Natural Family Planning: Collaborating with Our Lord’s plan for the family

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BY DR. BRIAN AND JOHANNA BURKE
FOR THE UMATUNA SI YU’OS

The diocesan marriage preparation program has recently added a new resource. As a way of introducing to the faithful, Catholic teachings on Natural Family Planning, the Umatuna Si Yu’os will present a series of articles in a question-and answer format.

Has God provided any morally acceptable methods of spacing births between children besides total abstinence?

Yes. In His providence, God has provided natural means of spacing between babies sufficient for our sociological needs. From the creation of the first family, breast-feeding has provided a certain amount of spacing between babies. During the period after a baby is born, couples may practice conjugal chastity for a time, to ensure the proper healing of the mother’s body and to welcome a new life to the family adjusting to the specific needs a new baby may require.

Is it morally acceptable to postpone a pregnancy?

“If there are serious reasons to space out births, reasons which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is morally permissible to take into account the natural rhythms of human fertility and to have coitus (sexual intimacy) only during the infertile times in order to regulate conception without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier” (Humanae Vitae, 16).

Thus, the same teaching of the Church which condemns the use of the unnatural methods of birth control explicitly approves of the
use of Natural Family Planning when there is a sufficient reason
to avoid or postpone pregnancy. With its emphasis on the necessity of a serious reason to use even the natural methods, the Church is warning against selfishness in family planning.

Isn’t any practice with the purpose of limiting family size, morally the same?

Not at all. The end does not justify the means; a common purpose does not make morally equal all the possible means of achieving that purpose. “It is not licit, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil so that good may follow therefrom” (Humanae Vitae, 14).

St. John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life,
1995) states that: “for just reasons, spouses may wish to space the
births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness, but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. The work of educating in the service of life involves training married couples in responsible procreation. In its true meaning, responsible procreation requires couples to be obedient to the Lord’s call and to act as faithful interpreters of his plan. This happens when the family is generously open to new lives, and when couples maintain
an attitude of openness and service to life, even if, for serious
reasons and in respect for the moral law, they choose to avoid a new birth for the time being or indefinitely. The moral law obliges them in every case to control the impulse of instinct and passion, and to respect the biological laws inscribed in their person. It is precisely this respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsible procreation, the use of natural methods of regulating fertility. (EV, #97)

What does the Church teach about an ideal family size?

The Church has no specific teaching about an ideal family size.
As indicated previously, couples may take many factors into consideration. On the other hand, there is a general Christian warning against decision-making based solely on materialistic factors. Life is a gift to be shared, and the Christian couple are called to be generous in the service of life according to their circumstances.

Dr. Brian and Johanna Burke are certified NFP instructors with the Couple\ to Couple League. They volunteer for the diocese by offering training in NFP and present monthly for the marriage preparation class. To learn more about NFP, visit www.ccli.org or contact the Office of Family Ministry & Pastoral Planning at 562-0023.

These questions and answers have been adapted from the Couple to Couple League’s brochure ‘What Does the Catholic Church REALLY Teach about Birth Control?’ and from various documents of the Church highlighting the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood. For more information and to view a whole list of documents on Marriage & Family please visit http://www.usccb.
org/issues-and-action/marriage-andfamily/ natural-family-planning/catholicteaching/.