaining that NFP is too hard is very much a symptom of modern cultural thinking imo that NFP in turn tends to promote. You can certainly see that mind-set of using it to get as much infertile sex per month as possible by reading any Catholic blog where proponents congregate and share ‘tips’. There is also the serious problem of contraceptive intent that is routinely denied among NFP proponents.

    • Kate

      “…a fair question to ponder – did God’s design really intend for couples to have so much knowledge…” So, are you suggesting that we’re not supposed to know this?
      NFP is not contraception. It is true that women/men sometimes fear pregnancy (esp. when there are already several children/a lot of children.
      We must keep asking GOd to help us to trust. And meanwhile, a whole lot of people need to quit judging other peoples motives – and maybe make dinner for a young mom instead. If young families had more practical support from family, friends and parishes, maybe the demands of the high demand years of child rearing wouldn’t be so daunting. I raised a big family with a lot of support – it was WONDERFUL – and still exhausting.

  • Anne

    Not having this particular fertility cross, I feel a little silly sharing my thoughts on the”NFP/Contraceptive Mentality” debate. Is it possible to abuse NFP, and use it because it out of selfishness? Sure. Just as it is possible to use your spouse selfishly in a number of ways that don’t involve the bedroom.

    What i think is beautiful about using NFP to avoid, even for reasons that are vain and selfish and silly (but really who gets to make that call for another?) is that there is an element of sacrifice automatically built in no matter what. Abstaining is a sacrifice-sacrifice leads to greater generosity. Having more kids is a sacrifice-ditto. Either way, you are growing in generosity. NFP can never really be contraception, because it will always have the element of sacrifice to abstain. Now if abstaining in your marriage isn’t a sacrifice, then there are other issues…

    • oregon catholic

      But how much sacrifice is it really to abstain for 7-10 days, which is a pretty common timeframe for a woman well adjusted to the process? Lot’s of couples for reasons of busyness or work schedules may routinely have periods like that. What if a couple using condoms carved out a 10-12 day abstinance period in every cycle to ‘pay’ for the greater assurance of using them? I really don’t think we should even be talking about sacrifice necessarily, like it’s God’s penalty or something.

      I think what our common NFP process really misses is the element of trust in God to send us the number of children He wants us to have and the sufficient grace to care for them. We are still trying to be in control when using NFP – and have as much ‘penalty-free’ sex as possible. You can’t market a product with messages like 99% effective or just as effective as BCPs and not be in a contraceptive mindset.

      The reason total abstinence is better than NFP is because it takes away the risk of mis-using marital sex and it has a clarifying element to it. When you are totally abstaining you are forced to rely more on what God is telling you about children and you weigh the value of the marital intimacy against the pressures or desires not to have another child. Often what we think is a good reason not to have another child becomes less significant (perhaps we get our priorities clearer) if we stop the intercourse entirely. Marital sex is not about making each other feel good or satisfied with each other – that is our post-modern, post sexual revolution thinking – it is about renewing and strengthening the marriage covenant with God – our own Trinity – and participating with God in His business of bringing new souls into the world for His greater glory. Like the author said, NFP should be sort of a last resort in a serious situation where total abstinence isn’t possible and not be considered a ‘good’ thing.This only sounds radical and too hard because we’ve bought into the popular culture’s messages about sex and wealth.

  • Mcm

    Two things: first the disagreements surrounding the use of NFP usually ultimately come down to disagreements about what “grave” means. Honestly, it’s impossible to agree on the meaning of this term as, of necessity in this circumstance, it will always mean very different things according to the number of couples using the term. No one ever has a right to judge what this word can or should mean for someone else. Period. That is between a couple and their priest and/or the couple and each other.
    Second: the very nature of NFP, helps each loving couple to determine the necessity, or not, of delaying children. NFP is hard to practice correctly and, hopefully, difficult for loving couples to do. So, for the most part, couples are not doing it at all, or with 100% success, unless in fact, they do have very grave reasons to do so. This is what completely separates it from any kind of artificial contraception and keeps it from being used “inappropriately”. It, by virtue of the sacrifices it entails, is very hard to do with the wrong mindset. Usually, if you are doing NFP wrong, it means you are in fact, getting pregnant. This is what ultimately keeps it an “open to life” practice fundamentally, which is why the Church allows it. IF a couple is managing to abuse NFP,and in some sort of selfish manner withholding sex from eachother, than they have deeper problems to address

  • Nayhee

    I cannot imagine that a Church that teaches (as Kathryn King points out in the comments) temperance and moderation of our physical appetites would not also approve us using our MINDS to do so. Also, there is no “thou shalt have a large family” commandment, as far as I know. But there IS a commandment to love with all our being (heart, mind, self, body), which necessarily requires moderation and temperance, and also prudence. And doesn’t Prudence require that we make every decision prayerfully and thoughtfully? It seems logical to me that just as each individual will do this differently, so in each marriage will this look different, and there are many ways of acquiring holiness otherwise God wouldn’t be God, would He?

    ps: The above quotes by Chris and Francis and the ones Betty included in her comment (the ones about NFP) are entirely uninspiring. I thought there was supposed to be more joy and less Agenda in living out the sacrament of matrimony! “Church Militant” indeed…


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