6 Incentives To Consider Natural Family Planning
Published: July 19, 2012
ATLANTA—According to the Guttmacher Institute, statistics released earlier this year suggest that close to 90 percent of women of reproductive age—and 87 percent of Catholic women—use a method of contraception other than Natural Family Planning.
While the percentages may differ in other studies, it is clear that contraceptive use is prevalent even among Catholics, making it harder to imagine how to “think outside the pill,” a phrase coined by Jessica M.H. Smith, an NFP blogger who has worked with the Edith Stein Foundation.
As a former contracepting college student and now a “revert” to the Catholic faith, she is passionate in her mission to enlarge hearts and minds to see the truth of the church’s teachings in the area of human sexuality.
“NFP for the Catholic person is part of the wider spiritual road to heaven, but we don’t always have to start there because not everyone is there,” she said.
People come to NFP by many routes—if not for spiritual reasons, then maybe because it is ecological and relationship-building.
For National NFP Awareness Week, her insights have been compiled in the following list of incentives for considering NFP.
How deeply do you trust God with your life?
“I wanted to be loved in a certain way,” Smith recalled when soul searching in her 20s. Even though she had been wounded in the past, her thirst for a deeper love intuitively allowed her to trust God.
“Other people find that harder; they have to seek it. But don’t be afraid to be afraid. … God provides you with the guidance needed.”
Her own story illustrates this. Shortly after breaking up with her long-term boyfriend and taking a break from the pill, she received an invitation to a prestigious conference in London where she was seated next to a seminarian in a talk about birth control. She recalled telling him, “You don’t want to know what I think.”
But he simply listened to her story, and the next day he invited her to Mass, where confession was available. “God had planted a seed and that day was the beginning of a new way of life.”
She instructs that the first step forward is not necessarily delving into books and websites on human sexuality.
“It starts with the sacraments and the interior life. … You may have a great booklist, but if you’re not frequenting the sacraments—all of them—and praying, then it’s hard to be open to anything. You need to make an effort to be constantly in grace.”
Understanding your faith and church teachings cannot be compartmentalized to Sunday homilies; everyone must become active learners. Today there are many places to look for information about NFP and the spiritual and physical harm caused by artificial contraception to women, men and families.
At the cusp of Smith’s reversion was providentially meeting well-formed Catholics and inevitably compiling an impressive reading list. Today some of Smith’s favorite websites and resources on the matter are:
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website on NFP:
Our Sunday Visitor on NFP Know-How:
Living the Sacrament: A Catholic NFP Community
Natural Family Planning: Real Love. Real Natural.(Smith’s blog)
Smith likes to remind young women, particularly, of the beauty and goodness of their bodies and how they are meant for good and beautiful things, “and most of all you deserve to go to heaven.”
“You should know yourself—your own heart and own soul—and be rooted in reality,” she advised. “Romance is beautiful and awesome, but in order to be the powerful person you are, the powerful woman you are, then you need to know yourself and your own body. This is why fertility awareness is so beautiful.”
Understanding the science of your body empowers you to better treat issues that may surface.
“How many people complain about their health or a menstrual situation and their doctor puts them on the pill as a panacea that doesn’t help at all?”
Regarding relationships, Smith cautions women that being on artificial contraception “opens you up to being used because it makes you constantly available to give your dignity away to someone who is not necessarily going to stick around to marry you.”
She points out that some people describe the church’s “M.O.”—or modus operandi, way of thinking—as “whatever is fun, you can’t do it.”
“But the church’s M.O. is really ‘you are good and true and beautiful and made in the image and likeness of God. So how do you live that gift?’”
“It’s not about oppression; it’s not about patriarchy. It’s about living the gift in a way that makes us happy—truly happy—like the happiness of people portrayed in romantic movies but much more profound.”
The NFP lifestyle honors a woman’s body and leads to a sense of greater contentment and self-respect.
“Esto Vir!—Be a man!” That was a favorite phrase of
St. Josemaria Escriva, and it is one that Smith likes to bring up when approaching the topic of sexuality with men.
“I really like it because NFP is about being a man who honors a woman’s dignity, her body and her soul.”
And that’s what chastity is all about—it’s not about what you won’t do, but more about doing something well and purely.
“But men have to understand the dignity of their own bodies before they enter into that journey. So often we perceive men who don’t live chastely as jerks, or who use women, but often they are wounded as well.”
Today’s society perpetuates myths that “cohabitation is good, porn is good, contraception is good, masturbation is good.” But Smith likes to draw attention to purity speaker Jason Evert, who has a number of resources on his site www.chastity.com to address these issues.
“Evert invites men to be heroes, to be men … to man up,” she explained, and continued, “They have been given a mission. We need to affirm that.”
Whether it is a mission of marriage to the church as clergy or united with a wife in marriage helping to raise children, “it is an awesome thing that needs to be cherished.”
“They have the duty to honor their wives and work alongside their wives,” Smith added. “I think that resonates with men and they rise to the challenge when ministered to by strong peers.”
It takes virtue, or “spiritual muscle memory just like your body has muscle memory.”
Virtue requires repetition and experience. “NFP is one of many ways to increase your spiritual muscle memory.”
Once Smith experienced her reversion and gained a deeper understanding of her faith she began to notice something in her newfound position with NFP ministry—silence.
“Quickly I realized that it was one of the central aspects of the church and one of the biggest destroyers of unity and the biggest issue of dissent in the church. I realized that if we were ever going to have unity in the church on any level we needed to start with the family and clergy on this issue.”
Why is agreement so elusive?
“Objectively, NFP is not elusive once you start studying and understanding it; it’s very tangible and beautiful and dazzling, but because we have all failed in some way or another to talk about it for 40 years it makes it harder for us to do it now.”
“Essentially, silence makes it elusive. People (very often clergy) are intimidated by it, by the statistics that 80-90 percent of Catholics contracept. And they know that 80-90 percent of those looking at them in the pews every Sunday contracept. They are afraid to scare people away. There’s just a lot of fear, and that fear unfortunately controls their pastoral approach to talking about it.”
People come to the issue of family planning with different obstacles that must be compassionately addressed.
“It really is an elephant that nobody is addressing. Once we address it, it will be easier to promote family unity and women’s dignity. But it has to be wisely addressed in a positively encouraging way.”
Going against the mainstream and promoting an approach to human sexuality that involves sacrifice and the pursuit of wholeness and virtue is a tough road to travel.
“Being a sign of contradiction starts with the little and particular, and fans out to the universal,” Smith encouraged. “We can’t be martyrs for the church if we can’t do little things like put up an NFP poster in our parish and not worry about what people say.”
She asked that people not be afraid but be ready to inspire.
“The beauty of the world is very shallow and fragmented, but the beauty that our Lord has to offer through the church is whole, it’s unified, it’s beautiful, it’s very exciting. But if we get stuck up in that Urban Outfitters’ glitter that is modern society then we can’t see the ordinary beauty of that thing that is the church.”
She quoted Blessed John Henry Newman: “Nothing is so extraordinary as an ordinary life.”
“And we have to fall in love with life—but not be romantic with life—as well.”
She challenged philanthropists and those charged with new evangelization to take on the cause of NFP and family apostolates.
“It will be what will change and is changing the face of this country and the world. We have to be courageous enough to be signs of contradiction.”
Suzanne Haugh is the director of Goodness Reigns, an apostolate designed to call upon youth and young adults to use media and art to explore and share the Catholic faith. It held its first short-film contest in conjunction with World Youth Day 2011, and attracted entries from around the world. Winners traveled to Madrid and presented their entries during a WYD Film Festival. Goodness Reigns recently sponsored a video competition entitled “Natural Family Planning: The Better Way.” For more information, go to www.goodnessreigns.com.