March 2016 Print


How can we explain the loss of a family spirit today?

All modern society is experiencing a loss of family spirit. The first reason we have to bring up is the growing invasion of sentiment over nature or duty. One’s personal feelings are more important than the Ten Commandments, one’s urges and passion more important than reason. There is also the new priority of personal freedom which allows everything and anything to be done simply because it is the expression of the person. Modern man is defined by freedom, and he follows what conscience he wants to, whether his conscience has been duly formed or deformed. So, this recipe, applied to human generation, identifies sexual activity with self-gratification and animal functions and not at all with otherness and genuine love for the spouse and children.

This is directly opposed to the Church’s teaching on the ends of marriage. If we set aside the incidental ends sought in a marriage, such as honor, wealth, and beauty, the proper ends of marriage are procreation and mutual help. Of these two, procreation is essential and primary, whereas the mutual help, along with the relief of concupiscence, is second and always subservient to it. Said otherwise, you cannot marry someone without being willing to open this marriage to human life. It is because the couple is open to having children that they seek the common life of roof and bed.

Does the order in the ends of marriage come from busy brains of obscure theologians?

Some may well say that when we are speaking of an order in the ends of marriage that this is the result for a abstract obscure reasoning of theologians out of touch with real marital issues, but this not at all true. God instituted marriage at the beginning of the creation of man: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). And this is a biological fact, manifested by the distinction of the sexes and the purpose of the sexual organs, called “genital,” precisely because this is what they are used for—to “engender”!

What are we to think of Natural Family Planning (NFP) as a method?

The term NFP is a rather unsuitable expression. It signifies that the couple plans in order to avoid having children and uses this method to enjoy their organic activity without the risk of pregnancy. The name appears purely contraceptive. The Church prefers the term “Periodic Continence,” which stresses the partial abstention from conjugal relations, and thus, the virtue of temperance.

This might seem to be a mere battle of words, but this dual signification does not amount to the same thing. Periodic continence indicates clearly that the method is kept within boundaries. It should be periodic, within the fertile periods but also within the limits of the grave reasons urging its use. It speaks of continence which is ruled by temperance and prudence. Much prudent deliberation is needed before the spouses may be allowed to use it. Conditions must be weighed and met before going ahead (see Pius XII’s discourse to Midwives, October 29, 1951; November 26, 1951). This is not promoted but tolerated: the good is openly and absolutely promoted, something less good and tainted with evil, on the other hand, is tolerated. Hence, there is a certain reluctance which always accompanies the Church’s teachings on such matters, and this is to be explained with discretion on a one-to-one basis, and not trumpeted from the house-tops.

Is this a critique of the way the Church today promotes NFP?

Indeed. Today, no one gets married unless he has been bombarded with family planning and all its minute details. The final text of the Family Synod, published in October 2015, speaks of this, the fruit of a consensual dialogue between the spouses, in respect of the times and the dignity of the partner. It encourages the recourse to the methods founded on the “Natural rhythms of fecundity” (Humanae Vitae 11). Given as it is in the context of the modern selfish and childless society, this is not bad. Yet, it tends to give it a public promotion which is out of place. Such matters are more suited to private conjugal conversations and to discussions in which advice is sought from the local pastor.

What reasons are given by Pius XII to allow periodic continence?

A. Such method can only be used when there is some grave reason because, as a rule, choosing the fertility periods as a matter of fact is the mark of selfishness and concupiscence. Hence, the Pope mentions that to counter the natural order of things and allow for this method, one must have very grave reasons (medical, or things affecting the health of the mother; eugenic, or things affecting the health of the progeny; economic, such as living already at the poverty level; or social, such as the inability for parents to cope with education). Moreover, Pius XII explains clearly that periodic continence can last only so long as the reasons exist. And it must meet with the approval of both partners for, indeed, such a method demands no little self-control and could occasion serious temptations of faults against the marriage vows.