2. Natural Family Planning: Preparation for Marriage and What Couples Have a Right to Know

1.  The New Evangelization.  We hear this term frequently, but what does it mean?  When he was first introducing the idea, St. John Paul II noted that what is new about it is that it focuses on helping Catholics to understand and believe that Jesus himself is the author of Catholic teachings including those that apply in a very practical and sometimes counter-cultural way.  I think that in the context of preparation for marriage, it means that young couples need to review the Last Supper promises of Jesus.  

We are told to start with people where they are, and that applies here.  If the couple is attending Sunday Mass, they are at least hearing the Nicene Creed and perhaps they are actively reciting it.  But what happens when they ask themselves, “Why should I believe this?  Why should I believe that the Nicene Creed teaches the truth about God?”  And then, “Why should I believe anything that the Catholic Church teaches?  Why should I believe what the Church teaches about marriage and birth control?”

How can any of us believe the Nicene Profession of Faith without first believing that at Nicea Jesus was keeping his Last Supper promises about the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit?  The questions being raised today provide us with opportunity to affirm with faith and conviction that the Holy Spirit continues to lead the Church.  We believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church because we believe first of all in the Lord Jesus and his promises.  We believe that Jesus continues to be true to those promises.

In meeting with couples for marriage preparation, I suggest that the Catholic priest would do well to open his Bible to the Last Supper account in the Gospel according to John.  His engaged couples need to read the threefold promises of Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles and their successors through the centuries and today. (John 14: 15-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15) For many, this may be the first time they have read those promises.  The next step would be to turn to the permanence-of-marriage passage in Mark 10:2-12 and perhaps also the corresponding passage in Matthew 19: 3-12.  Couples will benefit from seeing that Catholic teaching on the permanence of marriage comes directly from Jesus.  They also need to understand that the “except for unchastity” clause in verse Mt 19.9 refers only to marriages that are invalid.

I grant that the effort to build faith in engaged couples is primarily a priestly responsibility, but couples also need to see this faith reflected in their fellow laity.  That’s why our NFP manual raises the question of “Why should I believe…?” and places the response in the Last Supper promises of Jesus.  This is easy to do in an NFP course.  Couples need to experience this New Evangelization, and in Catholic marriage preparation they certainly have a right to hear it—and more than once and from different sources.

John F. Kippley
To be continued next week —

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