On the heels of the annual observance of NFP (Natural Family Planning) Awareness Week, I invite all our Catholic faithful to once again consider the importance of Natural Family Planning in the lives of married people.
One of the most important elements of our diocesan policies for marriage preparation is education of the couple in Natural Family Planning (NFP). The reason why NFP education is required is that this is the truly viable and moral alternative to artificial contraception and the growing contraceptive mentality that Pope St. Paul VI predicted in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.
We should be very clear about the Catholic teaching regarding contraception. Contraception is intrinsically immoral and mortally sinful. This is taught infallibly by the Church’s magisterium and so is part of the Faith of the Catholic Church. It is true that many Catholics do not accept this teaching of the Church, but not accepting the teaching neither makes it go away nor renders it invalid. It simply means that many Catholics have chosen to contravene a moral norm that comes from God.
Why is contraception immoral? The simple answer is this: contraception violates the dignity of the human person as well as the divinely instituted meaning of marriage. Sacred Scripture teaches that man is created in the image and likeness of God. God is a Trinity of Persons whose very nature is to love completely. St. John tells us that, indeed, God is Love. We are created to mirror that divine love, which is always life-giving. When a couple marries, they promise to give themselves completely to each other in love. When that couple contracepts, they then offer to each other everything except their fertility. A married love that is less than total cannot reflect the love that is God.
In God’s creation we find the fundamental meaning of marriage. God created woman because it was not good for the man to be alone. Having created Eve, God told her and Adam to be fertile and multiply. Here we find the two ends of marriage: the unitive and the procreative. Contraception breaks the intrinsic connection between the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act. We must remember that it is God who has determined what the marital act was meant to express.
When a couple practice contraception, they not only deny the procreative dimension of every act of intercourse, they also raise the pursuit of pleasure to the highest principle of marriage. The implicit message of the contracepting couple to each other is: I want pleasure, and I want you to provide that pleasure, but I will not accept children lovingly from God — as I promised on the day of marriage. This reduces the other person to little other than an object. Again, not only does contraception violate the procreative dimension of the marriage act, it attacks the unitive dimension as well. The union of a married couple is meant to be nothing less that total. Contraception ensures that this will not happen.
While the Church’s teaches that artificial contraception is always sinful, the Church also teaches the importance of responsible parenthood. Part of what it means to be responsible parents can involve the spacing of children in a family. God, in fact, invites married couples to a unique participation in the power of creation. Even though every human being is a unique and invaluable expression of God in the world, nevertheless, it is clear from creation that God did not intend every act of marital intercourse to result in a new human person. When a couple, conscientiously and for just cause, decide that the conception of a child ought to be delayed, the couple may refrain from sexual intercourse during the days of the woman’s fertile period. This is Natural Family Planning. Unlike contraception, which essentially takes God out of family planning, NFP respects the natural cycles created by God.
It is sometimes said that NFP is nothing other than “Catholic contraception.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Even though the purposes of NFP and contraception may be the same, the means are essentially different. The NFP couple, while engaging in non-procreative intercourse by making use of the infertile times, still give themselves to each other completely. The contracepting couple, who place a positive obstacle to procreation, withhold their fertility from each other.
NFP is not only a morally acceptable means for the spacing of children, it has absolutely proven itself to be a boon to marriages. Some couples complain that NFP requires too much “work.” The couple actually have to think about their love and the place of children in their marriage. After all, shouldn’t married love be spontaneous — even impulsive? Just take a pill and we don’t even have to think about what we are doing or the consequences of what we are doing, these couples say. This rather mindless non-involvement of the couple in their own married life is precisely what can and does often lead to the breakdown of marriages. Christian marriage demands sacrifice, chastity and self-control. These are especially important virtues in a culture that seeks instant gratification. The fact is that approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce. Only 3-5% of NFP marriages end in divorce. Conclusion: NFP is good for marriage.
The promises that accompanied that marketing of the oral contraceptive nearly 50 years ago have all proven to be empty. Abortions did not decrease. Divorces did not decrease. Married couples did not become happier. Just the opposite. Having learned from experience that contraception is not good for marriage, might it not be time now to accept what God and His Church give us for our good and the good of married life?
May God bless all married couples and all those preparing for marriage. May their lives authentically reflect God, who is love.