I called you Monday because I wanted to tell you about our Humanae Vitae apostolate. In the face of low interest in natural family planning, a committee of American bishops in 1989 urged that every engaged couple ought to be required to attend a full course on natural family planning. The bishops made it clear that this was not just a couple hours in a day-long pre-Cana course. Interest seems to be even lower today, and that makes the bishops’ exhortation even more important.
I continue to work in the NFP apostolate because of what Leon Cardinal Suenens wrote in his book, Love and Control. “The sins of omission and laziness of those who, for whatever reason, have the job of giving sex instruction will weigh heavier on the last day than the sins of the men and women who were never sufficiently instructed to meet their obligations.”
The immediate reason for my phone call was to show you a photograph that appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal weekend edition (Jan 3-4). It showed a young boy doing a skateboard trick in a former Catholic church. The caption reads, “The former Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, one of hundreds of decommissioned churches, was turned into a skate park.”
This is an all too visible result of the rejection of Humanae Vitae. The Dutch and German bishops were perhaps the most obvious in the world in their non-acceptance of the 1968 encyclical of Bl. Pope Paul VI that reaffirmed the teaching of Casti Connubii, which in turn had reaffirmed the Tradition of some 1900 years condemning the sin of marital contraception. In section 26, Humanae Vitae also encouraged the teaching of NFP by user couples to other couples.
I also wanted to point out a few passages in our NFP manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach, that can help priests and deacons evangelize their engaged couples. I use “evangelize” here in the sense of the “new” evangelization—showing that Jesus is the ultimate Author of the truths taught by the Church including its moral teachings considered so difficult in the minds of many Catholics who certainly need this sort of instruction.
Several things distinguish our NFP program, Natural Family Planning International, from other programs. One is our teaching of Ecological Breastfeeding. We cannot force this on anyone, but we know how appreciated it is by many. It not only maximizes all the dose-related benefits of breastfeeding, but it also provides an extended time of natural infertility. On January 13, Sheila received an email from a wife and mother who was emphatic in her thanks. She and her husband used ecological breastfeeding for spacing, and it worked wonderfully, providing two to three years between each of their six children.
Sometimes this teaching has evangelical effects as witnessed by this:
The Kippleys’ teaching about ecological breastfeeding was instrumental in my conversion, not only to the fullness of Church teaching on marriage but also to the Catholic faith itself. I was a 30-something, “childless-by-choice”, nominal Protestant when I encountered it, and my heart was so changed that I became Catholic within a year, AND became pregnant with my first child. My husband and I used ONLY ecological breastfeeding to space our three children going forward, and our marriage and family life have been immeasurably enriched. [Those] who encourage this teaching are truly evangelizing in a desperately needed way in today’s world. — Pam Pilch, Virginia
Others are helped by another unique feature of the NFP International teaching—the covenant theology we use to support the teaching of Humanae Vitae.
My wife and I found the biblically based renewal-of-your-marriage-covenant theology so luminous and compelling that it helped us to accept Catholic teaching on birth control when we were still Protestants. —Scott Hahn, commenting on John Kippley’s book, Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality.
I want to thank you for running announcements of the NFPI courses, and I also want to encourage you to rethink the idea of requiring the NFPI course as a normal part of preparation for life-long marriage, not just the wedding. The right kind of NFP course can help you evangelize your parish, encourage couples to think in terms of families larger than the cultural norm of one or two children, and thus save your school and eventually your parish. (We have a priest friend in Illinois who recently closed his parish school. He told his bishop and his parishioners that contraception and sterilization forced this closure.)
Lastly, for couples whose schedule makes course attendance very difficult, we have a Home Study Course that many couples have greatly appreciated. For both the classroom course and the Home Study course we request a donation of only $70, about the cost of the bouquet the bride will toss at the reception. Couples who adopt ecological breastfeeding will save $1,500 to $3,000 with each baby by not having to buy any formula, and both mother and baby will most likely experience better health.
I really don’t want to see our beautiful churches turned into recreation parks or, worse yet, mosques. But the Church needs its couples to have at least three children to survive as a church and about five children to provide sufficient vocations and to fulfill its role in the culture.
Humanae Vitae is not just “nice” or an “ideal.” It is absolutely necessary. The Dutch and German churches are suffering greatly because of their non-acceptance of this teaching, and the same holds true for most of the European countries. The Church in this country is not far behind, and it will not be saved just by Latin American immigrants, many of whom fall victim to the cultural bias towards contraception and sterilization, and many of whom are poorly catechized and fall victim to secularism or join a non-Catholic religious community.
Please rethink the idea of requiring engaged couples to attend our course. It will be one of the greatest favors you can do for them, and many will be very grateful. I wish that “encouragement” was sufficient. In practice, however, when everything else is required for marriage preparation and the Humanae Vitae course is only encouraged, what comes across is that the pastor doesn’t think the latter is important, and typical couples, many already contracepting, are all too ready to agree.
Thank you for reading this. I hope it has been less unpleasant for you to read it than for me to write it. In many ways, I would like to quit. But I have no reason to think that the Church has erred in its teaching about love, marriage and sexuality, and I have no reason to use either age or health as an excuse. If you would like to discuss this further, please phone or contact me at the email address in the letterhead.
In His service,
John F. Kippley
[John received no reply of any kind.]