The HHS Contraception mandate has brought into sharp focus the fertility fault lines in our culture. On the one side is the Church that insists that fertility is a gift to the human family and respecting its natural cycles is morally virtuous. On the other side is a culture that sees fertility mostly as an inconvenience that must be controlled and manipulated over and against its natural purposes for the sake of lifestyle choices. What fuels this view of fertility is an adolescent demand for equality and a consumerist attitude. The Church insists that men and women are equal but different while much of our society argues that men and women are equal and the same-- and where differences arise an advanced society will find ways to erase all differences and do so if necessary by force. Communism 101.
Our society has pushed hard for the equality of women with men with the understanding that equality means sameness. We have pretty much through public policy set up a structure where this can be possible. Except for the fact that women are the bearers of children and we have never found a way to make men bear children. So instead we have found all sorts of ways for women to not be bearers of children. Women can temporarily shut down their fertility (contraception) or permanently disable it (sterilization) and when neither happens then abortion. But this equality is still not equal enough.
What makes this still unfair is that women most often sustain the cost of shutting down their fertility and men do not. Hence the insistence on “free” contraception, sterilization and publicly funded abortions. But again even with women bearing no cost the playing field is still not yet level.
The final inequality between women and men is that men are fertile for their entire lives and women are not. A cruel trick of nature. Furthermore women, if they do want to have children will have to interrupt their careers at some point to do so. This is an additional inequality between the sexes since men do not necessarily have to stop or put their careers on hold when having a child. The solution, provided by technology, now allows a woman to have a section of her ovary removed, frozen and then re-implanted (putting menopause on hold) at a later time. So a woman can now have an uninterrupted career just like a man, retire and then still be fertile like a man for the rest of her life. Women can retire at 65 then start having children. Equality complete. For now.
So is it any wonder that against this backdrop the Church’s promotion of the all-natural methods of family planning is met with a blank stare or even hostility. Oddly even in a culture where “organic”, “all-natural”, “chemically free” reigns supreme! This is because Church teaching on human sexuality puts the brakes on “whenever, wherever, with whoever”, and “as much as ever” current thinking on doing what comes naturally.
And because the Church recognizes that too often women bear the brunt of responsibility for family planning it has developed a method (NFP) where husbands have to participate in the discussion and practice of family planning.
Additionally NFP respects the spiritual dimension that is inherit in conjugal love by harnessing control of the sexual appetite. If you never say no to sexual desire then you really can’t ever say yes to it. In other words you become a slave of your sexual impulses. Periodic continence helps you control and not be controlled by sexual desires.
The freedom our culture insists on is a freedom that removes barriers to give us license to do whatever we feel like. True human freedom is the ability to choose the good. And only when we cultivate our will, much like a seed is cultivated in the soil, will we become authentically human. This of course requires discipline and can’t be attained without personal effort. And sometimes rather heroic effort as those who practice NFP are often called to.
This is Natural Family Planning Awareness Week or as I like to call it All Organic and Chemically Free Sex that doesn’t Destroy the Environment Awareness Week or Green Sex for short (see my letter on the poisoning of our water supply by the pill). I know you are already aware but I wanted to make you even more aware. Our Diocese has put together a full service approach to NFP. We have NFP practitioners and trainers throughout the area, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners who are NFP only providers and a support system to help married couples with NFP related issues. We are also blessed to have one of our staff (Alison Oertle) who is a Creighton Model Practitioner (a very sophisticated NFP method) at your disposal.
The fertility fault lines in our culture run deep and it will take a generation or two for the Church’s teaching to change hearts and minds. Admittedly it is difficult to change the thinking on this issue as even among Catholics there is so much moral hair splitting. But when people get disillusioned enough and miserable enough with the lifestyle the culture demands you live there will be an alternative lifestyle to which they can turn.
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Fr. John Bonavitacola