You can only use NFP for serious reasons…What are these reasons?

pope-pius-xii-02Pope Pius XII Who Gave Us the Four “Serious Reasons”
The last post about the sinfulness of contraception and sterilization (Read: 6 Reasons Why Contraception is Sinful) stirred up some comments about natural family planning (NFP). NFP is a popular contemporary term for “periodic continence.” NFP works by observing the cycles of a wife’s fertility and then avoiding the nuptial embrace during her times of fertility so as to avoid pregnancy. In NFP, the husband and wife abstain from the nuptial embrace altogether during the time of the wife’s monthly fertility.
The Church allows married couples to practice periodic continence only for serious reasons. These reasons were explicitly listed by Pope Pius XII in his “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives” from 1951.
NFP or periodic continence can only lawfully be practiced without sin for serious reasons or “just causes,” which he lists as “medical, eugenic, economic, and social” reasons.
Note that NFP or “periodic continence” in itself is morally neutral since observing a woman’s cycle and remaining continent are morally neutral. Therefore, NFP is not intrinsically evil. Artificial contraception (condoms, the pill, interuptus) are intrinsically evil because they directly intervene in the natural process. Artificial contraception obstructs the natural act either through devices, chemicals, or direction intervention.
So then, NFP can be used when there is a proper “serious” circumstance, and the Holy Father provides four such circumstances. Let’s go through these four grave reasons.


1. Medical
The women’s life is in jeopardy or a circumstance would endanger the newly conceived child’s life (eg, the mother is going through chemotherapy or other treatment that would damage or kill a newly conceived baby). In regard to serious medical reasons, Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae n. 16, also spoke of “reasonable grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife.” So then, psychological problems could also be considered serious. If mommy is clinically schizophrenic, or clinically depressed, then I imagine a spiritual director is going to give the green light on NFP.
2. Eugenic
If the couple would pass on dangerous birth defects or perhaps has a history of serial miscarriages, then periodic continence would make sense. This should be cleared with a priest, of course.
3. Economic
The married couple is too poor to provide for a new child. Given the poverty that some saints were born into (St Pius X comes to mind), I don’t think that this serious reason refers to the inability to pay for college, boats, SUVs, or ATVs. Remember, these are serious reasons and so we’re talking about grave poverty.
4. Social
The Holy Father refers here to serious social disorder. Social disorder doesn’t include, “the Democrats won Presidency again.” Social disorder refers to serious problems in which raising children would be almost impossible. Wars. Viking Invasions. Concentration Camps. Black Plague. Hiroshima. Floods. Perhaps even China’s one child policy.

The best route in discerning NFP is to speak with a solid spiritual director who is versed in these matters. They will help you become discerning and generous with the gift of procreation.

Disclaimer: We have six children. Do I ever get nervous about having more? Yes, I do. Does the thought of ten children sometimes scare me? Yes, it does. However, I try to make a trustful surrender of my will to God’s will.
When we had five children, all we had to be reminded of is the fact that St Thomas Aquinas was number six in his family. St Therese de Lisieux (Doctor of the Church) was the ninth of nine children. St Gabriel Possenti (patron of handgun owners!) was number 11. St Catherine of Sienna (Doctor of the Church) was number 23! We should be grateful to these saints, but also to their parents who were sacrificial in their generosity.
If you think you’re too poor, remember that Saint Pius X was 2 of 9 children…and they lived in a small home with dirt floors.
So, yes, it can be worrisome and scary. Yet God will always equip you with new graces. Earthly life is short. Eternal life is everlasting. Can you imagine having the everlasting glory in heaven for having been the parent of St Therese of Lisieux? What joy the Martin’s must experience. St Basil the Elder and his wife St Emelia had nine children – five of which are canonized saints! So you never know. Trustful surrender – but it won’t be easy.
If you need a pep talk, you and your spouse might listen to this highly recommended homily on marriage, matrimony, an NFP.
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