In honor of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, please welcome contributing author Renee McGuire to The Practicing Catholic. Renee and husband Kerry are fellow parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in West Des Moines, IA, where they also teach NFP classes. Part 1 of their story appears today; please stop back tomorrow for Part 2!
Over the last few years, NFP has become a passion of ours. Fr. Zach Kautzky’s homily on July 3 wonderfully reflected why this is so important. He referenced the Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II and Humane Vitae by Pope Paul VI. We are called to “love like God does.” He explained how contraception can be detrimental to marriage because it limits our love from loving completely. “I love ALL of you EXCEPT for your fertility …” This is what makes NFP different from contraception or sterilization – we are working with our God-given, natural bodies without interfering, altering, or violating our reproductive systems to preserve the unitive and procreative ends of marital love.
You may be thinking, “I really don’t need to know anything about NFP!” or “Why is this important? Catholics don’t really follow this anyway” or “NFP doesn’t apply to me because: I have a significant medical reason NOT to get pregnant . . . We’ve already been sterilized . . . This is just the rhythm method and everyone knows that doesn’t work . . . Everyone that follows NFP has big families and we can’t afford that . . . NFP is only for good marriages . . . NFP is too hard to learn.” There are so many excuses and misconceptions out there relating to this principle teaching within the Catholic Church. The actual reality, however, is that EVERYONE needs to be aware of AND understand NFP.
- Natural Family Planning is NOT the “rhythm method.” This is often confused. The rhythm method is outdated and not based on significant scientific knowledge. NFP is 99% effective in postponing pregnancy. That is the same effectiveness of many other contraceptive methods, without the pesky little mortal sin part.
- NFP is “all natural,” doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t harm any part of the bodies God gave us. We work WITH the fertility God established within us. There are so many detrimental physical and spiritual side effects of artificial contraceptives and sterilizations that really aren’t that widely publicized secularly. Both spouses have shared responsibility for their fertility, experience delayed gratification, and embrace the “agape” love that God intended for us.
- God calls us to love as He does. The five characteristics of this agape love are: Permanent, freely chosen, self-gift, based on knowledge of human dignity, and life-giving. We learn to love fully without using each other.
- NFP has strengthened our marriage in ways that we never understood could happen. Our communication and respect for each other has only continued to flourish.
- Responsible parenthood, the virtuous decision by a married couple to either conceive a child or postpone conception of a child according to their circumstances, is what makes NFP different than birth control.
- NFP calls for “obedience” or freely complying with Church doctrine and God’s will, not in fear of going to Hell. Obedience can be a scary word or duty, but fulfilling this virtue can lead to many spiritual graces. We can learn perseverance, tolerance, faithfulness, self-control, diligence, joy, faith, and commitment.
These theological principles weren’t anything that we knew about before signing up for our first NFP class after a miscarriage seven years ago. We had previously used birth control and had learned of the abortifacient principles of hormonal contraceptives. We considered ourselves “Pro-Life.” So much of my research following our miscarriage pointed to the residual hormones in my body not letting our baby thrive. There was incredible guilt over that possibility. I knew that the Church had told us not to use artificial birth control – we didn’t understand why and thought it was just a completely “outdated” teaching. We pretty much followed the rest of the “rules,” and we were “good” people. Now we had to endure the consequences that God and the Church did not want anyone to have to bear.
Part 2 of Renee and Kerry’s story continues tomorrow. Stop back to read how Renee’s “A-ha!” moment has grown into a passion for teaching Natural Family Planning.
This week is Natural Family Planning Awareness Week (July 24-30). Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the knowledge of a couple’s fertility that then be applied to achieve or postpone (99% effective) pregnancy without the use of drugs, devices, or surgical procedures. 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 the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife.