Plan families God’s way
Believe it or not, a bishops’ conference in Europe reported that many of the laity rejected the Church’s teaching on family planning because the Rhythm Method had proved totally unreliable. Believe it or not, the Church was teaching the Rhythm Method in 2014!
In 2008, in response to a challenge by the then president, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale OMI, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference began working on a document on human life. It was to take the form of a teaching and learn-by-doing document on key life issues.
What resulted, the book God, Love, Life and Sex, is an attempt to give the Church’s teaching on sexuality in a way that gives guidance to all Catholics on the basic values that the Church is trying to promote, nurture and defend, because they are related to the sanctity of human life.
Marriage, where life is supposed to begin and be nurtured, is an institution which the Church has given the status of sacrament. This is to underline the important fact that by their love for each other, their acceptance of children and their life together until death, the couple become an image of God in whom the love of the Father and the Son is personalised in the Holy Spirit.
As such the Holy Trinity is the first and perfect Family, whose image the couple is called to reflect by joyfully accepting the fruits of their love in the form of children.
The aspect of God, Love, Life and Sex which I wish to focus on in this article is the crucial and often misunderstood question of family planning, with particular reference to Natural Family Planning (NFP), as opposed to artificial, chemical and mechanical contraception.
Many of us priests have unfortunately not kept up to date on the tremendous developments that have taken place in the field of NFP. Many still mistakenly think and speak of NFP as if it were the outdated and long discarded Rhythm Method.
The Rhythm Method proved to be completely unreliable: firstly, because it was based on a false premise that every woman had a regular and unchanging 28 day cycle and secondly, because it did not take into account emotional and other factors that affect her cycle.
What we have today in NFP is a most accurate scientifically tested and tried method of achieving pregnancy or spacing it. It uses observable phenomena (signs) that occur naturally in the woman’s body and which indicate the different phases of her fertility cycle. Above all, those signs are sure indicators of whether she, and therefore the couple, is fertile or infertile.
The major advantage of NFP is that it involves both spouses in the process, so much so that most NFP couples will say we are fertile or infertile, rather than she.
In other words, responsibility for having a child or spacing them belongs to both spouses, not just the woman. That joint responsibility in itself changes the nature and depth of the couple’s relationship. They discuss these intimate matters much more freely, openly and candidly!
Another advantage is that it is natural and healthy, as it works with the body’s natural processes.
Learn About Natural Family Planning
It is therefore imperative that NFP become more widely known, that it be taught, learned and promoted by more and more Catholics, from priests down to couples preparing for marriage.
Of course, it goes without saying that more married couples need to begin or to resume practising NFP conscientiously and with the necessary commitment.
With the development and spread of Bl John Paul IIs Theology of the Body, more young adults and youth are being introduced to a clearer knowledge and better understanding of the meaning and place of sexuality in a persons make up, and its proper use in marriage and in marriage only!
For those older priests who were confused by the whole contraception debate of the 1960s and 70s, and even the 80s, this is going to be a major challenge.
Firstly, the challenge is to get up to date about NFP and artificial contraception, why one is acceptable in Catholic magisterial teaching and why one is not.
Secondly, there is the challenge to get to know and understand the essential differences between NFP and contraception, including the fundamental difference in intention.
With NFP the intention is to follow natures rhythms of fertility and infertility in order to space the births of children.
With contraception there is only one intention, namely to prevent birth altogether, first by preventing ovulation, second by preventing fertilisation, and third by preventing implantation of the fertilised egg to the wall of the womb. Today’s contraceptive pills do all three, thus interfering with three distinct phases in the development of a new human life. The last one is the most serious as it amounts to an early abortion. Hence the description of the pill as abortifacient or causing abortion.
There is no wonder that more and more couples, non-Catholic as well as Catholic, are looking for the right thing to do, namely how to space their children without all the harmful side effects and consequences of artificial contraception. For this reason there is a real and urgent call to every priest, deacon and lay minister engaged in formation to promote NFP among married couples, and especially among those who are preparing for marriage, but also teenagers, even pre-teens. There is no excuse for not speaking out against contraception since we have a perfectly workable and effective alternative.
Besides, our Catholic men and women as well as others have a right to complete and accurate information. And they deserve to get that information from those they can trust, so that they can make healthy decisions both morally and physically.
May Our Lady, the Mother of Human Life in its most perfect form, Jesus Christ, encourage and support you so that you will do whatever he tells you.