Feb. 27, 2010, at 1:15pm
NRO’s Corner today marks the second anniversary of the death of William F. Buckley, Jr. by posting a remarkable note of his to a friend, written about something he had published in 1962.
In the passage you quote from Up From Liberalism I intended, indeed, to refer to the religious truth that is our central heritage and to the moral philosophy and human insight that derive from it. Sometimes this position is referred to (in a phrase going back, I believe, to the days of the Roman Empire) as “the morality of the last days”—by which is meant the world-view of men who know that death is close. But, in the long view, we all stand sentenced to death, and whether it comes in 1995 or tomorrow makes no difference. That is why the morality of the last days always applies to what is “finally important in human experience.” All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations—all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go. At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light. That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is “reactionary” to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.
As Simca points out, that the Church doesn't list serious reasons for us is "a feature not a bug" of her teaching. She leave it to to the discernment of each couple, under the grace of their sacrament. Each couple is to judge for themselves, and to refrain from judging others.
HV does mention several categories of potentially valid reasons, lest anyone claim "serious reasons" only refers to health issues or some such. She names physical, financial and psychological reasons, and even concerns about population growth. (!)
The Bible clearly endorses perodic continence as a spiritual discipline. It's a long standing tradition in Cathoic culture and I have never heard of the Church frowning upon it. She only cautions that it should be temporary.
Many couples use NFP to achieve pregnancy. This, too, is well within the broad boundaries of Catholic teaching. It's another way of applying our intelligence to the procreative power of our union.
I can't shake the feeling that you want to restrict the freedom Catholic couples have in marriage. You want the limits to be spelled out and stricter than they are.
But, remember, "It's for freedom that Christ has set us free."
Dec. 20 at 12:10pm | See in context
If NFP is okay to use only for serious reasons, then the natural question to ask is: what are the serious reasons? And, apart from defining those reasons, the underlying and logically prior question is: reasons for what?
And the answer is: to practice periodic continence so as to space births. The entire discussion of “reasons” is in reference to spacing births. HV does not discuss recourse to periodic continence in the context of an isolated spiritual discipline, which is what I understand Popcak's point to be.
There is no dispute that the proper practice of NFP is spiritually demanding and likely spiritually fruitful.
Dec. 20 at 11:40am | See in context
I don't find anything in HV against Greg's interpretation.
On the contrary. He seems to me to interpret it faithfully.
He certainly doesn't suggest that it's okay for less than serious reasons. He is clearly advising that it NFP be approached with deep moral and religious seriousness.
The Church puts two limits on the use of NFP:
1) It has to be practiced in the context of marriage's essential ordination toward children. (So, it would be wrong to use it to make the marriage infertile.)
2) It should be practiced with prayer and due seriousness.
That's it. The rest is left up to the discernment, in love and freedom, of each individual couple. (This is the part that the providentialist seem especially to resent.)
Dec. 20 at 10:54am | See in context
"As I am fond of reminding people, NFP is not, in my view, primarily a means of spacing children. It is, in my view, primarily a spiritual exercise that allows couples to accomplish three ends: (1) to facilitate the communication and prayer life of the couple (2) to help the couple prayerfully discern their family size and, on an ongoing basis, continue to both balance and expand all the virtues associated with the unity and procreativity of marriage, and (3) help the couple achieve holiness, freedom, and true love through self-mastery and self-control."
In my reading, HV endorses and praises periodic continence as a spiritual discipline in the context of spacing births, not as a discipline unto itself apart from that primary purpose. The discussion, say, of self-discipline and chastity are subordinated to the right and lawful ordering of births. And that matter itself is set in the larger context of the fact that successive births are already spaced through the inherent operation of these laws - a statement which I could use more clarification on.
Perhaps Popcak is speaking in a different sense, not on the primary reason for NFP but as a summation of its benefits.
Dec. 20 at 10:24am | See in context
I've read both Greg Popcak's article and Mark Shea's article. I find no indication whatsoever in either that they hold that NFP can be used for less than serious reasons.
The teaching of the Church is clear and easily summarized:
1) All married couples must be open to life; children are to be received as a gift.
2) Couples may not practice artificial birth control or sterilize themselves;
3) Couples may use NFP to space children and/or limit their family size, for a host of reasons, including health, financial, and psychological reasons, provided they do so prayerfully, with due moral seriousness, and with a sense of what they owe to God, to each other, and to society.
Further, as I quoted above, HV explicitly endorses and praises NFP as a spiritual discipline. Faithful Catholic couples who practice NFP testify to its benefits as a spiritual discipline.
Even more, the consistent "voice" of the Church on this question has been one of encouragement, sympathy, kindness and generosity toward married couples.
The "voice" of providentialists is harsh, cold, condemnatory, resentful.
It's as if they resent the freedom we have been given in Christ.
Dec. 20 at 7:18am | See in context
After denouncing contraception, HV gives the conditions for spacing births as “well-grounded reasons…arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstance.”
Holding it all together, I see every reason to conclude that NFP is a conditional practice and not an ongoing spiritual exercise unto itself for married couples.
Finally, the objection you raise with the questions about why the Church has not said more is a fallacy for a number of reasons, one of which is that there are many occurrences in the concrete life of Catholics which are not in keeping with what the Church has formally taught. That the Church has not especially spoken out against such an occurrence does not mean it does not exist and is not problematic. The many liturgical abuses and innovations in the liturgy after VII come to mind, as they were never intended by the reforms of the Council.
I think, in fact, that the Church has already said as much regarding child-bearing in her teachings thus far, as I have tried to show.
Dec. 19 at 1:11pm | See in context
That stands in contrast, I believe, to the approach of discerning family size beyond those “well-grounded” or “serious” reasons. The alternative is the decision to “prudently and generously…have more children”. It’s also a further definition of that abandonment to God that I see as intrinsic to the marital vow. HV goes on to say something that I think could well conflict with the NFP as a lifestyle approach: “They are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.”
Furthemore, HV says that “some people today raise the objection against this particular doctrine of the Church concerning the laws governing marriage, that human intelligence has both the right and responsibility to control those forces of irrational nature which come within its ambit and to direct them to aims beneficial to man.” It is significant that contraception is not the point of reference here. That comes separately in the lines that follow.
Dec. 19 at 1:11pm | See in context
Actually, what is most pressing in HV is the re-affirmation of the immorality and dangers of artificial birth control; a number of arguments for holding this position; and a call to obedience to this authoritative teaching. Along with this, there is the discussion of responsible parenthood with the consistent reference to the context of spacing births, especially in the section on pastoral directives. One can find expressions such as “the honest regulation of birth,” “the proper regulation of birth” and “the right and lawful ordering of birth.”
Having recourse to infertile periods is linked to there being “serious” or “well-grounded” reasons for “spacing births” or “controlling birth”. I see no evidence that recourse to infertile periods is a spiritual discipline unto itself, that is, apart from this purpose of spacing births, though the good fruits which can come from the practice are extolled.
Instead, what is apparent in HV is that the natural law itself provides its own answer to the spacing of births: “God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already spaced through the inherent operation of these laws.”
Dec. 19 at 1:10pm | See in context
For a concrete example, you can search for “When NFP is ‘Too Hard’” by Gregory Popcak. I’m unable to link directly to the article as the version I found online is in Word format. The topic also came up recently on another well-known blog by a Catholic.
In fact, what I’ve been seeking throughout is to know what the Church actually does say about NFP, specifically in what context it is permissible.
The whole of HV is a response, most prominently, to modern man’s attempt to exert “control” in unprecedented ways. The document seeks to address this development, both doctrinally and pastorally, as it pertains to marriage and especially the transmission of human life. To listen to or to read some Catholics, it’s as if the Church has offered an unqualified endorsement of NFP, or proposed it as a pillar of marital spirituality. It is as if the document itself is centered on the merits of having recourse to infertile periods.
Dec. 19 at 1:10pm | See in context
If NFP were morally hazardous, wouldn't the Church say so? HV was promulgated more than 40 years ago. The Church has focused a lot of theological and pastoral attention on marriage, sexuality, and family life during those decades. If NFP were being as widely misused as traditionalists seem to think is, why wouldn't the Church have clarified? Why not say things like,
"Child-bearing is the default mode for Catholic marriages during the fertile years." Or, "Unless couples have a very serious reason for avoiding pregnancy, they have a duty not to avoid it." Or, "NFP is being used too frequently."
But she says nothing like this, does she?
Dec. 19 at 8:46am | See in context
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