"A lay Catholic perspective"

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A Great Secret

by Cecile Flater


T HIS IS AN ARTICLE for Catholic married couples. It is not for everyone, although any reader is welcome. I want to share with you a secret that Gary (my husband) and I have discovered that has really improved our physical enjoyment in marriage.

This secret is well kept. It is not that no one has heard about it; it is that the secret has been shrouded under a veil which is only now beginning to lift. This veil is not the Church's fault. She has been roundly scolded by most of the world for trying to share this secret. The veil is on our own minds and understanding for being so stupid as to believe the world is smarter than the Church. Read on.

I'm an average woman with an average husband. We both are baptized and love God. Good? Fantastic! This is exactly what is required to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus, obeying the teachings of his Church, which bring love, peace and happiness to our marriage.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it states that when two baptized people get married they enter a matrimonial covenant which is a partnership for their entire lives. (#1601) Men and women were created for one another as well as for the procreation and education of children. The vocation of faithful and mutual love between the spouses is an image of God's unfailing love for mankind. This sounds beautiful, but how is it accomplished? How can a couple share sexual love and openness to life to best fulfil the vocation of marriage? Humanae Vitae raises up natural planning methods as the way.

"In fact, as experience bears witness, not every conjugal act is followed by a new life. God has wisely disposed natural laws and rhythms of fecundity which, of themselves cause a separation in the succession of births. (Remember, each act must remain open to the transmission of life — no contraceptives.)" (#11 parenthesis, his)

No matter where you are at with the Church's teaching about using natural methods to regulate the birth of children, with love for God, hang in there, keep praying, and stay open. Gary and I and many other couples have discovered this great secret: the Church is really right about Natural Family Planning. The results are wonderful. There are some misconceptions that I will address and a strong invitation that I will make.

The first misconception is ignorance about two things: the call of Christ in conjunction with the teachings of the Church for married couples, and the knowledge required for effective natural family planning.

Conjugal love needs to respect the natural laws of fertility which acknowledge that man is not the arbiter of human life, but only the minister of the design created by God. Artificial contraception is a definite no because it impedes the development of natural processes, thus showing neither respect nor surrender to God our Father. Artificial contraception also shows a lack of openness to life and a less than full honest love. I believe that a choice to give this area over to God is a sign of a fundamental decision to love God and others.

The basic decision to be open to life in our conjugal love fosters relationships of love and trust between spouses and children. We start to see virtues such as patience, understanding, discipline, cooperation, purity, and mutual love and respect develop in our families. Families are built up with an attitude of love and reverence for each other and for God our Creator.

Natural Family Planning is scorned also because so many people are ignorant about it. This biologically natural method requires education. A couple cannot effectively use this method without learning about the fertility signs that accompany a woman's cycle. This gives rise to the old joke: What do you call a couple who uses Natural Family Planning? Parents! This information needs to be made more accessible for the average married people in our parishes. Instruction from a Serena couple is a great introduction, but most couples need more encouragement and ongoing rapport to bring security and success with this method.

Overwhelming fear is another hurdle fueled by ignorance. However the decision to love God helps to overcome fear so that one can persevere. I know this from experience. Two things helped Gary and me. First of all, we prayerfully decided to follow this method to the best of our ability while searching for information to understand it better. The statement of the Canadian Bishops on the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (see #34) supports an honest search for the truth. Our unity with the Church consists in a union of faith and heart, in submission to God's will and a humble but honest and ongoing search for the truth.

Secondly, we decided to embrace the reality that if I became pregnant, it was good. No matter what the cost or what others think of us, God knew what he was doing. We could trust him for his grace and strength. 1 Peter 3:13-17 offers consolation.

No one can hurt you if you are determined to do only what is right; and blessed are you if you have to suffer for being upright. 'Have no dread of them; have no fear.' Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations. And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong.

Still another difficulty is immaturity. Sometimes couples enter the sacrament of Marriage unprepared to live out the full call. Seeking pleasure, careers and money overrides their openness to procreation and learning natural methods. Undeveloped consciences may lead the couple to embrace the status quo: artificial contraception, which is easy and convenient, seems to offers them control but really robs them of fullness of life and true love.

There is hope. Every sacramental marriage is equipped with the grace of God which calls us to the teaching of the Church regarding openness to life. Sometimes people face grave circumstances; such as the reconciling of conjugal love and responsible parenthood with the education of the children already born or with the health of the mother. These situations must prayerfully and carefully be examined in the light of the Church's teaching. Whatever course is taken must be chosen honestly, with a conscience formed by true doctrine. Go for the true way, not the easy way.

After many years of searching, Gary and I have come into a wonderful care for each other. Through the encouragement and teaching of ordinary Catholic couples, we discovered the Natural Family Planning method that worked for us. Not only has Natural Family Planning worked wonderfully for us, it has dramatically improved our enjoyment of each other. Even physical love when it is filled with God's grace becomes terrific. My invitation: if you are using contraceptives, please stop. Phone your parish priest — he can refer you to a Catholic couple who will teach you natural family planning. If you cannot do this, phone Olive Leaf. We will help you.

That we make mistakes and are weak is part of our human condition. We turn to Jesus for forgiveness, strength and courage to embrace all he asks of us. United with him we have grace and faith to walk in holiness. Conjugally speaking, holiness is the way to go. Not only is it deeply satisfying personally, it is also a lot more fun.