NFP and Divine Providence

Anthony Zimmerman
Homiletic and Pastoral Review
November, 1990
Reproduced with Permission

Editor, HPR:

Because many fine Catholics have reservations about natural family planning (Anne Marie Collopy, HPR Feb. 1990) we should explain the matter again and again.

Let's begin with the Pope. He would not encourage an NFP apostolate if that were something bad. He came to Rome from Krakow, already a veteran promoter of NFP. Now he asks the world to join this timely apostolate.

At the 1980 Synod of Bishops he invited NFP experts and promoters (including Mother Theresa) to explain to the assembled Cardinals, Bishops and other participants, how NFP works, and what are its benefits. Yes, cycle, temperatures, mucus - the works. I think this must have been a first time for some of the august participants. No matter! The Pope also passed out copies of the book on natural family planning which we had prepared at his request for this occasion. In the special audience which followed, he thanked us for supporting him, and for strengthening this apostolate in the Church.

In Familiaris Consortio, which grew out of this Synod, the Pope challenges Catholics to provide access to knowledge about the "rhythms of fertility" to all married people and to the young (No. 33). That's a big order! He expects us to follow through. Spread the knowledge to ALL, he says, and teach self-control. At an audience of 8 June he asked for comprehensive cooperation in the apostolate, by hierarchy, priests, religious, and laity:

The promotion and teaching of the natural methods is ... a truly pastoral concern, one that involves cooperation on the part of priests and religious, specialists and married couples, all working in cooperation with their Bishops of the local Church and receiving support and assistance from him...

The Pope, who asks parents to be generous and to provide brothers and sisters for their children, does not see a contradiction between having large families and using NFP. A number of prominent promoters of NFP prove this by showing off their own large families. Judicious spacing helps fathers and mothers to stay on top of things while raising many children. And, as Pius XII taught, the limits of what is permitted in this area of spacing are very wide (Address to Large Families, Nov. 26, 1951). Some parents like it big, some prefer fewer children. I am of the opinion - I claim no infallibility though - that we need not worry ordinarily that genuine users of NFP are acting selfishly when limiting the number of their offspring. By genuine users of NFP we mean parents who don't cheat - who don't contracept. NFP requires much sacrifice on the part of couples, and thoughtful cooperation, self control, love, encouragement and much mutual support. If these loving couples do not have a very serious reason to make those sacrifices, be quite sure - there will soon be another baby. NFP is not as easy as taking pills, using condoms, or cutting pipes. NFP people are great lovers. True NFP is powered by love of God and family. Each return of the time of intercourse is another honeymoon, is a renewal of the Sacrament of Marriage, is love in God's embrace and under His smile. It brings sunshine into the family, stability to the marriage, joy and music to the children. NFP is nature's way and God's way for couples in modern times.

"Divine Providence!" you say, Anne. Who then gave you a brain? Did not Divine Providence give you a brain to do your part too? Then use it to cooperate with God to pro-create and support an orderly family. Intelligence is a talent. Talents should be used, not buried: "You bad and lazy servant!" (Mt 25:26) is Christ's severe judgment on the servant who didn't use his talent. We trust in Divine Providence even when we plow fields and sow crops; to allow weeds to grow while we pray and trust - and then blame God if we starve - is not what the Catechism teaches.

If HPR allows, I wish to tell you a piece of good news: in the same Japan in which Dr. Ogino once discovered the basic theory of NFP in 1923, an inventor in 1990 is beginning to market a computerized thermometer which can eliminate much of the labor and guess work from NFP. The home-use device memorizes the temperatures and other signs of your cycle, then hangs out markers: "BABY DAYS!" or "NO-BABY DAYS." Perhaps market incentives may soon fortify our volunteer teaching efforts. From what I see, the machine will do its part faithfully. It tells the couple the truth, like an umpire signaling the calls. The remaining problem: will couples listen to what that little machine umpire says?