Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realised in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society.” Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 292
It is the most amazingly wonderful privilege to become a parent. As husband and wife, God has given us the opportunity to share in His creative work and has entrusted to us these little ones’ lives. I like to think that God doesn’t mind if children grow up in a home that is a bit messy, a little chaotic and most certainly noisy, as long as He Himself is at the heart of the home and Love is the motivation of all that we do and say.
‘Love’ is often diminished in our society and is sometimes taken to be synonymous with sex. When we stop to consider it for a moment, of course we see that love is way more than sex and, sadly, we know that sex may not necessarily include love. The Catholic Church is sometimes accused of being down on sex but I see that the exact opposite is true! From where I stand, I see that the Church values human sexuality much more highly than our secular society. The Church has had the courage to continue to teach that sexual intercourse is intrinsically linked with procreation (i.e. ‘sex makes babies’) and that a marriage is the only place suitable for conjugal love, since by promising to love each other until death parts them, married couples can provide the stability and security that children deserve.
In marriage, it is the bride and groom who confer the sacrament on each other. We make promises which, quite frankly, would be impossible to keep without the grace of God! In our promise to love, we promise to give ourselves to each other completely, not holding anything back.
Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realised in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.”
As St John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio 11:
So, far from regarding conjugal love as something to be looked down upon, the Church recognises that it is something so special that it ‘concerns the innermost being of the human person’ and deserves that committed context of marriage for its expression.”
In Familiaris Consortio, St John Paul also wrote that ‘the total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present.’ The Sacrament of Marriage commits a couple to each other for as long as they both shall live: I’m not saying to my husband, yes I give myself to you today and for the next few years probably, but maybe not in the future, if you lose your hair and grow a big fat beer belly. Similarly, in the Sacrament of Marriage, the couple commit to each other entirely, without keeping anything back, so if, for example, a husband or wife withholds fertility, then he or she would not be giving totally.
It is surprising how many women are unaware of their bodies’ natural fertility; how to recognise signs of fertility or infertility. Natural Fertility Awareness methods not only teach couples how a woman’s fertility works, but also how to recognise the different stages of ones fertility cycle and then how to use that knowledge to help conceive or avoid conception. There is an implicit closeness between a couple who use fertility awareness and a very real sense of shared responsibility (rather than it being the responsibility of only one person as is the case with many methods of artificial contraception). And if you need another reason to give it a go, you might like to know that according to a study cited here, divorce rates among those who use natural methods of fertility awareness are 2 in 1000, which is more than five times lower than among couples who use contraception! I can appreciate that if you’ve never thought about Fertility Awareness, it might seem like a daunting prospect to trust your own judgement about whether or not you are fertile: I remember back to our marriage and thinking ‘I hope this works, because I really need to get through my PGCE and NQT year’! I’d urge you, though, to have a good look at the websites listed below and be brave: live an authentic marriage that is open to love and open to life.
Engage – a resource for marriage preparation
Smartloving.org – there is a section on fertility awareness and sex
Total Gift of Self booklet – they can be purchased, with accompanying DVD – from SmartLoving too
Natural fertility matters – Creighton Method
The Couple to Couple League provide NFP teaching