God commanded Adam and Eve to, "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it..." Why I disagree with Pope Francis and his "rabbits" comments.
Pope Francis said recently on a plane back from the Philippines, that it is not necessary for Catholics to "breed like rabbits" in order to be good Catholics. I thought this was a very odd thing to say, because the majority of modern-day Catholic families are not large, having succumbed to the contraceptive mentality of the secular world (exceptions of course!). This contraceptive and anti-child mentality started in the 1960s, when The "Pill" was invented - and women were told that they could "have it all". Unfortunately, apart from a few brave clergy, the majority have been silent from the pulpit, and the laity do not know what the Catholic Church actually teaches anymore. This silence has been a grave sin of omission.
But whether one is Catholic or not, the fact of the matter is, we have been rather naughty "bunnies" and deserve a jolly good spanking, just like Beatrix Potter's mummy rabbit used to scold Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. Why? Quite simply, because we have not obeyed God, who commanded us to "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it..." (Genesis 1: 27-28). Here is a fact which illustrates this. Michael Coren's recent book, "The Future of Catholicism" - pg 76 says, "People occupy approximately 3% of the earth's land surface. If 1,200 square feet was given to every person in the world, they would still all fit into an area the size of Texas". Now that is a staggering fact! People only take up 3% of the earth's land! Have we obeyed God's very first command to our first parents? Quite simply, No! God did not even mention anything about "responsible parenthood" - or indeed, "family planning". And God showed His feelings on "family planning" when Onan used birth control, "And therefore the Lord slew him, because he did a detestable thing", (Genesis 38: 9-10). God killed Onan on the spot for this act of birth control! As a result of abortion and birth control we now have an ageing population, with not enough young people to look after the elderly. These are the natural consequences of disobeying the Natural Law.
Unfortunately Pope Francis's remarks on rabbits were ill-timed too. He had just visited the Philippines, which was a sensational trip and one of the most successful papal visits ever, in the history of the Catholic Church. The Philippines is one of, if not the last bastion of authentic Catholicism, where large families are still the norm. His remarks undermined the heroic witness of the Catholic bishops in that country, who have battled their government's drive to push the contraceptive agenda onto its people, known as the HR Bill. Was this intentional or not? Who knows? - Pope Francis often says what he thinks not realising that there could be unintended consequences of his words. His rabbit comments are likely to give fuel to the anti-life Philippine government in their drive to force artificial birth control onto its citizens, the majority of whom are Catholic. No doubt the main media outlets in the Philippines have seized on these comments too.
Before the "Pill" and other devices were invented, it was quite usual to see large Catholic families. When the 1960s came along, the Catholic Church opened an investigation into how the pill worked - many Catholics thought that the Church would change its teaching. This investigation lasted nearly 5 years, during which time, a sizeable majority of Catholics embraced the Pill revolution, encouraged in many cases by their parish priests and silent bishops. They were shocked when Pope Paul 6's encyclical Humanae Vitae came out in the Summer of 1968, which condemned artificial birth control as gravely immoral. It caused outrage throughout the Catholic world - and this outrage expressed itself in rebellion against this teaching, even though this teaching is based on Sacred Scripture. It is also part of the Natural Law. This rebellion is on-going.
So what does the Catholic Church teach with regards to procreation? The Church is very clear. Marriage between a man and a woman is the only place where the marital act should take place. That is because the first end of marriage is the procreation of children. Any act which frustrates this - i.e. birth control, is gravely immoral, and if done with full knowledge and consent, is a mortal sin.
The Church does allow natural methods, but only, if there is a grave and serious reason. These grave and serious reasons should be the exception rather than the rule. What constitutes a serious reason for using natural methods? A long-term illness - whether physical or mental would constitute a serious reason. A mother who has just given birth would need recovery time, and this would be a serious reason (although new mothers are generally too exhausted anyway!). Where a country such as China has imposed the one-child policy would be another grave reason. Where the husband has lost his job would also be a grave reason. It can be helpful to ask a Catholic priest for advice, but make sure they are in agreement with Church teaching first! Of course - this teaching also requires the full co-operation of the husband and wife. Mixed marriages can be problematic in this regard, and this would require another blogpost to go into this!
Unfortunately the mantra "NFP" has become a bit of a buzz word in Catholic circles - where it is almost promoted as a licit "life-style" choice. The trouble with Natural family planning, is that it can be abused by the couple, and therefore it too can become mortally sinful, if the couple don't have a grave reason for using it. Some reasons it should not be used are if the family want to get more material goods into their house, of if they want more holidays or better cars. These are not reasons for using NFP. These are selfish motives and are not in accord with God's plan for us. The other modern problem is that girls are told they must have a career and that babies must not stop them! If God has called a girl to marriage, then that is a vocation in and of itself. If the husband and wife have been blessed with fertility and good health, then God's plan is for them to have several children. And yes, it is a demanding and physically tiring job, but sacrifice and 'offering things up' is part of the teaching of the Church. We won't get to Heaven on a feather bed - we have to earn our salvation. Life on earth is but a pin-prick of eternity. If we try and have a rose-bed in this life, and avoid all suffering and discomfort, we may well be on a ticket to Hell! Bottom line - you still need God's approval to use natural methods of avoiding children.
On the other hand a married couple may not be blessed with children, but this too can be a blessing - they can always adopt children. The worst thing is if they resort to the gravely immoral IVF - forbidden by the Catholic Church, which separates the unitive from the procreative. IVF also involves the destruction of 'spare' embryos. Children are not a right, but a gift.
As a teenager I witnessed a Catholic family, which included at least 12 children. They were always impeccably behaved at Mass. Once the children got older, the mother helped at the family bakery business. This family has been blessed with a vocation in the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. This family was doing God's will and therefore God gave them the necessary graces to take on the task of a big family. But this large family should be the norm and not the exception! Remember God's first command - "Be fruitful and multiply".
A very good book on this subject is by Jay Boyd, PHD, called - "NFP. Trojan Horse in the Catholic bedroom?" Jay says the danger of NFP is that many couples attempt to control their family rather than leaving it up to God. It adds to the contraceptive mentality. The Catholic Church teaches that God should be the decider of these things, and yet in the USA the bishops websites are promoting NFP as if it should be used whatever the circumstances of the couple! This is so wrong. It undermines trust in God.