I recently attended a very good lecture on natural family planning. True enough, it was designed to be a clinical talk by a medical doctor to a roomful of permanent deacons. However, halfway through the presentation, I realized that the whole discussion surrounding natural family planning often tends to underscore the clinical to the exclusion of the spiritual.
Shouldn’t we be emphasizing the joys of having children rather than the acceptable Catholic way of not having children?
Now, I don’t mean to criticize at all the dedicated couples who promote natural family planning. In fact, my wife Freda and I know many NFP couples who have very large families.
But sometimes I think we Catholics are buying into the secular society’s negative attitude toward having children. There has to come a time when we just trust God with the question of how many children he wants each couple to have.
At the birth of our first child, Freda contracted kidney disease. Shortly after the birth of our second child, we were strongly advised by our obstetrician-gynecologist that she should be sterilized. Something (an impulse of the Holy Spirit?) told us not to do it.
We went to the first large Catholic Charismatic Renewal conference in 1974 in Atlantic City, N.J., where Freda was “prayed over” for her kidney problems. She experienced a rush of warmth and a sense of healing.
Shortly after that, her kidney doctor told her that her right kidney had somehow compensated and took on the functioning of her left kidney. Years later, another ob-gyn told us that getting pregnant was bad for a woman’s kidneys, but they “now know” that it actually improves renal function.
I have worked in the medical profession as a pharmaceutical representative for many years and have often heard the “we used to think, but now know” phrase.
Well, our four children, who were conceived after the proposed sterilization, certainly are glad that we listened to the teachings of the Church and the prompting of the Holy Spirit and not to the physician 30 years ago.
Keep in mind that I am in no way suggesting people do not listen to the sound medical advice they will receive from their physicians most of the time, but only to not listen to advice that clearly goes against what the Church teaches, such as, in our case, sterilization.
The Church teaches and has always taught that children are a blessing sent by God. Unlike science, the Church will never say, “We used to think” that children were a blessing, “but we now know” that they are a burden.
Freda and I have many friends who have chosen to have as many children as God wished to send them.
I have never heard any of them express regret over that decision. However, I have met many people around my age (63) who really wish they had had more children and hence the possibility of more grandchildren.
When I am talking about religion with people who have very little knowledge of theology, I usually sum it up with: “Life is good; death is bad.” Everyone seems to understand that concept (understanding, of course, that God can bring goodness even out of death).
At one of their recent conferences, the American Catholic bishops reaffirmed the Church’s teaching that artificial birth control is “intrinsically evil.” As St. Augustine said: “Evil is a lack of good. It is nothingness.” Nothing good can come out of evil.
The Catholic birthrate is no higher than that of the general population in the United States. Can the overwhelming majority of Catholic couples be having serious physical, mental or financial problems? Statistically, that is not very likely.
Let us encourage our young people to be open to life and to not be afraid to follow the clear teachings of the Church. If they have serious reasons for not wanting children for a time, then certainly we should steer them to the good people teaching NFP who do a heroic job of serving the Church.
Otherwise, the more life, the better.
Deacon Lewis T. Ferris writes
from Bath, Pennsylvania.