July 25, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the encyclical by Paul VI, “Humanae Vitae.” In this very important and instrumental encyclical, God’s plan for married love is articulated in several different ways.
“In Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI reflects upon how God designed the nature of married love. This he draws from sacred Scripture and the Catholic tradition. The Holy Father writes that married love is fully human (involving the body and soul). Married love is total, faithful, and fruitful,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Recognizing that families face the question of how to plan children entering their lives, Paul VI invites couples to support God’s design of married love, and not reject it through the use of contraception. This means that “God invites husband and wife to cooperate with him in their mission of responsible parenthood. Spouses should pay careful attention to the nature of marriage as God created it, their current responsibilities to each other, any children already born, and the wider society (see HV no. 10). Within this context, the methods of natural family planning (NFP) are acceptable because they respect God’s divine plan for marriage!” (USCCB)
What is natural family planning and how does it benefit your marriage? Natural family planning is a general term for a variety of methods that a couple can learn to understand a woman’s menstrual cycle. Through the use of these methods, a couple can gain the fertility awareness that they need to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. Through the day-to-day recording of different observable signs, a couple can recognize the fertile and infertile times during a woman’s menstrual cycle. This method of working with a woman’s fertility cycle to plan out a family also has tremendous benefits for the marriage.
The benefits of NFP over artificial contraception are numerous. For example, after a couple receives the initial instruction on how to learn and record the observable signs, the use of NFP is relatively free. Although additional instruction and assistance may have an associated cost, once a couple learns a method, they can go on to use it for a lifetime with very little cost. It also comes without harmful side effects and is environmentally friendly.
Unlike artificial birth control, NFP uses the natural signs of a woman’s body and can be tailored to each unique individual. It also can be used throughout the entirety of childbearing years and shares the responsibility of family planning between both the husband and the wife. It also considers unique situations such as irregular cycles, breast feeding and pre-menopause.
But how does it benefit a couple’s marriage? The first benefit is communication! The success of these methods depends on the mutual communication between the partners. It encourages respect and acceptance of the total person which is part of God’s design for married love. It also promotes romance as the spouses learn to continually love each other outside of the sexual act.
If it is necessary to abstain during a fertile time, the couple learns to share intimate moments that are non-sexual. This is often referred to as a “honeymoon effect.” The short period of abstinence increases appreciation and anticipation of the sexual act in the future. There are also numerous statistics that say the use of NFP within a marriage leads to lower divorce rates and marital success. The couple learns to work with God’s beautiful design within the human body which ultimately allows them to work with God’s beautiful design for marriage.
There is a lot of information available on NFP both in our diocese and on the internet. We are blessed to be able to offer numerous methods with a variety of teachers within our own diocese.
If you are interested in learning more about NFP with a local teacher, then check out the website: our naturalfamily.org. You can also find good resources about NFP on these websites: Foryourmarriage.org and usccb.org.
Should you have a unique situation or struggle with fertility, we are also blessed to have the St. Gianna Molla Clinic within our diocese. You can find more information about what they offer at: www.stmgb.org/Medical-Services/St-Gianna-Clinic. As always, don’t hesitate to contact the Office of Marriage, Family Life and Pro-Life if you would like more information on these topics.
Tremblay is coordinator of the diocesan Office of Marriage, Family Life and Pro-Life.