Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It’s NFP (Natural Family Planning) awareness week. In God’s providence, the readings this week provide some avenues of reflection into how NFP can help us shape the world according to God’s plan.
We celebrate the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary (July 26). On the one hand, they received a gift that was entirely beyond their human powers — the Immaculate Conception of Mary. On the other hand they must have built their marriage into a fitting context to receive and nurture that gift. That’s one of the fundamental things NFP is about, fostering strong marriages that provide a good context for receiving the gift of children and raising them in the faith.
Jesus tells the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast this week. Those parables focus on the power of small things that grow large. In some ways, we’ve learned that lesson in our own day when it comes to climate change. Small things add up! We’ve poured chemicals into the earth and into the atmosphere. Though each individual action is small, they add up and produce large consequences for the physical climate. The lesson of NFP is similar. We have flooded women’s bodies with artificial hormones through contraceptives. Though each contraceptive pill is small, they add up and produce large consequences for the psychological climate of the relations between women and men. Pope Paul VI prophetically named some of these consequences when he published “Humanae Vitae” in July of 1968 (see paragraph 17). Pope Francis named the connection between physical ecology and human ecology when he published “Laudato Si’” in 2015 (see paragraph 155). As Catholics, we see how our actions create problems with both kinds of climate, and we see the link between them. How is it that the secular world insists on the one, and ignores the other?
Perhaps there’s a clue in the Gospels this week. Jesus proposes a series of parables on the Kingdom of God. But some people didn’t want to accept the Kingdom of God. It was too hard. Maybe, in a similar sense, the world doesn’t want to see the truth about the human ecology of contraceptives. And maybe it doesn’t want to see that truth because NFP requires that we discipline our desires, not simply follow them.
NFP does require discipline. But the surprise is that the discipline actually carries its own reward. NFP requires that a husband be attentive to the physical wonders of his wife’s body. That attentiveness strengthens the marriage — but it’s also a delight to both husband and wife! NFP requires that a man be respectful of his wife not only physically but also psychologically. That respect builds a stronger marriage — and is a joy! NFP requires that a man and woman discuss and discern their future carefully, and then act together to put their shared priorities into action. That builds a stronger partnership.
At every point, the discipline required by NFP builds habits that draw us closer not only to God’s plan, but also to the deepest desires of the human heart for marriage.
The alternative is to be inattentive, disrespectful and undisciplined — which is a pretty good description of how our culture has behaved toward women, and also how our world has behaved toward the earth.
NFP week is a great time to think about how we can do better, how small disciplines can bring healing to both our psychological and our physical climate.