Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a way that many Catholics today space-out births of children based on their economic, social or medical reasons. Unfortunately, many Catholics also use NFP to decide when they are “done” having children, often based on lifestyle-preferences more than “grave reasons,” as required by the Catholic Church. On the other hand, some traditional Catholics today erroneously believe NFP didn’t exist before Vatican II. Pope Pius XII spoke about this aspect of the matrimonial-contract in an Address to Midwives on 29 October 1951. A small segment of his talk is copied below. His words are in italics and my commentary is found in orange-bold.
The Bonum Prolis
The matrimonial contract, which confers on the married couple the right to satisfy the inclination of nature, constitutes them in a state of life, namely, the matrimonial state. Now, on married couples, who make use of the specific act of their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of providing for the preservation of mankind. This is the characteristic service which gives rise to the peculiar value of their state, the bonum prolis. The individual and society, the people and the State, the Church itself, depend for their existence, in the order established by God, on fruitful marriages. Therefore, to embrace the matrimonial state, to use continually the faculty proper to such a state and lawful only therein, and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason, would be a sin against the very nature of married life.
Notice that Pope Pius XII asserts that a marriage’s “inclination of nature” (desire to unity physically) is clearly to be “fruitful” with children. To refrain from that without a “grave reason,” says the Pope, “would be a sin against the very nature of married life.” Most dioceses in the USA currently teach Natural Family Planning (NFP) indiscriminately as part of marriage-preparation. While that is admittedly better than co-habitating Catholics using the daily Contraceptive Pill that causes abortions as seen in my blog here last week, many dioceses currently refrain from asserting the full truth of the Catholic Church, namely, that NFP without a “grave reason” is also a grave sin. What then constitutes “a grave reason”? The holy pope continues:
Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to the full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.
When married couples actually have grave reasons (either medical or eugenic or economic or social) they may “avoid the fecundity of their union” but never “to satisfy…their sensuality” or live in a “false appreciation of life.” Pope Pius XII does not give specific parameters on how to reach the “grave” threshold of issues “medical, eugenic, economic or social,” so neither will I. But I will say that I have noticed when young Catholic couples are desperately searching for that “grave reason” to use NFP, the bedroom becomes a place of fear, not joy. Also, on the medical front of discerning NFP, I will mention that I have met many young Catholic couples who have been told at some point by some anti-life OB/GYN, “If you have another child, you will die.” Obviously, this is usually a lie. But then, the young Catholic couple will bring this terrifying information to their parish priest. He will then say something like, “Well, if you are going to die by having another child, then God would have no problem with you using condoms or withdrawal or tubes-tied.” Obviously, this is a lie too. My advice: Young married-couples need to get second opinions from truly pro-life physicians and truly traditional priests in order to save their souls and live without fear of children. However, when a couple is discerning long or permanent periods of abstinence for grave reasons, Pope Pius XII has encouraging words:
The Heroism of Continence: Do not be disturbed, therefore, in the practice of your profession and apostolate, by this great talk of impossibility. Do not be disturbed in your internal judgment nor in your external conduct. Never lend yourselves to anything which is contrary to the law of God and to your Christian conscience! It would be a wrong towards men and women of our age to judge them incapable of continuous heroism. Nowadays, for many a reason,—perhaps constrained by dire necessity or even at times oppressed by injustice—heroism is exercised to a degree and to an extent that in the past would have been thought impossible. Why, then, if circumstances truly demand it, should this heroism stop at the limits prescribed by the passions and the inclinations of nature? It is clear: he who does not want to master himself is not able to do so, and he who wishes to master himself relying only upon his own powers, without sincerely and perseveringly seeking divine help, will be miserably deceived.
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