Without further ado, here's a column from Summer 1993. My current editorializing is in pink:
I recently asked a young man who is about to be married what advice he had received concerning marriage. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "The only advice my mother has given me is that no marriage can have too much of two things: sex and prayer." As I recall, I turned very red and quickly inquired about china patterns. But the words have stuck with me. Now I wish I could sit with his mother and discover what other pearls of wisdom she has to offer.
Because I know this young man, I know his mother was referring to unselfish marital sex. It is wholly appropriate to discuss lovemaking and prayer in the same context. That is how God intended it. Married love should embrace the Lord, creator of life. The unitive nature of making love and the procreative nature are inextricably intertwined. To deny either one is to deny God, who invested sex with that quality. In order to know God's will regarding the conception of children, the couple must pray together. It is that constant communication, with each other and with God that makes Natural Family Planning (NFP) so good for marriages.
In my last post, I shared the myriad of options the medical community makes available to couples who are planning their families. And we discovered what a euphemism "options" is. Rather than arbitrary, heavy-handed rules, the Church's stand on birth control is a protective measure, which shields couples from the evil inherent in all forms of artificial birth control and encourages them to consider God's will in every aspect of their lives.
NFP is not the rhythm method. It does not solely rely on a "safe time of the month." Instead, it is a scientific method in which married and engaged couples note, chart, and interpret the woman's fertility signs. The couple considers the time of the month, basal body temperature, cervical mucous, and physical attributes of the cervix itself. When used properly,it is every bit as effective as the pill.
It is not my intention to tell couples how to use NFP, but to tell them why NFP makes so much more sense than artificial birth control. Many couples decide on a form of contraception and then rarely discuss sex in terms of children. I wonder how many women, before they take their pills every morning, consider what God's plan is for their families. I wonder how many men ever think about the pill at all, even when their wives take it daily. Contraception becomes a routine part of day-today life-- a mechanization requiring little thought and no communication.
NFP enhances communciation between spouses. It is a shared responsibility. Most importantly, this cooperative effort embraces God. An NFP couple must not only discuss sex, but to use NFP properly, they must pray about it. It is a blessing to a marriage when God is included in the sacred act He created. NFP requires prayerful consideration. It does seem that couples using NFP have more children than other couples. None of those children are "accidents." These couples have prayerfully considered life more often and are more open to divine intervention in the family planning. Above all, marriage partners who are open to God's plan know the peace of cooperation with the love of the Creator.
Marriage is hard work. I won't deny that NFP is work, too. I don't know of anything of value in interpersonal relationships that doesn't require some effort. NFP requires faithfulness. It requires some sacrifice, a dying to self. But that is what love is all about--giving for the good of another. That is not a bad thing. When they are choosing abstinence, couples experience a time of "courtship." They are challenged to find alternate expressions of love and they experiences the joys inherent to those expressions.
Finally, NFP is wonderful witness to children. When my children are adolescents and I want to impress upon them the merits of chastity, I will speak from a personal perspective, telling them about the sanctity of sex within a marriage, about sacrifice, and fidelity. I'll urge them to prayerfully consider God's will and His plan for their lives. Iwill be able to empathize with how difficult it is to deny the urgings of the flesh because I will be living a chaste life. [Note: Now that my children are of this age, I recognize the huge role a community of faith plays. When you are surrounded by supportive friends, this lifestyle is more readily embraced than when you are all alone in the culture. Whether married or single, living sexuality as God intended requires open communication and a shared of philosophy within the couple and, ideally, surrounding the couple. Cultivating that community is infinitely valuable.] I will tell them that I know what it feels like to be in love and to gratefully accept God's blessings upon a union. And when they are about to be married, I will tell them that a good marriage can never have too much of two things: sex and prayer.