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Posts Tagged ‘contraception’

I’m a cradle Catholic, born in 1967. And I recall hearing a lot about the birth control pill growing up. I doubt I had any idea how it worked, but I had the general impression from the books I read, the media I consumed, and the people I knew that taking it was just what people did.

I knew that Catholics weren’t supposed to use contraception, and I personally knew many families who appeared to take that teaching to heart. In my Catholic school at that time there were still many big Catholic families with seven kids or more. However, in twelve years of Catholic education I don’t recall EVER hearing this teaching explained. The Church, as I experienced it, taught it was wrong but not WHY. I definitely had the impression that this was some old-fashioned idea that was safe to ignore.

Read the rest at A Drop in the Ocean, where I am guest posting today.

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I’m late to the party, but thought I should do my bit to promote NFP Awareness Week.

If you aren’t Catholic (and in a sad commentary on . . . lots of things, maybe even if you are) you may have no idea what NFP even is.  The doctor I went to see right after I was married didn’t.  Of course, that’s been a while back, so maybe the situation has improved.

NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, and it’s not your parents’ Rhythm Method, which didn’t work.  Learned properly and followed exactly, it’s just about as effective as the Pill.  Only it’s permitted by the Church and non-abortifacient, and if you don’t care about that stuff, maybe being able to avoid pregnancy AND possible blood clots and other unsavory consequences of bombarding your body with unnatural hormones for extended periods of time might pique your interest.

I remember my first exposure to NFP.  I was a Senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, in a co-ed class taught by a priest, and he showed us some goofy movie.  We heard the words “cervical mucus,” became disgusted and/or embarrassed, and quickly tuned out.  Now, I give him props for at least trying, but I can think of better ways to introduce the topic.  And because no groundwork had been laid beforehand (at least, not that I remember) to explain exactly WHY artificial contraceptives were wrong, other than “because the Church said so,” none of us understood the importance of what he was trying to teach us.

I was engaged to be married before I heard about NFP again, not in a marriage preparation class, but rather in a Christian Marriage class at Georgetown, which I took voluntarily as one of the classes I needed to get a minor in Theology.  This priest had us read Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics, Familiaris Consortio, and Humanae Vitae before we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  These books changed my attitude and shaped my future life (and John’s, which he didn’t much appreciate since he was not a Catholic at the time!).

I’m not going to go into the details and the science because if you are truly interested and want to know you can Google the links as well as I can.  I can only share with you the freedom of knowing that you  are 1) following the law of the Church; 2) not polluting your body with chemicals; 3) not interfering with intimacy by the use of unpleasant and inconvenient devices.  Given today’s value for doing things naturally, I’m surprised that more people don’t embrace NFP for purely ecological reasons.

Well, you say, but it doesn’t work.  You have five children and everyone I know who writes about NFP has at least that many if not more.  I don’t want five children.

I didn’t want five children either.  I wanted ten.  See how I don’t have ten?  John didn’t want ten.  That’s called compromise.  I’ve been married for not quite 25 years.  If NFP doesn’t work, why do I only have five children?  Do you think that six-year space between Teddy and William was just luck?

Teddy's Graduation

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Someday I’ll write a post about lies, damned lies, and statistics so you will know that the “98% of Catholic women use artificial birth control” you’ve seen bandied about as though it were gospel is a distorted statistic turned damned lie.  I’ve already written one in which I touched on how it doesn’t matter if every self-identified Catholic on the planet uses birth control; the Church isn’t a democracy–it’s here to proclaim the truth, not to succumb to the culture.

However, it is sad but true that most Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on this issue.  And while I’m in no position to know the hearts of every contracepting Catholic out there, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of painful soul-searching and conscience-forming going on.  And the failure of the majority of even weekly mass-goers to adhere to this teaching cannot be solely blamed on them.  True, we are all products of a culture that puts things before people and gives us all kinds of messages about why small families are desirable and that artificial contraception is the way to achieve that.  But our Church has a much more compelling message, full of truth and wisdom and beauty, and it’s not being heard.  Why?

It’s not being HEARD, because it’s not being spoken.  By the Vatican, yes.  In the teachings, yes.  By teachers and parents and priests, from whom the majority of Catholics receive their catechesis?  Not so much.

Speaking for myself, I remember knowing, without knowing HOW I knew this, that the Church believed birth control was wrong.  I also recall having the definite impression that this was some old-fashioned idea we were all free to ignore.  Everyone used birth control, right?  In high school we watched some squicky movie about Natural Family Planning but all that cervical mucus talk was a big turn-off.  No one ever told me, NOT ONCE, why birth control was wrong.

What changed my mind?  I took a Christian Marriage class in college.  I read Humanae Vitae.  I squirmed uncomfortably as I read it, realizing that it made a lot of sense, that a Church with 2,000 years of Tradition and brilliant theologians and the Holy Spirit to back it all up probably was more trustworthy than the current culture I’d been raised in.  I could feel my conscience pricking me as I properly informed it.  But it wasn’t all negative–not at all!  The teaching was beautiful!  The Church’s vision of marriage and family–we read Familiaris Consortio as well–was so elevated compared to the world’s!  As I read, I was thinking, “Why did no one ever tell me this?  Why doesn’t everyone know this?”

I was already engaged–to a Protestant (at that time) who did not want children right away and did not (then) buy into all these “new” ideas I was sharing.  Fortunately, my Christan Marriage class also required that we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  I was ready to read it then and I was sold.  I was able to convince my husband-to-be based on the science behind the method.  Not that our path to conforming to this teaching was smooth and easy–following your conscience can be hard.

What’s wrong with this picture?  I went to Catholic schools for 12 years.  I attended Mass every Sunday and lots of other days besides.  But I had to be a Senior in college taking a non-required class to hear this message.

My Catholic-school educated kids have heard a lot more.  They’ve gotten an earful from me, of course, but they’ve also heard at least some of this in their religion classes in high school.  I’m sorry to say though that if what they tell me is true, Catholic moral instruction should be starting a lot earlier.  And what about kids who get one hour of CCD a week?

I’m sure they go over all this in Engaged Encounters, but let’s get real.  Most of those couples are sexually active and contracepting already.

I have never, ever heard a priest address this from the pulpit.  NEVER.  I’ve heard there are some that do, but it’s rare.  Why?  For starters, a lot of them don’t buy into it themselves.  Or they feel that as celibates they cannot speak to this with authority.   My husband and I once went to discuss a disagreement we were having over family planning–not HOW but WHEN–with one of our priests.  Almost the first words out of his mouth were, “You know you can follow your conscience in family planning matters.”

Finally, does anyone want to tell all the people at Mass that somewhere around 85% of the sexually active ones need to confess their contraceptive use and change their ways before they approach the altar for Communion?  Of course they don’t.

But they need to.  If the recent brouhaha over insurance coverage for contraceptives has shown us anything, it’s demonstrated that even Catholics who dissent from these teachings respect the Church for holding fast to them even in opposition to most of their faithful.  Maybe, just maybe, if the Church would be as brave about proclaiming the teaching to its flock as it has been about defending it from the wider culture, more people might take it seriously!

I would never argue against the primacy of conscience.  But if you haven’t prayerfully studied Humane Vitae, the Catechism, and other Church teachings on these issues, your dissent is based on ignorance, not conscience.  If you would never, ever eat meat on Friday during Lent, but you swallow a birth control pill every day without thinking twice about it, maybe you should.

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The following is a reprint of a column that appeared in The East Tennessee Catholic in 2002.

When I was pregnant with my third child, friends, family, and strangers in the mall all seemed desperate to know: “Was it planned?”

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At first I answered, “I’d have to be crazy to plan this.”  (I had a three-year-old and a three-month-old at the time, and my husband had just graduated from law school and didn’t have a job.) Later I came up with a truer and better answer: “God planned it.”

A few years ago I was flipping through The Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee student newspaper, when I came across a local abortion clinic’s ad with the catchy slogan THE SECRET TO A HAPPY LIFE IS PLANNING.  The bold words grabbed my attention even before I realized what kind of planning was being promoted.  No! I thought.  That’s not true at all!

If I were to attempt to define the secret to a happy life, I’d take the opposite position:  The secret to a happy life is flexibility.

Life is full of twists and turns that not even the best planners can predict.  Plans go awry every day–when you are late instead of early for work because a train stopped on the tracks in front of you, when you walk to the Weigel’s with your kids only to find that the Icee machine is out of order, when Attack of the Clones is sold out when you arrive at the front of the ticket line.

No matter how complete your plans or how carefully you follow them, you can’t plan happiness.  And some of the happiest moments in life are the ones you can’t plan: an unexpected rainbow seen while you’re caught in a traffic jam, a spontaneous cup of coffee with a long-lost friend, a song from your youth playing on the radio, feeling your unborn baby kicking for the first time.

Attempting to map out every aspect of our lives is saying, “I’m the master of my destiny.  I know what’s best for me.” There’s no room in this philosophy for serendipity, for chance, for the hand of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus counsels us to accept the fact that we don’t control our own destinies and to relinquish ourselves to God, secure in the knowledge that HE has control:  “Do not worry about your life . . . or about tour body . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span? . . . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (6:25-34).

If we think happiness lies in planning, if we’re unable to trust in God, we’ll feel angry and cheated when our plans fail.  An unplanned pregnancy is viewed as an unwelcome interruption to the plan.  We forget that God’s plan might be different from our own.

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Abortion is all about control.  We can’t control our fertility, we don’t want to control ourselves sexually, our children are little individuals whom we quickly learn we can’t control.  Jobs come and go, people must eat, and rent must be paid, no matter the size of the paycheck.  So much of life is uncertain and doesn’t go the way we plan or hope.  But an aborting woman takes control.  She eliminates her pregnancy—this flaw in her plans–and prevents a whole new set of complicating and uncomtrollable factors from entering her life.

At the time they occurred, I wouldn’t have chosen or planned many of the events in my life–but what joy I would have missed.  Without the cloudy days for contrast, the sunny ones would have little meaning.  Most of the blessings in my life today are the result of unplanned events.

For an abortion clinic to proclaim that “the secret to a happy life is planning” as a way of advertising its services is irresponsible and deceptive.  This philopsophy ultimately leads to a closed attitude toward life–and to more abortions.

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Considering everything that’s happened in the eight years since I wrote this, I’m grateful that I have learned to appreciate flexibility over planning!  So what do you think?  Do you know any secrets to a happy life?  Should the goal of life be happiness in the first place?  Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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