Monday, July 25, 2016

National NFP Awareness Week 2016

On this day forty-eight years ago, Bl. Pope Paul VI promulgated what would turn out to be the last encyclical letter of his pontificate, Humanae vitae. In observance of the promulgation of what is perhaps the best known papal encyclical in the Church's history, each year during the week that includes 25 July, is designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as National NFP Awareness Week. As you might imagine, that such a week is observed annually is probably unknown to most Catholics and is not promoted in parishes and dioceses. These facts tell you most of what you need to know about how the Church largely avoids the whole uncomfortable issue of marital sexuality, even during marriage preparation.

Each year National NFP week has a theme. The theme for this year is Love, Mercy, Life: Natural Family Planning, Opening the Heart of Marriage. I like the theme and wish it was more developed and more widely disseminated.

The Church's principled and unwavering opposition to contraception is viewed by many Catholics, including clergy, as embarrassingly retrograde and reactive. In fact, Humanae Vitae is a very progressive document. It is progressive in a number of related ways. The encyclical addresses responsible parenthood and makes clear that Catholic couples are under no obligation to have as many children as possible par. 10). The number and spacing of children is left to the discretion of the couple. While insisting that a couple have "serious reasons," a list of which is given, for not wanting to conceive at a given time, Humanae Vitae permitted the employment of Natural Family Planning (par. 10; par. 16). Permitting the use of various methods of NFP is still frowned upon by many self-described "traditional" Catholics. The fact that key aspects of Humanae Vitae has dissenters on both sides is a pretty good indication Pope Paul was correct. It is progressive in that recognizes what is called the "unitive" aspect of sexual relations in marriage. While the unitive dimension, properly understood, cannot be separated from the procreative dimension, it is important to a healthy, happy marriage.

It's strange to me that what is really liberating is often viewed as oppressive and vice-versa. In no area of human life is this more true than human sexuality. Nearly 50 years of sexual "liberation' have taken quite a toll on innumerable lives and on our society as whole. Nearly 50 years of sexual "liberation' have taken quite a toll on innumerable lives and on our society as whole. The most difficult aspect of NFP is that if a couple, for serious reasons, determines that they are not desirous of conceiving a child for either a determinate or indeterminate period of time is that they must abstain from sexual intercourse during the fertile period of the woman's menstrual cycle. In some instances this can be quite a sacrifice, but in most cases it is not. Not only do we live at a time and in a culture when the exercise of sexual self-control is considered unhealthy repression, but sexual gratification and self-expression is seen as the highest good and the most cherished human right.

I have posted extensively on Humanae Vitae. Instead of a comprehensive list of posts, below you will find some of the highlights:

"The predictable provocations of the Pope of Rome"

"Natural Family Planning Awareness Week"

"Amos was a prophet and so was Pope Paul"

HHS mandate: Why the kerfuffle?

"The joy of NFP"

"NFP: a faithful reality check"

"The reality of the human person"

"'Not everyone can receive this saying'"

"Humane Vitae turns 40: Updated and expanded 26 July 2008"

"Humane Vitae turns 40, part II"

Above all, I encourage you to read, or re-read, as the case may be, Humanae Vitae. It isn't very long.

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