Natural family planning: God’s Provision
Humanae Vitae states that it is permissible to use the infertile period to space children in the family or for serious reasons, but even this should not be done without prayer and serious reflection. It should not be used for selfish reasons and should be made for grave motives, with due respect for the moral law. A woman’s period of infertility is God’s natural provision that is still open to the possibility of procreation, because there is nothing blocking sperm from fertilizing the egg, if an egg is available. Thus, it is always open to the possibility of procreation.
Natural family planning is an extremely effective method of spacing ones children. In highly motivated people rates as low as 0.2 pregnancy will occur for 100 women in a year and this was achieved in India. Pregnancy rates jump to 3-8 when couples are using NFP to space their children. In an Italian study rates of zero were achieved in couples who wanted no more children.
Described in another way, the NFP that is based upon a woman’s symptoms and/or temperature (commonly referred to as Sympto-Thermal methods) can be over 99% effective, an effectiveness similar to combination birth control pills.
All that is required for NFP to succeed is for a couple to abstain from sexual relations based upon the rules of the various systems. This time of abstinence reminds the couple that God’s will and not theirs, determines the conception of human life. It also helps the couple grow in character and to put their desires under the control of their wills. It gives them an appreciation of the purpose of chastity and the need for it.
In a world constantly promoting sexual promiscuity these times of chastity help each spouse to resist the daily temptations that they will encounter. Isn’t it ironic that priests can be celibate all their lives, but our culture believes it is too much to ask of couples that they abstain a few days each month? NFP is a method that focuses more on fertility awareness and appreciation than contraception.
Another fruit of NFP is that family life revolves to some degree around the woman and her cycle. The Pope has frequently pointed out that the woman is the heart of the family. NFP reinforces this aspect of family life and as John Chrysostom pointed out in one of his sermons the importance of the women in our life cannot be over estimated. Women were there at the cross when Jesus died. Women were the first to arrive at the empty grave site when Jesus rose from the dead. Women were the first to tell the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Disobeying God’s plan: The Fruit of Our Day
Pope Paul VI was prophetic in his prediction of the results of using artificial contraception:
First, it would “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” In this country we can see that this extends up and down all levels of our society. Rampant divorce, premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, children born to the unmarried, etc. are all too common fruits of irresponsible sexual activity and lack of commitment in marriages. Separating procreation from the sexual relationship often results in an unbridled lust and sex for its own sake. Thus, it no longer has the unitive aspect. Ideas have consequences: if you accept the idea that procreation is not an essential nature of marriage, then why not so-called “gay marriage”? This is a direct attack upon the sacramental nature of marriage. It also fosters a disrespectful attitude toward God’s laws and the Church’s teaching authority in general.
Second, it will encourage men to “disregard the physical and emotional equilibrium of women, reduce her to an instrument of a man’s satisfaction, and to disrespect women in general.” While women fight for the right to do with their bodies as they will, they unknowingly undermine their desire to be respected in society for who they are. Pope Paul VI and John Paul II have obviously recognized the need for men to respect and even honor women. Yet, the fruit of artificial contraception has been an increasing gulf and hostility between men and women, a hostility and disrespect that has invaded all aspects of our culture, but most seriously the family. We have epidemics of abuse of women in the work place, domestic violence, a rise of pornography to the point where it is one of the most successful businesses on the Internet. Is this cause and effect? Only God knows for sure, but Pope Paul VI predicted it would occur. In the end we seem to say, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" (J. Budziszewski, Contraception: A Symposium, First Things)
Sociologic data suggest women are less happy than men in our society in spite of the “sexual revolution” and “radical feminism.”
Third, it would put into the hands of government a power that could be abused and allow government “to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.” Witness the forced use of contraception in many countries of the world, the forced abortions in China, and the requirement by our own government that population control be forced upon cultures and countries in order for them to receive financial aid.
Finally, he predicted that humanity would believe it had total dominion over its body. “Woman becomes the object of the tools she relies on to ensure her own liberation and defense, while man takes no share of the burden.” (Archbishop Chaput) We have IVF, cloning, genetic manipulation, embryo and fetal experiments. We have come to believe that if we can do it, we should, rather than question the morality of our actions. “A significant new technology does not “add” something to a society, it changes everything- - just as a drop of red dye does not remain discrete in a glass of water, but colors and changes every single molecule of the liquid.” (Archbishop Chaput) Our society is wracked with “sexual identity problems” resulting in bodily mutilation, behavioral dysfunctions, an ever coarsening attitude toward life and respect for people in general, and finally an epidemic of breast cancer from all those excess hormones in oral contraceptives.
Historically, the use of contraception has been a Church issue from its earliest existence. Beginning with the letter of Barnabas, A.D. 74, the Church began to comment upon the illicit use of sexuality. Of course the story of Onan, who was punished for “spilling his seed” in the Old Testament takes the issue even further back in time. Several Church fathers comment upon the issue, such as Clement, Hippolytus, Lactantius, the Council of Nicaea I, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Jerome and Augustine. Even famous Protestants have condemned contraception, including John Calvin and John Wesley. Pope Paul VI clearly states that all he is doing is upholding God’s truth and reiterating the teachings of the Church, that artificial contraception has always been condemned by the Church, and the Church cannot teach anything contrary to God’s will for it. As Archbishop Chaput suggests, “If Paul VI was right about so many consequences deriving from contraception, it is because he was right about contraception itself.”
This is just a glimpse into the consequences of the rejection of the sacramental natures of matrimony, for there are many articles written, much research done, and even books that illustrate the Truths put forward by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, if people would just pay attention and were really seeking Truth.
How Do We Respond to God’s Truth?
Pope Paul VI goes on to recognize that the truth of Humanae Vitae can result in hardship. To follow the true path will require a “resolute purpose and great endurance. Indeed it cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with grace.” Spouses must recognize and value the true blessings of family life and “acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. It requires self-denial, self-discipline and will bring to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps to repel an inordinate self-love. As the children grow they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of mental and physical powers.”
The difficulty for couples is expressed in the scripture “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life.” Yet, we must remember that after we pick up our cross and carry it, He is there to lighten the load. As Archbishop Chaput says, “I suspect that at the heart of Catholic ambivalence toward Humanae Vitae is not a crisis of sexuality, Church authority or moral relevance, but rather a question of faith. Do we really believe in God’s goodness?”
Pope John Paul II frequently talks about the “culture of death” that exists in our country and much of the Western world, but what are Catholics doing to counter this culture? One way in which we can become pro-life and counter it is to promote faithfulness to Humanae Vitae. This is a step that each Catholic couple can take and make a pro-life statement to society, without ever saying anything. As our culture slips ever further into the abyss of the culture of death is it such a big sacrifice to make? It is one Ellen and I have made, a small service to God and Church that if we all accepted would result in a large impact in our society that could perhaps break the downward spiral of “cultural death” we appear to be in.
When I am discouraged by the direction our country is going and in fact the world seems to be going, I am reminded of the disciples and the early Church. Jesus came into the world, into a pagan Roman Empire. This was a violent world with little sense of real morality and opposed to virtually everything Jesus taught. But this small group of faithful servants transformed the Empire under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. These remarkable transformations have happened repeatedly since Jesus came and will happen again! Each of us must focus on what Jesus is calling me to do!
Today – Our Grand Parenting Days
Ellen and I just spent a week at the beach in Florida with 5 of our children with their 12 children, and a baby on the way. It is always a joy to be with them and to see how much the families love each other and are so happy to be together. Besides our summer vacation together, we all get together around Christmas for several days. For over 20 years Ellen and I have used our experiences to help couples prepare for marriage. In 2008 I was ordained a deacon which I am convinced would not have occurred if not for Zachary’s intercession. The life experiences of a large family (death of Zachary, divorce, death of 3 of our parents, and my experience as a physician) have provided me with a credibility in my ministry that I otherwise might not have.
©Patrick Mongan, MD, MAPS
Click here to read Part 1 of this series.
Click here to read Part 2 of this series