Men and women considering marriage yearn for certain things. They want to be accepted unconditionally by each other. They want their marriage to be filled with love and happiness. They want a family. In short, they want their marriage to be a source of life long joy and fulfillment. God’s plan for marriage has always included all this and more.
WHAT DOES THE CHURCH TEACH ABOUT MARRIED LOVE?
Marriage is more than a civil contract; it is a lifelong covenant of love between a man and a woman. It is an intimate partnership in which husbands and wives learn to give and receive love unselfishly, and then teach their children to do so as well. Christian marriage in particular is a “great mystery,” a sign of the love between Christ and his Church (Eph 5:32).
Married love is powerfully embodied in the spouses’ sexual relationship, when they most fully express what it means to become “one body” (Gn 2:24) or “one flesh” (Mk 10:8, Mt 19:6). The Church teaches that the sexual union of husband and wife is meant to express the full meaning of love—its power to bind a couple together and its openness to new life.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CONTRACEPTION?
A husband and wife express their committed love not only with words, but with the language of their bodies. Married love differs from any other love in the world. By its nature, the love of husband and wife is so complete, so ordered to a lifetime of communion with God and each other, that it is open to creating a new human being they will love and care for together. Part of God’s gift to husband and wife is this ability in and through their love to cooperate with God’s creative power. Therefore, the mutual gift of fertility is an integral part of the bonding power of marital intercourse. That power to create a new life with God is at the heart of what spouses share with each other. Suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity. The total giving of oneself, body and soul, to one’s beloved is no time to say: “I give you everything I am—except. . . .” The Church’s teaching is not only about observing a rule, but about preserving that total, mutual gift of two persons in its integrity.
ARE COUPLES EXPECTED TO LEAVE THEIR FAMILY SIZE ENTIRELY TO CHANCE?
Certainly not. The Church teaches that a couple may generously decide to have a large family, or may for serious reasons choose not to have more children for the time being or even for an indefinite period (Humanae Vitae, no. 10).
WHAT SHOULD A COUPLE DO IF THEY HAVE GOOD REASON TO AVOID HAVING A CHILD?
A married couple can engage in marital intimacy during naturally infertile times in a woman’s cycle, or after child-bearing years, without violating the meaning of marital intercourse in any way. This is the principle behind natural family planning (NFP). Natural methods of family planning involve fertility education that enables couples to cooperate with the body as God designed it.
WHAT IS NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING?
Natural family planning is a general name for methods of family planning based on a woman’s menstrual cycle. A man is fertile throughout his life, while a woman is fertile for only a few days each cycle during the child-bearing years. NFP DOES NOT involve using a calendar to predict the fertile time. A woman experiences clear, observable signs indicating when she is fertile and when she is infertile. Learning to observe and understand these signs is at the heart of education in natural family planning.
When a couple decides to postpone pregnancy, NFP can be very effective. NFP can also be very helpful for couples who desire to have a child because it identifies the time of ovulation. It is used by many fertility specialists for this purpose.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN USING CONTRACEPTION & PRACTICING NFP?
On the surface, there may seem to be little difference. But the end result is not the only thing that matters, and the way we get to that result makes an enormous moral difference. Couples who have practiced NFP after using contraception have experienced a profound difference in the meaning of their sexual intimacy. When couples use contraception, either physical or chemical, they suppress their fertility, asserting that they alone have ultimate control over this power to create a new human life. With NFP, spouses respect God’s design for life and love. They may choose to refrain from sexual union during the woman’s fertile time, doing nothing to destroy the love-giving or life-giving meaning that is present. This is the difference between choosing to falsify the full marital language of the body and choosing at certain times not to speak that language.
The Church’s teaching on marital sexuality is an invitation for men and women—an invitation to let God be God, to receive the gift of God’s love and care, and to let this gift inform and transform us, so we may share that love with each other and with the world.
This article is from the 2018 USCCB bulletin insert Married Love and the Gift of Life.
LOCAL RESOURCES TO HELP WITH NFP
There are a number of couples here at St. Mary’s who can answer questions about NFP. Feel free to contact them:
Theresa & Brian Griffin
Jessica & Andrew Ciszewski
Jon & Patricia Prescott
Joseph & Clare Desrosiers
The Diocese has a website which includes information about online classes to learn NFP right from home.