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Morally acceptable means to regulating births

By Sean Martin
John Paul II Generation

Wow! How many? Yes, I am the seventh of nine children and it’s not uncommon to elicit such responses from people upon hearing my family size. These days, my immediate family would be considered a big or large family with nine kids. I, personally, would consider it a medium size family compared to some families that I have met with eleven, twelve, and even sixteen children. I have truly enjoyed each of my brothers and sisters and their children over the years. I have remnants of each sibling in my personality and for that I am truly grateful. We certainly have had our ups and downs, but regardless we love each other and look out for each other’s best interests (or what we think are each other’s best interests). I thank God that my parents said yes to life with each one of us. One of my dad’s famous sayings is “when I said ‘I do’ to your mother, I didn’t know that I was saying ‘I do’ to all of this (as he smiles and stretches out his hands at all of my brothers and sisters and our kids.)”

In the Old Testament, the Israelites entered into a covenant with God. If you followed the covenant you were blessed with land, royal dynasty, and many children! If you didn’t follow the covenant you were cursed with destruction of your land, a break-up of your kingdom, and the women in your family were barren. “Sacred Scripture and the Church's traditional practice see in large families a sign of God's blessing and the parents' generosity” (CCC 2373). For some dumb reason, today’s culture rejects children and treats them as a curse! We need to get back to understanding and viewing children as a blessing! (Even if a couple cannot have children they can certainly be open to life and viewing life as a blessing in many other ways.) While discussing this topic with anyone the common question arises, does the Church teach that we ought to have a zillion kids to be good and faithful Catholics?

Can a married couple regulate how many children they have?
The Catholic Church teaches that one aspect of being a good responsible mother and father is the discernment and practice of regulation of births. “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood” (CCC 2368). These just reasons or serious motives to regulate births can be physical, psychological, or external conditions of the husband or wife (Humanae Vitae 16).

Is there a morally acceptable means to regulating births?
Even if a couple has legitimate reasons for postponing pregnancy or not having any more children, it can never justify resorting to the use of immoral means such as contraception and sterilization for contraception purposes (CCC 2399).

The moral means for regulating births is to observe, chart, and interpret the natural signs or rhythms of a woman’s fertility cycle, or better known as practicing Natural Family Planning. If the couple has just or serious reasons, they would abstain from marital relations during the fertile stages of the wife’s cycle. “Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom” (CCC 2370).

Please continue to read the coming articles for an understanding of the Catholic Church’s position on NFP and artificial birth control. For further information on NFP classes or if you are interested in becoming a NFP instructor, contact the Office of Family Life (712) 233-7530 or

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