Chapter Ten: Choosing Life
by Theresa Notare, PhD
Happiness in life requires courage and work. Happiness comes at a price. Want to play the guitar like a rock star? You will have to take music lessons and practice for hours daily. Want to have a strong, lean body? You will have to eat healthy food and exercise regularly. The list is endless. Hard work and sacrifice are a prerequisite to true, mature happiness.
As people of faith, we know that happiness arises from living a life that is in harmony with God’s will and leads us to fulfill our purpose. Chapter Ten of the catechism for the World Meeting of Families highlights this when it says that: “God made us for a reason… to love as He does” (no. 189). When we “understand that love is our mission,” this truth will “shape many other areas of life” (Ibid.). This can be clearly seen in marriage and family which, when founded on Christ, is a school of love.
The vows in a Catholic marriage speak of the self-gift that the husband and wife make to each other in Christ. This requires “dying to self” as the two put aside “I” to become “we.” Married love, including its sexual expression, is holy. When lived in accord with God’s plan, conjugal love should “reverence God’s vision of human sexuality.” This requires that the couple trust in God’s plan for their marriage, including whether and/or when they are able to have children. It may also ask for courage since Catholic couples will have to reject contraception which does harm to God’s design.
Many married Catholics do not realize the deep happiness that they can have in their marriages when God is at the center of everything. They can express God’s love for one another while they also honor His design, including their sexual lives. Sexual intercourse, as willed by God, is a holy time for husband and wife. It fortifies their union and is the worthy place for receiving new life. Honoring God’s will does not mean that couples can’t regulate the number of children in their families. When they need to postpone or avoid pregnancy, they may continue to honor God’s design by practicing one of the methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP).
NFP methods respect God’s gift of fertility by learning about it in a thoughtful way. No drugs or devices are introduced into the conjugal act; rather, the bodies of both man and woman are fully respected in their life-giving potential, and “listened” to. If a couple needs to avoid a pregnancy they refrain from sex when they are fertile. When they realize that God may be calling them to have a child, because of their knowledge of NFP they would also know the best time to attempt a pregnancy. This, of course, takes study and practice (most NFP methods require charting the signs of fertility). All NFP methods also require self-discipline since periodic sexual abstinence is the NFP means to avoid pregnancy. This can be very difficult, but it is doable with the help of grace and the habit of self-discipline which is common to all virtues.
When couples persevere in learning and using NFP, they reap many benefits. All NFP methods are effective for both attempting to achieve or avoid pregnancy. They are also good for the body since no devices or drugs are used. In fact, NFP methods are the “organic” way to live with human fertility—they do not pollute the environment. Most importantly, NFP methods teach married couples to understand their bodies and to communicate with each other about their fertility and their relationship. These conversations can foster deeper couple communication that can improve their relationships. NFP research confirms this benefit showing that NFP couples feel respected by their spouses. NFP helps married couples commit to real happiness—the deep happiness of living life according to God’s plan!
About the author
Theresa Notare, PhD, is the Assistant Director of the Natural Family Planning Program in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1657.
 Committee for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Human Sexuality from God’s Perspective, Humanae vitae 25 Years Later,” (1993); available at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/catholic-teaching/upload/Human-Sexuality-from-God-s-Perspective-Humanae-Vitae-25-Years-Later.pdf.
 L. VandeVusse, L. Hanson, R. J. Fehring, A. Newman, J. Fox, “Couples’ views of the effects of natural family planning on marital dynamics,” Journal of Nursing Scholarship 35, no. 2 (2003):171-176.
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