Ash Wednesday is a somber day where we begin our forty days of fasting before we celebrate our Lord rising from the dead to give us new life. It’s a day where we contemplate our chosen sacrifices and prayers to help us grow closer to our Lord. We choose to surrender parts of ourselves to unite us to our savior on the cross so that we may better understand his bleeding wounds and immense suffering.
During this season it can be difficult to come up with a authentic sacrifice beyond giving up soda, TV, alcohol, etc. Not to say that those are ingenious, but depending on your faith life, they may be somewhat juvenile. Perhaps, if your heart is willing, I have a suggestion for your 40 day journey.
Our diocese, the Diocese of Des Moines, recently held a wine and cheese social where they celebrated the beauty of the teachings of The Church on Natural Family Planning. There was wine, cheese, free childcare, and a group of Catholic friends, so ya, we went. There was a brief presentation by Bishop Pates, and then people simply sat and enjoyed the company. It was so much fun, and I even got the Bishop to take a picture with me and some of my squirmy kiddos.
As I looked around the room, I was somewhat surprised to see a lot of unfamiliar faces. I feel like my husband and I have finally settled into the Catholic community here, having moved from Nebraska to Des Moines four years ago, and we have gotten to know many amazing Catholics. But at the social, there were new faces. It was so uplifting to know that we belonged to a greater community. A group of people who love God and love The Church’s teachings on the dignity of both married life and humanity. And, it wasn’t just my circle of friends, but there were other people in Des Moines who practice Natural Family Planning (NFP).
I’m sure you have read numerous articles, publications, and perhaps even testimonies on the amazing gift of NFP. But, what I would like to share with you, is the part of NFP that I find the both the most difficult and the most fulfilling, the sacrifice. Because, it is the sacrifice that binds me to God.
In all forms of Natural Family Planning, there is a period of abstinence if you and your spouse have discerned that it is necessary for you to avoid pregnancy. Society often tells us that abstinence, especially inside of marriage has no place, that it is unrealistic. But, our Mother Church, and less importantly me, will tell you quite the opposite. When you can look at your spouse, the most desirable person in the world and say to him or her, “I love you so much that I will give up my worldly desires for you”, well, what more is there? What more could you possibly say that could better mean “I love you”.
Is this period of abstinence difficult? Well, yes, sometimes. But just as we offer our Lord a sacrifice during this Lenten season out of love, can we not offer sacrifices for those on Earth whom we love? When you view a time of abstinence of sacrifice through the eyes of our Lord, it becomes beautiful, sanctifying, and you even look forward to this time.
If in your marriage, you have not opened yourself up to this gift from the Church, I encourage you to think about it, pray about it, and discuss with your spouse and priest this opportunity. Use these 40 days of fasting as a starting point for your NFP journey, consider it a trial run, for there is no greater love than dying to one’s self for Him.
If you and your spouse practice NFP, I ask you to recommit during this Lenten season. Read a new book on marriage and love, take a new NFP class or meet with your instructor for a brush up, sit down with your spouse and look over your charts, or make a decision to discuss your chart with your spouse each night.
May God bless you on your journey during this holy season.
Rachel is a stay-at-home mother to five beautiful children ages 4, 3, 2, 1, and her newest blessing, born in October. By the grace of God, she converted to Catholicism in 2004, and soon thereafter married her high school sweetheart. She strives every day to do the little things, as St. Thérèse did, and to live her life pleasing to Him.