Homily from the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A (Respect Life Sunday)
Now I won’t be coy and pretend as though the days leading up to marriage are completely free from all anxiety. There’s all the details of the ceremony: invitations, dresses, tuxes, who to stick your weird Uncle Bill with at the reception and so on. And that’s just the small stuff! There’s also stuff like putting together a financial plan, buying a house, whose parents you’ll spend Thanksgiving with, living the life of faith, getting each other to Heaven, and so on.
But on the whole, helping couples prepare for marriage can be a real joy. Especially when they talk about their hopes and dreams. When they talk about how they want to make a life together… how they want to give their lives to one another… and how much they love one another. Conversations about invitations and cake cease as soon as the wedding day is done (or at least as soon as the bills are paid!). But hopefully conversations about your hopes, dreams, expectations and love for one another continue through the years.
Just about every couple mentions the following things they want from their marriage and their spouse: they want good communication. They want complete and total commitment from their spouse. They want healthy and happy children. They are ready and willing to sacrifice for one another. They want to be faithful to one another their entire lives. They don’t want to hold anything back from one another.
In other words, they want a love that knows no limits
Which is great because this is precisely the love Christ has for us: a love that knows no limits. Christ’s love for us is so great, He, who is God, became one like us. He lived and worked like us. He grew up in a family like us. He suffered hardship like us. He also suffered his passion and death on the Cross for us. He gave his entire life for us and held nothing back. His love for us is a love that knows no limits.
Christ tells us to follow His example of love. “As I have loved you,” Jesus says, “so you should love one another.” We are to love one another, and most especially our spouse by giving our entire lives to them and holding nothing back. These are the dreams that were born the day you fell in love with your spouse. This is the type of love you hoped and prayed for as you got ready for marriage. This is the love you pledged yourselves to when you said your wedding vows. And this is the type of love you choose to live everyday of your marriage: a love that knows no limits.
However, as we all well know, multiple forces attack this love that knows no limits. Arguments about money… jealousy… inattentiveness… lack of communication. All these can lead to breakdowns in our marriages. They pile up barriers between husbands and wives. They prevent us from giving ourselves completely and unselfishly to our spouses.
And there’s another force that attacks this love we all yearn for, this love that knows no limits, and that’s contraception. Although we may not realize it or intend it, marriages are under attack by contraception because contraception prevents us from giving our entire lives to our spouse.
Now, I’m not saying that a couple who uses contraception doesn’t love each other. I am absolutely certain that couples who use birth control love each other in so many authentic ways. However, the act of contracepted love itself can never be an act of authentic love. Because, when we use contraception, whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we intend it or not, we say to our spouse with our bodies, “You can have all of me… except for this one part of me: my fertility. I’m keeping that part of me to myself and you can’t have it at the present moment.” And, when we use contraception, we say to God, whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we intend it or not, “I’m sorry God, but I’m not going to let you completely into this union at the present moment.”
Because there aren’t just two in a marriage, there are three: a husband, a wife, and God who unites them and gives them the gift of children.
When couples contracept, they close themselves off from the two things God designed the marital embrace for: a two in one flesh union and children. Or, as I like to say, the two things God made the marital embrace for: bonding and babies.
Now don’t get me wrong, God is not saying that you must conceive a child with every single marital embrace. There are many good reasons why couples need to regulate the number of children they have. The ability to provide financially for a bigger family for instance. Or the health of the mother. God is not saying you have to have as many babies as your bodies can tolerate.
However, He is saying that husbands and wives must cooperate with His design for the marital embrace: husbands and wives must be truly be bonded to one another, holding nothing back and they must be open to the possibility of children.
There is however, a way husbands and wives can regulate how many children they have and when they have them without saying “no” to God’s design for bonding and babies. It’s called Natural Family Planning.
Natural Family Planning, or NFP, is a method by which spouses may achieve or avoid pregnancy by observing naturally occurring signs in the woman’s body. Unlike contraception which invades and sterilizes the body, NFP looks at you the individual person and tells you when you are fertile and ready to conceive and when you’re infertile and unable to conceive.
Now, if you’re thinking that the NFP I’m talking about is the old calendar rhythm method that was developed in the 1930’s, I’m not. The old rhythm method was often inaccurate because it did not take into account the uniqueness of each woman’s fertility cycle. Today, NFP reveals the fertility cycles of every single individual person, even if their cycles are irregular. And NFP today, used correctly, is over 98% successful in spacing or limiting births which is as good, if not better, than any form of contraception.
Now maybe you’re saying to yourself, “If a couple using contraception and a couple using NFP are both trying to avoid pregnancy, what difference does it make if I use contraception?” The answer is, “A huge difference.”
First, contraception is the choice to sterilize the marital embrace. For example, a contracepting couple chooses to engage in the marital embrace, and knowing it may result in a new life, willfully suppresses their fertility.
However, an NFP couple never contracepts. With NFP, you abstain from the marital embrace during the fertile period rather than sterilize and frustrate what it was created for. The difference between sterilizing the marital embrace ourselves or working with our God-given infertile times is very big indeed.
And if you’re thinking you don’t have the will power to abstain from the marital embrace from time to time, you do and I can prove it; you’re all abstaining right now. Besides, NFP is not about constant abstinence. If you’re using NFP, and engage in the marital embrace on all the days of the month when abstinence is not required, you’d be enjoying the marital embrace almost twice as much as the national average. Yes, there are statistics for such things. I’ve looked them up!
Speaking of statistics, we’re all familiar with the fact that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. You know what the divorce rate is for NFP couples? Less than 5%. That’s a category we all want to be in.
Why is NFP so powerful for strengthening marriages? It’s because NFP respects the bodies of spouses. It encourages tenderness between them. It fosters really, really good communication, cooperation and commitment. Yes, it requires some sacrifice. But that’s a good thing. A real good thing. Show me anything good in this world that doesn’t require sacrifice. It doesn’t put up barriers between spouses the way contraception does. Rather, it allows spouses to give themselves completely to one another. Finally, it helps us love our spouse the way Christ loves us: completely and fruitfully with a love that knows no limits.
There are a number of ways you can learn about Natural Family Planning:
Here is the contact information for three area Creighton Model NFP teachers:
Trinity FertilityCare Services
Fort Wayne, IN 46835
FertilityCare Specialist of Northeast Indiana
New Haven, IN 46774
Phone: 260-494-6444 Fax: 240-749-6706
Leah Oberhausen 260-418-9404
More Creighton Model NFP teachers can be found at http://www.fertilitycare.org/.
Dr. Patrick Holly, a St. Vincent's parishoner, is a Creighton Model NFP physician. His contact information is:
Dr. Patrick Holly
6400 Rothman Rd
Fort Wayne, IN 46835
An introductory class on Natural Family Planning will be offered at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Fort Wayne on October 29th. St. Elizabeth's phone number is (260) 432-0268.
A complete list of Natural Family Planning classes offered by the Diocese of Fort Wayne - South Bend may be found here.
Information about Natural Family Planning may also be found on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
The USCCB has also put together a great website, foryourmarriage.org, to help married couples and those preparing and discerning marriage strengthen the marriage covenant.
And as your spiritual father and bridegroom I am always available and ready to help. I understand that this is a very misuderstood issue. I want to help you understand it. Call me anytime at our parish office at (260) 489-3537.
If you want to strengthen your marriage with all the benefits NFP has to offer, and if you want to experience a love that knows no limits, please take one of these steps to learn about NFP.