“They were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus easily slips into this role because he is the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd is always kind and supportive. And a good shepherd brings members of the flock to the truth when they get off course. This is what Jesus did for people in his time. Then there are countless times when he tries to get the Pharisees back on track when their ideas take them off course.
We just heard in our first reading from Jeremiah: Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture… Who are the bad shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock? Anyone who goes against Christ and the teachings of the Church he founded.
Our modern day culture misleads and scatters the flock in countless ways. Pope Francis calls it a throw-away culture. Pope Saint John Paul II called it a culture of death. The culture of death has many symptoms.
In order to fight against some of the symptoms of the culture of death, the Church gives us Natural Family Planning Awareness Week in the week ahead. The culture of death promotes things like artificial contraception or sterilization as a “fix” to the “problem” of fertility. The Church reminds of that those things are beneath our dignity. We are beautifully, wonderfully made in God’s image. We are made for more. Our bodies need understanding, not chemicals and alterations to healthy organs that function as they should.
Does a good shepherd ignore these so he doesn’t have to unpack the difficult issues? Or does a good shepherd point out the problems with artificial contraception destroying families? Woe to me the shepherd if I mislead the flock. Sure, NFP isn’t for everyone. But we all need to know about it so we can share it with people who are misled by the lies of the culture. Yes contraception is a problem because it’s unhealthy for the human body, but it’s especially problematic because of the harm it can do to relationships.
We are made for lasting relationships.
Simple biology shows us the conjugal embrace has two meanings, procreative and unitive. It’s procreative because it’s God’s way of bringing new human life into the world. And it’s unitive because it’s God’s way of bonding a man and woman in married love for the rest of their lives. Powerful bonding hormones are activated. People who are open to both the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal embrace are presumably giving themselves fully to each other. Ideally, there is a full self-giving for the benefit of the other.
Sounds like love, doesn’t it… Nothing is held back, not even one’s fertility.
When a barrier is placed in the way, there is no longer a full self-giving. Now something is held back. We would never say to a spouse, “I love you except for your fertility. Hold back that part of you. I’m not interested in all of you.” So we shouldn’t say it in our actions either.
So we see that diminishing the procreative meaning can easily diminish the unitive meaning of the conjugal embrace as well. Imposing barriers in this most intimate of settings can quite often manifest itself in emotional ways too. If the physical barriers are in the way, it becomes easier to put up emotional barriers or communication barriers as well.
As human beings, we are designed to have a very powerful unitive bond, but we can do things to diminish it. The worst thing about contraception and sterilization is that they reject God’s design and his plan for our happiness. Furthermore the contraceptive mentality feeds the despair of the culture that life is not worth living. But life is worth living.
NFP or Natural Family Planning keeps the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal embrace intact while effectively helping married couples space children if they need to for grave reasons. NFP is more effective than contraception but without the destructive side-effects. And it has proven to enhance marital love rather than diminish it. It forces the husband and wife to communicate, thus building their relationship, rather than taking the risk of using the other for selfish reasons.
47 years ago Pope Paul VI predicted what would happen if the use of contraception became widespread. He was correct on every prediction. Divorce rates would increase. They have: from 6% in 1960 to more than 50% now. Disrespect of women would increase. Men would become more irresponsible. Marital infidelity would increase. There would be a general lowering of morality.
As Christians, we are called to trust completely in the Lord. If we look around, we see that those who seem open to his plan for their lives also seem to be the happiest. Our culture tells us that one way will bring happiness. But Christ proves that his way of self-giving love is what really brings happiness and lasting joy.
Those with little regard of Natural Law reasoning or morality are forcing upon the American people a contraceptive mentality. Our own federal government, which has coercive power over its citizens, is forcing almost all employers to literally buy into the contraceptive mentality that destroys families, the building blocks of society.
Just this past week, the Little Sisters of the Poor lost a court case that says they have to provide these things and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. The sisters are not allowed to live out the convictions of their faith.
NFP Awareness Week is not about condemnation. It’s an invitation for us to learn God’s plan for authentic happiness. It’s an invitation to learn what the Church teaches and why. Then we can bring the good news of the Gospel of Life to the world. We all know people who need to learn it as well. Let’s have the courage to trust in the Lord and invite others to the happiness that only He can bring.