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

November 22nd, 2015

2.  A theology of the marriage act that supports Humanae Vitae In today’s context, it is obvious that couples need to hear that Christian marriage is permanent.  That means that they need to see marriage as part of the Divine Covenant, not just a contract that can be broken by mutual consent.  They should also realize that every one of their marriage acts ought to be a reminder of their marriage covenant.

Here I propose that it would be helpful for couples to learn and internalize a simple theological statement about the marriage act:  “Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be, at least implicitly, a renewal of the marriage covenant.”  St. Pope John Paul II used this covenant-renewal concept in his 1994 Letter to Families.  This covenant understanding gives positive meaning to Catholic biblical teaching about the marriage act.   It states first of all what sexual intercourse ought to be—exclusively a marriage act and then, within marriage, a renewal of their marriage covenant.  It also explains why the same anatomical act that is the serious matter of mortal sin outside of marriage can be a serious good within marriage.  Outside of marriage, there is no covenant commitment, and thus sexual union is essentially dishonest.  Within marriage, the marriage act can be and ought to be a true renewal of the faith, love and commitment of their wedding day promises even though some marriage acts are something less than that.

The covenant statement also invites an explanation of the Christian biblical covenant of marriage.  A covenant of God’s making.  A covenant that the Lord Jesus makes clear is binding until death.  A covenant of self-giving love.  All of this is important for engaged couples to understand.

The natural family planning course can affirm the unconditional character of the marriage covenant by pointing out that contraception contradicts instead of affirming the marriage covenant.  The marriage act ought to say, “I take you once again for better and for worse until death do us part.”  The body language of the contraceptive marriage act says instead, “I take you for better but definitely NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.”  It is essentially dishonest and thus immoral.  Couples have a need and a right to know these things.

John F. Kippley
To be continued next week —

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

November 15th, 2015

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 —

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

November 8th, 2015

The Synod of Bishops is almost over.  We have good reason to hope that it will affirm the received teaching about marriage and Holy Communion.
However, that’s not the end of it.  Marriage and the family are in need of help.  What will be done to help?  To paraphrase a section of the Epistle of St. James –  What does it profit, my brethren, if the Church affirms the faith in a synod but doesn’t do anything to preach and teach it in the parish?  (James 2:14-17)

Preparation for marriage has to improve.  Pastors need to ask themselves a very basic question:  What do young couples need to know and have a right to know?  Within that context, I want to focus on seven things that can be done in the right kind of course on natural family planning.  

The new Evangelization
A theology of the marriage act that supports Humanae Vitae
Specific moral teaching
The call to generosity
All the common signs of fertility and infertility
The many benefits of breastfeeding
The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding as a natural way of spacing babies

John F. Kippley
(Fellowship of Catholic Scholars 2015 Convention, October 24, 2015; revised Oct. 30, 2015)
To be continued next week—-