NFP Week 2016 – Humane Vitae: WWRW

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Another two-fer! A very late link up to the July Wednesday book reviews from fellow bloggers hosted by Carolyn Astfalk and Catholicmom.com.

I finally, FINALLY read the gem Humanae Vitae. This encyclical was “given” (how nice a turn of phrase! like a gift is given) on July 25, 1968 by Pope Paul VI. Annually, NFP Awareness Week is celebrated at this time to commemorate the anniversary of this life changing document. And yes, it is a gift.

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Though I’ve mentioned this encyclical before, I actually had never read it–not all the way through. And now that I have? My, what a beautiful meditation on marriage and humanity. I particularly liked the sections on God’s design for marriage and married love (8 & 9). Those paragraphs should be inserted into every wedding liturgy homily.

Also wonderful? How Paul VI clearly communicates the Church’s authentic mercy for families. He and the Magisterium got it–all the way back in 1968–got how the world has its trials, how couples may have a serious or reasonable rationale for delaying or spacing pregnancy, and how it is okay to use God’s wonderful design to do just that! Of course, true mercy does not involve flouting morals, for how can you be merciful if you care so little for the soul? Further, he calls upon everyone to essentially fix the world so that family life can be improved.

His proscriptions for politicians, doctors, scientists, etc., show that the Church doesn’t want to just leave us hanging. And in the case of Catholic doctors and scientists in particular, some people have taken this message to heart. We have incredible advances in fertility awareness methods, as well as NaProTechnology. Section 15 does address use of certain elements strictly for therapeutic means–I bet he’s smiling in Heaven to know that doctors are continually working to treat and cure bodily diseases with God’s own design of the human body.

However, I am sure he is displeased that his predictions (17) have come true. I’d read about them before, but seeing how precisely he laid it out was humbling. One that stuck out to me that’s not mentioned as much was this: “There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication.” (18) Facebook or Twitter fights, amirite? I really feel like if we as a society could just take time to fully listen, to fully engage with such documents as this (and Pope St. John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility, whose philosophy on the human person can be traced to elements in HV), there’d be less clamor and less outcry. Another disappointment was in what solutions have not been fully realized. In particular, I feel that some priests have shirked their responsibility in answering the Vicar of Christ’s call to accompany couples as they live out these teachings. While some priests and bishops are quite vocal in their defense of the teachings of marriage, I’ve heard stories of others, who, especially when it comes to the beauty of the why of NFP, do not have “stamped in the heart and voice…the likeness of the voice and the love of our Redeemer.” (29).

But I am glad for Pope Paul VI’s message to the world, along with his calls to each of us sons and daughters of Christ. In particular, I  favored this mission, one I’ve adopted through my writing for teens: “the need to create an atmosphere favorable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded.” (22)

That about sums it up. May we leave this week to “go and do likewise.”

Don’t forget! If you want to use a sympto-hormonal form of acceptable spacing births, Simcha Fisher is giving away ClearBlue fertility monitors!

NFP Week 2016/NAS – Wedding Fun

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It’s two-for-one day here at the old blog! Linking up with Morgan and the rest with another July post. The theme is “wedding fun,” and what better kind of opportunity to also touch upon NFP Awareness Week! I mean, the USCCB’s graphic features a couple in their wedding clothes!

Sooo…weddings are fun. I love being brought back to the joy of Day 1 of PJ’s and my marriage, especially given that one of the most exuberant dance songs (Walk the Moon’s “[Shut Up] and Dance with Me) I danced to plays every day on the radio. And yeah. Ahem, other wedding fun [usually] happens, which everyone appropriately avoids talking about or alluding to, except for maybe some relatives of a certain age or nosy disposition who ask about when the grandkids are coming or helpfully do the math when you have a special announcement before the professional photos are even ready or show their disappointment if there’s not. But, as hilariously (and okay, slightly inappropriately) depicted on Jane the Virgin (about 3:20 in, after a very lovely and respectful portrayal of the celebration of the sacrament of Catholic marriage), it seems like maybe a given.

I’ll let you in on a married lady secret. For some newlyweds, when they hear this question, they could be thinking some different answers (which most would never dream of telling you): “Not tonight! [because I know my cycle, and yeah, it’d be a miracle]” or “Not tonight! [and our serious/just/grave reasons are none of your beeswax]” or “Maybe! [because we’re taking the que sera, sera approach]” or “Hopefully! [because I know my cycle and tonight is the night!”]. They do this because they’re already starting their marriage with Natural Family Planning (or not–see the que sera, sera couples).

Prior to marrying PJ, I’d blogged about NFP before (see the categories), but from the perspective of a single or in-a-relationship or engaged-and-learning woman. As a woman practicing it, with a whole other person, my understanding and perspective has naturally been transformed. There’s “knowing” what you’re getting into, and then there’s knowing. Once you add another person’s heart, mind, attitudes, and behaviors into the mix, NFP is like advancing not just to another level, but advanced kingdom.

Heading into our wedding, PJ and I had to make decisions together, decisions I’d encourage any engaged or seriously dating couples to consider. And if you’re like me and have an NFP knowledge base or opinions, understand that you may have to shift or compromise (on what you discern) or (hopefully not!) open your eyes to a challenge to resolve before saying “I do.”

  • What are our NFP IQs? Having worked for a Catholic publisher and being an avid reader of Catholic lady bloggers and family life forums–I knew a lot. So when appropriate, PJ and shared what we knew (and I didn’t scare him off with TMI or “Look, enough people say this can be really hard. You ready for that?”!)
  • What method will we use? There are many! Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I had a pretty clear idea what I wanted to do, and having worked with the coordinator of my archdiocese on an app, really wanted to travel back to learn a sympto-hormonal method. I explained why, giving a brief overview of the other methods, and PJ was on board! What’s important is that if you don’t have a specific method for specific reasons like I did, that you and your guy both explore enough about the options. If you severely disagree, I would recommend finding someone through the Family Life Office for a couple (or the couple at your pre-Cana experience) to talk to–or even a priest to talk in general about how to manage the conflict. Just be aware that sometimes the diocese only offers one form, and in my estimation of the writing, many are fans of theirs and cannot objectively speak to others. And as the graphic above says “open the heart of your marriage”…to possibly changing–maybe not now or in a set time frame, but as circumstance allows. You do not need to have a forever plan.
  • When are we going to start? And to what end? I wish I knew how to underline in WordPress. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO USE NFP IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO. Sometimes some Catholics give other faithful a bad rap for extolling the virtues of NFP too much, as if it was mandatory, or worse, sinful because just/serious/grave  only means “there’s a war on” or “here’s the signed statement from the woman’s uber-Catholic doctor saying she could die.” So you two may decide on wedding fun without consulting a chart. But I do recommend learning a method, as a tool in your back pocket, for when you may discern you need to use it. One of the glorified benefits of NFP is communication. And this applies to engagement. You’ll have to talk about if you need  to start from Day 1, if you don’t care, as well as have to talk about whether wedding night fun should not happen (hey, it’s not a guarantee, and a perfectly valid and survivable choice!).  Another benefit is NFP can not just help you delay pregnancy, but achieve it! So if you both talk and agree you want to start your family as soon as possible, it might just take the guesswork or an agonizing monthly wait-and-see out of it. PJ and I talked about all these things, and more, and acted on the information accordingly. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

To conclude, I want to say that today is the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. What must their wedding have been like? Scripture doesn’t tell us much about this couple; Tradition, a little. Like any bride and groom, I imagine they may have been full of hope and expectations and dreams–but could they have conceived of the notion that together they would conceive our Blessed Mother, a sinless child, and be doting grandparents to the savior of the world, Jesus? On that day, NFP was not a “thing” for them, but we can surmise that love, mercy, life, and a marriage of open hearts was. May they pray for us.

If you want the chance to win a ClearBlue fertility monitor, which is used in the sympto-hormonal forms of NFP, head on over to Simcha Fisher’s blog.

 

NFP Awareness Week 2016- Media Meditation Monday

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Hat tip/credit to the USCCB.

Let’s get this week really underway! (If you’d like a primer on NFP, explore the links provided by the USCCB.)

A couple of years ago I decided to recognize NFP Awareness Week with some regular posts. I’ll try to tag them so you can look them up (and honestly, I need to review what I’ve already said!).

Today I wanted to bring back one of my personal favorite categories, Modern Media Meditation. Considering myself musically Ignatian, I most often and profoundly experience God in music. And believe it or not, some of the principles of NFP are preached in music. That you hear on the radio! No need to wade through the one generic Christian rock station or break out Matt Maher CDs, unless you’d like to.

“All of Me” by John Legend. For our first dance, PJ and I swayed and twirled to young singer Jasmine Thompson’s cover.

Many posts ago, I analyzed the lyrics to the song, with maybe just a hint of an idea that perhaps it could be used for my very own marriage! If someone knows of a version with male and female voices, please let me know, so it can be my new favorite thing. To further connect the words to NFP, especially the lovely theme devised by the USCCB:

  • Love: Not just the passionate, romantic kind (eros) the singer feels for the beloved, but the sacrificial (caritas/agape) kind: “Even when I lose, I’m winning.” Something I could only superficially understand before marriage and living the practice out–“NFP entails loving sacrifice”–I am now experiencing more deeply. Think of any hard part of NFP and that you were losing–the idea is to have the grace to see you’re actually winning, because what you have given up was out of love for the other. And that is “winning.”

 

  • Mercy: This virtue is showing compassion, to “feel with.” Despite  the beloved’s “imperfections,” or the “world beating you down,” the singer loves the person totally and completely. To me, the latter lyric could signify our sinful nature in this fallen world. And NFP in practice does still offer a channel for evil to enter in. What couples have to do (and what PJ and I are striving to live out) is be merciful to one another when he/she struggles, and like God, love anyway–and use that love to “show us still a better way.”

 

  • Life: Okay, this is a little bit of a stretch, because nothing in the song talks about creating a life together. HOWEVER, the singer repeatedly mentions giving his/her “all” to the other, as does the beloved reciprocate. In NFP, you are giving all of yourself, including your potential fertility. When you’re both “showing hearts” (just what shape do you think some NFP charts use to indicate intercourse?), you’re showing openness to each other, but also a child.

And just because there has to be some humor, some choice lyrics are “You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind.” Relying on (a very effective) method of spacing or achieving pregnancy that relies on discernment is a very radical act in today’s culture, and given some of the practice’s idiosynchrosies, a little intimidating. Also, “Risking it all, though it’s hard.” I will always be honest. Before marriage, I could point to forums, articles, “experts” and say, “Let’s not be naive. This is hard.” Now I can say, “Yup! I was right.” Sometimes it is a challenge, and you’re feeling like you are taking a risk. But the point is you do it anyway. Not because you’re lazy. Not because some old man in a funny hat told you you had to or else hell. But because you want to. Because you see it as an act of love.

Some other examples:

  • “Take Me the Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson. The sentiment of accepting a person the way she is–you know, a person with the gift of potential fertility (or with challenges)–is clear. The line about Rogaine is unfrotunate, BUT the rest of the singer’s reciprocity is about small acts of care, especially the physical. NFP is all about honoring and caring for your beloved’s body.
  • “Stand by You” by Rachel Platten. While not an obvious choice, this song captures the commitment, even in the most difficult times, a beloved feels for the other. I hear elements of sacrifice and mercy (“I’ll walk through hell with you”) and charity (“Take my [wings] so yours can open to”). NFP involves a deep commitment for spouses, and depending on your discernment, can have its “heavens” you can’t find, and its hells that maybe you find yourselves in. Not to mention that the teaching of why NFP is an approved practice is based on Truth, and living it out requires faith.

What songs have you heard lately that might apply? Which lyrics will see you through your journey?

Oh, and I want to shout out to the blogger and author who really “sold” me on NFP. Simcha Fisher is running a contest for SIX ClearBlue fertility monitors all week. You can use this trusty device as part of a sympto-hormonal method of NFP to achieve or postpone pregnancy.

NFP Week: Saturday Saints–Anne and Joachim

*Disclaimer: I am away on a cruise and may not have access to update/edit this post or moderate comments. Please be charitable!*

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Saint Anne and Saint Joachim

 

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The Holy Family Generations statue at the Saint Anne Shrine in Sturbridge, MA.

Saint Anne and Saint Joachim are the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception. Today is their feast day! I never learned much about this couple growing up, but now I have an increased interest in these two, they who brought up the world’s most perfect woman. Now, we don’t have much to go on except tradition–we’re not even sure Anne and Joachim are their real names. But the story of their lives has much to tell us. Here’s a neat little legend from the USCCB:

An ancient story dating to the first centuries of the Church’s life recalls how Saints Anne & Joachim, like Abraham and Sarah, were scorned by their neighbors because they had no children. Years of longing did not weaken their trust in God, but grief eventually drove Saint Joachim into the wilderness to fast and pray. Saint Anne, remaining at home, dressed in mourning clothes and wept because she had no child of her own. Seeing her mistress distressed, a servant girl reminded Anne to put her trust in God. Saint Anne washed her face, put on her bridal clothes and went to a garden to plead with God for a child. Angels appeared to Saint Anne in her garden and Saint Joachim in the desert, promising that, despite their old age, they would give birth to a child who would be known throughout the world. The new parents ran to meet one another at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate, and with a kiss rejoiced in the new life which God had promised would be theirs. Saints Anne and Joachim are powerful intercessors for all married couples, expectant mothers and married couples who are having difficulty conceiving, as well as all who have grown old.

Though Scripture does not mention Saints Anne and Joachim, and tradition does not even hold how long they might have lived, it’s nice to think about Jesus and his grandma and grandpa. 🙂

I’m not sure why (but if someone knows, please do tell me!) Saints Anne and Joachim are honored during NFP Week, but it does make sense. Take these words from Catholic Online: “It was their teaching that led her to respond to God’s request with faith, “Let it be done to me as you will.” It was their example of parenting that Mary must have followed as she brought up her own son, Jesus. It was their faith that laid the foundation of courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross as her son was crucified and still believe. ” First, the core of NFP is saying to God, “Your will, not mine, be done.” And NFP requires a strong faith, courage, and fortitude to live out God’s plan for love. Finally, as Simcha Fisher points out in her book, NFP can be a cross. It is sacrifice. And couples making this sacrifice can look to the holy parents for perseverance of faith.

7QTF: NFP Week

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*Disclaimer: I am away on a cruise and may not have access to update/edit this post or moderate comments. Please be charitable!*

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Perfect post for this week when comparing NFP with artificial contraception. Catholic Sistas on why we DON’T use birth control.

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A great resource on NFP! Plus blog graphs! IUseNFP.

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Like graphics? 1flesh.org has more! Plus, it has stories from real women!

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Like stories? The delightful Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas started a series called Women Speak on NFP. Check them out!

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THIS sounds AWESOME!!!! Women’s Health Care that focuses on the body, not giving you drugs!

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NFP doesn’t mean no kids ever. It’s just a tool to discern your family. It does mean kids. And babies are good things in marriage. Here’s a nice reflection on that one particular phrase of our Catholic marriage vows: http://worthyofagape.com/2014/06/09/accept-children/

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Want a directory for doctors? Here’s a start: http://onemoresoul.com/

NFP Week: Thoughtful Thursday–We Can Do Better Part 2

*Disclaimer: I am away on a cruise and may not have access to update/edit this post or moderate comments. Please be charitable!*

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On Tuesday I went through the issues I see with pro-NFP tactics and concluded by asking what we can do better. Here’s some suggestions from my limited experience:

–       Be gentle in our conversations—ask questions before pronouncing judgments.

–       Accept that Humanae Vitae allows for the Pill under the principle of double effect (according to some interpretations). No it’s not the greatest solution, but sometimes it’s all a woman’s got.

–       Be informed and focused on the positive. This means doing some homework—reading medical journal articles with good statistics on NFP and NaPro treatments.

–       But recognize anecdotal evidence convinces people much more than numbers. Find “success” stories when it comes to TTA, and sharing (whatever’s appropriate) the cool things you’ve learned about.

–       Go public (and anonymous if you want to). On every article you find, post thoughtful, charitable, factual comments about the positives of the NFP/NaPro approach. Example: I once read that progesterone shots can help alleviate post-partum depression, but many do not know this and resort to drugs with worse effects, and now there’s a spate of articles about PPD.

–       Encourage loved ones interested in medicine to consider pro-life nursing or doctoring.

Obviously, we can’t win over hearts and minds (and souls) overnight. This evangelizing takes time. If anyone else has suggestions for what’s been helpful in witnessing NFP/NaPro that’s positive and pastoral, please pass them on!

NFP Week: What We’re Reading Wednesday–The Sinner’s Guide to NFP

*Disclaimer: I am away on a cruise and may not have access to update/edit this post or moderate comments. Please be charitable!*

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Hilarious. Frank. Encouraging. Blunt. Wish there was more. TMI. This book is all of these things and more. What it is is a collection of essays by Mrs. Fisher. You might recognize some of the content from her blog “I Have to Sit Down” and columns for the National Catholic Register online. Those selections have been edited and incorporated into this book to form a cohesive point, which you get to by the end. Meaning, you essentially have to read the entire thing to see the big picture. But that’s okay–one chapter builds off another. And they’re an engaging read. The brilliance of this book is that you can also get the same great reading experience a la carte if reading one chapter at a time. You may find yourself wanting to go back again and again to the one on discerning God’s will—even when you’re discerning something other than a pregnancy.

What I loved most about Mrs. Fisher’s tone is how non-judgmental she is. I am a bit of a weirdo in that I read family life forums, worked on materials that edified readers on NFP, and write about it myself, so I know there’s a whole lotta judgment—too many kids; too few kids; just reasons; selfish reasons. In one chapter,  Mrs. Fisher lays out (like I tried to do the past few days) different scenarios in which concrete human beings anonymously lay out their thoughts for wanting/not wanting another baby at a particular point in time. She presents the very human face of NFP.

So you may think that if I’m in love with how human her approach is and how pastoral that feels, why, when I sometimes beg for no “cross” language in responses to young people on this issue, do I rate this book so highly when the ultimate point is about the cross? Because the cross is a very human thing too. What Mrs. Fisher’s writing did for me is to realize that. Jesus went on the cross because he was human—if we didn’t tap into that and relied only on his divinity, he could’ve ascended to Heaven from the Garden of Gethsemane. But no. He needed to die a very human death for us very humans. Jesus was on the cross for us humans. In embracing the cross, he procured our salvation. We humans are called to be like Jesus. And to do that, we must take up that very cross to procure our salvation.

The easiest answer to give to the proverbial girlfriends regarding NFP and birth control is the hardest one for them to take: like it or not, we have a cross, and there is a purpose to that cross. Crosses are hard, and the side effects uncertain. And even if maybe someday there will be a magic device that takes one reading one time a day and gives us as much ease and clarity in predicting fertility, NFP will always be a cross. Because the cross is not in the method, but the decision to give of one’s self or not. In that light, the Pill seems to be the greater cross: a daily decision to not give your all—the weight of that burden—and to what purpose?