LIFE-GIVING LOVE: EMBRACING GOD'S BEAUTIFUL DESIGN FOR MARRIAGE by Kimberly HahnCharis, 2002 375 pages, $13.99 Available in online and retail bookstores or call (800) 486-8505

The bond between the procreative and unitive dimensions of sexual intercourse, a nexus established by God, should not be broken by man. That is Catholic teaching. That is the teaching of Humanae Vitae. And that is the theme of Kimberly Hahn's Life-Giving Love— a fresh, upbeat, positive, Catholic and welcome addition to the ample literature already out there on the subject.

What's so special about Hahn's work? After all, she's saying what the Church says, what Pope John Paul II has reiterated so often. But she says it in a way that even the Pope cannot. She says it as a mother, as a woman who's given birth to six children and lost three others. She says it as a former Presbyterian who found the Church because of Humanae Vitae. And she says it through the words of literally hundreds of other people who have shared their testimonies, their joys or sorrows, for having cherished or spurned God's gift of life-giving love.

This is no dry theological tome tracing the evolution of the Church's teaching about the inseparability of procreation and unity in sex. This is the testimony of a woman facing a Cesarean section. The poignant poetry of another woman who mis-carried. The story of another couple who raised a little girl handicapped by microcephaly.

Hahn always remains both faithful to Catholic teaching and intellectually honest. She faces the criticisms — and brings them down. She runs the whole gauntlet of objections: life and health considerations, fears of having a disabled kid, claims of being too young/-old/recently married/emotionally limited/afraid/poor. She answers them in ways that buoy both confidence and faith. Her appendix, “Ministry to Moms,” rife with practical suggestions about how to help mothers, is the spiritual and corporal works of mercy applied to everyday life.

“According to some claims, raising a child is very expensive,” she writes. “The caption for one health insurance company ad picturing a newborn read like this: ‘Three years of dancing lessons. Eight years of piano. It all adds up. Today, it costs $224,800 to raise your child to college age. And that's assuming she's going to like her nose.’ $224,800? Who calculated that amount? ‘Like her nose?’ Are they implying that caring for children's needs may include plastic surgery? … How sad to select between designer clothes for two children or sharing clothes and being able to afford a third child. What poverty to value things over people!”

Throughout, Hahn shows an impressive flair with words, cutting to the quick and illuminating timeless truths with contemporary lights. “On one of her early trips to the United States,” she writes, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta picked up a little child and was overheard saying, ‘Why are they so afraid of you?’ Or to put it in the words of the comic strip Cathy, ‘My generation has to decide whether to have a child or to be one.’”

Hahn discusses contraception, the value of every child, the relation of the communion of persons in marriage and the Eucharist, natural family planning (NFP), miscarriage and stillbirth, infertility, and sterilization (including the possibility of reversal). Her chapter on resources for each of these subjects is rich.

There's only one bone I would pick with this work. Hahn thinks that if a couple uses NFP with a “contraceptive mentality,” such behavior is wrong but remains a venial sin. I believe that, sometimes, a contraceptive mentality can so infect even NFP that a person acting with such intentions can sin gravely.

This won't stop me from recommending this book enthusiastically. Catholic couples: Get this book and learn to value your vocation as “life-giving lovers and life-loving givers.” Priests: You need this book as a resource for counseling, preaching and teaching. Mothers and fathers of engaged progeny: This could be the most important gift you'll give your future grandchildren.

John M. Grondelski, a moral theologian, writes from Warsaw, Poland.