Archive for the ‘marriage’ 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.

peace in the kitchen

Yesterday I was in a major funk.

I wanted so badly to write, but no thoughts came. I sat in front of my computer for two hours, my cup of tea in hand, willing the words to come. My thoughts were all over the place. I am quite homesick, and filled with uncertainty about my life.  I wrote up a draft, then tossed it—too many loose ends. I did all of the usual things to help me get out of this foul mood—I went to the gym, made dinner. No improvement. I resorted to my secret weapon for times like this—baking.

I’ve written before about my love for “The Barefoot Contessa” show on the Food Network.  But baking really does get me through difficult emotional times.  So last night I pulled out our KitchenAid mixer, my measuring cups, jars of flour, sugar, baking powder, and I started to feel calm. I measured out all of my ingredients, followed my recipe exactly, and put my delicious-smelling banana bread in the oven. And some weight on my shoulders is lifted and I feel like “me” again.

As I was cleaning up after baking, my husband remarked that baking always makes me feel better, he can see the difference. I quickly responded without thinking, “I love baking because I can control it. It’s precise.  I know exactly how much I need to measure, and if I measure everything exactly, I will have a beautiful, delicious product in the end.”

Only while I was laying in bed last night did the significance of that thought dawn on me.  I like baking because it makes me feel like I am in control of my life, even for an hour. When I think about it, the majority of my anxiety comes from feeling like I can’t control my life—I’m not sure what God is calling me to do with my life, I miss my family, my friends, and I still feel so very new and out of sorts in my new life.  What I need to do is trust that God is working in my life, God is the master baker, measuring, teasing out exactly who God created me to be.

Today my prayer is that I can learn to rely on God to bring me peace, instead of relying on my KitchenAid. I will, of course, continue to bake my banana bread and scones and other delights (I’d have a riot on my hands if I stopped…), but I need to rely on God more. Here’s to hoping.

Bob Rice

Catholic speaker, musician, author, teacher

domestic diva, M.D.

my mother raised the perfect housewife...then I went to med school

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The Spiritual Evolution of a Faulty Catholic

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