Welcome back! It’s Day 4 in our weeklong series on natural family planning (NFP). This post is linked up with NFP Link Week hosted at the blog NFP and Me.
DISCLAIMER: This series is meant to inform and spark conversation about the Church’s teaching on respect for human life. While these answers are in-line with Catholic Tradition, they are by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. We are not bioethicists nor moral theologians and do not claim to speak on behalf of the Church in answering them. For more information, dive into resources provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. **Special thanks to Fr. Albert Bruecken, Conception Seminary College, and Adam Storey, Director of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Des Moines, for sharing inspiration, ideas, and words for this series.
Today’s Mass readings are excellent reflection material for contemplating how much we really trust God rather than ourselves. Do we grumble about our circumstances, like the Israelites in the First Reading, or are we the “rich soil” of Jesus’s parable in the Gospel Reading? With these texts as a backdrop, we take up a couple of scenarios which challenge us to trust in God’s will for us and not in our ability to control our circumstances.
Question: I had three difficult, life-threatening pregnancies and after my last pregnancy, my doctor ordered that under no circumstance should I ever become pregnant again. Getting my tubes tied or having my husband undergo a vasectomy goes against Church teaching. Now what?
Such complex, difficult circumstances indeed require a supreme level of trust in God’s providence. This is certainly a situation in which it would be permissible to use natural family planning to minimize the possibility of achieving pregnancy while still maintaining a sexual relationship. It should be noted that no method of avoiding pregnancy is 100% effective, including surgical intervention such as tubal ligation or vasectomy. The effectiveness of natural family planning methods at avoiding pregnancy, when practiced knowledgeably, is between 95 – 99%, depending upon how it is measured.
Without minimizing real medical concerns, it is advisable to get multiple qualified medical opinions. Not all doctors will necessarily agree on any given diagnosis. Also, while it is fair to assume that most doctors have your best medical interests in mind, not all doctors share the same moral code. Some are Christian; some aren’t. Among Christians, not all denominations have the same views on the sacredness of human life. Even all Catholic doctors aren’t created equal. Some are devout; others are not. Your best bet is to find a doctor whose religious convictions most closely mirror yours.
If you are absolutely not comfortable with any chance of pregnancy, the only perfectly safe approach is abstinence during the remainder of your fertile years. This may sound radical, especially if you are not used to the brief periods of abstinence NFP requires. However, NFP couples often report that during times of abstinence, their relationship grows as husband and wife find other avenues for intimacy. Also, you might draw inspiration from some of the celibates in your life: priests, monks, nuns, religious sisters, etc. Most of them are probably among the most joyful people you know. They sacrifice sexual relations for the sake of the Kingdom. While we often see sex as a fundamental requirement of life, like food, that’s simply not the case.
Finally, all of these considerations should be weighed in consultation with a priest or other qualified spiritual counselor.
Question: We have four children; we’ve been open to life. My husband and I want me to be at-home full-time, and we can’t afford another child to keep that value a reality.
This is not the kind of thing one would typically hear from a couple who practices natural family planning. Openness to life simply becomes a way of life. Because of the communication, coordination, and sacrifice faithful practice of NFP requires, the couple is by default continuously discerning God’s will for their family. This is what it means to be the “fertile soil” to which Jesus refers in today’s Gospel reading, pun intended. Keep your heart open to God’s will.
This doesn’t mean that a couple must have as many children as biologically possible. As noted previously, NFP can be used to delay/avoid pregnancy for serious reasons, which must be carefully discerned. However, without minimizing genuine psychological, financial, and logistical concerns, culturally we tend to exaggerate those associated with having another child. Consider the following:
- I have the number of children I have always wanted.
- I want to pay off the car first.
- I don’t want to be pregnant in my sister’s wedding pictures.
- I want a bigger house because we don’t have another bedroom.
- I want to save for a family vacation.
What do you think of these so-called reasons? Do any of them sound familiar? Note that they all have some element of “I want” in them. In today’s First Reading, the Israelites didn’t want to be in the desert; they wanted a more comfortable situation and a greater degree of control. They couldn’t envision how the circumstances Moses led them into could actually be good for them. Short on trust in God providence and long on fear, they let their anxieties get the best of them. Are we like that when contemplating having another child?
See you tomorrow, the 45th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, when we’ll discuss over-population concerns in relation to natural family planning.
Links to other posts in this NFP series: