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Disinviting God Print E-mail
By Donald DeMarco   
Sunday, 22 July 2012

Today inaugurates National NFP Awareness Week (Jul 22-28), during which the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking American Catholics to “celebrate God’s design for married love and the gift of life” by learning more about natural family planning (NFP).

Catholic teaching on contraception has roots in the natural law, and the Church has no objection to anything that is natural, not least that form of child-spacing or fertility regulation in marriage called NFP. Some have objected that NFP is “unnatural” because it requires periodic abstinence, taking the wife’s body temperature, reading charts, checking mucus, and so on.

But the critics are using the word “natural” here primarily to mean “spontaneous,” a meaning that does not reflect what the Church is getting at. What the Church means by “natural” in this context refers to the normal functioning or proper order of things.

Setting a broken humerus or using corrective lenses restores the normal functioning of the arm or the eyes. NFP is natural, not because it has any claims to spontaneity (though there is nothing wrong with spontaneity in itself), but because it respects the order of nature.

Artificial contraception, in sundering the natural relationship between intercourse and procreation, does violence to the natural law. As Pope John Paul II states in his Apostolic Letter Familiaris Consortio: 

When . . . by means of recourse to periods of infertility, the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as “ministers” of God’s plan and they “benefit from” their sexuality according to the original dynamism of “total self-giving,” without manipulation or alteration.

Indeed, NFP can be used to enhance a couple’s chances of achieving pregnancy. In a situation where the husband has a low sperm count, for example, by combining knowledge of the time of ovulation with a period of abstinence that allows the husband to build up his sperm count, the probability for conceiving is greatly increased.

On the other hand, NFP can be used in order to avoid conception, while remaining open to the creation of life. NFP in the truest sense is not a “contraceptive mentality,” which is inherently anti-life.

But the objection is raised: Is there any real difference between NFP and contraception if the desired end is the same, namely, to avoid conception? 

Apart from the side effects of artificial contraception, which should be decisive in themselves, it’s important to recognize the difference between an end and a means. The end, moral as it may be in itself, does not justify the employment of an immoral means.

Having a child is a good end, but surely achieving that end by means of kidnapping is morally distinguishable from becoming a parent by means of loving union with one’s spouse. Financial security may be a desirable end, but obtaining money through theft, blackmail, or extortion, as opposed to earning it justly, is the difference between immorality and morality.

Contraception violates the order established in nature by God between intercourse and procreation. It also violates the moral order, which involves the right end achieved through the right means.

Furthermore, there is a profound difference between an immoral act and no act at all. This difference is not only metaphysical (between being and nonbeing), but can be felt personally and intensely on a psychological level.

Suppose, for example, a young couple is preparing a list of wedding guests. Like other engaged couples, they want some people to come and others not to come; they invite those desired as guests, and do not invite those they dislike.

But imagine that this couple, instead of simply not inviting certain people, sends out disinvitations:  “Dear John and Mary: We are getting married on June 4, but we do not want you to come to the wedding. We hope you will understand. Our ushers have been instructed to escort you to the parking lot if you dare show up.”

It is not difficult to appreciate the different impact that receiving such a disinvitation would have on John’s and Mary’s feelings as compared with their not receiving an invitation. It is the difference between insult and etiquette, contempt and civility.

Using contraception is like sending a disinvitation to God. It is like telling God that He should not show up, that His creative act is not only unwanted, but disrespected. But abstaining from intercourse as part of NFP does not send any such message.

By refraining from intercourse at a time when a couple, for sufficiently serious reasons, does not want to conceive sends an altogether different and more tacit message:

We do not invite or invoke Your creative act at this time, but we will not insult You by profaning the means You have established to initiate new life by exploiting it for our own purposes while disinviting Your presence through contraception. We will abstain rather than profane.

When husband and wife properly employ NFP, they are respectful of each other, but more importantly, of God. In disinviting God from conjugal intimacy by means of contraception, a married couple is also disinviting God from their lives.

The natural cannot be sundered from the supernatural with impunity, for, as St. Thomas Aquinas stated, the natural law is an expression of the eternal law of God.

Donald DeMarco, PhD is a Senior Fellow of HLI America, an initiative of Human Life International. He is Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, CT. Some of his recent writings may be found at HLI America
s Truth and Charity Forum.

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Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Rip Van Winkle , July 22, 2012
I sat down to take a brief nap on July 24th 1968 and I just awoke so this seems quite strange to me. The last thing I remember was that the Church was going to change Its teaching on artificial contraception and in fact, many Catholic periodicals had supported this change. As a matter of fact, the current Pope, Paul VI, has convened a "birth control commission" and the Majority Report has come back endorsing the relaxation of the teaching against contraception. I found this rather odd because married couples have to confess the use of this practice as a MORTAL SIN. While Dr. DeMarco's article does follow the Church's teaching, I wonder why after forty-four years the Church has to have something called National NFP Awareness Week? Is it possible that the Church and I have actually been asleep for the last forty-four years? Is the reason for the Church's epiphany that the Government is threatening the Church because it no longer takes the Church seriously? What is Humanae Vitae and when was it first issued? Thank you in advance for your help.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Dave, July 22, 2012
Thanks for a tremendously helpful article. Grump, I don't think there's a basis for arguing that the Church is anti-scientific. The monks of the Middle Ages gave us many technological inventions and innovations based upon scientific observation of nature in order to improve agricultural output. The modern science of genetics was founded by the Austrian Benedictine Mendel. The hypothesis of a round earth had been around for centuries before Galileo; the Church's beef with him was that he was presenting as scientific fact something that could not be scientifically proved by the standards of the day -- and that this had consequences for faith. That is to say, as long as he stayed within the academic standards of the time, presenting his observation as forcefully as possible while still within then-regnant scientific boundaries, there was no problem. And finally, St. Thomas Aquinas' observations on the deep structure of reality has been borne out by modern physics, some of whose practitioners throw themselves into apoplexy at the prospect that science does after all point to the existence of God. A good book on scientific proof for the existence of God is found in Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God -- portions of which are beyond scientific laymen such as yours truly, I will be the first to admit.

Dr. DeMarco's comment, "on the other hand, NFP can be used in order to avoid conception, while remaining open to the creation of life," requires more explanation and nuance I believe. If a couple is avoiding conception, aren't they by definition not open to the creation of life, even when using NFP? The argument seems to be that the couple utilizing NFP will accept the gift of a new life if their utilization fails or, worse, as those who deride our stance declare, if God overrides human agency and causes conception anyway. The argument all over the place is that people who use "the rhythm method" are called "parents," and those who make the argument are incapable or unwilling of seeing the difference between that method and NFP, as carefully and charitably as we who support NFP make the case to them. There's a lot of bad will out there, and advancing an argument that is philosophically correct while not immediately obvious doesn't advance our cause, I'm afraid. I would welcome Dr. DeMarco's response, as I think it would be very helpful to lots of readers.
written by kristinajohannes, July 22, 2012
@Donald DeMarco: Excellent! For some reason it is hard for many people to understand the difference between contraception and nfp but someone reading your article should not have that problem. Thank you.
@Rip: Paul VI inherited the commission from John XXIII. I think he made excellent lemonade.
@Grump: I think you are mistaken in what B16 said which was in an interview. I'd have to go back and research it but my recollection is that he was just acknowledging that the intent of the person was to try to protect the other from disease.
The implication being that this good intent might eventually bring the person to see the bigger picture and not sin in this regard. Perhaps someone else has it at hand and can give a better explanation.
There is zero chance that the Church will ever approve of contraception. She has no power to change the natural law nor would she ever want to try. Have you ever seen that t-shirt that says "Gravity, it's the law." Similar situation.
written by Mark, July 22, 2012
"Ever since the Pope in 2010 condoned the use of condoms in 'exceptional circumstances,' i.e., to prevent the spread of AIDS as an act of 'responsibility,'...."

That's not what Pope Benedict XVI said. That is what, for example, the New York Times said he said, but it's well past the day when the New York Times can be trusted.
written by G.K. Thursday, July 23, 2012
The Pontiff's sentence from the recent interview book "Light of the World" that was largely misunderstood is: "There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants."

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted that "some interpretations have presented the words of the Pope as a contradiction of the traditional moral teaching of the Church ... In reality," it clarified, "the words of the Pope -- which specifically concern a gravely disordered type of human behavior, namely prostitution -- do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church."

"As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question," the CDF's statement affirmed, "the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception."

"The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought," the congregation asserted.

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