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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Natural Family Planning helps us learn to discern our desires

As Catholics, we hold that our desires need to be brought under discipline and discernment

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

From July 24-30, the Church in the United States celebrates Natural Family Planning (NFP) awareness week.

To help understand the role that NFP can playing in healing and elevating our culture, I want to ask this question: What should we do with our desires?

Culture has a clear answer to that question: Follow them — they’re the root of our authentic selves!

The Catholic answer, however, is more nuanced: Discern them — they’re a mixed bag!

Some of our desires are rooted in human nature as God created it. So, for example, we desire to eat, sleep and make friends. We can’t, and shouldn’t, simply ignore our desires!

Some of our desires, however, are rooted in fallen human nature. So, for example, we overeat, abuse alcohol and commit adultery. All of those — and many more sinful actions — are also rooted in desire. So we can’t and shouldn’t simply follow our desires!

Finally, some of our desires are rooted in God’s grace. As part of the gift of a vocation, God gives us a deep desire for marriage, priesthood or the religious life. That deep desire is part of how He leads us to give up some good things in order to embrace the deeper good He wants for us.

And that’s why we can’t simply follow all of our desires. We need to discern them: Some will lead us to fulfillment, and some won’t.

This is one of the great values of Natural Family Planning. It helps us to learn the discipline of discernment of our desires. Used properly and fully, NFP begins as a physical system of paying attention to a woman’s fertility, which leads to a deeper psychological attentiveness to one’s desires, which leads to a deeper spiritual posture of discernment. This union of the physical, psychological and spiritual is the life that God made us for!

Make no mistake about it: Jesus always wants to hear our desires! But that doesn’t mean He’ll always give us what we want.

Sometimes Jesus says “Yes” to our desires — as He did when Bartimaeus asked to be healed.

Sometimes Jesus says “No” to our desires — as He did when James and John asked to sit at His right and left hand in His glory.

Sometimes Jesus says “Not yet, I have a different timing in mind” — as He did with Abraham and Sarah or Zechariah and Elizabeth, who had to wait for a child.

And sometimes Jesus says “Yes, but not in the way you think” — as He did with Mary, who was allowed to be both Virgin and Mother.

Our desires are important — culture has that right! But our desires are not the beginning and end of our authentic selves, or of genuine fulfillment. As Catholics, we hold that they need to be brought under discipline and discernment.

We’re blessed to have a remarkable community of NFP doctors, nurses and practitioners in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. What they have to teach us is a lesson that can bring great healing to culture. To learn more about NFP visit the archdiocesan office webpage at www.stlouisnfp.org.

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