1968: the moral climate of the developed world was devolving at a breakneck pace. One by one, the Christian churches caved to the demands of their congregation and permitted them to use artificial contraception. The Catholic Church herself commissioned a study of experts to look at the question. These experts suggested to Pope Paul VI that he allow the faithful to use the newly developed methods of artificially suppressing fertility. But in late July, Pope Paul VI published the most controversial encyclical to date, Humane Vitae.
He discussed the true nature of married life, the future consequences for any culture embracing artificial contraception, and many other beautiful thoughts. All anyone heard, though, was the ban on artificial contraception. Many of the laity and some of the clergy rebelled against the teaching. Many still do. It seemed unreasonable to expect families to overburden themselves with one child after another throughout the entirety of a woman’s fertile years, or to only express physical intimacy when they were intending to procreate.
And that is unreasonable. The Church always has always welcomed and always will welcome each and every new life, but she does not demand that couples have as many children as possible. She also doesn’t demand that couples practice total abstinence when not trying to conceive a child. In section 16 of Humane Vitae, Pope Paul VI placed the full support of the Church behind the Natural Methods of spacing births with just reason. In the coming years, these methods would come to be known as Natural Family Planning (NFP for short).
For the 50th Anniversary of the encyclical, Goya Producciones produced a bi-lingual English and Spanish documentary available through Ignatius Press with a complete overview of these natural methods titled Marital Love and Responsible Parenthood. Starting from the basic philosophy, moving into the theological concepts, going through the various fertility indicators and methods of NFP, and ending with a summary of Humane Vitae and its effects, the documentary is a great place to start if you don’t know much about Natural Family Planning.
The documentary features over seventy experts from every continent. It’s amazing to see the impact and the effectiveness of the natural methods of fertility regulation all over the world and to hear from people who are both knowledgeable and passionate about the subject matter.
Particularly fascinating is the section on NaPro Technology. Developed at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, NaPro Technology is a comprehensive understanding of women and men’s fertility and is used with a significantly greater effectiveness than InVitro fertilization to achieve pregnancy in infertile and sub-fertile couples. NaPro Technology does not use any morally questionable methods and does not involve any excess embryos being frozen or discarded.
Around the web, and maybe even in your own diocese, you’ll see a lot about Natural Family Planning this week as the USCCB celebrates NFP Awareness Week. Using NFP is not without its challenges and frustrations. But as one expert said in the DVD, “the [contraceptive]mentality is based on an impoverished understanding of what it means to be human.” The Church and Pope Paul VI did not intend to place an impossible burden on us when publishing Humane Vitae. No, instead, it was a challenge to embrace our true nature and become what God intended us to be.
Natural Family Planning is one of the most incredible gifts the Church gives her children outside of the sacraments. If you’re not familiar with the methods and philosophy, if you need a refresher, or if you know someone who would like to learn more, Marital Love and Responsible Parenthood is a wonderful place to start!
If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained. (Humane Vitae 16)
Copyright 2018 Hilary Thompson