They say hindsight is 20-20 and we have now had almost 50 years to look at the evolution of our culture since the availability of the birth control pill and since Pope Paul VI wrote the encyclical "Humanae Vitae." The last half century of practice reveals some of the truths about both of these watershed events in human history.
In fifteen years as director of the Sisters of Charity Hospital Office of The Catholic Fertility Care Center, I saw firsthand the confusion and pain of young couples, many of whom had been practicing birth control since high school.
These were intelligent, thoughtful individuals who desired nothing more than to behave responsibly, which in culturally accepted practice, meant using some form of contraception to avoid burdening themselves and society with unwanted pregnancies while engaging in pre-marital sex.
Now that they decided to marry, most of these couples sincerely wanted to honor the Church's teachings, but were unaware of what the teachings actually were or why the Church holds them as truth. Rather than being comfortable with the choices they had made or the options facing them, most of them were perplexed. Each couple had heard about Natural Family Planning somewhere and concluded on their own that it was something worth exploring.
I always tried to break the ice by talking about wedding plans. Their faces would brighten as we talked about the dress, honeymoon venue and wedding showers. When we began to talk about NFP, they would invariably became serious. They had morphed from lively and enthusiastic to unsure and fidgety. Mostly college graduates, these couples had been surrounded on all sides by sex, sex and more sex yet plainly had no idea how to talk about it.
So I talked, they listened. I made gentle inquiries, they answered them. Like the petals of a wedding bouquet, they opened up to a knowledge of their bodies with which no one had ever entrusted them. In fact, many of the brides-to-be cried because their mothers had trusted them the least in the pediatrician's office when they had been placed on the pill in high school. And none of them had any idea that the children they wanted someday, might be difficult to conceive after so many years on the pill.
Many of them were quite enthused that what I was proposing was not only simple, but seemed like it would be good for them as a couple. The most frequent statement I heard was that they wish they had known sooner about NFP. Many asked why they didn't hear more from the pulpit. Of course, periodic abstinence would be challenging, but most of them seemed willing and some even eager to challenge their vows and honor each other with this type of love. I became a trusted ally who would support their commitment to live out their vows in a chaste and loving union before God.
Because the brides-to-be needed to stop using chemical contraception in order to properly track their fertility, I was able to persuade many of them to use the remaining time before the wedding to rediscover their chastity. This effort showed them their own untapped strength, greatly increasing the joy with which they approached their big day.
The simple and reliable method of NFP rose in response to Pope Paul VI's appeal to the medical community to assist Catholic couples in responsible parenting by their research and practice. The harvest was plenty but as in many good things, laborers were few. It can be no secret that there are more wedding planners than NFP teachers.
The very lifeblood of our Church lies in our young. God has entrusted us with them. We must bring them to the truth just as we brought them to baptism. The time for hand wringing is over. We must offer them something better than confusion and the place to start is in the rich and beautiful teachings of our Church. We must educate ourselves and a good place to start is by reading "Humanae Vitae."
Much time has passed since 1968 when Pope Paul VI courageously sent out his encyclical. Artificial methods of birth control seem to be "winning," but a new generation is hungering for the truth in ways that must be satisfied. We have the gift. Now is the time to give it.