Originally published July 27, 2021.
Everything has to make sense. Everything must fit in its proper place. This has gotten me into some trouble and oftentimes I take more time to do even simple things than is strictly necessary. Simple questions become large, time consuming monsters. Do I want to have fruit trees on my property? I have to exhaust every possible combination so that it works out just right. Do I want to teach a class? I have to know every possible answer to all the questions that will inevitably arise. Does my wife appreciate that I may have spent 67 hours researching fruit trees? Probably not.
But when it all works out and when a plan comes together I can take a seat and safely say, in the words of John (Hannibal) Smith, that “I love it”. There is a harmony or beauty in that. The same is true of concepts or philosophies which fit into a larger whole—as a key in a lock or a puzzle piece bringing more clarity to a grand picture. This is one of the pleasures of being Christian generally and Catholic specifically: many people have done a lot of thinking about it for a long time and the parts fit together.
This is much like my efforts at agriculture I suppose—I would hardly have planted trees to discover every truth about them. But I did plant those trees based upon the plentiful knowledge of others. Now I will see if those ideas bear fruit. But my faith is rather more significant than a fruit tree—and requires more of my time to understand how it works within the context of my busy work-a-day world.
And that is exactly where our faith finds us. On the cusp of the everyday and the infinite. It is a brilliant and fruitful territory and it is where so many people have had the privilege and pleasure of understanding and truth. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is only a small piece of that larger whole, but it is an essential piece to the puzzle—which fits perfectly.
The harmony of it is satisfying. That does not mean it is easy. The kinds of ideas which unite the material and immaterial are the most intensive and grueling sort, but these ideas lived out are also the most fruitful. I do not look any further than Christ’s passion for both. NFP demands that the spiritual reality of man is lived out in the passion of his marriage. I say ‘passion’ with some double-intent, but primarily I mean it in the sense of the couple bearing up and with each other and Christ in right-ordered love.
NFP is the practical movement of a theological truth. It answers the question of how I live out this idea that marriage is reflective of the Trinity in the world of angry, short sighted, stupid, relativistic humanity (everyday life). It is helpful to me to see that we are not called to simply “love our neighbor” but we are shown how we can do that. With NFP we are called to love our spouse in a way that works with the very nature of our humanity as God-created creatures. It is not enough to be told “go plant a tree”. We must be told how to do it so that we do not destroy the nature of that tree.
For anyone unsure if NFP is worthwhile I can only speak from experience. It changes the way I see my spouse. Because NFP is a mindset or worldview, it helps me to see my wife and myself as more than things. And really, anything that helps me to move away from making my spouse an object naturally has a two-fold effect; it ensures that I view her as a part of a whole in the relationship and it helps that relationship to last when earthly beauty eventually fades.
Are you afraid of using NFP? If you are… good. Perhaps you should be. In my mind a right-ordered understanding toward marriage and sex should evoke the same kind of fear and trembling that God does. There is a potency in the sacrament and in what comes from it when it is really lived. I am called to fulfill my obligations as a man and a husband. What is being asked of me is… all of me. Because NFP requires that I abstain from sex when we discern to postpone pregnancy and that I actively consider with my spouse the future of my family, I am renouncing the possibility of instant gratification—which is radically counter-cultural – and accepting that my actions have built-in purpose. Sex means in its nature the possibility of children. That sex carries with it the possibility of children is a powerful thing. It is awesome. My relationship with my spouse is bound up in fatherhood and the spiritual protection of all who are under my roof or into my garden.
But it is worth it! Natural Family Planning acknowledges that there is a deep theological purpose to our bodies and to sex. Within the context of real life. I cannot sacrifice the idea (and I mean abandon it altogether) that there is a purpose and meaning to life or to the actions I take without conflicting with the ‘fitting together’ that I have spent so much time trying to figure out. It is convenient to ‘forget’ that marriage and sex have a purpose. But at the end of the day, or the month or the year, there is something to be said for how everything makes more sense when I do things in the way that fits together with everything else. NFP demands that I live a married life that considers my wife as purpose-filled, honor-worthy and beautiful. I can think of no other way of living a married life that does that.
To say that NFP is a way of life is not incorrect then. It is just as correct to say that honoring my wife is a way of life—I don’t abandon it, it’s just the way I live my life and it is bound up in an understanding of her that is deeply theological. In the same way, NFP is the theology of the human person lived-out. A mindset which encompasses a holistic understanding of the human body and its end. NFP demands openness to life in the very roots of its philosophy. I cannot live the sacrament of matrimony with the gift of grace if I intentionally tear these roots. This means that I am Christian to the bone and marrow of who I am and in what I do. How I see the world is changed so that all things are seen in their most beautiful aspect. In married life this is called NFP.
The person who practices NFP is someone who has a worldview which is Christian. Really Christian, not nominally Christian. It seems to me that anyone who is seeking truth will inevitably orient themselves toward an understanding of the human person which is deeply theological and personal. This is one of the ways that the unity of faith and reason where the plan comes together, and everything starts to make sense. It bears fruit in theory and in practice.