Obedience at Its Best: Natural Family Planning

Anthony Zimmerman
NB Published in The Priest Magazine
September 1988
Reproduced with Permission

A pleasant surprise awaited an obedient Abraham on Mount Horeb when he drew the knife and poised it to sacrifice his son Isaac:

An angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham! ... Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Gn 22:1112).

Similarly, a pleasant surprise awaits couples who switch from contraceptives to natural family planning out of obedience to God. Absolute faith in God that obeying His laws will cause them no harm has its rewards.

"He looks at my face again," marveled one enthusiastic wife. Said another: "Our marriage is fresh again, like cleaned out stovepipes in spring." And this came from a husband: "Abstinence gives us a challenge. It prolongs, excites and fulfills our sexuality. It makes this gift that God has given us last." (1)

Social worker Sister Helen Paul observed this positive transformation in men who switch to NFP:

A change occurs in the way a man sees himself as a man. He becomes a person aware of his dignity, a person worthy of respect, a person who can expect respect from his peers, from his wife, from his children. His personal discovery of set(-control in his sexual life opens up to him the opportunity for change in other areas: gambling, smoking, alcohol. It is interesting that a change in an individual's self-image opens to him a possibility for a change in many other areas of life. (2)

She observed how natural family planning benefitted children as well as the parents:

he children used to comment about the change in mom and dad. No more fighting at home, they say. The children fight less in school too. We see this change in children following the change in their parents. (3)

Humanae Vitae(no. 25) does not promise that avoiding contraception will always be easy: "We do not at all intend to hide the sometimes serious difficulties inherent in the life of Christian married persons; for them as for anyone else, the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life (Mt 7:14; see Heb 12:11)."

The Catholic Church challenges married couples to be missionaries today, to show by their example that God's laws are good for us: "To them the Lord entrusts the task of making visible to men the holiness and gentleness of the law that unites the mutual love of husband and wife to their cooperation with the love of God, the author of human life" (Humanae Vitae,no. 25).

Wives and husbands make it easier for the spouse if they work together. Mutual affirmation in virtue, family prayer and the reception of the sacraments make divinely possible what is not always humanly possible - whereas mutual neglect is ruinous for both.

We know that the bigger mistake Eve made after she had bitten into the apple was to hand it to Adam. She should have thrown that apple a mile away and then leaned on his strength to set things right again. Instead, she was weak, and subsequently so was he. The Bible thus illustrates one great temptation typical of married folk: She itches to see him satisfied; he positions her between himself and God. Obedience to God costs sacrifice. NFP parents know this well. Wishful thinking alone does not make marriages happy. Vatican II demanded more than just good intentions:

It is not enough to take only the good intention and the evaluation of motives into account; the objective criteria must be used, criteria which respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love I Pastoral Constitution On the Church in the Modern World, no. 511.

We hear the words that contraception is intrinsically evil, but tend to discount the fallout on couples who indulge. A little evil here, a little evil there, we say, but life goes on.

We catch a cold, break an arm, have a bypass operation, lose an investment. So what is the big deal about contraception? We contracept and get used to it and manage with our two children.

Contraception is not just a harmless white lie. It is a damaging action that can slam the portals of heaven shut against us. It is offensive to God. Angels sang on Christmas night: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lk 1:14). Contraception disfigures man and is monstrous human behavior; God is not pleased with it:

The Church ... does not cease to proclaim with humble firmness the entire moral law, both the natural law and the law of the Gospel. The Church was not the author of the moral law and therefore cannot be its arbiter; she is only its depository and its interpreter, and can never declare to be permissible that which is not so by reason of its intimate and unchangeable opposition to the true good of man [Humanae Vitae,no. 18].

Obedience to the natural law and the law of the Gospel entitles us "to share as sons in the life of the living God, the Father of all men" (Humanae Vitae,no.18). In heaven, we will have translucent bodies and souls; nothing within us will be in the dark. The energizing light of the beatific vision will beam through us from the Lord. What is dross must all be smelted and drained out of our system, either in this life or in purgatory, before we step into the beams of eternal light.

Unshriven contraceptors would not be comfortable in heaven. If such would perchance steal uninvited into the circle of heavenly brilliance while still mired in contraceptive error that "unchangeable opposition to the true good of man" - they would invite being zapped by eternal light, as lightning crackles into trees and explodes buildings.

Lightning makes the air incandescent for a brief moment, but the beatific vision lights up denizens of heaven from within forever and ever. Even our bodies will be raised to the subtle power of spirit:

Through the merit of their humility, their bodies will be transformed by a joyous resurrection and clothed in the glory of immortality. No longer opposed in any way to their spirit, their bodies will remain in perfect harmony and unity with the will of the soul. Then, indeed, the outer man will be the peaceful and unblemished possession of the inner man [Pope St. Leo the Great; see Office of Readings, Saturday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time].

Because the Church knows all this, she shows herself to be the sincere and disinterested friend of man. She wishes to help him even now during his earthly sojourn" (Humanae Vitae,no. 18), to condition him on earth for life with God in heaven.

"I never knew how bad I felt until I got off the pill. Now I feel great." Literally hundreds of women are saying this to their doctors now that the pill's peak of popularity has passed into history. Turn this statement around and it reads: "I will never know how good life can be until I stop contracepting."

For Thomas the Apostle, seeing Christ risen from the dead was believing. For pill users, trying NFP will open a new world to view. "The first month is the hardest," said one young couple. "After that, it's all down hill."

The trouble with contraceptives, said Archbishop Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City, is that they foster a "disposable love." Big bucks from America for spreading contraception notwithstanding, he gave Mexicans this advice:

Contraceptives ... belong to a culture in which everything is disposable, including love. Such a culture has to be denounced.... From a truly human perspective, sexual union by the married couple increases love and is open to the possibility of a new life.... If this is changed, the whole meaning of sexuality is distorted, with serious consequences for both man and woman.(4)

Many users of the pill in the United States learned to their dismay that "disposable love" means disposing of a partner by divorce. During 1960-75, when pill use proliferated, divorces followed suit: from 393,000 divorces in 1960 to more than 1 million in 1975 and ever after. But among those married in the Church, who continued to come to church, who prayed in their homes, who did not use the pill,who used natural family planning, divorces were (and are) almost nonexistent.

The pill unhinges the social and economic structures of nations. Populations turn gray. The 14-15 million users of the pill in America - as well as the 60 million throughout the world - are quite unhappy with life. "Lovely young ladies have become crabby, disagreeable, like dishrags," lamented Dr. Pat Dunn of New Zealand, who himself has delivered 15,000 babies and knows what the pill has been doing to his clients.

"Increased irritability, increased tendency to depression, increased weight gain and decreased libido" are the usual and expected effects of these chemicals, explained pharmacist Lloyd Duplantis Jr. (5) "All of the contraceptive chemicals have to mimic pregnancy; it's the way they have to work," he continued. "That's why we have so many relationship problems."

If there are relationship problems in 14 million families in the United States and in 60 million in the world because of contraceptive chemicals, that is not a small fly in the ointment of family life. If up to 60 million women tend to be abnormally irritable and depressed, look for enormous and massive disruption of family life.

Children look for happiness in the home, not for constant cat-and-dog bickering. Before the one million American couples divorced, they had had a billion quarrels. Sometimes furniture flew through the air. Maddened by pill intake, wives opt to cease and desist by way of surgical sterilization. Today, two out of three couples in the United States who have at least one child are surgically sterilized by the time the wife is in the age category of 35-44. (6) The children, entire populations of them, tend to fall into the pattern of parents - come pill, come sterilization, come divorce.

Sin - and contraception is objective sin - makes it harder to go to church and pray. Attending Mass on Sundays becomes painful because God is dangerously close. Receiving Holy Communion becomes a futile attempt to affirm self. The love of children declines. Birthrates plunge. The 2,000 year-old Christian civilization of Europe and America is dimming.

Contraception on the loose, on so vast a scale as is the case today, is not just a negligible white lie, an innocent misfortune. It is war by the masses against God's laws. It threatens to dismantle the Christian civilization of love. It could precipitate Armageddon if we allow it to engulf the human race terminally.

In Japan, the pill is banned legally, (7) and I hope it stays that way. The fear of AIDS is one big reason. Despite the reluctance of pill manufacturers to admit it, steroids - the substance of all chemical contraceptives - lower the body's defensive powers against invasive diseases, including AIDS. (Addition: in the meantime the pill was legalized in June of 1999, but as of this date (April,2000) it is not widely used.)

Question: Is there a connection between birth-control pills and the growth of AIDS? Answer by Duplantis: Absolutely! Absolutely, the pill is responsible for the proliferation of AIDS. Because you have to understand that the steroidal hormones are affecting the immune system of women, and the natural protection of the vaginal area. There are normal bacteria there, and cells that are designed to fight the influx of infection. When these hormones are taken for a long period of time, that's why we have a fungal overgrowth, that's why there's a proliferation of all types of venereal diseases; they can grow rapidly in this diminished immune system. (8) Pope Paul VI apparently had to clarify his own beliefs before he issued Humanae Vitae. He labored up the mountain like Abraham had once done. Some people say that he waited too long. His birth-control commission disputed the issue, once erupting into a shouting match. But the media luxuriated in speculations and read the tea leaves wrong. They had much of the world believing that the Pope was about to sprinkle holy water on contraception, which he didn't do.

After all the waiting, he witnessed in simple terms that there is no escape from God's ban against contraception:

And yet the conclusions reached by the commission could not be considered by us as final or dispense us from a personal examination of the serious question; and this also because, within the commission itself, no full agreement of judgments concerning the moral norms to be proposed had been reached, and above all because certain criteria for resolving the question had emerged that departed from the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the Magisterium of the Church [Humanae Vitae,no. 6]

That last consideration was decisive for thePope: The Magisterium had taught with constant firmness what he now had to repeat as the true norm of morality for man in the sight of God:

Therefore, having attentively sifted the documentation offered us, after mature reflection and assiduous prayers, we now intend, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ, to give our reply to these grave questions [Humanae Vitae,no. 61].

Given the circumstances, this teaching is an infallible witness to divine teachings. It cannot be otherwise, because if the Church were mistaken here, it would collapse the authority that Christ gave to Peter and to his successors. Christ is still in charge of the Church, and He did not let that happen, nor will He ever allow it to happen. Humanae Vitae, firmly in place forever, will sift mankind when the angels blow their trumpets. Not everybody believes this, of course. A model priest, a novice master, one who kept abreast of orthodox theology, told me some years ago: "Nonsense! Couples who contracept and couples who use natural family planning do the same thing: avoid children. One is the same as the other." It was not until some years later that he changed - and then died, happy in possession of the truth.

Credo ut intelligam ("Belief is the way to understanding") is ancient wisdom. Paul VI bit the bullet by restating "the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the Magisterium of the Church" (Humanae Vitae, no. 6). He explained it this way:

The Church is consistent when she considers recourse to the infertile times to be permissible, while condemning as being always wrong the use of means directly contrary to fertilization, even if such use is inspired by reasons that can appear upright and serious. In reality, there is an essential difference between the two cases. In the first case, the husband and wife legitimately avail themselves of a natural condition; in the second case, they impede the working of natural processes [Humanae Vitae,no. 16].

He admitted indeed, just as my priest friend had once said, that the intention to avoid children may be identical in contraceptors and NFP users; yet their actions are essentially different:

It is true that in both cases the married couple agree in positively willing to avoid children for plausible reasons, seeking to be certain that offspring will not result; but it is likewise true that only in the first case do they prove able to abstain from the use of marriage during the fertile times.... By so doing they give proof of a love that is truly and fully virtuous [Humanae Vitae,no. 16).

Priests and bishops in America are specially visible to the entire world. They are a city on the mountainside. What they do (or neglect to do) the world does (or neglects to do). If they now bite the bullet, they will lead us into a better world.

Humanae Vitae bids us to promote natural family planning. The availability of the method demonstrates that "a true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those pertaining to the fostering of authentic conjugal love" (Humanae Vitae,no. 24). Pope John Paul II is aware of the importance of this apostolate:

The promotion and teaching of the natural methods is, then, a truly pastoral concern, one that involves cooperation on the part of priests and Religious, specialists and married couples, all working in cooperation with the bishop of the local Church and receiving support and assistance from him.9

In 10 years, the Church can dig itself out of the black hole of contraception if pastors do their thing. Natural family planning is nature's way, and God's way, out of the present crisis of faith and crisis of human civilization.