Read Time: 4 minutes

Talking about contraception is an important part of marriage preparation. Contraception in its various forms has become the status quo for sexual relationships outside of the Church. Some Catholic couples either don’t know or don’t agree with the Church’s teaching. Getting comfortable talking about contraception is vitally important for the moral and sexual health of the couples you work with.

So how do you have this conversation?

1. Know the Church’s teaching inside and out.

There’s no getting around it: the Church’s teaching on contraception runs contrary to what is accepted by modern culture and is often misunderstood.

If you aren’t sure why contraception is forbidden, read the teaching and prepare to discuss it. This doesn’t mean you need a graduate degree in theology before you start doing marriage prep.

Fortunately, the Catholic position is actually more intuitive than that, but you should know what you’re talking about and why the Church teaches what it does.

For many couples, you may be the first person who has ever shared the negative aspects of using contraception.

They will likely have questions and may even have objections.

You need to understand the principles behind the doctrine and be ready to explain why it is good for the couple’s marriage to avoid contraception.

Some good resources (for you and the couples) include the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, Catholic Answers, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2. Be honest about the Church’s teaching.

Many couples have stories of priests or mentors giving them incorrect information about contraception and marriage. They may be upset when they find out they’ve been misled.

If that’s the case, tell the couple gently, but honestly, what the Church in her wisdom teaches about marriage and sexuality.

Don’t dance around the truth. Be clear about what is and isn’t allowed. Deliver the message with charity, but don’t leave the couple wondering what you actually mean. Then, you can work with them to figure out how to follow the Church’s teachings in their marriage.

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or afraid of the Catholic understanding of sexuality.

There are many good reasons to avoid contraception, from the potential health risks to the way it tends to violate the dignity of both spouses. If you know these reasons, you’ll be able to explain the Catholic position while truly understanding and believing it yourself, which is crucial.

3. Be patient with couples (and yourself).

For some couples, the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is strange and confusing. They may have a hard time understanding how a couple goes about having a happy, fulfilling marriage and sex life without birth control.

Obviously, you shouldn’t belittle or criticize them. Charity and gentleness are needed at all times.

Keep in mind that it’s not necessary for them to fully understand and agree with you right away.

Give them the truth clearly and kindly, then allow them time to think about what you said and discuss it privately. Suggest that they also pray about it. Conversion and understanding don’t have to happen immediately.

Let the Holy Spirit work, and don’t feel the need to “win” the discussion and answer every objection the first time you broach the subject. If a change of heart is needed, remember that it is God, not you, who will work that out.

4. Offer an alternative.

The thought of being married and having sex without contraception can be overwhelming for some couples. Visions of 20 children or 15-passenger vans may pop into their heads. The couple may fear the health risks that can be associated with pregnancy, especially if the wife has underlying health problems.

On a theoretical level, wives may believe the Church only values them for their ability to have babies.

Fortunately, the Church doesn’t simply forbid contraception and abandon couples to figure it out on their own. It offers an alternative approach: Natural Family Planning (NFP).

There are a lot of great resources available for couples who want to learn about NFP, including our own new course: NFP Life.

You’ll also want to know if NFP coaching is available locally, if your parish doesn’t have a program for that. Oftentimes, local nurses will be certified to teach the methods of NFP. If your parish does offer a program or class, have the information on hand and give it to the couple right away.

You’ll also want information on medical professionals who actually know how NFP works (learn more about Dr. Danielle Koestner here). As frustrating and tragic as it is, some OB/GYNs can be woefully untrained and uninformed about the scientific methods used in NFP.

You should understand the basics of NFP — and why it isn’t the “rhythm method” — so you can answer initial questions from the couple. Allow the details to be covered by the mentor or course.

The bottom line

NFP has tremendous benefits for the couple’s health and their marriage. Understanding these can be helpful when explaining why they should practice Natural Family Planning in their marriage.

Contraception and family planning may be a difficult topic for many couples, but if it’s done with charity and wisdom, such conversations can bear a lot of fruit.

Above all, remember that the Church has very good reasons to teach what it does, and these teachings are actually borne of science and theology, not just one or the other. When you meet with couples to talk about contraception and Natural Family Planning, you can be confident that you are sharing good news for both their physical and spiritual health.

Read Time: 4 minutes

Considering our vocation to be a light to the world, we have a duty to discover and transmit God’s truth in all aspects of human existence, including human sexuality. And that involves sharing the truth about the often misunderstood and hotly debated topic of natural family planning (NFP).

Let’s begin with a definition from the USCCB:

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the general title for the scientific, natural, and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancy.

NFP methods are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.

Since the methods of NFP respect the love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative) nature of the conjugal act, they support God’s design for married love!

Put simply, NFP entails using natural methods to achieve or postpone pregnancy. As a pastor of souls, you know how quickly the issue can get complicated and very specific.

The best way to address the needs of your faithful is to provide a cohesive and comprehensive education on NFP that supports God’s design for marital love. (This is especially applicable for couples in marriage preparation courses.)

Many NFP courses are available, but not all are created equally. Here are five qualities of a great NFP course:

1. It Stays true to proven science

Catholic sexual morality is not something the world of science is well-versed in. At the same time, even some of the most well-intentioned Catholics aren’t comfortable in the world of reproductive science.

So if you’re evaluating a course on NFP for your own instruction or for your parish, make sure you dig a little to ensure it provides scientific data to support any concrete assertions.

What does the science really say about natural family planning?

The vast majority of reliable scientific research supports the following statements:

  • NFP has zero side effects and is completely natural (unlike artificial contraceptives).
  • NFP is an effective method for even sub-fertile couples to conceive a child naturally. (Studies show NFP reduces the time to achieving pregnancy by as much as 70%)
  • When carefully followed, NFP is just as effective, if not more effective, at postponing pregnancy than artificial contraception.

2. It Respects the authentic teachings of the Church

Whether it’s talked about or not, many Catholics believe that NFP is all about preventing pregnancy while enjoying the pleasure of the marital act, which means that many people love the idea of NFP while others spurn it as “Catholic contraception.” Still, others believe it’s all about having as many children as possible; after all, didn’t our Father in heaven command us to “go forth and multiply?”

All of these opinions are sorely mistaken and require gentle instruction from the Church’s pastors.

A proper NFP course must take great pains to coalesce with the authentic teachings of Holy Mother Church to recall any lost sheep and keep the rest on the straight and narrow.

The supreme authority of the Church has given us some general guidance on the topic as we find in Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii, Pope St. Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, and Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Additionally, a course must take care to consult any local bishops’ conferences providing suggested talking points on the topic of NFP.

3. It Explains the legitimate health benefits of NFP

One of the often-overlooked beauties of NFP is that it allows a woman to listen to her body and be more in-tune with how God created her.

Instead of living in ignorance, or worse, resorting to destructive artificial methods catered toward unnatural and selfish desires, a woman practicing NFP enjoys a number of real health benefits in line with God’s established order.

Through charting ovulation and menstruation women are able to use NFP as a means to help regulate their cycles. NFP is also helpful in diagnosing and treating women suffering from reproductive conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts.

NFP can be used at all stages of a woman’s reproductive life without the damaging physical side effects of hormones, drugs, or other forms of artificial contraception.

4. It Expresses the spiritual aspect of the marital love

The best NFP courses never stay at the natural level. As with everything in our Faith, all things refer to God and lead us back to Him. Human sexuality and natural family planning are no exceptions.

In addition to the health benefits discussed above, NFP provides the couple the opportunity to see sexuality in a much nobler light. This opens the door to a more complete understanding of how and why God created us with sexual desires and the true meaning of the conjugal act.

NFP emphasizes both aspects of marital love:

The life-giving (procreative) aspect – by preserving an openness to life, unlike artificial methods.

The love-giving (unitive) aspect – by which the spouses work as one in a mutual and intimate gift of self where there’s no room for selfish or base desires.

Thus, the faithful practice of NFP can reflect God’s love for each and every one of us… a love that is life-giving and love-giving.

5. It Shares the rich benefits brought to married life

By supporting God’s intended plan for human sexuality (the life-giving and love-giving aspects), couples using NFP witness extraordinary benefits in their married life. According to Theology of the Body, love needs to be true, total, faithful, and fruitful. By its very nature, practicing NFP helps to promote healthy communication and respect within marriage. Individually, the husband and wife progress to a greater understanding and respect for themselves and one another. And as a couple, they discover a much deeper appreciation for the beautiful gift of human sexuality and the supreme dignity of their marital bond.

Faithful exercise of NFP allows spouses to enter into reflection about the Divine plan in their own marriage. It supports and protects their dignity. As husband and wife to carry out their marriage truly, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully through NFP, they unlock deeper levels of intimacy.

As a pastor seeking to inform yourself or to offer marriage preparation resources for your faithful, you know that an approachable and authentically Catholic course on NFP is vital for the adequate propagation of the truths of human sexuality.

If that’s what you’re looking for, check out our newly completed on-demand course on NFP.

And don’t worry, we made sure to check all five boxes above before sharing it with you.

Read Time: 6 minutes

When I was a young mom, I had several mentors in my life that were around 15 years or more older than me and in the later stages of parenting. To me, they radiated spirituality after years of practicing their faith, and they seemed so composed when I compared myself to them and the craziness I felt both internally and externally while parenting small children. I actually thought they were saint-like at times, and I wanted to be just like them.

Looking back, I realize that most of what I admired about those ladies was just that they were in a different stage of life than I was, and they were reaping the benefits of having been faithful to their husbands, families, and God for a lot longer than I had. What I coveted was something you could only have after years of being on that journey and experiencing life. I was never going to have the steadiness of a 38-50 year old woman at the age of 22.

When we talk about developing our personal spirituality, it’s imperative that we recognize it is, in fact, personal. The journey a woman takes to understand God, herself, and her place in the world may have similar components, but it will be as unique as the whole person God created her to be.

Therefore, while having mentors and spiritual leaders is an important element of your own spiritual growth, the focus of the journey needs to be on where God is taking you, not where he has taken others. However, there is value in hearing how others have experienced God so that we can know it’s possible and learn the many ways He communicates to His people.

I share below the story of my journey to connect with God while raising my kids. It is an example, not an instruction manual.

The Most Important Time of the Day for Spiritual Growth

I am not a morning person. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I stayed up late to get control of my household chores and finally have time to myself while they were sleeping. This made mornings even worse for me, and I stayed in bed till the absolute last second, sometimes allowing my groggy kids into bed with me for snuggles so I could enjoy a few more minutes of downtime before my feet hit the floor. As a mom of five, once the day got started, it was off to the races.

Those ladies I admired had older kids, different temperaments than mine, and different routines. I felt like they all got up at 5 AM ready to read their Bibles, pray for the world’s ills, and write in their devotional journals. I tried a million times to make that a reality for myself, but 5 AM and me never really meshed.

I learned an important lesson from an unlikely source in those days: a 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen of a monastery and is most well known for his ability (and the small book by a similar name) to practice the presence of God at all times. Since his primary responsibility was washing dishes, he learned to discipline his mind to focus on God and pray for others while he worked, turning a chore of drudgery into an opportunity to worship.

A line in the book that struck me was,

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Since my days as a stay-at-home-mom were filled with tasks related to caring for others and keeping our household running smoothly, those words resonated with me. If Brother Lawrence could pray without ceasing in the 1600s while doing mountains of dishes by hand, a monotonous and dirty job, I could pray while vacuuming, folding laundry, and changing diapers in a modern home with modern technology.

That message created a small habit for me that continued for years, one I even find myself doing today as an empty nester when I fold my husband’s clothes or make a pot of soup for my visiting children and their partners. I pray while I work. I ask God to give me empathy for the people I’m serving. I reflect on the many ways He has served me, and I’m grateful. I repent for being selfish, impatient, or resentful in my relationship with that family member.

“I will do all things for the love of God.” – Brother Lawrence 

The subtle shift that happened when I turned ordinary and sometimes mundane tasks into opportunities to focus on God and others was incredible. I didn’t realize then that I was practicing a form of mindfulness, learning to be fully in the moment with all of my senses, and it taught me to appreciate even the smallest moments of my life. Focusing on God and others while I worked turned my obligations into opportunities, and it became hard to resent the opportunity to pray for and bless others when I recognized that’s what I was doing.

The Little Changes Are Catalysts for Big Changes

I always want the big rewards in life, and I sometimes forget that there are thousands of small, everyday choices to be made for every big reward. Learning to bring God into those little everyday moments, choosing to focus on him rather than indulging in feeling sorry for myself over the mountains of laundry and neverending kitchen chores, made it easier to bring him into other areas of my life.

Because I was praying for my kids more often, it was natural to need more answers from God, and I began seeking them out in the Bible. Because the Bible is kind of hard to understand sometimes, I made more time for study and went regularly to classes at my church. Because classes are usually more lecture than discussion, I joined small groups where I could talk about what I was learning and ask questions. I even traded out some of my entertainment down-time to read books recommended by my spiritual mentors and journal about what I was learning.

Those actions varied depending on the season of life we were in as a family. When my ability to commit to things outside my home was limited because of a new baby or lack of transportation, I invited women to gather in my home once a week. Bible studies with babies playing in the center of a circle of women were a common feature of my life for years. When the kids were sick or I was simply exhausted, I stayed home more often and made sure to connect with friends and mentors on the phone.

As my children grew older, I joined studies outside the home and made time for weekend retreats at least once a year. Whatever the season, I found it was possible to create space for spiritual growth both privately and corporately, but it looked so different depending on the time of year, my energy levels, our family finances, and the availability of my husband. I found that if I just gave myself the freedom to discover what made me feel connected with God, and allowed space in my life to grow closer to Him, it was a source of joy in my life, not guilt or shame.

God Can Teach You to Be a Mother

It seems a little scandalous, but the more I learned about God, the more I saw Him acting with both traditionally fatherly and motherly characteristics. I noticed how many times He related to the human race as children, and since I was neck-deep in full-time parenting, I began to understand His love for the world in a very practical way.

Parenting offers a unique opportunity to glimpse the heart of God for His people. My children, humans that they are, sinned. They sinned against others, against me, and against themselves. They caused me grief, and I feared for their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. I was compelled, neurotically at times, to defend their safety and attempt to protect them from the evil in the world and the evil in their own hearts. I tried, and I failed. At times, I gave them what they needed, yet they wanted something else. I loved them, and they still felt unloved. I accepted them, but they experienced rejection.

Those things happened in a million ways throughout their journey from infants to teenagers, and they continue to happen even though my kids are all adults now. I am an imperfect parent to imperfect children, and when I consider the responsibility given to me by God alongside the reality that I cannot perform it perfectly, I feel crushed.

But…God.

The crushing reality of parenting has driven me to seek God in a way that nothing else in my life has. Whether it’s praying for the right words to communicate during a sibling squabble or the patience to encourage a brand new reader, God showed up for me a million times in the day-to-day routine of mothering. He helped me soothe broken hearts, celebrate wonderful accomplishments, and cherish the unique people he entrusted me with. His Word, His community of believers, and His Spirit have also comforted me, urged me forward, and brought me peace.

When I felt I had nothing left to give, He was there. As I live now in the new adventure of parenting adult children, staring down grandparenthood, He is there. Cultivating that relationship, learning and growing and allowing Him to change me through motherhood, has been a source of life for me. It can be the same for you. It will look a little different from my journey, but I fully trust that He will support, challenge, and sustain you as well.

This is part three of our three-part series: Maintaining Sanity and Developing Personal Spirituality as a Stay at Home Mom

Read Time: 3 minutes

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a method of planning your family in a natural way that respects the Catholic Church and allows you to manage your fertility.

NFP allows you the freedom to achieve, postpone or avoid pregnancy.

The unique benefit is that NFP does not use harmful drugs that provide a barrier to the connection with your spouse.

By using NFP, you can care for and create the size of family that you believe is right for your situation.

You can both help yourself conceive or stop yourself from conceiving, naturally.

What are the benefits of Natural Family Planning?

There are a number of benefits associated with NFP.

While a child is the greatest blessing, many families wish to limit the number of children they have. This could be due to financial, health and other reasons.

In short, NFP will help you and your spouse to decide the right time to have children.

Here are a few benefits of using natural family planning:

  • Using NFP will help to strengthen your marriage.
    • There will be no literal or figurative barriers to sexual intercourse. NFP requires you to communicate and cooperate about procreation and when it happens. Both spouses will then find that NFP encourages them to respect and accept the other person, while using this method.
  • NFP methods support the reproductive health of the woman.
    • Contraceptive methods have harmful side effects and do irreversible damage to both men and women. NFP is an environmentally-friendly way to control conception and costs nothing.
  • NFP will help you to value your child and honor God’s design for your life and marriage.
    • It is a method that respects procreation as a way of deepening intimacy in a marriage. It will also allow a couple to find non-sexual ways of expressing their love during times of abstinence.

Who can use Natural Family Planning?

Any married couple can use NFP methods.

Because NFP requires a shared commitment between both spouses, both husbands and wives will use and benefit from NFP methods. Finding a qualified instructor or taking a course on natural family planning is the best thing to do before you get married.

If you are already married, it is not too late to learn about NFP!

What are the methods used?

Based on scientific facts about fertility, couples will monitor the woman’s menstrual cycle closely, figuring out the best times for conception and planning around these times, whether they are trying to conceive or avoid pregnancy. There are three categories of NFP methods.

  • Cervical Mucus Method (CMM) (also called Ovulation Method)
    Using this method, a woman tracks and learns about her cervical mucus and its changes during different times of her cycle. By doing so, she can figure out the most optimal days for sexual intercourse based on when she is most likely to get pregnant.
  • Sympto-Thermal Method (STM)
    Using this method, couples observe if there are signs of fertility happening in order to pinpoint if ovulation is occurring. Using her basal body temperature and the tracking of cervical mucus, plus other signs of ovulation, the STM method is an effective NFP method.
  • Sympto-Hormonal Method (SHM)
    Using an ovulation predictor kit or fertility monitor, the couple will monitor reproductive hormones in the urine to find out the optimal time for timing intercourse.

Married couples can continue to have a loving and mutually respectful relationship using natural family planning methods.

An introduction to Natural Family Planning is another essential step of most parish’s or diocesan marriage preparation requirements. NFP Life, offered by The Marriage Group, is a prefect resource to fulfill that requirement, as well as introduce you to the transformative benefits of practicing NFP in your married-life. Learn more here: https://themarriagegroup.com/courses/nfp-life

 

Read Time: 2 minutes


Announcing NFP Life: an introduction to natural family planning!

The Marriage Group has been spreading the good news of natural family planning (NFP) through its Learn NFP Online brand since its launch in 2012.

Since that time, thousands of women and couples have learned about the Billings Ovulation Method of NFP. There are, however, a handful of other natural family planning (NFP) methods.

Each method is scientifically-proven as effective for achieving and postponing pregnancy. Yet each method has its unique ways of doing so.

In response to frequent requests from church groups, ministry leaders, and NFP instructors, The Marriage Group has produced a new introduction to natural family planning.

NFP Life is a 20-minute presentation featuring an engaging, approachable, young couple that has been presenting NFP as part of Catholic marriage preparation programs for over a decade.

The presenters, Dustin and Bethany Riechmann, are the creators of the popular website, Engaged Marriage, and producers of the workshop, “Spiritual Sexuality: How to Get Closer to Each Other by Inviting God into Your Love Life.”

Dustin and Bethany have been married for over 15 years and are proud parents to three very energetic kids under the age of eleven.

Methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP) Infographic

Natural Family Planning (NFP) Methods

Click here to download / print a .PDF version of this infographic