Apparently in some Catholic circles, the P-word is a dirty word.
This word may as well be the scarlet letter.
The word is a title for a person who chooses to trust God, rather than to presume to know best themselves.
The word is Providentialist.
A Providentialist, as I am defining him (or her), is someone who does not practice any form of birth control—not even Natural Family Planning (NFP). This person simply trusts God to give him and his wife as many children as God wants for them—no more, and no less.
A Providentialist, in my view, does not set a limit on how many supreme blessings (i.e., children) God may give his family. He also is content with few or no children—since he did his part to try to have children. He simply concludes God desired something for their marriage other than a large family. Since God willed it, the Providentialist wills it too, and so finds peace.
And a Providentialist, at least in my view, also does not presume to know the circumstances of every other married couple and so reserves judgment on those who practice Church teaching in the area of their fertility (i.e., hold a grave reason to use NFP in an attempt to avoid children).
Perhaps you’re reading this, not realizing that practicing zero birth control methods (not even NFP) is even a possibility.
Here are some reasons—although not meant to be an exhaustive list—as to why I happily consider myself a Providentialist.
(1) Providentialism conforms with natural law.
Natural law says the conjugal act is primarily for the begetting of children and secondarily for the unity of the spouses.
Marriage therefore is a relationship ordered around the good of the conjugal act. Marriage exists for the begetting and raising of children, and for the help and sanctity of the spouses.
How do you know when it is time to stop having children? God saw to it that women experience menopause. That was the marker He built into human nature.
Contraception, on the other hand, contradicts natural law. However, contraception is not immoral because it is artificial.
Contraception is immoral because it attempts to separate the primary end of the conjugal act from its unitive aspect. Any attempt to separate the procreative from the unitive in the sexual act, without a grave reason, is immoral.
(2) Providentialism makes it easier to follow the First Commandment.
Christ summed up the Law by saying that we must first love God, and we do this with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Providentialism allows us to show our love to God by placing our trust in Him. It is trusting that He will provide… hence the name, Providentialism.
Providentialism defies hedonism, forcing me to unite my will to God: which in itself is the goal of human existence. To give up what we want is scary and difficult. But that does not mean it should be left untried.
When we stop railing against the aspects of our lives that we find inconvenient or that we wish we could change, then we can accept EVERYTHING that comes our way as God’s will for us. That’s how we can find peace.
(3) Large families do not always mean misery, but actually often are a source of great happiness.
By our very nature, we are meant to live in community. In community we are able and often forced to make sacrifices for one another, which in themselves are acts of love. In community we can share our life’s experiences and enjoy each other’s company. Having brothers and sisters gives children all these benefits.
(4) That said, large families certainly are not mandatory.
A couple can wish for a lot of children and God could see fit to give them few or none. Again, as a Providentialist, I am open to as many children as God wants to give me—no more, no less.
(5) Likewise, there is no “default number” of children.
Why would I rely on God to bring me my wife, but stop relying on Him to provide me my children? In Providentialism the belief is that God will see to it that each family ends up with as many children as He sees fit.
It is not meant to be solely the decision of the husband and wife. It takes three to get married. God should be consulted and relied upon in faith.
(6) Further, the spacing of children may be a legitimate reason to make use of NFP.
The wife’s health may require a postponement of children. Her physical health may be compromised, or her mental stability. But I would highly recommend consulting a good priest before assuming. His consultation can help determine if you have a grave reason.
Thus, Providentialism does not dictate that every couple must have as many children as physically possible. God even made it rare for a woman to conceive quickly after birthing. As well, breastfeeding has been shown to postpone fertility returning after birth as well.
(7) Which leads me to point out that Providentialists trust that God will provide the means necessary to raise children.
He knows we have physical needs, and He will supply what we need (Matthew 6:25-34). Why is it so radical to take Jesus at His word? I would rather do that than trust in any mere man—even myself. I choose to rely on His grace. I know, call me crazy.
(8) Circumstances do not always last forever.
You could feel prepared to have a kid now, get pregnant, and “calamity” could hit next month. Likewise, you can decide to postpone having kids for a certain reason, then nine months later, when the baby would have been born, you may find you could have had the kid.
The point is, nine months is a long time. God can move in nine months.
(9) Being Providentialists, my wife and I reserve the ability to practice NFP, if and only if a grave circumstance mandates.
I am not so pompous as to think that practicing NFP is beneath me. However, I won’t be ecstatic about having to abstain from my wife. Also, I will pray it is a temporary situation, as NFP is intended to be—although not always.
So, is Providentialism as scary as it seems?
Maybe people would take issue with me calling for every Catholic couple using NFP to stop, and to rely on Providentialism instead. But, as you can read, I am not doing that.
If a couple has a serious reason to practice NFP, then they have a serious reason. I pray it will be temporary, but I am not presuming to know.
So long as a couple has a serious reason to practice NFP, not just any reason, then I do not take issue with those people. Likewise, if you use NFP so as to achieve pregnancy, then I have no issue with that either. (So please fill my comment box with that in mind.)
The default ought not be that birth control must be practiced by every Catholic couple, as is the assumption in the mainstream culture.
The issue I have with some NFP promoters is that they market it as a means for couples to decide for themselves how many children they will have. In this light, God is left out of the picture.
I fail to see why it is so wrong of me to think God should be the family planner.
Okay, I am expecting some comments on this one as well.
What are your thoughts on Providentialism?
Is anyone else with me, or are my wife and I the only “Puritan,” crazy people left?