Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way

Pope Paul V1, Address to 2000 Couples

13. Dear sons and daughters, as you well know, it is by living the graces of the Sacrament of Marriage that you journey with "untiring, generous love" (38) towards that holiness to which we are all called by grace . (39) It is not an obligation arbitrarily imposed that calls us to holiness, but rather the love of a Father who desires that His children attain their fullest potential and development and find total happiness. Moreover, to arrive at this goal, you have not been left to your own resources, since Christ and the Holy Spirit, "those two hands of God," as St. Irenaeus puts it, are unceasingly at work on your behalf. (40)

Do not therefore let yourselves be led astray by the temptations, difficulties and trials that arise along the way. Do not be afraid, when necessary, to go against the tide of thought and opinion in a world of paganized behavior. St. Paul warns us: "Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed in the newness of your mind." (41)

And do not be discouraged by your failures. Our God is a Father full of tenderness and goodness, filled with concern and overflowing with love for those of His children who have to struggle on their journey. And the Church is a mother who means to help you live to the fullest this ideal of Christian marriage. She reminds you along with the beauty of this ideal, of all its demands.

14. Dear sons, chaplains of the Teams of Our Lady, you know by a long and varied experience that your consecrated celibacy makes you particularly available to couples, to be for them, on their journey towards holiness, active witnesses of the love of the Lord in the Church.

Day after day you help them "walk in the light."(42) You help them to think right, that is, to evaluate their behavior in the light of the truth. You help them to will right, that is, to direct their will, as responsible persons, towards what is really good and therefore desirable, You help them to act right, that is, gradually to bring their life, in spite of the risks inherent in human existence, into harmony with the ideal of Christian marriage that they are generously pursuing.

Who is unaware of the fact that it is only little by little that a human being succeeds in ordering and integrating his manifold drives and tendencies, until at length he harmonizes them in that virtue of married chastity wherein the couple find their full human and Christian fulfillment.

This work of liberation, for that is what it is, is the fruit of the true freedom of the children of God. Their conscience must be respected, and at the same time, educated and formed, in an atmosphere of confidence and not of anxiety. In such an atmosphere, the moral laws are not seen as coldly inhuman, abstractly objective and remote prescriptions; instead they serve to guide the couple on their journey. When husband and wife, in fact, strive patiently and humbly, and without allowing themselves to be discouraged by setbacks, to live in truth the deep demands of a sanctified love, then the moral laws, which are there to recall these demands, are no longer rejected as a hindrance but recognized as a powerful help.

15. The journey of husband and wife, like every human life, has many stages; and, as you know from your experience over the years, it also includes difficult and painful periods. But it must be said emphatically: never should anguish and fear find a place in souls of good will since, after all, is not the Gospel good news also for husbands and wives? And despite all its demands, is it not a profoundly liberating message?

One naturally is distressed to realize that he has not yet achieved his interior liberty, that he is still subject to the impulses of his instincts. He is distressed to discover himself almost incapable at a particular moment of respecting the moral law in such a fundamental area. Yet this is the decisive moment when the Christian in his disarray, instead of yielding to a sterile and destructive revolt, makes his way humbly to the staggering discovery of what it means to be a man before God, a sinner before the love of Christ the Savior.

16. All progress in the moral life starts with this radical awareness. The couple has thus been "evangelized" in the depths of their being. And "with fear and trembling. (43) but also with a wondrous joy, husband and wife discover that in their marriage, as in the union of Christ and the Church, the Easter mystery of death and resurrection is being accomplished.

In the bosom of the great Church this little church then recognizes itself for what it is in reality: a community - weak, sometimes sinful and penitent, but forgiven - on the road towards holiness, "in the peace of God which surpasses all understanding." (44)

This does not all mean that the spouses are shielded against all failures: "let him who prides himself on standing take care lest he fall." (45) They are not dispensed from the need of persevering effort, sometimes in cruel circumstances that can only be endured by the realization that they are participating in Christ's Passion. (46) But at least they know that the demands of a moral married life, which the Church recalls to them, are not intolerable and impracticable laws but a gift of God to help them discover, by means of their own weaknesses and looking beyond them, the riches of a fully human and Christian love. Hence the spouses do not at all have the anguished feeling that they have in some way reached a dead end, that in some instances they are perhaps sinking into sensuality as they abandon all reception of the sacraments or even as they rebel against a Church they consider inhuman. Nor do they grow hardened by reason of an impossible effort that threatens their harmony and emotional balance or even the marriage itself. Instead husband and wife will open themselves to hope, in the certainty that all of the Church's resources of grace are available to help them on their journey towards the perfection of their love.


11. Paul VI, Allocution to the Executive Director of the UN Fund for Population Activities, and the Secretary General of the World Population Conference, March 30, 1974.

RADICAL MEASURES. . . . Some people are carried away by the temptation to believe that there is no other solution except to curb population growth by the use of radical measures, measures which are frequently in contrast with the laws implanted by God in man's nature, and which fall short of due respect for the dignity of human life and man's rightful liberty. Such measures are in some cases based upon a materialistic view of man's destiny.

The true solutions to these problems - We would say the only solutions - will be those that take due account of all concrete factors as a whole: the demands of social justice along with respect for the divine laws governing life, the dignity of the human person as well as the freedom of peoples, the primary role of the family as well as the responsibility proper to married couples.

The Church's Position

We do not intend to repeat here in detail the principles that govern the Church's position in the matter of population. These principles have been clearly set forth in the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, and in Our encyclical letters Populorum Progressio and Humanae Vitae. These documents, whose contents are well known to you, demonstrate that the Church's teaching on population matters is both firm and carefully enunciated, respectful of principles and at the same time deeply human in its pastoral approach.

No pressure must cause the Church to deviate toward doctrinal compromises or short-sighted solutions.

12. Paul VI to Participants in the Twenty Fifth General Assembly of Pharmacology, September 7, 1974

The Pope invited them to "deepen and broaden their knowledge about the Church's teachings on the grave questions which concern the concept of man. There is no lack of documents on the subject, including also Our Encyclical Humanae Vitae, which sheds light on the subject which you have chosen as one of the principle points of your labors .... This document casts into focus a vision of total man in his dependence on God the Creator, and in his supernatural vocation .... It treats of a proper way of responsible parenthood. In the document (cfr. HV 24) we invite men of science, as the Fathers of Vatican II had already done, to pool their efforts and knowledge to explain more thoroughly the various conditions favoring a wholesome regulation of births.

.... Our delegation to the World Population Congress at Bucharest issued a clear declaration, reaffirming without ambiguity the refusal of the Church to accept practices which run contrary to the respect due to man, including abortion, sterilization, and contraception, means which transgress the laws of transmission of life. After all, it is our mission which calls us to defend without growing weary that inestimable gift of God which is human life, and the sacred laws that govern it."

13. Letter of Cardinal Villot in the Name of Pope

Paul VI, to the Congress of the International Federation for Family Life Promotion (IFFI.P) at Cali Columbia, June 22-25, 1977.

.... The importance of the knowledge of the biological laws of human fertility which can enhance a healthy regulation of births by natural methods, requires that scientific research be intensified in this area. The work should also be coordinated and ought to be supported with funds which are proportionate to the issue in question and to the services rendered.

Pope Paul VI also feels that couples themselves can help other couples very well in the search to discover, accept, and experience the holiness and gentleness of the law which binds their mutual conjugal love to the law of God, the author of human life. By sharing their experiences they are in a good position to win the confidence of couples and to become their guides.

This work requires the concerted effort of numerous specialized educators, informed marriage counselors and spiritual advisors, including lay people, religious, and members of the clergy, to help couples to meet the full scope of the requirements of their love and of responsible parenthood. The Holy Father has often had the opportunity to express and to recall to all Catholics and men of good will the principles involved. What is involved here is the construction of a world which respects love and life as gifts from God ....

14. John Paul II, Address to Delegates of Liaison Center of Research Teams (CLER) and Directors of the International Federation for Family Life Promotion, Rome, November 3, 1979.

5. Responsible parenthood must be viewed in this perspective (of specifically Christian values). On this plane, the spouses, the parents, may meet with a certain number of problems which cannot be solved without deep love, a love which comprises also an effort of continence. These two virtues, love and continence, appeal to a common decision of the spouses and to their will to submit to the doctrine of the Faith, to the teaching of the Church. On this vast subject, I will limit myself to three observations.

Church's Doctrine Clear

6. In the first place, there must be no cheating with the doctrine of the Church, as it has been set forth clearly by the Magisterium, by the Council, by my predecessors. I am thinking especially of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, of his address to the Notre Dame Teams on May 4, 1970, and of his numerous other addresses. We must hold our course steadily by this ideal of conjugal relations, governed by and respectful of the nature and purposes of the conjugal act. We should shun, the concession - more or less broad, more or less avowed - to the principle and practice of contraceptive morals. God calls spouses to the holiness of marriage, for their own good and for the quality of their witness.

Extending Help to Others

7. This point being firmly established, out of obedience to the Church - it is to your honor to cling to it cost what it may - a no less important point is to help Christian couples, and others, to strengthen their own convictions, by seeking with them the deeply human reason for acting that way. It is good that they should catch a glimpse of how this natural ethic corresponds to what is most authentically human. Armed with such knowledge they can escape more easily the traps of permissive laws and public opinion, and even contribute their part to a correction of public opinion....

8. It must even be added that the popularization of artificial contraception leads to abortion, for both lie - though at different levels - on the same line of fear of the child, rejection of life, lack of respect for the act or the fruit of the union, such as it is established between man and woman by the Creator of nature ....

Living Responsible Parenthood

9. Finally, all possible means should be employed to provide concrete help to couples so that they can live this responsible parenthood. Your contributions in this area are irreplaceable .... I am happy to know that a growing number of persons and organizations at the international level appreciate these efforts for natural regulation. To these men of science, doctors and specialists, I address all my good wishes and encouragement, since at stake is the welfare of families and of societies in their legitimate concern to harmonize human fertility with their capabilities. Also, provided only that an appeal is always made to the virtues of love and continence, it is a question of progress in human self-mastery, in conformity with the Creator's plan.

I encourage also all qualified lay people, those married couples who provide spouses with assistance to live worthily their conjugal love and that responsibility as parents by counseling, teaching, and guiding them; and who help young people to prepare for this responsibility.

I assure each of you, your collaborators, families and dear children, of my prayer for your magnificent apostolate, and impart to you my fatherly Apostolic Blessing.

15. John Paul II, Address to Midwives, January 26, 1980

. . And how could I fail to recall also, in a broader view of your service for life, the important contribution of advice and practical guidance you can offer to individual married couples, who wish to carry out responsible procreation, while respecting the order established by God? To you, too, are addressed the words of my predecessor Paul VI, exhorting members of the medical profession to persevere "in promoting on every occasion solutions inspired by faith and upright reason" and to endeavor to "bring forth conviction and respect for these correct solutions in their environment" (Encyclical Humanae Vitae, No. 27).

16. John Paul II to Indonesian Bishops

Pope John Paul II's English-language address June 7, 1980 to the third group of Indonesian bishops making their "ad limina" (official five-year) visits to Rome to report on their diocese.

Venerable and Dear Brothers in Our Lord Jesus Christ

I am very grateful for your visit today, grateful for the greetings you bring me from your local churches, grateful for your own fraternal love in Christ Jesus, grateful for the ecclesial communion we celebrate together in Catholic unity. This ecclesial communion - this Catholic unity - was the theme of my address to your brother bishops from Indonesia who were here less than two weeks ago. It is likewise the basis for this "ad limina" visit and for every "ad limina" visit to Rome.

Precisely because of this ecclesial communion, I personally, as successor of Peter, experience deeply the need to make every effort to understand as fully as possible the problems of your local churches and to assist in solving these problems in accordance with the will of Christ for his church. The issues you have presented to me affect the well-being of your people. Some of them raise questions that touch the Catholic faith and Catholic life in general. All of them represent pastoral concerns that in differing ways are the object of your responsibility and mine, matters to be examined with the assistance of the Holy Spirit in the light of the perennial value of God's word, upheld by the magisterium of the church, and in the context of ecclesial communion ....

In moral questions as in doctrinal issues we must continue to proclaim the church's teaching "in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2). Hence we urge our people to admit only one measure of Christian love: to love one another as Christ has loved us (cf. John 13, 34). We charge them to bear constant witness to Christ's justice and his truth.

In our ministry at the service of life we are called to testify to the fullness of the truth we hold so that all may know the stand of the Catholic Church on the utter inviolability of human life from the moment of conception. Hence we proclaim with deep conviction that any willful destruction of human life by procured abortion for any reason whatsoever is not in accord with God's commandment, that it is entirely outside the competence of any individual or group and that it cannot redound to true human progress.

In the question of the church's teaching on the regulation of birth we are called to profess in union with the whole church the exigent but uplifting teaching recorded in the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which my predecessor Paul VI put forth "by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ" (AAS 60, 1968, p. 485). Particularly in this regard we must be conscious of the fact that God's wisdom supersedes human calculations and his grace is powerful in people's lives. It is important for us to realize the direct influence of Christ on the members of his body in all realms of moral challenges. On the occasion of the "ad limina" visit of another group of bishops I made reference to this principle, which has many applications, saying, "Let us never fear that the challenge is too great for our people. They were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. They are his people. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ vindicates to himself the final responsibility for the acceptance of his word and for the growth of his church. It is he, Jesus Christ, who will continue to give the grace to his people to meet the requirements of his word, despite all difficulties, despite all weaknesses. And it is up to us to continue to proclaim the message of salvation in its entirety and purity with patience, compassion and the conviction that what is impossible with man is possible with God. We ourselves are only part of one generation in salvation history, but 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever' (Hebrews 13, 8). He is indeed able .to sustain us as we recognize the strength of his grace, the power of his word and the efficacy of his merits" (AAS 71, 1979, pp. 1423).

Christ's grace does not eliminate the need for compassionate understanding and increased pastoral effort on our part, but it does point to the fact that in the last analysis everything depends on Christ. It is Christ's word we preach. It is his church we construct day after day, according to his criterion. Jesus Christ has built his church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (cf. Ephesians 2, 20) and in a special way on Peter (cf. Matthew 16, 18). But it remains his church, the church of Christ: ". . . and on this rock I will build my church." Our people are ours only because they are, above all, his. Jesus Christ is the good shepherd, the author of our faith, the hope of the world.

It is important for us to reflect on the mystery of the headship of Christ over his church. Through his Holy Spirit Jesus Christ gives grace and strength to his people and he invites all of them to follow him. At times, beginning with Peter, Christ calls his people to be led, as he himself explains, where they do not wish to go (cf. John 21:18).

Venerable brothers, my recent pastoral visits confirm something that we have all experienced. Our people are constantly turning to us with the expectation and the plea: Proclaim to us the word of God; speak to us about Christ. Their request is an echo of the request spoken of by St. John and made to the apostle Philip, "We wish to see Jesus" (John 12, 21). Truly the world entreats us to speak about Christ. It is he who will shape the new heavens and the new earth. It is he who by his word of truth fashions and controls the destinies of our people.

With renewed pastoral love and zeal let us proclaim his saving word to the world. Relying on the assistance of Mary, mother of the Incarnate Word, let us together commend our people and our ministry to him who alone has "the words of eternal life" (John 6, 68).

With these sentiments I send my greetings back to all the members of your local churches and especially to all the Christian families. I offer my encouragement and gratitude to the priests and Religious and to all who collaborate with you in the cause of the Gospel. To the sick and suffering goes my special blessing and to everyone the expression of my love in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."

Sections of the 1951 Address to Midwives, and to the Family Front are from the National Catholic Welfare Conference version. Those of Mater et Magistra are from the version of The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, New York, 1963.

The translation of the sections from The Church in the Modern World is that of Costello Publishing Company, Northport, New York, USA, Austin Flannery, O.P., General Editor. Permission obtained. The Address to Cardinals, June 23, 1964, is taken from The Pope Speaks. The Humanae Vitae translation is published by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1978, used with permission. Other quotations were translated by the coordinator, or adapted by him from various sources, especially the Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English.

Equipes Notre Dame
4 May 1970

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