In the last post recalled St. John Paul II’s first reason why natural family planning (“NFP”) differs from contraception. Namely, contraception speaks a “language” contrary to that of NFP. Contraception contradicts the “body language” of sexual union as a complete gift of self and a total reception of one’s spouse. Meanwhile, NFP speaks a language of openness to each other as husband and wife. With NFP, a total gift is given and received, which remains faithful to the language given in the marriage vows.
The second reason John Paul develops is similar, but he offers a further distinction based on his deep respect and understanding of human dignity. Because of their dignity as persons, men and women should never be used. The only proper response to a human person is love and acceptance. In the mind of the Holy Father, the opposite of love is “use,” not hate.
We understand this truth instinctively. Think about your reaction to a tragedy being exploited for political gain, or a family member performing acts of kindness simply to get written into the millionaire uncle’s will. Situations like these make us angry, because we perceive that persons should be accepted and loved not merely for what they can do or produce, but rather for being who they are. If this is true in ordinary human interactions, how much more should this principle apply to marriage, the most intimate of relationships?
Obviously, spouses do not set out to “use” one another through the marital act. However, because the conjugal act is supposed to be a complete gift of self, to make a partial gift or to receive a partial gift where one’s fertility is withheld or rejected is contrary to the full love and acceptance that one’s spouse deserves. A contracepted union is not a true union. It reduces the attempted union of husband and wife to a mere activity where each is using each other for a pleasurable goal.
Surely we’re not denying that the conjugal act is pleasurable. Yet, when it is divorced from the true union of the spouses, then it necessarily involves selfishly using each other. In other words, it places the focus on “what am I getting out of this” instead of “what can I give my beloved.” It’s beneath a person’s dignity to give only a partial gift of self or to receive only a partial gift. The contraceptive mentality reduces love from the unconditional love that we all desire to a conditional love or use, which is the opposite of love. Using each other is not in keeping with our human dignity.
The beauty of NFP is that it opens up spouses to a greater respect and understanding of each other. NFP allows for the total giving and receiving of the gift. Speaking as a man, I can honestly say that learning the ups and downs of how my wife’s body works has increased my respect for her and indeed, enhanced my respect for all women. I am in awe of how beautifully and wonderfully made women are. As I look out into the culture, it seems to me that there is a great lack of respect and understanding between men and women, and I wonder if that could be remedied somewhat if we were more open to the gift of NFP.
So why is fertility so integral to our human dignity? That will be explored in the next column.
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.