I am Torn About NFP

Our new pope, Pope Francis, has said that we need to step out of our comfort zones when it comes to our faith, that we need to challenge what we have been doing all of our lives and look at what the Catholic Church really teaches.

I have been trying to do that, but I admit it is not an easy task. He (the Pope) has been taking us to task on the poor and the oppressed, As well as challanging a lot of people’s conception on what it means to lead a Christian life.

For me this means looking at what I am doing. Looking at what I have been doing and trying, the best way that I can, to understand why it is that I am doing it. That means understanding the churches teachings behind it.

As I have shared before, my wife and I are NFP Teachers. In the last couple of years something about doing this has been niggling at the back of my mind. I do feel called to help people understand NFP. But It was not until I had a conversation with my wife that I think understood some of what has been eating at me.

The conversation was about a question that came up. What do you do / how do you approach a family who is totally open to life. This came from a teaching couple who live in a diocese where the NFP class is part of the marriage preparation. The answer my wife gave, which at first startled me but the more I thought about it the more it made sense was, “You don’t need to do anything with them.”

I understand that using NFP is a choice. Heck if you read my other post, you know that we call ourselves the NFP dropouts, because while we know it, and we teach it, we don’t usually feel called to use it.

That has kind of set me on a path of trying to figure out what it is, exactly, that the Church teaches about NFP. This morning, at my wife’s suggestion I read the following article. (Yes, my wife is very smart) Heroic Parenthood and The Sorrow of Natural Family Planning

NOTE: Below I have stolen (borrowed / Made Reference to) several parts from the article. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing, but here are some of the things that I found important and relevant to my topic today.

One of the things that I was, well surprised is not the right word maybe interested to find out, was that NFP is a dispensation.

the Venerable Pius XII in his Allocution to Midwives:

The individual and society, the people and the State, the Church itself, depend for their existence, in the order established by God, on fruitful marriages. Therefore, to embrace the matrimonial state, to use continually the faculty proper to such a state and lawful only therein, and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason, would be a sin against the very nature of married life. Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned.

(I used wikipedia but this appears to be pulled from canon law)
A Dispensation is defined as In the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, a dispensation is the exemption from the immediate obligation of law in certain cases.[1] Its object is to modify the hardship often arising from the rigorous application of general laws to particular cases, and its essence is to preserve the law by suspending its operation in such cases.

And this is also backed up again by Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II in Humanae Vitae

What does all this mean? In plain simple language that someone like I can understand, Pope Pius XII said that sex, (the marital embrace) has a procreative aspect that cannot be divorced from the rest of it. Despite that, the church recognizes that there are times when a married couple may have serious reasons such as medical or economical to avoid a pregnancy. It is in those cases that the dispensation of NFP is permitted.

That in short means that unless you have a serious reason, you should not be using NFP. (a little side note here, and this is going to be me talking. Keeping up with the “Joneses” economically, is not a serious reason. But tif you can’t put food on the table, cloth your kids and for goodness sakes a roof over your families head that is a serious reason. You might find you are are happier if you are not keeping up with the Joneses, maybe even move out of their neighborhood and find a community of people who, like you believe that the Joneses have it all wrong in the first place.)

Alright so where to I stand:

Up until recently I would have said that I thing all married couples should learn NFP. I still don’t think that is a bad idea. I am a big believer in knowledge is power. I also believe that you can’t make informed decisions without all the information. I believe that having the information about knowing how to read a woman’s body is not a bad thing. But as my wife points out, once you know NFP and know how to read the signs, it is not like you can ignore them. (See I told you she was smart.) So the temptation would be to use them. Even if you are not actually charting or any of that, if you have really learned NFP, then you know what you are looking for and you know when you are fertile or not.

So the argument might come up that NFP can be used to achieve pregnancy as much as it can be for avoiding it. To that I say, “Yes! of corse it can.” But if you are open to life, and you trust that God take care of this, then shouldn’t it be more like, you will get pregnant when the time is right? Again there is the dispensation for couples who are having trouble conceiving.

So how do I plan to approach this in the future? I’m not sure yet. I still thing teaching NFP is very valuable. If nothing else it keeps women from being put at risk by using the really dangerous hormones in artificial birth control. But I really believe that we need to approach it differently, and to do that we need to approach family differently, and to do that we need to approach marriage differently.

One of my favorite parts about the article I read this morning was the suggested way that we approach the subject in marriage preparation. I am guilty of having approached it like this:

Catholicism does not require that you become parents of a large family — rather it wants you to be responsible parents. NFP offers you a reasonable alternative to artificial contraception: a way for you young couples to be responsible while not availing yourselves to drugs or devices that degrade your humanity. You should use these NFP techniques to grow closer, to communicate better, and prayerfully consider whether and when you should bring children into the world in a responsible manner. If that means that you need to delay — even permanently — having children, that is acceptable today with the use of NFP. And what’s more, NFP is proven to be 99% effective for avoiding pregnancy — just as effective as the pill.

I would love to think that I have the strength of faith to approach it more like this:

For you young Catholic people who are marrying in your twenties, you can expect, God willing and absent a physical impairment or grave reason, to have a home filled with many children. You should mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for seven, eight, nine or more children given your ages. You should be prepared to accept the hardships that come with having a large family for two important reasons: children please our Lord and your cooperation with the Lord in bringing forth new souls will in turn please our God, which will bring you many graces. Second, having a large family will help you be saved, it will re-focus your attention from the material attachments that are both rampant today and hazardous to your eternal destination. Your many children will help you to become better and holier people and will stand as a contradiction to a world that has forgot how live the abundant life. You, and your large faithful families, will turn the tide against the scoffers and misanthropes who would revile God’s creation and man’s place in it. We cannot promise you it will be easy because it won’t, but if you persevere in prayer and virtue, you will overcome with God’s grace. And should you live to see your children’s children, you will praise God all the more that he saw fit to give you the gift of faith.

This will not be popular. This will not be easy. But, this, I think, is where we are falling down and where we need to start, with God’s Grace, to pick ourselves back up.

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I am a Writer, I am Catholic, But I am Not A Catholic Writer

Picture 34st_joseph_the_carpente-242x300Are you confused yet? I think a lot of people might be. Maybe not, maybe I am just projecting my own confusion on everyone else. What am I confused about? That list is often pretty darn long so let’s start by looking at what I am not confused about.

  1. My faith.
  2. As The title and my warning over here on the side say, I am Catholic. I have not always been as sure of my faith as I am today but I am sure of it now, and that is what really matters.

    It guides my life and everything around it. That means that my faith shows up in everything I do, sometime is ways that you can’t even see, and some time in ways that make it obvious. (think praying before meals even when I am out and about.)

  3. I am a writer.
  4. I have been writing fiction since I was about 13 years old. Before I wrote stories I told them. Sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud to my friends. I remember once (we had a very long bus ride to and from school) a friend and I invented a universe on the way home from school, that started out as Star wars Fan/Fic but then went completely off the rails into this fantasy world, I think we were 11 or so at the time. This I eventually turned into one of my very first written stories. The point is that I have been a story teller for most of my life. Certainly as far back as I can remember.

Those things I am sure about. Where it becomes less clear is when I start looking at them together and the way that other people put them together. I have read some “Catholic Fiction” and frankly I usually wish I hadn’t. It tends to be preachy to the point of killing what otherwise might have been a good story. It tends to use what my friends and I have coined as, “the sledgehammer of morality.” It will beat the idea into you no matter what.

First, as you might have guessed these don’t tend to be enjoyable stories and not ones that I would want to write. Remember that I said that my faith tends to influence every part of my life. When I am telling a story, this is also true. I can still write about people who do awful things. I can still write about people who are not Catholic. I can even write about people who don’t understand and misquote or misunderstand the faith. All of those things show up in my stories. People of different faiths or no faith at all. People who believe in ghosts, those that cast spells, creatures that live for tens of thousands of years. They all make appearances in my stories.

Does this make me a bad Catholic? I don’t think so. Because while do write these things I still let my faith inform the things that I write. I am not going to be overly gruesome. I am not going to show gratuitous sex. I will tend to have the heroes and heroines portray values that tend to mesh with those of the Catholic faith. If they are not Catholic, I obviously I won’t put the entire weight of the faith on their shoulders but, they will tend to cling to at least some of the most important tenants of the the faith.

Does this mean that I think that books and stories that don’t follow my rules are bad? The shortest and most concise answer is, “No.” I believe that there are stories that I will like and stories that I won’t like. A lot of that had to do with how they are written. If there is a good story there, chances are that I will like it. But a good story is more than just words strung together, it includes all of its elements. So while someone might have a really good outline or story concept, I still might find the story itself morally objectionable, and so would not want to read it. These, by the way, are the kind of things that I try to leave out of my own writing. Because while I want to write an interesting story, and I believe that as a story teller you should not limit your options, I do think some things are better left out of a story. And that goes the other way as well. (See my thoughts above about the “Catholic Fiction.”)

I guess it comes down to this. I know there are fiction authors who write with a specific audience in mind. A very limited specific audience, and they write to those audience at the price of excluding of everyone else. I think that these folks are limiting themselves. Even if what they are doing it trying to write for a specific age group, they are limiting themselves if they don’t make the story good enough, or interesting enough or not so sledge-hammer-y so that other people don’t want to read it.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Harry Potter was written for a middle grade audience. Those stories were written so that people of that reading level and maturity level would enjoy them. They were also written with enough depth and good story telling that a lot of other people, outside of the target audience liked them. I didn’t happen to be one of those people, but I a lot of people did. Another good example is the Narania books (not the recent movies, because those tend to have a sledge hammer attached, but the books.) There is an undertone of Christianity there, but if you didn’t know better you might not realize that this was the same author who wrote The Screwtape Letters. He kept it within the realm of his faith while still inventing magic using, non Christian characters. And he did it all without offending Non-Christians so that they could enjoy his books as well.

I don’t believe that I will ever be as good a writer as C.S. Lewis, or as famous and rich as J.K. Rowling but I do hope to tell a good story, that is informed by my faith, without alienating those who do not believe as I do.

So yes, I am Catholic, and yes I am a writer, and hope I can be faithful to both without compromising either.