Is it possible for a parish in the United States today to require the couples who get married there to learn NFP? Not only is it possible, but it is happening, right in New York City.
After my ordination in 1988, I was appointed parochial vicar at St. Charles parish, in the Oakwood Heights section of Staten Island. St. Charles registers about 3600 families, mostly of Irish and Italian descent. It has an average number of 68 weddings a year.
If a couple wishes to be married at St. Charles, they are required to take a course in Natural Family Planning. This has been a parish policy for about fifteen years. The course, which is in addition to the usual Pre-Cana and meetings with the priest, is offered at a local Catholic hospital, St. Vincent's, and consists in three evening sessions. (Since the third session is designed for those who have already begun using the method, the engaged couples take only the first two sessions.)
What's the reaction? Overwhelmingly, the couples appreciate having taken the sessions. Initially, there is sometimes a question as to why they need to do this when "my friend did not have to when she got married in her parish." We explain to them that we are committed to giving them the best possible preparation, so that they will be as fully equipped as possible to live a Catholic marriage. We show them that we havetheir best interests at heart. We explain that we don't want them to ever feel they are in a dilemma of having to choose between planning their family and being a good Catholic.
Follow-up is important. We ask them to bring us the certificate indicating they have attended Sessions I and II of the NFP course. Then we ask for feedback. Some of the reactions I've received are, "It was interesting - I never knew about those things before!" "There were a lot of charts, but as I listened I realized how useful it is." "At first we didn't see why we should go, but now I see the value of it -- Every couple should know about this!"
During all the years of this policy, we can only recall one couple who decided to go to another parish rather than have to take the NFP class.
Yes, it is possible to spread the good news of NFP. We need to be willing to be real Shepherds, leading the way courageously, ready to eagerly point to NFP and say, "Look at this! This is important -- indeed, necessary -- for you to know! This will bless your marriage." Ultimately, from the couples we lead in this way, there can only be one wise response: "Thank you!"
--Fr. Frank A. Pavone