*Continued from the audio of Catechetical Homily 5 – On Contraception and Natural Family Planning.*
Catechetical Homily 5 – The Benefits of Embracing Natural Family Planning
The stereotype for this kind of homily is fairly established throughout the United States. Typically a priest gets up on Sunday and gives a well planned and challenging on homily on the Church teaching on sexuality and contraception. Some of the times, the priest’s homily is not well constructed or comes off as particularly judgmental, and it is met with a lot of resistance. Other times, it might be very well written and well thought out, and it can move other people and/ or provide insight and clarity about a topic that many had not previously experienced.
I was planning on trying my best to give the former kind of homily… one that is well thought out and teaches with sensitivity and balance.
But then I had an insight. I started to realize that the fundamental problem is one of motivation. I started to realize that often when we discuss these issues, when tend to do so in ways that tend towards the abstract and the theoretical. It can fail to motivate when we present an ideal portrait of the human experience, one which can seem quite insensitive to the complexities of female biology.
I will say this up front. I believe and will always teach and affirm the Church teaching on sexuality and contraception… my goal is not to confuse or obscure doctrine. That being said, I have had several experiences the past 6 months that have changed how I understand the complexities of this issue.
The first set of experiences is not tied to any one person, but is rather a series of observations that I have had working with couples. First, I have seen many couples who would love to embrace the Church teaching on contraception, but due to the very real challenges of the wife’s biology and health issues, they struggle to implement these teachings.
I learned to sympathize with priests who dissent from Church teaching because I realized that in such situations, the natural desire of an empathetic heart is to want to give some kind of easy and simple solution. When faced with such a burden, it seems like the path of least resistance to give people a solution that makes their concerns go away, especially when they seem to be dealing with so many other issues in addition to the question of fertility.
But then I started to realize that this is at the heart of why contraception is so seductive. I imagine the temptation is to solve the complex issue of fertility so that a couple can get onto the more pressing issues of family life such as paying the bills and raising the children. Having to worry about an unwanted pregnancy can seem like a distraction from dealing with more important issues.
There might even be a temptation within the Church to treat the subject the same way. As a priest, I might face the temptation to treat this delicate issue as just another box to check off… well I made sure I got my contraception homily in this year, now I can get back to talking about prayer and meditation and the stuff I really care about.
That being said, I have started to realize that women’s health is really complex, and inspiring women to embrace the Church teaching is a lot more difficult than giving a convincing homily. If we are going to do this right, there is a lot of work and planning that needs to happen.
Now I am realizing that in many ways I need to motivate the women of this parish to embrace this challenge… not just as individuals but as a group. In addition, the Catholic Church needs to inspire women to work together towards the goal of embracing the Church teaching, not just in regards to fertility, but all aspects of life. We need to form intentional communities where women and men form spiritual friendships that help them to walk with the Lord… communities where we can be vulnerable and open. That doesn’t happen automatically. It has to be cultivated.
The question then becomes in my mind, How do I motivate you to embrace what might be the greatest challenge of your life? How do I motivate you to embrace a teaching that might prove to be the most frustrating, the most difficult, and ultimately the teaching that requires the most self-sacrifice?
I gained greater clarity from another part of my life. I will be talking more in the coming months and years about the fact that my family has recently learned that we have a rare genetic disease that is effecting my uncle and my mom. For now, what changed my perspective the most was sitting in the doctor’s office and hearing my mom talk in great detail about all the medical issues she has had over the years.
It was in that moment that I realized that I never really thought about the complex medical issues my mother has dealt with over the years. In talking with my sister, I realized the same could be said for her as well. I also realized that maybe female biology is more complex than I had ever imagined, and since then I have had this insight confirmed by doctors. Perhaps one the greatest struggles that couples face is how to communicate and work around health issues that both partners face. In a certain sense, fertility issues are at the front and center of such considerations, and contraception can seem like a seductive way of ignoring complex issues.
I believe that one of the fruits of natural family planning is greater communication between spouses. The real challenge is that it will require men and women to work together and really try to understand the wife’s health in ways that seem inconvenient.
I have also realized that this kind of challenge might also lead to greater self-knowledge for women and for couples. The daily work and thought that natural family planning would require means that men and women will have to look at the complexities of human life and maybe spend less time being distracted.
That’s hard, but ultimately I think it is worth it.
Sadly, I think the greatest lie of our age is that life should be easy and comfortable. Deep down we know it’s a lie and really we recognize that anything that is important in life requires suffering and sacrifice. The question now becomes whether we will take the mentality into how we approach fertility and women’s health.
I want you to imagine that if all of our families at St. Peter’s decided to embrace this journey towards implementing the Church teaching, what might our parish and our families look like in 10 years. First, let us recognize that year one would be a real challenge… perhaps even years one through three. Who knows how many set backs we might experience and what kind of obstacles that might suddenly appear.
But imagine if in 10 years, we would be able to look back and say, wow that was worth it. Look at how far we have come. Perhaps our families would be stronger. Perhaps women in our parish would be more supportive of each other and have deeper friendships, friendships formed by being in the trenches with each other day by day. Perhaps men would be more understanding towards their wives and the struggles they face… perhaps the men in our parish would form deeper friendships and really try to get at what it means to be chaste.
Then imagine how it might effect our teenagers and young people. Instead of believing the lies of popular culture… perhaps their understanding of themselves and their relationships will have a stronger foundation. The hook-up culture and the fantasies of pop culture really require that young women be on contraception and that young men ignore the consequences of their actions.
This might seem a little much for something as simple as fertility, but perhaps this precisely the key to seeing renewal within the Church… not simply that the burden is on women alone… but the sense when we bond together to make this happen.. with all the prayer, graces, active effort, and sacrifices it will require. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our age is that we have pushed this important issue aside and failed to really unite around it.
With all of this in mind, I believe that powerful things can happen if we take up this quest. Once the door is open and we start to truly discuss these important topics, the possibilities are endless.
I invite our parish to take up this challenge. Amen.