I was visiting with a priest the other day, and he was expressing his frustration over his parish’s negative response to his efforts to promote natural family planning.
My heart went out to him. Here is a priest who, although admittedly a bit uncomfortable with the topic himself, is reaching beyond himself to shepherd his flock. Not because the Pope told him to, not because he’s on a power trip, and not because he’s interested in prying into the sex lives of his parishioners.
Our priests speak to us about NFP because they care about us. Because the “body expresses the person”, because we can only “find ourselves through a sincere gift of self”, because the marital embrace is a reflection of the Holy Trinity–and because our sexuality is about so much more than sex. (see Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Saint Pope John Paul II)
Some may say that priests know nothing about married life, that they are in no position to speak to a married couple about abstinence. The irony of this was summed up perfectly the day I heard an older priest declare from the pulpit, “I’ve been abstaining for the last 80 years!” In fact, priests know about directing their sexuality into its proper context better than any of us. They have already completely given themselves to God and become a sign of what awaits us in our heavenly home.
“When the call to continence [celibacy] ‘for the kingdom of heaven’ finds an echo in the human soul, in the conditions of temporality and thus in the conditions under which persons ‘take a wife and take a husband’ (Luke 20:34), it is not difficult to perceive a particular sensibility of the human spirit that seems to anticipate, already in the conditions of temporality, what man will share in the future resurrection.” (Theology of the Body 73:1)
This is why our priests should serve as an inspiration to married couples. They are our example for how to direct our love rightly towards God and towards the sacramental nature of our vocation. For priests and other consecrated religious, this means celibacy. For married couples, this means God is front and center in the bedroom.
My husband and I have invited God into our bedroom since the beginning of our marriage. But the truth is, even if we hadn’t consciously invited Him, He would still be there. You cannot separate the Creator from His creation. And many surprised couples will tell you that, no matter what they did, His plan still overrided their own. He still finds ways to show us that the unitive aspect of marriage cannot be separated from the procreative.
By using natural family planning, my husband and I have learned to work with God rather than against Him. We’ve learned to always leave the door unlocked for Him–and to be okay with that. My body still functions in the way God intended, and every month gives us a fresh opportunity to work with God’s cycle–both physically and spiritually. It’s beautiful, it feels right. It’s also challenging and frustrating. But it is within those challenges and frustrations that my husband and I learn to give a little more, control a little less, and love like there’s no tomorrow.
And the only way we started on this beautifully messy journey of NFP was through the words of the Church, her teachers, and her priests.
Our priests bring us Jesus on the altar, mercy in the confessional, and anointing at the end of our earthly lives. And they can show us how to bring God into our bedrooms, too. Be open. Listen. Let God into the most intimate corners of your heart, and into the most intimate room in your home. It will be the best thing you’ve ever done.