On January 21, 2005, my wife and I left St. Joseph’s hospital in St. Paul, MN with our newborn son, Isaac. The adventure was about to begin both literally and figuratively. Literally, we were venturing out into a Minnesota snowstorm, and figuratively, we were venturing into the world of parenting. We survived the literal journey home and the jury is still out on whether we will survive the figurative one. I remember thinking when we left the hospital, “So . . . they are just going to let us take him home, eh?”
That question was a sign of the insecurity that Libby and I had about the world of parenting.
However, when we made it to our house, I remember turning on the stereo and listening to Frank Sinatra sing the song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The title of the song is “Soliloquy,” and it is all about a new father and his optimism, excitement, and pride for the future of a newborn son. As I danced around the living room holding my son and singing as loudly as I could to the blaring music, I could summarize my feelings as, “This fatherhood thing is new, but I like it!” In the midst of the chaos, I found a new confidence in myself and a desire to do whatever possible to sacrifice for the good of Libby and Isaac. I had a level of self-knowledge that I never had previously. My lived experience was matching up to St. John Paul II’s fifth reason for the difference between natural family planning (“NFP”) and contraception. Let me explain.
John Paul’s first few arguments for maintaining the integrity of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act certainly make sense on a natural level, but he also argues that NFP is confirmed through divine Revelation. What does that have to do with my newfound confidence and self-knowledge? Specifically, John Paul points to Genesis 4:1, which is the passage where Adam comes to know his wife, Eve, and they conceive and bear a son. John Paul points out that this “knowing” is not merely a euphemism for having intercourse, but rather involves a much deeper knowledge of self and one’s spouse. It is exactly the kind of knowledge I experienced after we brought Isaac home.
To put it simply, a whole new level of who I am came alive when I became a father.
It is like opening a door to a room that I didn’t know existed. I opened the door, and I began to explore the wonder of the room.
Isaac’s birth also opened the door to see a whole new side of Libby. I saw my love for her deepen in a way that I didn’t know was possible. To use the same analogy, Isaac was the key that opened the door to a new room in Libby’s heart. I discovered her tender and gentle motherly compassion that never had an outlet before Isaac came into our lives.
The gift of parenting also opens our eyes to the knowledge of how important we are in God’s plans. We discover the dignity of being called to cooperate in the creation of new human life. We realize that when God commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply,” it is not just to populate the earth. Rather, it is one of the ways that God reveals the depth of His love for us. He commands us to do what is good for us and what we will find truly rewarding and joyful. John Paul cites this biblical passage to illustrate the importance of connecting sex and babies. NFP gives hopeful couples the great knowledge of how to maximize their fertility and conceive a child “with the help of the Lord” as Adam and Eve did.
When we disconnect sex from babies, it is too easy to miss the beauty of God’s goodness in both the conjugal act and the gift of children. We can take for granted and miss the tremendous blessing of both. The Church does not want anyone to miss the goodness of God, and that is the motive for all her teachings. Love for her children is the interpretive lens through which we should view any difficult teaching of the Church. The motivation is never, “I want to ruin someone’s fun.”
For me, I know that I always want people, especially my children, to give Libby the benefit of the doubt in everything. My default position is, “if they only knew Libby like I know Libby,” they would understand why she is doing or saying that.” Our kids don’t always accept it initially, but after they have time for her discipline to sink in, they realize that their mom loves them very much and is acting in their best interest. My spousal knowledge inclines me to assume the best in her.
The same principle is true of Christ and His spousal relationship to the Church. God wants all of His children to love the Church like He does and trust that she always has our eternal happiness in mind.
As I have tried to explain over the past few weeks, the Church certainly has good reasons for her support of NFP and for insisting that contraception is not good for a relationship. First, NFP allows a couple to speak a language of truth to one another through the language of the body. Second, NFP respects the great dignity that couples have as humans made in the image and likeness of God. Third, NFP allows a couple to respect their fertility as an integral part of who they are. Fourth, NFP builds the character of the couple who use it. Lastly, NFP is consistent with biblical Revelation.
Pope John Paul II spent much time in his early priesthood with young married couples. He was a keen observer of the many joyful marriages he witnessed. He once remarked that he “fell in love with human love.” Even though JPII was one of the most brilliant theologians and philosophers in the 2,000-year history of the Church, some of his greatest insights and contributions to the Church came from spending time falling in love with human love and witnessing firsthand the beautiful gift of married love lived well.
May we as the Church learn about authentic human love from JPII and not settle for a counterfeit version.
Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He credits Dr. John Grabowski’s talk at the 2014 Theology of the Body Congress, “Something Old, Something New: Tradition and Development of Doctrine in the Theology of the Body’s Teaching on Marriage” for inspiring this series of articles.