Archive for the ‘Love’ Tag

organic family planning

As a result of the HHS Mandate, the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception have garnered an abundance of media attention.   It is clear from the  headlines that Catholics are depicted as a people divided when it comes to contraception.  It is widely—though erroneously —reported that 98% of Catholic women will use a form of contraception at some point in their lifetime.  With numbers like these, and headlines like, “Catholics Take Sides over Health Law’s Birth Control Policy,” what’s a Catholic to do?  Many Catholics know that the Church views contraception as immoral, but are unsure exactly why.  Catholics may be unfamiliar or have misconceptions about what options are considered morally licit.  So while everyone is clear that the Church disallows contraception, the Church’s side of the story is not widely known.

With this in mind, last year I pitched Church teaching on contraception to my classroom of high school students. I began the conversation by asking them what they thought about the recent trend of environmental activism: everything nowadays is about “being green” and farming organically and cleaning with elements found in nature rather than chemicals. Everyone chimed in with examples from their own lives or advertisements they had seen on TV.  I then posed the question, If we are concerned with the chemicals that we put in our bodies, if we spend extra money to buy organic produce, use botantical cleaning supplies, and eat only antibiotic-free meat, why, then, are we so quick to use chemicals to control a woman’s fertility?

The room was quiet for a few moments—a small feat in an all-girls environment—and then the conversation really picked up.  I explained that the Church encourages married couples to use Natural Family Planning, or NFP, to plan their families.  Natural Family Planning can be used to achieve or to avoid pregnancies.  There are several different methods, but each works in conjunction with a woman’s menstrual cycle to determine the days that she is able to conceive.   NFP does not use any chemicals and does not involve any act before, during, or after intercourse to prevent a pregnancy from occurring.  Upon hearing this one student remarked, “It’s organic family planning!”  The real beauty of NFP, though, is that it fosters care for the whole person, body and spirit.

Marriage has two essential qualities: it is unitive—bringing the couple together in body and in spirit—but it is also procreative—that is to say, open to life.  As Pope Paul VI writes in Humanae Vitae,

“…the  fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.”

When we deliberately remove the procreative element of sex through contraception,  we are removing an essential quality of the marital act.

That is why NFP is not considered contraception or birth control; it involves an awareness of naturally occurring times of fertility and infertility.  Couples who wish to avoid a pregnancy simply abstain from intercourse during the woman’s fertile phase.  Contrary to popular belief, NFP is 99% effective if a couple seeks to avoid a pregnancy and uses the system correctly.

More than anything, though, NFP requires a couple to embody agape love, that is, sacrificial love.  It requires sacrifice because short periods of abstinence are required if a couple is trying to avoid a pregnancy.  It calls couples beyond themselves to a mutual responsibility for their fertility.  It does not rely solely on the woman or the man—it necessarily requires mutual responsibility. It is a remarkable exercise in authentic self-gift. In fact, couples who use NFP report that it strengthens their marriage because it fosters communication and a deeper appreciation for the other.

Natural Family Planning acknowledges that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and it promotes a deep respect for our bodies’ natural cycles of fertility.  In a society where “being green” is so prized, we shouldn’t settle for using chemicals to alter what is a remarkable natural cycle.  This week is NFP Awareness week –take the opportunity to learn more about authentic Church teaching on contraception. For more information on NFP, I’d urge you to check out the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.  In addition, the book Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, edited by Erika Bachiochi, is filled with essays (written by brilliant, academic women) about the theology and the history behind these teachings.

unconditional love

If you are looking for a good devotional for Lent, check out the daily “3 minute Retreat” from Loyola Press. It is a lovely way to find a few moments of peace each day.  This morning, I sat with my freshly brewed cup of coffee and prayed today’s retreat. Today’s theme is “unconditional love,” using the story of the Prodigal Son as the focal point.  I find that each time I hear the story of the Prodigal Son, I hear something new.  Today the story got me thinking about how blessed we are to have such a loving, forgiving God.

I love being Catholic, and I have to say, one of my favorite parts of Catholicism is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I have to admit that I didn’t always see the need for Reconciliation.  As a child (and let’s be honest, as an adult as well) I found it difficult to acknowledge when I was wrong.   I remember one afternoon before Mass, many years ago, my Mom made my brothers and me go to Reconciliation, and I felt that I had absolutely nothing to confess.  Since I was a perfect little kid, (ha!) I really could not think of a single thing to confess to this priest. So, I lied. I made up all kinds of sins.  Then, after receiving absolution, I marched right out of that confessional and got back in line. When I returned to the same priest a few minutes later, he looked at me quizzically but didn’t acknowledge that I had been there a mere five minutes earlier.

So I mustered up my courage and said, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was five minutes ago.”

“What would you like to confess?” he asked with a hint of a smile.

“I lied to a priest,” I admitted sheepishly.

He laughed, and gently explained to me that I was forgiven for all of my sins, that God knows what is truly in my heart. I felt much better after that.  If God would forgive me for lying to a PRIEST, he would certainly forgive me for being mean to my brothers.

Unfortunately I no longer have trouble coming up with my list of sins for confession! But I feel humbled that God loves me unconditionally. All I need to do is acknowledge to God that I have failed, and God lovingly welcomes me home. Imagine how different our world would be if we could each forgive each other in such a way.  If we were to humbly accept God’s forgiveness and mercy and then extend that same forgiveness and love to others.

Today, how can I express unconditional love?

Bob Rice

Catholic speaker, musician, author, teacher

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