Autumn: Reminds us to reflect on last things
I cherish the memory of that special early Autumn evening when Dad and I relaxed on our freshly mown lawn. As we gazed with awe at the farmer's field across the gravel road, the sun, like a huge orange-red host, sank slowly into the chalice of the earth.
The beauty of that graced moment moved Dad to speak in a gentle reflective voice,"You know, Donnie, we really don't own anything." Immediately I thought of the deed to our land. Owner after owner of our land paraded across my mind.
On loan from God
Dad was right. From our limited perspective, we seem to own our land and our other "so called" possessions. But from God's perspective, we do not ultimately own anything. Ultimately, everything that we think that we own is a gift that God has loaned to us.
Our gifts include time, talent, possessions, and much more. At the Judgment, God will ask each of us to give an accounting of our stewardship of our gifts.
Autumn is a sacred season because it reminds us of last things. Leaves die, crops are harvested, and nature seems to rest as earth prepares for the coming winter.
Winter reminds us of death. In death there are hints of judgment and resurrection.
Autumn invites us to judge whether we have been good stewards of our gifts. It invites us to ask whether we used our gifts to help bring about God's kingdom and helped to make our world a more Christ-like place.
Honoring the dead
During November, on All Saints Day we honor the dead whom we believe are in Heaven. On All Souls Day we pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.
On the feast of Christ the King and the first part of Advent often we focus upon the Second Coming of Christ who will judge the living and dead. God's Judgment will confirm whether we have chosen Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.
The daily readings of the Mass at this time also can reveal the theme of last things. All these can motivate us to live the Gospel and choose life rather than death.
Can't take it with us
In Luke 12:13-21, the parable of the rich farmer reminds us that when we die, we cannot take our possessions (that we think we own) with us.
Once I presided at a funeral wake where the deceased man apparently thought that he could. Or else he had a sense of humor. Before he died, he requested that the priest put a dollar in his pocket to see if he could take it with him when he died.
In Luke's parable of the rich farmer, Christ teaches us that we cannot.
Being good stewards
On the other hand, a prayerful lady whom I know told me that she prays often that the Holy Spirit empowers her to do God's will and to help her spouse and her children to get to Heaven. Like her, let us pray for the grace to be good stewards,''Lord, I shall pass this way but once. Therefore if there is any good that I can do, Lord, let me do it now. Please show me how. For I shall never pass this way again."
If we are good stewards, when we are asked us to give an accounting of our stewardship at the Last Judgement, Jesus, the Son of Man, will say to those on his right,''Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. . . . "
As Dad said so well on that memorable Autumn evening,"We really don't own anything." Autumn can invite us to see that everything is ultimately a gift from God. This includes the greatest gift of all, Eternal Life.
Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.
Mythbusters: The skinny on NFP
I have an idea for a pod cast or TV series. While I should probably consult a trademark lawyer, I'm just going to spill it right here in print first.
It would be called Family Planning Mythbusters.
Have you seen this show on the Discovery channel, Mythbusters? It's like a cross between Mr. Wizard and MacGyver. The whole premise of the show is to not only explain the science behind the truth or falsity of urban legends, but actually to show it. It's really quite fun and informational. It entertains while gaining your confidence by demonstrating the myth-at-hand.
Maybe I won't get that TV show going as soon as I'd like, but I will address a few myths here, more clearly explain how Natural Family Planning (NFP) works, and explain how to choose a method.
So, here's the Natural Family Planning low down.
NFP is not the Rhythm Method
We've heard jokes about it -"Vatican Roulette," "Roman Roulette" - but what exactly is it? The Rhythm Method was predicting when current fertility would likely be, based on the length of a woman's past cycles, assuming that ovulation (pregnancy prime time) was around day 14, the halfway point in a regular cycle.
Well, guess what? Almost every woman has irregular cycles at some point in her life, if not perpetually. Babies are a gift from God and a boundless blessing. Period. However, the Rhythm Method didn't allow spacing when many families needed that for very just reasons.
On the other hand, modern NFP is much more effective for both achieving and spacing pregnancy because it allows couples to pinpoint the woman's time of ovulation by recording changes in one or more of the following indicators: her temperature, cervical mucus, and cervix shape.
All the methods are tried and tested and some of them even allow a couple to see potential fertility-related wellness issues just by charting for a short time, thus allowing a woman to resolve potential health problems.
In fact, according to the Pope Paul VI Institute of Reproductive Medicine, 80 percent of couples who experience compromised fertility can achieve pregnancy with one year of charting combined with medical treatment.
NFP is not 'Catholic Contraception'
If I hear this one more time, I'm going to scream. Again.
People just don't know, I say to myself. And it's true. I've traveled many a broken path in my life, and I didn't always know the basics. I didn't know that contraception was terrible for my body and soul. I didn't know that there were holier and healthier options out there for chaste love. I didn't know that Natural Family Planning is an entire way of life, not a "Natural Contraceptive."
I've covered how they are different in my previous article, "NFP: Think outside the pill."
There's no such thing as "Catholic Contraception." It's a contradiction in terms. Contraception - even for the noblest reasons - cuts off husband and wife from many things including each other's fertility and daily communication about sex and wellness, as well as affecting future fertility and disrespecting the Lord's Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, NFP - when practiced with a sincere heart and holy intentions - increases communication, intimacy, romance, wellness, and proves time and time again to help couples in the vocation to holiness within marriage.
How 'it' works
Natural family planning instruction allows a couple to distinguish between the fertile and infertile phases of each cycle. If a couple wishes to achieve pregnancy, they have intercourse during the fertile time of the cycle. If a couple wishes to postpone pregnancy, they abstain from intercourse during the fertile time of the cycle. No artificial methods are used during the fertile time as these would interfere with a woman's observation of her fertility signs.
A woman's body provides three basic ways to identify the fertile and infertile times of her cycle. Recognizing the pattern of those physical signs forms the basis for all methods of natural family planning.
A primary sign of fertility is the mucus released from the woman's cervix. A woman learns to identify the normal, healthy cervical mucus, which indicates when a pregnancy is most likely to occur.
The second sign is her basal body temperature. Due to normal hormonal activity, a woman's resting temperature changes during the menstrual cycle. A woman learns to interpret those changes in relation to her fertility.
The third sign is a change in the shape or texture of the cervix. Finally, secondary signs such as minor abdominal pain or pressure at the time of ovulation can also be observed.
Almost any couple can use natural family planning! A woman need not have regular cycles. NFP can be applied to all variations of a woman's reproductive life including breastfeeding, pre-menopause, and low fertility.
Additionally, even a chaste single woman can use NFP charting methods to increase fertility awareness and help treat common menstrual problems like heavy menses, pronounced PMS, painful polycystic ovaries, and much more.
It's better for women
Friends, here it is, plain and simple: you have the reproductive right to know that NFP is much healthier and holier for women and families. The contraceptive mentality and its chemical sidekicks are a sure way to disrupted wellness and spiritual, relational, and personal problems.
I urge you to push past your difficulties, your challenges, and personal objections to examine what the Church really teaches and what science clearly shows about marriage and sexuality. You won't discover a flashy, popular, neatly wrapped package, but you will discover a simple but shining light that will lead you home.
Jessica Smith is the Family Planning Coordinator for the Diocese of Madison. For more information, visit www.madisondiocese.org/nfp