Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way

9. Three Decades of Promoting NFP

My three decades of work with couples in the NFP apostolate have been most rewarding, leaving me with great joys, positive memories, and happy experiences. I find that couples practicing NFP are very happy couples.

Calendar rhythm was much more successful than most people seem to realize today, that is, provided the method was understood properly by the couple using it. True, irregularity of cycles increased the amount of abstinence required. But I learned early that the amount of physical sexual activity in a marriage is by no means an index of the happiness and joy of the couple. The humanist psychiatrist Erich Fromm has observed that love is not the result of sexual satisfaction, but sexual happiness is the result of love.

As a celibate, I wondered why couples who deeply loved each other found continence not to be a major problem. The paradox was illuminated when a young husband told me, "Father, if husbands and wives really love each other, they will know many ways to express love." I began hearing couples talk about the courtship and honeymoon phases during each menstrual cycle. Some husbands and wives used to say that the practice of rhythm was "exciting" and even adventurous.

In the early days of NFP the occasional pregnancies that occurred contrary to plans were accepted as proof that God, after all, was in charge; that was a time when children were always considered a blessing, from the Lord. Couples who wished to avoid a pregnancy but experienced one nevertheless often felt that God wanted them to have this special child who, properly raised, would honor Him for all eternity. Besides, children are meant to make saints out of their parents.

It became more and more evident that Catholic couples who practiced rhythm were by no means at a disadvantage compared with those who resorted to condoms, diaphragms, spermicides, and withdrawal, all of which had and still have high failure rates. Contraceptive practice is often accompanied by impulsive intercourse. (Also the abortifacient Pill and IUD, which came to the scene later, have high user failure rates.)

In many discussions with contracepting non-Catholics it came home to me that contraception does not promote good marriage and family life; actually it unleashes the sexual instinct, to the deterioration of the relationship, and leads to aberrations like spousal exploitation, fornication, adultery, perversions, sterilization, abortion, and eventually euthanasia.

On the contrary, NFP enhances the communication of the couple, asks no more of the wife than it asks of the husband, produces a healthful insight into the real nature of marital sexuality, love, and biblical two-in-one relationship; not least, NFP occasions a sexual maturity and bond that contracepting couples often fail to achieve.

It continues to be a joy to see NFP couples become the natural teachers of sexuality and NFP to their own children; the parents are virtuous models of authentic masculinity and femininity. Because they are basically pro-life, NFP couples come to the defense of the unborn. Experiencing the benefits of NFP, these couples also applauded the wisdom of Humanae Vitae. I might add that in thirty years I cannot recall a couple who began their marriage understanding and practicing NFP who ended up with a separation or divorce.

As I look over the past now, I recall that those married couples who struggled with their sexuality, and who sometimes endured lengthy periods of abstinence, often had children who opted for the religious life or the priesthood or both. In general, the children inherited from their parents a respect for the sources of life. The couple who make sexual technique their top priority appear to have a difficult time achieving true happiness in marriage.

Abstinence does make the heart grow fonder. In the process such couples enrich their "love-making," since continence itself is an eloquent expression and proof of concern and love for one another and for their family. Besides, as Gerald Vann has written, "You don't make love, love makes you."

Periodic continence can enhance affection. I vividly remember the wife who told me that every night she falls asleep in her husband's arms. Another said, "I have the proof of my husband's love in his willingness to abstain for my sake and that of the children."

Then there were the wife and husband who argued vehemently with me in defense of the legitimacy of contraception. Afterwards the wife told me privately, "Father, if I see my death coming, I surely want to confess to a priest how many years I have contracepted." It appears to me that popularity-seeking priests who try to assuage consciences in this area, against the teaching given to us, do not succeed.

Actually the qualities that make a marriage successful are the same as those that enable couples to practice NFP successfully. When a marriage goes bad, many priests blame the Church's birth-control teaching, whereas what is really at fault is the marriage relationship. As Mormon sociologist Reuben Hill has remarked, sexual intercourse is a brutal truth session, reflecting the couple's total life-pattern together.

Still, real difficulties in promoting NFP also come to mind. I have always been amazed that so few married couples and also so few priests understand the God-made human reproductive process. The human reproductive system is astonishingly unique; it is quite distinct from that of the brute animal. I regret very much that the Church, in most places, does not routinely provide engaged couples with information necessary for NFP.

The popes since Pius XI in 1930 have given us valid instructions about guiding couples concerning the practice of NFP. In 1951 Pope Pius XII spoke out twice and strongly in behalf of NFP. In the encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI urged us to engage in this important apostolate. The present pope has several times stressed its importance, as in his talk of November 3, 1979, to the International Federation for Family Life Promotion, and Centre de Liaison des Equipes de Recherche.

The practice of NFP, in so many cases, helps to build beautiful families and saves them from the horrendous sexual abuses that are sapping the foundations of the West. Thank God that we are now, after all these years, moving into an age when bishops are providing full programs for marriage instructions, including NFP, in their dioceses. I look for a better world and a much healthier and more vigorous Church, with married couples who are proud to implement in their lives the teachings of this Church, radiating good influence over the entire human race, illustrating once again that the Creator of Man and of sex has also shown us how to live out our lives beautifully.

by Fr. Paul Marx, O.S.B., Ph. D.

Rev. Paul Marx, O.S.B.
Human Life Center
St. John's University
Collegeville, MN 56321

Fr. Paul Marx, O.S.B., Ph. D., is Founder and President of the Human Life Center at St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. Leading figures gather annually at this Center for the International Symposium on Natural Family Planning to teach and discuss the latest developments of all the approaches to NFP. Father Marx has acquired vast experience during 33 years in the area of NFP, pro-life, and anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia. Among his confreres he is sometimes called "Father Rhythm." He has visited 50 countries working in this apostolate, and has published widely. He is publisher of the International Review of Natural Family Planning.

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