Recently I was considering what my primary responsibility to my wife is as her husband. Is it helping out with the dishes? Folding the laundry? Taking out the trash?
The nearest thing I could come up with is that, although all of those things are helpful and contribute to running the household, in the end, the prime responsibility of any husband is to get his wife to Heaven, just like the prime responsibility of any father is to do the same for his children. As husbands, we can do this by supporting our wives in efforts to grow in holiness. We can help keep our wives oriented toward God. And we can do this by pouring ourselves out for them; making a total gift of ourselves in the model of Christ's sacrifice for his bride, the church, so that our family life is an image of the Holy Trinity.
As much as I would love to say that my wife and I were dedicated and fully understood chastity while we courted and in the early days of our marriage, I must admit we were not as saintly as we could have been. We were lucky that we didn't live together before the wedding day because we were under the impression that chastity equaled abstinence and not living together definitely helped us in our pursuit of that which we misunderstood.
We started to really understand what chastity meant after we went to a presentation at our parish about the Theology of the Body. I learned, much to my surprise, that even as a married man, I was expected to be chaste. Chastity is about having a 'pure vision' of others, including your spouse, and not about struggling with some mechanical battle of the wills with your libido. Chastity is about seeing the whole person and wanting to give your all in self-donation to them. This is in opposition to lust, which sees the other person, possibly including your spouse, as simply a body from which you take your satisfaction.
My wife and I were married in 2005 however, before we understood chastity. And like most newly married (or not married) couples our age, we were using artificial contraception.....the PILL!!! Once we had an understanding of chastity, and of God's plan for marriage, we were then entrusted with more responsibility to appreciate it and I started to feel a tiny thorn begin poking into my side. I knew the Catholic Church teaching on contraception, it was a big, fat, N-O!
But we all know why they teach that, right? They just want more Catholics, more butts in the pews means more money in the collection plate, right?
Well, that was easy to believe until I read 'Humanae Vitae', a 1968 encyclical from Pope Paul VI which basically reads like the history of the ills of artificial contraception and the damage it would do to society, except that it was written before it all happened. Pope Paul VI predicted an increase in marital infidelity, a loosening of morals, a decrease in men's reverence of women, reducing them to “mere instruments for the satisfaction of their own desires” and had warnings about the use of contraceptives by government authorities and giving them “the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife”.
Beyond these predictions, is the fact that the church's teaching is not leading to butts in the pews, it is doing the opposite. Yet the teaching authorities of the church, still stand by it. This is either an organization bent on colossal failure, or faithful enough to believe it is guided by the Holy Spirit.
So I was feeling a desire to follow God's plan for our marriage and ditch the 'pill', but I didn't talk to my wife about it because I knew that although she felt the same way, she was scared. Well, I thought, it's her body after all, who am I to say? This argument is just as lame as when they say men shouldn't have an opinion on abortion because they don't have uteri. In the end, I realized it was just a cop out because I was scared too. But it was a moot point, because by then, my wife was ready.
It happened when our Pastor at the time, Father Gary, said a homily about the rich young man from the gospel. He talked about how the rich young man went away from Jesus sad because he knew there was that one thing he could not let go of to follow Christ. “What is your 'one thing?” was the general message and my wife decided, for her, it was the pill.
The Catholic hospital in our area had a class to learn the Creighton method of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and so we signed up to learn. If you've never had an experience like this, I recommend it, sort of. Go out with your spouse, and tell family and friends that you are going to learn about NFP. You will hear a lot of baby stories! “Oh, natural family planning, that's how we had Geoffrey!” “Oh, the rhythm method, that's what we were using when our second daughter was born. That's why we named her Surprise!”
Well, the science behind NFP has definitely improved since the 'rhythm method' days. And as I learned in our class, when properly used, NFP is as effective as artificial birth control. I learned a lot more in that class too. I learned way more than I ever thought I would about a woman's cycle. Though I must admit, some of it was kind of, well, eeeeeewwww, I am amazed at what a woman's body does. I put it this way, a woman's fertility, her hormones, chemicals, fluids and their timing, are like a Beethoven symphony while a man's fertility process is like an AC/DC song. If you ever want to be truly amazed and certain that love, sex and conception are all gifts from God, tied together with a special purpose, learn about Natural Family Planning.
That was in the Fall of 2006 and since then we have used NFP, along with prayerful consideration, to space our children and conceive our children. A great benefit of NFP is that it tracks fertility instead of suppressing it. This means that it can be used both to avoid and to achieve pregnancy. As a matter of fact, one of the things that amazed me most about our NFP journey is when we were trying to conceive our second child and we were not successful. My wife called a doctor who was trained in the Creighton method and sent our tracking charts to him. They had an hour long conversation on the phone and by looking at our tracking and observations, he made some suggestions for my wife to change her diet. One month later, our second daughter was on the way. There were no chemicals involved, no harmful side-effects, no government entity fighting about co-pays. He recommended some changes to her diet and some natural supplements and that was it. (I need to express here, that it doesn't always work out that easily. I have known other couples for whom NFP has not been so effective. I feel I need to honor them here a bit too, because their journey has been difficult and it illustrates that nothing is 100%. They are in our prayers always.)
The physical benefits of NFP are one thing, but the emotional and spiritual benefits also surprised me. Natural Family Planning involves a husband intimately in his wife's fertility and requires a deep level of communication between spouses. If used to avoid pregnancy, the couple finds new ways to express their love for each other, making the 'little' things truly matter. The fact that we were now journeying together toward God's plan for marriage and growing together in holiness strengthened our bond with each other. But the greatest benefit was that we were drawing God closer into our life together, our marriage, our family. I heard it said once that artificial birth control is like sending God an 'un-invitation' to your wedding. If that is so, then using Natural Family Planning is like inviting God into your marriage, thanking Him for your sexuality and respecting the way He created it. It deepens a couple's love by leaving that space for God. And we all know that when we invite God in and let Him touch our lives, he gives us Bounty! Beyond! Belief!