Today the Church in the United States begins National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, a pastoral education campaign in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage, matrimonial love, and responsible parenthood as well as the natural way of planning our families. The scripture readings from the lectionary were selected long before the designation of this week, yet they profoundly reflect the meaning of our observance.

Choosing the Better Part: (Luke 10: 38–42) Sisters Martha and Mary are adult women keeping the same household. Poor Martha is very busy about all the tasks of hospitality that is a very important virtue in the Middle East. I’m sure we can all identify with her when she’s upset that her sister isn’t helping her to be hospitable. Jesus gently reminds her that her anxiety, her upsetment, has distracted her from what’s really important in hospitality – listening to her guest. Hospitality first and foremost concerns making the guest feel welcome – feel at home. It’s hard to do that if we don’t take the time to sit down with the guest and listen to whatever he or she has to say.

Choosing to Create a Family: (Genesis 18:1–10a) Sarah and Abraham persevered in a long, durable, but nonetheless troubled marriage. Having begun their lives together in Chaldea (modern Iraq), they moved considerable distances, through foreign lands, contrasting cultures, and hostile situations. All this, while enduring the heartache of infertility and the anguish that arises from their inability to conceive. Their pain leads to denial, lying, and even infidelity. Now aged Sarah and Abraham are resigned to never having their own child. Then, a trio of angels announces to them that they will conceive their child against all odds. Truth is, the gift of a new life ultimately comes from God.

The Mystery of Conjugal Life: (Colossians 1:24–28) Couples who share the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony are empowered to co-operate with God, co-creating a new human person. The decision to have a child, to begin a family, is at once a source of joy and of stress for couples. Such things as emotional maturity, employment objectives, economic stability, housing, personal health, and many other factors are brought to bear on spouses’ deliberations. The expectations of extended family members too are influential in making the decision to conceive. Another challenge the spouses face is the number of children they’re able to receive. There is no single standard for every family. Again, many factors come to bear on the size of a family, whether natural children, adopted or fostered.

Conclusion: The uncertainties and complexities of family planning lead many couples to believe that contraception is the only route to responsible parenting. The Church though points to another option, one that is at the same time optimistic and realistic: the principles of Natural Family Planning, or NFP. NFP respects and affirms the factors couples consider to be essential to responsible family planning while respecting the woman’s natural power to conceive and bear their child. NFP allows married couples to rely on the genius and design of their own bodies to help achieve or avoid pregnancy. Those unable to conceive naturally might be granted wisdom and courage to adopt, foster, or sponsor children.

At a time when the emerging generation of young people is rightfully concerned for the protection and preservation of nature, and the dangers of biotechnology, genetic engineering, and the artificial manipulation of life, NFP answers to the need to attend to the protection and preservation of the human person as the image and likeness of God, and of the human body as the Temple of the Spirit. NFP promises to integrate heaven and earth, the divine and the human, the soul and the body. NFP offers an aspirational and inspirational alternative to the technologization, mechanization, and industrialization of human relationships. NFP respects and protects the nature of the person. In a phrase, Natural Family Planning is loving, naturally.

“Taken from Homily Notes of Rev. Dr. Paul CB Schenck, MA, MSPsych, EdD. 2019, National NFP Awareness Week, produced for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC, reprinted with permission of the author.”