In all the debates that flare up now and again on the Catholic Internet about serious reasons for using NFP, and what those reasons might be, I always feel like something is missing from the discussions. I’ll pose it as a question: Is love not a serious reason?
I mean, isn’t love really the only good reason?
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul gave a commandment to husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. “He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church”. It is significant that this love of a husband for his wife is a bodily love that shows itself in care for the most basic needs of the body.
This concern for bodies is also demonstrated in the parable of the good Samaritan, where Jesus answers the Pharisee’s question: “who is my neighbor?”
In that parable as well, the Samaratan feeds and cares for the body of the man beaten by robbers and left for dead. He treats the man’s wounds, puts him up at an inn at his own expense, and makes sure he is given food and drink to bring his health back.
In doing so, he fulfills the great commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself”.
Likewise, when Jesus defines how he will divide the just from the damned, it is also in terms of bodies, in those that cared or did not care for the physical needs of others. Those who Jesus does not recognize, who will depart into everlasting fire, are those that did not feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or give drink to those who thirst.
The point seems clear in the Gospels that love is first of all a concern for the physical well being of others and assisting them in their bodily needs.
This has an immediate bearing on the life of married couples. In an ideal world, such as Eden before the Fall of Adam and Eve, childbearing would not have been a problem. Having babies would not have conflicted with the duty of Adam to love Eve “as his own body”.
But in the fallen world that we actually live in, duties conflict sometimes. Having chilren, unfortunately can be very rough on the physical and mental well being of mothers. Procreation is a good of marriage, so is love. So naturally that leads to the question: who would win in a fight, procreation or love?
“There is no question of opposing love to procreation nor yet of suggesting that procreation takes precedence over love, ” Pope John Paul II wrote in his Love & Responsibility.
Indeed, it would be obscence if the good of procreation were to take precedence over love. This woud subordinate persons to a good of nature and in the hierarchy of creation, persons should not be subject to sub-personal goods. Christian marriage is a sacrament of love. A procreative love to be sure, but still love. And the subordination of persons to a purely natural good would not be love at all.
Thankfully, these goods need not fight at all. Thanks to the discovery that a woman’s cycle is a predictible and intelligible universe in its own right, these two goods can usually be reconciled.
NFP allows couples to do their duty to become parents, while still staying within the parameters of love. It is not either they have a family or the husband loves his wife as himself, it’s both and.
When Jesus asked the Pharisee who was the neighbor in the parable, the Pharisee knew it was the Samaritan that showed mercy. Because NFP gives couples flexibility in how they go about growing their family, the husband can have mercy on his wife and care for her physical and mental needs “as his own body” without ever having to turn his back on their overall purpose of serving life.
Is that a serious enough reason? Well, to paraphrase St. Paul,
“If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. And if have the gravest, rarest, most life threatening reason in the whole universe for practicing NFP, but am without love, than I am nothing at all.”
Paul seems to think that love is the most important thing. If you’re motivated by that love that Paul commands spouses to have for each other, that love which is merciful, that love which cares for the other as oneself, how could that not be a serious reason? And if not motivated by that love, how could any reason be just?
Sometimes you encounter the attitude that “well God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”. Well, the Church obviously thinks spouses can have more than they can handle, otherwise NFP would not be possible in those physical, psychological, economic, and social conditions that Pope Pius XII said arise “not rarely”.
This attitude that “God never gives us more than we can handle” when applied to someone who is in difficulties, can become the opposite of love. And God forbid it ever becomes, “suck it up baby, suffering is good for you, and if you die in childbirth, hey at least you got to Heaven right? I mean, think of all the SOULS that you brought to God!”
That’s an excuse to cross the street to avoid your neighbor lying in the gutter.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
“God never gives us more than we can handle” was the philosophy of the rich man that walked by the beggar Lazurus ever day. That the rich man helped Lazurus to suffer and so helped him indirectly into Heaven was not accounted as virtue for the rich man. On the contrary, the rich man ended up in Hell.
In the end, God is not going to count the number of babies you procreated for him, as if that was the only way He keeps score. He will recognize you in the person of your spouse when you showed him mercy. Or not.