My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In my March 11 column in the Catholic Times, I briefly made mention of the fact that, "The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is wrong, but planning the size of one's family can be done [in a morally acceptable manner] with natural family planning (NFP)."
I would like to expand on that now to explain why we as Catholics hold that contraception is "intrinsically evil," as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #2370), while maintaining that NFP can have a proper role in the lives of married faithful.
First, we can define NFP as "an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and postpone pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. (Even women who are post-partum, breastfeeding or pre-menopausal as well as those who might experience highly irregular or complicated cycles can learn to chart their cycles.) Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman's cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are ever used to avoid pregnancy. NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of all children. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP enriches the bond between husband and wife."
It is crucial to note that modern scientific natural family planning is not what previous generations knew as the calendar rhythm method. The scientific basis for contemporary methods of NFP began in the early 1950s with the work of Drs. John and Evelyn Billings, two physicians from Melbourne, Australia, who integrated their work with the findings of the research conducted by Professor James Brown, also in Melbourne, and Professor Erik Odeblad working in Sweden. Today, in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois we see the fruit of these pioneers' work in the fact that there are at least seven different manners in which a married couple can learn the practice of NFP. Visit our Office for Marriage and Family Life for more information at www.dio.org/familylife. I can assure you that you will be pleased with the information that is readily available for you and your loved ones.
NFP provides the knowledge necessary for married couples to live out the principles of Responsible Parenthood as outlined in #10 of Pope Paul VI's Encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae:
• Knowledge and respect for biological laws;
• The necessary dominion of reason and will over instinct and passion;
• The obligatory discernment of God's will;
• Accounting for spouse's physical, economic, psychological and social conditions;
• The making of a generous decision;
• Respect for moral law.
NFP is also highly appropriate information for all adolescent young women to become familiar with as they grow in knowledge and wisdom regarding the gift of their femininity as given to them by God, our loving Father. The growth and maturation of a girl into a woman is something that is deeply misunderstood in our contemporary culture; when the biological knowledge of NFP is coupled with our Catholic understanding of the human person created in God's image and likeness, we have a powerful antidote to the counterfeit proposals inundating our youth. Young men would also do well to learn the proper awe and respect for women as the jewel of God's creation by becoming familiar with the intricacies of how it is that girls become women capable of bearing life into the world.
Contraception, in all its different variants, will always be contrary to human love because it separates the two-fold nature of marriage, which is bonding and babies. Whenever individuals, and therefore cultures, try to have pleasure (bonding) without responsibility (babies), no virtue will be fostered. If virtue is not fostered in our daily actions, then joy and eventual redemption cannot be experienced either! This is why the Bride of Jesus Christ, Holy Mother Church, has never (and can never) teach her children anything other than how always to maintain the connection between bonding and babies (NFP), while going through the tumultuous journey of life.
At the center of our faith as Catholics is the mystery of the Incarnation. As the early Christian author Tertullian tells us so beautifully, "the flesh is the hinge of salvation" (CCC #1015). Married couples owe it to themselves, their spouse, their children, and the world, to be able to articulate clearly how it is that they continue to participate in the Mystery of God's own life-giving love by being joyfully responsive to God's primordial three-fold command for husband and wife to "be fertile, multiply and fill the earth" (Gen 1:28).
May God give us this grace. Amen.