Monday, July 23, 2007

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, July 22-28

Children are blessings, not burdens - gifts, not rights. Fr. Ubel, pastor, St. Agnes Catholic Church

This is NFP Awareness Week! I would like to pass on to all of you the truth of human sexuality that has so transformed my marriage and my life.

My wife and I were not Catholic when we were engaged or married, but at college my then-fiancee had Christian friends who decided to pracitice NFP. My wife's reaction was, "I guess they'll be having a baby soon!" After she learned that NFP can be practiced at the 99% effectiveness level, it appealed to her. When Amy brought it up to me on the phone my first thought was, "Are you telling me that even after we're married we'd have to not have sex sometimes?!" It was such a selfish reaction. I knew that sex before marriage was wrong, but my understanding went no deeper. I didn't have any idea what marriage was for, nor how the marital embrace related to it, nor did I have any moral compass to direct my actions as a married man. I thought that any kind of sex within marriage was fine. I felt angry that my future wife was suggesting that I have some kind of self control once we had wed.

Thankfully, God softened my heart and we took an NFP class from the Couple to Couple League. We learned what God created marriage for, and just what we were about to enter into. We learned that all Christian churches condemned contraception until 1930. We also had light shed on the tremendous good of human sexuality, and what the union of a husband and wife communicates about God and about love. We've enjoyed the blessing of NFP our entire marriage. First we used it to postpone pregnancy for three years, then to acheive pregnancy, then to space our children using total breastfeeding.

The most important fruit I see from our practice of natural family planning is the innoculation it provides against the "contraceptive mentality." There is a key difference between NFP and contraception.

While both may seek to limit family size:
- Contraception actively severs the God-given relationship between sex and procreation. It contradicts the meaning of sex, and thus the meaning of marriage.

- Natural family planning never interferes with the natural consequences of sexual relations at any time. It cooperates with the natural cylces which God has designed as part of a woman's fertility.

I know that this may seem subtle, but I cannot overemphasize how crucial it is. The difference is made apparent when a husband and a wife are asked how many children they would like to have.

Are children a burden which require us to consider how many we can bear? Do we have a right before God to have children when we desire them? Can we achieve true "birth control" by using contraception when we don't want to get get pregnant and then go off it when we feel ready? If so, then a couple might say, "We plan to have two kids spaced three years apart."

Are children a blessing from God on a couple's marriage? Is a child a gift given by God, created and cared for by the cooperation of a mother and a father? Must we respect the integrity of our bodies as the expression of our personhood and the image of God we bear? If so, then a couple might say, "We receive our children one at a time from God. We don't think God is asking us to be more open to another baby right now, but we'll prayerfully consider this every month as we are aware of the fertile time when we might conceive."

I was reminded of this difference last week as I listened to a radio broadcast of Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson interviewed three women who had experienced surprise pregnancies. All three were Christian women, but all three were simply shocked that they had become pregnant while using "birth control." All three were afraid and thought about abortion to some degree, and one decided to go through with it. The tone of the whole show was somber. The show was entitled, "Hope in the Midst of Unexpected Pregnancies" (Part 1, Part 2).

If a child is treated as an unwanted side-effect of sex to be surpressed with a pill prescribed by a doctor, then there is no need to think about the chances of having another baby when a husband and wife have sex. Abortion becomes the logical, even if abhorred, next step when a woman is faced with a surprise pregnancy. This is the contraceptive mentality.

If a couple is reconsidering every month whether God is calling them to greater generosity in family size, and they are sacrificing by abstaining from relations during the fertile time, then an unplanned pregnancy should never be unexpected. That is was sex was designed for! The couple may of couse have many fears and questions regarding the future care of an
unexpected child, but they always remained open to the possiblity. They never closed their relationship to children by manipulating the language of their bodies.

I encourage everybody to learn more about NFP and the meaning of human sexuality within marriage. Your relationships to each other and to God will be transformed forever.

Further reading:
Marriage: A Communion of Life and Love by Bishop Victor Galeone