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Question from one wife on 05-30-2007:
Dear Father,

My husband and I have always been open to life and have several children and our youngest is just a baby. We are presently using NFP to space the next baby. We read all the material Couple to Couple League had to offer when we first stared NFP (after 4 kids). What we read, as to what was allowed or not, was; simply put: that we should learn our "limits".We have enjoyed sexual activity without sexual climax every time we have practiced NFP. We always knew the danger of an accidental climax or being tempted into mutual masturbation. Though, we never set out to fall into sin, we have on occasion. Would this be mortal sin or venial sin? After reading the posts of the last month, I am very concerned about the state of my soul. Also, I am very concerned about whether I should, in being a good wife, just follow my husband's lead as to what bedroom activity is or isn't sinful. He is a married man, a wonderful husband, and deserves affection from his wife. I don't want him to be lonely for affection and attention.

I have shared much of what you have had to say on this topic with my husband. He was upset, that after all these years, someone was making me feel shameful. In all areas of our life we try so much to stay on THE WAY. I am so confused and worried. Do I refuse to all passion to my husband? Do I follow his lead? What would be deadly sin in our situation?

Thank you for the Truth. I am praying that we will mature in chastity. This is what I want. But, until my husband is on the same page, how bad is my sin?

God bless you. Thank you for being a good teacher. In the Lord and His Way, one wife

Answer by Fr. Matthew Habiger - NFP Outreach on 06-05-2007:
Dear One Wife,

Thanks for your question on how to mature in marital chastity. (“I am praying that we will mature in chastity.”) And thanks for your willingness to seek out God’s plan for your marriage. (“This is what I want.”)

Now let me first say that you and your husband are good Catholics. You have four wonderful children and are now using NFP. That places you among the less that 5% of Catholic couples in this country. For this I commend you. But you and I are still on the journey; we have not arrived at our final destination. We are still a work in progress.

There is a balance to be struck between sexual maturity (marital chastity) and taking people where they are. In the moral life, we take ourselves where we are, but attempt to advance to where God wants us to be. For the unmarried, chastity means refraining from petting and foreplay that would lead to a climax. For the married couple this standard is changed to agree with the fact that they are married. The married couple has access to the spousal act, which is a renewal of their wedding covenant. When using NFP to space their babies, they may engage in foreplay, but not allow this to reach a climax. They console one another with signs of affection, while staying within their limits. But once you get into the spousal act, then you must be open to life and the requirements of the procreative dimensions of the spousal act.

Sexual maturity and chastity go together. There are limits to what a couple can do during their fertile periods when using NFP. This is what you learned from CCL. I do not want to appear to be adding more limits than are required. Please do not become scrupulous over these matters. But I encourage you to reflect upon the meaning of “periodic abstinence.”

This calls for “creative” abstinence. You mention “I don’t want him to be lonely for affection and attention.” Precisely. During periodic abstinence the couple reachs out for all those other expressions of tenderness, affection and attention, other than those leading to a climax. It is a time to emphasize the person of the other, to treasure their personal presence. It is a time to reflect upon the relationship, the marriage, the children, their reasons for not having another child, and where God is calling them. Sexual passion has a way of pushing out all these subtle values into the background, and then entirely out of consideration.

Let’s face it: self-denial is not enjoyable. Fasting is never easy. Self-discipline can be vexing. But the rewards of self-possession are worth the effort they require. How can I make the total gift of myself if I am not in possession of my self?

Sexual discipline and chastity go together. Sexual discipline and periodic abstinence go together also. We are not to be slaves to our passions. Our Lord teaches us “He who lives in sin is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34).

Sexual sins against the 6th Commandment are a reality. For most people, this is where their greatest weakness lies. Every man, woman and child must come into the possession of their sexual desires and appetites. Simply put, this means we can’t have everything we want. We can’t yield to every wish, whim and fantasy. We must resist all temptations to abuse our sexuality. There is nothing novel about self-discipline in sexual matters. We must discipline all our other appetites as well: eating, drinking, our desires for entertainment, gambling, sleeping, grouchy moods, self-centeredness, etc. It just so happens that the sex drive is probably the most powerful, and persistent, of all our drives as bodied-persons.

This means that we must do several things. First, we need to understand how we are to live and express our sexuality, in a way that accords well with God’s plan for us as bodied- persons, male or female, fertile and sexual. Notice that it is God’s plan, and no one else’s. This is why an understanding of the values which stand behind chastity is so important. Very helpful here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about chastity, #2331-59, and also the Theology of the Body.

Second, we need to know what kinds of sexual behavior are contrary to God’s plan for us. An act of fornication by a cohabiting couple might look similar to an act of spousal love by a married couple, but there is a world of difference between them. One is merely a sexual act between two unmarried and uncommitted persons. The other is a spousal act which expresses total surrender of self and an openness to the gift of fertility.

The spousal act was designed by God to be used only by spouses who are committed to one another for life. It is wrong for anyone else to engage in these acts. Sexual sins are making lies with our bodies. There is not a perfect match between what we do, and what our sexual acts were designed to mean and accomplish. The virtue which regulates our sex drives is chastity. This rules out fornication, homosexual acts and masturbation. It rules out adultery. And in marriage, chastity rules out one spouse forcing their will upon the other, disregarding the other’s state of mind or dignity. A woman knows when she is being used. In NFP, marital chastity requires sexual abstinence during those days of the cycle which are fertile.

One final thing: girlfriends and wives set the standards of chastity for us males. We will be as unchaste, and indulgent, as you allow us. So don’t be afraid to set the standards where they ought to be. We will help you honor those standards. And remember: the standards you set for yourselves, you can also set for your children. Parents can’t give their sons and daughters what they themselves don’t have.

Cordially yours,

Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB

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