Door-to-door seminarians

Marion Fernandez-Cueto did a terrific job synthesizing Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium in the latest issue of Family Foundations, drawing out 10 thought-provoking guidelines for evangelization. They ring throughout this story of faith sharing, a column I wrote in 2013, especially this statement from the Holy Father: “We need to develop a broad and profound sensitivity to what really affects other people’s lives (EG155). What has helped you to live and given you hope is what you also need to communicate to others (EG121).”

-Christina Ries, assistant editor of Family Foundations


Door-to-door seminarian finding new roads

door knockerGoing door to door to tell strangers about Catholicism and his plan to become a priest had to be the most daunting assignment Neil Bakker had ever received.

The 34-year-old from Austin, Minn., had never done anything like it – never gone door to door to sell coupon books or magazine subscriptions, let alone the Catholic Church. Before he entered seminary, the self-described introvert had worked in IT.

Yet there he was, a broad-shouldered 6’6” with a youthful face and a neatly trimmed goatee, staring down a long block, sweating in the summer heat and feeling totally unprepared. It was Neil’s first week participating in “Evangelization in Action,” a new program of The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, Minn., that enlists seminarians to study evangelization in the morning and practice it by evening. Neil and two other seminarians were asked to pound the pavement around a small parish in an old suburb, and they started on an adjacent street to the east.

The men took turns leading the conversation, a role that fell to Neil when they approached a red two-story house on the corner. A brunette Baby Boomer appeared, staying behind the screen door as she sized up the seminarians. She had been a member of the parish but was no longer Catholic, she said.

It almost sounded like a case-closed comment, but there was something in her voice that lacked finality. Neil stumbled through the script he’d been running in his mind until she interjected, signaling to the kitchen where she’d been making dinner.

“I’m forcing this,” he thought. He decided to ditch the script, look her in the eyes and ask why she’d left the church.

The question hung in the air a moment – honest, earnest. Decades ago the parish priest had made a comment she found offensive. It compelled her to leave the church.

“No one ever called,” she told Neil. “I just disappeared, and they didn’t care.”

She kept talking, Neil kept listening, and then she opened the screen door and stepped outside. Standing on the front stoop with Neil on the walkway below her, the two were eye level.

“I found the best thing I could do,” Neil told me, “was apologize and say, ‘I’m sorry that the priest said what he said. I’ll learn his lesson for him.’”

Those simple words unlocked her. To know her wounds were recognized and would go toward a future good was powerful. A wrong, at last, had been righted.

The conversation continued for half an hour. She’d been attending a Methodist church, but when they got to discussing the Catholic sacraments, Neil sensed a yearning in her, a wistfulness. “God loves you,” he told her, “and he’s always inviting you back into his church.”

The woman didn’t reclaim Catholicism on the spot, but Neil imagines that she feels less hurt when she looks out her back window at the steeple and bell that once drew her in. He prays for her often. The rest he leaves to God.

One in three Americans raised Catholic leaves the church. Neil wants to invite them back and help with the healing. He is challenged by Pope Francis’ call to action issued in his recent interview with Jesuit publications. “Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent,” Pope Francis said. “The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”

Santo Subito at Last!

pope-john-paul-II-250My co-workers and I are very excited about the canonization of Blessed John Paul II on Sunday. My DVR is already set for 4:00 am EST. I remember watching coverage of his funeral. People cried, “Santo subito! Santo subito! [Saint now],” as St. Peter’s Square busted far beyond its seams. So it will again on Sunday as an expected 7 million people gather to see this great man proclaimed a saint.

The question JPII sought to answer during his life was this: What does it mean to be human? The question of questions! Are we not a mystery to ourselves? Yet, the work of JPII unveils more than a bit of the mystery. There were so many things I didn’t understand about God and man until I learned about Theology of the Body. I didn’t understand what it meant to be created in the image of God. I didn’t understand the true nature of love; moreover that it is my primary vocation. I had a superficial understanding of femininity that was limited to wearing dresses and being dainty. And I certainly didn’t understand the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and sexuality.

My experience mirrors many of the couples we teach in our NFP classes. Fortunately, JPII has given us a language—the language of the body—which provides a background for understanding and appreciating the sacrament of marriage and the practice of NFP. Whether couples have been exposed to the teachings of the TOB previously or are hearing them in our class for the first time, JPII’s work is an integral part of the success of our mission. In his encyclical letter Fides Et Ratio JPII wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth…” Similarly, CCL believes Theology of the Body and NFP are two components inexorably linked to bring about a culture of life.

CCL thanks God for the life of John Paul II and looks forward to seeing the fruit of his work for years to come. Pope Saint John Paul the Great, pray for us!

– Sarah Drew

CCL Celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph

StJosephToday CCL joins the Church in celebrating the life of St. Joseph. It is only fitting that our volunteers chose St. Joseph to be among our patron saints. He is the model for husbands, fathers, and all men, having lived a life of humility and authentic masculinity.

In contrast to Jesus, who is perfect by nature, and Mary, who is perfect by grace, St. Joseph was an ordinary man. Yet, God chose St. Joseph for the extraordinary task of protecting and providing for the Mother of God and the Son of God. This was an uncertain and even dangerous mission at times. We admire St. Joseph because in spite of any fear, confusion, or struggle he placed his complete trust in God.

Like Mary, St. Joseph continually gave his yes to God. What is exceptional is that unlike Mary, St. Joseph never saw an angel with his own two eyes. He was never overshadowed by the Most High. He was given dreams, yes—but dreams are easily dismissed. Instead, St. Joseph did not ignore the call of the Lord. He didn’t need to be reminded or nudged. He acted.

St. Joseph exercised his strength in the service of God by doing His will, and for his family through his presence and hard work. This same strength afforded a chastity that did not limit his ability to love; rather it fueled his ability to love Mary rightly and be a good father to Jesus.

Today we thank St. Joseph for his prayers and intercession for CCL. With his guidance may we continue to use our gifts in service of marriage and the family. St. Joseph, pray for us!

Prayers to St. Joseph

– Sarah Drew, CCL

Interview with president

How 1Flesh makes NFP cool was founded in 2012 by a group of college students who felt compelled to introduce more people to natural methods of family planning through dynamic social-media outreach and the tagline “Bring Sexy Back.”

Marie-Claire Reer, 23, a newlywed living in Austin and a graduate of CCL’s home-study course, serves as president of 1Flesh. She took time to brief Family Foundations’ Assistant Editor Christina Ries on the popular site, which generates several thousand views a week.

Describe the general approach 1Flesh takes to promoting NFP.

Because 1Flesh believes natural methods are an exciting idea worth sharing, we actively bring fertility awareness content to digital spaces where young adults are already engaged. We’re active on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and share our materials through graphics, GIFs, memes, tweets, blog posts and videos. Everything we share is backed by academic resources.

1Flesh focuses primarily on the benefits of natural family planning. We strive to present these benefits to the public in a way that transcends the contentious debate that often surrounds women’s health. Often, those who practice natural family planning promote it in the spirit of moral opposition to contraception. This practice has the potential to alienate those seeking non-religiously and non-politically tainted information.

1Flesh wants to provide educational materials for those seeking their best options in family planning. Women should be able to look at their options in a safe, non-judgmental environment. We want to invite people to consider what we and many doctors, couples and women believe to be the best option in family planning.

Do you have a certain target demographic?

In short, we are targeting women, men, and couples who do not use NFP. Most people have not been given the opportunity to understand its benefits and many have not even heard of it. 1Flesh believes that natural family planning can offer benefits for all women across religious and political affiliation.

Have you heard from anyone who tried NFP because of your site?

Yes! We get messages daily from couples and women with questions about NFP who want to know more and also from NFP users sharing their stories. We have even received many emails from women who started taking natural family planning classes after visiting our website!

Tell me about the thought process behind your tagline “Bring Sexy Back.”

We chose the tagline because we believe embracing a woman’s natural fertility cycle is, quite simply, sexy. In fact, natural sex is sexy. Natural family planning has no negative consequences on a person’s sex drive, hormonal levels or sexual pleasure. A woman’s natural sexuality and fertility cycle should not be hindered or altered in order to meet her needs.

If a couple is not in the position to have children, they should not have to compromise their bodies, and therefore the fullness of sex, in order to postpone pregnancy when needed. By promoting effective, natural methods of family planning, 1Flesh wishes to empower women to understand and work with their own fertility in a way that includes their natural, healthy sexuality.

GoslingI love the graphics section! The Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” meme is so great.

Different 1Flesh leaders contribute different graphics, and we’re always open to submissions from our community. Graphics have incredible reach, especially on social media, where we often receive thousands of “likes” and hundreds of “shares” on a single image promoting fertility awareness.

Tell me about your university chapters.

We currently have six university chapters and are hoping for three new chapters in 2014. If any students are interested in starting a 1Flesh chapter at their school, they should feel free to contact us!

We have yet to fully integrate our university chapters with our mission, but already students have printed off 1Flesh material and handed them out at various “Sex Weeks” on campus. Other students have hosted NFP teachers to speak on their campus. We look forward to providing our university chapters with more materials in the near future.

Have you received backlash from any feminist groups? Do you consider any publicity good publicity?

No, I do not believe any publicity is good publicity. Thus far, however, we have not had any backlash from feminist groups. In fact, part of our promotion of 1Flesh is that natural methods are made for women. 1Flesh believes that women have a right to better options in family planning, and most feminists would agree. This has become increasingly true as many feminist circles have recognized the potential dangers of contraceptive devices on women’s health.

If being a feminist means wanting better or more for women, then 1Flesh is a feminist organization. Natural family planning, in our opinion, is by far the most pro-women option in family planning out there. Women should not have to potentially alter their bodies, risk their health or give up the fullness and enjoyment of sex in order to meet their needs. Fertility awareness does not ask her to do this but rather to embrace her power as woman.

I see that the Huffington Post’s Emma Gray wrote a critical, misinformed piece about 1Flesh. Was this frustrating?

Emma Gray’s article was partly misinformed and clearly coming from a defensive position. I cannot say, however, that her article frustrates me. She focused much more on 1Flesh’s disagreement with the use of contraception than on the beautiful option of fertility awareness that 1Flesh wants to present to society.

Additionally, the article was written back in 2012. At the time, 1Flesh was more focused on arguing against the use of contraception than promoting natural family planning as an effective, positive alternative. 1Flesh’s priorities have since changed. Many couples may not be in a position to have children and their concerns and needs should be respected. I cannot blame these couples for acting defensively when they believe their livelihood is under attack. Instead, we should present better options non-judgmentally. Natural family planning addresses a couple’s need for effective family planning and also gives them added benefits.

1Flesh has made a much more conscious effort over the last year to ensure that what we present to the public are solid facts, not mere potential causes from correlation. This makes it harder to get into sidetrack debates on sexual health and would make Emma Gray’s article much harder to write today.

On the flip side, have you received criticism from traditional groups for being too edgy?  

We have not received much criticism for being too edgy. We have, however, received criticism for not focusing on the moral reasons the Catholic Church supports NFP. We do not give much focus on the openness to children as gifts from God. While we do agree that openness to potential life within sex is important, our target demographic is not made up of devout Catholics who already use and support NFP. Nor is our target demographic those who opt to never use any method of family planning. We are trying to reach women, men and couples who need a better option in family planning and we need to address their concerns. These couples are generally concerned about NFP’s effectiveness, their health and economic benefit, their impact on the environment, their relationships and their lifestyle.

Our content generally focuses on these points. We pray that by embracing the power of their fertility, their God-given ability to create life, our audience will develop a deeper openness to God’s will and to children through their own free will.



Women’s magazines – Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

Verily-coverVerily has broken new ground in women’s magazines, and we were grateful for our chance to feature Verily’s co-founder Janet Sahm in the March/April 2014 issue of Family Foundations. But, evidently, it hasn’t been an easy road.

Weeks after our interview, and just as our issue was about to be mailed, Verily subscribers received this message from the editor:

We started Verily with the simple idea that women’s magazines could be a positive, uplifting experience. And publishing Verily has largely been just that. The editors and I have been thrilled with the tremendous reception of Verily, from coverage on the Huffington Post & The Queen Latifah Show to your heartfelt notes of gratitude. It has been a joy to publish each issue.

As you might suspect, a print publication is also an expensive undertaking that requires significant financial resources to become profitable. While we have had tremendous growth in our subscriptions, we were unable to secure the necessary funding to support the publication of future print issues. Therefore, it is with sadness that we must announce that we cannot currently continue to publish Verily as a print magazine.

While this means we must take a break from the print publication for now, we are excited to continue bringing you our unique and quality content at We at Verily will continue to do what we set out to do—be a resource for women to celebrate the best of who they are. All the fashion, relationships, culture, and lifestyle content you’ve come to love will now all be online—and in greater abundance—just a few clicks away. We’ll also be working on other ways to grow the Verily experience, so stay tuned for what’s in store!

This is frustrating, not because we just featured the magazine to our readers but because the magazine has been so refreshingly wonderful! The issues they did produce have all been uplifting, positive and beautifully designed, which together reflected the dignity of their readers in an inspiring way – unlike any other women’s magazine on the newsstand.

It’s good to hear they are continuing their mission in an online format for now as they strive to find funding to go back to print.

What do you think about women’s magazines? Is Verily something you would like to have in hand for either yourself or your daughters?


Part 5: Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Is it still relevant?

Part 5: Dissenters and Living Martyrs

Bob & Gerri Laird

paulvi-e1309644693333-445x181This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The final installment of this series honors those clergy who stood up in the face of dissent.

History is worth repeating. On the 25th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, a story[1] of the courage and humility of Archbishop J. Francis Stafford described the surrounding days, weeks, months, and years after Humanae Vitae. On the 40th Anniversary, Cardinal Stafford updated the original story[2]. It is obvious that dissenters are still among us. Acceptance of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs are the norm among large elements of the clergy and laity within the Catholic Church, and religious freedom can no longer be taken for granted. On this 45th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, it is worthwhile to re-consider the impact of the dissenters and the charitable response by today’s living martyrs.

Humanae Vitae was issued on July 25, 1968, and on July 30th, rebellious clergy had gathered over 200 signatures from prominent theologians and Catholics on a petition of dissent that was published in the New York Times. It was a “pivotal day in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.”

A week later, Father J. Francis Stafford was invited to attend a meeting in the basement of a rectory in Baltimore with 54 of his fellow priests. “The meeting was led by several priests from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and some local diocesan priests. Each attendee was asked to sign a statement of dissent that would be published the next day in the Baltimore Sun. The leader of the group, a former marine and a master of persuasion and intimidation, ’minced no words of his expectations’ of the group. There would be no time for discussion. They were to sign on the dotted line. One after another signed. Finally, this young priest was all that stood in the way of a document of unanimity. He stood firm. He didn’t sign. He said to his fellow priests that he didn’t sign for two reasons: (1) he had not read the document (and he also noted that none in the room, including the leaders of the group, had read it), and (2) he agreed with Pope Paul VI.

“The leader of the dissenters tried several times, using strong, coercive tactics and verbal abuse, to change the mind of this priest. None of his fellow priests came to his defense. Rather than the scorecard reading 55 to 0. It was 54 to one.

“A victim of tactics familiar to the counterinsurgency operations taking place at the time in Vietnam, this priest continued to find himself, and others like him, isolated and verbally abused. But as time passed, their allegiance to the Holy Father and the Church grew stronger. Within the Catholic Church, though, a major division was created which continues today. As he moved from Baltimore, where he became an auxiliary bishop, and then to Memphis, Tenn., and finally to his [next] archdiocese, he found that this isolation and dissent continued.”[3] The tactics were the same: abusive, coercive, judgmental, closed to the teaching authority of the Church, and increasingly abstract about the teaching of the Church.

Now, 45 years later, we continue to honor and thank those faithful priests, bishops, and theologians who, during those dark days of the summer of 1968, defended our Church and Her teachings, and still persevere today. God in His mercy and justice seemed to provide. This young priest from Baltimore later became a bishop, an archbishop, and a cardinal.

There are other faithful priests who, like Stafford, have equally moving stories about their defense of the Holy Father and the Church since 1968. All are living martyrs for the abuse they have withstood and continue to withstand defending the Church.

“The summer of 1968 is a record of God’s hottest hour. The memories are not forgotten; they are painful. They remain vivid like a tornado in the plains of Colorado. They inhabit the whirlwind where God’s wrath dwells. In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church.

“. . . Ecclesial dissent can become a kind of spiritual violence in its form and content.  A new, unsettling insight emerged. Violence and truth don’t mix. When expressive violence of whatever sort is inflicted upon truth, the resulting irony is lethal.

“. . . But that night was not a total loss. The test was unexpected and unwelcome. Its unhinging consequences continue. Abusive, coercive dissent has become a reality in the Church and subjects her to violent, debilitating, unproductive, chronic controversies.  But I did discover something new.  Others also did. When the moment of Christian witness came, no Christian could be coerced who refused to be.   Despite the novelty of being treated as an object of shame and ridicule, I did not become ‘ashamed of the Gospel’ that night and found ‘sweet delight in what is right.’ It was not a bad lesson. Ecclesial obedience ran the distance.

“. . . Paradoxically, in the hot, August night a new sign shown unexpectedly on the path to future life. It read, ‘Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.’ The violence of the initial disobedience was only a prelude to further and more pervasive violence. Priests wept at meetings over the manipulation of their brothers. Contempt for the truth, whether aggressive or passive, has become common in Church life.  Dissenting priests, theologians and laypeople have continued their coercive techniques.  From the beginning the press has used them to further its own serpentine agenda.”[4]

The liberal revolution against authority in the 60s and 70s touched both clergy and lay people alike. Today some clerics don’t discuss the subject because they either don’t understand it or are afraid that it will offend the congregation. Parents don’t want to discuss it with their children because they, themselves, contracept and/or are sterilized. One can’t teach what one doesn’t practice. Many pro-life organizations will adamantly oppose abortion, but take no stand on the use of contraception, sterilization, or abortion-inducing drugs.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap., points out that the contraception dispute is “not merely a dispute about how to regulate family size, rather, at root, it’s a dispute about the very meaning of life and the essence of marriage. . . Much is at stake here – the authentic realization of our humanity and the survival of the Catholic family in the third millennium.”[5]

Dissent against the Church teachings delineated in Humanae Vitae  (as well as in other Church documents) has set the stage for the current attacks against religious liberty since Catholic public dissenters are now in the highest positions of government as Vice President, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. These same individuals support “same sex marriage” and the dissolution of marriage as we know it today. They have created the “perfect storm” by joining forces demanding mandatory free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. Under the guise of human rights, these dissenters are contracepting and sterilizing future generations of Americans out of existence. Chaput and Stafford were right.

Archbishop Stafford was asked by the Holy Father in 1996 to leave Denver and become President of the Pontifical Council of the Laity and then raised to the rank of a Cardinal. He retired in 2012. He concludes his story of five years ago by stating that not much has changed.[6] He recalls a subsequent meeting with the ex-Marine priest.

“While my mind and heart were recalling the events of the night, he remained silent. His silence continued afterwards. Even though he had not forgotten, he made no comment. He didn’t lift his eyes. His heart’s fire was colder now.

“Nothing was forthcoming. I left the matter there. No dialogue was possible in 1968; it remained impossible in 1978. There was no common ground. Both of us were looking into an abyss – from opposite sides. Anguish and disquiet overwhelmed the distant hope of reconciliation and friendship.  We never returned to the subject again.  He has since died while serving a large suburban parish.  The only remaining option is to strike my breast and pray, ‘Lord, remember the secret worth of all our human worthlessness’.

“Diocesan presbyterates have not recovered from the July/August nights in 1968.  Many in consecrated life also failed the evangelical test. …[T]he abyss has opened up elsewhere. The whole people of God, including children and adolescents, now must look into the abyss and see what dread beasts are at its bottom. Each of us shudders before the wrath of God, each weeps in sorrow for our sins and each begs for the Father’s merciful remembrance of Christ’s obedience.”[7]

 *    *    *

Bob and Gerri Laird have been a certified NFP teaching couple for the Couple to Couple League since 1984, and have written and spoken extensively on numerous topics related to family life, such as marital intimacy, natural family planning, parenting, chastity, post-abortion healing, reframing the abortion debate, and the HHS Mandate. 


[1]Bob Laird, “Living Martyrs,” Arlington Catholic Herald, August 5, 1993, 5.

[3]Laird, “Living Martyrs.”

[5] Bob Laird, “’Humanae Vitae’ – on Marriage and Family – at 30,” Arlington Catholic Herald, July 23, 1998, 3.


Part 4: Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Is it still relevant?

Part 4: Natural Family Planning…a loving response

Bob & Gerri Laird

paulvi-e1309644693333-445x181This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Part 4 of this series explores Natural Family Planning.


What is the role of Natural Family Planning (NFP) with regard to HV?

Humanae Vitae encourages married couples to understand when they are fertile and infertile.

“If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.”[1]

Blessed John Paul II reiterated the importance of NFP and made it an apostolate, “a tool for all to use on the path to holiness.”[2]

“The necessary conditions (for marriage) also include knowledge of the bodily aspect and the body’s rhythms of fertility.  Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors, and experts.”[3]

NFP is good because it does not treat a person as a thing or machine by altering a major, healthy, functioning part of the body.

Why NFP but not contraception? What is the difference?

Contraception alters a major, healthy, functioning part of the body, causing the reproductive system to malfunction, temporarily or permanently. On the other hand, NFP reveals externally what is occurring within a woman’s reproductive system internally. NFP is knowledge; it helps to read the language of the sexual powers and does not interfere with a couple’s fertility. Spouses do not change their bodies; rather, they change their behavior and choose to refrain from sexual intimacy during the fertile days when postponing a pregnancy. NFP does not control fertility; it enables a couple to control their behavior and thus grow in the virtue of self-control.

The reason NFP is moral and contraception is not – when they both have the same ends – can be difficult to see. But only with NFP are a husband and wife able to give a complete self-gift to the other. Every time they have relations, they give themselves completely as they are at that moment according to God’s design. Controlling one’s natural desires and sacrificing them for the sake of the spouse or family is a noble act. But engaging in the marital act and thwarting the natural design of such intimacy to serve one’s own purpose is selfish, and thus is a completely different act.

It is difficult for a married couple to act responsibly if they are unaware of the truth.  Many couples are unaware that the wife is temporarily, or permanently, infertile until they learn how to read their fertility signs through NFP. How can they make decisions about having a child if they have no knowledge of whether or not the wife is fertile and ovulating regularly?  Furthermore, it is a fallacy to think that NFP is only used to avoid pregnancy; rather, there are numerous couples whose understanding of NFP led them to a greater openness to children, and thus to greater generosity in other aspects of their lives as well.

But does NFP work?

NFP is knowledge.  When properly taught and understood, NFP reveals externally what is occurring within a woman’s reproductive system internally.  Charting the signs that occur throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle often unveils problems that need to be addressed in order for her body to function properly.  NFP is definitely working because it is alerting a woman that her system is not operating correctly.  It is the body that isn’t working properly; not the NFP.

There is nothing more frustrating than confused fertility signs.  NFP teachers need to be available to assist women/couples who are experiencing difficulties in reading and/or interpreting their signs, and women/couples should feel free to seek their advice and expertise beyond the completion of the course.

With proper education and the availability of NFP teachers for follow-up, NFP does work; it reveals whether or not a woman’s reproductive system is functioning properly.  But it is up to each woman (and her spouse) to follow this knowledge with actions that will improve her health. NFP is much more than just biology and physiology.  The knowledge of NFP is incomplete if it is not accompanied by a proper understanding of what it means to be a human person and how to act in accordance with our nature as human persons.

Marriage is about love.  Love is a decision – giving for the good of the other.  As images of God, we are called to reflect His love within marriage as well.  This means dying to self.  Each spouse must choose to give himself/herself as a permanent gift to the other.  This choice to become a self-gift involves knowledge of the value and dignity of the spouse.  Furthermore, man and woman are created so that this intimate physical gift of love can be life-giving.[4]

*    *    *

In Part 5: This series of articles on Humanae Vitae concludes with a gripping story of an American cardinal and the persecution that he endured throughout his priesthood for being the only Baltimore priest out of 55 to support Paul VI’s encyclical within a few days after it was published in 1968.

[1]Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae [On Human Life], #16.

[2]Revs. Richard M. Hogan and John M. LeVoir, Covenant of Love, 1985, 260.

[3]Blessed John Paul II, Familiaris consortio [The Apostolic Exhortation on the Family in the Modern World], Article 33, 1981.

[4]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, The Human Body…a sign of dignity and a gift (The Couple to Couple League International, 2005).

Part 3: Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Is it still relevant?

Part 3: Humanae Vitae in 21st Century Language

Bob & Gerri Laird

paulvi-e1309644693333-445x181This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Part 3 of this series explores Humanae Vitae’s arguments via the modern language of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

In his writings and talks, Blessed John Paul II gave us a new formulation for the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, a way that speaks to a world that accepts behaviors that are degrading to our dignity as human persons. He begins with the human person and how we are unique: persons with bodies, made in the image and likeness of God specifically so that there would be a visible expression of personhood in the world.

The late Rev. Richard M. Hogan explained: “But if we are made in God’s image and likeness, then the body does more than reveal ourselves. It also reveals God when we act as God acts, and express those acts outwardly in and through our bodies. In this case, the body becomes a physical image of God Himself.  The body then has a dignity and value in its own right.”[1]

Hogan further states that

Blessed John Paul II revealed two worlds to us:

the world as God created it and the Church accepts as reality – that we are each unique unrepeatable expressions of God, possessing a dignity beyond compare; and that the body is sacred and holy because it is an expression of the human person and even an expression of God Himself, or

the world where the body is a machine and everything is possible – but the human person becomes an object and a thing with no dignity or value at all, and in which all human rights disappear.[2]

This is what Pope Paul VI was trying to convey in HV and what Blessed John Paul II continued to teach through his various writings and talks.

If the body is a thing, a machine which each of us owns and operates, then we can do anything we want with it because we own the machine: Pornography, lust, masturbation, contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, test-tube babies, homosexual behavior, fornication, adultery – everything and anything is possible – every teaching of the Church regarding sexual morality and reproductive technologies falls if we accept the premise that the body is just a thing.

But, a lot of other immoral behaviors become acceptable as well: If we own our bodies, then someone else can own them – slavery could become acceptable, and there would be nothing (no moral argument) to assail it.

Renting our bodies (with all that entails) is possible.  There should be nothing wrong then with prostitution or sex trafficking.  We are just using the thing (body) that we, or someone else, own.

Abortion is acceptable because the parents are the ones who “own” the baby since they “produced” him or her. If they produce “it,” they can destroy it.

Even child abuse becomes acceptable because the parents (or whoever owns the child) are not harming the person – just the exterior body that the person inhabits. (Rep. Chris Smith noted the current proposal by ethicists to allow after birth abortions.[3]  Since abortion is a more acceptable term than infanticide, the ethicists simply added the adjectives after birth. If abortion is okay, then after birth abortion should also be okay, and so would euthanasia.

Yet all of these are violations of the human person:

Pornography, lust, and masturbation involve the use of oneself (and sometimes another) as a thing for sexual gratification and thus violate the dignity of the entire person.

In vitro fertilization violates the dignity of husband, wife and child: each is manipulated; their bodies are treated as sources of biological material (much like vending machines).

Homosexual behaviors, fornication, and adultery all undermine marriage; while those involved may think they are in love, their actions violate human dignity because they are using another person as a thing and desecrating their own integrity as well.

Contraception and sterilization – the use of mechanical, chemical, or medical procedures to prevent conception from taking place as a result of sexual intercourse – involve the alteration of a healthy, major, functioning part of the body. They damage or destroy a healthy organ and treat the body as a thing or a machine.

Abortion is the deliberate termination of a newly conceived life – anytime after conception (not implantation) – and thus is the destruction of another person made in God’s image.

With regard to our sexuality, the Catholic Church teaches that we are male and female human persons made in the image and likeness of God. We are made to love, and we are made for love. The Church will defend behaviors that respect our dignity and oppose behaviors that do not.

*    *    *

In Part 4: Natural Family Planning (NFP) is knowledge that “reads” the “language” of the sexual powers. NFP enables married couples to make virtuous decisions regarding responsible parenthood.


[1]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, “Theology of the Body as It Relates to Sexuality,” The Art of Natural Family Planning Student Guide®, Second Edition, 2007, 2011. The Couple to Couple League International, Inc.,  57.

[2]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, as stated in several of his talks on marriage, family, and Blessed John Paul II’s new theological construct.

Part 2: Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Is it still relevant?

Part 2: Prophecies Fulfilled

Bob & Gerri Laird

paulvi-e1309644693333-445x181This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Part 2 of this series points to how much Pope Paul VI’s prophetic vision has come true.

Why is HV significant today?

Humanae Vitae was prophetic. Pope Paul VI predicted grave consequences if methods of artificial birth control were accepted, and his predictions ring true today:

“Let [upright men] consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. . . . It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anticonceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”[1]

In his 1999 book, The Decline of Males, Dr. Lionel Tiger proved (among other things) that when men are eliminated from the reproductive equation, it affects their sense of responsibility. He wanted to see how hormonal contraception affected male/female relationships, so he studied the effect of chemical contraception on male and female stumptail macaque monkeys. There were several writers awaiting the outcome of these experiments, as well as the results of his studies of human behavior, but he was unable to get much publicity once his negative conclusions were revealed. Although a skeptic when it comes to belief in God, Tiger concluded:  “Realities ignored are realities corrupted.”[2]

Rev. Richard Hogan summarized Tiger’s findings as follows:

“Two anthropologists, Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox, performed an experiment on a group of monkeys. The study included the head male, a number of other males, and some females. The head male, Austin, appropriated to himself three females and did not allow the other males to touch those three. Then, the scientists gave contraception to five of the females, including two of Austin’s three favorites. After these two of Austin’s favorites were medicated with contraception, Austin would still approach them, but not engage them as he had before. He found two other females who had not been medicated to replace the two who had been given the contraceptive medicine. With these two in addition to the one from the previous set of three who had not been contracepted, Austin formed a new set of three favorites. Of course, none of the other males were allowed to touch Austin’s favorites. Next, the scientists gave contraception to all the females. At this point, Austin became very confused, attempting rape and self-abuse. He would approach the females, but never engage them as he had before. When the scientists stopped giving contraception to the females, Austin re-established his relationship with the first set of three females and would not allow any of the other males to touch those three. The other males also re-established their relationships with the other females. Contraception caused the males to turn away from the females and toward deviant behavior.”[3]

Sadly, the prophecies inherent in HV were fulfilled in large part through the efforts of women. Feminism developed in the early 1900s as part of the movement toward liberalism, a strongly individualistic philosophy that is hostile to all authoritative religion. Individualism led to the degradation of the family because everyone was free and equal with no levels of authority as in a family. While liberalism offered women social opportunity as individuals, it also encouraged them to seek their success outside of the home.

The introduction of the birth control movement was an extension of this individualism: children were no longer a normative part of marriage unless they were wanted and planned. Unwanted children could be discarded through abortion. Spousal relationships embraced individual desires and needs rather than sacrifice and labor for the good of the marriage and the family. Women wanted reproductive freedom without consequences.

“Let it be considered also that a dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies. Who could blame a government for applying to the solution of the problems of the community those means acknowledged to be licit for married couples in the solution of a family problem? Who will stop rulers. . . from imposing. . . the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious?”[4]

And we are now faced with a Mandate to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs to all fertile women. The Obama Administration has drawn a line in the sand daring Catholics to practice their faith in the public square. If the government can require a religious organization to provide services clearly against its religious beliefs, it can also infringe on the rights of religious individuals or organizations in other ways.

“ObamaCare” called for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide at no cost to women (said nothing about men) preventative services. Preventative services in traditional medicine include: blood pressure and cholesterol screening; counseling on obesity and tobacco cessation; routine immunizations; diabetes, cancer, and sexually transmitted infection screenings; etc.  These services emphasize the prevention of serious illness and/or disease and can provide an early warning to illness or disease. None of these services has negative side effects.

The Secretary of HHS then deferred to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to determine what is included in “preventative services.” The IOM added “the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilizations procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.” (Recommendation 5.5)  The Catholic Church responded initially by showing that contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs are not preventative medicine because they are harmful to women, and thus are not health care at all.

The Catholic Church wants to protect women from becoming mere commodities whose reproductive systems are regulated by the government. This new HHS regulation treats women as things, and every time the government interferes with our ability to function as human persons, we are closer to becoming non-persons – things. Furthermore, the mandate pits women against men and against their own flesh and blood because it does not respect the unique power held by both men and women to create a new life.  This is also why the Catholic Church opposes health plans that force individuals to purchase coverage for male or female sterilization.

Anthony Picarello, Associate General Secretary and the General Counsel of the USCCB, in a press conference on February 16, 2012, raised the religious liberty issue, “We are now entering a new stage.  It has gone from that which is allowed by government; to that which is supported by government; to that which is mandated by government.  This latter step is what makes it a religious liberty issue.”

The government has issued regulations that do not exempt most religious organizations, or groups and businesses operating with religious principles, from these directives. The latest final rule, issued on June 29, 2013, did little to change what the HHS proposed in the past and what the U.S. Catholic bishops have called unacceptable. Furthermore, President Obama publicly changed the language of freedom of religion to “freedom of worship.”[5] The distinction is critical. Americans, under Obama, have the right to freely worship in the Church building, but such religious freedom does not exist beyond the walls of the Church.

In a recent press conference, Archbishop William Lori, the Chairman of the Ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, said, “We in the Catholic Church have never seen such a distinction between what we do within the walls of a church and how we serve our neighbors. The faith by which we worship on Sunday is the very same faith by which we act in the world the other six days of the week.”[6]


In Part 3: We should love people and use things. If we can use people as society and the government now defend under the guise of “human rights,” then all sorts of immoral behaviors (abortion, prostitution, sex trafficking, slavery, pornography, and homosexuality, etc.) will be permitted.

[1]Pope Paul VI, HV #17.

[2]Lionel Tiger, The Decline of Males, (1999), 265. Tiger was deeply involved in bridging the gap between the natural and social sciences.

[3]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, “A band of brothers,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, March 2005, 49.

[4]HV #17.


Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Is it still relevant?

Part 1: The Setting

by Bob & Gerri Laird

paulvi-e1309644693333-445x181This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Part 1 of this series looks at the culture and context in which this famous document was introduced.

What is Humanae Vitae (HV)?

Humanae Vitae is the encyclical letter by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on the regulation of birth. It was issued on July 25, 1968.

What is the context in which Humanae Vitae (HV) was written?

The sexual revolution was well underway within society, and the Second Vatican Council was in session (1962-1965). The mood within the Church was similar to the mood within the culture – everything was changing. In addition to concerns about the growing world population and available resources, living and working conditions, economic needs, and the education of children, the role of women in society was changing along with the value of conjugal love in marriage.[1]

In addition, the contraceptive Pill was developed and marketed in the early 1960s, and was promoted as a means to liberate women from the inconvenience of pregnancy and the pains of childbirth. Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) appointed a commission of bishops and experts to study the question of contraception with regard to the new Pill. Pope Paul VI expanded the commission, resulting in a majority report (favoring birth control) and a minority report (upholding Church teachings). With that incentive, Paul VI issued the encyclical “On Human Life.” The Latin name, Humanae Vitae, is taken from the first words of the document, “The most serious duty of transmitting human life, for which married persons are the free and responsible collaborators of God the Creator, has always been a source of great joys to them, even if sometimes accompanied by not a few difficulties and by distress.”[2]

Why did HV cause rebellion both within the culture and within the Catholic Church?

“Protest and the climate of change, combined with great expectation that the Church would change its teaching on the question of contraception, created a culture within the Church similar to that in the wider culture. When the encyclical was issued, it might well be compared to a man standing on a train track trying to stop a roaring locomotive at more than a hundred miles an hour. In a certain sense, Paul VI’s teaching, while prophetic and absolutely consistent with the Gospel, had almost no hope of a legitimate hearing.”[3]

Humanae Vitae addressed the issue of birth control on the basis of consistent authoritative Catholic teachings and Natural Law. Natural Law is “present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and [with an] authority [that] extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties.”[4] This approach was objective, principled, and deductive; but the society was (and is) subjective, experiential, and inductive.

Thus, rather than turning to God to determine what behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate as human persons made in His image and likeness, individuals follow their own inclinations and/or those of others. As a result, sexual behaviors that were once considered immoral are now accepted as natural and permissible.

To illustrate this, consider the United States Supreme Court 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Thus, society no longer considers life situations deductively and objectively by applying principled knowledge of right and wrong to determine what thoughts, words, and/or actions would be appropriate in any given situation. Instead, the culture is inductive – polls and votes decide personal beliefs and practices; subjective- reality is based on each individual’s perceptions and not on objective truth; and experiential – there are no set moral principles that apply to everyone. Individuals are now their own arbiters determining what is, and is not, acceptable human behavior.

Within the Church, priests, theologians, and even bishops rejected the encyclical; and outside the Church the document was considered to be “rather quaint and hopelessly outdated.”[5]

*    *    *

In Part 2: Pope Paul VI foretold that contraception is a dangerous weapon that can ultimately be imposed on women by governments. The Obama Administration has done just that by mandating free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs as part of preventative health care for women.

—      Bob and Gerri Laird have been a certified NFP teaching couple for the Couple to Couple League since 1984, and have written and spoken extensively on numerous topics related to family life, such as marital intimacy, natural family planning, parenting, chastity, post-abortion healing, reframing the abortion debate, and the HHS Mandate. 

[1]Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (HV) [On Human Life], #2.

[2]HV #1.

[3]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, “Theology of the Body as It Relates to Sexuality,” The Art of Natural Family Planning Student Guide®, Second Edition, 2007, 2011. The Couple to Couple League International, Inc., 55.

[4]Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994 (United States Catholic Conference, Inc.-Libreria Editrice Vaticana), no. 1956, 475.

[5]Hogan, The Art of Natural Family Planning Student Guide®, Second Edition, 55.