Stronger Marriages

Aug. 5-18, 2004
Stronger Marriages
By Most Rev. James M. Moynihan
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bishop Talks Directly About the Role of Faith in Family Planning Editor’s note: The following is the text of Bishop Moynihan’s Marriage and Natural Family Planning Liturgy at St. Anne’s Church in Whitesboro on Sunday, July 18, 2004. From the very beginning, marriage has been at the center of a great battle. A marriage was Satan’s first target in the Garden of Eden, and it was one of his preferred fields of battle throughout the Old Testament. England’s Protestant Revolt began when a committed Catholic, King Henry VIII, wanted to divorce his wife, and today the battle rages on.

There’s a demon out there that’s trying to destroy society, and when that demon succeeds in achieving a divorce, Satan’s got another victory. We live in a culture in which everything is disposable — including unborn children, including even spouses. But shouldn’t our faith protect us from succumbing to our culture? In fact, it’s the other way around. With some notable exceptions, faith needs the nurturing influence of a culture if it is really to stay strong. Otherwise even faithful Catholics are no less immune to governmental pressures and societal influences and mass media propaganda from the pharmaceutical industry. If all these voices are telling Catholics that certain behaviors are perfectly permissible, they may easily conclude that the Church must be wrong. So, what’s the answer?

How to fight back? The obvious answer is better marriage preparation. In this diocese, we have our Pre-Cana courses, usually involving two or three evening sessions, or an Engaged Encounter weekend. But the Vatican is begging for an eight session program, including family-of-origin issues, in-depth communication instruction, the resentment that a male-centered sexual life causes, and what a real spiritual life looks like. It should also include some good information on Natural Family Planning.

A study commissioned by the Family of the Americas Foundation and published in November, 2002, found that the divorce rate among Catholics using artificial birth control was 50%, compared to only 3% of Catholics using NFP. In terms of success in family life, 75% of NFP respondents felt completely or very successful, and if we add the “somewhat successful” responses to this, the total becomes 97%. Conversely, only 9% of the non-NFP users reported feeling ‘completely successful,’ a figure that rises to 45% if the somewhat successful totals are included.

NFP is not only for Catholic couples. NFP can also make couples Catholic. One thirty-five year old man from Corpus Christi, Texas was a Protestant evangelical who went along with NFP to please his wife, who was a Baptist. She was not troubled with the moral aspects of birth control, but she was unhappy with the physical effects. One day he happened upon a newsletter of the Couple to Couple League which trains couples in the sympto-thermal method of NFP. Suddenly, he says, he came to terms with the depth of the traditional Christian/Catholic doctrine on contraception: He and his wife and his whole family eventually entered the Catholic Church. He said, “When I realized virtually all of Protestantism has been washed out to sea (on the issue of birth control), it caused me to come to grips with the possibility that it is the Catholic Church teachings in which the Holy Spirit has preserved His truth.”

Natural Family Planning helps a couple to plan their family. NFP instruction consists of three classes meeting over a three month period. It is used to achieve or avoid a pregnancy without recourse to drugs, devices or surgical procedures. It makes it possible for a couple to sustain a right relationship with God and at the same time enhance their relationship with one another. Good, better, best. We use these categories often, and such value rankings are important to us. We learn early that evil is the enemy of the good, and in the struggle between making good and bad choices, we too frequently opt for the bad ones. Then we repent, and we recommit ourselves to the good.

But there is another area in which we may struggle even more. I am speaking of the struggle we all have between what is good, what is better and what is best. Pre-Cana classes are good; Engaged Encounter classes are better; NFP classes are best. In today’s Gospel, Martha is our model of the good hostess. She welcomes Jesus and wants everything to be perfect for Him. However, Mary is our model of the good disciple. She understands the missing part of being a good hostess. She understands that the best way to welcome Jesus is to listen to His word. This is true for all of us as well. Jesus wants us to listen to Him, to give Him all of our time and all of our attention.

We identify with both of these good women. But perhaps what we need most to do is to be both Martha and Mary at the same time. Like Mary, we need to listen to what Jesus is saying to us today; and we need to hear Him speaking to us in our family and in our friends and in our Church. Then, like Martha, we have to set about the business of doing what it is that He is inviting us to do.

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