Dear Parishioners and Friends of Saint Patrick Parish,
This month we observe Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness. This year’s theme is Marriage: One Flesh, Given and Received. The specific week of the observance, July 23 – 29, is based on the anniversary of the papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), a papal encyclical describing Catholic teaching on human sexuality and conjugal love.
Why would this even be highlighted as an annual observance? After all, doesn’t the Church just teach a bunch of “thou shall nots” and “NO!” when it comes to sexual moral issues? While some may already have decided to stop reading this column after the first line, I want to just take a couple of moments to share some of the hopeful message about NFP and why it should be important for all of us to consider the significance of this teaching regarding the dignity of human sexuality.
Sex is a great and wonderful gift from our Creator and Father. It finds its fullest and most fruitful expression in the context of marriage when a man and woman open themselves up to the unitive and creative components. Jesus elevated the dignity of marriage at Cana and the Church maintains that this sacrament is fundamental to the advancement and stability of a just society. However, like all gifts, marital love requires a response rooted in responsibility and right order. Every married couple, therefore, needs to give serious attention to what this means in their own lives as they live out their Christian vocation. This includes the discernment of growing or limiting their family.
One of the key pastoral challenges when walking with engaged couples is to help them understand the importance of knowing what NFP actually is and the life-giving potential it offers. When a couple has begun cohabitation and habits of sexual expression already formed, most have introduced artificial contraception into their relationship. And most have concluded that it will have a key role within their marriage. In addition to the moral question, this attitude can have several negative impacts upon the soon-to-be newlyweds. For example, by already separating the unitive from the procreative aspect of marriage, the couple perceives pregnancy as a consequence to their conjugal life. An implicit “no” becomes an essential component in their relationship before the fullness of the “yes” is discovered and further explored.
Another reason for the importance of NFP comes from a couple of friends who have discovered wonderful fruits for years in their respective marriages. One friend, married for many years, insists that, as a man and a husband, he has learned the art and discipline of continence – self-restraint – within his marriage. Along with his wife, my friend added that his trust in God increased as they became more and more intentional about their conjugal life. Another friend shares that she and her husband, married nearly 25 years, have become better communicators with each other as they discussed one another’s needs for intimacy on a truly cyclical basis. Each month, their psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs are discussed which has developed into rhythmic pattern over the years.
Whether at the age for family planning decisions, or accompanying couples who are at the stage of discerning family size, I invite you to check out the USCCB’s website: www.usccb.org/topics/natural-familyplanning. We also take this time to prayerfully support and thank all couples who embrace the call and responsibility of Christian Marriage.
Yours in Christ the Bridegroom,