The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated this week as National Natural Family Planning Week in honor of the anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The theme of this year’s campaign is Love, Mercy, Life: Opening the Heart of Marriage. Here are just a few ways practicing NFP can help one grow in love, mercy, and life.
NFP teaches us how to love like Christ by turning the focus away from our own instant gratification and instead focusing on our spouse’s and family’s best interest. We learn to deny ourselves out of love for the other. NFP helps our love for our spouse grow – through struggles, communication, and triumphs, we grow in love and respect for each other. Our priest gave us some wonderful advice during our pre-marriage counseling: that with each new child we welcomed into our family, my spouse and I would learn to love each other better, because each child would teach us how to love in a new way. He suggested that each child would stretch us and force us to grow, and through learning to love each child in a different way, we would be learning to love our spouse in a new way as well. NFP allows us to grow in love for our spouse and our children. Of course one’s love for one’s spouse isn’t determined by how many children one has, but practicing NFP and being open to life do stretch us and help us to love deeper, to rid ourselves of selfishness and love our spouse more selflessly.
NFP teaches us to extend mercy to our spouse, especially during difficult times. Extending mercy and growing in patience are not often celebrated in our culture, but NFP requires the continued cultivation of mercy towards others and oneself. NFP also teaches us to extend mercy to those struggling with crosses slightly different than our own: those with many young children close in age, those suffering from infertility, secondary infertility, miscarriage, those struggling with extended periods of abstinence, and even mercy towards those who are contradicting Church teaching by contracepting. We don’t know the struggles of others and certainly should not judge others based on how many children they do or do not have, but we are called to show mercy to all.
NFP teaches us to be open to life within our marriage, but also helps us recognize the dignity of human life throughout all stages- recognizing the sacredness and uniqueness of every human life. When we are open to life in our marriage, we are better able to see what is truly important in life, to differentiate between needs and wants, and to plan for the long term while placing our trust in God.
Sometimes, NFP is misrepresented as just Catholic-approved birth control, but this is not true. Our culture’s contraceptive mentality is all about control – controlling a woman’s fertility, controlling her body, controlling when we have children and when we don’t. But the truth is, we aren’t in control. God is in control. NFP helps us accept that truth, and allows us to work with God in understanding the beautiful gift of our fertility, and work with Him in bringing another unique soul into this world. But it always reminds us that ultimately, we are not in control, God is. And it’s only when we fully embrace this truth that our marriages will flourish.