Okay. On to the post itself.
The Badger Catholic linked today to this post at Fructus Ventris, which I found interesting:
And then, there is the third group - possibly the smallest minority among married Christians in the present time. Those who believe that it is occasionally moral and ethical to exert some control or judgement over their use of their fertility, but who also decline to use methods that either temporarily or permanently destroy fertility or block its transmission. They learn to identify the fertile days of the cycle, and make choices about intimacy based on this knowledge. This group can often end up trying to explain themselves to both the QF types and the "birth control is just responsible stewardship" types. To one, they are explaining that abstinence is not the same as contraception - to the other they are explaining that just because they are using periodic (or total) abstinence for avoiding or delaying pregnancy, they are not contracepting. It is a tough place to be in. But NFP is not just "Catholic birth control". It respects the way God created the body by not destroying fertility, and it respects the unitive aspect of marital love by not putting a physical or chemical barrier between the spouses. And its very difficulty is such that I think it is difficult to use for frivolous reasons. Contraception has become so easy that it becomes possible to think of pregnancy as the exception, rather than the rule, when considering the consequences of sexual relations!Read the whole post, which is well worth the read, here.
I really liked this writer's look at the "between a rock and a hard place" space NFP Catholics, or Catholics using any natural and morally acceptable method of birth spacing or pregnancy avoidance for that matter, find themselves. I especially like her statement that it's really hard to use NFP for frivolous reasons--which is what I want to talk about today.
We often hear from those who have discerned that God is not asking them, personally, to abstain from marital relations or limit their family size temporarily or even indefinitely that NFP is "selfish," or that "most people" use NFP for "selfish" reasons. As someone who has used NFP for about fourteen years now due to a serious medical issue, I have to say in all honesty that I've never met anyone who is using NFP for selfish reasons. Yes, anecdotes aren't evidence, but when I've met fellow NFP Catholics the reasons they give for using NFP tend to involve the following:
1. Serious physical or mental health reasons involving at least one spouse;
2. Serious (as in potentially devastating) financial reasons;
3. Prudent temporary financial reasons (that is, a job change that has left the couple temporarily "between" health insurance, etc.);
4. Prudent concern for other pressing responsibilities, including the care of the children already born, the care of one or more special needs children, the care of elderly or ill parents or other extended family members, etc., such that seeking to add another child right at this moment would impact the ability to meet these other obligations.
These are the reasons I've heard most often; some of you may have other serious reasons or have heard of other serious reasons for using NFP--my list isn't meant at all to be definitive. But the one thing I can honestly say I've never heard is this: "Oh, we use NFP because we only want two kids so we can have a huge house and a wealthy lifestyle and all the perks of limiting our family size..."
As the blogger I quoted above points out, NFP doesn't really lend itself well to that sort of thinking; I'm not saying it never happens, just that it's probably very rare. Why? Because NFP itself is ordered toward self-denial: and not selfish, unilateral self-denial, but the mutual decision of both spouses to accept the demands and the cross of periodic abstinence for the good of each other, the family, and their vocation in general. The loving and mutual sacrifice of some occasions where the marital embrace might otherwise be enjoyed simply does not go well with a mindset that would seek to limit family size only for some purely selfish or materialistic reason--especially when that sacrifice is repeated month after month, year after year, and must sometimes be accepted as necessary for the whole of the remainder of the woman's fertile years.
In fact, while it is certainly true that one spouse may act selfishly in denying the marital embrace at times, or one spouse may act selfishly in demanding the marital embrace at other times, it is difficult for both spouses to act selfishly when they have made a careful, prayerful, and prudent decision to use NFP or another natural means for a time--and if they have any doubts or are not "on the same page" about the decision, asking for spiritual direction is always a good option. I think most of us would agree that it is selfish for a spouse either to withhold or to demand the marital embrace unreasonably--but the key word there is "unreasonably." Just as it is not at all selfish or sinful (on the contrary!) for spouses to abstain immediately following the birth of a child, so is it not selfish or sinful to abstain for any other sufficient and good reason.
When couples are committed to acting out of mutual love and respect for each other in all things, it is hard for them to remain selfish. NFP is not an "enabler" of selfishness any more than fasting is an "enabler" of picky eating; the things we do which are sacrificial by their very nature will lead us closer to God, if we are properly disposed to let them do so.