Two by Two
John F. Kippley
It is married couples themselves who become apostles and guides to other married couples. This is assuredly, among so many forms of apostolate, one of those which seem most opportune today.
-Humanae Vitae, no. 26.
This passage is important for the long-term development of the grass roots natural family planning apostolate. However, the passage that started The Couple to Couple League is much stronger, namely, Luke 11:46. Jesus had been speaking rather frankly to the Pharisees. Then-
One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, in saying this you reproach us also." And he said, "Woe to you lawyers also! for you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers."
Allow me to back up a bit. When Humanae Vitae was issued, I read it with satisfaction. The Pope had done his job. Roma locuta, causa finita, so I thought. Then the dissent poured forth, and I could scarcely believe what I was reading! People with theological degrees were actually saying that if Catholics found that their daily cross was chaste abstinence, then they didn't need to practice marital chastity. Furthermore, I didn't read about any well-known theologians announcing that they were writing books to show the fallacy of such reasoning. So, since I wasn't aware of anybody else doing what obviously had to be done and which could be done so easily, I took my pencil in hand. Because I had been publicly defending the received teaching since 1963 in my job as a parish lay theologian, the task of writing was one of the easiest things I have ever done. Getting it published was another story, but eventually Alba House published it in early 1970 with the title, Covenant, Christ, and Contraception.
Now I had a problem. I had done the best I could to reaffirm what so many were calling the great burden of Catholic morality, and from somewhere in the back of my memory, that passage from Luke 11:46 came to me and wouldn't go away. The lawyers in the Gospel account weren't the lawyers of today; they were those who commented on the Law of God. That made me a lawyer. I had reaffirmed the burden. Furthermore, on Judgment Day I couldn't plead ignorance of the passage. Lastly, my wife Sheila and I had learned about various forms of natural family planning, so for us the teaching was not an insufferable burden. It seemed to me that I was obliged to do what I could to provide the best practical help that I could. I had no desire to limp through life with an ever-increasing guilt complex.
That's what prompted me to get involved in promoting and teaching natural family planning. We taught our first classes in the fall of 1971, about a year and a half after the publication of Covenant, Christ, and Contraception. Thus the Couple to Couple League began.
Whether to Get Involved
Most Lay Witness readers know that there are several national NFP organizations and that many dioceses have their own NFP programs. Therefore, the question may arise: As a typical Lay Witness reader, should I get involved in promoting or teaching NFP?
In my opinion, the NFP apostolate needs to be seen in a wider context, so I submit the following seven points:
- There will be no return to civilization as long as we have legalized abortion. Civilization protects its most vulnerable members.
- There will be no stopping abortion without a rebirth of chastity. Adulterous and unchaste people demand abortion to eliminate their "mistakes."
- There will be no widespread return to non-marital chastity without a rebirth of marital chastity. It is easier to be chaste when married; married couples need to lead the way.
- There will be no return to marital chastity without a rejection of marital contraception. The sexual revolution started with the acceptance of marital contraception, the idea that husband and wife can take apart what God has joined together in the marital embrace.
- There will be no widespread rejection of marital contraception without the equally widespread acceptance of chaste natural family planning.
- There can be no widespread acceptance of chaste natural family planning without the widespread promotion, availability, and teaching of natural family planning.
- Therefore, all of us must make every effort to persuade married couples to use only natural family planning when they have sufficiently serious reasons to postpone or avoid pregnancy. This makes most reasonable the strong recommendation of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices: "We urge that premarriage programs require a full course of instruction in natural family planning as a necessary component in the couple's effective realization of what they need and have a right to know in order to love in accord with the clear teaching of the Church."
No. I didn't make up the quotation. It's from page 47 of a 1988 book entitled "Faithful to Each Other Forever: A Catholic Handbook of Pastoral Help for Marriage Preparation." If this is news to you, you are not alone. I found it only by accident in 1995.
The effort to promote and teach chaste natural family planning has to be seen as an essential component in the effort to replace the culture of death with the Christian culture of life. In that light, who can afford not to be involved?
How You Can Help
Prayer. Everyone can pray; everyone needs to pray. If you are a priest, please add to the Prayer of the Faithful at every Mass this short and simple petition: "For a rebirth of chastity and an end to abortion, let us pray to the Lord." If you are a lay person with any sort of working relationship with your pastors, invite them to include this petition.
Sacrifice. Some devils are cast out only by prayer and fasting (cf. Mk. 9:28). Just as everyone can pray, so also everyone can fast for a rebirth of chastity. All adults can take seriously the exhortation of the Church to abstain from meat on Fridays-and keep its replacement simple, not lobster. Priests as well as laity can fast from watching television at least on Fridays. Married couples can fast from the marital embrace on Fridays and during all or portions of Advent and Lent. Infertile couples can select additional times of abstinence. The Church does not prescribe specific times of marital abstinence for anyone, but this is a powerful sacrifice that can be offered as a living prayer for chastity, in the spirit of 1 Cor. 7:5 and Joel 2:12-18. Lest there be any misunderstanding, married couples do not engage in such sacrificial abstinence because they think the marital embrace is evil, but because they recognize it as good.
Promotion. Almost everyone can promote chaste natural family planning because promotion covers a wide variety of activities. Some folks are finding that Dr. Janet Smith's tape, "Contraception, Why Not?" is opening previously closed ears and hearts.
One of the best things you can do to promote the teaching of Humanae Vitae is to get involved in RCIA and pre-marriage instruction. Volunteer! True, some parishes may not allow you to participate in these programs if you are known to really believe what the Church teaches, but it's better to let the reigning authorities exclude you than to exclude yourself. You will find yourself regularly referring people to NFP classes. Where classes are not handy, you can refer couples to a NFP manual for self-instruction at home.
Teaching NFP. Some couples are called to teach natural family planning. I believe that, for the credibility of the Church on this matter, we must have high quality NFP teachers readily available in both rural and urban areas. The long-term goal of the Church should be to have a volunteer teaching couple in every populated rural county and a proportionately greater number in urban areas.
The NFP teaching and promotion is an apostolate-pro-chastity, pro-family, and pro-life. Everyone can get involved; it's simply a matter of how.
Adapted from a published article in Lay Witness, July/August 1998. Reprinted with permission by Catholics United for the Faith (www.cuf.org).