I am an NFP teacher but find very few Catholics interested in learning abut it. I think the reason is, with very few exceptions, a universal lack of clergy support . Our priests seldom, if ever, mention anything about contraception or sterilization from the pulpit. As a result people interpret this silence as condoning such immoral behavior. So why should they bother with NFP? I’m very discouraged and don’t know what to do.
-- Discouraged in New Mexico
What you mention is a common complaint we hear all over the country. If the clergy do not encourage couples to learn a morally good way to space their babies, while always remaining open to the great gift of their fertility, then there will be only an exceptional few couples seeking information about NFP. This must be discouraging to you as a teacher, who has gone to great lengths to prepare yourself to be a certified teacher of NFP for the benefit of a parish and the broader diocese.
Please know that there are some bright spots on the horizon. Individual priests are strong promoters of the values surrounding NFP. We meet them in our work throughout the country. Many of our younger clergy bring with them a much better appreciation of the Church’s sexual ethic than previous generations. They received a better exposition of the Church’s teachings in the seminaries, and there are better materials available today on these issues. You should know that some dioceses are requesting that NFP Outreach provide clergy conferences on the topic “How to Preach God’s Plan for Marriage and Spousal Love from the Pulpit.”
My advice to you is to refuse to become discouraged. It is precisely times like these that require people like you and me to be faithful to what we are called to do. We know that God’s plan for marriage and spousal love is the perfect formula for happiness, and that it is within the reach of everyone. No sensible person is happy with the present 50% divorce rate, 80% cohabitation rate, and an 85% contraception rate. Our efforts are needed more, not less, in these difficult times. God does bless these efforts. There will be breakthroughs.
Here is what Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, OR, wrote in his diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Sentinel, on 5 May 06: “Rejecting the Church’s teaching on contraception has a profound impact on our ability to love God. The truth is that it is simply not possible to say on one hand, ‘I do love the Lord with my whole heart, mind and soul’ and at the same time to say, ‘My decisions about how to deal with the most marvelous God-given gift of fertility has nothing to do with God.
“These sex-related sins have achieved a high degree of societal acceptability. This societal acceptability has given the impression to Catholics that God really has nothing of value to say about these life issues.”
Bishop Vasa criticized Catholic leadership for failing to teach clearly the essential importance of obedience to the Church’s teaching on contraception. “The one question which stands … as a condemnation to all teachers and preachers within the Church is simply, ‘Why haven’t we been told this clearly and consistently?’
“The answer is as difficult as the question. I suspect that if we took some liberties with the Scripture we could envision Jesus saying: “You cannot love God and contraception at the same time. You will either love one and hate the other or be committed to one and despise the other.’
“If God is really saying, ‘If you love me then abide by my Commandments including my Church’s teaching about the sinfulness of contraception,’ then many in the Church are faced with the same conflict…. We cannot separate the concrete realities of our lives from the love of God.
“It is not an easy thing to present this very personal and emotional subject in such direct black and white terminology, but the truth is that Jesus and His Church either include contraception in the list of prohibited practices, or they do not. There may be huge numbers of Catholics who reject this teaching but I do not know of any who deny that it is what the Church clearly and consistently teaches.”
In his 6 Nov 07 column, Bishop Vasa wrote: “Many Catholic have erroneously determined that the path the should follow is to disobey while tying to convince the Church that Her teaching is erroneous. In choosing to disobey, they break faith with the Church. In that disobedience tremendous harm has been brought to many women. Tremendous harm to marriage. Tremendous harm to family life. Tremendous harm to society.”
As the 40th anniversary of the encyclical looms, the Bishop says he hopes for a general renewal of instruction and faithfulness to its teachings. “I suspect, and pray, that there will be a very strong and concerted effort in the Church to engage in a comprehensive program of study and instruction surrounding this teaching.”
Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB
Printed with permission from Natural Family Planning Outreach.