Jun. 7, 2009, at 12:51pm
Speaking of Newman:
Last week the Personalist Project sponsored its first Directors and Advisers retreat in beautiful Spring Lake, NJ. Eleven of us gathered for three days of leisurely philosophical communion on the theme of forgiveness. To get us in the right frame of mind for approaching such a mysterious and fearful reality, Michael Healy read us Newman’s sermon, “Secret Faults” on Sunday evening.
I yield to no one in devotion to Newman. To me he is the great thinker of the whole modern period, as well as an unsurpassed personal influence. But I have doubts about this sermon. I remember John Crosby once saying that the more he reads Newman’s Anglican sermons, the more he feels in them “a certain limit.” Specifically, John thought, they seem to lack a certain “Catholic fulness” in the sense of God’s mercy. I felt that limit Sunday.
While I agree line by line with what Newman says in this sermon, I wonder whether in its general drift it doesn’t incline toward a kind of moral heaviness, even skepticism—as if I must at all times cultivate such a lively awareness of my own sinfulness that I must constantly doubt my moral condition and shrink from objecting to wrongs.
This is an unfinished thought, needing much more clarification, but I am wondering whether others on the retreat reacted similarly.
A verse from the second reading at today’s liturgy jumped out at me in this connection:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
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
By "reputable Catholics", I mean Catholics who have made known their commitment to orthodoxy and who have some public influence. In other words, Catholics who don't consider themselves bound by Church teaching don't count. Neither does a random person spouting off. I'm looking for you to offer a concrete example of a Catholic who publicly argues that NFP can be used for less than serious reasons. As I said, I don't know anyone who thinks this.
And of course it's not enough in a forum like this for you to just say you know of such; I'm challenging you to show it—to quote or link to a book or article arguing that Catholics don't need serious reasons to practice NFP.
(Please note that the Church nowhere says that NFP can't be used for any reason except to postpone childbirth. It can also be used as a spiritual discipline, like fasting, and it can be used in seeking childbirth.)
It seems to me, Patrick, that you don't like the teaching of the Church in this regard. It seems to me that you want it to be other than what it is. You seem to want the Church to say things she doesn't.
Dec. 19 at 8:41am | See in context
To me, the rationale for NFP has been subverted, and a subjectivist, somewhat modern tendency to ‘plan’ has crept in, when intrinsic to the very spirituality of the marriage vow and call from the Church to be open to life, to be “fruitful and multiply,” is a level of abandonment to God’s Providence—the assumption being that the ‘default’ stance of the married couple is such openness, though those with grave or serious or well-grounded reasons would be the exception, and then, for them, the question of the use of NFP is on the table. This differs from seeing NFP as itself a form of ongoing marrital spirituality.
I also think it’s ironic that some proponents of NFP who value it because of its recognition that we are fallen, concupiscent and yet called to the sacrifices that the practice demands, do not seem to guard against how our being fallen can even influence our ‘discernment’ of family size in the first place.
Dec. 18 at 12:52pm | See in context
Whether the Catholics are reputable or not is to beg the question I think, but they are somewhat well-known at least, and by virtue of their publishing and other communications on the matter, are at least potentially influential.
An example: a Catholic who considers NFP not primarily as a means of spacing children, but rather a broader spiritual exercise, one of the benefits of which is to help the couple prayerfully discern their family size.
That is to take the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator to another level, I think. It is to take the 'planning' into one's own hands, in a sense. The fact that it's done "prayerfully" is not necessarily of any consolation for there are many matters on which the Church is clear and that some Catholics have decided against the Church on, albeit, we're told, because of their prayer, their good faith, their conscience, etc.
To open up NFP wholesale as a matter always and everywhere of "prayer", without the more limiting context in the which the Church, in my understanding, spoke of it, is a fundamental difference.
Dec. 18 at 12:51pm | See in context
What has emerged, it seems, is a mindset among some Catholics that NFP can be used “indefinitely” without any further qualification, and so the initial context of grave or serious reasons (which would allow for that indefinite use) has been lost, which has led, in practice, to a distortion of that original teaching on the matter.
As I said above, I don't know anyone who thinks this. Can you support the claim with concrete examples? I mean with examples of reputable Catholics who think NFP can be used for less than serious reasons?
Dec. 18 at 11:08am | See in context
For, as I wrote earlier, at one time, the Church did speak in terms of “grave” or “serious” reasons. To be of such a mind, then, at least for at time, was not to be unlike the Church. Then, in HV, we see the use of “serious reasons” in one place and then, in another,
“If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances…”.
I think the context in which NFP is permitted is important, and I am wondering if that context has changed from the pre-HV era to the post-HV era. It seems to me that the reasons were more clearly spelled out pre-HV than they were in HV and since. What has emerged, it seems, is a mindset among some Catholics that NFP can be used “indefinitely” without any further qualification, and so the initial context of grave or serious reasons (which would allow for that indefinite use) has been lost, which has led, in practice, to a distortion of that original teaching on the matter.
Dec. 18 at 10:46am | See in context
When the Church used to teach, for instance, that there is "no salvation outside the Church" without any further qualifications, it was just as clear then as it is now what the Church meant by that. What the Church teaches now about the matter does not "interpret" what the Church taught then. It required no "interpretation". The fact is that the teaching has developed. It has, in a significant way, changed, with far-reaching implications. It is more nuanced.
There is a difference between saying NFP, as such, is a great good for marriage, and saying that "true and authentic love" is a great good for marriage. NFP can be misused. It seems to me that Holy Father in HV is assuming the best, the virtuous, of the practicioners of NFP. But to understand in a more objective way the right application of NFP, it seems to me that some explanation of the context in which it ought to be used is necessary.
Dec. 18 at 10:45am | See in context
So, in practicing NFP couples "give proof of a true and authentic love."
I call that "a good" for marriage, don't you?
But wait, there's more!
The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character.
To treat NFP as morally dubious except in very grave circumstance is to be very unlike the Church.
Dec. 18 at 3:22am | See in context
There is a perfect coherence between HV, the theological and philosophical reflections of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II, and the experience of lay faithful who practice NFP.
The resistance to it among traditionalists seems to me strange.
Here's a passage from HV. [my bold]
With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (9)
This is among the goods of NFP. It increases responsible awareness of and respect for the functions of a woman's body.
The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator.
The Church praises and commends NFP. (Would she praise and condemn something dangerous and risky and morally suspect?)
And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.
Dec. 18 at 3:18am | See in context
It works both ways. Present teachings have to be justified on the ground of past teachings. Developments have to be shown to be organic.
But new teachings influence our understanding of what has come before. They provide the true interpretation of what has gone before. We understand Vatican I's teaching on conscience better and more fully in light of Vatican II's teaching on conscience.
So, for example, when a mustard bush breaks out in leaves, we understand a potency of the seed in a new way. We don't cut off the leaves, because the seed didn't have any.
The Church doesn't just sit on her patrimony, protecting it from corruption. She offers it to the world; she watches it unfold in the world; she interprets it constantly in light of human experience and Christian reflection.
John Paul II is the same man as Karol Wojtyla. And Wojtyal was a major influence on Humanae Vitae. He then, as Pope, composed the highly important Theology of the Body.
Hence, if we want to understand the mind of the Church on the issue of NFP, it makes sense to study Wojtyla's thought.
Dec. 18 at 3:02am | See in context
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