In last week’s column, I spoke about how the use of artificial contraception denies one or both of God’s intended purposes for sexual intercourse: complete self-giving unity between the spouses, and openness to children.
Since the use of artificial contraception has become so widespread in our culture, and so many people have been misinformed about it, I suspect that many reading these columns have used or are currently using one of its forms. Whatever you’re circumstances, remember that God’s mercy is endless and that He only wants us to come to him and seek out His forgiveness, especially in the sacrament of Confession. God will write straight with our crooked lines if we let him.
It is also important to remember that the Church, in prohibiting the use of artificial contraceptives, is by no means saying that every married couple must have twenty children. The Church is saying that couples are called to be responsible parents. There may be times in the married life of a couple that having another child would present a serious health risk or great financial burden. These would be times in which the couple may decide to postpone pregnancy, however not through artificial means. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the natural and scientific method that the Church proposes for couples to space pregnancies. (There are other natural methods available out there that the Church approves of as well.) NFP should not be confused with the old “rhythm method” which was largely inaccurate and ineffective. Through NFP, the couple learns to chart the woman’s fertility cycle. Then, if the couple has serious reasons to space or postpone pregnancies, they abstain from intercourse during the time the woman is fertile.
Some have argued that NFP is the same as artificial birth control. Bear in mind that NFP can be used for selfish reasons, just like contraception. A couple could foreseeably use NFP, motivated by greed and self-reliance. They may see having another child as a limitation to their worldly ambitions, when in fact, another child is reasonable for them to support, and God is calling them to greater trust and surrender to His will. The key difference with NFP is that the couple is not actively preventing a child from coming into existence. Rather, the couple is given the opportunity to cooperate with God and the natural cycle of the woman.
Many couples today like NFP simply because it is natural, and not even for particularly religious reasons. It is also just as, if not more effective, than artificial means. The other great thing about NFP is that it teaches a couple to grow in intimacy in ways other than sexual intimacy. It also teaches a greater self-mastery and promotes deeper love – truly willing the good of the other through a greater attentiveness to each other and sacrifice at times.
If you would like to learn more about NFP, or find out how to practice it in your marriage, go to the Marriage and Family Life section of the Diocese of La Crosse website: http://diolc.org/ministry_resources/family_life/nfp/.