The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning.
Enlightened by Scripture, the Catholic Church considers the family to be at the heart of God’s plan, standing at the foundation of life of the human person. A healthy family is an ‘intimate communion of life and love,’ the first natural society into which children are born and grow. As the principle place of interpersonal relationships, it is in the family that children learn their first and most important lessons. Healthy marriage and family life make a unique contribution to the wellbeing of the individuals themselves, to the life of the Church, and as a force for good in society as a whole. As the principle place of interpersonal relationships, it is in the family that children learn their first and most important lessons, in practical wisdom, virtue, social responsibility and solidarity. Jesus himself was born and lived in a family, accepting all its characteristic features. He confers the highest dignity on marriage: “In the beginning God made them male and female. Man has now to leave father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one body, so that they are no longer two but one body; let no-one separate what God has joined’ (Mt 19:4-6). The Church respects the natural right to marriage, with its characteristics of total self-giving, personal, physical and spiritual unity; fidelity and fruitfulness.
The sacrament of mutual, exclusive, lifelong commitment that is marriage graces couples as they journey together in love, faith and hope. Family and community share responsibility for preparing couples for marriage and walking with them on their lifelong project of commitment to love and care for each other, in a fruitful relationship until death. The church therefore offers preparation for marriage, and opportunities for sustaining and deepening the couple’s relationship, as well as providing appropriate counselling, support and signposting for families when things go wrong.
Responsible parenthood will often involve planning when to have children, God willing, and the Catholic Church believes that this should not be by means of contraception that places a barrier between the partners, or that suppresses the healthy working of the body to make the act infertile.
These actions undermine the full human meaning of sexuality and raise other medical and moral questions that should not be overlooked: the long term health implications they may have for women and the serious impact they seem to be having on the environment. In addition to this, some chemical contraceptives do not operate only by preventing contraception, but also work by preventing those embryos that are occasionally conceived from implanting. The need for effective family planning requires a different and more radical approach.
The Catholic Church advocates a reliable knowledge of the cycle of female fertility and a willingness to agree to abstain from sexual union at certain times. The last twenty years have seen great improvements in this area and Natural Family Planning is now regarded by respected medical authorities as being highly effective for those who are instructed by trained teachers and who are strongly motivated.
Contact your local Coordinator of Marriage and Family Life Ministry