About a year ago, I wrote a Herald column on Humanae Vitae (like most of my columns, it’s not available online; what better bait could there be to subscribe?).
In it, I pointed out that Natural Family Planning (or Natural Fertility Awareness) is a reliable method of avoiding (or indeed actively achieving) pregnancy that respects the healthy and natural rhythms of the body, eschews subsidising ‘Big Pharma’, and encourages the consumption of organic vegetables and whole grains. It is, in essence, God’s good news for Guardian readers.
That phrase is meant with perfect sincerity. For indeed, my Guardian-reading wife’s and my own coming to think with the Church on this matter – a classic case of grace and gradualism – largely coincided with a period when a good proportion of our time was spent allotmenting, making home brew (‘Ale, Holy Queen’ anyone?), and buying and cooking organically.
Now, I am not a man whose prophecies often come true: Kasper and Tagle, for instance, were my hot tips for the 2005 and 2013 conclaves. So you will forgive me, I hope, if on this occasion I indulge in a little gloating.
This March, the Guardian published an absorbing ‘long read‘ on… natural family planning. The immediate prompt for this was the growing number of smartphone apps (“Fitbit for your period”!) utilising the huge leaps forward in fertility science since the 1960s.
In many cases, these were led by Catholic scientists directly responding to Vatican II’s call, echoed by Blessed Paul VI, “to elucidate more thoroughly the conditions favourable to a proper regulation of births” (Gaudium et Spes, 52; Humanae Vitae, 24).
Indeed, the Guardian article duly acknowledges this, even while describing orthodox Catholic circles as “marginalised spaces” (marginalised by whom?).
As the Sun, Express, Telegraph, or Marie Claire readers among you will already know, a slew of other articles, lauding the revolutionary possibilities of natural fertility awareness, have appeared all over the mainstream media.
Admittedly, at times, they seem unable to shake off the all-pervasive “contraceptive mentality” (St John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 13). Marie Claire’s coverage is particularly illuminating here, for example. Despite citing scientific studies supporting NFP being just as reliable as artificial contraception in avoiding pregnancy, the article still bears the title “Is this the riskiest alternative to the contraceptive pill?”. (The “risk”, it appears, is that using NFP doesn’t absolutely guarantee remaining non-pregnant. Why that makes it a riskier – let alone the riskiest – than anything else short of total abstinence isn’t clarified.)
In my original column, I suggested that the Church’s failure to promote NFP in our secular culture constitutes “a grave missed evangelistic opportunity”. (I made a similar point in another print-only CH article – seriously non-subscribers, you’re missing out! – last month.)
The Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood: it’s not just for Guardian readers anymore.
(For anyone interested in finding out more about NFP, I recommend the Couple to Couple League. Probably the greatest book on NFP – not a few would say the greatest book about anything, ever – is Simcha Fisher’s hilarious, hopeful, and painfully realistic The Sinner’s Guide to NFP.)