Because I recently began marriage preparation with two couples, I thought it was necessary in the last bulletin to present the marriage preparation program that we will be using. Because that program includes Natural Family Planning, I want to explain NFP a little bit more fully in this bulletin letter. The diocesan brochure included in this bulletin explains quite nicely what natural family planning is. And you can see that there are quite a number of couples in the diocese who teach it. If anyone in our own parish wanted to become teachers, I would certainly welcome this and provide financially for the training. Most of the couples listed in the brochure teach the “sympto-thermal” method of the Couple to Couple League. One person on the list teaches what is known as the Creighton method, because it was developed at Creighton University in Omaha Nebraska by the Pope Paul VI Institute. The Institute also developed a very impressive NaProTechnology that can treat all kinds of fertility issues requiring medical attention, always respecting the full integrity of the marital embrace and the body-soul composite nature of the human person.
I think natural family planning is one of our greatest secrets. No doubt there is some struggle for couples learning the discipline and art of natural family planning. Nonetheless, it is something very wholesome, in that it is entirely natural; but moreso – from a faith perspective, morally and theologically speaking – it maintains the dignity and integrity of the marital embrace. Here are a few paragraphs I lifted from the NFP brochure of the Family Life office of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend:
NFP provides a healthy, highly effective method of family planning for a very low cost and with no harmful side effects. It can be used successfully at all stages in a woman’s life, including during breast-feeding and perimenopause. Couples who practice NFP often develop a deeper awe for one another’s bodies, for the gift of their joint fertility and for the privilege of parenthood. Many couples also find that the mutual respect, regular communication, shared responsibility and self-restraint required by the practice of NFP enrich their relationship and strengthen their marriage.
The Catholic Church promotes NFP because it is the only method of family planning that respects the link between the love-giving and the life-giving purposes that God has placed in sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be the most intimate sign of the complete gift of self that a man and a woman make to one another in marriage. This act which expresses their mutual gift of self, at the same time makes them capable of the greatest possible gift – cooperating with God in giving life to a new human person.
Natural family planning allows a couple to prayerfully discern on a periodic basis whether or not God is calling them to conceive a child and then to use their understanding of the wife’s fertility cycle to either achieve or avoid a pregnancy. It regards fertility as a gift which should not be suppressed or destroyed, but rather appreciated and respected. The Church believes that natural family planning is where being pro-life begins.
So there are the positives regarding natural family planning. But what is so wrong with contraception? I strongly encourage you to read and meditate upon the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae vitae (On Human Life). The encyclical’s content is part of the Church’s infallible ordinary magisterial teaching. Published in 1968, it became – to the detriment of our culture – the issue of greatest dissent in our time. Even many churchmen rejected its teaching, perhaps fearing the wrath they would incur for standing in opposition to contraception, in light of the modern world’s apparent insistence on uninhibited sex. Yet the encyclical was prophetic; and the teaching contained therein is to be treasured as great wisdom. I also strongly recommend Pope Saint John Paul II’s work, Love and Responsibility, written while he was still a cardinal in Poland. One could also refer to the website of Dr. Janet E. Smith, moral theology professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, www.janetesmith.org. She is eloquent in the Church’s teachings in the area of human sexuality. There are many resources for learning on her website. So what is wrong with contraception?
First of all, a major caveat: I am not addressing the situations where chemical/hormonal contraceptives are prescribed for medical purposes. The morality in such cases might differ, and each situation has to be analyzed individually. I am also not going to address how some contraceptives could be physically harmful to a woman. Although there is a moral aspect regarding harm to health, that is not my area of expertise, although it certainly is of great concern to me. I really mean here only to address the morality of contraception chosen by a married couple to prevent pregnancy.
First of all, the hormonal contraceptives tend to have an abortifacient capacity to them, usually because of the hormone “progestin”. Part of the time pregnancy is avoided by preventing ovulation; part of the time by thickening mucus to prevent fertilization; but part of the time also by thinning the lining of the uterus, which prevents implantation of an embryo. This last means is essentially a chemical abortion.
But even if one were to choose a contraception without an abortifacient aspect, the marital embrace would still be morally compromised. The marital embrace is designed by God with a twofold purpose, a twofold end: procreation of children, and the mutual upbuilding of the couple in love. NFP brochures use the easily remembered language of “life-giving” and “love-giving” purposes of the marital embrace. Because the sexual embrace is designed to accomplish both of these goals, you cannot suppress one, without damaging the other as well. You cannot suppress the love-aspect of the embrace to achieve procreation alone (such as in in-vitro fertilization); nor can you suppress the procreative aspect, without compromising the full power of the love-giving/bonding character of the embrace (such as by using contraceptives of any sort). The full gift of self in the marital embrace by definition includes one’s fertility.
One might consider the analogy of the key used to open the tabernacle at Sunday Mass. Imagine the key were split down the middle, one half made of silver, the other half bronze. I decide that, given my preference for the more expensive silver, I want to break off the bronze portion of the key, using only the silver. So I do that, maintaining only the silver half of the key. But when I apply the now-half-key to the tabernacle lock, I find that it does not fit. I no longer have access to the tabernacle. The tabernacle remains locked. A half-key cannot open it. Now I can still adore the Lord in prayer in front of the tabernacle; but I cannot expose the Host for adoration in the monstrance; nor can I receive Holy Communion from the tabernacle. All analogies “limp”, but there are many ways this analogy works. The marital embrace is significantly compromised – even in its love-giving – when its fertility is willfully supressed. NFP respects the design of the fertility cycle and marital embrace, thus maintaining its full integrity and gift-power.
So there is, very briefly, the reason we have to ask couples approaching marriage to learn the art of natural family planning; so they do not feel compelled to rely upon contraception, if for serious reasons they decide they ought to avoid or postpone pregnancy. It would be negligent for me not to provide this teaching to couples approaching marriage.
On another note, we are only $3,743 short of our goal for the air conditioning project at Paulding. Thank you very much to all those who contributed so far. We have quickly come so close to our goal. We will be right on schedule. We are still willing to take any donations to cover this last amount to reach the full goal.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,