by Theresa Notare, MA
July 16, 2004
On July 25 the dioceses will begin a week-long campaign to help Catholics understand the Church's teachings on birth control. The campaign—Natural Family Planning Awareness Week—has as its theme "A Way of Life, A Way of Love." Why pick July as a time to do this? Two reasons: the anniversary of the important encyclical on birth control, Humanae vitae, falls on July 28th, and summer is typically a time when people slow down. It's a good time for reflection. Most Catholics are unaware that these teachings are about what God originally planned for His children.
Catholic teachings on sex and birth control come right from Scripture. That's where we find what God wants for men and women. Genesis begins with the creation of men and women made "in the image of God" (Gen. 1:27). This means that men and women have an inner dignity. It also means that they are not merely "of the human family," but are of a "divine family" – God's own children! In light of our salvation in Christ, St. Paul built on this ancient revelation teaching that those who are baptized "are the body of Christ" (I Cor. 12: 27). In fact St. Paul says that "If ... any man is in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17). St. Peter echoes this understanding that baptized Christians are "a chosen race ... a holy nation," in fact, "the people of God" (1 Peter 2:9 & 10).
The Church has always understood that because of baptism, Christians are really different—they are living members of the body of Christ! What does this have to do with sex and birth control? St. Paul says that as members of Christ, Christians carry a responsibility in their own bodies–they are temples of the Holy Spirit (see I Cor. 6:19). Because of this, if Christians abuse human sexuality, he continues, they gravely dishonor God dwelling within (see I Cor. 6:13-20).
Genesis is clear about God's design for marriage: "A man shall leave his father and the mother and cling to his wife and the two shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24) and "God blessed them, saying, 'Be fruitful and multiply'" (Gen. 1:28). God's design is that one man and one woman bond as "one person" and that within that bond, a holy reality, an awesome responsibility exists–to cooperate with Him in bringing new life into the world. Decisions regarding the timing of possible pregnancies should be made prayerfully and with respect for God's design (i.e., working with the natural cycle of human fertility). Artificially blocking fertility effectively shuts God out of the bedroom!
Christian married love is "a way of life" and "a way of love" that stands in stark contrast to secular notions of marriage. It is bound up with a purpose greater than the needs and desires of the couple, namely, God's original design for creation. Natural Family Planning Awareness Week celebrates this divine plan.
Theresa Notare, MA, is the Assistant Director of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning, Pro-Life Secretariat, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.