Natural family planning

Cunningham_formal_robes

Cunningham_formal_robes At our semiannual meeting in November of 2009, the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved and released a pastoral letter entitled: Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.  In this letter, we stated: “While marriage is a special blessing for Christians because of the grace of Christ, marriage is also a natural blessing and gift for everyone in all times and cultures. It is a source of blessing to the couple, to their families, and to society and includes the wondrous gift of co-creating human life.”
The late Pope John Paul II often reminded us that the future of humanity depends on marriage and the family.   Marriage and family come to mind this week as we celebrate a special week dedicated to Natural Family Planning.
The dates for Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, July 25-31, highlight the anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (July 25) which articulates Catholic beliefs about human sexuality, conjugal love and responsible parenthood. The dates also mark the feast of Saints Joachim and Ann (July 26), the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As you well know, we live in a world that produces many challenges to holy and healthy family life. Divorce, a reluctance to make the actual commitment necessary to enter and sustain marriage leading to high rates of cohabitation, a lack of openness to bearing and raising children, abortion, pornography, infidelity, a view of marriage as a private matter, an individualistic project not related to the common good and fatherless families have a negative impact on our families. These challenges cannot be explained solely by society’s acceptance of the use of artificial contraception. Nevertheless, artificial contraception clearly plays a large role.
In response to the sacredness of marriage and family life and the need to ensure their full human and Christian development, the Catholic Bishops of the U. S. have established as one of their priorities for the coming years the strengthening of marriage. In addition to our pastoral on marriage, you will find helpful information on marriage and family life  on the links, e.g. dating and engaged, parenting and family, Catholic marriage, etc. on the home page For Your Marriage, 
One of the lesser known, but no less important ministries of the Church in support of families is Natural Family Planning. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is unique among methods of family planning because it enables its users to work with the body rather than against it. It reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife. In addition, NFP is safe, effective and inexpensive.
In Natural Family Planning, fertility is viewed as a reality to live, not a problem to be solved. Natural Family Planning, which was developed in the 1960s, should not be confused with the Rhythm (or Calendar) method that was developed in the 1930s. “Rhythm” often proved inaccurate due to the unique nature of each woman’s menstrual cycle. NFP methods, on the other hand, are progressive. They are based on progressive, day-to-day observations of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of the menstrual cycle. Natural Family Planning methods treat each cycle as unique.
Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle.  No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy. Couples who wish to achieve pregnancy can also take advantage of the fertile time of the cycle. Thus, NFP education helps couples to fully understand their combined fertility, thereby helping them to either achieve or avoid a pregnancy. When couples understand the methods and are motivated to follow them, NFP is up to 99% successful in spacing or limiting births. Because it allows couples to adjust their behavior to the naturally occurring cycles of a woman’s body, NFP is not a contraceptive, that is, it does nothing to work against conception.
The key to the successful use of NFP is cooperation and communication between husband and wife — a shared commitment. The website for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a wealth of information on Natural Family Planning. It points out that as a method of family planning, NFP
· Calls for mutual responsibility by husband and wife.
· Requires the couple to communicate.
· Is based on scientific research.
· Treats each menstrual cycle as unique and teaches a couple to observe their signs of fertility on a day-to-day basis.
· Has no harmful side effects.
· Is effective for those wanting to achieve or avoid pregnancy.
The theme this year for Natural Family Planning Awareness Week is: “Trust – God has a plan for your marriage.” NFP is about trusting the Lord in the most basic and intimate aspect of married life: intimacy and life. God has a perfect plan for every married couple as they begin their life together and continue to remain faithful to each other during their lifetime. I hope married couples will seek to learn more about Natural Family Planning. The diocesan Family Life Office is available as a resource and support for them.
I am extremely grateful to our Family Life Office that coordinates this important ministry in our diocese.  Through this office, assistance is provided to married couples and families throughout the diocese.  Couples who receive instruction in Natural Family Planning learn about the positive aspects of the method noted above and, in addition, are informed about additional benefits of NFP including:
· Low-cost
· Can be used throughout the reproductive life cycle
· Marriage enrichment and mutual understanding
· Appreciation for the value of children
· Fosters respect for and acceptance of the total person
· Moral acceptability
In the wedding liturgy we proclaim: “Father, to reveal the plan of your love, you made the union of husband and wife an image of the covenant between you and your people. In the fulfillment of this sacrament, the marriage of Christian man and woman is a sign of the marriage between Christ and his Church.” I am grateful that so many couples are living in fidelity to their marital commitment. I thank them for proclaiming the beauty, goodness, and truth of marriage. In countless ways, both ordinary and heroic, through good times and bad, they bear witness to the gift and blessing they have received from God. (cf. Introduction to Pastoral Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan)
Natural Family Planning can help husbands and wives to live a holy and healthy marriage and thus co-create, if it is God’s will, families which will be a blessing to them, the Church and society. Please know of my prayers for all that you do to foster, preserve and strengthen marriage and family life in our diocese.

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