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The Best Secret I Know – Part 2

August 30, 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled The Best Secret I Know that specifically addressed the positive effects that practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP) can have on marriages. Although the practice of NFP (read “no contraception”) is typically thought of as a Catholic thing, these effects have been recognized by Catholics and Protestants alike.

The fact that only 2-4% of NFP-practicing couples get divorced is a statistic that should catch your eye and make you consider whether it’s a practice worth embracing in your marriage. But, when we talk about NFP, we’re talking about something much more important than just a tool for marriage enhancement. We’re talking about seeing marriage and sexuality with the eyes of God and getting the most fulfillment out of your sexual relationship in marriage. That, in short, is what this post is all about.

Everyone thinks they know why the Catholic Church is against the use of contraception. Some of my favorite things that people say about the issue are:

“The Church is just trying to control people because it thinks sex is bad, wrong and evil!”
“The Church is just trying to make sure there are more Catholics to fill it’s coffers!”
“Those old celibate men need to keep their teaching out of my bedroom and stick to something they know about!”

If you’ve ever heard, said or thought some of these things (or even if you haven’t) I invite you check out this post and find out what’s really behind Catholic teaching on NFP and contraception. Be warned, however, that this might just make more sense than you’d like.

In the beginning, God made man and woman, one but separate. Their purpose was written in their very anatomy, and God reiterated that purpose with the commandment “Be fruitful and multiply.”

You’ve heard all of this before but it’d be cheating to sit back and act like procreation was the only reason that God created sex. He made it something more. He upped the ante a bit by making it pleasurable.

Have you ever stopped to think about why God did that? He didn’t have to, you know. He could have just programmed us with biological urges that would compel us to continue the species, but he didn’t. He gave us pleasure, so that sex could serve some other purpose beyond mere procreation out of biological necessity.

When the Church talks about this reality, it refers to the two purposes of “conjugal love,” the unitive and the procreative.

The man and the woman were created to share in this love, but under the right conditions. Think of sexual love like nuclear energy. If harnessed to one end, nuclear reactions can produce power that provides warmth for millions of people. If used towards another end, it can produce destruction that wipes millions from the face of the earth in an instant. In the same way, sex can deepen the relationship between a man and a woman. Used in another way, it can tear people apart.

Thus, God created marriage as the perfect environment for sex to be employed. He built it around the caveat that a man and a woman would enter into the union of matrimony and promise their whole selves to one another. We are taught that the sexual act should mirror the wedding vows between a husband and a wife. It is a reiteration of the promises that a man and woman made to one another on their wedding day.

If I had stood in front of Michelle on our wedding day and said, “I give all of myself to you except…(fill in the blank)” it would not have gone over well. We like to think that a wedding is about total surrender of two individuals to one another for the good of their life together. So, if sex should be a reiteration of this total giving of self that we began on our wedding day, how could we say to each other, “I give my whole self to you except… my fertility?”

This is what people do all the time though, isn’t it? They understand that sex has the power to unite couples but, for one reason or another, they aren’t willing to embrace it’s procreative power. They divorce the purposes of sex, saying, I want this (the unitive purpose), not that (the procreative purpose)…as if God created sex as some sort of cafeteria style blessing for couples.

None of us would ever go for any plan that would take the pleasurable, unitive purpose out of sex. We like that part! It’s the “good” part, right? But we’re perfectly willing to take out the other part of sex, aren’t we?

When we do this, it’s like we’re pretending that there are two parts of ourselves, the body and the spirit (or soul) that can be separated or divorced from one another. Unfortunately, as hard as we try, we just can’t separate our body from our spirit. They are intricately and inseparably wrapped up in one another. NFP recognizes this fact and never asks the couple to pretend that the body and soul, the unitive and procreative purposes of sex, can be divorced from one another. It allows the man and the woman to give all of themselves to one another every time.

But!… Answering a Few Objections

I am going to take just one more moment to acknowledge and answer a few more objections that people have to the teaching of the church on this topic.

This doesn’t mean unlimited kids – The Church teaches that a couple is to practice responsible parenthood, taking into account social, economic and psychological issues when determining the size of their family. It says that it is up to the couple to seek God’s guidance when answering the question, “How many kinds should we have?” In fact, it says that not even a priest should offer guidance to a couple to this effect, because it’s between that couple and God.

NFP is just like contraception – If you mean that, when used correctly, NFP is just as effective in preventing pregnancy as artificial contraception, you’re right. If you mean that, morally and theologically, using NFP to avoid pregnancy is the same as using artificial contraception, I respectfully disagree. NFP doesn’t try to control or manipulate the body. It seeks to understand the body, and the natural periods of fertility and infertility that are built into a woman’s cycle. If a couple determines that they are not ready to get pregnant, then they commit to a time of mutual celibacy.

The apostle Paul advocated for these times of celibacy for the purpose of spiritual growth, saying to the Corinthian church, “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.”

NFP Takes Away our Power- I’ve heard Michelle tell people on numerous occasions, “I don’t need to take a pill to make me feel like I’m in control.” The pill (and other forms of chemical contraception) doesn’t give you power over your body. The pill has the power and control.

Ask couples who get off the pill and are trying to achieve pregnancy if they’re in control. I believe you’ll find story after story of couples being subjected to the long-term effects of the drug and experiencing frustration in conceiving.

NFP gives you the power and tools to understand your body’s (or your wife’s body) natural functions. That is real power.

Where Can I Find Out More?
Most of this teaching comes from a variety of sources, including the documents of the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and other documents. However, it is synthesized in a document put out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.

If you’re interested in learning more about the practice of NFP, post in the comments or email me at cwilliston@gmail.com and I will gladly forward you towards good resources.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric Michael Levenhagen permalink
    August 30, 2010 6:41 pm

    Good stuff Chris. The theological underpinnings are most interesting. I have really enjoyed learning more about this from you. You’re a heck’uva (MN word) good teacher.

  2. Maman A Droit permalink
    September 2, 2010 4:25 pm

    Great post! I saw the link to it from the “Faith & Family” website, and I’ll definitely be bookmarking your blog!

  3. September 8, 2010 5:36 pm

    I LOVED wandering on to your blog from Faith & Family Live. It’s great to see a fellow Austinite doing great things with your blog! Something I’m curious about and I’ve always felt a little funny about asking… Does one practice NFP only when there are “serious reasons” to delay or avoid pregnancy? If we don’t have any serious reasons, do we just trust in God? I pondered taking an NFP course, but then I wasn’t sure if I really NEEDED to do so. Does that make sense? We only have four children and I’m going to hit the big four-oh in January – so maybe my body will decide for me.

    Thank you for your posts – I can’t wait to read more!
    Monique

    • Chris permalink*
      September 9, 2010 8:05 am

      Hi Monique,

      Thanks so much for checking out This Pilgrims Progress! I just checked out your blog. Those are some seriously adorable pictures of your little one.

      As to your question, it’s a completely legitimate one and one that makes a lot of sense. The church does say that we should have serious reasons for considering avoiding pregnancy, but it puts the burden squarely on your shoulders to decide what a serious reason might be. It talks quite a bit about the need for “responsible parenthood” in which the husband and wife consider, social, economic, psychological and physical concerns when determining whether to expand the size of their family.

      Ultimately, the size of your family is between you, your husband and God. The church says that it would be inappropriate even for a priest to intervene or advise.

      That said, prayerfully consider whether God is calling you to expand the size of your family. I’m willing to bet that, in your gut, you probably already know the answer. But I’ll let you figure out if that’s true.

      God Bless you and your family! Thanks for the kind words. I look forward to future comments from you.

      -Chris Williston

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