I really didn't think I'd have to be wading back into this discussion, and since I've got company coming over Sunday I'd sort of counted on being able to toss together a light post or two in between tossing pasta salad and tossing junk mail. But clearly, more is needed, and I'm not one to look the other way when the Catholic parenthood debate threatens to pull a World War III in my comboxes.
The thing to remember is this: married couples are called to be responsible and generous in their call to parenthood.
Responsible and generous.
It's not an either/or, people. It's not like you can say, "Oh, I'm being responsible, which means I can't be generous just now, and add lots more children to my family without regard to circumstances," or "Oh, I'm being generous, and the Church doesn't demand that I be responsible--that's just a fiction created by the selfish money-grubbing lot that sees dollar signs as more important than babies."
We are to be both. All the time. Whether we're led in a responsible and generous way to have another baby or in a responsible and generous way to postpone for a brief time, a long time, or even in the most serious of circumstances for a prolonged and possibly permanent time.
I've seen Danielle's latest and agree with about 3.75 of her four things. The .25 I disagree with has to do with the notion that that Church never requires us to use NFP. The reason it's only a fraction of a disagreement is this: the Church is never going to require us to use a specific type of abstinence to avoid adding to our families--but the Church can indeed let us know, through her priests, if we are in one of those "morally obligating" situations that demands some sort of abstinence.
In fact, one of those circumstances that gets talked about is that where one spouse, and only one, is discovered to be HIV positive. To protect the uninfected spouse and to negate the possibility of an innocent child being subjected to the disease the Church sometimes demands that husband and wife live as brother and sister--total abstinence, not NFP, not any other periodic abstinence method. So the Church does have the power to oblige us, even married couples, to abstain from marital relations.
I realize this is not what Danielle is saying and not what she's talking about, but the reason I bring it up is this: we can't say that the Church can't require us, us specifically, us personally, to abstain either partially or completely from the marital embrace, and with that, from adding to our families in the ordinary way for a time. The Church most certainly can, and while some think this is rare there are couples who have been told in confidence in the confessional or elsewhere by a priest/adviser that they are indeed morally obligated for the good of their families to avoid adding a child at a specific time for some specific and usually rather dire reason.
This is important, because we hear all the time that the "default" setting is not "use NFP unless you're sure you can have another." That is true. But it is also true that the "default" setting is not "have every child you can physically bear even if your fertility is the sort that lets you have three children under three, four under four, five under five and so on unless you have one of those dire morally obligating reasons as a factor," because that's an equally wrong, equally limited way of looking at the Church's call for us to be responsible and generous.
So what is the default setting?
Guess what? There is no default setting. There are only people, individuals, married Catholic couples, each striving toward Heaven, each answering the call to holiness every day, each seeking to follow God's will in this as they do in every other area of their lives, by listening with open ears and a joyful heart to the teachings of the Church and making prudential decisions based on these teachings.
And when we talk about responsibility for a bit, focusing on those things couples might take into consideration as they determine God's will for their families, that doesn't mean that we're ignoring the "generous" part, just as we can talk about generosity without ignoring the "responsible" part.
But what we cannot do, what we must not do, is say that the Church's teachings in the area of responsibility are in any way analogous to the evil family planning policies of Communist China or of Planned Parenthood or of any other such group. Because the Church knows that our duty to our children is a most serious and solemn obligation, and that our ability to meet our children's basic physical and spiritual needs as we aid them to grow in holiness and toward Heaven is not a callous concern for finances, but an extremely important part of the vocation of marriage.