When I was in tenth grade, our local church’s [former] Religious Education director told an auditorium full of public school parents that their kids would be having sex, so the responsible thing to do was to provide the condoms. I was on birth control at the time to regulate my periods so I could lazily "easily" monitor my cycle to excel at cross country and track. It is very clear to me now how misguided, and perhaps even brainwashed I was into accepting society’s version of responsibility when in reality, it is so much more. The Lord really has a sense of humor, as I signed up to pen this article before I knew I was pregnant (again) and have had a few subtle (and not so subtle) questions about my family’s fertility choices.
If I had to answer "why" to the above question in one line, I would quote Pope John Paul II, “It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities.” OUR responsibility: not to simply provide the basics to our children, but a constant reminder of our marital vows, and how we are supposed to be raising our family. Let me be blunt: Natural Family Planning is the only type of fertility awareness supported by the Catholic Church. Responsibility, in this sense, does not always mean what is best for your wallet, for your job, or even for yourself. Choosing to practice responsible parenthood is, as Pope John Paul II writes, “a continual effort and commitment…at the cost of a precise self-denial*”. Every single day we are challenged to lift our burdens up and bask in the freedom that this Christian life provides for us. But God’s grace and forgiveness are always a choice. Responsible parenthood is no different. We cannot be picky about the graces that our Catholic faith allows us; Jesus did not die on the cross for that.
Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction” (6:4). Something that always frustrated me as a child was watching the adults in my life practice blatant hypocrisy. How can we expect our children to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves? Because all hypocrisy is, is the choice to disrespect what you claim to believe in. Of course, if this life was easy all the time, everyone would have no problem doing it. But alas, this path is certainly narrow and at times I feel like I’m on a balance beam with only my big toe!
When married couples choose to stay open to the possibility of new life, they gain moral maturity which Pope John Paul II believes go hand in hand. Natural Family Planning is not simply meant to be “Catholic contraception” because we do not believe in limiting life "just because". There is always a moral component in human sexuality and certainly in married life. If there wasn’t, we would be no different than animals. It encourages my husband and me to have meaningful conversations about the spiritual direction that we are charged with providing our children. It snuffs out the flame of self-love of our outward image and our finances, and replaces it with confidence and a generous spirit. The Church’s responsible parenting is a constant reminder that there is a plan greater than what we could fathom, and to trust God unfold it before us can only bring us true and lasting peace.
* Theology of the Body, ‘Responsible Parenthood Linked to Moral Maturity’.
Reflect: What steps can you take in your physical and spiritual life to further practice responsible parenting? If you are unmarried, what can you do now to prepare yourself for that challenge?
Act: Read the entire section ofTheology of the Body on Responsible Parenthood. Pope John Paul II goes into much more detail and, as always, is gentle but firm in his wisdom.