In one of the Catholic NFP Facebook groups I’m in, many of the members and I had a lengthy discussion about what it means to be open to life. (I’m going to assume that most of my readers are familiar with that term; if not, there is a good overview by Jennifer Fulwiler here.)
During the course of the thread, we came up with what we call “The Open Door Analogy” as a way to explain what it means to be open to life, and how it’s possible to practice responsible parenthood and avoid pregnancy while still being open to life. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it works pretty well.
You and your spouse own a home. You both very much enjoy throwing parties in your home. However, you aren’t yet ready to have other people attend your parties. You’d prefer to keep your parties private for the time being. Maybe you don’t have the money to cater a party with a lot of guests; maybe you have health concerns that preclude giving public parties. Whatever your reason, you prefer, for now, to keep your parties limited to you and your spouse.
However, you know from experience that there’s a roving group of party-goers who will show up at a certain time every month, hoping for a party invitation. Many of them attend parties by invitation, but some of them will enter the house if they so much as suspect there is a party going on, even if they are uninvited. They are only in the neighborhood about six days of the month, but you never know for sure when they might show up. You’re only able to tell when they arrive and when they leave.
You know that parties need party guests, and you don’t fault these party-goers for looking for a party when they know parties are happening. But since you and your spouse have carefully discerned good reasons to have private parties for now, you decide to throw your parties only when you are pretty sure that the party-goers aren’t in the neighborhood.
This strategy doesn’t sit well with you, because you know that party-goers are an essential part of every party, and you should really have a good reason not to invite other people to your parties. Instead of destroying people who want to attend, you think it’s better to have parties when the party-goers aren’t around, so that they don’t know what they are missing.
Even though you are not expecting any party-goers to be in the neighborhood when you throw your parties, given what you know about the party-goers and their patterns of behavior, you have no wish to deny them entry should they show up unexpectedly. After all, you’re having a party, and they are party guests!
So you keep your the door to your house open and unlocked just in case there happen to be random party-goers in the neighborhood who are looking for a party. You don’t put up barricades in front of your door or landmines on your lawn. You don’t do anything at all to prevent party-goers from attending, should they show up to the party. You do take advantage of the natural patterns of the party-goers in hopes that you can keep your parties private, but you aren’t actively discouraging party-goers from attending by use of barricades or land mines.
And if a party-goer unexpectedly comes in your door and joins your party? You get him a cold beverage, and thank him for coming.