By David Cooley.
In the midst of all that is going on in our country and in our world, it’s not surprising that Natural Family Planning Awareness Week (July 19-25) passed by under the radar without winning much interest or attention. In a way, it’s fitting because Natural Family Planning (NFP) is one of the best kept secrets that the Catholic Church has to offer our world. Of course it’s not really a secret, but — despite all the wonderful advantages that NFP has to offer and the exciting research that has been done — it just can’t seem to get the consideration and the response that it deserves. One of the big reasons that NFP is neglected is because, like a lot of what we believe to be good, true and beautiful, it is counter-cultural. Another reason is the lack of education, even in the medical field. I believe that one day, hopefully soon, this will change. It seems to me that there is a growing respect for all things natural and, perhaps, a profound realization that we can’t take the biological differences between men and women for granted anymore.
Natural Family Planning is the general title for the scientific, natural and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies. NFP methods are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. No drugs, devices or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy. Since the methods of NFP respect the love-giving and life-giving nature of the conjugal act, they support God’s design for married love. The occasion of NFP Awareness Week, promoted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlights the anniversary of the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (July 25), which articulates Catholic beliefs about human sexuality, conjugal love and responsible parenthood. The theme for NFP Awareness Week this year was: “Live the truth and beauty of God’s plan for married love. Natural Family Planning — It’s about love. It’s about life. It’s about freedom. It’s about gift.” A rather long theme, but I love it!
It’s about love
At the end of the day, what are we talking about here? We are talking about true love and the expression of that love. The nature of marriage calls husband and wife to sacred responsibilities. Within this vocation, a husband and wife are able to celebrate human sexuality in all its fullness. Their conjugal love is “meant to express the full meaning of love,” as willed by God, “its power to bind a couple … and its openness to new life” (USCCB, Married Love and the Gift of Life, 4). In our times, when God’s design for life and love are continuously assaulted and cheapened, it would do the world a lot of good if followers of Christ lived out the truth that God intended marital love to be total, faithful, permanent and fruitful. It is exactly the kind of love that people are searching for, the kind of love that people are hoping for, the kind of love that Hollywood movies so often get wrong. True love does exist. No matter how dark things get, the light of true love can never be entirely snuffed out. This is one of the reasons why Christian marriage is a sign of Christ’s presence in the world. It is a sign of God’s unconditional love for his people.
It’s about life
It’s no secret that our culture has done virtually everything it can to separate the conjugal act of love from both its unitive and procreative ends that it is oriented towards — especially the later. Whenever I reflect on this I always think of the novel “Children of Men” by P.D. James. It’s an intense, dystopian story that takes place in a future world without hope because the human race has become infertile and the youngest people in the world have now turned 18. I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s a reminder of how important children are (or should be) to us. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents and to society as a whole. What naturally follows if we remove the unitive and procreative meaning of sex? We forget about the spiritual aspect and the spiritual consequences. We are body and soul, you can’t give someone one without the other.
It’s about freedom
The so-called “sexual revolution” sold people, especially women, a lie that artificial birth control and contraception would be liberating. In reality, it turned people into mere sex objects and took away all responsibility from — you guessed it — men! In contrast, it’s empowering for young women to learn about their bodies and embrace the beauty of their fertility. Just as important, there are also countless testimonies of women who were able to discover early that something was wrong with their bodies because the symptoms weren’t masked by hormonal medication. NFP methods help a woman to recognize her unique signs of fertility, which she can observe on a daily basis. This knowledge is liberating.
In discovering the family as the “sanctuary of life” and the “heart of the culture of life,” men and women can be freed from the “culture of death.” In each child, couples and society must recognize a gift coming to them from God, a precious gift which must be loved and welcomed with joy. (PCF, The Ethical and Pastoral Dimensions of Population Trends, March 25, 1994, n. 89; Quoting Gaudium et Spes, n. 50)
It’s about gift
Bishop Robert Barron often says that behind every “no” that the Church gives there is a much bigger “yes.” When it comes to sexual morality we have the tendency to focus on the negative aspect of what’s not aloud. But there are good, solid reasons for the teachings of the Church that can be explained for the benefit for all mankind. Natural Family Planning is ultimately about saying “yes” to God’s design for love and life. It is also about saying “yes” to giving yourself completely to another, fertility and all.
Sexual desire is a gift from God. It is a response to the beauty that we see in others. God created us male and female so that we can learn to make a sincere gift of self to one another. Women and men are equal in that they are made in God’s image, but they are not the same. They complement each other. Together, they make the one flesh union of marriage which has the potential to give life and create a family. The union between a man and a woman is intended for marriage and is a foreshadowing of the union that will ultimately satisfy us — the union with God.
The great thing about Natural Family Planning and Theology of the Body is that— no matter where you are in life, no matter what age you are, no matter the circumstances of your past, no matter what vocation you are living out — it is always the perfect time to learn more about it and to embrace it.
David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.
Local Natural Family Planning Resources:
Couple to Couple League
St. Elizabeth Taylor Mill Primary Care office
Amy Fathman, APRN
Family Nurse Practitioner
Divine Mercy Fertility Care