Marriage: Rejuvenating the Church Through NFP (III)

Anthony Zimmerman
Seminar on NFP, Montreal
April 23-27, 1986
Reproduced with Permission

Part Three

If the Church suffered a catastrophic depression for the past 25 years, this has been exactly contemporaneous with the age of contraception, a plague of black death within the Church and without. If the Church emerges during the coming decades from this depression, and rejuvenates herself to enjoy a new spring, it will be because of you and all who help her to promote the apostolate of natural family planning and morality in family life.

"You cannot say or write too often," wrote Fr. Paul Marx to me (Oct. 31, 1985) "that the only way to get back to our happy Church is, as you say, "to implement NFP as soon as possible, and to do this in the entire Church and world. Just imagine what a Catholic Church, demonstrating to the world the happiness coming from natural family planning and demonstrating the fact that fertility can be responsibly and lovingly and happily controlled would mean to the world! I feel that if we had done our duty, if we had followed Pius XII's directives in 1951, we would not have all the abuses of sex, unhappy family life, and abortion as we have now."

I had written to him how disappointed I was that the 1983 Synod of Bishops, while dealing directly with Reconciliation, skirted around this problem of contraception and sterilization. But it is a problem which is ravaging the Church; we saw the statistics - a majority of Catholics in many countries is diseased with this during long years of married life; does the Synod address itself only to the remaining minority? Paul responded to my thoughts with: "You are so right about what you say having a Synod of Bishops to deal with the problem of Confession and finally take care of this. The business of contraception is always. worked around and never dealt with. In Africa the bishops are at one with the Pope and the Church flourishes ... Not only is contraception the root cause of sterilization, abortion, but of fornication and adultery, divorce and separation, early sexual intercourse and the whole mess."

Fr. Paul keeps up his hopes, as I do, that the turn for the better will come. He wrote again on December 20, 1985: "It is surely true that so long as the Pope continues to condemn contraception and affirm NFP more and more bishops will catch on. Those who are in any way in touch with reality can surely see the need of NFP and chastity." You see, what we really need, is more people like Fr. Paul Marx, who can read the signs of the times, who, like a professional football coach, spies out the soft spots on the enemy team, then tongue-lashes his team with the Knute Rockne touch, turning them loose with "Give me one for the Gipp." Fr. Paul has inspired the NFP football team round the world, and kept driving us to do even better during many years. "Once natural family planning took root in family life it would be transferred to future generations. I had that dream forty years ago," he wrote to me. And Fr. Paul is one of those who will help to make it all happen.


NFP tends to facilitate-growth in goodness, whereas contraception tends to drag one down to egoism, as we know, but I never saw the reason for this analyzed so convincingly as Fr. Wladyslaw Bernard Skrzydlewski OP did in a recent writing. The way of life which is central to NFP, he writes, presupposes in the spouses a willingness to make sacrifices; and this is actualized concretely by abstaining when it is necessary at stated times. This willingness to make sacrifices, however, turns out to strengthen love between the spouses. Love, he continues, is a spiritual faculty of man, and as in the case of all other spiritual faculties, it emerges, evolves, develops, and matures by means of training, of exercises, of repetition of acts. Physical faculties are developed through practice, through acts and deeds, until a man can perform them consistently, accurately, skillfully, even with satisfaction and pleasure [like shooting the basketball through the hoop, throwing the football to the running receiver, pitching past the batter].The act and deed of love, continues Father Bernard, is the giving of what is one's own; it1can be service, or time, or effort; finally it is a giving of one's personal self. And that signifies willingness to make a sacrifice. If I love someone, then I am interested in endeavoring to make the person glad and happy, and I make some effort to bring this about. I try to give him or her that which will bring happiness with it. The giver denies himself in giving. The repetition of such acts of willing sacrifice effectuates a strengthening and development of love.

But when lovers omit to perform such acts, when they do not make efforts to bring happiness to the other, when they do not show a willingness to make sacrifices for the other, then after the passage of some time, even love which was authentic at the beginning begins to weaken; on the other hand it happens more and more frequently that the partners perform acts of egoism. It becomes more and more difficult for the partners to understand each other, and this continues on the down hill slope until egoism becomes dominant, whereas love is choked and finally extinguished.

Psychologists and psychiatrists, writes Fr. Bernard, are astonished to find in their practice that couples who practice contraception find that their love really grows weaker. We suspect this comes in consequence of the decision to do what seems easiest, in order to escape from doing what should be done but is difficult, a decision dictated by egoism. Egoism becomes ever more dominant, a comfortable life style, and there is less and less room for a love which is willing to do sacrifices. The love which was there at the beginning is gradually extinguished by an egoism which keeps on increasing.

In contrast to this, one can observe that the love which was there at the beginning develops with a visible intensity in married spouses who observe the natural regulation of fertility. By denying themselves, with a willing spirit of sacrifice the joys of sexual intercourse at certain times, because this is necessary for the good of both and of the family, the partners exercise and bring to fruition the love they have for each other; and the harder this is for them, the more intensive is their mutual act of love in bring the sacrifice. And this regulation of offspring for the welfare of the family is carried out during many years of married life, through abstinence which is required for the purpose in view. The acts of willingness to make sacrifices accumulate through their frequent exercise, and with it, love is in a continuous growth process. Love grows ever stronger, more dynamic, evokes increasing joy shared by the partners, and the glow of this warmth is felt by the children in the home. (Fr. Bernard OP in ELTERNSCHAFT UND MENSCHENWUERDE, Ed. Ernst Wenisch, Patris Verlag, 1984, pp. 305-7.)

If God's nature is, LOVE, and if spouses grow personally in love through authentic sacrifices exercised by the self-control involved in NFP, then their inner richness and glory is ever growing. They have more to give to each other because they are more gift, are worth more, have outstanding personalities, grow ever more excellent as personalized images of God. The marriage becomes God's workshop in which He produces masterpieces. The two enjoy themselves, enjoy each other, and find joy growing all around them, because they are fulfilling the deepest longing of a human, to become authentic, to become real, to be this human person at his best. It is the feeling of a Babe Ruth when he points to the stands, and then smacks the next ball as no other than the King of Swat can do.

The children feel it too. Sister Helen Paul described how things improved in Bukidnan in the Philippines when large numbers of people in the area adopted natural family planning. There was more law and order, more marital harmony, parents became more proud of themselves, husbands controlled drinking, even the children were better behaved at school. The children used to comment about the change in mom and dad. No more fighting at home they say. (Cf. NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING, NATURE'S WAY GOD'S, ed. Zimmerman, De Rance, 1980, pp. 10-11.)

Nona Aguilar studied the 157 responses to her questionnaires and found, remarkably, that the divorce rate among these NFP users was only 0.6%; only one individual out of 157 who responded had been divorced. This is in contrast to the current rate of near 50% divorces in the general population of the USA; she quotes Msgr. Steven J. Kelleher writing in the June, 1978 issue of U.S. CATHOLIC: "There are at least six million divorced Catholics in the United States; almost half of them have remarried. The proportion of divorces among Catholics is approximately the same as that among Jews and Protestants: from one-third to one-half of all marriage." Then why the good record among NFP users? (NO-PILL NO-RISK BIRTH CONTROL, Rawson Wade, 1980, pp. 104:-5). NFP teachers all agree that they find remarkably little divorce among NFP users. Are they select people from the beginning? Or do they make themselves select through exercising NFP? Fr. Bernard, analyzed for us how NFP produces lovers, whereas contraception cranks out egoists. We should not. be surprised to find more stability among lovers than among egoists.


After the pill age started 25 years ago, some of the church pews began to gather dust. We can foresee that they will be dusted off again when NFP drives out the pill. Pastors will be happier, collection baskets will pile higher, and people will know again why they go to Confession and Holy Communion.

"There are three reasons why our Catholic people in large numbers are no longer going to Sunday Mass,"an experienced pastor in the USA declared, after visiting 500 families in one parish, and 3000 families in another. Reason number 1): the Church's teaching on contraception; 2) ecumenism; 3) mixed marriages. Father Kenneth Baker asked him to explain. He responded that many Catholic couples use artificial contraception and "for that reason do not want to face the conscience problem they have when they go to Mass. So they stay home." (Editorial, HOMILETIC AND PASTORAL REVIEW, March,1985.) Why should contraceptors find it burdensome to come to Mass? A passage from John comes to mind:

Every one who practices evil hates the light; he does not come near it for fear his deeds will be exposed. But he who acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God (Jn 3:19-21).

If we now ask what will be more effective in the long run to fill our churches again, more lively liturgies, or driving out contraception with NFP, we may answer that we need both. But if we can't have both, then I predict that the new age of NFP can fill the churches again even if liturgies are not number one hits. On the contrary, even if our liturgies match Broadway productions, contracepting couples who are sensitive will still feel pain when they draw hear to God. Let us mend our people first before we mend the liturgies.

Some years ago when lightning knocked out lines in upper New York State and chain reactions overloaded and knocked out the entire electric system delivering power to New York, elevators stopped where they were, lights went out, motors stopped whirring, people gasped and groped to keep out of danger. There was little purpose, at the time, in trying to fix the elevators and press in fuses. What was needed was to connect up the electric grill again to connect the elevators with the source of power hundreds of miles away.

And in the Church and the world do we not have massive blackouts now, entire geographic areas which have gone the contraceptive way, huge segments of populations which have become cut off from the source of grace which is Christ? There is little purpose in psychoanalyzing troubled marriages, in seeking annulments and re-marriages, in Marriage Encounters, if we do not deal with the source of the problem which is none other than massive contraception practiced both by Christian and other populations.

Lightning knocked out the electric grill work on which New York depended for its power. The receptors were still in place, but paralyzed because the lines were dead. The pill campaign has knocked out the grill which delivers God's grace to the waiting families., Millions of families are now in the dark, and are getting cold. Did I say millions?

We saw the figures: roughly300,000,000 couples using sterilization, IUD's, pills, condoms, abortion consistently, which makes 600,000,000 when the partner is added. Double or triple that again to include the children affected by the situation, and we find that maybe one half of the race is eclipsed from the generous sunshine of God's grace, making the globe darker than it ought to be.


There is an emergency situation in the Church, a crisis, as Cardinal Ratzinger states. Where do we start to restore the Church?

Needless to say, non-Christians are deprived of graces by a commitment to the contraceptive way of life in much the same way as Christians. By placing this block against God's graces, they shut out God from their marriage and family to a very large extent. To mend their lives they must remove the block, they must mend the grill, so that God's graces can flow again into their families.

During the 1985 Synod of Bishops it was emphasized that holiness is needed to renew the Church. "Today we have tremendous need of saints for whom we must assiduously implore God," says the final relatio. And later on: "In the first place, it is necessary to promote conjugal spirituality, which is based on the sacrament of marriage and is of great importance for the transmission of the faith to future generations." To tell the truth, I wish the relatio had gone into specifics, had dealt with the enormous problem of massive contraceptive practice which puts normal conjugal spirituality off limits, out of reach. Before all else it is necessary to re-open the conduit of grace, to remove the block, the obex against God's graces. Then we can begin anew with conjugal spirituality. Shall we urge couples to drop in for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament on their way to the Pill dispensary? Shall we hold Novena's which round out the 20-day pill cycle? Shall we urge couples to confess getting angry at the children when they are solidly committed to contraception, which is objectively an evil so great that it can never, under any circumstances become good and invite God's presence?

Priests have grave misgivings about going to the Confessional and absolving peccadillos, when they know that couples are solidly committed to a way of life which breaks God's law in a very serious matter, a way of life by which they make God their enemy, and only pretend to be reconciled by these pious words in the confessional, which leave the obex in place.

We say that inter-Communion between Catholics and Protestants would be a false sign, indicating a unity of Faith which is not really there. But we give the Sacred Host to all those couples who have no intention at the time to stop contraception, which is objectively a serious offense against God, a snobbery of God's wisdom, a thumbing of the nose at God's law.

The people, we know, are not as bad personally as is the objectively evil thing which they do. The masses have been misled by public opinion, which has been cultured and generated by their enemy. There are two kinds of enemies, I think: first, those interested commercially in perpetuating the contraception and abortion industry. They have made themselves dependent upon this industry for their livelihood. These, I think, are the lesser enemy; give them another job and they will work hard at that too. But the worse enemy is the man who has a devilish satisfaction in inducing people to sell their souls for sexual pleasure. It is the devil holding out the apple to Eve and Adam. If Adam and Eve could be duped in Paradise, so also can we and the masses be seduced by people bent on doing evil, who relish its spread.

So what should be our strategy? First of all, ask God to be patient yet another year, while the Gardener loosens the ground around the fig tree and spreads fertilizers. The Gardener has become so intent upon waiting for that fig tree to bear fruit that He waits much longer than worldly gardeners would. That God is patient, and more patient, and still more patient is apparent from Holy Scripture. Prayers for mercy and light are number one on our priority list.

Second, I think that every manner in which natural family planning is made known and available is helpful, because a quick look at the world picture indicates that people are beginning to adopt it increasingly. The law of God is written in their hearts, and when they can learn to regulate births in a responsible manner, many are willing to take some pains to do it right. Statistics given in POPULATION REPORTS (Sept.-Oct 1985) do not list all countries of the world, but they indicate that the use of NFP is increasing, not decreasing. Representative sample surveys are reported indicating the percentage of currently married women age 15-44 in these countries using birth control, and among the methods, one is listed as "rhythm." If we can believe the figures, then 3% in the USA use "rhythm," in France 6%; in Italy 9%; in Belgium, Flemish part, 13 %; in Korea 5% in 1974 rising to 7% in 1979 reflecting no doubt the good work of Bishop Thomas Stewart and the Happy Family Movement; in the Philippines 9% (1978); in Sri Lanka a rise from 8% in1975 to 14% in 1982 is seen; in Peru a rise during 1977-78 to 1981 from 12% to 18% is dynamic; in Bolivia 14%; Zaire has a good showing in parts, like 15% in Kinshasha; then we move up to 24% in Roumania; Ireland is not listed so we don't know, but the Number One nation on this list by far and away is Poland, with 31% already in 1977. That Poland is Number One is due largely to the powerful influence of Cardinal Wojtila, who is now the Pope in Rome. May he live to see the day when Catholics around the globe will shake off the spiritual epidemic of contraception to return to the happy state of matrimonial life the way God planned it.