by Theresa Notare
July 2, 2002
People often ask me: "Is the Church ever going to change its teachings on birth control?" and "Why is the Church silent regarding its teachings on birth control?" My short answers often startle them. To the first, I say, "No, because the teachings are true." To the second–"The Church has never been silent."
Why do I raise these "thorny" issues when I want to talk about celebrating Natural Family Planning? Because a "celebration" implies that something is good, and NFP is good. But how can we celebrate this good thing when many Catholics don't know what NFP is and why the Church teaches what it does? Enter National NFP Week–July 21-27.
This year the Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities is assisting an event called "National NFP Week." Dioceses will provide educational activities explaining what NFP is and highlight Church teachings that support its use. For many years insightful, courageous and enterprising Catholic laity, religious, deacons, priests, bishops and popes have been teaching God's truth about NFP, human sexuality, marriage and responsible parenthood. These are the "NFP pioneers." They have not been silent! They have created systems of the natural methods, as well as organizations, diocesan ministries, teacher training programs, client materials, books, videos, pastoral letters and even papal encyclicals! The good news of God's design for life and love has been, and is constantly, proclaimed by this hardy group, but their voices have had to compete with the noisy circus of contemporary false messages. And that's why many good Catholics continue to "not know."
NFP is the general name for modern methods of family planning that make use of a woman's fertility signs to understand when a couple may achieve or avoid pregnancy. Research on what couples prefer in family planning methods shows that they want effective, non-invasive, natural methods that provide both spouses with information about the woman's reproductive life. Couples also want their family planning methods to have a positive impact on their communication and pleasure. NFP meets all of these needs!
NFP requires couples to learn about their combined fertility. Each NFP method requires couples to chart the woman's signs of fertility and to communicate so that they can know if they are hoping to achieve or postpone a pregnancy. This kind of conversation, as one couple said, provides "portholes to deeper talk and more personal dialogue between us–we've both noticed that with time, open and intimate communication is becoming less a difficulty and more a reflex." The natural methods are authentic family planning because they can be used to achieve a pregnancy. John Paul II has said, they recognize "all individuals (including the child) in its methodology and promotes decision making guided by the ideal of the sincere gift of self." (EV, #88). Each NFP method also makes use of abstinence to avoid pregnancy. NFP couples say that abstinence has a "honeymoon" effect: the times that they can come together "are made all the more poignant and precious" because of periodic abstinence.
These benefits, coupled with the knowledge that God is being invited into every part of their lives make the natural methods worth using. God has written His plan into the very bodies of men and women. It's time to honor that plan. It's time to "capture the romance"–God's gift of life and love to all married couples!
Theresa Notare is the Assistant Director of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning in the USCCB's Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.