Image Credit: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz
IN A NUTSHELL
common misconception that the Catholic Church requires married couples to have
an unlimited number of children.
asks couples to prayerfully and prudently discern what God is telling them by
their circumstances and in their hearts as to the best timing and number of
children he's calling them to have.
Natural family planning
is the general title for the scientific and moral methods of family planning
that can help married couples cooperate with God's plan to either achieve or
postpone a pregnancy.
- - -
planning: Why and what
By Theresa Notare
Catholic News Service
When it comes to sex and birth control, you may
have heard that the Catholic Church says a resounding "NO!" This myth couldn't
be further from the truth. Catholic teaching on love, sex and "responsible
parenthood" is a resounding "YES!" -- to God's plan for men and women.
Natural family planning is part of this "Yes"
because it respects God's plan for married love. Let's take a look.
-- God's plan for married love
God designed married love to be total, fruitful,
faithful and exclusive. It mirrors God's own Trinitarian love. This means that husband and wife
offer themselves to each other as a gift. There is no "taking" here,
just "offering" and "receiving."
There is no exclusion of God's gifts, like denying
God's will, the nature of marriage, one's person or fertility. Anything that
counters the meaning and integrity of the marital act and God's call for life
is avoided (e.g, artificial contraception, sterilization, pornography, in vitro fertilization or
God willed that married love involves the entire
person, including reason, a well-formed conscience in God's truth and fertility.
It also means that husband and wife understand that openness to new human life
is not an "add on" but an essential element of married life -- indeed God
himself entrusted husband and wife with the gift of life.
This is true whether a couple is fertile or not.
When discerning if God is calling them to bring new life into the world, this
also means that married couples ought not treat it casually.
What does all this have to do with natural family
planning (NFP)? Catholic teaching on the nature of human sexuality, marriage,
conjugal love and responsible parenthood reflects God's loving design.
The significance of NFP is that it is the instrument
to help husband and wife live that reality. NFP respects God's plan, doing
nothing to obstruct his design. That is why the church supports NFP use in
is the general title for the scientific and moral methods of family planning
that can help married couples either achieve or postpone a pregnancy. NFP methods provide fertility education that is
informative and practical.
The facts of human
reproduction form the basis of all NFP methods. Specifically, NFP methods
attempt to identify the fertile window of husband and wife.
The fertile window is the combination of information about
the woman's day of fertility (ovulation, which occurs only within a 12-hour to
24-hour period) and that of the man's fertility (sperm, which can live in a
fertile woman's body for up to five days).
When a woman is
fertile, her reproductive hormones will send messages that yield specific and
observable signs. Recognizing the pattern of those physical signs forms the
basis for most NFP methods.
-- NFP methodology
methods provide guidelines to help couples pinpoint their "fertile window."
Most methods teach couples how to track this
information. How well a couple follows their method's guidelines will determine
the effectiveness. When a couple discerns that God is calling them to conceive,
they may use the fertile window for conjugal relations.
Conversely, when spouses discern that it is time to
avoid a pregnancy, they will abstain from sex during this time. Periodic sexual
abstinence is the NFP means to avoid a pregnancy. No drugs, devices or surgical
procedures are ever used.
Does NFP work?
Any couple can use NFP. The key is to learn the
method well, be aware of your family planning intention (achieving or avoiding
pregnancy), cooperate with each other and apply the guidelines consistently.
NFP does not depend upon a woman having regular menstrual
cycles. That said, sometimes couples may need help when they can't easily
interpret their fertile signs or are in a special reproductive circumstance,
such as breastfeeding. In those cases, NFP teachers can assist.
When looking for an NFP method to learn, you should
know that there is no "best method." All NFP methods are based on solid
science. Choosing a method depends upon how much fertility information a couple
needs and can live with!
-- Who's who?
Each NFP system is organized according to the
information that they teach.
There are methods that teach how to interpret only
the cervical mucus sign. Others teach multiple fertility signs (sympto-thermal). Still others
are called sympto-hormonal
because they include information from a fertility monitor. And a few do not
teach the signs of fertility but instead rely upon mathematical formulas of
real NFP charts.
In the United States, there are a number of NFP
providers. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website provides a list of
these providers (www.usccb.org/nfp/awareness-week/nfp-providers.cfm).
-- Give NFP a chance!
NFP provides sound fertility education. It is
environmentally safe and has no harmful side effects. NFP education is also
economical. Most providers charge fees for instruction and any resources --
Most important, NFP respects God's plan for
marriage. It promotes spousal respect, chastity and mindfulness of God's will.
It may not always be easy, but if a couple perseveres, NFP can help to
strengthen their relationship with each other and God.
(Theresa Notare is the assistant director, Natural Family Planning Program of the Secretariat
of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of
- - -
planning helps us communicate, brings us closer to God, couples say
By Anna Capizzi
"It was shocking for us how it worked," said Aryn and Sean
Sylvester, referring to their use of natural family planning (NFP) in the early
days of their marriage, some 16 years ago.
Just four months prior to their wedding day, the
Phoenix-based couple realized that "we wanted to do something to provide for
the spacing of births and postpone pregnancy, but we did not want to do
Raised as Catholics, they knew the Catholic Church's teaching
on NFP "on some level," but didn't know where to turn. After connecting with an
instructor, they learned the sympto-thermal
method, which involves monitoring and charting a woman's fertility indicators
such as cervical mucus and basal body temperature.
"Basically, we just embraced it -- as scary as it was,"
said Aryn, "it was just one of those leaps of faith."
"We started talking about a subject we had never talked
about," she admitted. "We started talking about sexual intimacy right away
because you kind of have to."
For the couple, the experience has been transformative. "It
changed our perspective of what love is," said Aryn. "Lines of communication
opened way up," said Sean, and it "changes the dynamic of the relationship" and
how you view your spouse. "We approach things from a united perspective."
Good communication has likewise been a happy result of using
NFP for Beth and Kevin Mitchell, a couple from La Crosse, Wisconsin, married 13 years.
"It opens up your communication line, which in turns open up
to the spiritual factor," said Kevin. Beth said the practice "helps remind me
on a monthly or daily basis that God's in control -- he's in control of my body
and our relationship."
"So often I get the question from my family: Are we having
(more) kids? How many are we going to have? Things that I don't have the answer
to because we leave a lot of that up to God," explained Beth. "We let God have
a hand in that say."
And God has had a say. The Mitchells first turned to NFP two
years into their marriage when they wanted to have children -- a testament to
the fact that NFP works in two ways: achieving or postponing pregnancy.
study examining the sympto-thermal method found that 80 percent of couples
seeking to achieve pregnancy conceived during the first six cycles of a woman's
Now, five children later, the Mitchells are "more intensely
following the rules" and appreciating the challenge of showing "physical
closeness without being sexually intimate."
"I don't think society today appreciates that's even
possible," said Beth, but it's something she values. "Knowing that anytime
Kevin wants to rub my back doesn't have motives behind it; it's just because he
All NFP methods require a period of abstinence for couples
avoiding pregnancy, which proves difficult for some. The Sylvesters refer to
abstinence as a type of "fasting" that's "automatically built" into their
marriage, and was "an area of struggle for us in the beginning."
But with fasting comes spiritual gains, and the couple call
abstinence "one of the great benefits of NFP."
"Abstinence is not easy," said Aryn Sylvester, but "it
changes the way you look at your spouse. It can rekindle things." And, her
husband added, "it forces you to relate to your spouse in a way that you might
not be used to. It can become more acute or more in your face, after you've
been married longer."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "these methods respect the bodies of
the spouses, encourage tenderness between them and favor the education of an
authentic freedom" (No. 2370).
One person using a device or taking a pill, said Beth
Mitchell, "will not foster any 'mutual-ness' like this does. It's a partnership
versus one person being a gatekeeper."
(Follow Capizzi on Twitter: @annamcapizzi.)
- - -
planning and sacred responsibility
By Marge Fenelon
Catholic News Service
When a Catholic man and woman enter into marriage, they
enter into another sacred institution at the same time -- "responsible parenthood."
The term refers not only to the raising of children, but also to the decision
of when to have them.
The U.S. Catholic bishops' website calls it "the call to discern God's will for
your marriage while respecting his design for life and love."
It's a common misconception that the Catholic Church
requires married couples to have an unlimited number of children. Large
families are a blessing, but the church is aware also that not everyone is
suited to having numerous children.
The church isn't against limiting the number of children.
It's against refuting God's natural law, negating his will for the sacrament of
holy matrimony and using artificial contraception or using abortifacients that
end pregnancies. That's a huge difference.
The magisterium asks that couples carefully and prayerfully
discern what God is telling them by their circumstances and in their hearts as
to the best timing and the best number of children he's calling them to have.
The objective is to understand and follow God's will for
that particular husband and wife and not the goading of others or the selfish
or misdirected self-will of the couple.
particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation.
For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is
their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness
but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood.
Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality,"
the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. (No. 2368)
For example, putting off children because a couple wants to
travel first or has other superficial material goals in mind is wrongful.
Putting off children -- or limiting the number -- because
there are serious health problems rendering one or the other incapable of
adequately caring for children could be a good reason.
In this regard, the church advocates the use of natural family
planning (NFP). Some people wrongly think of NFP as the "rhythm method" and
consider it unreliable. Rather, NFP is a method of measuring the woman's
fertility to both achieve and avoid pregnancy.
NFP respects God's design for married love and is safer and more effective (when used
correctly) than artificial contraception. Many couples witness that NFP
brought them together as friends and intimate partners.
for Diocesan Natural Family Planning Ministry" explains it this way:
reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family
life, and promotes openness to life and recognizes the value of the child. By
complementing the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can
enrich the bond between husband and wife."
The message and method of NFP are the same: Respect life.
Children are a precious gift and should be treated as such. The church asks not
that we have children unreasonably but rather that we have children out of love
for God and each other. It's a sacred responsibility.
(Fenelon is a freelance writer from Milwaukee. Her website is http://margefenelon.com.)
- - -
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
For more information on natural family planning, visit the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website: www.usccb.org/nfp/index.cfm
about the sympto-thermal
method, visit the Couple
to Couple League's website: https://ccli.org/
To learn about the Billings Ovulation Method and take online classes, visit: https://learnnfponline.com/
To learn the Creighton Model and find fertility care centers, visit: http://www.fertilitycare.org/
To read about NFP methods that use hormonal tests (sympto-hormonal) like the Marquette method, see: http://nfp.marquette.edu
To watch a video series on marital love and responsible
parenthood, available in Spanish and English, visit: http://www.loveandparenthood.com/
summary of Catholic teaching on the moral prohibition of some assisted
reproductive technologies see: www.usccb.org/nfp/catholic-teaching/upload/Life-Giving-Love-in-an-Age-of-Technology-2009-2.pdf
- - -
Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.