July 25th, 2008 marked the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI encyclical Humanae Vitae. This document has been the source of much controversy and division in the Catholic Church. Many people think they know its content, even though they have never read it. It is a beautiful reflection on the great gift of married love that God has placed at the heart of all human life.
The controversial sentence in the encyclical has to do with artificial means of contraception within the life of married persons. Paul VI reviews this area of the Church’s moral doctrine thoroughly before pronouncing that even in these modern times, the teaching of the Church has not changed.
A prophetic portion of the encyclical deals with what Paul VI foresees happen if governments ever intrude into the intimacy of the marriage relationship and mandate contraception, sterilization, and abortion as means of controlling the size of a nation’s population. Each of his predictions has come true to various degrees, and we can see the resulting social disruption in countries where unborn girls are aborted more frequently than boys, not to mention the human misery of married couples whose procreative rights have been taken over by the state.
Paul VI also upholds the right and obligation of married persons to control the size of their families according to their ability properly to rear and educate their children. What have come to fruition from this teaching are the modern forms of Natural Family Planning. NFP helps many couples avoid the use of drugs and other means--which can cause abortion-- while providing a safe and equally effective way to regulate the size of the family. An outstanding feature of NFP is that the divorce rate among couples who use NFP is less than 5%.
Beginning this July 1st, the Diocese of Phoenix has an Office of Natural Family Planning. Each engaged couple is required to take an introductory class. If a couple decides to adopt NFP lifestyle, they continue with additional classes and personalized training. Couples already married can also take the classes.
In our contemporary society, which Pope John Paul II described as the “culture of death”, is it not time for married couples to re-evaluate their approach to family planning and investigate what the Church offers as a loving, natural, and safe way of engaging with God in the creation of His world?
Fr. Bradley Peterson, O. Carm.
Diocesan NFP office: (602)225-0636 or http://phxnfp.org/