Voris makes some good points in the Vortex below. It’s not uncommon for well-intentioned Catholics to fall into the contraceptive mentality without realizing it. They may have been taught that they’re free to have sex while avoiding pregnancy indefinitely, as long as they don’t use any artificial means. They may think that the pill or the rubber are the intrinsic evil, and not the mentality behind it. So they figure that as long as they only use NFP, anything goes.
John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has helped make God’s purpose for sex more explicit and easy to grasp. He didn’t invent anything new, but he pushed Christian thinking to new depths by linking various Scripture passages in a way that nobody has done before.
The sexual union is a profound manifestation of the spouses total gift to each other. It is meant to be both a prefiguration and genuine participation in the ultimate and eternal communion between Christ and the Church, which will hopefully include each of us. The only way for the spouses to achieve this full meaning and destiny in their sexual union is for them to imitate Christ’s free, total, fruitful and faithful love for each of us. That’s what sex is all about: imitating and participating in Christ’s no-holding-back love! Any attitude by the spouses to hold back on this gift of self is missing the point of sex. They’re short-changing themselves. They’re saying that they don’t want to fully give themselves to each other. It’s a form of mutual rejection. How could spouses that really love each other hold back?
That being said, while it’s certainly true that the Church has always considered large families to be a blessing and has encouraged couples to be generous, I would argue that changes in society have reduced the size of family that would be considered “large” or “generous.” For starters, we have a much better understanding of women’s health and fetal development than in centuries past, so couples can be warned about the risks of another pregnancy before it happens, thus avoiding miscarriages and dead moms. Have we perhaps become overly prudent in this respect? Maybe, but I won’t venture far on that limb because I’m not a doctor.
But I am an economist so I’ll venture farther on the economic changes that have made “generous” much smaller than before. In centuries past, much of the population lived off the land through agriculture. The cost of living was dirt cheap (pun intended). There was no shortage of space to raise a family on the farm. You could grow your own food to feed the kids. They didn’t need an education because they would become farmers too. As soon as they were old enough, they would lend a hand on the farm. Everything seemed to work together towards supporting large families.
Not any more. Nowadays, about 1% of the population works in agriculture. The rest of us have to earn a salary and get our food in a grocery store. To get that salary usually means getting an education first, which postpones children. The cost of living is also prohibitive in most cities. Can you imagine the cost of a house in Toronto or Vancouver if you had 10-12 children?
So I figure that the definition of “generous” is considerably smaller than before. But we’re still called to generosity within modern-day realities.