Deacon preaching NFP finds most couples don’t know teaching on contraception
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Catholic Anchor) - The homilist at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage broached a sensitive topic last fall — one which is rarely heard from the pulpit.
FAITHFUL - David and Lisa Leisle were shocked to hear a sermon on natural family planning, something they knew little about. They went right to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn more. “It was the last day I took the pill,” said Lisa. They have practiced NFP ever since. (James DeCrane)
As the only form of family planning in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church, NFP allows couples to conceive or avoid pregnancy by working with, rather than against, the designs of nature.
As might be expected, the deacon’s homily sparked considerable discussion throughout the parish.
“I was honestly shocked,” said parishioner Lisa Leisle. “I thought there was more leeway (to use artificial contraception).”
After Mass that morning, Leisle went home and had a frank discussion with her husband David. His response was to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the final word.
“We looked at (the Catechism) and decided that there isn’t a lot of leeway — especially when it uses words like ‘intrinsically evil,’” Lisa said, referring to the Catechism’s teaching on the use of contraceptives.
After their discussion, the Leisles made a life-changing decision.
“It was the last day I took the pill,” said Lisa. “I went on-line in the next couple of days to find out about NFP — and we’ve been practicing it ever since.”
Leaving room for God
Inspiration for the NFP homily occurred to Deacon Donahue after a number of conversations he had with couples in marriage preparation classes.
“When I mention NFP, people look at me like I am an artifact from another age,” he explained. “It’s one of the principles of Catholic teaching that people don’t think applies to them.”
But for many couples, including many Catholics, information about NFP is largely unknown or misunderstood.
The teaching, however, is quite clear, Deacon Donahue said, adding, “there is no wiggle room.”
The reasoning behind the principles of NFP is simple, he explained. It is the only type of birth control that allows God to have a hand in the purposes of human sexuality, purposes which God created.
Allowing for discernment
Openness to life is a key component of Catholic moral teaching.
When the Leisles told their 15-year-old daughter they were practicing NFP, she worried that she might have a new brother or sister in the near future.
The church, however, does not instruct couples to have as many children as biologically possible.
“We explained that our intent is not to give up (contraception) so we can pop ‘em out till we are fifty,” David said. “But we are doing this in a natural way.”
Deacon Donahue said it is important that couples prayerfully discern whether to have children.
The Catechism affirms that there are just reasons for spacing pregnancies. It adds, however, that couples should be generous when determining their family size and not limit it for selfish reasons.
Most effective birth control
In preventing pregnancy, NFP methods are more effective than contraceptive methods, said Pam Albrecht. Albrecht helps coordinate the Natural Family Planning office for the Anchorage Archdiocese and is a certified instructor in one form of NFP called the Billings Method.
“The statistics are about 99.5 percent effective for the Billings method,” she said.
Australian doctor John Billings, at the request of his parish priest, developed the method in the 1950s.
In using the Billings approach, women monitor their fertility cycles each month. Couples can use NFP methods to either help achieve or avoid pregnancy.
Another effective NFP option, called the sympto-thermal method, tracks a woman’s fertility cycles based on changes in body temperature.
As Deacon Donahue explained, God designed human sexuality with NFP as a built in system.
“In the wonder of his plan, he decided that there would be a time when the female was not fertile,” he said.
It’s a proven method that works, he added, because it remains open to God’s will.
At first, the natural method might seem daunting, but Albrecht and others in her office are committed to helping couples every step of the way.
“We do two classes and then a follow up for as long as needed,” Albrecht said.
Lisa Leisle said she was a bit overwhelmed, but quickly gained comfort with the method.
“I know I could call Rachael (one of the instructors) right now for a cup of coffee if I had questions,” she said.
“I feel very comfortable with it,” she said, adding that being on the pill required almost equal maintenance.
The Leisles said they feel a sense of peace with their decision to practice NFP.
“The best thing about it is that it keeps God in the marriage,” Lisa said.
Deacon Donahue said NFP helps foster healthy marriages.
“The divorce rate of people that practice NFP is about ...
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