From Bishop Olmsted
(appeared in the Catholic Sun 8-5-04)
One of the many blessings of the prophetic encyclical of Pope Paul VI, HUMANAE VITAE, was its call for new research to provide couples with improved methods of family planning that are natural, healthy and good (ethically and spiritually). Since 1968 when the Holy Father got the world’s attention by writing about “human life,” especially the ethical dimensions of human conception, great advances have been made in understanding natural fertility and in developing scientifically validated methods of fertility regulation, commonly known as Natural Family Planning, or NFP.
These natural methods today are more reliable than contraceptives. More importantly, they are morally responsible and good for a woman’s health.
Natural, Healthy and Good
Consider the personal benefits of NFP for married couples. Natural methods facilitate a closeness and communion as husband a wife cooperate with God in all aspect of their love-making: the emotion and physical, the spiritual and creative. NFP couples are led to a keen awareness that children are a blessing and that parenthood, while requiring hard work and demanding sacrifice, has untold rewards. The complementary, God-given beauty of the feminine and the masculine come to the fore as couples practice NFP. No wonder there is a less than 5% divorce rate for couples that use natural methods.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, widespread ignorance of NFP still prevails. This ignorance combined with a widespread contraceptive mentality has opened the way to tragic actions that are directly contrary to marriage and to human life itself—e.g. abortion, sterilization, cloning and divorce.
The wrongness of contraception is not a small little sin that stands on the periphery of human life. Pope Paul VI saw this clearly 36 years ago. Contraception is a serious sin that profoundly harms the love between husband and wife. It makes false the intimate act that is designed to make them procreators with God. It tears apart the two meanings of the marital embrace: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning (i.e. the love-deepening meaning and the life-giving meaning). Is it any wonder that so many contracepting couples experience a loss of purpose in their marriages and end up in divorce?
When contraception drives a wedge between marital love and having children, it opens the door, on the philosophical and theological level, to a host of other evils such as recreational sex without permanent commitment, adultery, attempts to justify homosexual acts and the proliferation of pornography. Already in 1968, Pope Paul VI predicted these dire consequences of rejecting the moral norms for birth regulation. More importantly, he pointed to the positive antidote to this sad scene: improved methods of NFP.
God designed marriage to be an image of the Blessed Trinity. It is a covenant built on promises and grace, a mutual giving of man and woman in the service of both life and love. Husband and wife say to each other: I give all of myself to you and I accept you entirely as you are, including the gift of fertility. When contraception enters in, the message is changed to: “I do not accept all of you.” Contraception also says, “I do not accept God’s first command: “Be fruitful and multiply.” By the Lord’s design, the married embrace is aimed at being life-giving love. How sacred is this privilege and responsibility.
How delighted I am that we have in our Diocese of Phoenix a Natural Family Planning Center and a growing number of well-trained teachers of the methods of NFP, in both English and Spanish. With the help of God’s grace and much effort on our own parts, I trust we are nearing the day when the words of John Paul will be fulfilled: “The moment has come for every parish to have personnel available who can teach married couples how to use the natural methods of family planning.”