Why doesn’t the Church just make a list?

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When Catholics talk about NFP, someone always asks rather plaintively why the Church doesn’t just clear up all the confusion about what does and does not constitute a legitimate reason to avoid a pregnancy.  Why not just make a list:  on the right, good reasons for postponing a pregnancy; on the left, bad reasons?

Obviously we should still pray and try to discern God’s will for us — but why does it have to be so vague?  Why doesn’t the Church just give us a break and spell it out already?

Most of those who want more clarity are genuine seekers after God’s will, looking for more guidance as they discern the best path for their marriage.  Others are looking for a definitive document to prove that their neighbors are abusing NFP, using it with a “contraceptive mentality.”

The Church does, of course, give us guidelines (I’m shamelessly cribbing these citations from an excellent article my sister, Abigail Tardiff, wrote several years ago, addressing this same question much more pithily):

If therefore there are reasonable grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that then marries people may take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and use their marriage at precisely those times that are infertile, and in this way control birth… (Humanae Vitae, n. 16).


For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2368).

My sister also reminds us:

Pope Pius XII says that serious motives, such as “medical, eugenic, economic, and social” reasons, can exempt a couple from the obligation of bearing children (“Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives”).

But why doesn’t the Church give some specific examples of what qualifies as a just reason?  Well, one problem is that my just reason is not necessarily the same as your just reason.

For instance, we could say, “Severe economic instability is a good reason to postpone pregnancy.” But …

  • Woman A grew up deathly poor, and fully expected to die before she hit age 40.  Her husband is disabled and often out of work, and sometimes they have to scramble for the rent on their tiny house — but this is routine and tolerable for them, and causes no turmoil.  With help from friends and government programs, they are raising happy, healthy children on $25,000 a year.
  • Woman B grew up wealthy, has always generously endowed Crisis Pregnancy Centers in her town, and always hoped to have a large family of her own.  But a catastrophe struck, she went bankrupt, and has to sell everything and move into a tiny house and live on $25,000 a year.  They’re still reeling from the shock of what their life has become, and are trying to learn how to accept help, rather than giving it.
  • Woman C lives a tiny house and live on $25,000 a year, which her husband manages thriftily, so no one is deprived.  But she makes him sleep on the couch until he agrees to quit his job at the library  so he can make more money and they can catch up with their fancy friends next door, who go to Rio every March.
  • Woman D recently quit her high-paying job so she can stay home and have babies.  They now live on her husband’s salary of $25,ooo a year and can hardly wait to fill their tiny new house with children.

You see?  Objectively, the circumstances are the same, and “severe economic instability” describes all four.  But their attitude toward having another baby right then would be entirely different.  It’s not enough to say, “Lilies of the field and so on.  We must trust God.”  That’s not asking much from women A, but it’s asking heroism from woman B.

Or you could say, “You shouldn’t postpone a pregnancy just so you can lose a little weight.”

  • Woman A is healthy and beautiful, but is married to a man who berates her nightly for not fitting into the jeans she wore in high school, even though that was twenty years and five babies ago.  He has taught her to hate herself, and will torture her emotionally if she makes a charting mistake and gets pregnant.
  • Woman B preaches radical openness to life, but in her most honest moments will admit to herself that having lots of babies happens to be a fabulous excuse for never having to deal with her lifelong gluttony.  After all, she can’t diet, because she’s pregnant (or postpartum, or nursing…)
  • Woman C used to be anorexic, and with years of therapy and hard work has achieved a healthy weight.  But being even five pounds over that healthy weight puts her in danger of a relapse, and the idea of another pregnancy gives her panic attacks.
  • Woman D  is just a petty twit who wants to make her fatter friends feel bad when they see her hot new body.  No baby this year, not after all the money she put into lipo!

All four women are faced with Losing Weight vs. Having Another Baby; but the details couldn’t be more different.

Or you could say, “Just trust God with your fertility!  We’re not in control of our lives; God is.”

  • Woman A is fearful, anxious, rigid and domineering.  Her husband is a little bit afraid of her, and her confessor always urges her to trust God more.
  • Woman B is childish and weak, and tends to leave all the heavy thinking to her husband — and then feels sorry for herself when they suffer the consequences of his choices.  Their marriage is miserable, and her confessor always tells her to be more of an adult.
  • Woman C is careless and selfish and lacks self-control, and her confessor always tells her to use more prudence, take more responsibility.
  • Woman D tries with all her might to be as holy as the other women around  her, and she keeps having more babies to prove her trust in God, even though her household is out of control and her children are neglected.  Her confessor always tells her that God asks different things of different people, and to keep her eyes on her own work.

“Trusting God” is wonderful, but means something entirely different in each of these cases.

Or you could say, “A large family is a sign of God’s blessing.  You’ll never regret having another baby!”

  • Woman A always wanted a big family, and happily gives birth three times in the first three years of her marriage.  She looks forward to many more years of fertility.
  • Woman B always wanted a big family, but now that she has six children, and a few of them turned out to have special needs, she figures it would be a good thing to take a break.   She also wants to work out a few problems in her marriage that have been brewing unresolved under the chaos for a few years.
  • Woman C  always wanted a big family, and now has nine children.  She probably has another decade of fertility to go, and while she loves her kids dearly, she is just plain tired.  She and her husband are actually much more financially and emotionally stable than they were when they started their family — and yet the idea of another pregnancy fills her with dread.
  • Woman D always wanted a big family and is on the verge of menopause — and suddenly feels a deep yearning for just one more baby, for reasons that have nothing to do with the reasons she had twenty-five years ago on her honeymoon.

These women are, of course, all the same woman, at different stages in her life.  She has always trusted God, and God has blessed her in different ways at different times.  You see, you can’t even apply a specific, inflexible, objective rule to one woman:  there are still just too many variables.  For any specific, objective rule you laid down, you could find exceptions which are within the realm of normal human circumstances.

Can we ever say that we have an indisputably good reason, or an indisputably bad reason, for postponing a pregnancy?  Of course.  It’s just that I can’t think of anything more personal and private than these reasons.  I believe that if the Church ever did give a specific, objective list of legitimate reasons for avoiding or achieving pregnancy, it would cause more confusion, not less.  People with good reasons to postpone a pregnancy would doubt themselves, and people with no good reason would find loopholes. People would judge each other even more than they already do (which is a shameful amount), and it would distract from the soul’s conversation with God.

Yes, worldly, modernized couples need to hear someone say, “Marriage is for making children, and children are a privilege, not a burden.  Don’t squander the gift of your fertility, but seek the gifts that God is offering.” But I grow more and more skeptical of the charge that, among the tiny fraction of Catholics who use NFP, most use it with a “contraceptive mentality.”  How about this:  men who have seven or more children are probably raping their wives every  night.  What’s that you say?  It’s not like that at all?  Well, that’s how it looked from the outside.  It cuts both ways:  if you can read the hearts of couples with only a few children, then I can read the hearts of couples with many.  See how ugly that gets?  Only one Person knows what’s in another man’s heart, and that person ain’t you or me.

And for people who aren’t out to judge anyone else, but just want more clarity and guidance in their own lives, here’s a cheering quote from my sister’s article:

The Church’s moral teachings are a great gift, because they save us from the bad effects of innocent wrong-doings; they can stop us from unknowingly messing up our lives, if we’re humble enough to listen. But they don’t replace a tryst with the Creator — and who would want them to?

So if the Church seems distressingly vague, it’s because she doesn’t want to get in the way of the conversation you could be having with God.  He doesn’t want to talk to The Church as a whole:  He wants to talk to you.

And that’s why the Church doesn’t just make a list.


  1. Love love love this post.

    I just asked my husband if he thinks nfp can be used with a contraceptive mentality and he said well what is a contraceptive mentality?

    I have an idea in my mind that I think it could be but just wonder what others think it is before I say anything further on the topic.

    • Therese,

      Darwin Catholic did a great series of posts on the contraceptive mentality last year. The first one is here and you can follow the links from there to the rest of the series.

    • A “contraceptive mentality” does not simply mean a mentality where one wants to avoid having children, but rather a mentality where one wants to avoid having children WHILE STILL INDULGING IN THE FLESHLY PLEASURE OF INTERCOURSE.

      So if a married couple know for a fact that the chances of them getting pregnant between the woman’s fertile periods are slim to none and they still decide to have intercourse with the intention of NOT conceiving, then they are indulging in the fleshly pleasure of intercourse while hoping to avoid having children. That’s a contraceptive mentality.

      And Simcha, very very very few people say, “Oh that couple is using NFP so they must be having a contraceptive mentality!” Because honestly, no one knows if they’re using NFP simply to chart and find out when the fertile periods are and having intercourse ONLY during those periods, or if they’re “taking advantage” of the infertile periods to have intercourse without dealing with true and ultimate goal of intercourse – i.e. a child. The argument against NFP is based on the idea that is proposed that a couple MAY engage in sexual activity knowing during infertile periods with the goal of avoiding conception. Now if you don’t want to have a child as a product of your act of love, what is the goal of sex? Simply to indulge in fleshly pleasure. Sure, you can say, “Remember, sex is UNITIVE AND PROCREATIVE.” Exactly my point. It is unitive AND procreative. NOT unitive OR procreative. So if you are trying to avoid having a child while still engaging in sexual activity, then you are divorcing “unitive” from “procreative”.

      The procreative mentality doesn’t involve just NOT putting a physical or chemical barrier between the natural functions of man and woman, but also not putting up an “attitude barrier”. And when a married couple says “we don’t want to have a child right now, but we still want to have sex, so let’s have sex during the wife’s infertile periods,” they are not being procreative, and are definitely being contraceptive.

      That being said, to compare the arguments against NFP with someone saying that the man is always raping his wife in a family with a large number of kids is absolutely preposterous because as I said, the argument against NFP isn’t “this is what people are doing”, but rather “this is what is being promoted by those who say NFP can be used in such and such manner.”

  2. My eight year old daughter, bless her heart, thinks she can run the household better than I can. She is, at heart, a well-meaning, loving person, who is honestly trying to help in her own way.

    However, as anyone who’s been around one knows, eight year old girls are God’s advanced test in patience and generosity of spirit.

    Curiously, when the spotlight is shined on her behavior, she is suddenly defensive and stubborn, and all of her hours of problem-solving/troubleshooting advice evaporates.

    I try to view all of us Catholics who are fighting the good fight against the culture of contraception in the same manner as I view my beloved daughter.

    Myself included.

  3. Yes! Thank you for a reminder about other benefits of free will and the beauty of the Church’s wisdom. (She said, ignoring her children’s breakfast needs…)

  4. Also, even “providentialism” doesn’t mean you’re going to have 8 kids. Our CULTURE does have a contraceptive mentaility– there seems to be this idea that NOT using NFP or contraception automatically means “Baby every 18 months or so.”

    But I know so many people who wanted more babies and just didn’t get them. So they have those tiny families– 1, 2, maybe 3 kids if they were really, really lucky. And everyone assumes they were using NFP like contraception.

    When really, they WERE saying yes to God, and what God was saying was “This is your family. There’s not going to be another baby.”

    The problem I see isn’t NFP as much as a mentality that assumes that babies come from physical processes alone. We’ve lost the idea of “barreness,” and assume that all barreness is a choice. I think that’s where the ‘contraceptive mentality’ with NFP comes in.

    It works so well, that people who God DOES shower with babies start assuming that these other women are just not open to life, or not doing NFP well enough to get pregnant or secretly having children and then eating them for dinner or something.

    Also, I love your sister’s run down on the situations. One woman’s “uncontrollable chaos that makes me want to scream and the walls are closing in and I can’t take it!!!” is another woman’s “rambunctious brood who are a constant joy.” Even with the same kids. It’s just like some people can fast on bread and water, others get low blood sugar and pass out just from skipping a meal. God wants us to be holy in OUR OWN way, not in the way of that woman down the street…..

    • No argument, Deirdre, but providentialism really could lead some women to families of just ginormous proportion. I’m approaching forty. Our track record thus far, barring a brief period of undergrad stress at the very start of married life, has been 12 for 12. The twelve cycles we weren’t deliberately avoiding, I conceived. Three sadly miscarried. But as far as I can tell (the youngest isn’t a year yet) my ovaries have yet to clue in to the fact that they’re getting on in years.

      I just feel compelled to throw that out there because sometimes among the anti-NFP camp you’ll encounter people who feel that breastfeeding (which I’ve always done) guarantees you “natural” child spacing of 18-36 months. Not true.

      And I have to add that your comment about “secretly having children and then eating them for dinner or something” cracked me up. Thankful I had already swallowed my diet coke when I read that one… 🙂 And also thankful for the fasting mention– I’m one of the plummeting blood sugar types. Fasting sucks sucks sucks. I hate it. It’s not a nothing for me at all. Drives me crazy when people just shrug it off as a nothing.

      • Margaret, I’m with you. I’ve started having a knee-jerk reaction when I hear people talking about providentialism or “just trusting God”, because God and experience have made it pretty clear that if we choose to have sex in the fertile period, we have a baby nine months later. I’ve been pregnant six times in less than ten years (one miscarriage, sadly), and that’s with using NFP to space.

        I just calculated that if we’d not used NFP, I’d have just had my seventh child. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But as I get older, I’m tired. My youngest is eight months now, and at times the whiplash between “should I just trust?” and “am I ready for another child in nine months, really?” wears me down.

  5. Save this one for the book, when you publish one! I love the descriptions of the women–they bring home the reality of these decisions in a way that no abstractions can.

  6. Frankly, I’ve come to believe that there is no such thing as “using NFP with a contraceptive mentality.” I think it was made up by providentialists.

    • If they mean “selfish,” I wish they would just say selfish. It’s definitely possible to practice NFP selfishly — but it’s just as possible to practice (or appear to practice) providentialism selfishly.

      • Right. That phrase “contraceptive mentality” has to go. It’s confusing! People mix up the obligation to be open to life in general with the obligation not to close off any particular act to life. Speaking of practicing NFP with a “contraceptive” mentality further conflates the two.

      • Loved the article. However, I think that when a lot of people say “contraceptive mentality,” they’re referring to the large numbers of good, young Catholic couples who enter into marriage already planning on using NFP to “just wait a few years until we’re ready for kids.” Why, as a Catholic, would you get married if you’re “not ready” to face up to the fact that marriage has two primary ends, and that making the achievement of one end near-impossible (without a good reason) can do nothing but harm? To me it demonstrates selfishness when a couple who’s “just not ready yet” gets married anyway, instead of saving marriage for when they are ready to welcome children. I believe we can lay the responsibility for promoting this mindset at least partly on the shoulders of publications like Faith and Family Magazine, who articulate a view that says “don’t feel ready for kids? It’s OK, you can still get married – we have Catholic birth control!”

        • Well, Marie, perhaps God is using the grace of the sacrament of marriage to get them ready.

          I got married when I wasn’t ready to have kids, but we had them anyway, and I did a horrible job of caring for them at first. I don’t think I had a good understanding of what marriage was for — I simply got married and had lots of kids. To say that my actions were more appropriate than the actions of couples who get married but don’t have kids right away is legalistic and misses the point entirely.

          What point? The point that the Church gives us guidelines, but it’s the Holy Spirit that works on us. How about if we trust the Holy Spirit to work on even the people who seem so selfish to you (since, apparently, they have confided the deepest secrets of their hearts to you, so you KNOW what their intentions are).

          And as someone who reads and writes for Faith and Family, I am baffled about where you get the idea that it says anything like that. I understand the feeling of being surrounded by attacks on the faith, but let’s not imagine it where it doesn’t exist. I would be extremely interested if you could point to something that leads you to believe that F&F promotes selfishness.

          • I’m sorry, I misspoke: I would never, ever judge an individual couple for their use of NFP. There are two couples I know who are using it right away, and I have never even asked them for details because it’s none of my business, and they’re good people, great Catholics, and good friends. I’m not their spiritual advisor. I meant it to come across as a comment on the culture some Catholics promote, thus misleading many young couples (again, not saying all those who use NFP right away are misled). There is a lack of education of young couples when it comes to how the Church regards the two ends of marriage and how they work together, and this often leads to Catholics promoting a lax, anything-goes view of NFP. By citing couples who don’t feel ready, I didn’t mean that we should put off marriage until we’re completely ready for kids (who ever is?? I’m expecting my first, and there are times when I’m terrified of screwing things up!). There just needs to be more of a promotion of “trust in God to give you sufficient grace,” and of the wild notion that if He is calling you to get married, He is calling you to start a family! (This is, of course, excepting those couples who are naturally barren and thus have different vocations as a couple, whether they are called to adopt or not.)

            My reference to Faith & Family came from an issue about a year ago, I believe it was completely about marriage, which had a couple of articles that disturbed me. They were about couples who had planned since they were engaged to put off having children by using NFP, one because the wife had a career to “get off the ground,” and another because they wanted to buy a house first. While, again, I can’t judge these couples, not knowing their interior lives, the way F&F handled the stories was disturbing to me. They held up these couples as examples for Catholics of self-control and responsibility, pushing hard that “NFP makes them happier and closer as couples,” nowhere talking about the ends of marriage or about having an attitude of trust in God. Another article in the same issue talked about how all couples should chart in order to improve their marriage, and strongly implied that those who weren’t were setting themselves up for future problems.

            It is probably unfair of me to dismiss all of F&F on the basis of this issue, and I am sure there are many good things about it. However, I did find its anything-excuse-goes approach to NFP in these articles to be off-putting and misleading.

            • Marie, I apologize for snapping at you. I know what you mean about the culture that seems to be promoted — and yet, if you are not going to ever be able to say that you know for sure about an individual couple, then how the heck can you say that you know anything about a larger group of people? Catholics are made up of individual couples,and judging one couple is only marginally worse than judging a group. It also inevitably leads to judging individuals, eventually.

              I think that the very process of NFP is something that works on people. It’s not a magical wagical funsy tool for fixing your marriage, but it does Do Things to your marriage, no matter how silly your attitude when you first start out.

              Thanks for pointing out the articles. I didn’t see that issue. I have seen that kind of thing elsewhere, though — and I experience the same frustration as you (although maybe not for all the same reasons). Talking about NFP puts you in quite a bind: if you speak about the positive aspects of it, you’re accused of being rosy and disingenuous; but if you speak about the trials, you’re accused of driving people away from the Chruch. Believe me, I know! I’ve written maybe half a dozen NFP articles, and someone always gets mad at you. Maybe you could give FandF a little slack — I believe that their overall mission is HEAVILY involved in promoting the joy of having children, and this is something they speak of in many different ways, even when NFP is not the specific topic.

              Again, sorry for snapping. Forgot to have lunch. Yelling at people. Getting sandwich now.

              • No problem, Simcha! Hunger definitely takes its toll :).

                As your article pointed out, this is a tough topic with a million nuances. It’s important to keep in mind that the decision to postpone children through NFP is regarded by the Church as a very weighty one, and should always be backed by a grave reason. My main problem with the “general culture” is that it’s not stressed enough that this is a decision not to be made lightly, and we are so reluctant to appear judgmental that we shy away from even saying that much! Even at my very conservative Catholic college, there were couples preparing for marriage who didn’t know the first thing about what the Church actually says about NFP, and were simply of the opinion that it was an easy way to decide how many kids you were going to have, and how far apart. Their marriage-prep classes and spiritual advisors were not doing them a favor by not discussing it in depth!

                PS. I think your little sister(?) Anna boarded with my family the last few years. She’s great!

                • Anna is my niece, not my sister – but yes, she is great!

                  I have to say that there is a huge difference between saying “the decision is not to be made lightly” and “I know that so-and-so is being selfish.” As I get older, I believe the first statement more and more, and have more and more doubts about the second one.

                  This is not because I’m becoming holier; it’s because I’ve shot my mouth off so many times, and been so sorry about it so many times, that I’m starting to really, really believe that ALL I can do is to manage my own life, and that just barely.

                  I understand being young and enthusiastic and on fire about your faith, but let me give you a tip that I learned the hard way: when you’re brand new at something yourself, try not to give a lot of advice about it. It will come back to bite you in the ass, guaranteed.

                • Marie, you said:

                  “Even at my very conservative Catholic college, there were couples preparing for marriage who didn’t know the first thing about what the Church actually says about NFP, and were simply of the opinion that it was an easy way to decide how many kids you were going to have, and how far apart.”

                  The Church teaches:

                  “If therefore there are reasonable grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that then marries people may take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and use their marriage at precisely those times that are infertile, and in this way control birth… (Humanae Vitae, n. 16).”

                  Umm, I think the Church is saying those young couples are right to think NFP is for deciding how many kids to have and how far apart to space them.

                  • I meant they thought that was all there was to it, with no “grave reason” (see physical or psychological condition or external circumstances) involved in the decision-making.

                    • So you know down to the last man and woman in that marriage prep class all of the physical or psychological conditions or external circumstances for why they wanted to use NFP? You can really read hearts and minds? What you are doing is like telling people they could not have recieved abosulution because they spent to little time in the confessional.

                    • …are you kidding me? Arguing with you isn’t even worth my time, since your only object seems to be to misread what I say and decide what I think. Quit trolling.

                    • FWIW, the whole thing about “grave” reason is, I believe, a mistranslation of the original Latin. We had a several-paragraph elaboration on this in our CCL teacher training… don’t have time to look it up right now, but if anyone’s interested let me know and I can pull it up.

                    • Kathleen,

                      This whole thing about “gravitas” not meaning “grave” is ridiculous. Where do we get the word from. My husband has a degree in classics from an Ivy League school and speaks Latin fluently – yeah, he’s a nerd. In fact, “gravitas” was considered a virtue – and Romans don’t take virtues lightly. To not be virtuous mean to be in sin, like mortal sin.

                      I hate it when the discussion becomes about semantics. Using NFP is a serious consideration and the Church means to tell us that we should not use withholding sex from our spouses lightly even if we *think* it is “justified”. It’s serious, grave, etc. I’m sure you spent a lot of time talking about it – but pick up a Latin dictionary.

                    • @JH on picking up a Latin dictionary because “where do we think the word ‘grave’ comes from?”

                      I just picked up my Latin dictionary and under “serious” it says “gravis.”

                      Also under “important” it says “gravis.”

                      Also under “weighty” it says “gravis.”

                      What you’re dealing with here is what is known as a “false cognate.” Yes, “grave” is a derivative of “gravis” and “gravitas.” But it’s not the only translation. English is full of words that come from Latin but don’t mean exactly the same thing as the word they are derived from. “Capillary” is a body part that comes from “capillus” but it doesn’t mean your hair.

                    • For the purpose of this discussion, is the difference between serious and grave really relevant? If you take an english dictionary and look up “grave” you get “serious, weighty” if you look up “serious” you get weighty, grave – and others.

                      We have three Latin dictionaries, and the New College dictionary translates gravis as “weighty, serious, grave, troublesome, etc.” (Ironically, also “pregnant” – LOL). Chambers Murray: “of persons and things effecting a particular matter: weighty, important.

                      No where does it say “just” or “pretty good”… there is nothing about this word that allows for anything less than serious, weighty, important. In fact, it can also mean injurious. Imagine if the English translators chose THAT word instead of going with the English word “grave” which pretty much covers all the bases.

                      To translate something well, you have to look at all the uses of the word – which is why a dictionary like Chambers Murray is very useful. It doesn’t just give you a definition, but helps you see where the word has been used in context. Latinists, especially the Pope’s Latinist, is very careful about every word he used. He would not use a word like gravis lightly (no pun intended). There are plenty of other words that could have been used like words that mean “relevant” “just” “fitting” “appropriate”, etc. but none of these words were used – because they don’t mean what they author intended.

                      I know that false cognates exist – but this is not one of them, and I think it does nothing to further the discussion to say that we don’t really know what that word means.

                • I do remember while engaged experiencing the mentality that “people just don’t have kids right after they get married.” There was always the underlying mentality that people always waist a few years first. It was assumed that you got on birth control before getting married, and even my husband’s grandfather asked my husband’s mom, “Do they know about birth control? Because that’d be bad if they got pregnant right away…” I came from a Catholic family in which birth control use was not acknowledged as wrong. It took us several months of marriage to learn that. So, I can understand that many engaged couples might go into marriage with the idea that they have to prevent pregnancy for a few years because that’s just the best way, and it would be nice to see less skepticism and more encouragement of those who are willing to conceive soon after marrying.

                  However, there are certainly reasons to avoid having children early in marriage just as there are later in marriage. Many couples who get married right out of college have just begun to earn money and have no savings, and so using NFP for spacing could be a reason to establish some financial stability, particularly if the couple has no support from their own extended families. If they waited to get married until they were financially ready for children, then they would take even longer to get to that point since they’d be paying two rents/mortgages at once in the time they weren’t married and waiting to get in a better place financially. And of course there could be many other reasons relating to health or other factors in which a newly married couple uses NFP in the early part of marriage. We don’t know all their circumstances.

                  Balance is the key: young engaged couples should not be given the assumption that they are going to postpone pregnancies because “you need a few years to yourselves,” but they should also know that it is a personal decision between them and God that needs to be discerned for serious reasons and not “just because,” and that there are valid reasons for postponement which will vary from couple to couple, depending on their situation.

              • Seems to me that we need to distinguish between making a judgment on the moral state of a person (which we’re not supposed to do) and making a judgment on whether their actions are right. I mean, a lot of times people tell you why they’re using NFP. I can’t make a sure judgment as to whether they have any kind of culpability (or merit) in their decision, because I can’t read their souls. I can make some judgment as to whether the reasons they give are good ones. If a couple tells me they’re using NFP ’cause they want a Lexus ’cause it’s a cool car, well, I know that’s not a good reason. I don’t have to be one of them to know it’s not a good reason. What I DON’T know is what sort of responsibility they have for thinking that’s OK. I’d hope they have some kind ignorance which mitigates the choice they’ve made to abuse their vocation for the sake of a car!
                The decision to use NFP is a prudential decision, i.e., a decision about particular circumstances, and prudential decisions are reserved to people who know the circumstances. That’s why the decision to use NFP is reserved to the couple: they’re the ones who are in a position to know what the circumstances are. That doesn’t mean that no one else can have an opinion, given certain circumstances, about what should be done. (If that were so, it would be pointless to suggest talking with a priest.) It means that the couple is the one that knows the facts of their marriage, and that they have the responsibility and sacred duty to make the prudential decisions regarding it. They also have the responsibility to form their consciences well regarding the matters they have to make decisions about. The fact that the responsibility is theirs doesn’t mean that anything they decide is OK. (If that were true, then any declaration of war (another sort of prudential decision) by the head of state would be OK — the decision belongs to him, after all.))

                • Saw this comment and started looking for the “like” button. Guess I need to spend less time on facebook :).

        • And who is to say that young married couples don’t have perfectly just reasons for not procreating on their honeymoons?

          I think perhaps you completely missed the point of Simcha’s post: that you can’t decide for others what makes a reason valid, since you know nothing of that marriage. A marriage is a marriage, be it 5 days old or 25 years.

          • I agree. Why is it OK for a couple married several years to practice responsible parenthood and prayerfully discern whether they should be abstaining or not during the fertile time, but not OK for a newlywed couple? I, too, am tired of the attitude that if a newly married couple discerns that they should wait for a while it means they should not have gotten married. I hear this often.

            • I think you’re misunderstanding Marie. She’s lamenting the fact that some people are ill prepared for marriage if they think that children are simply a by-product and not an end of marriage itself. To choose not to have children is not practicing responsible parenthood. It might be responsible something else, but its not parenthood.

              There are a lot of things that unmarried people cannot and will not understand until they are married, and the same is true for parenthood. I would imagine that parenthood and nfp is better understood by those who have experienced both.

            • Thanks J H :). My point was mainly that, if a couple goes into marriage with the mindset that kids are really just optional, they have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Church’s position. Using NFP to postpone children really needs to be for a grave and well-considered reason, and I don’t see that being stressed enough among Catholics (especially in marriage preparation classes.) If a couple feels (before they get married) that they will have to postpone having children through NFP right away, they should seriously examine the Church’s teaching on the ends of marriage and their own reasons for getting married. While they certainly may not have the wrong reasons, they may want to examine the priority of those reasons and make sure the order matches up with the Church’s.

              • Marie,
                I think as Simcha has already hinted at, that here NFP is a wonderful tool in itself for discernment. Periodic abstinence for a newlywed couple, if they abstained before the wedding, is DIFFICULT. This difficulty is a really nice tool for weeding out the selfish reasons. I experienced that personally as a newlywed. We were poor and had no savings and lived in an apartment, and we thought it would be best to at least build up a bit of savings before I stayed home with a baby. We got pregnant long before our set “date” to begin trying. I believe it was simply God nudging us along to what His plan was for our family. So here is the beauty. We don’t need to get in a huff about it. We can encourage couples to be prayerful about their family planning, emphasize the two aspects of sex, and leave the rest to God.

                • This is simply my point: if a couple knows before marriage that they will not have the means to support children, and therefore feel that they have to postpone pregnancy rather than trusting in God from the first, the right course of action may be to postpone marriage altogether until they feel they are in a more stable situation. Otherwise (in the absence of reasons other than the single one given), couldn’t one say that it is a slightly selfish or misinformed decision?

                  As to weeding out the selfish reasons, shouldn’t that have been done already, before entering into marriage? Hasn’t the fact that you have waited for each other this long convinced you of the other’s intentions? Shouldn’t you know them well enough that such a “test” and such reassurance is not necessary?

                  (Please know that I’m not attacking you personally, just discussing your general statements)

                  • “Otherwise (in the absence of reasons other than the single one given), couldn’t one say that it is a slightly selfish or misinformed decision?”

                    Marie, what are you basing this on? The Church says that we must hope to have children. The Church says we may space them if we have a good reason. That’s all the Church says.

                    Did YOU get married for 100% pure and unselfish reasons, to bear children and to help your spouse attain heaven? Or was there some other stuff mixed in: some carnal desire, some longing to be admired, some desires for stability?

                    Nobody is entirely unselfish. Nobody. You’re asking far, far more than the Church does!

                  • Right, as we all know, there are never any financial hardships after the wedding. No one loses a job, no one gets sick, nothing bad happens once you put that ring on.

                    • Perhaps I shouldn’t feed the troll, but did you miss the part where Marie said “if a couple knows before marriage…”? She isn’t talking about unforeseen hardships that arise after marriage.

                    • You know, I think making comments on a two-month-old post about things that have been thoroughly hashed out actually makes you the troll. I hope you’re not going to do this all night – the rest of us have moved on!

                  • If I seem overly vehement, it’s because I used to argue the exact same thing you are arguing: that marriage is for making babies, and if you don’t want babies, then why get married until you do?

                    I’m just trying to point out to you that people have such widely varying temperament and such a huge number of different circumstances that — well, that’s why the Church herself does NOT specify that the children must come as soon as possible. The Church simply does not teach this, so it’s wrong to imply that it does.

                    • Simcha, of course those other “selfish” things are always mixed in! That’s part of being human. I also never said, ‘The Jerk’, that NFP wasn’t to be used until you already have kids, or that sudden drawbacks never occur after marriage. That’s ridiculous. To put it bluntly, shit happens.

                      I’m trying to point out that if the “grave reason” for using NFP that a couple cites can be foreseen by them before marriage and avoided by postponing marriage, shouldn’t it be? Otherwise, aren’t we in a way putting our own reasons before the Church’s? Obviously that’s the “perfect-case scenario,” but shouldn’t we all “strive to be perfect”?

                      I admit that I’m looking at this situation from the outside, since my husband and I were fortunate not to have to face that decision. If we face a setback in the future during our marriage and have to discuss NFP, it will be a decision with a completely different setting, simply because we are married now and that’s not a question.

                  • Hmm. Since Simcha’s examples seem to work so well, how about a couple examples for you for a bit of perspective on couples who intend to use NFP at the beginning of their marriage?

                    Couple #1 has been together for 4 years. The man is completing a graduate degree in hopes of being able to better support a family. They marry, knowing they will use NFP to postpone children until they have a full time income. After 4 years of additional schooling, they decide not to put off children any longer and conceive on their first cycle trying.

                    Couple #2 has been together 3 years, on and off. They live in seperate cities and visit each other frequently. They are idealistic and have made many ‘plans’, currently they intend to put off marrying for another 2 years so that the man can be more financially secure and the woman can complete her schooling. Unfortunately, despite having a joint spiritual advisor and strong Catholic identity, Couple #2 conceives before marriage. They move up their wedding date by a year and a half and get on with raising their child and trying to find secure financial footing.

                    Sometimes, we just need to take into account that we are dealing with real people, and not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Couple #1 was much more realistic about themselves – they’d had a few close calls and knew that waiting until things were ideal to marry was playing with fire.

                    Incidentally, these are real people in my examples. 🙂

              • Marie, I was one of those young couples who used NFP to avoid right away in our marriage. We were both still in college and both planned to graduate before having kids, though we couldn’t wait to be parents and were excited at the thought.

                Why didn’t we just wait to get married until we were totally ready, then? Well, I was a convert to Catholicism and my family initially shunned because of it. All financial help was cut off, and it made sense for us to go ahead and get married so we could share rent (rather than shacking up) and support each other through our last years of school.

                Finally, we graduated, DH got a job, I stayed home ready to be a SAHM….and then nothing. Five years later we are still childless and struggling with infertility.

                This is the whole point…there is no one size fits all way NFP “should be” used in a marriage, because each marriage is unique and may have circumstances that aren’t all that visible from the outside looking in. That’s why it’s best to refrain from judgement of others, and trust that the Holy Spirit is at work on all of us.

                Abstinence during fertile times is no walk in the park! In my experience, if someone has what might be a frivolous reason for avoiding, they typically end up PG sooner than they originally planned, because why do all that hard work avoiding when it’s not really all that necessary? That’s kind of how NFP and the Holy Spirit works on us, slowly, over time, helping us readjust our expectations and outlook. So, we don’t really need to spend time fretting over other people’s choices…God is hard at work on all of us, life is a journey. 🙂

            • Ann this is an excellent point. It’s as if couples are expected to “earn” the right to use NFP once they’ve had a couple of kids first, to prove that they understand marriage.

              If you enter a marriage never intending to have kids, then that’s an invalid marriage. If you marry and intend to have kids, but have a serious reason to postpone — then that is what NFP is for.

              The Church HAS been specific, and made a list, when it comes to what makes a valid marriage, and we have no right to add requirements to that list!

              • One should also remember that one of the purposes of marriage is to curb concupiscence (sp?). I think it is entirely valid to say, “If I don’t marry now, then I will fall into mortal sin”. It might not be a pretty reason to get married – but its perfectly valid – among the other reasons, of course.

                In this instance, I don’t think any priest would disagree with a couples decision to get married and postpone children.

                • Hi JH,
                  I’ll get back to you on your other response to my response, but I think that one of the BEST purposes of marriage is to curb concupiscence.

                  I am including a link here to some thoughts on St. Augustine. It is long and sometimes dense, but worth a read.

                  ” For now it is enough to emphasize that Augustine saw fidelity, together with procreation, as one of the genuine goods of marriage. Like procreation, fidelity was always something good, even though it might be exercised within a relationship in which lustful or selfish desire predominated over the desire for children. The value of fidelity, Augustine argued, is that it places a limit on the possible disorders of desire and harnesses desire to the benefit of the marriage relationship. As Augustine put it, “What is honorable in marriage, therefore, is chastity in having children and fidelity in performing the conjugal duty.”



                • You are so right, JH. I used to have problems with impure thoughts in my life and didn’t get married until my 30’s that’s many years of impure thoughts. I fought them of course but they continued to plague me. After I got married they completely and totally disappeared and I am going on 15 years of marriage with no impure thoughts. So getting married kept me out of further sin in this area, whether or not I could manage having kids right away.

              • And there may be other good reasons. Getting married at such-and-such a time rather than a few months later may make a difference with respect to health insurance. Assuming the couple doesn’t want to live together before marriage, it may make a difference between paying the rent on two apartments instead of one. There may be some other precipitating event: starting a new job across country, or entering the military. I was in graduate school when I got married, so I picked a time between school terms, close to a time when it would be convenient for my new husband to change from his old job to his new job in the city where I was living.

        • My husband and I were one of those young couples who married before we were ready to have children.

          While there was the practical factor that marriage provided us with a number of long term financial benefits (Canadian rules provide a LOT of advantages to married students), to be blunter then I would normally be the primary reason we married when we did is because “It is better to marry then to burn.”

          We loved each other, are both of a ‘carnal temperament’ (our common ‘love language’ is touch) and were in circumstances where it was expected that we would simply shack up together which meant that there wasn’t a lot of support for avoiding near occasions of sin. A longer then necessary engagement seemed truly unwise.

          BTW I *ached* for children during those early years of marriage and we conceived our first as soon as it was remotely reasonable to do so. Waiting was a true sacrifice not a simple convenience.

    • I agree. I think people can(and do) use NFP selfishly, because, guess what, we’re all broken in people in need of grace.
      But I don’t think it’s really possibly for people to use NFP as contraception. The whole idea of contraception is to create sex with no consequences. NFP, by its very design, acknowledges and respects that sex does have consequences, and because those consequences are so amazing (making new life) they cannot be removed from intercourse. The couple using NFP is so unwilling to interfere with the natural consequences of sex that they willingly sacrifice their marital love for a time. (All this is assuming that the couple is using NFP to avoid pregnancy. These providentialist folks never seem to have much to say to those using NFP to try and achieve a pregnancy, I’ve noticed.) How can sacrificing what you and your partner want (sexual intimacy) for the good of your relationship/family, etc., ever be considered the same as contraception, when the whole aim of contraception is to get what I want, when I want it. Using NFP to avoid a pregnancy is the opposite of that. I don’t get it.

      • Well, I think that’s why it’s called a contraceptive “mentality” and not just plain contraceptive.

        The thing is, I do think it’s possible to *begin* using NFP with a kind of contraceptive mentality, thinking of it as a way to get sex w/out consequences because you’re avoiding getting pregnant. So, basically, “Yay, sex without babies!”

        However, I do NOT think it’s quite as easy to maintain that mentality when put into actual practice, faced with the realities of abstinence during fertile times, etc. Sacrifice has to come into play, and boy is suffering a good way to wake us up and reprioritize! That’s why I agree with Simcha when she says above that NFP Does Something.

        (And FTR, I don’t think having a contraceptive mentality is the same as using contraception, they are related but certainly not the same! I think it’s much easier to maintain a contraceptive mentality when actually using contraception…I think most people who use NFP will be steadily guided out of it if they even had it to begin with.)

      • Thank you. That is a beautiful way to put what has been a cross for us for years.

        I appreciate this entire article very much…but this post especially, thank you.

    • I hate to chime in here. But I have a relative, whose planning on getting married. His girlfriend is learning all about NFP. Which, he has told me explicitly, means that they’re not having children. At all. Ever. Because they’re using NFP. I think that’s what “contraceptive mentality means.”

      • Sheesh! Never mind “contraceptive mentality,” that’s what I call “the worst of both worlds.” Less sex AND no babies? What will they DO all day?

        (Yeah, that’s me being tolerant and non-judgmental and keeping my eyes on my own work …)

        • It’s a long story. And it makes me very sad. He is someone I’m close enough to that I would love his children. And his girlfriend comes from a non-religious background, so I guess I should be grateful that they’re considering NFP at all. But they’re both going to have careers that they’re already training for (in different countries). He just doesn’t think kids would work out with their plans. Like I said, it’s very sad.

          • Lisa, I can pray for that, but it would require much maturing on both their parts. The fact that he thinks this is okay at all kinda shakes my faith.

        • Yes, but don’t you think the NFP will most likely Do Things for their marriage? My bets are they wind up with 3 or 4 kids 😉

      • But having a “contraceptive mentality” as it is called here is still not the same or nearly as serious as actually contracepting. They may not have a valid marriage if they never intend to have children but misusing NFP is probably closer to a venial sin whereas contracepting is definitely objectively a mortal sin. And the relatives in question may still change their minds. And as we know, even if they do their best to try and not have kids through NFP, God might have other plans and give them one anyway. Then they might see how much they love that child and start having more. A zillion things could happen here but if they actually contracepted things would not look so hopeful.

  7. Having suffered from infertility while trying desparately for a baby then having the infertility corrected and experience a personal baby boom (3 in 3 years) all in high risk pregnancies that were life threatening to both myself and my children AND losing my job and my husband losing his job during pregnancy #3: thank you God for not allowing the Church to have set in stone inflexible rules when it comes to NFP. The last two years have been some of the hardest of my life worrying about losing our home, not being able to feed my children, etc. Now that we are on stabler (although certainly not perfect) ground, God has gently urged us toward the “green light.” If it is His will, we will be blessed again soon.

  8. This is very wise. The church is brilliant for never making “the list”. But can I just give a shout out to the providentialists? I guess you could classify us as such…Baby number 5 will come 6 weeks after our 10th anniversary. We are in a position to be generous now, who knows what the future may be. No serious issues….taking the children as they come works for us. So…what’s my problem? We have no need for NFP, acknowledge that others do but we are classified as somehow opposed to the church’s teaching for taking that view. I can’t even count the number of times I have read or had someone tell me that couples not using NFP (but not using contraception either) are somehow not practicing responsible parenthood, sex addicts, missing out on the true meaning of marriage. Last time I checked the church’s prohibition was against contraception, not for the absolute use of NFP at all times. Sometimes, after reading blogs, literature, and articles on NFP and marriage I get the feeling that “my kind” isn’t welcome at the discussion. Just saying. (And I use the term my kind jokingly, we’re all in this together!)

    • Yes, I think this attitude (that not using NFP is necessarily missing out) is just as silly and offensive as the other mistakes I mentioned. I’m sorry that people have suggested that to you! It’s ridiculous and unacceptable.

      I guess the problem is that I can think of many, many people who (loudly) consider themselves providentialists — but you are only the second I know who is gracious enough to say “We acknlowledge that others do need NFP.” I, for one, would be very grateful if you could spread your attitude among providentialists. Much, much more often, I hear, “Well, WE trusted God and aren’t afraid to suffer — what’s the matter with YOU guys?”

    • Ditto! I was actually told that I would be in mortal sin if I did not chart. Something about suppressing my will to make a conscious decision. Whatever!

          • Maybe we could just use different terms- providentialist doesn’t really work for all people who don’t use NFP. The people who think NFP is always evil have obviously never read Humanae Vitae. It clearly states that you CAN postpone, even indefinitely. All people practicing the church’s teaching of all stripes (uber-nfpers- not charting is wrong; the baby maximizers-nursing is wrong because it gives some women too much space; everyone in between) are all ultimately saying that God is in charge, ultimately, of our fertility. He IS provident- he will ultimately provide for us, but that doesn’t mean we wholeheartedly abandon all use of reason.

            • Yep, chalk us up as another set of providentialists who are accused of beign bad Catholics for NOT using NFP.

              (Hmm.. in a way, we’re just PRECOCIOUS NFPers… instead of having the conversation “is it worth waiting two nights to postpone pregnancy” we’ve had the conversation “is it worth taking a class and adding another piece of paper to our already cluttered home and stressing about all that just to prevent pregnancy?”)

              Actually, the hardest part about being a committed providentialist is that sometimes, the babies DON’T come right on schedule after the last baby starts walking. And then you have to try to be as providentialist about NOT BABIES as you were about Babies!!!!

              BUT…. we can afford to be providentialist BECAUSE we have no grave reasons. If we had someone with cancer, for instance, or a kid with special needs, or no food or something, we would be irresponsible NOT to use NFP.

              (Also, it’s easier to be providentialist when nursing DOES space your kids 2 years apart. My friends who use NFP to delay somehow have the same space *I* have from “having a child glued to my chest every 2 hours for a year and a half…..” But without NFP, they’d be ‘every 9 months’…. I think a lot of providentialists have that luxury because we have very nursy babies….. )

              • Yes, you providentialists have it easy. I have very nursy babies but a reproductive system that didn’t get the message that it’s supposed to go on vacation for the duration. No matter how much they nurse, I don’t get more than six months of infertility from nursing. Not that NFP has ever let me get more than 3 extra months between kids; but since I have to have c-sections even a few more months to recuperate is nice.

                • Ok, i just have to say… with both of my kids i’ve exclusively nursed and got my cycles back at 6 weeks… not fair 🙂

              • So true about the “ecological breastfeeding” making it easier to be “providentialist”. I could feel smug about being open to life, but my body has conveniently given me space between this first baby and the next, whereas I have friends who are really truly struggling with NFP as their cycle returned almost immediately after their babies, even with constant nursing. My mom is also a convenient providentialist with nine kids, all of whom are at least two years apart, and she fully admits having a child every year would have flattened her.

                • Oof, not enough coffee. I don’t feel smug at all, if I did it would be an egregious result of biology that has given me a break that many people struggle to create through NFP. The vast differences in women’s bodies are yet another factor that make it important not to judge.

                  • Lots of good stuff, ladies. Just wanted to add that there are lots of people (I know them) who embrace the ordinary (“default”) practice of the marriage vocation (i.e., that the couple unites in the marriage embrace when they are attracted to it, without trying to make a decision about whether conception will take place or not) — and at the same time definitely accept the teaching of the Church that, if a reason which is serious/grave/proportional to the suspension of the ordinary practice of your vocation presents itself, NFP is an option — quite possibly the best option. Please, don’t jump to the judgment that we’re judgmental.

                    I think the core of the contraceptive mentality (the mentality which has been produced in our society at large by the near-universal use of contraceptives) is that procreation is/should be in our control, and that children are a burden. Someone can have that attitude even when not trying any kind of family planning, and it’s still bad. (Yes, not as bad as contraception, certainly!) But it is, unfortunately, more of a danger for a Catholic who’s trying to do the right thing, but who uses NFP as an enabler for the contraceptive mentality.

                    Yes, again, that’s not so bad as contracepting, but still results in a serious offense against the vocation you’ve vowed yourself to through a gift of self! And at the same time, IF you’re not using NFP for the right reason, you can be putting yourself in the position of “missing”/”rejecting” the child God wanted to send you at that time. (Anyone remember C.S. Lewis’_That Hideous Strength_?)

                    BTW, just in case anyone is concerned — I’m not using “you” to point at anyone on this blog! Just ’cause that’s the way we usually talk on this continent. 🙂

                    • I am so sick of hearing the phrase “contraceptive mentality.” That’s not a real thing, you know. It means, “you, the couple using NFP, are sinful.”

                      It is total nonsense.

                      It is impossible to have a “contraceptive mentality” while using NFP. NFP is not contraception.

                      The church states it is a wise and prudent thing for couples to carefully discern when to have children and how many children to have. NFP, a morally neutral system, is permissable to plan the family size.

                      Would a couple who used NFP to space out and plan their family of 10 children be guilty of a “contraceptive mentality?”

                      Sorry, I get a little worked up about this. People who use that phrase lead me to have a “homicidal mentality.”

                    • “A husband” — I have difficulty seeing how you think “contraceptive mentality” means “you, the couple using NFP, are sinning” when I explicitly stated that it was possible to have the contraceptive mentality even if you weren’t using any kind of family planning, including NFP.

                      You are certainly right that NFP is not contraception (otherwise, of course, it could never be permitted by the Church.) But the near-universal use of contraceptives in our society has given rise to an attitude towards procreation and children which is not confined to those who use contraceptives. Everyone (including myself) has the possibility of being affected by this mentality; one way is to misuse NFP. Another way might be not to practice any kind of family planning, but to sit around dreading and being bitter about the coming of another child without any attempt to overcome the dread and bitterness.

                      I believe the phrase “contraceptive mentality” actually was first used in the abortion discussion. That’s how contraception leads to abortion: through a mentality which misperceives fertility, procreation and the gift of children. Abortion and contraception are not the same thing, but the mentality arising from contraception leads to abortion. Now, NFP is of course not intrinsically evil, like abortion. But its _misuse_ is wrong.

                    • “A Husband” I laughed so hard when I read your comment about how people ragging on and on about the “contraceptive mentality” gives you a “homicidal mentality”. Hilarious!!

                      It’s so true, can we worry about actual sins in our lives that cause harm to others instead of picking apart the possiblity of mental unhealthiness in someone elses life? I garantee we all have those areas!

    • I suppose I fall into this category. We charted for a while when I first got married but never to avoid pregnancy. We discovered that I’m infrequently fertile, ovulation a few times a year. So we don’t bother with charting anymore. We see no reason to avoid pregnancy right now, and when it happens it’s a blessing. We may feel differently in the future. I’m currently pregnant with our second in four years of marriage with no attempt to avoid pregnancy. So I’m a little envious of my friends who can say, “we’re going to try this month” and suddenly get pregnant. But that’s not the way my body works. I’m glad the Church does not get too specific with determining what is right for so many different families and bodies all over the world.

    • Meg,
      I just wanted you to know, I am an NFP teacher, and the majority of the clients I teach are taking it as part of a requirement to get married. So I get all stripes. Some don’t intend to use NFP, not because they’re on the pill, but they tell me that they are ready to be open to children as soon as they get married. And I just wanted to let you know that I tell them, “wonderful! God bless you, what an exciting time.” 🙂

    • JMHO, but it doesn’t sound like you’re a providentialist if you are open to the use of NFP. You may not need it now, but if the serious reason came up, you would use it (or that’s what I got from your comment). I’m under the impression that to be a providentialist you would have to disapprove of NFP. If not, then call me a providentialist who uses NFP only when necessary! Peace 🙂

      • My source and how I learned of Providentialism:

        From Wikipedia:
        “Providentialism is also a term sometimes used to refer to the general philosophy of Quiverfull adherents. Quiverfull is a small movement among conservative evangelical Christians. Advocates oppose the general acceptance among Protestant Christians of deliberately limiting family size through use of birth control. Advocates believe God controls via Providence how many children are conceived and born, pointing to Bible verses that describe God acting to “open and close the womb”. Continual “openness to children”, to conception during routine sexual intercourse, irrespective of timing of the month during the ovulation cycle, is considered by Quiverfull adherents as part of their Christian calling in submission to the lordship of Christ.[3]”

        [“Birth Control” here would include NFP…which is a “type” of birth control…just not a contraceptive.]

          • Interesting…so providentialist is a protestant term! It all makes sense now! : ) Like I said, we need new terms. Can’t we alll just be catholic? Here’s my take- Catholics are called to be generous in having children, but you know what, sometimes, you can’t be generous for serious reasons. That’s where NFP comes in.

            • Here’s the solution to this confusion IMO:

              A couple who does not chart and is open to children is STILL using NFP…they are planning their family naturally! Right??

              NFP is a lifestyle, not just the various methods themselves.

              We could eliminate much of the confusion and perhaps even some of the judging if more people remembered this.

              Let’s not get so hung up on which method if ANY are being used by whom. The important thing is that we are living (and hopefully encouraging) chaste marriages.

  9. Simcha, I am interested. Could one ever conceive of a mindset where concern for the rising population of the world, or even just for a small country, say you live in a developing nation for instance, be considered fitting into the criteria that the desire to limit births is, “…not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood…”

    I limited, in part, for this very reason. I did not do it because I did not want more; I would have wanted six or so, but felt very called to limit. I am trained in biology and population studies.

    • Why is that a question for you? The Church is very clear that external circumstances can provide a valid reason for avoiding conception.

      There are literally more than a million orphans in the world, many of them in our own country. Using NFP doesn’t need to limit your family size – it can even provide an opportunity to someone who truly wanted a larger family but believed external conditions called for the limiting of bio kids. It can give those folks an opportunity to lessen the carbon footprint of a child who’s already here by taking him into their family and raising him up in a greener lifestyle than he otherwise would’ve been.

      • In the interest of full disclosure, I think the whole carbon footprint thing’s a bunch of hooey. However, there really are children out there waiting for homes. And what better place than a home where the mom wanted a large family but felt morally compelled not to reproduce? As a mother of both adopted and biological children, I can say unequivocally a mother’s love does not distinguish.

      • Dear Eileen,

        Although I don’t agree with your hooey comment at all, and I would pray that you look into that. BUt! I am very heartened by your comments about adoption. I am practically desperate to adopt, and in a hurry to do it, but my husband is resistant. He is very tired. Again, my sadness at waiting to have our children. I feel certain we would have adopted several by now if we had started earlier with our own family. When I was young, I actually measured the size of my bedroom and figured out how many Ethopian children I could sleep in my room if we all slept in sleeping bags! I have a very close friend who has biological and adopted children, and although there are some struggles, it is the greatest example of God’s love in action I have seen in my suburban town.

        But then again, if I had started early I would not have had my opportunity to teach, and that experience made me such a better person.

        Don’t mistake my words, I am sad I waited as I think it makes biological sense, social sense, moral sense, and even economic sense to start in your early to mid-twenties for most women (excepting some careers), but, I strongly think that many women should and would think of environmental stewardship as a reason to limit their biological family size. Again, I see it as an unselfish, loving act if done for this reason, and I wish the Catholic church would highlight this. Again…stressing that this will not be the answer for all women.

    • Mary – I think the answer here is in the phrasing of the question. Do you personally feel responsible for starving children in Africa? Does it make a difference that most poverty and hunger are caused by political disputes rather than lack of food? Are we really using our resources properly and using all of our resources rather than preserving them in the name of a pseudo religion called environmentalism? Did God make a mistake when he created the world in that it isn’t big enough for us? Does your decision to limit the number of children that you have impact the world so that others have more food, clothing, a better opportunity for salvation?

      I think what you’re bringing up is an entirely different discussion. But that’s just my opinion.

      • Yes , I personally do. I have travelled in Zimbabwe, and I carry that, and what I have seen there, and many other things with me all of my days.

        I used to be a rabid anti-natalist you could say, although I really wanted children and loved them, and loved being with them and teaching them. But, I have seen enough and learned enough at some of the best universities in the country, as well as through Habitat and other travel experiences (lived in Nepal and Italy) to understand that population and resource consumption concerns are not just a bunch of hooey. I hate to even post a link to this, http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Population.html

        as it is so depressing, but I really came to terms with it all (and my Catholic upbringing) a few years ago. I realized that: although my faculties tell me that population is a great concern worldwide, the answer cannot be for every environmentalist to give up hope in God and not reproduce (although I totally respect those who do this WITH LOVE not with anger). I felt that deep down I had some right to have a few of my own babies, but that I must not forget what I know. I still have guilt about it though…to be totally honest.

        The way I go through life now, is believing in God’s call to stewardship, and that means learning from top scientists and not ignoring them, even though they might hold no spiritual beliefs at all. As I watch the fertility rate drop around the world, I see that it is accomplished mostly (with the exception of China’s horrible one-child policy, and its coercive tactics), by two things; education of women and access to birth control. I have no data that exempts abortion from these statistics, but I fervently hope that getting to 2.2 TFR is truly possible without abortion.

        As it stands now, I think women should be thoroughly educated on the rhythms of their cycles, but they should also be allowed access to barrier methods with they idea that they are contracepting with a loving, stewardship-minded thought process.

        It makes sense to me that some women would have larger families if they so desired, it even seems efficient! But others should be encouraged to stay small if they could.

        I have to say, when you say things like “Did God make a mistake when he created the world in that it isn’t big enough for us?” I would have to ask if you have ever taken a biology or ecology course? I am not trying to sound superior, I really just wonder. Or you could think of it this way, “Shouldn’t I just keep on cooking fried chicken and baked goods for my children even though doctors are telling me it is not good for them? They love it, and I love doing it, and my mother did it and so did my grandmother. ” What I am saying, is that new information comes to us from people who have dedicated their lives to finding truths. I think a “contraceptive mentality” can be very loving and very sensitive and selfless.

        • Both I and my husband have also traveled extensively and seen many of the things that you have experienced. And yes, I have taken biology courses. Please don’t take my questions as evidence of any sort of ignorance of the world or the environment. After experiencing some of the things that you describe, I have seen some couples take it upon themselves to adopt children out of these situations. I have also talked with officials from these countries who refuse to have their children, their “best natural resources”, adopted out of their countries. These perspectives are very important to hear and understand as well.

          I also know enough to be very skeptical of scientists who have a political agenda. I believe that it is important to research these issues extensively before making decisions based upon a few articles or books.

          • I have researched these issues extensively. I have not read “a few articles or books.” I have graduate degrees in teaching biology and in land use planning and landscape architecture with an emphasis on resource economics.

            It is important for EVERYONE to know that it is not just a few articles or quacks that see the inextricable link between population growth (unchecked) and a deteriorating earth. Reasonable, loving, thoughtful people have all come to similar conclusions: “Science Summit” on World Population:
            A Joint Statement by 58 of the World’s Scientific Academies

            Now, this does not justify many horrible things that have been done in the name of reducing local or even national populations, but it does mean that institutions such as the Catholic church have a moral obligation of the highest order to speak out and address this growing concern.

            Large families and many small families will be part of the solution…through moral means, and at this point, I think artificial contraception is a necessary part of that (but not abortion).

            Are birthrates in many places dropping? Yes. Why? Economics, womens’ education AND, access to contraception—here is the the key—my issue with the Catholic church, and why I am interested in a blog about “discernment” about when it is moral to use NFP not to conceive–.

            Here is a link to a summary, but realize that the link comes from an organization that is not run by the scientists, you need a JSTOR account or something similar to read the entire text. Or just go to your local university library.

            I cannot help but see this as an issue of love and “agape” : the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity. Humans must have this type of love for people they have never met. I must have a concept of how my actions and those of my nation might play out on the lives of all the other people in the world and all the people who will come to live in the world.

            I know several “environmentalists” (I hate that word, as I know that everyone is an environmentalist as it applies to their own immediate environment), who have told me that it was their early Christian roots that drove them to make the connection between their love of mankind towards their understanding and passion for stewardship.


            Incidentally, where did you travel? In all of my travels, I saw the greatest issues in rural Nepal, the Horn of Africa and the decimation of fisheries and mangroves in Thailand. The Cod fishery here in New England is another.

    • Mary, I responded to a couple of your questions over on Jennifer’s blog, and was hoping to hear back from you. I addressed your question as well. Did you read this part of Simcha’s post?
      “Pope Pius XII says that serious motives, such as “medical, eugenic, economic, and social” reasons, can exempt a couple from the obligation of bearing children (“Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives”).”

  10. Thanks for this. Your level-headedness on NFP and family size is so needed. A friend of mine reminds me constantly that holiness of a family is not dependent on how many children there are; after all, the Holiest of Families had only one Child.

    While there are definite regrets in my life about my own fertility, I also know that there are real medical reasons I have for avoiding pregnancy. With God’s grace and assistance, I’m trying to help my girls have a better understanding of their sexuality than I had growing up.

  11. This is good. It points out how seriously wrong–and ungenerous–discussions of NFP can be. I was a bit upset that (once again) women who work outside the home/have careers are excluded. I know that this is not Simcha’s concern, but I hate to have it so far outside the radar of most Catholic women writers that it’s not even addressed. After all, there are a number of people out there who would question whether a Catholic wife/mother *should* work outside the home, and so would certainly not accept work/career as a legitimate reason for postponing pregnancy!

    • Perhaps this is an article you could write, then? I try to write about things as least tangentially within my scope of experience (and when I stray outside of that, I generally get swatted down!). I agree that you don’t hear much about working Catholic mothers. If you would like some contact information for editors who might be interested in publishing such a piece, I’d be happy to pass them on to you.

      • Simcha,
        I have a good friend who is quite a brilliant thinker and writer, a part time professor at a Catholic college and due with her third as a result of another often undiscussed NPF issue, which is that even if you have been doing it for years and are organized and good at it, it doesn’t actually prevent conception allllllll that often. Anyway, she just sent me a long passionate screed about a need for fuller discussion about working women, feminism, Catholocism, and the vast gap between ultra traditionalists and feminists and how none of them serve women. If you have any ideas as to where she could submit an article, that would be wonderful.

        • How long is it? If you want, I could take a look. NOT to edit or proofread or anything, but just to make a recommendation on where to send it. I’m not as well-connected as I like to pretend, though!

      • Simcha–I’m not there yet. Thanks for the suggestion, though. It continually baffles me that this is a conversation that doesn’t already exist. The potential article mentioned by another commenter sounds great–I would certainly read it, especially as it is coming from another academic.

        You could run with some “working mother” stereotypes, though:

        –Selfish woman wants to climb career ladder and buy another Lexus.

        –Lower-class mother working her low-wage job to supplement her husband’s income to raise her family out of the slums.

        –Woman who feels conflicted because she loves her children and wants to spend more time with them and perhaps have more, but also feels that she has something to contribute to others through her career.


        • The lack of discussion about working mothers bugs me too, Literacy Chic, and when there is a discussion it tends to boil down to “working mothers are selfish!” and “stay-at-home mothers are oppressed!” which is absolutely ridiculous given how complex and messy the real world and real women are. Just in my own little circle I’ve seen almost every permutation. As for me, I have the aforementioned “grave” reasons for limiting children, and one of the side benefits is that I’m back at work part-time. Yay!

          Also, Simcha, thanks so much for this post!

          • Agreed! Thanks for the moral support! It’s nice to know there are some of us out there who are on the same page–I mean, I know, but I want to *know*! 🙂

    • I want to read that article, and I always think that the saints who were also queens would be good examples (St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Bl. Isabella of Spain). Talk about a career woman!

    • This is very true–I have a s-i-l who gets very upset for this same reason. There’s an assumption that working moms are obviously contracepting, b/c if they weren’t, they’d be staying home like they’re “supposed” to be.

      It’s really important to stop drawing lines in the sand. We all have our own unique callings from God, which we follow more or less perfectly. But they are callings nonetheless and I think it’s arrogant to assume that because someone else’s call doesn’t mirror mine, they are automatically wrong.

  12. This. is why. I love. the Catholic Church.

    The Church cannot “write a list” anyway. It would go against its philosophy; the belief that each human person (therefore each marriage) is different and unique and susceptible to different sins and virtues. What virtue comes easily to me may be extremely difficult for another. What sins I repeatedly repeat (heh), another has rarely experienced.

    So too, in marriage, men and women are called to know not only themselves, but also one another. To understand the particular failings and strengths in the other and to work with them and God to strengthen their marriage and help them on their way to Heaven. Obviously this is general and not limited to “NFP or Not?”

    I try to stick to two mantras in this area:

    1. Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about their marriage and their souls? That’s God’s job, not mine. Phew!
    2. From my uncle, “Not my wife, not my life.”

  13. Perhaps I don’t hang out with enough Catholics to experience these people who have no problem telling others that they’re not living Catholically enough. If the Church doesn’t think it’s a good idea to make that list of acceptable/unacceptable circumstances under which a couple can utilize NFP, why do some of these individuals think they should?
    Is it only online or in the blogosphere, or are people saying this to your face? I can’t imagine the audacity.
    Regardless, if you are practicing NFP, and you’ve run your reasons through your own conscience (based on the guidelines of the Church, of course!), then it shouldn’t matter what other people think about it. If you don’t want to hear them tell you that you’re using it with a contraceptive mentality, don’t go to those places. Don’t listen to them. Tell them what I tell my kids to say to a bully when they’re being teased: “so.”
    Who are these people who think they’re more Catholic than the Pope? They’re probably the same people who think women need to wear skirts all the time. Please.
    Keep your eyes on your own work, people.

    • Tiffany,
      I have personally experienced good, faithful Catholic friends of mine playing “NFP Abuse Police” with other good, faithful Catholics (myself included)

      It starts off subtly- “Hey, junior’s eating solids! I bet you’re ready for another!”, then grows more frantic, “You guys are going on a date tonight? Look out, here comes the next baby!”, then takes a sudden, vicious turn, “If I’d lost as much weight as you had, and my body looked like yours, I wouldn’t want to get pregnant again, either.” or “Didn’t all Company X employees get a bonus this year? Seems like you’re rolling in the money now.”

      The last comments involve how they’ve come to understand that NFP is a sinful practice in every situation, and embracing this fact has helped them grow so much in holiness they’re shocked that they’re not exuding the smell of sanctity.

      Obviously, not every couple who chooses not to use NFP treats their fellow Catholics like this, but I can attest that yes, ugly comments about this are made to one’s face from time to time.

      • Or you could get my mother’s reaction when she found out I was pregnant a “mere” four months after the wedding, and that I was using NFP, and planned to homeschool:

        “Oh, I suppose you’ll have a WHOLE CLASSROOM of them eventually.”

        This was my mother who raised me (nominally) in the Catholic Church, and who also was wont to say, “If the Pope had to raise a child as a single mother, he wouldn’t be against the Pill.”

        Took a while to get rid of that programming, let me tell you. She was downright disgusted when she heard we’d had a second child, and told another family member, “I don’t even want to think about it. And I’m sure there will be ANOTHER ONE before long.”

    • Same here, Tiffany. I find questioning another couples’ family size and child spacing so controlling and intrusive on a level I haven’t seen since some idiot said Catholic women shouldn’t wear pants.

  14. This is great, Simcha, and very true. There are so many mitigating factors and these change even for one couple over the life of their fertile years.

    Above: “After all, there are a number of people out there who would question whether a Catholic wife/mother *should* work outside the home, and so would certainly not accept work/career as a legitimate reason for postponing pregnancy!”

    To this I would say that the point is that they DON”T HAVE TO accept it. Too many of us are as much or even more concerned with our neighbor’s approval of our use or lack of use of NFP than we are with following God’s call. This post does a good job reminding us who this conversation should remain between 9whose approval we really need) and also to refrain from judging others.

    Also as an NFP teacher, I tell my clients who are sincerely concerned about using NFP with a “contraceptive mentality” that mentalities play themselves out in actions. That is to say, contraceptive ACTS would accompany a similar “mentality.” If the couple is truly chaste at fertile times, they shouldn’t worry too, too much about hidden mentalities.

  15. Many thanks for this post! We have a small family (2 sons, one with autism). I had always wanted and hoped for a large family (both my husband and I come from large families) ourselves and our boys ask for a little sister. However, complications from the pregnancies and births of both children have made it impossible for me to conceive again, much as I’d be open to so doing. We had even looked at adoption or foster parenting, but my birth family’s negative attitude about rearing children not blood related shot that notion down, because I will not have any child of ours treated differently from the others.

    I have no problem with NFP or providentialism. I’ve done both myself. What I do have problems with are those who judge couples’ personal practices based on how large or how small their families are. I’ve seen and heard enough such remarks to know how much they can hurt. Glad to have others who understand here.

  16. You knocked it out of the park! I am linking to this when I do a NFP post

    it is so important not to judge ESPECIALLY when our friends are NFPers

    for example- my parents (before they were Catholic) actually used birth control and they had 5 kids- I guess using birth control to ‘space’ kids

    But- I have friends that have tried for 10 years to get pregnant and ‘good Catholics’ accused them of contracepting

    I have been able to have 4 kids- 3 or 4 too many for secularists- 3 or 4 too few for my Catholic homeschooling friends- can’t we NFP types just get along? 🙂

    • This is so true. It is so sad to see these women longing for more children who feel the need to explain why they don’t have more. They have obviously been berated by fellow catholics and are still smarting. Don’t we all have enough work to do? Sure, sometimes we have to step up to the plate and defend moral norms in certain circumstances but it seems like the more people think they know about church teaching the more uncharitable they think they can be!

  17. “Church ever did give a specific, objective list of legitimate reasons for avoiding or achieving pregnancy, it would cause more confusion, not less. People with good reasons to postpone a pregnancy would doubt themselves, and people with no good reason would find loopholes. People would judge each other even more than they already do (which is a shameful amount), and it would distract from the soul’s conversation with God.”

    Excellent! Very good examples, too. I’m so glad you put yourself in the potential “line of ire” to post this. People won’t stop being judgemental until our True Judge comes again, but for those who struggle with confusion over NFP or suffer misunderstand and condemnation it is wonderful to know they are not alone and they are not wrong.

  18. Simcha, whether or not you know it, you have provided me with a much-needed fraternal correction on this topic.

    I have been so tough on my husband to have more children, and I do need to stop that pressure.

    Me: early 40s; Him: late 40s
    Me: wants 7-9 kids; Him: our 3 are enough
    Me: let’s just trust in God; Him: trust, but we must be prudent.

    Your examples are superb. Not only can we not look into the hearts of other couples, but we cannot look into the heart of our spouse and judge.

    Wow. Big eye opener for me!

    Thank you!

  19. With regard to not getting pregnant until one loses some weight, you forgot woman E who was slightly overweight with her first pregnancy and each one she was unable to lose all the weight before the next. Her BMI is now in the Obese category and her blood pressure is rising. I fall into this category and after four babies am now trying to lose enough weight to bring my BMI into the “healthy” range. I have to lose ten pounds to get out of Obese and twenty more to get into Healthy, so am now trying to use NFP for the first time in my marriage.

    • Woman F (well sort of) who can’t GAIN enough weight to support multiple pregnancies and especially the extended nursing she wishes for, and she’s faced with osteoporosis before she’s 30….just sayin’….from experience :/

    • Me too… I started my marriage at 130, ended up at 190 after 4 kids in 5 years, and if I had another pregnancy right now (baby 4 is 6 months and my cycle came back 3 months ago) I would be facing gestational diabetes and possible pre-eclampsia.

      For the first time in our marriage, we’re actually _trying_ NFP (as opposed to “NFP”, meaning “let’s just pretend I’m not fertile tonight, maybe God won’t notice”).

  20. There are so few people practising NFP that when i see the way all these other adages seem to be crowding out the beauty that is NFP I HAVE TO CRY !!!

  21. home run again, Simcha. I passed this on to the marriage coordinator at church ( a good friend) ,our pastor , our NFP only doctor, and friends in the trenches. Nothing like a good reality check.

    A few months back I hosted some young (mostly first time) Catholic moms at my house, so they could get to know one another and, hopefully, find support amongst one another). Before I knew it, a fight broke out: providentialists vs. charters. I tried to calm the waters with soothing words about how we all have so much more in common than our differences yadadada. Pretty soon everyone was tires and wanted to go home.

    NFP is humbling, and humility is such a recurring theme in Christianity (humanity) that it needs revisiting on a daily basis ( I know, I know, humility is built into parenting. but then, so is pride, right?).

    I’m pondering humility at my place today, on a different note.


  22. Great post, Simcha. When my husband and I were expecting our third in three years, he joked that it would be cheaper to buy a hospital bed and hire a midwife to stop by annually than for me to keep going to the hospital. We both laughed; my preeclampsia with the first two made that impossible anyway. Still, it seemed like we were well on our way to big familyville (and as one of nine myself I just thought that was guaranteed).

    We celebrate our sixteenth anniversary this year with those same three beloved daughters. God knew what He was going to give us–we didn’t.

    I love the notion that we all need to keep our eyes on our own work. It would save a lot of grief on both sides, providentialists, NFP enthusiasts, and everybody in between (most of us, most likely).

  23. i have to agree with the poster that practicing nfp while working outside the home presents a unique set of challenges – i would love to see an article on that !!

    How about practising nfp where there are barely any classes
    Simcha ( hint hint ) am throwing out ideas for future nfp posts

  24. I don’t have time to read all comments and will come back later, but I wanted to say:

    Thank you for a great post. It is definately a keeper and will help me to better answer this question of my students in our NFP classes.

    From experience I would also like to add that the medical reasons one might have are SO diverse, one could not possibly make a “list”.

    Also, even in face of serious reasons, my husband and I have taken the “prudent” action of abstaining during the fertile time, and have still been faced with God’s choice being different…but the point was we still trust in his choice despite our efforts.

    Finally, we must remember that abstaining is never a sin…albiet at times MAY be the result of selfishness. But ultimately the virtuous practice of “Abstenance Selfishness” almost always benefits the couple over time by working on their hearts as ooposed to “Contraceptive/Sexual Selfishness”. (I’m speaking from experience during a time in our marriage when we admittedly used NFP “selfishly”…I sure sign of lacking virtue and discernment, but not mortal sin and definately a teachable moment to strengthen our marriage later through BETTER discernment and trust in God).

    God Bless!

  25. Thank you for this post and your NFP post last week. I was late to the party on responding to that one. I’ve in the past posted some of my challenges with NFP at other sites only to be lambasted for not embracing all it’s beauty. Someone actually said something along the lines of: “have some self control, we’re not animals.” (Lovely.) Listen, I found NFP beautiful when it helped us prudently space our children after miscarriages, etc. But the truth of the matter was if we experienced a “user error” we were game because of our openness to life. That said, now both of us are on the dark side of our forties 😉 and know in our hearts — for reasons I don’t need to share (for validation by some commenters) — that we should avoid future pregnancies. Which, quite frankly, bites. We actually feel our greater sacrifice is in our struggle to not have more children. So now NFP is hard. I find myself asking, “so, is this the rest of my (somewhat) fertile life?” Charted intimacy? Hormonal whateverness? Abstaining when you don’t really want to. Occasional paranoia. Ahh the joy. The beauty. And that, my friends, cannot be compared with a contraceptive mentality. NFP is hard. Contracepting is only hard when you realize as a young married that it’s it’s a mortal sin, and you (and 90% of American Catholics) seemed to have missed that lesson in your Catholic education and you think, now what? Thanks for your honesty and real-world sensibility. I like hanging out here. I know I’m not alone.

  26. There are also those of us who practice NFP because of long term health reasons, but would dearly love to have another baby. It’s painful to have people assume that we are being selfish for using it and we are the parents of seven kids ages 15-5!

    Our circumstances have certainly shown us not to make assumptions on others motives.

  27. @Marie: I seem to have run out of levels of threads here, so I have to start a new layer. You said:

    “I’m trying to point out that if the “grave reason” for using NFP that a couple cites can be foreseen by them before marriage and avoided by postponing marriage, shouldn’t it be? Otherwise, aren’t we in a way putting our own reasons before the Church’s?”

    In a word: no. I understand what you’re saying. I even FEEL like you must be right, believe it or not. I am not a planner, I am not prudent, and, well, I have 8 kids. I FEEL like it’s ridiculous to get married and not be absolutely dying to start having babies. But that’s just me. That’s just you. That’s not everybody; and it’s okay for people to be working on different plans. It really is.

    There must be some reason why the Church does not teach what you’re suggesting, right? It can’t just be an oversight. There must be some reason why the Church allows for people to have all sorts of plans within a valid marriage. And the reason must be that people’s lives are different, and different kinds of virtue are required of different kinds of people.

    And as I have said, I’ve learned the hard way: never, never, never ask of your neighbor more than the Church does. She’s had much longer to think about this than you have! (If I did emoticons, there’d be a winky one there.)

    • To clarify, when I say ‘I feel like it’s ridiculous” and “people working on different plan” I realized that that sounds condescending and stingy, as if I’m saying, “Well, people like me have it REALLY right, but I guess others can squeeze in under the wire without technically sinning.” For the record, that is NOT what I meant. I, for one, am relieved and grateful that there are other kinds of people in the world besides me.

      • I’m sorry, but you keep saying my comments don’t come from what the Church actually teaches, and I don’t see how that’s true. I’m drawing from the two primary ends of marriage (the procreation and education of children, and the salvation of the spouses), and the fact that they’re both necessary. As such, shouldn’t we enter into marriage ready to embrace both? I don’t see where the Church says that it’s always all right to go into marriage planning on putting off kids for reasons that can be prevented by postponing marriage. That boils down to putting off one of the ends of marriage, arguably the primary one (Pope Pius XII certainly said it was the primary one) for our own ends. Quote:

        “Now, the truth is that matrimony, as an institution of nature, in virtue of the Creator’s will, has not as a primary and intimate end the personal perfection of the married couple but the procreation and upbringing of a new life. The other ends, inasmuch as they are intended by nature, are not equally primary, much less superior to the primary end, but are essentially subordinated to it. This is true of every marriage, even if no offspring result, just as of every eye it can be said that it is destined and formed to see, even if, in abnormal cases arising from special internal or external conditions, it will never be possible to achieve visual perception.”


        He also stresses in the same talk a the need for a grave reason.

        • You are saying that “you must intend to have children” is the same as “you must intend to have children right away.” That is what is not taught by the Church: the “right away” part.

          You are assuming that, if something is important, we must do it right away. Some people think, however, that having children is SO important that they want to make sure they can do it WELL. I do not see how that is contrary to what the Church teaches.

    • “There must be some reason why the Church does not teach what you’re suggesting, right?”

      There is. And it is (hang on to your seats!) that the purpose of God’s sacraments is to get us to heaven, not to populate the earth.

      So while sex and babies are naturally intertwined, and the Church in her wisdom has declared that marriage reflect this reality of God’s design, marriage itself is a sacrament whose primary end is for a couple to assist each other, through the grace of God, to reach heaven.

      There are many many times in a marriage when it may be prudent to avoid a pregnancy. There is no reason why the beginning should be excluded. For some, marriage itself is a challenge and one that needs exclusive attention for a while to learn how to be the spouse God has called you to be.

      • I can’t keep repeating myself, other than to say that no, the primary end of marriage is not for the couple to assist each other to Heaven (although that is a necessary end). This isn’t just a statement of mine; many popes have said it.

        And last, I said several times that a couple should postpone marriage “if the grave reason can be negated by postponing marriage.” See most financial difficulties. Obviously couples who have other issues that wouldn’t be affected by postponing marriage, but would be helped by getting married, need to make a different decision.

          • First, like I said before, I’m quoting myself because that’s the conclusion I think is naturally drawn from the Church’s articulation of the ends of marriage and the use of NFP. I can try to find some authorities for that, but because it’s such a case-by-case decision I think it needs qualification.

            Eileen, obviously in your case, putting off marriage wouldn’t have gotten rid of the grave reason for NFP. I didn’t say all financial reasons weren’t grave reasons, I just used that as an example because often they aren’t (unlike medical reasons, which don’t usually just go away if they’re grave.) For example, if one of the couple is in graduate school and it would be more of a financial burden for them to live together as a married couple than not.

            As to caring, I thought that’s what we’re supposed to do? Not in the sense of picking on particular people and getting involved in their lives where we’re unwelcome, but trying our best to give them the information necessary (again, without being busybodies) to make informed decisions based on their circumstances and the advice of their spiritual advisors; just as we do research for ourselves so that we can learn and make informed decisions.

            Simcha, I thought it was clear from what I said that I don’t believe “you must intend to have children,” and “you must intend to have children right away” are the same thing. If there is a grave reason for NFP that wouldn’t be affected by the couple postponing marriage, or if postponing marriage would create bigger problems, go for it. It’s just that the Church says that NFP needs to be used with grave reason, and never taken lightly.

            • Marie, you keep saying “grave reasons.” I’m wondering if you’re not aware of the recent argument that this is a mistranslation–that a better translation would be “serious reasons” or “just reasons”( I think it was Janet Smith who first made this point)–or whether you’re aware of it but think it’s a false argument.

              The reason I ask is that “grave reasons” really sounds like life-or-death stuff, but I think that’s misleading. The Latin word for “serious” sounds like “grave,” but it’s a false cognate. The CCC, in the English translation, says “just reasons.” (no. 2368)

            • Marie,

              I think I am getting what you are saying. (See, having to repeat yourself gives us thick-headed ones time to reflect!) It made a connection with me because that is just what my Protestant grandparents did.

              My grandfather and his brother (children during the Great Depression) wanted to marry the two prettiest girls in their town, both named Evelyn. They didn’t have enough money to support the families that would come and jobs were scarce so my grandfather joined the Navy and his brother went west looking for work. Both my grandmother and my great-aunt Evelyn went to work and lived at home with their parents for a time. Then when the men came back, they all got married and raised their families. My great-uncle bought a farm and my grandfather worked on one. They were fairly poor, but had raised enough to start their families.

              What I think you are saying is that couples should also be encouraged to pray for discernment regarding whether it might be better to put off the marriage if the impediment to children is one that could be resolved like my family’s example. It could be a better solution than putting off the children. Is that right?

        • Marie, when we married 15 years ago, my husband had accumulated six figures of student loan and other debt. We were vastly more able to attack that debt as a married couple than as two single people. In addition to the financial advantage marrying gave us, it gave us the spiritual advantage of no longer having the temptation of sexual sin. Our plan was to postpone conception for a year or two so that all we had left was the student loan albatross.

          God has a funny sense of humor though. I got pregnant on our honeymoon. Truth is, we found we fell far more into the Providentialism camp than NFP in our own marriage, which is why I normally don’t read or participate much in NFP discussions.

          But what I don’t understand is why you care what the rest of the world does? Why are financial reasons less important than other ones, particularly when most divorces occur as a direct result of finances? None of us is in any position to know the intimate workings of another married couple’s intellectual, emotional, physical, and financial situation, even if we think we are. They are one. We are outsiders.

        • You “said several times that a couple should postpone marriage if the grave reason can be negated by postponing marriage.” Yep, I heard you say it several times.

          I’m still waiting to hear where the *Church* says it.

          You haven’t answered this:

          You are saying that “you must intend to have children” is the same as “you must intend to have children right away.” That is what is not taught by the Church: the “right away” part.

          You are assuming that, if something is important, we must do it right away. Some people think, however, that having children is SO important that they want to make sure they can do it WELL. I do not see how that is contrary to what the Church teaches.

        • You just won the award for not getting it, though. “And last, I said several times that a couple should postpone marriage ‘if the grave reason can be negated by postponing marriage.’ See most financial difficulties.”

          Once again, Simcha’s point is that you don’t know that. Who are you to say what is right for all couples? You cannot objectively say that every couple everywhere should simply postpone marriage because, oh naturally of course, all financial difficulties will inevitably sort themselves out if they only wait long enough. How do YOU know God isn’t calling them to get married in spite of grave reasons because the sacrament of marriage will enhance their faith to its fullest?

          I am of course biased anyway. I’m certain you would have disapproved of my getting married, from the way you are commenting. But thankfully, God knew what He was doing when he called me to marry when He did. I don’t have to worry about whether someone else thinks I shouldn’t have been practicing NFP immediately after marrying – which, in case you’ve forgotten – always remains open to life. NFP is not a means of preventing a primary end of marriage (if it were, the Church wouldn’t allow it), but of supplementing it through the use of chastity, charity, and love for one’s spouse. And it’s not for anyone to say which married couple is allowed to use it and at what point in their marriage.

          • Wow, Mary S. This:

            “NFP is not a means of preventing a primary end of marriage (if it were, the Church wouldn’t allow it), but of supplementing it through the use of chastity, charity, and love for one’s spouse.”

            is amazing. So much to think about there. Thank you!

          • Look, like I said before, I would never pass judgment on a specific couple, because I am neither in their shoes nor am I their spiritual advisor. I never said that financial difficulties would magically fix themselves (I wish!), I simply used that example because sometimes couples can dig themselves in deeper financially by getting married right away instead of waiting. i know that firsthand. I don’t think this is the case with all couples in financial difficulty, I never said that. Eileen is a good example of a couple whose financial situation was improved by getting married.

            There are as many reasons to get married (on top of the primary two) as there are couples. Every couple needs to decide for themselves, with the help of a spiritual advisor. All I was taking issue with, from the beginning, was the attitude promoted by many badly-formed Catholics – the idea that using NFP to postpone children really isn’t a big deal or something you need to pray about and discern. As I’m sure you know from experience, it is indeed a weighty decision.

            • >>the idea that using NFP to postpone children really isn’t a big deal or something you need to pray about and discern.

              I highly doubt that many (any?) couples who are serious enough about their faith to forego artificial birth control and use NFP in the first place think the way you’ve been describing.

              Are you certain you aren’t setting up a straw man in this argument?

              • discussion…not argument.

                And I hope my comment didn’t sound harsh in it’s brevity. The only thing I wanted to bring out was that I seriously do wonder if the hypothetical couple Marie is using really even exists.

                A Catholic couple who are serious enough to use NFP, but think it’s no big deal, or don’t think prayer or discernment are part of it?

                I suppose it’s possible, but it just seems it would be VERY rare to nonexistent.

                • I agree. I’m sure there are probably a lot of couples who *appear* more flippant about these matters than they are, but using NFP at all is such a huge commitment – consider that many of these couples will find themselves abstaining on their honeymoon – that I would prefer to charitably assume that there is real discernment involved in that decision.

              • I am convinced that people like Marie want to cr*p all over everyone else because they followed the teachings of the Church to the letter, didn’t do it whole-heartedly, are mad/annoyed/uncomfortable/irritated about their choices, and therefore want everyone one else to suffer as they did.

                Some people act like the NFP police because they, themselves, didn’t use it for the right heart reasons, and instead practiced NFP out of fear and with a hard heart.

                • Um, wow. Thank you for reading all of my comments so charitably, giving me the benefit of the doubt, and not making nasty assumptions about my life and intentions.

                  Why is it OK for you to pass judgments like that on me, while chastising me for what you perceive (wrongly) to be passing judgement on others?

                  • You’re welcome, Marie. It’s a service I provide.

                    You *are* passing judgement on people, whether you want to admit it or not. You have a horse in this race and you keep fighting to keep it in. Why? You made your point, but you want to keep fighting about it.

                    I’ve run into your type before, and like *I* said already, I’m convinced there is a reason people like you will continue to argue. You’re bitter.

                    And why am I getting into this with you? Because I am sick to death of the NFP Police coming into these discussions and telling everyone what to think and how to act and how to interpret everything.

                    • As Marie’s husband, I feel I can say with a great degree of certainty that she’s not bitter about anything. Thanks for being so friendly and kind to her. 🙂

                    • I stand by my assertions. People who want to argue so vehemently about NFP, trying to tell other people how wrong they are in the way they are practicing NFP, usually have an unusual stake in the topic for some reason.

                      Kudos to Marie on having such a wonderful husband who will come in and defend her on her behalf, in her place.

                      FWIW, I take heat all the time in the Catholic blogosphere, so anyone who’s enjoying piling in on me needs to know in advance that I usually don’t come running back with my tail between my legs saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry for not being more charitable, I was just having a bad day, etc.” It has happened, but rarely. I admit Marie has acted with more charity than I, but this is who I am, with no apologies.

                      When you come into a hot-button discussion such as NFP – and at that a discussion predicated on the idea that people need to stop judging each other for their reasons to use or not use NFP – and then you essentially decide to act like the NFP Police anyway, well then, expect to take some heat.

                      There are strong and passionate advocates of NFP, yes. Then there are the “advocates” of NFP who only advocate for it according to their rigid set of rules. I’m simply pointing out the difference. If I’m wrong about the “bitter” part, so be it. But if it’s not bitterness, then I guarantee there is some other negative aspect driving the need to keep harping upon how wrong everyone else is.

                      And I suppose that in my saying as much, I prove the same point. Ha!

                      I’m outta here now, unsubscribing to comments. Have at it, people. Sorry Simcha – if she/her husband can defend themselves, so can I.

                • I’d just like to say that although I disagree with some of what Marie says, I’ve admired the way she’s behaved here. I don’t have half of what it would take to respond so mildly to attacks like this one, which she obviously doesn’t deserve.

            • Marie,

              You said “I can’t keep repeating myself, other than to say that no, the primary end of marriage is not for the couple to assist each other to Heaven (although that is a necessary end).” The word “sacrament” is to make visible what is invisible–infusing the soul with grace. So the Sacrament of Marriage has the primary purpose of getting those two souls to heaven. Being generous in having children is most often a necessary means to this vocation. The primary end of a priest’s vocation is not to celebrate mass, although for most priests this is a necessary part and the greatest part of their vocation. The purpose of their vocation is for them to become the person God intended them to be and get to heaven. We have several priests locally who are trained in Theology of the Body and they have reminded us that there is more than one purpose of sexual intercourse: unity of the husband and wife, procreation, a remedy for concupiscence, and LOVE. To say that a couple should postpone marriage until they can start having children right away could be likened to waiting to baptize your child until they understand for themselves the theology behind it. We receive grace through the sacraments, so although the situation may not be perfect it is better to open ourselves up to that grace than to forgo it. My husband and I teach NFP through CCL and in our experience, the badly formed Catholics choose not to even follow the Church’s teaching on contraception. The ones who do take the time and money to learn NFP have a great desire for family and God’s will. Some want to start families right away and others feel it prudent to wait a little while. As part of the CCL course (which teaches 50% of all NFP couples in the nation) we discuss responsible parenthood, how prayerful discernment must be a part of practicing NFP. Never is it even implied that using NFP to postpone is “no big deal.” Every NFP couple I have ever met is doing their best every day to strive to do God’s will. There will be selfish moments in people’s lives where they choose to postpone for only ‘convenient’ reasons and their will be selfish moments in peoples lives when they choose to conceive a child just because the want another baby, not taking into consideration the needs of their current children or many other circumstances. But that is why we have the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage.

  28. Marie… your comments are contributing to this false idea of a contraceptive mentality. I was 22 when I got married and I was still in college. I was not ready to have a baby then and am still not. I ‘m graduating in May and then I want to start a career and I ‘m not ashamed to say that. I want us to be more financially stable and have a home.

    Please don’t judge. Newlyweds have enough pressure already. I was immature when I got married and probably still am. But I think our marriage is growing. The first year is also really a hard time of transitioning and I don’t deal well with stress.

    We have debt and only a one bedroom apartment right now. NFP is hard and a couple that was selfish would just contracept… you don’t try and follow God’s plan by practicing NFP and then sit around all day trying to figure out how to abuse it.

    • I think you make a good point, Catherine. NFP isn’t anything like contraception — with the latter, you pop a pill and can have sex any time you life; using NFP means abstaining for days or weeks (or, in the case of a dear friend with irregular cycles, months on end). It is not an “easy” route & a couple who took up NFP for “selfish” motives would probably not be able to sustain it for an extended period of time.

      And that, I think, is part of the beauty of NFP. The Church *needn’t* give us a list of “grave reasons”… because, after a certain length of time abstaining and abstaining and abstaining, I think you will find yourself having more than one conversation with you spouse that starts out something like, “Um, honey, now just *why* did we say there was gave reason here? Are you still sure it’s grave? Like grave-grave, or just grave?” I know I have, anyway. 🙂

      And one last thing — hang in there Catherine. You sound a lot like me. When I got married my husband was still in school & I was newly graduated. We used NFP to avoid conception until we knew we would have health insurance (long story) at the time of a baby’s due date. (Incidentally, we timed thing well — we’d had insurance exactly 35 days when our first baby was born!) It was hard, and definitely (in our opinions!) not “selfish” but rather looking out for the best for our future family.

      • Catherine, you are right .

        Anyone who believes that it’s all perfectly fine and natural to just start having sex with your newlywed spouse – whether one or both of you are virgins, or whether you’re not virgins via prior relationships, but waited for each other – is crazy. It’s a HUGE, MASSIVE adjustment for some people. Just being naked can be a huge mental thing to work through, likewise being touched intimately or learning to have an orgasm, etc. IT’S A BIG DEAL.

        For some people, psychologically, to just deal with the reality of human sexuality is a massive hurdle, even if a fun/happy/exciting hurdle – without having to immediately deal with pregnancy on top of it. Some people have barely figured out how to have intercourse properly or comforably and BAM! they’re pregnant. How is that a good thing? Practicing NFP at the very beginning of a marriage might be the best thing so that 2 newlyweds are actually comfortable in their own skins before having to deal with the very real stress and responsibilities of having a child.

        People act like sex is just an easy, “given” thing. Like everyone just hops in bed and does it with no effort. I highly doubt it. To take on that attitude is to devalue sex.

  29. good discussion! thanks for this post…

    My husband and I both come from large Catholic families, and I always assumed I would have the chance to have, I don’t know 4-6 kids – and rub in in the noses of lots of suburbanites. Oh sweet humilty…

    My husband has a disability, which sometimes gets in the way of his providing for our family. Also, his disability includes potentially passing on a different form of disability to our children – which I knew when we got married – but I thought it wouldn’t affect us. We have two children, and I don’t work and don’t have a carreer – so I really have to opportunity to offent so many different groups.

    We have two children. One healthy, and one with a significant disability. And, I have only had 2 misscariages. I am 35 now and have finally started to stop making myself feel like a Catholic failure for only having 2 kids. We are still open to life, although we know we have a 50% chance of miscarriage, and there is a real chance at having a child with a significant disability if we conceive.

    So, I stopped charting – because it was driving me crazy.

    Another annoying trend, are suburbanites who feel they are God’s gift for having 4 kids. They have 4 kids, tie their tubes, and talk about how they have their hands full all the time – of course, this is a semi-infertility endused rant. But it really is annoying. I know this is not scientific, but I have noticed a lot of these families are protestant raised women who married catholic men – I feel like they are in a mental competition “OK, your mom had a lot of kids – so there, so did I – now tubes are tied – and I am queen bee – take that!”

  30. Well, making a list would be like publishing a just wage! Let’s see, in the time of Leo XII that would be what, $.10 an hour? Dollar a day? I use the principle of subsidiarity to explain it. God gives the people who need to know the means in the sacrament. I mean, nobody else but my husband and I need to know that, you know, the kids are asleep and I didn’t get a call from production support at work and he doesn’t have to get way early for a three hour time zone difference phone call, and the chart has the whole color thing going, etc., so we’re good to go. Right? I mean, I wasn’t supposed to phone in the Big I to someone for authorization? Oh, I was supposed to phone in when Not-the-big-I, for permission not to. That was in Humanae Vitae but the Masons got it taken it out. It’s in a book by Malachai Martin.
    So, keep it up, Simcha. I need you. I only have five so I get the same look from the NFP-is-contraception Uber Catholic Mom of Many as the gal behind me in line at Costco who visibly counts my kids and makes a mental note to check if she’s made her donation to PP this month. Some people just can’t keep their eyes on their own stuff.

  31. Dear Everyone,

    I just want to say thank you for being such wonderful commenters. You are all so thoughtful, so articulate, and so honest, I just love this group, and I’m very grateful to have you here! Thanks.


  32. Thank you, Simcha of Arc! (((((((hugs))))))))

    I’ve been Catholic for 17 years now and haven’t practiced contraception since before I became Catholic. I used NFP to GET pregnant and God gave me 2 living children in 2 years and then no more. I despise those judgmental types who “know” what’s in my heart. Thank you for speaking for me, among others.

  33. What a great, great post, and wonderful, interesting discussion.

    In general I am not scrupulous, but I do have this annoying habit of constantly second-guessing my moral decisions. I guess it’s probably good for me; it keeps me honest. Our use of NFP has not been exempted from this problem.

    I have had 5 children in 5 years. I work full time and my husband stays at home with the kids. My youngest is 6 months old. I can’t nurse longer than 3 months because, even with trying to pump while I’m at work, my milk supply quickly dwindles. I am convinced, though, that even if I was able to do ecological breastfeeding I’d still get pregnant everytime my husband looked at me sideways. My extremely high fertility is at the same time a blessing and a curse! And consider I am only 26, I’m sure there are many more beautiful children in our future! Even though I can look at this objectively and say OBVIOUSLY we have good reasons for trying to wait a little while before I get pregnant again, I still have this little voice in the back of my head that nags at me that we are being selfish. Reading this post certainly helped!

    It can be really hard sometimes to accept the will of God, especially since with each subsequent preganancy comes an increasingly painful 9 months. But, we can look back at the time of each birth and along with the blessing of a child, always seems to come some other large blessing in our lives! That keeps us going; knowing that God really is providing for us like the lillies of the field.

    I also wanted to respond to a couple of commenters above. I think what is meant by a “Contraceptive mentality” is doing other things which fulfill the carnal desires but don’t result in a pregnancy… if you know what I mean. Of course NFP doesn’t mean just refraining from sex. And of course that is a HUGE temptation for any couple attempting to abstain during ovulation. I know this from experience! I don’t really buy into that term though, because I don’t know how many couples there are that would do that but wouldn’t just use contraceptives instead of going through all that trouble! And likewise, probably many couples falling into this are just trying their best and falling into sin as we humans often do (again, I speak from experience).

    The other thing I wanted to respond to is Marie’s comments above. I know there has been much discussion about this already, but I wanted to throw a couple of ideas out there. Sometimes the most prudent thing is to just get married already and stop sinning, whatever your financial (or other) circumstances are. And also, some marriage will really benefit from a good beginning foundation, which can mean some time together as a couple without a little toddler walking in during sex or spending several months (or years) sleeping in betweenthe two of you!

  34. What a wonderful post Morgan, and I loved your last paragraph and wholeheartedly agree with it.

    Marie, I wanted to add one more thought, and that is that even though I disagree with your line of thinking regarding Church teaching saying that all newlyweds should try to get pregnant, I do agree with your general sentiment that couples should receive more emphasis about prayerful discernment in this area. The NFP aspect of my marriage prep consisted of a 10- minute talk about it from a couple who never actually outright said that they themselves practiced it. Then there was a round table discussion with all the participating couples in which they all bashed NFP and any other difficult Church teaching, and the lead couples and priest just stood back and said NOTHING. It was a pitiful shame and 7 years later it still brings back feelings of frustration and anger.
    Beyond just teaching NFP to engaged couples, we need to remind them that frequent conversation with God about this subject should play a vital role.
    Anyway, I know you’re probably feeling beat upon, so I just wanted to point out that there are things I’m sure we all agree upon.

    • I know you weren’t bashing Marie, and I hate to beat a dead horse, but I just don’t remember her ever saying newlyweds should TRY to get pregnant…just that one should be cautious about marriage too soon if it would be TRULY irresponsible from the get-go to conceive. Yes we have NFP methods for these reasons, but I would agree that careful spiritual guidance by the marrying priest or sponsor couple is prudent to make sure the couple understands nothing is 100% and we must be open to life no matter what the circumstances. People do get pregnant (charting OR contracepting for that matter). IF ONLY it was realistic to think there is actualy spiritual guidance on discerning marriage! Sadly this is quite scarce and we marry everybody! Hince why the U.S. Has the highest rate of annullment requests in the world!

      And I understand your frustration with Marriage prep! My director of family ministy at my church didn’t even know what NFP was when I asked her for a local class schedule before getting married. It was NEVER mentioned in my prep. Today I am both an NFP teacher AND I direct the marriage prep at my church using Christopher West’s program “God’s Plan for a Joy Filled Marriage”. AWESOME AWESOME program for fully informing couples on what it means to have chaste marriages and teaching them the Theology of the Body.

  35. I got to your blog from another Catholic one.
    At great risk i’d like to offer this Catholic man’s perspective on NFP.

    – 26 year old married couple, male internal dialogue in ( )

    “My feet are killing me, my nipples are falling off, this is
    our fourth baby and when I asked you if you want to
    use NFP you say no? I hate every fiber of your being”

    “Honey, we are Catholic ghetto trash, we
    haven’t planned anything yet, why start now? The
    Good Lord will provide.”
    (- I’m broke, ever guy I know golfs every weekend, when I work overtime to buy $20 bags of diapers to throw away and cows milk for cereal by the barrel. Will NFP help you loose weight?)

    You never listen to me. I spoke with Fr. so-in-so and he said that we need to talk about it.

    Sure, honey I know its really, really hard. But really we both know God brings children and it is the most tangible evidence of his love for us and our Catholic sacramental marriage.
    (Fr. So-in-so is on the golf course with my buddies, please don’t make me hate him any more than I do, OK? In these matters Fr. DOES NOT KNOW JACK. Saint Joseph is my man in these matters. Babies rock and make life worth living for righteous men.)

    Hard? You think its hard? LOOK AT MY Nipples! If I wasn’t so tired, I’d beat you to death with your dam golf clubs.

    I’m sorry I’ll get the clubs out of the nursery OK?

    I want to use NFP

    Alright, we’ll talk about it. (no way jose, Cowards use NFP or effeminate deacons. Your problem honey is that you are madly in love with me, you know I would die for you and the kids, I am not a predator but being with you is perhaps the greatest joy in my life. We will as a couple know when it is time, thermometers are for fevers and quasi-catholic wimps. So put that in your “theology of the body” pipe and smoke it Fr. so-in-so.)

    Will you help me?

    Sure. (I will drag my feet on this so hard you’ll give up on it in about 3 months. If you still push, I quit the overtime and start to Golf with Fr. So-in-so. At least that way I can spread the hate around until this NFP thing blows over)

    I love you

    Me too.

    – breakfast the morning after couples 50th wedding anniversary.

    You are a great wife and a great Mom.

    It is all about being open to life. I knew it was hard on you working so much, but I knew God wanted us to accept the children that he wanted to bring us.

    Ya. Did Fr. So-in-so ever tell us what grave matter to avoid pregnancy was? You know it is the heresy of modernism to suggests we know better than God. And relativism to suggest that circumstances change truth.

    You and your theology. Why don’t you go golf with the boys. They need one more player to make it 4 -foursomes.

    7 boys and 8 grandsons so far. Including a seminarian.
    (No thanks to NPF) Thank you Jesus.

    Me and the girls will stay and cook.

    Make some of that Catholic ghetto trash food would ya?

        • Have no fear, I will never go to this blog again.

          The point ladies is this; NFP is cheating God. It is presumption to plan on God bringing you children when you would like them. Vatican 2 as we know contained no dogma and was pastoral in nature, on this particular matter it is my right to believe it is an error. An error that I believe Benedict will correct if he lives long enough .

          Ours is a world where Muslim families welcome children with open arms and the local ‘catholic’ families average 1.8 children. Most if not all justify this for $ reasons.

          find me one, ONE married couple in their 70’s who wish that they had fewer children or somehow placed them better…Its absurd.

          It is a dirty secret, but men who embrace NFP to avoid children are selfish cowards.

          I do not claim to know the inner workings of Catholic womenfolk’s minds. I trust my wife, she trusts me and we trust God. ‘No’ is cool with me, but keep your temperature taking to yourself OK?

          Mother Theresa said it best “saying there are too many children is like saying there are too many flowers” and “Don’t worry, God has plenty of money”

          I knew I was walking in on a bomb on this…NFP is katholic for birth control.

          Sorry to barge in on the party, I’ll be leaving now…

          Nice neck beard Jerk.

            • Help me, I can’t stop myself!
              Jerk, IT WAS A STORY. FICTION to illustrate a point. I don’t even golf. I new I would raise a ruckus on this ladies blog but the hate and lack of humor was a bit of a surprise. Then the cracks about my use of the word _ipple? Look at the pagan Icon at the top of the page for crying out loud! Nipple? Would Bazooka have been ok?
              And for you Erin, go make me a sandwich.
              Maybe you can make one for your sensitive new-age soul mate as well.
              You Mad? Ya, you are. You Mad huh?
              Bottom line? A time of Abstinence can build a marriage, St. Joseph’s life being a prime example.

                • Please Lord release me!
                  I’m happily married with a house load of kids. No prayers are wasted. Thank you for them.

                  There is a place for Catholic men who would rather not hold hands and discuss NFP. I’ve got two different friends in there late 20’s who have been married less than a year and they are getting divorced. I know several others who think marriage is stupid when they can ‘hook-up’ with women several days per week. I know married men with girl friends on the side, I know guys who fly to Vegas ‘on business’ and hire prostitutes. I know guys who ‘got snipped’ and didn’t tell their wives.
                  These are Catholic in Boston men.

                  …and to The Jerk.
                  “Guys like you are all talk”.
                  You don’t hang with Guys like me, you look at us from a far and tremble.

                  • “Please Lord release me!”

                    I know I’m just a lady, but can *I* release you? Pretty please? You’re far too manly for me, and I’m afraid you might get estrogen poisoning or something if you stick around much longer.

                    NFP is basically a gateway drug, and even talking about it too much can have an enervating effect on even the most masculine specimens such as yourself. One minute you’re keeping your pants on for part of the month, and the next thing you know, you find yourself asking your wife, “Would you like some help?” or saying things like, “You look tired. I’ll do the dishes.”

                    If you find this happening, RUN, don’t walk, to your nearest compounding pharmacy and ask them to whip you up a special batch of extra strength Trad Testosterone.

                    Because being decent to your wife is the proven #1 cause of the collapse of mighty civilizations. Don’t let this happen to you! Get out while you still can.

                    • I can’t believe I’m coming out of lurkdom to defend this guy. The only people I know from Boston are characters from movies and he sounds like one…haha!

                      Buuuuut I think his point, however convoluted by some sort of east coast male bravado and some quirky sense of humor, is NOT that a husband should be screwing his wife all month, but that if a couple doesn’t want children they should abstain (not NFP-style abstinence).

                      In not so many words his message is: real men abstain, but wimpy men can’t man up to real abstinence. That’s why he says St. Joseph is his man.

                    • But, Laura, if that’s what he means–that real men use total abstinence–then he must think that the only reasons for a married couple to have sex are babies or pleasure.

                      How about as an act of love and union between a husband and wife?

                      Real love-making (as opposed to brute sex) is not just pleasurable; it renews and builds a marriage.

                    • Well, I’m not going to defend his “real men” comment.

                      (Real men to me are chaste husbands who love and serve their families honorably and manliness isn’t measured by how loud someone says, “Doos ya wanna piece-a-me?!”)

                      But to make his point for him…. just because someone uses total abstinence doesn’t mean that they believe sex is only for babies and pleasure. That is a caricature.

                      If a couple is using total abstinence, they are finding other ways to show their love and respect for one another.

                      And like NFP couples, when they decide the time is right to be open to another child….given God’s will in the matter….they use sex for babies, pleasure and to build love and unity in their marriage like everyone else.

                    • Laura wrote: “just because someone uses total abstinence doesn’t mean that they believe sex is only for babies and pleasure. That is a caricature.”

                      Just to be clear: I didn’t say that, and neither did anyone else. I agree with you that there are good reasons for total abstinence.

                    • Abby….At the risk of sounding like I’m quibbling, which I guess I am just a bit 🙂

                      You said…
                      “if that’s what he means–that real men use total abstinence–then he must think that the only reasons for a married couple to have sex are babies or pleasure.”

                      To me, when you said that he must think the only reasons are babies and pleasure, I saw that as a caricature.

                    • OK, Laura, let me rephrase for clarity. My objection was to the claim that in order to be a “real man,” a husband _must_ use total abstience.

                    • Thanks. I totally agree.

                      (I’m probably a little defensive since often in these kinds of conversations the total-abstinence folks get lumped into some ugly trad/anti-NFP group)

                      Have a good day!

                    • Laura,

                      Yes, I can see how that would be hard to take. There are all sorts of good reasons for total abstinence, both practical and spiritual (and even, I believe, some situations in which total abstinence is morally obligatory!) but people don’t talk about them, because NFP gets all the attention.

                      I have read that before NFP was discovered, the “rhythm method” only worked for women with regular cycles. And you know what childbirth and nursing do to cycles. I imagine there must have been lots of couples who were doing the “total abstinence” thing. I recommend April Oursler Armstrong’s _Water in the Wine_: it’s a novel built around exactly that situation.

                    • Haha, um, Laura and Abby, if ThelastCatholicinBoston MEANT well, he pretty much destroyed his point by being so rude (“It is a dirty secret, but men who embrace NFP to avoid children are selfish cowards.”), and his fictional portrayal of a couple so desperately in need of a communication upheaval (seriously- the “husband’s” thoughts were completely the opposite of what he said to his “wife” – I sincerely pray that that is not how most marriages communicate – yet he seemed to think the husband was the hero of the story).

                      Somehow I don’t think think his problem is that he just doesn’t “translate well”.

      • I have a feeling the point is that it’s cool to bully your wife because in 50 years you’ll be living that Father Knows Best Dream. Or something. That and nipples.

        • I am fairly certain that his conversation style was also meant to be funny along the same lines as Simcha last month when she was going to stab her husband in the eye. No one said that Simcha’s husband was being a neanderthal who only wanted to “screw” his wife all month.

          I could be wrong, but I thought his story was hilarious and illustrated the point about abstinence in a funny way. Then again, I am also an East-Coaster who also loves rapier-style sarcasm and bluntness! 😉

      • I really think he’s trying to say, “people who have lots of babies need cheerleaders too because it is hard”. That’s what I’m going with anyway.

        • Oh my gosh, my poor reading comprehension at 11pm…thanks for the slight explanations. I have to go darn my husband’s socks now…

    • I would rather you didn’t clarify, actually. Also, I’m pretty sure St. Joseph practiced a heck of a lot of abstinence, so, yeah. Thanks for playing, anyway.

    • There was a lot of food for thought and the issues were hashed and rehashed several times.
      But I do have to comment to this particular thread. Perhaps I spent the last 2 hours reading this post and comments, and it wore me out, but I find this comment sounds a bit crass — for lack of a better word. I hope someone else comments after me, because I would be greatly disappointed if this comment was the last point on such a great post. I do extend an invitation for you to redeem yourself if needed.

      • Good heavens. If that’s really “the last Catholic in Boston,” no wonder Catholicism in Boston is dead.

        Sadly, this is the kind of thing that crops up from time to time in the Catholic blogosphere–call it “Theology of the Bawdy,” if you will. The attitude is that Real Men have sex with their wives whenever they want to, dammit, and NFP is for limp-wristed pantywaists who don’t know how to sweep the little woman off her feet while she’s doing the dishes after she bathed the kids and put them to bed and got the laundry ironed and folded and his lunch made for tomorrow and the dog let out and the cat let back in, etc., carry her off on a tide of chaste marital passion to their bedroom and then after she finishes picking up his clothes from the floor and sorting them into the hamper or the closet convince her without a single word (actual talking is for wimps!) that he’s the best thing that ever happened to her […we avert our eyes for modesty…] after which he sleepily grunts out a reminder to her to finish those bleeping dishes before she goes to sleep. Because, after all, he works *hard* all day when he would much rather be hunting, or at least fishing or playing golf whilst consuming adult beverages, so if he’s going to have to subordinate all his natural manly habits and occupations to her and the increasing number of children’s inconvenient desires for things like food and shelter and clothing (skirts only for the girls!) the least she can do is make it worth his while.

        “Boston” is right about one thing–NFP won’t fix the problems caused by the “Theology of the Bawdy,” not at all.

        • THANK YoU Erin!!! And lol about the Boston thing 🙂

          Usually one spouse is BEGGING to use NFP because they are contracepting! NOT like this…I’m truly scared of the world he just gave us a glimpse of! Please pray for THOSE marriages.

        • I know a family pretty much like you’re describing. Sadly, though, it gets worse. After baby #6, the doctors told her to stop having children because it would be dangerous for her to have anymore. Then came baby #7 and baby #8, because one half of the couple couldn’t respect the serious medical needs of the other half. After that, she had her tubes tied, because he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He still doesn’t, even if she’s unwell.

          And, correct me if I’m wrong, but NFP hasn’t been around for fifty years, which means the fiftieth anniversary discussion belongs in the realm of fiction.

          Also, counting the number of sons but not mentioning the number of daughters? (even though, wife mentions that she “and the girls” will cook) Your priorities are showing. And they’re not pretty.

        • LOL!!!! (@ Eric)

          @ Boston – I am so thanking God for my husband right now. He is so so SO the opposite of what you are describing. Thank God!

  36. You and St.Joseph have clearly decided
    SO of what use is ur wife and her spiritual advisors input in when to have children?

  37. Loved the main thrust of the post.
    I have to say that I feel folks obsess about the judgers and being judged. If you feel like you’ve made good decisions about the seriousness of your reasons to use NFP, why get defensive? And hoe many times do we assume people are judging us when they’re not? Is assuming not another way of judging? Our general culture has this whacked phobia about being judged or criticized to the point of hysteria. Where does it get us? Freaked out about what people say and might be inferring. It’s largely a waste of time.
    I’m saddened to find the example of people piling on Marie because they’re in a tittle, afraid she’s judging. Why not take her points and debate them? Must we always rush get our feelings hurt over vague statements, or over assumptions? I submit that part of judging is assuming the judgments of others. What an unneccessary and destructive cycle.

  38. I have been reading a lot of C.S. Lewis lately, and reading these discussions about NFP reminds of me Screwtape’s letter #7, in which he writes
    “Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the ‘Cause’ is its sponsor ind it is thought to be impersonal. Even when the little group exists originally for the Enemy’s [i.e. God] own purposes, this remains true.”
    If this sounds rude, it is of course because an evil spirit wrote it…
    Mark Brumley also uses this kind of discussion in his book “How not to share your faith – The Seven Deadly Sins of Catholic Apologetics and Evangelization” as an example for how people can fall into the trap of confusing their faith with their arguments for it.

    I respect people who leave the number of their children up to God, but personally, I couldn’t do it, because my ferility seems to be greater than my mothering capabilities. My situation could be one of your examples with Woman A and Woman B. My husband is serving in the military, and currently preparing for another year-long deployment, during which I’ll be a single parent for three kids born within 3.5 years. Our newest baby (#3, to be born any day now) was conceived during his two weeks of leave last time. I know of families for whom the steady paycheck and relative job security of the military is the perfect background to have lots more children, but for me the stress of the deployments (and the negative impact it has on me mothering my children) IS a grave reason to avoid another pregnancy with the help of NFP. At least for the immediate future.

    Simcha, I admire you for all your efforts to keep the discussion non-judgemental, and that’s my whole point in this comment: it is uncharitable to think one knows better than someone else whether their reasons for NFP are good. It is likewise uncharitable to talk bad about people who are able to welcome as many children as their God-given fertility will allow. And I believe that we would be more successful in achieving our goal of ridding the world of a contraceptive mentality if we were all charitable towards each other.

      • Ditto what bearing said: thank you, Ute.

        Excellent quote from C.S. Lewis’ devil. It really reverberated with a Lenten reflection I recently read, where one of the first things I thought of (after how apt it was for myself!) were the discussions that I’ve seen on Simcha’s blog where “holier than the Church” attitudes have crept out. It was written by a Fr. Donohoo, O.P.:

        “But why would [the devil] affirm my strengths [as opposed to always just attacking my weaknesses]? Because they are the stuff of my self-promoting moral profile and the breeding ground for my sovereignty, pride, and self-worth. My secret hope is that God on balance will overlook my negatives and be persuaded by my selling points. The devil is there to help foster this illusion, so along with assailing my weaknesses he encourages my strengths and the self-image they fabricate. The only problem here is that God is not derailed by my vices nor impressed by my virtues. I am not saved by my spiritual good looks, but his grace. So beware the devil at the edges of your soul, where vice feeds despair and virtue generates arrogance. There lies his best chance for tempting you over the precipice of presumption.”

    • Reminds me of an entire issue of Family Foundations (CCL Magazine) that was dedicated entirely to Military families and NFP. Check out the back issue!

      And thank you for your service! God Bless and good luck with the newest little one.

    • ‘nother military wife here in your shoes. Keep the faith! I’ll offer up some of my NFP struggles (hubby just home after 5 month deployment, but have to avoid pregnancy right now due to some health issues and, oh, my sanity, and charting is hard b/c I am still bf’ing the 17 month old preemie and my chart is all over the place blah blah blah…), anyway, as I was saying, I’ll offer up some of my struggles for your husband’s safety on his deployment and for your strength at home!

  39. For those who didn’t see my multilayered comment above:

    NFP is a lifestyle and not necessarily the different methods themselves. One could never chart and still practice NFP by virtue of the fact that they are living chaste marriages and planning their families naturally (including those with no plan at all but only God’s plan).

    I think we use NFP too much to mean “charting” (myself included), but it’s really not. We could say I used Creighton or I used Billings or I used STM, or I used nothing!! It’s all NFP.

    I would easily tell someone my husband and I have practiced NFP for 9 years…but only about 3 of those years if you add it all up was actual charting!

    Peace 🙂

    • Yes, this is what I’ve always called “Lazy Man’s NFP”. No strict charting, just general windows of “yes” and “no”. We’ve gotten a little less lazy after each kid (6), and the charting is definitely more regular now. : )

  40. Re: “grave” – as Abby stated above, this is what’s called a “false cognate.” Yes, it sounds the same, and is obviously related, but once the transition to another language is made, there is a significant distinction between the meaning of the original root and the new word.

    It’s not just trifling semantics — it obviously makes a big difference whether you need a “serious” reason or a “grave” reason.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Demand” in English and “demande” in French or “domanda” in Italian are representative of a particularly treacherous sort of false friend, in which – despite a common origin – the words have differently shaded meanings. The French and Italian homologues simply mean “request”, not a forceful requirement. This led to several historic misunderstandings, such as in Canada, the failing of the Meech Lake Accord where Quebec constitutional requests were interpreted as demands.[citation needed] In Spanish demandar may mean “to request”, but its normal meaning is “to sue”.

  41. In my experience, putting the effort into determining the fertile period, then avoiding each other during that time, and maintaining a chaste, nurturing relationship has to require serious matter, or who could do it? Frankly, without serious reasons, NFP is just an exercise in frustration. Of course, that is just how NFP has played out in MY marriage, and is probably why I am expecting my 9th baby. Thank God for NFP though. Seriously, it has been of great benefit to us when we needed it, and was such a relief to put it away when we didn’t. But the view my husband and I have of NFP is very consistent with other areas of our lives. It fits our marriage personality to a T. Other marriages approach it differently, and again, it is very consistent with THEIR personalities and the charism of their unique marriages. Thus, the wisdom of the church.

  42. I just did a side by side English/Latin reading. I believe the term is “justae causae” which I would translate as “just cause”.

    Anyone in the mood for some “crow”?

    Sorry. I should have gone to the original text. My bad.

  43. I’m one of those Catholic moms that works outside the home. I wish I didn’t have to, but essentially, after daycare and gas expenses, my paycheck pays the mortgage and his pays everything else. We have 3 kids and I’d love another; I’m just not sure how we’d manage to pay the mortgage during my maternity leave or how we’d afford a bigger daycare bill. Thus, NFP (although, admittedly, we’ve been rather lax lately). If God does bless us, I’m sure we’ll figure something out, but it’s hard to see that from where we are right now.

  44. Wow, I am usually a couple days behind my rss reader and that turns out to be a good thing because I can then read all of the comments and think a bit more about my own thoughts on issues blogged on.

    Thanks, Simcha, for writing about NFP! My friends and I love talking about how wonderful it is, how it makes our marriages better, how it is good to know about health problems before trying to get pregnant to avoid miscarriages, how it strengthens our faith, etc.

    It’s good to know about other Catholics out there who have the same discussions and that we down in our own parishes. Keep up the good work, I love catching up with you and several other bloggers!

  45. The CCC is actually really helpful here if you understand what the Catechism is meant to be: a distillation of Tradition up to the present. The CCC protects us from reading phrases out of context or getting caught up in the precise definition of this or that Latin term–it gives us the big picture, and helps us see where the emphasis is supposed to be.

    With that in mind, nos. 2367 and 2368 and following are pretty striking: go read the section!


  46. Ute,
    Beautifully written. My seven year old and I will pray for your sweet family – your husband whose daily life is a sacrifice and who we hope will get to spend lots of great time with his family soon, your baby that you’ll get to see and hold any day, your other two kids whose days are still magical, and for you. Your job requires an extraordinary amount of grace and strength. I hope that your days are filled with patience and joy that you richly deserve.

  47. One thing that strikes me about the CCC’s treatment of the question is that it mentions the conceiving of and the educating (i.e. raising) of children in one breath, when it talks about repsonsibility. To me, that’s a hint that high on the list of “serious/grave/just/weighty reasons” for avoiding conception would be the inability to give the present children what they need. On the other hand, the Church makes it clear to us (and so does my experience) that siblings are a great gift to a child. And so is a big family. These are matters that have to be taken into consideration.

    I know a family with a bunch of little kids, all very close in ages, all with serious behavioral problems (there’s ADHD and ASD stuff going on). They’re constantly hurting each other. It’s chaos over there. I sort of felt like (yes, I was judgmental, but this is confessed in the spirit of repentance) the parents were irresponsible to have so many kids so close together, because no one was getting the attention or even the protection they needed. Then the mother told me her toddler was devastated because the older ones were in school now, and he had no one to play with. He was delighted whenever one of them was home with a cold. So, things aren’t always as they seem to me.

  48. Wow.
    What a blessing to know so many couples are discerning this question so thoughtfully. It must be pleasing to God. And of course He is the key difference in all situations. Couples who discern prayerfully together what is God’s Will in their present situation are a beautiful witness in our world today. We should all possess and praise God for this knowledge of how He made us. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made!

  49. In regards to the discussion re NFP from the wedding day:

    Marriage preparation, in my opinion, should underline that NFP to avoid is for serious/just/grave/whatever reasons.

    My wife and I wanted a marriage preparation experience that challenged us, so we ended up doing two separate processes through two different parishes (both pastors–who are friends of ours–knew, understood and thought it couldn’t hurt).

    In all of that, the idea that NFP is needed to be used along with serious discernment of your ability or inability to have children, etc wasn’t discussed. It was this is the Catholic way to decide when to have children without any discussion or mentioning that those reasons should be seriously weighed.

    So, all of our friends are waiting to have kids and most are doing it “the Catholic way” (NFP).

    I am trying my hardest not to judge–I really am–it’s hard though when he tells you they’re waiting until finances are better but the only debt is the house they bought when they’re married, they’re saving extremely well and still have enough to own all of the latest gadgets, music equipment, etc and take a couple nice vacations a year… it’s a challenging Holy Spirit moment.

    My point though–in my experience, marriage preparation has been too focused on “let’s just try to get them to use NFP” and thus avoid mentioning that the use of NFP isn’t a free-for-all.

    • “I am trying my hardest not to judge–I really am–it’s hard though when he tells you they’re waiting until finances are better but the only debt is the house they bought when they’re married, they’re saving extremely well and still have enough to own all of the latest gadgets, music equipment, etc and take a couple nice vacations a year… it’s a challenging Holy Spirit moment.”

      Unless you are this couple’s accountant or banker” (in which case it’s unethical to be discussing their financial situation online) you have NO WAY of knowing this. Even if the couple themselves had said this, there may be another source of debt or obligation they have that the aren’t comfortable sharing with you.

      Or perhaps there are some medical issues involved that you don’t know about it. My husband has bipolar disorder, and if we chose to postpone another child because he wanted to try a new med or something (ad didn’t want the stressor of a pregnant wife during that process) I wouldn’t necessarily share it with the world.

      The long and short of it is that God knows their hearts and their true motives. You don’t. Be grateful they’re not contracepting, and pray for them that God’s will be done. And stop judging.

    • Maybe it would be helpful, every time you start grousing in your head about couples like these, is to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the children you have. I mean, if these couples truly are making the choice of vacations and gadgets over babies, then that is an impoverished life.

      I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m negating the whole purpose of the original post, which was to point out that we don’t know anyone else’s heart — but to suggest ways to deal with our own attitudes in a more constructive way. I know from experience that it doesn’t help me OR the other people to say, “You’re doing it wrong!” But it does help to say interiorly, “Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the things I’ve done right.”

      My own marriage prep consisted of two ideas: keep the lines of communication open; and invest in gold. Seriously. That’s all they told us. At least teaching NFP is better than that!

    • “I am trying my hardest not to judge–I really am–it’s hard though when he tells you they’re waiting until finances are better but the only debt is the house they bought when they’re married, they’re saving extremely well and still have enough to own all of the latest gadgets, music equipment, etc and take a couple nice vacations a year… it’s a challenging Holy Spirit moment.”

      I appreciate that you are trying not to be judgemental. Honestly, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that we really never know as much as we think we do about other people’s situations!

      As I mentioned above, my husband and I have been struggling with infertility for 5 or so years now. So you know what I would tend to think of your friends? Hmm..maybe they actually are trying, and aren’t having luck, and don’t want to get into something so personal and embarrassing and soul-crushing with other people, so they just say they are waiting until…. And in the meantime they try to take their mind off of the pain by indulging in some vacations and gadgets. (Says the woman with a nice big house, yearly vacations, and plenty of gadgets….but no kids.)

      You never know. You just never know.

    • Just some thoughts from personal experience. My hubby and I decided to postpone babies when we first got married because he wanted to go into the military. A few months later, he was doing nothing to go and I was second-guessing our decision. Well, God took over, because I still have no idea what I did wrong in charting, but we concieved a beautiful baby boy and have no regrets! My point? Sometimes a couple truly believes they are doing God’s Will in postponing babies, even as in our case, having talked to a good and trusted priest about our decision. And then they come to find out later that God had other plans.
      Another example: A family member had been making snide comments about having kids and I had assumed (rash judged) that they were not concieving for selfish reasons. Turns out, she is struggling with infertility.
      Just saying, we need to pray and keep our noses out of others’ spiritual lives. 😉

    • I think its hard when you feel like you’re taking the hard road because you’re following the rules – and everyone else is taking the easy road. And then it hurts some more when it seems like the easy road flag has NFP written across it and its the openness to children that is hard for you – but where you think God wants you to be.

      Yup – it’s hard, and no one will give you a medal. My mom told me that she hated it when people would say to her “I could never have as many children as you have,” as if she had special “baby raising genes”. The case was – it’s hard and it takes heroic effort to get the job done.

      Poor LastCatholicinBoston – I think this was his point – when you choose a hard path people should cheer rather than say, “idiot – you should have used NFP!” While it probably isn’t that way in reality, we all look at the world from our little peep holes and it just seems that way sometimes.

      • Sorry, JH, but the Last Catholic in Boston is simply a misogynist who uses his faith to further abuse toward women. That’s how his bit reads. You’re reading something else, in part, because you are a charitable person.

    • This was my experience as well.

      I don’t think the issue is so much whether “Can NFP be used with a contraceptive mindset?” as *how* it is being marketed or taught.

      Unfortunately many times those whose well-intentioned motives to get modern Catholics not to contracept forget to teach the grave/just/serious clause and the necessity of prayer and trusting in God’s plan for them.

      As a new convert and a newly engaged young woman I was never taught the Church’s teachings on marriage, its primary ends, etc. I just thought, “OK, so this is what we are supposed to do to be good Catholics…” Boy, I wish someone teaching those classes would have had the nerve to frame NFP properly. I also wish I had those first frustrating 10 years of my marriage back to do them again 🙂

    • Two responses:

      1. My overall point is that marriage prep, at least in this nameless region of the country, is lacking when it discusses NFP. I’ve worked in ministry for years and this seems to be a common thread.

      In conversations with organizers, one commenter was dead-on. Their objective is more focused on using NFP instead of birth control than opening up the can of worms of when should it be used (or just the notion that, maybe, it doesn’t need to be the standard operating procedure within a household).

      As Lisa said, NFP isn’t being marketed or taught, again, at least in my experience, as it could be. When my wife and I took our NFP courses, the instructors all assumed (according to their own statements) we wanted to know it to check off a marriage prep requirement or because we wanted to make sure we did it right to not have kids. It wasn’t until individual sessions after we shared we’re not trying to avoid that the conversation toward to “oh, you can use it achieve also!”.

      The idea that we didn’t want to do either — avoid or achieve — and that we were using it more as a communicative tool and a tool to help us be more mindful of the increased possibility that God could use our actions that particular day to create life — seemed surprising and something they didn’t know how to respond.

      Are there some couples out there using NFP from day one of marriage because they’re just afraid of having kids, or they think that they’re supposed to wait awhile (because of what society told them)? I’m sure such folks out there exist.

      No, the documents don’t say “have kids right away”, but they don’t say that couples should wait either. They simply say there must be a serious/grave/just reason to avoid.

      Is the way we’re discussing the relationship between marriage and children in our faith communities good? Are we encouraging seriously-dating and engaged couples to have the serious conversations now? What are we promoting more–that children are a natural fruit of marriage and, absent a serious reason, shouldn’t be avoided? Or that we have a Catholic way of avoiding, so avoid until you “feel” ready, without a discussion of what construct to use when discerning that.

      There shouldn’t be a list of reasons, but there should be the awareness that there needs to be serious discussion and serious reasons. The Church doesn’t publish a “list of sins”, per se, but there are plenty of examination of consciences out there to help us discern where we strayed so we can get on the right path again.

      Why don’t we promote the idea of having the serious conversation, having a guide to help us reflect and encourage couples to visit with a spiritual advisor to discuss and discern if our justifications are valid or if something else is going on? (Granted, that would imply churches are actively encouraging people to engage with spiritual advisors, but that’s for a different day).

      While most of this applies for all married couples under a certain age, even moreso should these discussions be promoted as part of marriage prep. Ideally, before marriage prep, it should be discussed in campus ministries, young adult programs, etc. As many commenters have said, they “lost” (used very loosely) years of marriage before they discovered some of these fruits.

      2. I shouldn’t have clouded the first comment with the second point (regarding my personal challenge with one friend). Just as no one can know 110% of their position, no one on here knows how well I know them either, so not worth me trying to continue down that thread. Apologies for mucking up the comments.

      • “the standard operating procedure within a household”

        That is a great way to phrase it and it strikes to the heart of my complaint about NFP: not it or its use by individual couples, but those who make it their ministry to promote it as *the* way Catholics should live out their marriage. It is a slippery slope from this way of thinking to a priest on the Q+A forum at EWTN a few years back who stated unequivocally that it was irresponsible for a Catholic couple to *not* use NFP. Surely there are instructors who don’t do this; I just wish I had had one.

        Additionally, I think NFP instructors, et. al also need to remember that even faithful, loving couples are still a product of our Protestant, secular, and very material culture. It would be silly to think that any of us are immune to imbibing some of the juices we stew in day after day. We all need a moral good like NFP to be framed in a solidly Catholic context and the necessity of an ongoing prayer life to discern God’s will for our families:

    • You never know.
      Let me tell you a true story, it happened many years ago.
      She was young, beautiful, well-educated, apparently healthy woman, with good-looking husband and irrestible little son. And they were comparetively rich. She often travelled to visit her sister, who lived abroad in big town, and came back tired but with new clothes, jewellery, and so on. Wild night-clubbing and wild shopping, the neiughbours assumed.
      All the people around them (cousins, neighbours, colleagues) were asking (especially the woman, not her husband!) “are you planning the next child, you are so good parents, young, rich etc”. The woman was smiling and joking but never answered. They concluded she was completely selfish.
      Only her best friend and her sister knew that all these years she was traying to conceive, with all the painful treatments and operations that big sister’s town had to offer (be calm, no IVF then). Her sister was showering her with gifts, trying to cheer her up.
      Secondary infertility, in those days, was unknown term. Everybody thought, if you managed to have one child, you could have them 12.
      Finally, after almost 10 years and very risky pregnancy, she got a girl.

  50. I’m late to the party, and maybe Simcha will think I’m one of those evil anti-NFP commenters, but here goes:

    Why the prevailing assumption here that the typical case is for sex-crazed men to push providentialism on overburdened, worn-out wives? I’ve personally known more couples where it’s the other way around: the wife would like to be allowed to have a baby and the husband says she’s not allowed because they just can’t afford it now. . . or next year. . . or the next. It doesn’t seem very different from the dynamic common in contracepting couples, actually.

    And why the assumption that this is an a priori rush to judgment? Isn’t it possible some of us think, from our experience, that the gung-ho promotion of NFP these days has hurt some of our friends and family?

    Again, I’m thinking of particular cases. One friend agreed before the marriage that since he hadn’t finished his dissertation yet, they couldn’t have kids yet. A year and a half into marriage, he hadn’t gotten one inch further on that dissertation, but the agreement had been made. As she said plaintively, “The trouble with NFP, is once you’ve agreed to it, suddenly the burden of proof is on you to prove a baby is manageable. And when is having a baby ever going to be manageable?”

    It hurt their marriage badly: she felt increasingly rejected by him, and he even started dabbling with pornography. Thankfully, she finally prevailed and was allowed to have a baby, he suddenly was able to finish his dissertation, and the marriage seems to have become much more happy and stable. But if the NFP had continued, I think there was a good chance the marriage would have been destroyed.

    • I don’t think you’re an “evil anti-NFP commenter,” but I don’t think that couple’s problem was an NFP problem, either. NFP isn’t supposed to be a contract that you sign and can’t get out of — it’s supposed to be something that you constantly turn over and revisit. It’s both a feature and a bug, I guess, that you can change your intentions in an instant.

      When someone badly misuses something to treat a spouse badly, you really can’t blame the method! I mean, you could say the same thing about praying the rosary or something — there will always be immature, selfish people who manipulate something good.

      It sounds like the guy didn’t want to grow up, didn’t want to move forward or commit (to baby or dissertation). Maybe if they had had a baby right away instead of using NFP, he would have tuned out and not engaged, or even changed his mind about being married — I’ve seen that happen, too.

      • Oh, I wanted to say that I always used to giggle over the idea that you’re supposed to prayerfully discern your fertility plans each month. It always seemed very phony to me – I mean, how can you not know? But now here I am, and we actually discuss our plans several times a month! One by one, I’m starting to do all the things I used to make fun of. I’m in so much trouble.

      • “It’s both a feature and a bug, I guess, that you can change your intentions in an instant.”

        Ummmm…and me and my husband have changed our intentions in MANY instants. 😉 Just a little blushing joke…

      • Of course you’re right, his real problem was immaturity, and NFP is not supposed to be done like that, but I do think “It’s not intrinsically wrong” gets very easily translated into “It can never be wrong” or at least “It can’t be very wrong.” All I’m saying is that NFP, and the belief that it is always a morally safe, Catholic choice, helped this guy not grow up, and nothing they were told in marriage prep counteracted that. I think it’s important that Catholics realize NFP can be wrong. Not that it has to be, but that it can be. And possibly even gravely wrong in some cases.

        But your point that he might have responded differently to a baby earlier is interesting. I’m much closer to her, so I saw it from her side. To me it seemed like, stereotypically for a childless male, he didn’t see why having a baby was so great, and he needed to actually hold his first child to learn better.

        An Opus Dei supernumerary told me something interesting once – she said as a supernumerary she would assume as a matter of course that “grave reason” meant she should discuss it with her confessor to help her assess the gravity more impartially. An interesting idea – if one has a pastor or confessor who cares!

        • Having a baby doesn’t always fix immaturity. Sometimes it actually makes it worse. That is why you can’t make a generalization from a particular case. And why the Church doesn’t make lists re: grave (serious, just) matter. It leaves ample room for our humanity to work withing the constraints of morality, so to speak.

          • Amen to that! I know LOADS of people where having a kid was the impetus for increased selfishness and immaturity because they just couldn’t grasp the reality of all that comes with having a kid. As the point of this entire post – you never know people’s situations.

        • “Intrinsically Evil” means something in and of itself is evil. Are you saying the charting itself can be evil? Or that abstinence itself can be evil? Or what?

          I just fail to see how NFP is the “wrong” in your scenario. The EXACT same thing could have played out with “The Pill” and wouldn’t have changed a thing (except now they could be in mortal sin). So it’s the individual’s lack of virtue that is the problem NOT the method.

          Perhaps you just meant to say “NFP won’t be a magic pill for every marriage” and of course that is true. But I still can’t accept this line: “I think it’s important that Catholics realize NFP can be wrong.”

          How again? It IS a morally safe Catholic choice because we are talking about the MEANS by which the couple is using to avoid pregnancy. They may have had a communication problem, or needed to grow in the virtue of generosity, but their CHASTITY was still in tact.

          There is a great little booklet that explains all this called “Is NFP Good?” You can find it here:

          BTW I’m not saying they should have put off having children… that’s NOT for my to judge…(the original point of this entire blog post). I’m addressing your claim that NFP can sometimes be wrong.

          • No, it’s not intrinsically wrong – of course not. But neither are lots of acts that are sometimes (or even often) wrong. Very few acts are intrinsically wrong, actually.

            If it’s ever wrong, you ask rhetorically, is the charting or the abstaining the sin? That seems a rather legalistic question. If you insist on being that technical, I suppose the sin in the cases I’m thinking of was probably the denial of the marriage debt by one spouse to the other – not that I think being that technical is necessarily helpful.

            Personally I find it more revealing to think in JPII’s terms about this. As I understand him, he teaches that contraceptive sex is wrong because it is a rejection of an important part of the other person’s whole being in an act that is supposed to express total self-gift. And it seems to me that “I’ll use this chart to make sure there’s not the least chance you’re fertile or I won’t have sex with you” can be a rejection of the other person’s fertility too. It doesn’t have to be, as the pill does – that’s why it’s not intrinsically evil – but I don’t see how you could argue that it never is or can be.

            • What did you mean by “the denial of the marriage debt by one spouse to the other”?

              One aspect of JP2’s Theology of the Body teaches that all acts of sexual intercourse must be Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful in the image of Christ’s love for us on the cross….the image of his love for his bride. Have you ever heard Christopher West’s analogy of the “Wedding Invitation”. Short story long, it goes like this:

              A couple is planning a wedding, they send out invitations. #1 They could send out “dis-invitations” asking people not to come. Contraception is like sending God a “dis-invitation”. It says “we don’t want you here”. #2 They might send an invitation to dear Aunt Judy who lives in Germany out of kindness but not expecting her to actually show up. But if she DID show up they would be happy to see her. This is like using the infertile period. As far as you know, God’s “out of town” and there won’t be a baby made, but in the off chance He does, then we will accept it (been there, done that).

              I understand that you are saying the couples might use NFP as a tool of manipulation or disrespect. But the sin is the act of manipulation or disrespect, not the method itself. Do you think NFP shouldn’t be taught because it might be abused? Is that really the fault of the teachers? (just askin’)

              If I use a knife to kill someone, is the knife wrong/evil or am I?

              • Probably best you look the “marriage debt” up yourself- I don’t want to be inappropriately explicit. No, I don’t think NFP shouldn’t be taught. I just think it should be taught as Humanae Vitae teaches it – something couples may use, for serious reasons. That’s all I’m saying. To teach it otherwise – as if the norm, or the default setting, is that babies are something to be planned – is a disservice to people like my friend, who can be left in nearly the same position as women in our secular culture, on whom it is incumbent to prove it’s time to plan a baby.

                • OK. Then you might be glad to know, that the Couple to Couple League about 4 years ago revamped their entire program. We have always taught NFP int he context of Humanae Vitae but we have gone a step further and now teach it with extensive talks on Theology of the Body too. As a teacher, I don’t take that lightly and would never want to stray the students, but my job can only go so far. I can witness our experience and encourage them toward virtue and generosity, but my job is to teach “NFP”…a method. It is not my job to dictate “Responsible Parenthood”. Though we do tell them what the phrase means and tell them about the importance of discernment and even spiritual guidance if necessary.

                  While I’m glad we’ve made that change in the program, I’m actually more in favor of teaching Theology of the Body BEFORE they take the NFP class. It is better for them to actually understand why they are attending the class rather than dragging their feet to class because they are forced to. That’s why our parish uses the Christopher West “God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage” prep program. It has been AWESOME! Wish everyone did this!

        • “NFP, and the belief that it is always a morally safe, Catholic choice, helped this guy not grow up”

          I’m sorry, you have no possible way of knowing this, and you have no way of knowing that it wouldn’t have been even worse if they had had a baby right away. My husband is a crime reporter. He regularly sees guys who break their baby’s bones. They weren’t ready to be fathers. Having a baby didn’t somehow fast -forward them into maturity.

          Jeez, I’m not arguing that Catholics are all well-educated and full informed in their ideas of the blessings of children and the purpose of marriage. Clearly that’s not the case. But neither is it true that NFP is always to blame. You get out of NFP what you put into it. If you’re a jerk, you use it jerkily. If you’re a good person, you use it well.

    • You make a good point re:judgment. But there’s a real difference between judgment and concern.

      It’s one thing to think, “Gosh, I hope my friends work out their NFP issues because they seem to be having a rough go of it. Maybe they’ll ask me for advice and I can help them. For now I can pray for them.”

      It’s quite another to think [and I’m meshing examples from prior comments], “Gosh, I hope my friends realize they’re basically using NFP as birth control when clearly they have the financial means and mental capacity to have children. Maybe they’ll ask me for advice and I can tell them what they’re doing wrong. For now I can pray that they realize the error of their thinking.”

      Oh also, I think the stuff about the sex-crazed men had more to do with TheLastCatholicinBoston’s comment above than anything else. I didn’t see those kind of comments on the rest of the thread, though I didn’t read everything.

      • I’d like to second Mary S’s comment above, particularly when it comes to the conversation with Marie.

        Often times the reason discussions like these become ugly is that they become personal. Despite our differing perspectives, we are *all* making general statements here: “priests”, “my students”, “our parish”, “husbands”, “most NFP users”, “providentialists”, “skirt-wearers”, “married couples”,etc. etc.

        First, to call Marie out on this was a double standard. Secondly, it is always best to avoid making YOU statements when having a debate. It puts others needlessly on the defensive and degrades the conversation. Yes, the principles being discussed here are playing out in real life, but we are debating them in theory on the internet. Personally directed YOU statements is the shortest route to an ugly fight.

        My .02 😀

          • 1) To clarify again, my post belongs under Mary Ann (3:14am 3/24), not Mary S

            2) Here are some example of YOU statements:

            “since, apparently, they have confided the deepest secrets of their hearts to you, so you KNOW what their intentions are).”

            “but let me give you a tip that I learned the hard way: when you’re brand new at something yourself, try not to give a lot of advice about it. It will come back to bite you in the ass, guaranteed.”

            “So you know down to the last man and woman in that marriage prep class all of the physical or psychological conditions or external circumstances for why they wanted to use NFP?”

            “You can really read hearts and minds?”

            “What you are doing is like telling people they could not have recieved abosulution because they spent to little time in the confessional.”

            “You just won the award for not getting it, though.”

            “I’m certain you would have disapproved of my getting married, from the way you are commenting.”

            ****Can you see how the above comments take a debate and turn it personal?

            Inevitably someone’s back gets up and ugliness ensues. It is to Marie’s credit that she refrained from using her own YOU statements. I mention this to further a constructive discussion. If you pay attention, internet debates that are charitable remain relatively abstract and avoid YOU statements.

            God bless!

            • I’ve got a couple of YOU statements, but I’m being charitable today.

              Things got tough for Marie because she wrongly argued newly weds were morally wrong to use NFP, and that everyone she knows who uses NFP does so for the wrong reasons.

              I know her “conservative Catholic college.” She’ll be fine once she been deprogrammed.

              • Getting tough on someone is great; making it personal just asks for trouble. I think on previous NFP articles Simcha has asked (demanded 😉 the conversation remain friendly. I stand by my statement.

                As for Marie’s position, I believe you may have misunderstood—but then it seems that you may know her, or of her, personally so I’ll demur.

                (And yes, I’m slinging a holster of YOU statements as well, but it is Lent so I will wait until Easter Monday to let them fly)

                • None if us misunderstood Marie. She was just wrong. Notice how many people called her out, and how many times she amended her arguments? I also liked the way she argued from Church Authority, but when pushed, admitted it was her interpretation of Church teaching.

                  Look, I don’t know her, I dont know you. I am sick of the people who are more Catholic than the Pope.

                  • None if us misunderstood Marie. She was just wrong.

                    ***Or not.

                    The absence of clearly delineated rules/teachings by the Church in this area implies we can have differing opinions on the matter. Perhaps you are just as wrong as she is.

                    Notice how many people called her out, and how many times she amended her arguments?

                    ****I didn’t see her change her position at all. I saw her defend and clarify herself as others were accusing her of something she clearly wasn’t trying to say.

                    I also liked the way she argued from Church Authority, but when pushed, admitted it was her interpretation of Church teaching.

                    ****Agreed. She should have backed her statements up better after the heat was turned up.

                    Look, I don’t know her, I dont know you.


                    I am sick of the people who are more Catholic than the Pope.

                    ****That phrase is so overused it has lost its meaning. Even so, I’m glad the comments made on this article have avoided such such foolery.


                    • Actually, Lisa has understood me far better than you have. I have yet to see evidence that you thoroughly read my comments. Thanks Lisa!

              • I’ve found over and over again that print is not the best way for me to carry on an argument, and since I’m being misunderstood at every turn (especially by “The Jerk”, who doesn’t know me and who seems to be intent on putting words in my mouth to make me seem judgmental), I’m going to leave this to people who can do it better (Lisa! :)) Writing cuts out not only facial expression etc, but even the vocal inflection and quicker reaction time that comes from talking on the phone, and is therefore not my friend! Also, as soon as Simcha found out what family I’m from, and therefore by correlation how old I am, I kissed being taken seriously goodbye… I’m sorry that most people on this thread now have a picture of me as a judgmental bitch; that may have been my fault for not articulating my points. It’s time for me to stop re-clarifying what I think before I have a stress-induced heart attack!

                • Marie – I just wanted to say that I don’t know what family you are from or how old you are. I was assuming you’re young because your email address is a college one, and because you mentioned you’re expecting your first baby, and because, well, you sound kind of young!

                  I was really rude to you. I’m sorry. It’s wrong to be rude, but it’s especially unseemly to be rude over matters of the faith! I am ashamed at how I behaved in this thread toward the end. The level of conversation has mostly been very high, I think, and I played a big part in bringing it down. Argh. Again, I’m especially ashamed now that I realize that I was harsh toward a pregnant woman.

                • Marie, I apologize as well. I seem to be having a lot of trouble lately keeping my fingers from saying some rude things – and I tend to be very good at knowing how my written words will be taken, and I am usually much more careful with what I say. (This is no excuse, but I am also pregnant, and perhaps it is contributing slightly to my snottiness.)

                  We may actually not disagree, you know? It could just be the mode of communication. We most certainly agree that the young couples learning NFP prior to marriage should be taught not only how it is to be used, but also why and when. And that – most important of all – Catholics are always called to remain open to life.

                  Good luck with the pregnancy!

                • Thanks ladies :). I definitely often have the experience of having to say to myself “okay, step away from the keyboard. Go do something else. Now reread that before you post it!” In the heat of the moment, often when I should do that I don’t (it definitely happened in my comments on this post; I should have re-read before posting, if only for the sake of coherency!) I think the biggest misunderstanding came when I tried to set up a hypothetical couple for us to judge. I did this because it’s often done in the Baltimore Catechism to help us understand (it sometimes helps me even more than my students!) At the end of a section about a certain sin, they will put a question like “here is Hypothetical Billy. This is his situation, these are his motivations. He does this action. Is it a sin? Mortal or venial?”

                  This type of question is used simply to aid us in applying the principles to our own specific situations. Since we know everything in Hypothetical Billy’s head, we can decide whether he sinned – and there is a right or wrong answer. The Catechism isn’t trying to teach the lesson that we should go out and find other people so we can judge whether they are sinning, it is trying to make the student more able to make a good examination of his own conscience.

                  I was trying (not very clearly) to do the same thing with a couple. Here is Hypothetical Couple A, with their situation and motivations. Is using NFP a sin for them? In the hypothetical setup, there is a right or wrong answer. Of course, in the real world, the only marriage or potential marriage we know that well is our own. Examples like that can simply help us to apply the Church’s principles to our specific (and probably more complicated) situation. My annoyance is that I don’t see that kind of education happening in marriage prep – either it’s not part of the curriculum at all, or if it is, the teacher shies away from discussing it (like mine did.)

                  There is a couple my husband and I are very close to, who used NFP for the first few months of their marriage. They had found out a few months before they got married that they wouldn’t be able to get on his grad school’s health insurance (including maternity coverage for her) until they moved there (several months after their marriage). Unfortunately, the insurance provider regarded pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. Instead of caving to the enormous pressure to use artificial birth control, they threw themselves on God’s Providence and used NFP (which as we all know is not 100% effective!) Now, a year after stopping NFP and getting health insurance, they’re expecting a baby girl next month. If there ever was a serious reason, that’s one! I respect the heck out of them for it, many couples in their situation wouldn’t have had the courage to use NFP.

                  Don’t feel worse because I’m pregnant, Simcha. Pregnancy just has the lovely effect of making me less coherent and more prone to the emotional response :).

            • You know, I really can’t agree that it’s to Marie’s credit that she never said “you.” In fact, I think that was the whole problem with her argument: she was making broad, abstract statements about what was selfish or what was preferable in a marriage — but when people offered themselves as examples to refute her arguments, she backed away from her claims.

              There is nothing admirable or charitable about playing it safe by using a broad brush, but not taking responsibility when you see that your words have offended and misrepresented actual, living people. It’s like shooting arrows from behind a wall.

            • Also:

              If you go back and read you will see that Marie was only speaking in generalities—commenting on what she perceived to be a problem with how NFP is presented to engaged couples and how it can, in her opinion, be used selfishly. Even when piled on, she clarified that she was speaking in general terms. Still, she was told, “Please don’t judge.”

              It seems the dynamic in that conversation was: If you say something I don’t agree with, you are judging.

              (The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”)

                • To clarify: she was making claims about what the Church teaches, and I thought they were wrong. People got specific because their own lives were examples to show that she was wrong. Since the whole POINT of the post was that making generalities about virtue leads to condemning specific people undeservedly, I thought it was a highly appropriate way to refute her false claims.

                  • Sorry, everyone, I’m obviously getting too worked up about this, and have broken several of my own rules for combox civility. Backing away from the computer now.

                  • (First, I liked your article and agree with it.)

                    You write:
                    “Since the whole POINT of the post was that making generalities about virtue leads to condemning specific people undeservedly, I thought it was a highly appropriate way to refute her false claims.”

                    …but everyone (posting here) is making generalities about virtue and could be considered “shooting from behind a wall”.

                    Looking back over your article, it discusses why the Church won’t print The List (and rightly so); however that doesn’t mean we are to all times be safeguarded from perceived feelings of judgement from general statements made about the usage of NFP.

                    (Aw heck…not sure if I made myself clear, but I have to go pick up my kids)

  51. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. As a potential convert that grew up “Quiverfull”, the idea that NFP can be practiced with a contraceptive mentality drives me crazy. When faced with people who are constantly judging other’s supposed reasons for delaying children, I am seriously turned off to the Catholic Church. Your post was like a breath of fresh air.

    • I don’t know what kinds of Catholic circles you move in, Young Mom, but I’m a young mom of 4 and get only comments about how “unusual” or “exhausting” it must be to have so many kids — in our small, rural, “conservative” parish! Come to think of it, though, we have a disproportionate number of Baby Boomers in our parish, so that might explain the squishy faith formation.

      • I was thinking the same thing! It’s hard to even FIND people around here who use NFP. I feel sorry for all you guys who say you’re in judgmental situations. I’m just happy to find a friend or 2 that shares my world view and also uses NFP so I don’t get hammered for not being sterilized or something. We wouldn’t even DREAM of judging each other! How is that ANY of my/their business? I’m sleeping fine at night…

      • At this point we have never used birth control at all (took awhile to break out of the quiverfull mentality), we have soon to be 4 children aged 4 and under, and I am looking into learning NFP for the first time. I don’t really move in Catholic circles at this point IRL, most of my interaction is online, and Simcha is right when she says that the fundamentalists are a very vocal minority. I’ve read many blog posts dissecting why people should or shouldn’t have kids, and it gets real old. And what is a valid reason for avoiding conception? Not having health insurance didn’t stop my parents. How much money do you “need” per child? How bad does a physical problem need to be to justify “avoiding” conception, and I hardly ever see this type of debate even take into account the mental and emotional state of the parents or even the children. It all becomes a numbers game, and the people involved don’t even matter anymore. It’s sad to watch, and I would hate for my kids to get sucked in by the “fundie, we tell everyone else how to be a “real” catholic” crowd.

  52. Great article! This is such a hot topic. And it’s sick how some devout Catholics rag on each over the practice of NFP.

    I know a single female 30 something from the Latin mass community who went off on me a couple of times real quickly (fortunately she made it quick) about practicing NFP the first two years of my marriage because she assumed that we didn’t have a “grave” reason and must have been physically and psychologically ready. She never bothered to ask why we were practicing NFP. She just said in a not so nice tone something to the effect that you shouldn’t be doing NFP. Funny thing is one of the times she went off on me I was actually a few weeks pregnant with my first child, she didn’t know as we waited a few more weeks to tell friends but her judgmental ugliness at that moment hurt me and made me worry about the baby because I wasn’t feeling too good. Luckily everything was fine and I now have a beautiful six month old daughter.

  53. Just wanted to let you know that you wrote an excellant post – I loved it. When I read the title I thought, “Yeah! Why don’t they write a list!” By the end of your post I thought,” Yeah – duh – There can’t be a list.” The only thing a bit confusing was some of the comments! lol
    Thanks for the post!

  54. And now for something completely different: I would like to add to the list of reasons why the Church doesn’t just make a list one more reason: the Church’s teaching needs to be universal. It has to apply to all cultures and all times. Who knows what the world is going to be like in 100 years, and what new circumstances might come up? Even today, America is not the world. Can you imagine, for example, how different this discussion would have been if the commenters were mostly living in China?

  55. I’m late to the “party,” I know, but the question of getting married when not ready to have kids was posited in a class I took with Janet Smith. A legitimate question, really, since no one would think a real marriage were taking place if the couple had plans to postpone “unity” until such time as they might be ready; so the question of whether a marriage is taking place if the “procreation” aspect is being postponed should be asked (though charitably). Dr. Smith said that
    1. there’s not a Church teaching specifying that the couple must intend to have children immediately so they may not be denied marriage if such is their intent/need
    but that
    2. postponement shouldn’t be the “default” for most USA couples most of the time (which seemed to be much of Marie’s point, that a lot of people just think waiting awhile is what “everyone” should do)
    3. there is a “natural trajectory” to a couple’s relationship and there are plenty of circumstances where postponing the wedding would not make sense or be prudent, but postponing pregnancy would.

    And I, in reading all the comments, kept wanting to make the same point Abby just did: the Church can’t possibly make a list in large part because circumstances are too different between times and countries – the definition of the poverty line if you live in L.A. is going to be quite different from the poverty line in, say, Haiti.

  56. Phew! Exellent post and great comments.

    Simcha-I have such admiration for you as a writer and a woman. I love the way you humbly handled the comments and your continuing acknowledgement when you feel you get something wrong.

    Another side to this NFP discussion, but maybe a smaller one, is how women who do have bigger families also can feel judged and condescended to by their fellow Catholics. Just because I have 7 kids doesn’t mean I am always wondering why everyone in the pews around me doesn’t and I’m not especially patient/holy/selfless/stupid/oppressed by my husband/a traddy/a fundie or whatever.

    Also-I so wish other women did not feel the need to always be justifying to me why they don’t have more kids. Look lady, I just met you and I didn’t ask! That happens to me all. the. time. and makes me so uncomfortable. It even happens with people I haven’t just met, friends and family etc…

    I came to peace with the NFP thing a long time ago and bc of our own circumstances have not struggled with judging others on their family size. I have friends with fertility issues that also keeps me humble. I also know from my own spiritual growths and setbacks that we’re all on our own journey (wish that didn’t sound so corny, but there you go)

    Still, I do have hope that, in time, Catholics can embrace and absorb this theology so that all the speculation about what it going on in our neighbors bedrooms dies down a bit. May be several generations though….!

    • Thank you, Tracy! Yes, I have had the same experience: many women seem to take my very presence in the room as some kind of challenge or rebuke, and they feel the need to launch into a medical history. Not so much infertile people, but people who decided to get sterilized. Lady. I’m sorry you obviously feel so bad about it, but I’m trying to find my son, who likes to bathe in public toilets, so please let go of my sleeve now.

      It’s funny, I caution a lot against judging small families. You would think that my emphasis on this issue comes from a bad experience I’ve had — but we had a big family right away, so I don’t suppose anyone thought we were contracepting! The remarks that make me squirm are when people assume that our big family comes directly from a gushing font of generosity and holiness. When in fact . . . it didn’t.

      It’s taken me a while to realize that, just as we don’t have to listen to people who judge us harshly, we don’t have to listen to people who embarrass us by giving us too much credit. I used to think that their inaccurately flattering comments meant I was a hypocrite, and must be putting on an act in public. Now I know it’s just because people are crazy, and say crazy stuff without thinking about it.

      We’re all just blundering around trying to attach ourselves to something that makes our own lives make sense! Woe to you who look to other people for that — always disappointing.

    • Oh wow! I’d like to second this!

      I also know that some of the greatest sinners become God’s greatest saints.

      How many small families are small because of sterilization, but then the couple later has a reconversion to the faith, and live then with the terrible understanding of what they did. Some of the holiest people I know are like this, and because of their previous sins waste no opportunities to grow in holiness; whereas I know I run from all of those crosses presented to me each day as I parent a family of 8 kids.

  57. “Now I know it’s just because people are crazy, and say crazy stuff without thinking about it.

    We’re all just blundering around trying to attach ourselves to something that makes our own lives make sense! Woe to you who look to other people for that — always disappointing.”

    So true! Love this. Myself included, saying “crazy stuff wtihout thinking about it.”

  58. JESUS was compelled to go to the CROSS because of the horrible sin of murdering babies (abortion). HE tore up the tables because they were SCHEDULING ABORTIONS.

    abortions were done in the praetorium in those days.

    • Well, I’m not sure what his problem was….or maybe he doesn’t have one…..some people just don’t translate well on the internet.

      I guess I felt like I needed to step forward to defend him because we’ve use total abstinence and I felt like what I THOUGHT he was trying to say was getting lost. That’s all.

  59. Just wanted to add a late comment. As one who is past the stage of needing NFP, but struggled through many years (and 8 kids) with a non-believing husband who did his best to follow Church teaching, I believe anyone who conflates NFP with contraception obviously hasn’t tried it. It’s hard, especially for the guy. I don’t think it’s possible to use it casually as “Catholic birth control.” It tests your strength as a couple and exposes every crack in your relationship. You many end up not being pregnant, but in my view, it’s every bit as difficult as delivering a baby–if not more!

    Thanks Simcha for your ever present honesty and frankness about a difficult subject!

    • Dear JS,
      I am very intrigued how you did this with a non-believing husband. I would be very interested in contacting you. Could Simcha give you my email? I have a similar situation. I want very much to impart spirituality to my sons, but am afraid it is going to seem to them like, “some crazy thing Mom is forcing on us” to them.


  60. Okay, I think you’ve made your point, Charlotte! Let’s try and keep the conversation more constructive.

  61. I found your perspective interesting, however has a women who has been in many of your examples at different times in my life, the one regret I have is NOT trusting God more during the difficult phases. Having one of God’s children is an eternal service to Him. It is the most difficult yet most rewarding act of love we can show Him. Why? Because when we have a child there are no limits to the service or love. We are mimicking Christ’s love for His church by laying EVERYTHING down for the sake of another. I too am judged on a constant and regular basis my family of 10 is most often seen as a burden to our society and sadly on my own Catholic church. This is a topic I have prayed about since my conversion now 14 years ago. The saddest response to this teaching in my opinion is there are far to many discussions about when to “use” NFP and far to less on what we as a community can do to assist these women in being able to have another child. In conclusion, I once met a lady at church who after hearing my situation : (which was I had sever postpartum, husband had lost job, my oldest child was very difficult and my whole life was out of control ) said this to me, “I have never met an older women my age who said that she had to many children ”
    God used her

    • Dear Kari,

      Although I do think that some women should have larger families as they are able, I do not think that it is the MOST rewarding act of love we can show Him.

      From a strictly biological perspective, it is actually a little bit selfish, (in that you are propagating your own genetic code) even though in requires eternal and continuous acts of momentary unselfishness to raise a family well.

      Instead, I would change your sentence to read: “ADOPTING one of God’s unwanted or disabled children is an eternal service to Him. It is the most difficult yet most rewarding act of love we can show Him. Why? Because when we care for this child there are no limits to the service or love. We are mimicking Christ’s love for His church by laying EVERYTHING down for the sake of another, to whom we are not genetically linked at all. It is the perfect example of AGAPE.

      I say this as a person who wants very much to adopt a child to add to our family of three, and is working on this with her reluctant husband. I try not to judge those who never considering to adopt, as I have not (yet) but I am under no illusions about the divine nature of extraordinary love exemplified by adoptive parents, especially for the most challenging children. Some of these people are more heroic than seems humanly possible.

    • Kari,

      I can’t imagine either an older woman saying she had too many children.

      I do however know that some women have deep sorrow because they were unable to care for the basic spiritual, emotional, financial and physical needs of their children when they were growing up. Some have deep sorrow because their marriage did not endure the crushing stress they placed on it. Of course they love all their children and would never wish they were not born.

      I do know that some children suffer greatly because their parents were and/or are too overwhelmed to care for them. Yes they have been given many siblings but their parents marriage and health is in a shambles. I can personally say that having a mother who was given more than she could handle and as a result was constantly stressed, overwhelmed and angry was not the service that Jesus wanted. Although I am not close with all of my siblings I certainly don’t wish they were not here.

      I could have more kids and I really would love that but I know I could not care for them they way in which God desires that they be cared for with the love and attention that is their right. I am not talking about material goods or excess things. Just basic human needs. Having had endured a time in my children’s life when I could not care for them I know how painful this is and how grateful I am to be able to care for them.

      Yes, God loves children but God also loves to see healthy marriages that have a strong founation and he loves to see moms healthy and at peace raising their kids with joy.

      I’ll have to read Human Vitae again, certainly our definition of open to life goes beyond the bounds of the act of conception. I think too often that is narrowly defined. Sometimes open to life in a marriage needs to mean we are going to heal our marriage and heal our health and be present to the children we have already conceived.

      I think the one of the greatest gifts I give my kids is a spiritually and emotionally healthy marriage. Of course siblings are a gift but I think it is a cliche to say they are the greatest gift you could give your child.

      Just random thoughts not all taken from our post…

  62. So thankful the church does not make a list that would be really bad really bad. The level at which people scrutinize other’s family sizewhether large or small is out of control. I really can hardly take it anymore.

    I think general discussion about why couples would choose to conceive or avoid are good. I’ve learned as with anything in life there are people are both extreme ends of the spectrum. Sometimes these extreme beliefs have more to do with the psychological help someone needs in order to have their spiritual beliefs healhty.

    Dicussions that recognize children are a blessing but also a responsibility are good. It is always a good reminder that our blessings need our emotion, physical, spiritual and financial support. Siblings are a great gift to our kids but I also believe having parents who are well mentally and spiritually is primary (that is my perspective only because I grew up with a mom that was not mentally well and boy was it painful and created many obstacles to grace for my siblings as adults)

    The fact is you can be selfish and use NFP, you can be selfish and not use NFP, you can be selfish and have a large family, you can be selfish and have a small family. You can have a large family because you love the attention of being pregnant and the esteem you get from the church for being generous (but you may in fact not be able to care for all your blessings but you are still generous..). You can have a small family and be selfish because you want unnecessary material goods etc

    But really only God knows and he takes us all where we are at and gives us grace to overcome our weakness and to also help us when the choices we make we not the best ones.

    I work hard at dialogue with my fellow Catholics and how they take this teaching and apply it to their lives. We are all led by our faith and God differently. After the birth of my youngest I was disabled and wouldn’t you know some eager beaver was asking me when I was having my next one? The zeal at which some promote having as many blessing as possible is often unbalanced.

    There are many willing to help me out when my choices have not been good or life has been hard and I am willing to help them out as well–somehow we are both going to gain the wisdom we need along the way to make it through this life.

  63. I realise I am a terrible catholic but as 43 year old single woman if I was meet someone at this late stage in life I would be using contraception. the stats for having a baby at 45 are that there is 1:21 chance of having a baby with a chromosomal disorder, and I believe approx 1:30 chance of having a downes baby. Old sperm has increased risk of the child being schizophrenic or autistic or downes.
    frankly i dont think the Churchs teaching is practical. riasing kids is hard work and disabled kids are even more work. good luck to those who want to follow the churchs teaching, If I was having sex I would not

    • Cat – those may be the chances in each pregnancy – but what are the chances of a woman getting pregnant for the first time at the age of 45? An then to think of the chances of anyone getting pregnant at all?

    • Cat, at 45 a woman’s chance of conceiving naturally when she’s trying to conceive are 1%. The failure rates for NFP are 1 to 2%. And then if you did get pregnant, there’s a five percent chance that your baby would have a chromosomal disorder.

      So your chances, at age 45, of conceiving a baby with a chromosomal disorder while practicing NFP are something like 5% of 2% of 1%. If I didn’t the math right, that’s one in a hundred thousand.

      Even if the failure rates for NFP were 20%, that would still be a one in ten thousand chance, which is way smaller than the chances of conceiving a baby with a chromosomal disorder while practicing NFP at age 20–simpy because way more babies are conceived by 20-year-olds.

    • Cat, on top of the fact that as Abby pointed out about extremely low fertility at age 45, I would add: who says the pill (or any form of artificial contraception) is 100% effective? NFP rates are comparable to any other method, and when practiced with commitment and consistency, the effectiveness rate reaches 99%. If you would have serious reason to avoid a pregnancy, then who is telling you to try and get pregnant? Certainly not the Church. I know several women that have come to NFP when they reach the premenopausal stage because they are seriously uncomfortable with the amount of artificial hormones they are putting into their bodies, and the increased risk of cancer. Before you say “good luck to those that want to follow church teaching”, please consider what church teaching really is, and that NFP is actually for situations where avoiding a pregnancy is warranted.

  64. First off, I don’t have a website. That’s why I wrote, “are you kidding me?” in the website box.

    Second. Ok. I got the link to this blog from Catholic Exchange. I read the article. Well done. Then the combox war. It was painful reading, just saying. I like a good argument but hate a fight. Sometimes the discussion crossed the line.

    But wait. It revealed something really important to me. That there is a LOT Of pain and anger over this subject – a lot of confusion, judgment, guilt, resentment, struggles that I was clueless about. I’m past child bearing. Less than five years into my marriage I had an emergency hysterectomy. By God’s grace we’d sneaked in a couple of kids. I don’t know what it is like to practice NFP. I only ever took my temp in order to GET pregnant. (Four pregnancies, two live births, and then barren by surgery.)

    What I do have are young adult children, one of whom is just about to get married. Now I feel informed about an issue they are going to face – whatever route they choose, they are going to be criticized. I can be a support by encouraging them to trust the Church, trust their discernment, and trust the Lord about the if, when, how of natural family planning, and I can remind them that when we do the RIGHT thing (in accordance with our conscience, wise spiritual counsel, and Church teaching) we are still going to be attacked. The world will naturally hate us. But the attacks from brothers and sisters will hurt more because they will be least expected.

    So, all of you who jumped into the fray, thanks. This middle-aged Mom now has her eyes wide open.

  65. Great post. these attitudes are so hurtful. I have learned to be leary of fanatical Catholics who think they know more than the Churh.

  66. Oh wow, as a single Catholic, I thought the discussions of “why aren’t you married yet” were tough enough. I had little clue of what (please, God) I may one day look forward to. All in all, very enlightening. Thank you.

  67. Wow! This is an amazing post and one I feel blessed to have read. Sometimes it is hard to find oneself in that “tiny fraction” and even harder to understand other NFP families who make different choices. (It is more complicated by being an excited RCIAer and confused by trying to understand what, if anything, the way Catholics practice family planning signifies about their faith.)

    For the first time in our marriage we are trying to avoid pregnancy and it is extremely difficult. We both love being open to life and would welcome another child, but that simply wouldn’t be responsible at the moment (we’re working really hard to change the circumstances though!).

    When I see other NFP families who have what *I* perceive to be lesser obstacles to having more children I can feel jealous, bitter and judgmental towards them at times. I imagine it might be a little like what someone going through infertility experiences. (Though I hate to draw that comparison because I know just enough to know how little I understand about that and don’t want to belittle anyone’s feelings). She wants children and can’t understand why someone else who can have them is squandering their chance either by using contraception, making bad choices or simply not *seeming* to enjoy it.

    It is so easy to pass judgment on others. Thank-you for such a timely reflection.

  68. Good gracious! Late to the party — and someone (some many) may already have said this (but I just simply don’t have time to read through 300-some coments) but, seriously, Simcha, what’s wrong with just saying: Ask your confessor before using NFP? Problem solved.

    These guys (our priests) are trained to discern these things — and as our Confessors, they are — we certainly assume — imbued with some wisdom from the Holy Spirit — and, if nothing else, with the responisbility of the decision, as well, once we’ve laid it on ’em. The only drawback is the possibility that the confessee will not like the advice of his/her confessor.

    • Hi, Lisa. Asking your confessor may be helpful, but it is by no means required. I’ve heard people say that we need permission from our priests to use NFP to avoid a pregnancy, but the Church simply does not require this.

      I can see another drawback, besides getting unwelcome advice: getting bad advice. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a priest who understands married life well.

      • For instance, I know a priest who told a woman that it was a mortal sin to refuse sex with her husband. Maybe he meant to *always* refuse sex, but what she took away from the session was that a woman never, ever has the right to say no to her husband. So you see, priests are fully capable of giving poor and harmful guidance.

  69. One of the reasons I am not Catholic anymore is the kind of judgmentalism the author of this post is trying to combat.
    When I converted, I thought I was entering a community in which I would find friendships that were stronger than before, since we all shared a belief in Christ and Catholic practices. Instead, no one talks to me in our Catholic community because I am the only one who has a job. I wish I could quit, but we agreed to buy a house with my in-laws in 2006. My in-laws promised to sell their home and roll the proceeds into paying the mortgages for ours. After we signed the documentation, my (Catholic!) in-laws changed their minds. Their behavior has cost our family $150,000, so I have to work. They have robbed me of my dream to be a stay-at-home mom, and I feel so alone when I can’t even make a friend here to talk with. So I do appreciate your attempt to get people to stop acting this way, but given human nature I don’t think they will. But given my treatment by my “fellow” Catholics, I just don’t believe that Catholics have any better path to the divine than others do.
    Thanks for letting me share off-topic.

    • Sarah, I’m very sorry to hear of the rough time you’ve been going through. I’ll pray for you to Our Lady under one of my favorite titles, Our Lady of Lovely Surprises. (Introduced to us after the distinctly un-lovely surprise of my husband losing his job — my uncle the monk said to pray to her for lovely surprises, and she sent them!) May she send you lots of lovely surprises, and the joy of Easter.

  70. Wow. This is a great thread full of great rabbit hole tangents that help discuss many faucets of NFP I never heard of before, much less considered. Before I became more active in the catholic blogosphere, I’d not heard of providentialist with respect to NFP.

    To me, in all things, it is the spirit and intent with which we seek to do things that are not intrinsically of themselves, morally wrong. The pharisees said prayers. Prayers were of themselves, good things to say, but the priests and scholars did them for the glory of themselves and thus lost the graces that might have come from engaging in such actions.

    The discussion is about intent and that requires an examination of the individual or in this case, couple’s hearts.

    Are we using NFP to 1) keep our marriage open to the possiblities of life in accordance with the Church’s teachings or 2) to impress ourselves with our counter cultural ways? I’d say it’s hard to stay practicing NFP for the wrong reasons, because children come along and test the reasons, test the will and test the obedience of the individual couple, but I also know we’re all fallen so we can turn what is designed to bring grace into an opportunity to mess up at a moment’s notice.

    For myself, I can say, I have practiced NFP. I have practiced it badly at times, not keeping careful records. I have practiced it indifferently at times, not minding if we did not abstain. I have practiced it militantly at times and still become pregnant. So I now have ten children including one with ADD and one with Down Syndrome. We still practice nfp but I am only 44 and the biological clock does not seem to be winding down and so NFP becomes a giant true test walk for us and is that a contraceptive mentality? A providentialist one? Honestly, it depends on the day/hour/minute.

    Folks, there should not be warring camps in this.
    What’s the mentality for practicing NFP?
    How about a human one. .

  71. What I am amazed about in this is that there must be somewhere in this country places where Catholics actually believe in the no contraception rule! Not in my local parish, not even the daily mass people, and certainly not the priests. They all think the no contraception rule is long dead in the water.

    When I had my ninth child, after a three year interval in which I thought I had finally learned how to do NFP…, the talk in my little country parish was all “Why is she having another one when she can’t take care of the ones she has?”

    That child is going to graduate from college next week. Her older siblings are an engineer, a social worker, a wireless network administrator, a Spanish teacher and Arabic translator, (who got to study the Arabic translations of Aquinas in college), a software writer, a research assistant just finishing up college, a graduate student in Political Science, and a graduate student in Social Psychology. It is true we were poor when they were young, they didn’t have the things that many other kids in their school had, the house was crowded, dinner was late if healthy, sometimes they missed the school bus, sometimes I was late to pick them up from soccer, we needed food stamps for a few years. Some of them are happy about their childhood, focusing on the creative fun they had together, and a few have some resentments of not having more things or individual attention. And of course I feel guilt over what I was not able to do. But overall, it seems worthwhile.

    The cracks in our marriage that NFP exposed mostly led to our having children, which exposed more cracks from the stress. The most important thing is for the parents to show love to each other. Children suffer way more when they don’t do that, then from lack of material things. That leads some people to say that contraception would have been right for us, as we were clearly stressed. From the world’s perspective I see the logic of that. But I can’t be sorry for the existence of any of my children. And I wonder if a perfectly ordered life can really be had, and if trying for it doesn’t expose other cracks. My parents carefully spaced two children by contraception, and we led a very orderly life, and yet there were emotional cracks in my childhood despite all that.

    I admit I have been someone who has judged people for having small families. I have assumed that they were all contracepting, as it would be really out of the ordinary here if they were not, but perhaps some are not. (But I hear people complaining that the local Catholic hospital won’t tie their tubes when they have their second C section…) If anyone waits a while to have kids using NFP….first of all, they are way better than I was at it, and second of all, I see nothing wrong with it. I hope it doesn’t have to be too long a while, as you might not be fertile in your thirties when you were in your twenties, but I can see a short while, if you can do it, especially if there is a clear goal, like finishing graduate school, or paying off a loan. Again, I think it would be really rare for a couple to use NFP for totally frivolous reasons, considering that every month tests those reasons against the required abstinence. When so few people trust the church to avoid contraception and use NFP I think it is a shame for those who do to tear each other apart over their different tolerances for financial or medical risk. For instance Marie who was so into thinking that people shouldn’t get married until they were ready to have children, thought it was a wonderful reason for people to wait, for their medical insurance to kick in. I had many of my children when we had no medical insurance…and God blessed me with easy births so I was able to have them at home, and with a doctor who took any insurance we had as full pay and didn’t charge me when I had none. But still many people would think not having medical insurance in case something happened to one of us was impossibly irresponsible. I had a high tolerance for risk. Should I judge someone who thinks more about what could happen? I don’t think so.

    This was really a very good article. I especially appreciated the part where the same circumstances meant something very different to different families.

    Susan Peterson

  72. Wow, Sue, what an honest post. So interesting to get the hindsight view. I think the most important thing you said (and I am not one who practices NFP (I use birth control) was:
    “The most important thing is for the parents to show love to each other. Children suffer way more when they don’t do that, then from lack of material things.”

    This is so very true.

  73. I stumbled on this post searching for some specific NFP info and am so glad that I did! My husband and I came in to the Church just this Easter, we have older children (our youngest is 8), and we’ve been working through what the Church’s teaching means for us and our family. How often I’ve wished that there was a list! But I love what you’ve said here and find myself again grateful for the wisdom of the Church. I’m a rule follower at heart–it would be easy for me to follow a rule and blame someone else (the Church, God, my poor dear husband) for the poor outcome (of course I’d take credit for a good one!). But I know that what God wants is that I walk with Him, not just that I check the right boxes. Sigh. That ends up being a much more difficult task, and much more revealing of my own weakness and sinfulness.

    Anyway, all of that rambling was just to say: thank you. I really appreciate this post.

  74. I love this post, have forwarded it to friends and family and intend to return to it time and again in the future for it’s wisdom and the comments. Thanks!

  75. I have been following this thread. I know it’s probably late to ask this, as it is September and it seems the discussion on this was earlier in the year. I would like to hear the opinions of other women who visit this blog. Why not just get married and let the children come as they will just like Catholics have done for thousands of years? Some will have 3, some will have 20. Some will be wealthy, some will be poor. Why not just get married and live like married people and have whatever children?


    • Mary – That sounds really easy and simple, but unfortunately life is much more complicated and messy. It’s also pretty appealing for the people who would only have 3 kids.

      I’m one of the people who would have 20 children if we just let the babies happen. My husband and I only have to look at each other sideways to conceive. After 7 years we already have 5, and I am only 27. I have a good 13 years left of childbearing in me, if not more. And this is while doing NFP!

      Supporting children costs money. We have to upgrade our car every few years because we keep outgrowing our vehicles. Pretty soon we are going to have to upgrade our house as well. We have our 6 year old in Catholic school right now and we are paying $4000 per year FOR ONE CHILD.

      And I’m not even going into the stress that comes along with 5 children 6 years old and under…

      If you knew that you would have at least 14 kids, maybe more, would you just “live like married people and have whatever children”?

  76. Thanks for replying Morgan. I can understand what you’re saying. My mentality is as follows: Just as we trust that God can keep the earth spinning and our hearts pumping, we trust that He knows what He is doing when He sends us a child. We have 8 ourselves and probably another decade at least of fertility and have been through tremendous hardship in the past, too long to list in a post. But providence would always be there. There were tremendous Graces in the hardship. We personally know many families with 10+. Several in the 15-20 range. Some of these people have been through incredible odds. None are wealthy. Some are truly poor and depend on charity, which is always available from other Catholics.Yet we see vocations from these families! Lots of them! We ourselves have a child who wishes to enter religious life. We have no money for certain expenses. We have never had anything but what is in our checking account. Yet in a way we could have never foreseen, the expenses have been taken care of and this child can test this vocation. We see children keeping the Faith into adulthood, marrying and having 4 babies in 4 years…or perhaps suffering infertility…but always just trusting. The number of children is not a sign of sanctity from what I have seen. It is the trust, the daily rosary, the simple living of the Faith day to day. The attitude of ” We continue to live as Catholics have always lived, God provides.” Yes, it is that simple. We complicate things. So, to me, in conclusion, it is like saying…14 children! God Almighty could never provide for that! I must NFP!

  77. Mary, many people are in this situation: they would be happy to have as many children as God sends, but their spouses are dead set against it. They feel an obligation not to conceive against their spouses’ will.

    Conversely, there are many people in this situation: they would be happy to have as many children as God sends, but their spouses are in a situation where another child would be dangerous for their health. They feel an obligation to protect their spouses’ health.

    Other people have reason to believe that if they had another child, they would not be able to give a child they already have what he needs. Imagine, for example, a woman whose pregnancy would mean weeks of bed rest, and she has an autistic toddler that only she knows how to care for properly. She feels an obligation to tend to her toddler’s special needs.

    My point is that not all decisions to avoid conception are based on an unwillingness to make personal sacrifices. I certainly appreciate your desire to not complicate things unnecessarily–but sometimes married life comes with complications that can’t be avoided.

  78. Thank you everyone who has responded, here is my long-winded reply:

    “Imagine, for example, a woman whose pregnancy would mean weeks of bed rest, and she has an autistic toddler that only she knows how to care for properly.”

    How can she know the future? The mind of God? She probably could not foresee how God would provide her with help during this time from an unlikely source. Or how that pregnancy would turn out miraculously well. All these things happened to me with different pregnancies. God supplied! Or how perhaps she was destined to suffer.

    The point of the faithless spouse is a different story. There is probable mortal sin in that man…so this situation is already grave. So is NFP valid then? It’s just another tragedy in a tragedy. This is too serious, without even mentioning NFP.

    Simcha, I read your article for which you provided the link. Here is what I see as confusing. For example how you said that some people are called to prudence and to “grow up”. To me, that is like telling those early Jesuits who risked all to bring the Gospel to the savages in North America in the hopes of saving their souls to be more prudent. They set off without provisions, yet with a tremendous will to do God’s work. I see these large families working hard, doing everything to provide and I do not see them as imprudent or reckless. In the state the church is in right now, we need to have these large families from which historically vocations come. I am a firm believer that the daily family rosary and the openness to life (and the acceptance of infertility or few children as part of the equation) are the most powerful weapons a simple Catholic family has right now. I believe because I have seen the fruits of these families.

    I have read many posts on NFP, many articles. I have met many NFP practicing couples, and NFP teaching couples. The one thing I come away with is this: confusion and fear. Fear of babies. Fear of babies! In a Catholic marriage! Everyone is confused, doubting, fearing a pregnancy, fearing not having a pregnancy. Wondering if they are being prudent, or imprudent. I ask myself, “Can this be from God?” Or is this another tragic “fruit” of the Second Vatican Council? These are lovely, God-fearing Catholics. Good Catholics. Yet, they are entangled in the world of NFP. For us and for many couples we know, if something is so serious that you cannot have a child, then you abstain for the rest of your marriage. This under the direction of a priest. This is not a light thing to do, as you are not living out your vocation in the usual way, but are doing an exception. This is a special cross, to be sure, but one that bears fruit, although not of the baby kind. So, is it really that serious? Let’s test it against total abstinence. Sound crazy? Our entire religion goes against “natural” urges if you come to think of it. Yet that is what proves to me the power of God and that He is with us. I know a woman who miscarries 50% of her babies, large babies too. This is a condition. She spoke to her priest. He said, “be generous”. So she keeps having babies, although she loses half of them.

    So here we are, with something like 99% of Catholics using contraception. Then the little few, God bless them, who are trying to follow church teaching and not use contraception are urged to NFP because it is the prudent thing to do. Is there no end to the Devil trying to stop large families and the sanctification that they bring the church? I see this as Satan’s desperate snare. You made it this far, you have the Faith, you are not going on the pill…but here, you must NFP , it is soooo prudent and good for your marriage too! Talk about Luciferian! He always disguises poison sweetly. But we must be brave! God allowed us to live during this sad time in the history of our church because He has the Graces in store for us to be saints during this time, to do the difficult thing. We are Catholic! We have Sanctifying Grace! The battle begins in the nursery, we should not let Hell get more of a foothold by denying Christ more souls. We cannot let Hell deprive us of our blessed crosses, which marriage and openness to life bring!

    Lastly, I do not think people do this NFP out of selfishness. In fact I admire them because the very fact that they do not use contraception is to me very brave in the state we are in right now with the church. What I see is fear. I think if we feared less, God could work in us more, and thus the restoration of the church would be that quicker and stronger, because we, who are the body of Christ, would be holier. Through our trials the church would be sanctified. Through our mutliple c-sections, months of bedrest, economic hardship, (and let’s not forget the crosses our husbands carry when they have a large brood to take of, I think of my poor husband trying not to fall asleep while kneeling to pray the rosary after putting in 12-14 hours of work yet still having the patience to deal with the baby and the toddler’s interruptions!) we could make reparation for the incredible amount of sodomite priests, for the immense amount of Catholics receiving Holy Communion while on the pill, all the invalid masses, etc.

      • Also, if trusting God and having more children is always the right choice, then I don’t understand how marriage-long abstinence could ever be considered moral. First you say that couples who use NFP are fearful, but then you say that a couple with serious reasons not to conceive should abstain indefinitely. Are they not also being fearful, by your standards?

        I don’t think you’re objecting to a couple postponing pregnancy — you’re objecting to a couple having intercourse in infertile times. I apologize if I’m misinterpreting your words, but I think these are the arguments you are making. Are you comfortable with arguing things which are contrary to what is in the catechism?

  79. Also, this: “we should not let Hell get more of a foothold by denying Christ more souls” . . . somebody refresh my memory, but I’m pretty sure this is a heresy. There’s not some kind of well of forlorn, un-bodied souls crying out to go live in some mommy’s womb. I’m sorry, Mary, but the more I read your message, the less Catholic it sounds. I think you have been seriously misled, possibly by a priest who, from your description of his counsel, does not accept the authority of the Church. It makes me angry when people invent sins for each other to be guilty of. Really, really angry.

  80. Mary,
    Can you imagine that someone (not everyone) might not be mentally able to handle 15 children? Mental health is important, for both spouses. I have seen large Catholic families where God did not provide so well, for mental health. My father is a product of such a family. The wounds are deep.

  81. Mary, unfortunately, I think many well-meaning priests are in material heresy on this point, and their position more resembles certain sects of Evangelical Protestantism, and Jansenism, than what the Catholic Church teaches and has taught through the centuries. There are many texts from Church documents which conflict with your view; here is one I think is important, from Gaudium et Spes no. 10:

    “But first those spouses are commended who, with prudent deliberation and generosity, choose to accept a large family. The spouses are to consider their responsibilities towards God, themselves, the family, and human society. Each of these factors may be taken into account in right order in determining ‘serious and just reasons.'”

    First note that the Church is particularly singling out and commending the *decision* to have a large family as being an act of particularly laudable generosity. If we are all called to just go with whatever our physical fertility and physical desires might inspire, then it would be odd to commend this as a particularly generous *deliberate decision*. Secondly, note that the Church is actually *commanding* us to use prudence and deliberation. Unlike animals, for example. We are to make use of our reason when making use of our fertility. Having relations doesn’t just “happen”; it is a decision, just as how often and what I feed my children is a decision. I put everything in God’s hands, and the fact that I make use of my pots and pans and stove and local grocery store, rather than trusting that God will inspire someone to leave dinner at my door tonight, does not indicate a lack of trust in God or undue fearfulness about his Providence.

    It’s so important for faithful Catholics to understand the Church’s beautiful teaching and to be a witness to the world. It’s easy to pendulum-swing away from contraception into a scrupulous mentality and a kind of quietism that forbids the use of prudence with regard to our sexuality. The Catholic Church has always pointed the way to the mean, the middle between two extremes, and she has always respected nature as the foundation of grace–in other words, that grace builds upon nature–unlike every sect and heresy that departs from her. I encourage you to educate yourself further on this topic; as a convert it took me some time and effort truly to begin to understand the Church’s teaching on this subject.

  82. Thank you for bringing this out! Reading through these comments and hearing the back and forth between people with differing opinions, I wondered why this wasn’t brought up! Man’s reason is his highest faculty, it is precisely reason that separates men from the beasts. I don’t understand how using one’s reason prudentially, making every effort to discern God’s will, could ever be a bad thing, in fact, it seems to me that is precisely what we are all called to do with our lives. I’m not saying that every couple ought to chart all the time or even at all, but the decision of whether or not to chart ought to be made through a prudent decision in accord with what they have dicerned is God’s will for them at a particular
    time. It really is that simple. It can often be difficult to understand why people live the way they do, when it is so completely different to what you see as the right thing to do, but sometimes the right thing for you isn’t the right thing for others, it all depends on the particular circumstances and the calling God has sent you. I know it’s already been stressed a lot in these comments, but charity and tolernce is key to the life of virtue. St. Thomas points out in the summa that what determines one’s place in heaven is ultimately love, both of God and neighbour.

  83. This is brilliantly written. As a cradle Catholic, who married a {very patient} non-Catholic, I often find it difficult to explain my faith and beliefs. After several failed pregnancies and much debate afterward on using artificial birth control, we are finally using NFP. It has been working, but I still feel uncertain with it. Is my husband happy? What if we get pregnant when we’re not ready? What if we endure another failed pregnancy? We constantly remind ourselves and each other to “trust God,” but the uneasiness is always difficult to shake. I always wonder if we’re making the right choices because I don’t want to avoid having children altogether, but I fear the timing as well as the possibility of more medical issues. I have to admit that many of my concerns often stem from other opinions about our situation, even though I know I should not worry what others think. This article definitely brings a sense of peace to me. It is true that every situation is different. Who are we to judge?

  84. By the way, I believe my “fears” may be something along the lines of the “contraceptive mentality.” It is definitely difficult when one spouse is more willing than to use NFP than the other. Not to mention, medical issues — like being able to get pregnant VERY easily, but never being able to carry the child — makes the decision to try again (or simply to trust God) even harder. So far my husband and I have found that a strong marriage and a happy relationship with each other, along with LOTS of prayer, is the best answer. We know that God will not give us anything we can’t handle, especially together. Marriage and the choice to have children has everything to do with FAITH.

  85. […]  Luckily, this week, Simcha Fisher of I have to sit down wrote a very helpful piece about Catholic approaches to avoiding pregnancy (specifically using NFP).  Simcha does a good job explaining how the Church can provide general […]

  86. Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it
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  87. – Når du er seksuelt tent, kan anal pusting føre erotisk energi fra genitaliene ut i hele kroppen.
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