Investigating NFP: Pius XI

Click here to read the previous post in this series.

It’s time to get our hands dirty by digging into the writings of recent popes to find out what they had to say about contraceptive issues. Let’s start with Pius XI’s 1930 Casti Connubii, which was written in response to the Anglican Communion’s decision that year to permit artificial contraception within marriage (general acceptance came later).

Skipping past the introductory stuff,

“24. This mutual molding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof.”

Summary: the purpose of marriage is more than the bearing and raising of children.

“25. By this same love it is necessary that all the other rights and duties of the marriage state be regulated as the words of the Apostle: ‘Let the husband render the debt to the wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband,'[1 Corinthians 7:3] express not only a law of justice but of charity.”

In other words, don’t unjustly deprive your spouse of sex. It should be noted that St. Paul mentions only spending time in prayer as a reason for deliberately avoiding sex, saying, “Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

“53. And now, Venerable Brethren, we shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act. Some justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances.”

This is the only reference to something like NFP I could find in Casti Connubii. The important contrast that Pius XI makes is between “virtuous continence” and “frustrating the marriage act”. Various rhythym methods were in wide use by the end of the 19th century. Surely, Pius XI would have known this. The meaning of this contrast is simple: If you don’t want to get pregnant, don’t have sex. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Now, that’s not to say that Catholic couples have carte blanche to avoid parenthood indefinitely, at least not without good reason. Weariness of children, satisfaction of selfish desires, and professed inability to remain continent do not qualify as good reasons. What Pius means by “difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances”, I do not know.

Comments 24

  1. Spacemouse wrote:

    Is this a list of sufficiently grave reasons to avoid having a/another child? Iím not entirely certain, but Iím inclined to say it is not.

    I think you’re right that it’s not a list of reasons to abstain- but that’s not because these aren’t “serious enough” reasons. That’s not even a question here, because Pius isn’t concerned here with the couple’s decision to be continent at avoid conception, but with the responsibilities society has towards the family. If there’s adequate societal support for the poor, he says, the family will not be strained by these negative conditions.
    This paragraph, I think, is a contribution to the Church’s social teaching, not to its teaching on NFP.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 12:11 pm
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    That bit of commentary from me was a last minute addition. I almost didn’t include it. I eventually decided to include it because that list represents some of the reasons that a couple might “lose heart” and avoid conceiving out of fear. That list includes some pretty serious problems that a couple can face. Yet, as you’ve stated in agreeing with me, it is not a list of reasons to abstain. If reasons as gravely serious as these are do not meet criteria for licit periodic abstinence, what reasons do?!?

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 12:16 pm
  3. Spacemouse wrote:

    What Lightwave and I are looking for, though, is a bright line rule for determining when abstinence from sex during fertile periods is licit.

    I wanted to comment on this, because the more I think about it, the more I think that this whole investigation is based on a false premise: you assume that it is job of the Church (meaning the official teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium) to offer clear guidelines as to what constitutes “grave reasons,” helping individual couples determine whether they have such reasons.

    Actually, though, that is not how the Church works with regard to moral theology. Rather, historically, the Church makes pronouncements on what actions constitute sin. But these statements are often broad and sweeping, not always designed to address specific nitty gritty situations. Then moral theologians propose various theologies based on moral dogma, but their conclusions aren’t binding. (You don’t have to agree with Ligouri on how often it’s okay to withold the truth!) From the books of moral theology, practical helps were designed to aid priests in confession, such as the medieval confessor’s manuals, or the textbooks used in seminary.

    The whole process is a bit different now that most Catholics (not just the elite) can read. The confessional is no longer a primary site of moral education, as it used to be. It can be and often is assumed that Catholics are reading official church documents on their own.

    But it would still be a mistake to assume that any of these encyclicals and Church documents are meant to replace the work historically done by moral theologians. We’re still supposed to turn to moral theology to offer (non-infallible) opinions on the applications of broad moral laws. In other words, we’re expected to turn to people like Lawler, Most or even Christopher West to help us determine what constitutes “grave reasons.” To expect the Church -the Magisterium- to do that work itself is to expect something that it never intended to do.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 12:26 pm
  4. Spacemouse wrote:

    If reasons as gravely serious as these are do not meet criteria for licit periodic abstinence, what reasons do?!?

    It seems that you didn’t understand my comment. This list hs NOTHING to do with reasons for periodic abstinence, therefore, nothing in the text -or left out of the text- indicates that these AREN’T reasons for such abstinence. Rather, this passage is concerned entirely with PREVENTING these situations from occuring.

    Your question above still presupposes that because Pius doesn’t mention that they are licit reasons, they must not be. But such an argument from silence doesn’t work here, because all his silence on the matter indicates is a preference for solving these problems at the root. But this preference doesn’t say what happens if the state and/or private organizations don’t jump in and fix a given couple’s problem. There is nothing here to indicate whether, in that case, the couple would or wouldn’t be right in using periodic continence. The document simply isn’t intended to address that question.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 12:32 pm
  5. Funky Dung wrote:

    A friend of mine brought up similar points in private. As a result of that conversation and your comment, I believe that in the last post in the series I will posit that the responsibility for clarifying these matters lies in with the bishops and bishops’ conferences. I don’t went to get to involved in this line of conversation, though, since I intend to address this topic later. Nevertheless, regardless of who is responsible for clarifying these teachings, I think it’s important to know what the teachings are.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 12:32 pm
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    Perhaps my last-minute decision was unwise. I’ll leave the current version up for a while to get others’ opinions, but I might end up deleting that bit.

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 12:34 pm
  7. Squat wrote:

    From Lightwaves NFP post:
    “From my humble perspective, I canít see how NFP is any better than any contraception method. I use NFP. I support NFP, because Iím following that 2000 years of accumulated wisdom. But I still think NFP IS contraception and is no different than methods such as a condom, diaphragm, or The Pill.”

    From this post:
    “The bright line rule still isnít there. Actually, thatís not entirely true. There is a very bright line which a couple must not cross and that is the use of artificial contraceptives.”

    I hope this helps Lightwave out a bit. :-)

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 4:25 pm
  8. Lightwave wrote:

    Squat makes an insightful point. For a moment I thought I had my answer too. However, after re-reading the post, I realized that I am not as interested in the “bright line” as where the “actual” line lies.

    Indeed, in the comment thread from my original post, I suggest that NFP may be permitted not because it is objectively different than other contraceptive methods, but rather that it is less likely to be abused. If this is the *only* difference, then it would make other methods just as moral as long as they, too, were not abused. It is important to note here, though, that I am not actually saying this is the only diference (in fact, this is still a matter in question for me).

    Posted 10 Mar 2006 at 9:15 pm
  9. Stuff wrote:

    I’m inclined to agree with Spacemouse, and I know you’re not trying to go down this road just yet, but here I am antagonizing you anyway. :)

    I have chatted with a good friend of mine about this issue off and on and she gave what I think is a good analogy. The Church gives the extremely general guidelines for marriage that you must at least be open to children/large family and you must be responsible for your family. Then it says that artificial contraception is right out. We are then given rules for avoiding sin and general guidelines and opinions for achieving holiness in the vocation of married life.

    Perhaps God isn’t calling every married couple to have 12 children, give or take. God allows you the free will to determine your own path to holiness – and while some accept the call to heroism (i.e. 12 kids), it’s not necessarily in God’s plan for everyone.

    Many specific examples are found in the lives of the saints, though not specifically regarding NFP/marriage. The example my friend gave was that of Maria Goretti: it would not have been sinful for her to give in unwillingly to her aggressor and submit to rape. It was heroic, saintly grace for her to protect her purity at the high price of her very life. I immediately thought also of Gianna Molla, who gave her own life for her unborn child despite full understanding of her dire prognosis.

    So while some may be called to bear children in the direst of circumstances, placing all their trust in God’s merciful care, making babies all the time is not the hard and fast rule for everyone. Hence Pius’ mention of “virtuous continence” and its allowance by Church law.

    Keep in mind, though, that we are all called to be saints! Which is why your current investigation into your own situation, accompanied by lots of prayer and good counsel, is so important.

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 12:19 am
  10. Spacemouse wrote:

    Nevertheless, regardless of who is responsible for clarifying these teachings, I think itís important to know what the teachings are.

    That’s certainly true. I am definitely not saying that it’s a bad idea to study the documents related to marriage, childrearing, and NFP use. I just fear that you are expecting far too much specificity in the teachings. And if you approach documents ASSUMING that they have an answer to question X, when in fact they are dealing with question Y, then misreadings can occur.

    So, in short, if people keep telling you that the Church documents in question aren’t the place to look for answers about what constitute grave reasons, I’d listen to them. ūüėČ

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 10:47 am
  11. Dr. Gregory Popcak wrote:

    If you want to understand how the Church defines serious reasons, you really need to look no further than Gaudium et Spes 50 which I believe I cited in my first post on this. The Church leaves it to the couple to decide, “in the sight of God” what constitutes a serious reason. The “default” in Christian marriage is set neither to having or not having children, but to prayer and seeking God’s will together as a couple in the context of living a holy life.

    It is always easier to say, “The Church isn’t being clear” than it is to say, “I don’t want to accept the responsibility of having a mature spiritual life with my spouse and genuinely seeking God’s will.”

    For more info. Here’s what Pius XII said in his address to midwives in 1951, “Serious motives [for postponing pregnancy] such as those which not rarely arise from medical, economic and social indications, may exempt couples from the obligatory positive debt [i.e., intercourse during fertile times] for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.”

    Building on this, Pope JPII wrote, “In deciding whether or not to have a child, [a married couple] must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child. Therefore, when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary.”

    It isn’t up to you or anyone else to decide for others what constitutes a serious reason for postponing pregnancy. It is the height of pride to ordain ourselves to do that which even the Church herself refuses to do. The couple is responsible before God for making this decision. No one else.

    Posted 11 Mar 2006 at 7:37 pm
  12. Funky Dung wrote:

    If you want to understand how the Church defines serious reasons, you really need to look no further than Gaudium et Spes 50 which I believe I cited in my first post on this. The Church leaves it to the couple to decide, ‘in the sight of God’ what constitutes a serious reason. The ‘default’ in Christian marriage is set neither to having or not having children, but to prayer and seeking God’s will together as a couple in the context of living a holy life.

    Are there not other important decisions that the Church leaves to people or couples? Does the Church not give any helpful guidelines for those? My difficulty is not with the decision being up to the couple. I’m a big fan of free will. ūüėČ Rather, it is with the seeming lack of guidance for couples to properly inform their consciences by the teachings of the Church.

    It is always easier to say, ‘The Church isn’t being clear’ than it is to say, ‘I don’t want to accept the responsibility of having a mature spiritual life with my spouse and genuinely seeking God’s will.’

    Am I just being extra sensitive/paranoid right now or did you just imply that my wife and I don’t want a mature spiritual life or to genuinely seek God’s will? I’ll assume I’m just being paranoid; you certainly don’t seem judgmental in your books. For the record, though, much of my inspiration to write this series came from frustrations my wife and I have encountered while using NFP. We very much would like a clearer idea of what reasons can be considered serious or grave. Much as the joke goes about Anglicans, if you put two theologians, bishops, priests, or catechists in a room you get three opinions about what constitutes “grave”. ūüėČ

    For more info. Here’s what Pius XII said in his address to midwives in 1951, ‘Serious motives [for postponing pregnancy] such as those which not rarely arise from medical, economic and social indications, may exempt couples from the obligatory positive debt [i.e., intercourse during fertile times] for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.’

    I’m still writing my post about Pius XII, which is why I’ve refrained from commenting about him as much as possible. I didn’t find this bit very helpful. “Medical, economic and social indications” are very broad categories. What kinds of indications in those categories are objectively not grave? Also, what you give is not the full quote. Pius also mentions “eugenic” in his list of indications. I was under the impression that the Church was squarely opposed to eugenics, so I’m at a loss to explain that.

    Building on this, Pope JPII wrote, ‘In deciding whether or not to have a child, [a married couple] must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child. Therefore, when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary.’

    Just as a child does not know selfish use of toys (i.e. not sharing) is wrong until told so by his parents, I find myself, merely 6 years a Catholic, struggling to determine if my reasons for avoiding conception are selfish or not.

    It isn’t up to you or anyone else to decide for others what constitutes a serious reason for postponing pregnancy. It is the height of pride to ordain ourselves to do that which even the Church herself refuses to do. The couple is responsible before God for making this decision. No one else.

    I do not and have not denied this. However, is it not the Church’s duty to inform cconsciences? While she cannot be expected to speak directly to every person or couple’s situation, she can and does set up guidelines of objective truths for people to follow. All I’m asking for is some guidance. Stopping at saying “grave” or “serious” reasons is just too vague for me. I need to know more about what those reasons look like so I can compare them to my own. How is that too much to ask the magisterium?

    I apologize if I seem in any way rude, short-tempered, or arrogant. I’m just getting really frustrated with being told that this issue is simple and clear when I see it as complex and muddy.

    Posted 12 Mar 2006 at 12:38 am
  13. Funky Dung wrote:

    It isnít up to you or anyone else to decide for others what constitutes a serious reason for postponing pregnancy. It is the height of pride to ordain ourselves to do that which even the Church herself refuses to do. The couple is responsible before God for making this decision. No one else.

    I’ve read some pretty obviously didactic stuff on the net in which the author very clearly arrogates to himself teaching authority that rests with the Church. I am not seeking to do anything like that. I sincerly hope that I haven’t appeared to be doing so. This investigation is for my benefit and for the benefit of those who find themselves in a similar quandry (a set whose cardinality I know to be nonzero because it includes dear friends). Also, I cannot stress enough that this is a work in progress. My feelings might very well change by the time I make it to JP2. If I have appeared to be certain of myself and certain that the Church is wrong, I apologize. I do not wish to lead anyone astray with my public ponderings.

    Posted 12 Mar 2006 at 12:49 am
  14. Emily (the Ohioan one) wrote:

    “It isnít up to you or anyone else to decide for others what constitutes a serious reason for postponing pregnancy. It is the height of pride to ordain ourselves to do that which even the Church herself refuses to do. The couple is responsible before God for making this decision. No one else.”

    I promised Eric I’d chime in, so here goes.

    I am a single lay Catholic, striving to follow the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics. As my boyfriend and I become more serious, I am necessarily considering issues about NFP and childbearing. I have to say that, like Eric, I struggle with the role of NFP in a marriage, although, unlike Eric, I’m not married and so am not using it at this point.

    On the one hand, I hear some Catholics saying that there are absolutely NO good reasons to use NFP, several papal proclamations to the contrary notwithstanding. Their position seems to be that a couple should have as many children as they can physically bear — basically, that ever using NFP to avoid pregnancy is sinful.

    On the other hand, I hear many Catholics suggesting that NFP can be used just as artifical contraception can, touting the high effectiveness rate. A couple of years ago, when I was engaged to be married, I attended an Engaged Encounter retreat in which the entire discussion of NFP revolved around its effectiveness at avoiding pregnancy (by the way, when I was engaged, I read your book, and it helped me realize that the relationship was not a good one).
    Yet those saying this never address the Church’s teachings that NFP should only be used for serious reasons. What are serious reasons? I don’t think that the list has to be exclusive — i.e., reasons X,Y, and Z are serious, but Q is never serious. Such a list fails to account for the myriad possibilities of human life. That said, I do think we need to have some sort of discussion about what constitutes a serious reason. I think it is entirely possible to use NFP selfishly, with a contraceptive mentality — and don’t we want to prevent that by helping people understand just what a serious reason for avoiding pregnancy might be?

    (And then there are the many Catholics who defy the Church’s teachings and use artificial contraception anyhow, but that’s another story.)

    Posted 12 Mar 2006 at 5:21 pm
  15. Clattercote wrote:

    Just catching up on this series again (which I find highly interesting) – and I want to encourage Lightwave to consider NFP as about a MUCH more broad thing than whether or not it is contraception and ultimately works like the pill, etc. NFP is a way of life and a set of actions that cultivates virtue in one’s life (sometimes that is a vast struggle, I admit). It isn’t solely about the question of contraception – that’s a question that has a good place – but it’s just not the ultimate end of NFP.

    In some small way, there’s a parallel between this and abstaining from meat during Fridays in Lent – this action, simple as it is, is cultivating the virtue of love (of God) because it’s supposed to be geared toward thinking of Christ’s sacrifice for us – it is also a means of moderating our lives and becoming more dependent on God and acknowledging that fact. We could (and some do) get caught up in questions about “what constitutes meat”, “why is Friday any better than Thursday – they’re both just days”, etc. Those questions have a place, but they also tend to obscure the larger question about the purpose and place of the action itself in the context of the Christian life.

    Posted 13 Mar 2006 at 11:12 am
  16. Funky Dung wrote:

    “It isnít up to you or anyone else to decide for others what constitutes a serious reason for postponing pregnancy. It is the height of pride to ordain ourselves to do that which even the Church herself refuses to do. The couple is responsible before God for making this decision. No one else.”

    This explanation of “primacy of conscience” doctrine, though not directly related to this topic, is worth reading.

    Posted 13 Mar 2006 at 12:40 pm
  17. Dr. Gregory Popcak wrote:

    No, I’m not trying to be judgemental. I apologize if it seemed that way at all.

    Here’s the thing. The Church can’t define it any better than she already does because the circumstances are different for each couple. You aren’t going to get any clearer answers than this from the Church and the more you look, the more frustrated you’ll become. The problem is that too many times, we Catholics want the Church to tell us what God wants instead of developing the prayer-life and the capacity for discernment that God will use to tell us directly what his will is for our lives.

    You’re a pgh boy, I think, right? Well perhaps you knew Fr Ron Lawler from Pgh. He was one of the authors of Catholic Sexual Ethics and worked with Bishop Wuerl on The Teaching of Christ. I once interviewed him for an article I did on discerning family size for Catholic Parent magazine. His initial comment was, “the first step to discerning your family size is to seek to live a holy life.” His comment echo’s Augustine’s “Love God, then do as you please.” The idea here is that when we are genuinely seeking God’s will and prayerfully asking him how he wants us to live our lives, he will tell us. We have to have the confidence in the prayer life we have with our mate to know that God will help us discern what constitues a “serious reason” and what doesn’t in our particular marriage.

    And that’s why I argue that NFP is primarily a spiritual exercise. It focuses our prayer life on discerning what God’s will is for our marital lives each month. It forces us to prayerfully reckon with the question, “Lord, this month, are you saying that we should work on the unitive end of our marriage and family life so that at some point in the future we could have another child, or are you saying that this month we already celebrate a love so strong that in nine months it has to be given its own name?”

    Does that make sense.

    Look, I don’t want to monopolize your discussion here. If you want any more comments from me, feel free to send me an email at the address I list above. I’m happy to help as much as you like, but I don’t want to be a budinski.

    God Bless,
    Dr. P.

    Posted 13 Mar 2006 at 8:14 pm
  18. Spacemouse wrote:

    That said, I do think we need to have some sort of discussion about what constitutes a serious reason.

    I understand your desire for such discussions, but I hope you realize that it is VERY difficult to talk about this subject without seeming as if you’re judging other people’s reasons. I know that no one here intends to do so, but precisely because the issue of family planning is a concern to many married couples (and as you point out, most don’t even bother to follow the Church’s teaching anyway), it is hard to talk about it without ruffling unnecessary feathers. People are going to take it personally.

    I’m almost tempted to argue that the issue has to be a personal one, because it isn’t actually possible to talk about the issues abstractly- or, to the degree that it is, it’s necessary to use the very vague terms which seem to be frustrating Lightwave, Funkydong, and you.

    For example, everyone agrees that it is wrong to use NFP to avoid children for selfish motives, but much as one might want to figure out exactly what such selfish motives might look like, it’s doesn’t work very well to describe them in the abstract, because then the question still remains “how do I apply this to me?” Motives are personal and individual. One can only analyze motives in the concrete, and the only concrete example one is justified in examining is one’s own. I could tell you what my serious reasons are, but I can’t tell you what might or might not be serious reasons for anybody else. The more I think about, the more I think this is how such discussions about “what constitutes serious motives” flounder: they are either so vague that they may not seem useful, or they are so concrete/absolute that they become or seem to become judgmental.

    You -and everyone here who is concerned with selfish motives- might find Kimberly Hahn’s Life-Giving Love to be useful, as she lists a number of common reasons give for not having another child and then suggests ways around them. The book doesn’t label any of these reasons as serious or not, because that’s not the point: the point is that someone who is truly serious about using NFP unselfishly will be willing to examine his or her reasons and say “Would it put too much strain on our marriage/ our health/ our finances/ our spirituality / our community to have another child in our current situation? If so, is there a way around this situation? If there’s no way around it now, are there things we can do to get out of this situation eventually?”

    Hahn herself is a prime example of how what constitutes serious reasons can vary. At the time of writing, she had had six c-sections and three miscarriages. Many women would have used NFP to avoid further conceptions after just a few c-sections- and they may have been justified in doing so, since repeated c-sections can wreak havoc on a woman’s body. Many women would have used NFP to avoid the pain (physical and mental) of further miscarriages- and they may have been justified in doing so. God called Kimberly to make a heroic sacrifice, but it doesn’t follow that He calls all women to do so. Trying to draw generalizations about just reasons from Hahn’s case and applying them to other women could result in physical, mental, or spiritual anguish- or even death. It just doesn’t work that way. I suppose no one is saying that we should take a case like Kimberly’s and extrapolate rules about what is and isn’t selfish, but I don’t see any other practical course of action if one wants clear guidelines.

    As for myself, I think the church documents on the subject are vague for a reason, and we should respect that reason. But I realize that I’m posting quite a bit for someone knew to the blog, and like Dr. Popcak, I don’t want to overwhelm the combox, so I’ll try to quit repeating myself.

    Posted 13 Mar 2006 at 10:29 pm
  19. Emily (the Ohioan one) wrote:

    The idea here is that when we are genuinely seeking Godís will and prayerfully asking him how he wants us to live our lives, he will tell us.

    That does make sense when you phrase it that way… but I still do struggle with this point. Maybe it’s because of my Protestant background.

    I remember that growing up we used to joke about praying: “God, reveal your will to me, and send me where You will — anywhere but Africa.” The idea was that if God really did want you to go to Africa to spread the Gospel, even though you were praying to discern God’s will, you might not hear that call because you already had decided that God’s will was probably not for you to go to Africa.

    I guess that’s where I stumble, really.

    Posted 13 Mar 2006 at 11:52 pm
  20. Debbie wrote:

    My apologies concerning the post Mohammad in the Bible. I was posting a link to the Christian Carnival, and listing a few of the related posts for my readers to click over and read.

    Seems TypePad is having a mental breakdown. It does that sometimes. I’m so sorry and have gone back and corrected things. I don’t know why Typepad goes weired at times, but it does. I’m thinking about switching to something else.

    Very nice blog and post. Please forgive any problems I caused for you or your site.

    Posted 16 Mar 2006 at 12:50 pm
  21. Funky Dung wrote:

    No problems caused. I’ll just delete the trackback. Feel free to make a new trackback from the post about the Christian Carnival. :)

    Posted 16 Mar 2006 at 1:40 pm
  22. Funky Dung wrote:

    “No, Iím not trying to be judgemental. I apologize if it seemed that way at all.”

    And I’m sorry for being hypersensitive and reacting badly.

    “Hereís the thing. The Church canít define it any better than she already does because the circumstances are different for each couple. You arenít going to get any clearer answers than this from the Church and the more you look, the more frustrated youíll become. The problem is that too many times, we Catholics want the Church to tell us what God wants instead of developing the prayer-life and the capacity for discernment that God will use to tell us directly what his will is for our lives.”

    I’ll have to troll the Catechism to be sure, but I’m fairly certain there are issues that the Church gives broad stroke guidelines but refrains from giving specifics for the reasons you state. What I’m not seeing are the broad stroke guidelines (once one gets past “artificial methods are objectively immoral”).

    “Youíre a pgh boy, I think, right?”

    Well, for the past 11 years I have been.

    “Well perhaps you knew Fr Ron Lawler from Pgh.”

    Nope. Like I said, I’l only been in Pgh for 11 years, and I’ve only been Catholic for 6 of them.

    He was one of the authors of Catholic Sexual Ethics and worked with Bishop Wuerl on The Teaching of Christ.

    Both of those books are on my ever-growing book queue. ūüėČ

    “I once interviewed him for an article I did on discerning family size for Catholic Parent magazine. His initial comment was, ‘the first step to discerning your family size is to seek to live a holy life.’ His comment echoís Augustineís ‘Love God, then do as you please.’ The idea here is that when we are genuinely seeking Godís will and prayerfully asking him how he wants us to live our lives, he will tell us. We have to have the confidence in the prayer life we have with our mate to know that God will help us discern what constitues a ‘serious reason’ and what doesnít in our particular marriage.

    What’s the title of that article? Is it available online?

    “And thatís why I argue that NFP is primarily a spiritual exercise. It focuses our prayer life on discerning what Godís will is for our marital lives each month. It forces us to prayerfully reckon with the question, ‘Lord, this month, are you saying that we should work on the unitive end of our marriage and family life so that at some point in the future we could have another child, or are you saying that this month we already celebrate a love so strong that in nine months it has to be given its own name?'”

    That’s an interesting way of putting it. I’ll have to think about that a bit.

    “Does that make sense.”

    Yes, but I still feel like well-meaning couples could easily believe they have discerned God’s will but really haven’t and fall far short of the ideal. It’s hard to know if you’re acting in accord with God’s plan when you don’t have a clear idea of what that plan is.

    “Look, I donít want to monopolize your discussion here. If you want any more comments from me, feel free to send me an email at the address I list above. Iím happy to help as much as you like, but I donít want to be a budinski.”

    You’re not a budinski. Your comments are welcome and appreciated. I just felt as though you’d prematurely and incorrectly judged my motives and reacted poorly. Feel free to add to the discussion. My Pius XII post is almost ready to go up and I’m looking forward to your feedback. :)

    Posted 17 Mar 2006 at 6:56 pm
  23. Funky Dung wrote:

    “I understand your desire for such discussions, but I hope you realize that it is VERY difficult to talk about this subject without seeming as if youíre judging other peopleís reasons. I know that no one here intends to do so, but precisely because the issue of family planning is a concern to many married couples (and as you point out, most donít even bother to follow the Churchís teaching anyway), it is hard to talk about it without ruffling unnecessary feathers. People are going to take it personally.”

    I realize that fact but I don’t really understand it. I’m the kind of guy that can usually (but certainly not always) argue matters, perhaps even vehemently, in a “disconnected” manner. I don’t usually have difficulty arguing from a purely objective standpoint and it frustrates me when others either have difficulty or are entirely incapable of doing so. It’s part of why political partisnaship annoys the hell out of me. ūüėČ

    “Iím almost tempted to argue that the issue has to be a personal one, because it isnít actually possible to talk about the issues abstractly- or, to the degree that it is, itís necessary to use the very vague terms which seem to be frustrating Lightwave, Funkydong, and you.”

    Either there is objective truth or there isn’t. I understand that subjective circumstances can reduce culpability for failure to adhere to objective truths, but they cannot eliminate them.

    “For example, everyone agrees that it is wrong to use NFP to avoid children for selfish motives, but much as one might want to figure out exactly what such selfish motives might look like, itís doesnít work very well to describe them in the abstract, because then the question still remains ‘how do I apply this to me?’ Motives are personal and individual. One can only analyze motives in the concrete, and the only concrete example one is justified in examining is oneís own. I could tell you what my serious reasons are, but I canít tell you what might or might not be serious reasons for anybody else. The more I think about, the more I think this is how such discussions about ‘what constitutes serious motives’ flounder: they are either so vague that they may not seem useful, or they are so concrete/absolute that they become or seem to become judgmental.”

    I’d be happy to see some clarification of the classes of reason given (medical, etc). Even if you have to throw a hundred caveats at me, at least I’d have something to compare to.

    “You -and everyone here who is concerned with selfish motives- might find Kimberly Hahnís Life-Giving Love to be useful, as she lists a number of common reasons give for not having another child and then suggests ways around them. The book doesnít label any of these reasons as serious or not, because thatís not the point: the point is that someone who is truly serious about using NFP unselfishly will be willing to examine his or her reasons and say ‘Would it put too much strain on our marriage/ our health/ our finances/ our spirituality / our community to have another child in our current situation? If so, is there a way around this situation? If thereís no way around it now, are there things we can do to get out of this situation eventually?'”

    I might just check that book out. Thanks for the tip. :)

    “As for myself, I think the church documents on the subject are vague for a reason, and we should respect that reason. But I realize that Iím posting quite a bit for someone knew to the blog, and like Dr. Popcak, I donít want to overwhelm the combox, so Iíll try to quit repeating myself.”

    And like Dr. P, your comments are welcome and appreciated. Keep ’em coming. :)

    Posted 17 Mar 2006 at 7:05 pm
  24. Lightwave wrote:

    I think Dr. Popcak and Spacemouse make some excellent points that there is a level of personal discernment that must surround how an individual applies the Church’s teachings to their lives. I would, however, prefer *a lot* more guidance. Again, I am left to wonder if I am listening to my conscience or my desires. I also find I must agree with Funky’s assessment of objective truths and subjective circumstances. If this doesn’t seem to make a single bit of sense, it’s because I’m feeling a bit confused too!

    Clattercote: I appreciate your suggestion, and I do indeed realize that NFP can, and often has, other benefits than merely the “spacing of births” when used in accordance with Church teaching. Without rehashing the 140 some odd comments from the previous thread, however, lets just say this isn’t a sufficient differentiator to help me understand the difference in prohibition.

    By the way, I do use NFP. I’m not sure Iíve personally seen all the virtuous and spiritual benefits that everyone talks about (maybe I get them, but just don’t “see” them). I certainly don’t feel particularly more virtuous for its use. I do feel obedient though. :)

    Posted 19 Mar 2006 at 7:02 pm

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 5

  1. From Right Truth on 20 Mar 2006 at 2:48 am

    Disciple’s Journal, “Aesop’s Fables for Godbloggers: The Crow and the Pitcher” Canadian Financial Rants, “Sunday Reading: Lent” Fallible, “Ashes for Beauty” Brutally Honest, “Further Proof Texting” Ales Rarus, “Investigating NFP, “Pius XI” Parableman, “Joy”

  2. From HerbEly on 14 Mar 2006 at 3:18 pm

    and Geneticist specializing in preconception health and NaProTechnology, which is a new reproductive science for assisting couples to conceive naturally without the use of artificial reproductive techniques. Funky Dung sends his the second post in his series on NFP. It focuses on Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii Finally, the story of Abraham and Isaac led me to reflect on the numbers of ways in which modern parents engage in Bloodless Child Sacrifice

  3. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Investigating NFP: Preface on 15 Mar 2006 at 12:58 pm

    […] Pius XI […]

  4. From Light Along the Journey » Blog Archive » Christian Carnival 113—The Innovation Edition on 15 Mar 2006 at 9:49 pm

    […] Ales Rarus gives the second part of the series on natural family planning this week. […]

  5. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Investigating NFP: Pius XII on 19 Mar 2006 at 1:59 pm

    […] Investigating NFP: Pius XII By Funky Dung Click here to read the previous post in this series. […]

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