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

Preface: Significance and Authenticity

I. The Significance of This Book

So swift, devastating and apparently irresistible has been the assault on the family that most attackers, and some defenders, have failed to notice a powerful ally moving to the family's aid. it is Natural Family Planning.

One reason for this oversight is that Natural Family Planning has long been an object of concentrated scepticism, not to say scorn. Hence any examination of it must first face the question: Does it work? To answer that question is, broadly speaking, the function of this book. To anticipate the answer: Yes, Natural Family Planning works very well indeed.

Nor does it work on only one level, that of reliability (as it is usually called). Even contraception will work there. Natural Family Planning works on deeper levels, levels from which spring the highest aspirations and most lasting gratifications of men and women: self-possession and mutual respect, harmony with nature, honor for God's laws, simple happiness.

These are bold claims, admittedly. Yet how fully experience bears them out will be evident from a reading of the first part of this book.

In fact the entire book can be viewed as an examination of the workings of NFP (to give Natural Family Planning its shorthand form). The first section, drawn in large part from the experience of couples and of teachers, shows chiefly that NFP works. The second part, the scientific part, shows bow NFP works; this scientific section adduces and examines the physiological realities NFP utilizes. The third and final section of the book shows why NFP works; this theological part makes clear that NFP is in full harmony not only with the laws of nature but with the law of God.

Because men and women find their highest happiness and fullest liberty in obeying God and His less forgiving steward, nature, NFP becomes for many husbands and wives a liberating way of living their married life. For those who turn from contraception to NFP, it is a deliverance.

Why then the mockery? Why is NFP the butt of so many bitter and scornful jokes? The short answer, and perhaps the deepest answer, is that NFP is a reflection of God's Law and hence a prime target for the world's contempt. Consider the well-known jest:

Question: What do you call a couple who practice periodic abstinence?

Answer: Parents.

The pointed suggestion of unreliability is false, though this is not well understood as yet even in Catholic circles. Still, there is a significant truth to the suggestion that the husband and wife who practice NFP are likely to be parents, either already or one day in the future. For this likelihood there are several reasons.

Spouses who practice NFP know that parenthood is a normal part of marriage and a natural aspiration of husband and wife. Setting themselves afloat on the currents of their destiny, they share it in a way that recalls the root meaning of the old word consort. Yet they also feel themselves master and mistress of that common destiny.

This is a paradox made fully convincing only by experience, lived or conveyed. To convey such lived experience is one of the aims of this book.

A second reason why husband and wife practicing NFP are likely to be parents is a matter of physiology. The woman who practices NFP does nothing to endanger her fertility, or for that matter to endanger her health. This is in stark contrast to the woman on the Pill or the IUD, who runs multiple risks to health and indeed to life itself.

Our third reason has an axiomatic ring to it. It is that NFP, by definition, is a method of family planning. NFP is not just a way of postponing conception, though of course that is one of its uses. It is also a way of achieving conception; in fact it is the only method of family planning that can help couples to have children.

Thus Natural Family Planning restores the meaning of family planning. Whereas that term has been a euphemism for contraception, or at any rate has been applied only to the restriction of conception, it now means just what it says: a method for planning families.

Experience has brought to light a fourth and fundamental reason why couples who practice NFP are likely to be parents. it is that the very practice of NFP, through its motive principles and continuing momentum, helps bring a man and woman to a fuller understanding of human sexuality and of its fulfillment in the child.

Furthermore, it helps bring the spouses to a fuller understanding of one another: Such understanding is reached precisely because NFP is a cooperative venture: the very requirement of full mutual consent prompts husband and wife to examine, together, their reasons for embarking on NFP, their individual and joint needs.

Another characteristic found among spouses who adopt NFP, especially among those who choose NFP over contraception or worse, is a newfound sense of self-esteem. NFP not only demands that the partners be able to abstain, but often shows them that they are able to abstain.

Paul VI speaks to this matter magisterially in Humanae Vitae: "To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly demands asceticism in order that the affective expressions of conjugal life be according to right order. This is particularly necessary for the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline, which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers upon it a higher human value. It requires continual effort, but thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities and are enriched with spiritual values."

This "continual effort, this "discipline," is by all accounts incompatible with a merely temporary arrangement; so are the commitment and consideration essential to such discipline, and hence to the success of NFP. This is one reason why couples in such temporary arrangements who begin the practice of NFP may soon find themselves exchanging vows before a priest, and why some teachers of NFP insist at the outset that the first thing necessary for NFP is marriage.

The discipline necessary for NFP also helps explain why organizations that teach contraceptive techniques find NFP uncongenial and are unable to teach it successfully. Contraception-oriented organizations, however, move easily enough into abortion, and historically have become advocates of abortion, that reveals much about the moral thrust of contraception, just as the virtual absence of abortion among couples practicing NFP reveals much about the moral thrust of NFP.

All of this experience - the inability of organizations favoring contraception and abortion to teach NFP, the tendency of unmarried couples who undertake NFP to seek God's blessing on their union, the practical need of marriage for the success of NFP - all of this experience should help put to rest the understandable fear that NFP will become just a physiologically safe way of avoiding the responsibilities of marriage, or a way of avoiding marriage itself. In theory it might; in practice it has not.

NFP does more than demand marriage. It has a way of enhancing it, as we have seen. It does this by bringing to the fore not abstention but the virtues that abstention demands. Now the chief among these is love. Abstention makes of this virtue a necessity, as indeed it is for the whole of marriage. But the abstinence integral to NFP demonstrates the utter necessity of love with a force and starkness rarely met elsewhere in marriage.

The point is so critical it requires repetition. That love is the most important virtue in marriage is a truth so obvious and so often repeated it has become banal. But the indispensability of love in overcoming the importunings of wounded human nature impresses itself on the minds of those practicing NFP (yes, even when a couple is trying not to avoid conception but to conceive a child!). To put the matter bluntly, even unfairly: NFP shows us that only love can overcome lust.

But love overcomes all things. The love brought to the fore in NFP proceeds to permeate the whole of marriage. To realize what this can mean to a marriage we need only recall St. Paul:

"Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure" (I Corinthians 13,4-7).

A marriage permeated with such love seems less human than divine, and so it is. Any wonder, then, that spouses who have come to NFP from contraception think they have come out of the house of bondage) That some speak in exalted, perhaps even extravagant terms? That NFP might even come to be considered the only way of living married life?

We know the mind of the Church on this matter. The popes, while clearly approving and repeatedly encouraging NFP, do not lose sight of the principle that (in the words of Pius XII) "the right deriving from the contract of marriage is a permanent, uninterupted and not intermittent right of each of the parties, one to the other."

Pope Pius made that observation in his landmark speech of 29 October 1951 on the morality of limiting the use of marriage to the wife's infertile periods, that is on the morality of NFP.

He noted: "Now upon married couples who perform the specific act of their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of providing for the conservation of the human race. This is the characteristic function, from which their state derives its peculiar value, the bonum prolis."

He proceeded: "From this positive obligatory function it is possible to be exempt for a lengthy period, and even for the duration of the marriage, if there are grave reasons, such as those which not infrequently occur in the so-called 'indications' of a medical, eugenic, economic and social kind."

This was Pius XII's solution to the "serious question" he had posed at the outset, of "whether and how far the obligation of ready disposition to serve motherhood can be reconciled with the ever more widely diffused recourse to the periods of natural sterility (the so-called agenetic periods of the woman) which seems to be a clear expression of the will contrary to that disposition."

Less than a month later he returned to this question of the limits of recourse to the infertile periods. He began by speaking of big families:

"Because the primary office of marriage is to be at the service of life, Our chief gratification and fatherly gratitude go to those generous spouses who, for the love of God and with trust in Him, courageously raise a large family.

"On the other hand the Church knows how to consider sympathetically and with understanding the real difficulties of married life in our days. Therefore in Our last talk on conjugal morality We affirmed the legitimacy and at the same time the limits-in truth very wide-of a regulation of offspring which, contrary to so-called 'birth control,' is compatible with God's law."

Paul VI formulated the teaching this way in Humanae Vitae:

"If, then, there are sound motives for spacing births, motives deriving from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that it is then permissible to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions and to make use of marriage during the infertile times only ......

So broad are the moral limits of NFP that some hold couples may presume they stand within them simply because they live in a certain kind of society, such as one ruled by a ruthlessly antinatalist regime, or even a modern industrial state. So broad are these moral limits that some hold husband and wife can justifiably begin their marriage with the practice of NFP precisely in order to master the method should the need arise, especially since difficulties may be encountered in learning NFP after childbirth. (Few would question the wisdom of teaching a young couple awareness of their fertility from the outset, even before marriage.) Other questions concerning sound reasons for restricting the use of marriage to infertile periods remain to be resolved.

Whatever theologians may argue in these matters, whatever common conclusions they may reach, whatever the Magisterium may eventually decide, one thing is clear: NFP has already proven itself. It has shown itself sound on many levels, such as the moral, the physiological, the psychological. This in turn has proven a strong reinforcement for the Catholic doctrine on marital chastity. it will probably prove a strong reinforcement for the whole body of Catholic doctrine.

In the recent past, criticism of the Church's teaching on contraception promoted a critical reappraisal of the Church's teaching on many other matters, including her very authority to teach. in the near future, appreciation of NFP will prompt an appreciative reappraisal of the Church, s teaching on married chastity, and inescapably of her authority to teach. The stone which the new builders rejected, which was a stumbling-block not only to the world but even to the household of faith, bids to become a cornerstone of a renewed faith.

This book is an attempt to hasten that day's arrival. To the contributors, all of whom have generously and genuinely expressed their views, go the thanks of the De Rance Foundation.

Fr. Anthony Zimmerman
Coordinator of the Book
Editor's Introduction

II. Authenticity is the Keynote

Originally the section of this book dealing with experience was to have come last, after the sections on science and on theology. But we soon recognized that readers would prefer first to make sure that Natural Family Planning was more than a theory, that it can be lived in the lives of real people. So the section on the experience of Natural Family Planning now has pride of place.

In order that readers might come into the most direct contact possible with the contributors, we did relatively little editing of this section. Some contributions have a literary polish; others are artless and unadorned.

The first-person accounts in this section come from a sufficient variety of conditions and cultures to convince readers, we hope, that Natural Family Planning can take root anywhere. You will be led into the lives of couples in a Communist country and in the United States, in Calcutta and in Tokyo, in the city and on the farm. Seasoned teachers reflect a cumulative experience of centuries, among thousands of couples in countries of wide cultural diversity.

No attempt has been made to present these contributions in logical order. Readers can leaf through the first section at random. Yet I hope they will keep attuned to an element common to all these contributions: it is the sense that NFP people are good people.

Fr. Anthony Zimmerman, SVD, STD. Editor, Part 1, Experience
Tokyo, March 17, 1980.

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