One positive effect of NFP is that men and women acknowledge their roles and responsibilities in the creation of a new life. A second positive effect is a change in the way spouses view each other and their mutual relationship.
Couples who use NFP attest to the benefit. NFP is really a study of fertility in which a couple learns the workings of their reproductive systems. Acquiring this knowledge can bring about profound changes in the way people view their bodies and the bodies of their spouses.
This reverence toward the body seems to increase particularly among men, even those who say they have “finished their families.” Many men report new feelings of awe towards their wives as they see the changes they go through every month. The man develops a sense of gratitude for the gift of fertility a woman gives him every time they make love. She in turn develops a sense of gratitude that her husband is cooperating with her fertility instead of asking her to destroy it.
In this way both come to see that every act of intercourse is a reaffirmation of their marital commitment. Their mutual trust increases. Economist George Akerlof writes: “It seems reasonable … that the probability of a breakup is higher for couples in uncommitted relationships than for those in committed ones.”
Armed with the knowledge of their fertility, the husband and wife can make mutual decisions on when to make love based on their situation in life. These decisions spark a dialogue, which keeps open the lines of communication. The couple sees that not every sexual act, especially one that can result in a pregnancy that would be detrimental, is an act of love.
This can bring about a change in behavior that is beneficial to marriage. Spouses become less selfish, less centered on their own sexual needs. Abstinence becomes a sacrifice made for the good of the other. These benefits are available to couples regardless of whether they are newly-weds or have been married for twenty years.
In light of all this, why should anyone expect the Church to change its teaching on contraception? Why should a Church, speaking in the name of God who is love, give its blessing to something that has led to abortion, divorce, reproductive health problems for women, poorer relationships between the sexes, more children living in poverty and more men becoming socially dysfunctional?
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta got to the heart of the matter when she addressed a National Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the U.S. Senate and House of representatives on 3 Feb 1994:
“I know that couples have to plan their family and for that there is natural family planning. The way to plan the family is natural family planning, not contraception.
“In destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other as happens in natural family planning, and not to self, as happens in contraception. Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.
“I also know that there are great problems in the world - that many spouses do not love each other enough to practice natural family planning. We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but let us never bring in the worst problem of all, and that is to destroy love. And this is what happens when we tell people to practice contraception and abortion.
“The poor are very great people. They can teach us so many beautiful things. Once one of them came to thank us for teaching her natural family planning and said: "You people who have practiced chastity, you are the best people to teach us natural family planning because it is nothing more than self-control out of love for each other." And what this poor person said is very true. These poor people maybe have nothing to eat, maybe they have not a home to live in, but they can still be great people when they are spiritually rich.
“When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread. But a person who is shut out, who feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person who has been thrown out of society - that spiritual poverty is much harder to overcome. And abortion, which often follows from contraception, brings a people to be spiritually poor, and that is the worst poverty and the most difficult to overcome.”
Whether a couple is using NFP to bring new life into existence or to avoid a pregnancy through the use of periodic abstinence, there is an element of sacrifice involved. Blessed Mother Teresa described the payoff for confronting the fear of that sacrifice as part of her statement to the Cairo Conference on Population on 9 Sept 1994:
“God has created a world big enough for all the lives He wishes to be born. It is only our hearts that are not big enough to want them and accept them… We are too often afraid of the sacrifices we might have to make. But where there is love, there is always sacrifice. Ånd when we love until it hurts, there is joy and peace.”
And where there is joy and peace, marriage and the family can thrive.
Taken from Fletcher Doyle’s NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING BLESSED OUR MARRIAGE, pp. 36-40, which I highly recommend.
Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB