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


During the past twenty years there have been many significant advances in natural family planning. Scientific advances have given new reliability to natural family planning methods. New educational techniques have made it easier to train large numbers of couples. And the apostolic zeal of trained couples, as well as that of doctors, counselors and many of our priests and religious has placed this information at the disposal of increasing numbers of married couples who grasp the basic insight of the Church's teaching.

Yet, despite this progress, a great number of married couples hardly know the basic techniques of natural family planning, and many more are lacking in confidence because they remain unaware of the dramatic advances that have taken place.

This book can serve a very useful purpose in bringing to those who are uninformed a basic knowledge of Natural Family Planning. And, as many of the experiences described in the first section show quite clearly, it can also provide information and assurance that will give new confidence and hope to couples who wish to use the natural methods reliably and effectively. The first section presents the personal witness of married couples who utilize the natural methods, as well as couples involved in the promotion and the teaching of NFP.

But the book is not intended simply as just another instruction manual to be given to couples who wish to fulfill their responsibilities in terms of marital intimacy, childbearing and childrearing in fidelity to the Church's teaching. It is intended for a large audience, that is, for pastors of souls and for those associated with them in the pastoral care of families-physicians, educators, counselors, catechists, and especially those couples who are actively involved in NFP promotional and educational efforts. Thus, the second part of the book provides information on the scientific studies that verify the reliability of NFP, and the sociological and behavioral data that provide a sharper insight into attitudes, values and educational approaches. Part three presents the witness of the Catholic tradition, with particular focus on the teaching of recent Popes, the Second Vatican Council, and many Bishops Conferences throughout the world.

In addressing questions of marriage and family life, Popes Paul VI, John Paul I, and our present Holy Father, John Paul II, have repeatedly drawn on two major themes of the Second Vatican Council - conjugal love and responsible parenthood. The human love of married couples must be rooted in the source of all love - God Himself. For this human love serves the practical purpose of binding the couple together in a relationship that is faithful, unifying and fruitful. At the some time, this love reminds us of God's love for His people - His divine love that stands unshaken and undiminished even when mankind is weak, unfaithful or neglectful. That is why marriage connot be viewed simply as a useful, practical, contractual agreement. It must be understood as "the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love" (Humanae Vitae).

For a marriage to develop, succeed, and be fruitful, the special love of married partners must involve a relationship that is mutual, generous, affectionate, and expressed in a variety of ways that bind a couple more closely to each other (Humanae Vitae, 9; Gaudium et Spes, 49). This love cannot be selfish, self-centered. It must be outgoing. It should make a couple sensitive to the needs of family, friends and neighbors. The love of Christian spouses should have an outreach to the farthest horizons to embrace others who need compassion and care, giving them the awareness that God's love is mediated through those who have a vital experience of His loving presence.

In the vast majority of cases, as love continues to grow, the couple, looking beyond themselves, take up the privileges and responsibilities of parenthood. But parenthood should not be left to chance, for cooperation with God in the initiation of new life requires courage, commitment and generosity. Responsible parenthood in the spacing of births and the size of the family is based on the married couple's sense of personal security and their faith in God and His provident care. "In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society" (Humanae Vitae, 10; Gaudium et Spes, 8 7; Populorum Progressio, 36-I 7).

Natural family planning should be seen primarily in the context of conjugal love and family life, not simply as another method of fertility control. For, as numerous couples have told us, NFP is not simply another birth control technique. It involves a fundamental approach to human sexuality that places conjugal intimacy in the larger context of marital rights and responsibilities. It fosters marital intimacy and sexual self-mastery. It preserves an openness to life and a willingness on the part of the couple to share life and love with their own children and with generations yet to come, and it prepares a couple for the generosity and self-sacrifice that are necessary in so many other areas of married life.

Openness to life and the extension of love to others must be the dominant qualities for a successful and happy marriage. Yet maintaining the openness to life brings its own share of problems and tensions. We live today in a world in which the child is often looked upon as a burden, rather than a benefit. Each birth is analyzed in terms of the economic cost, without any measurement of the intangible benefits that accrue to parents, to the family itself and to society. The love of children that leads to parental generosity and sacrifice is often constrained by a propaganda effort which has arbitarily decided that the two-child family should be the norm for all couples.

In his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI showed himself to be compassionately aware of the contemporary difficulties encountered by married couples. The Holy Father urged them "to conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts, and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church" (Humanae Vitae, 10).

With pastoral concern, Pope Paul recognized that observance of the Church's teaching sometimes appears to be difficult or even impossible of achievement, and that it would not be practicable without the help of God (Humanae Vitae, 20). However, the Holy Father also recognized that couples can achieve self-discipline and self-mastery by basing their efforts on their mutual love and their faith in a God Who is love, Who understands their struggles and readily forgives their failures, and Who continually extends to them the treasury of graces obtained by Christ and mediated through the Church, in word and sacrament. He said especially to priests: "Teach married couples the necessary way of prayer and prepare them to approach more often with great faith the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance. Let them never lose heart because of their weakness" (Humanae Vitae, 29).

In this same vein, Pope John Paul Il has noted that "parents may meet with a certain number of problems which cannot be solved without deep love, the love which also comprises an effort of continence. These two virtues, love and continence, appeal to a common decision of the spouses" (John Paul Il to CLER and FIDAF, November 3, 1979).

We must also remember that the achievement of conjugal chastity is a process in which a couple, little by little, are able to order and integrate their many feelings and inclinations to the point where they achieve harmony and peace. There is sometimes the frustration of failure, and the tendency to give up. But this is the very time when Christian spouses call upon the graces of the marriage sacrament and move forward toward the perfection of their love for one another and the deepening of their life in Christ.

Once again, Pope John Paul II, recognizing the difficulties that married couples face, reminds us that while "decisions about the number of children and the sacrifices to be made for them must not be taken only with a view to adding to comfort and preserving a peaceful existence" (John Paul II, Respect Life Homily, Washington, D.C., October 7, 1979); at the same time, "it is necessary to use every possible means to provide practical help for couples to live this responsible parenthood." For the Holy Father notes "that what is at stake is the good of families . . . . and provided that an appeal is always made to the virtues of love and continence, it is a question of the progress of human self-mastery in conformity with the creative plan" (John Paul 11 to CLER and FIDAF).

This book, then, is a valuable contribution to the increasing literature on Natural Family Planning, seen in the context of Christian marriage and family life. For it is only when we acknowledge the twofold destiny of men and women - natural and supernatural - that we are able to deal with the wonders of childbirth and parenting. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, "Everyone should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny of man" (Gaudium et Spes, 51).

It is my hope that this book will be circulated widely and read attentively so as to expand awareness of the reliability and value of the natural family planning methods. Moreover, it should help pastors, educators and counselors to motivate married couples toward achieving deeper marital unity, responsible parenthood and Christian perfection.

Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York

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