Hello, friends. I hope you have missed me, because I’m back from a wonderful summer of rest, relaxation, family, and prayer. And what better way to jump back into blogging than this hot topic of life?
I am inspired because recently our pastor at Holy Family, Fr. Prior, made mention of Natural Family Planning (NFP) during his homily. Yes, you heard that correctly – at every weekend mass, where lots and lots of people heard it! I know, hold on to your hats.
To paraphrase, he said something along the lines of, “Catholics are called to learn the beauty and wisdom of NFP in their marriages rather than use artificial birth control.” He said it much better, of course, as his homilies are always well prepared, beautifully executed, and full of Wisdom and Truth.
In reflecting on why this struck me so deeply, I recognized the fact that in all my years of being Catholic (40!), I have never heard a priest broach this topic. I’m sure there are priests out there talking about it, (I hope!), but I had never heard one. And I realized how sorely I have wanted to hear it during the last 20 years of my marriage. In fact, we didn’t find and officially learn NFP until after our 8th child. Yes, 15 years of marriage and 8 children, before we were finally brought face to face, in a tangible and practical way, with the wisdom the Church has possessed all along. Through the John Paul II Center for Women, we found a teacher who opened our eyes to an entire culture of Catholics living and learning the truth we had been unknowingly seeking.
In the early years of our marriage, before we were truly living our faith, we struggled with the concept of being open to life. It was hard. I mean H.A.R.D. As a young mom with two little girls I was frequently exhausted, frustrated, and out of patience. I was out of shape mentally, spiritually, and physically and felt like having babies was draining the life out of me. Looking back, it’s so plain to see that I was very ‘me-centered’ and not truly ‘God-centered’. I felt entitled to control and decide and choose rather than look at my fertility and marriage as an incredible and powerful gift. I simply did not appreciate that participating in creation is the most humbling honor imaginable. It does carry a heavy responsibility and sometimes an overwhelming work-load and, for me, required a tremendous amount of Trust and Surrender that I was not capable of giving, I guess.
Nevertheless, as Bill and I lived out our vocation of marriage, it is fair to say that despite a lack of teaching on the subject, we knew in our hearts that God was not, and could not possibly be calling us, or any married couple, to the use of artificial birth control. It presented an enormous challenge for us in society because we literally knew no one in our daily lives that could corroborate that. There were families out there of course, but we did not know them. The Catholics we met seemed to have no concept of this teaching of the Church and didn’t want to know it either! It was confusing, and a constant topic of angst in our marriage, knowing we wanted to ditch birth control and we should ditch it, but were a little too terrified to give up control in that area of our lives. Even when we did, we were still resisting. There was obedience but not true surrender. Still though, God brought tremendous fruit despite our incomplete offering. I share this because if I had ever once been at mass and heard a priest say that I was called to learn and practice NFP and not use artificial birth control, it would have changed the game for me. Truly. I needed to be told and reassured and encouraged that it was the obedient thing to do. I knew it in my heart because God has a way of putting Truth there, but it was hard.
Before too long, the Lord placed a shining example before us – a couple who were living this Wisdom authentically. My sister and brother-in-law obediently put their Trust in God alone and bore much fruit (figuratively and literally!) They were like a beacon of light for me, dispelling the darkness of fear, when the world tried to keep me enslaved. For their example, I am eternally grateful. Still, I remember constantly relying on the excuse (because, oh yes, people asked!) that I couldn’t take the pill because of my risk for breast cancer and joking that I would much rather have a child than cancer. Incredibly, that answer was always better received than simply saying we were letting God decide what we could handle. Really??? Think about that. Creating life and welcoming a child was on par with not getting cancer! It was and continues to be confusing and backward, and quite sad, really.
The Truth, as the Church has always taught, is that sex is beautiful and wonderful, and ordered for the purpose of unifying spouses and creating life. (CCC #2363) Outside of marriage and being open to life, sex is dis-ordered (i.e. not as God intended) and less beautiful and wonderful. It is a sad reality that so much of the world settles for less than the divinely ordered design for human sexuality.
I think it’s human nature to want to find a way out of things that are hard, but what I want even more is to be an obedient daughter. The world does not know better than God the Father. As it turns out, my own selfishness needs to be subject to authority. As it turns out, following the sometimes difficult call of God is the most fruitful for our souls. As it turns out, giving up control has led to freedom.
If you are sitting on the fence like I was, and straddling the line between control and trust, let me assure you there is nothing to fear. All things are possible with God and I would not give back a single one of my children! If it’s proof you need, no need to dig through the Internet before the days of Google for a copy of “Humanae Vitae,” or desperately search the library for affirmation in books or testimonies. There are blogs and Google and the John Paul II Center for Women, and good and holy priests committed to spreading the Good News.
Thanks, Fr. Prior, for being a champion of women and fertility, and how to live the authentic wisdom of the Church in Marriage!
For more information on where to find NFP in the Syracuse Diocese click here. Intro sessions are being held at Holy Family on the first Tuesdays of the month!