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Dear Father Angelo,

About ten years ago, I began my journey of conversion that has never been well accepted by my wife, because it completely changed our bond until then, especially from the point of view of marital intimacy. After the pregnancy, my wife suffered from postpartum depression. This suffering conjugated badly with my refusal to resort to artificial contraception, creating much conflict between us. After coming out of postpartum depression, my wife agreed to think about a new pregnancy, but despite various attempts, we were not granted this grace. In the meantime the years have passed (now I am almost 47 years old and my wife 42) and my wife has not felt to face another pregnancy any more and for about five years, after talking together and despite my not full conviction of the choice, we have decided to have no more relationships in the periods of fertility, reserving ourselves to have in not fertile ones leaving, in a sense, a door open to the will of God. I read on the web that this, however, would not meet the will of God, because it would constitute a kind of selfishness aimed only at satisfying our carnal need… Unfortunately, I find myself in a difficult situation, because I have to try to maintain a balance with my wife, who every time we happened to talk about this topic, complained that, given my opposition to artificial contraception, if we do not have intercourse at least in periods of infertility, depriving us of that little intimacy that remains, marriage for her is in question… I therefore ask you what your opinion is on this (…).

I thank you, I always remember you in my Rosary.

Cordially

Alexander


Priest’s answer

Dear Alessandro,

1. Conjugal intimacy has a twofold purpose: total reciprocal self-giving and openness to life.

The two purposes are intrinsically united because when you give yourself totally, you also give your ability to become a father and a mother.

If conjugal intimacy frustrated positively the procreative aim, that act would cease to be an act of total donation because we would reserve something that we do not want to give.

2. This remains true even if the spouses express themselves in conjugal intimacy at times when there will certainly not be a new procreation, such as those after the menopause or in the case of infertility of either spouse.

3. I repeat to you three passages of the Church’s teaching expressed through Pope Paul VI in the encyclical Humane vitae.

Here is the first:

Marriage, then, is far from being the effect of chance or the result of the blind evolution of natural forces. It is in reality the wise and provident institution of God the Creator, whose purpose was to effect in man His loving design. As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives” (HV 8).

4. And here is the second:

“The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, “noble and worthy.” (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (HV 11).

5. Finally, here is the third: “This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason” (HV 12).

6. Therefore, comply willingly with your wife’s wishes. These acts are legitimate and, above all, according to God’s most wise plan, they foster mutual communion.

In this sense the Second Vatican Council said: “This council realizes that certain modern conditions often keep couples from arranging their married lives harmoniously, and that they find themselves in circumstances where at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased. As a result, the faithful exercise of love and the full intimacy of their lives is hard to maintain. But where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered” (Gaudium et spes, 51).

For you, thank God, it is not a question of running risks for the education of children.

However, the good of conjugal communion is a very great good and must be favored, unless the spouses by mutual agreement decide for abstinence to achieve another type of communion.

I thank you from my heart for the constant remembrance in the Rosary, I wish you all the best, I bless you and I gladly remember you in prayer in my turn,

Father Angelo