NFP today: Natural, healthy and good
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted
Bishop of Phoenix, AZ
Published in the Catholic Sun, Arizona
October 2, 2008
One of the many blessings of the prophetic encyclical of Pope Paul VI “On Human Life” (Humanae Vitae) was its call for new research to provide couples with improved methods of family planning that are natural, healthy and good (ethically and spiritually). In 1968 the Holy Father got the world’s attention by writing about “human life,” especially the ethical dimensions of human conception. Since that time great advances have been made in understanding natural fertility and in developing scientifically validated methods of fertility regulation, commonly known as Natural Family Planning, or NFP.
These natural methods today are more reliable than contraceptives. More importantly, they are morally responsible and good for a woman’s health.
Consider the personal benefits of NFP for married couples. Natural methods facilitate a closeness and communion for husband and wife as they cooperate with God in all aspects of their love-making: the emotional and physical, the spiritual and creative. NFP couples are led to a keen awareness that children are a blessing and that parenthood, while requiring hard work and demanding sacrifice, has untold rewards. The complementary, God-given beauty of the feminine and the masculine come to the fore as couples practice NFP. No wonder there is a less than 5 percent divorce rate for couples that use natural methods.
Pope’s predictions come true
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, widespread ignorance of NFP still prevails. This ignorance combined with a widespread contraceptive mentality has opened the way to tragic actions that are directly contrary to marriage and to human life itself — e.g. abortion, sterilization, cloning and divorce.
Since contraception has become generally accepted in society, many people have come to believe that it is a minor sin, or not even a sin at all. The wrongness of contraception, however, is not a small little peccadillo that stands on the periphery of human life. Pope Paul VI saw this clearly 40 years ago. Contraception is a serious sin that profoundly harms the love between husband and wife. It makes false the intimate act that is designed to make them procreators with God. It tears apart the two meanings of the marital embrace: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning (i.e. the love-deepening meaning and the life-giving meaning). Is it any wonder that so many contracepting couples experience a loss of purpose in their marriages and end up in divorce?
When contraception drives a wedge between marital love (the unitive meaning) and having children (the procreative meaning), it opens the door, on the philosophical and theological level, to a host of other evils such as recreational sex without permanent commitment, adultery, attempts to justify homosexual acts, an increase in “unwanted” pregnancies, abortion, and the proliferation of pornography. Already in 1968, Pope Paul VI predicted these dire consequences of rejecting the moral norms for birth regulation. More importantly, he pointed to the positive antidotes to this sad scene: spiritual conversion through Confession and the Eucharist, and improved methods of NFP.
God designed marriage to be an image of the Blessed Trinity. Just as the Blessed Trinity is a communion of persons mutually giving and receiving love without restriction, so too marriage is a covenant built on promises and grace, a mutual giving of man and woman in the service of both life and love. Husband and wife say to each other: “I give all of myself to you and I accept you entirely as you are, including the gift of fertility.”
When contraception enters in, the message is changed to: “I do not accept all of you.” Contraception also says, “I do not accept God’s first command: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’” By the Lord’s design, the marital embrace is aimed at being life-giving love. How sacred is this privilege and responsibility.
How delighted I am that we have in our Diocese of Phoenix a thriving Natural Family Planning Center and a growing number of well-trained teachers of the various methods of NFP, in both English and Spanish. With the help of God’s grace and much effort on our own parts, I trust we are nearing the day when the words of John Paul II will be fulfilled: “The moment has come for every parish to have personnel available who can teach married couples how to use the natural methods of family planning.”
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition:
2370: Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality…. The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle… involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.
This column originally appeared in the Aug. 5, 2004, edition of The Catholic Sun.