Speaking of NFP in This New Apostolic Age
The ‘clean, green and sustainable’ training of Natural Family Planning and building strong marriages
Deacons and their wives are often at the forefront of marriage preparation in their parishes. In the Catholic Church, this preparation will usually lead to a discussion of Natural Family Planning. But the real emphasis and understanding of NFP helps couples build their marriage in all aspects.
How should deacons and their wives involved in marriage preparation approach couples about NFP? Three deacons who prepare couples for marriage agree that they believe in meeting the couples where they are on their journey of faith, while, at the same time, witnessing to the truth and the beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony in the Catholic Faith.
And many couples are finding that NFP can offer a “clean, green and sustainable” approach that is natural and healthy.
Deacon Jim Gunkel and his wife, Toni, of the Office of Marriage and Family Life in the Diocese of Biloxi said: “Couples refer to the all-natural aspect as being a ‘chem-free’ approach. They are often surprised to hear of its health and relationship benefits in addition to its high user effectiveness in helping couples understand and work with their fertility. We often can witness that NFP brings couples closer together — it allows them to develop skills to allow them to become ‘who they really are.’”
I wonder how many of us have thought about how clean, green and sustainable the practice of Natural Family Planning (NFP) is? The popular interest in respecting and protecting God’s gift of creation is certainly a sign of hope — a “cause” that resonates with many young couples who are preparing for marriage today. While the Church faces the growing number of “nones,” this innate attraction to the beauty, truth and goodness of the “all natural” gives us a good starting point when speaking of NFP in this new apostolic age.
Seeking New Life to Marriage
Deacon Bob Reinkemeyer and his wife, Lisa, of the Diocese of Jefferson City, in Missouri, have long supported couples as they journey through their lifetime of fertility. As a teaching couple for the Couple to Couple League, they have seen that many younger couples are willing to come off the pill. Many women are put on the pill in their teens for “painful periods” or acne. Students are often surprised when they chart their fertility symptoms while on the pill, and they don’t see the changing levels of hormones. That demonstrates something “unnatural,” and they are glad to finally have been given the tools to work with and understand their own bodies.
Lisa most enjoys discussing couples’ hopes and dreams. “It is so powerful, so exciting to consider bringing new life into the world,” she said. “The new life of your marriage — ‘becoming one’ and the thought of participating in the creation of new life with God.”
Many couples seek order in their life. NFP, while not easy, can be compared to boot camp where some wholesome discipline yields great results. “It is wonderful how focused this practice is on keeping our bodies healthy — protecting and safeguarding our fertility — and you can see how it works to sustain the gift of fertility,” Lisa said.
Both Deacon Jim and Toni encourage us to be bold enough to tell the truth. As a married couple, they often get difficult questions about marriage. They reflected that if we never tell young couples the truth — and instead treat them like children — we never allow them to grow up and develop their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, their diocese uses Ruah Wood’s TOB (Theology of the Body) program, promoting “TOB Tuesday” and including TOB themes in homilies at least once a month. This sets up a good foundation when speaking to couples about NFP.
The Gunkels are able to share the effectiveness of modern NFP methods and discuss the fear of NFP failing. This opens the discussion to seeing children as a blessing rather than something to be “protected” against.
As couples embark on their new vocation, Deacon Bill Turrentine and his wife, Pat, of the Archdiocese of San Francisco remind us that “engagement is a time of joy — a teaching moment where hearts are open — a time when we can speak to the profound beauty, truth and goodness of how God designed us to participate in this tremendous vocation.”
The Turrentines’ goal in working with couples is to share how “the vocation of marriage mirrors the relationship of Christ and his bride the Church. It gives the opportunity to witness to an authentically lived life — sharing struggles and triumphs to invite the couple into the story of God’s love — to take their place in God’s unfolding creation.”
Mentoring Young Couples
That witness is what personalizes our teaching of NFP. While we might remind couples that “Natural” Family Planning certainly saves both the environment and individuals from hormonal and other pollutants, it is hearing from those who have practiced it that makes the most impact.
Teaching couples give examples of “lesson-learned” (perhaps before they knew NFP), making it “real” for the couples being instructed. Beyond that, CCL has a tradition of supporting couples through a lifetime of fertility. Couple to Couple League has built-in mentor couples. Now, you can share your chart with just a click by using our app CycleProGO to get a mentor’s help in understanding your cycle.
Contact Katie Zulanas at the Couple to Couple League International at firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback, suggestions or questions.
Those mentor relationships can extend for many years, through many seasons of fertility. This is a great blessing that Couple to Couple League has been given due to our long history. While our main focus has been teaching the 500,000 students the art of NFP, we get to see the “longer” story of our couples.
To many, NFP is foreign, with more than 50% of couples we teach currently contracepting. It is, therefore, heartening to see that 97% of students felt the class gave them a better understanding of their fertility, and 89% stated that the class gave them a better understanding of the Church’s teaching on NFP (see https://ccli.org/fabm-success).
A New Awakening
From this initial class, given the correct information and tools, many couples begin to practice NFP, even if not right away. The seeds of knowledge that didn’t seem important, suddenly make more sense and begin to take root and grow as couples begin to have children or want to better manage their health.
The numbers show us that interest in Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABM) apps extend beyond the Catholic audience. One app, FLO, has had 150 million downloads. The truth is that the damaging narrative that Big Pharma has been promoting about your fertility being a “medical condition” is being turned away from as people are searching for all-natural solutions. The implicit dignity of the human being that FABM provides resonates. It contains a pathway to a happier, healthier and holier life.
Couple to Couple League has made a long-term commitment to supporting couples through a lifetime of fertility with the establishment of our Fertility Science Institute. Beginning with our mother/daughter (and soon father/son) learning area to our Postpartum Place and Perimenopause Area, FSI is designed to be a shared platform that will be the “go-to” place for all things NFP. Each learning area is focused on supporting people at a particular milestone of life — providing videos, downloads and community access.
In addition, we are currently building out our directory of scientifically-based, all-natural method professionals who support the practice of NFP. This includes both instructors of the methods and medical professionals who are knowledgeable or certified in FABM. The recent expansion of telehealth and online meeting tools has made FABM training and support available irrespective of geography — and many times language. While there are language translators available, CCL currently has classes for NFP, including postpartum and perimenopause and personalized coaching, in both English and Spanish.
Couple to Couple League members believe in the calling from Humanae Vitae to “become apostles to other married couples.” Over 50 years, we have joined together to support our diocese and parishes as they help couples discover the gift of Humanae Vitae. Our volunteer teaching couples, like the Reinkemeyers, are now able to teach and mentor couples in-person and online. They continue to help us how to improve our support/tools for local Catholic communities. We recently created a simple website: NaturalPlan.org to make it easy to find classes (in English and Spanish) and supporting resources such as brochures, posters and bulletin announcements. Additionally, CCL has made it easy to find videos and podcasts to support the clergy in the finer points of NFP — from the science to “how to preach about NFP” to access to our help desk at ccli.org/clergy.
As we find ourselves facing the challenges of the new apostolic age, Couple to Couple League is dedicated to supporting our clergy in their work to engender happy, healthy and holy marriages.
Katie Zulanas is the executive director of the Couple to Couple League International CCLI.org and FertilityScienceInstitute.org