Planning for a family

July 19, 2011

HOUSTON — As Coordinator for the Natural Family Planning program for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Joe Devet plans and promotes NFP courses, recruits instructors and participants and helps dispel the many misunderstandings about the Church's prohibition on the use of artificial contraception in marriage.

After 30 years of also serving as a volunteer NFP instructor with his wife, Cindy, Devet says the practice, at its heart, is about helping couples achieve happier, holier marriages. Based on the science of human reproduction, Natural Family Planning is an umbrella term used to refer to various methods of naturally achieving or avoiding pregnancy by observing the signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's cycle. 

In anticipation of National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, July 24 to 30, Devet shared with Texas Catholic Herald some of the trends he's seen in NFP practice, as well as other insights gleaned from his years teaching and encouraging Catholic couples to experience the benefits of NFP. 

 What is the average number of local couples that receive instruction in NFP annually?
DeVet: Last year, 563 couples received instruction in NFP here in the Archdiocese. The number has about doubled in the past 10 years. Thank God we have had an increase in numbers almost every year. There does seem to be a greater openness to NFP by couples getting married now, versus prior years. The biggest trend is in the ratio of engaged to married couples. About 15 years ago, most people taking NFP were already married. Now the engaged couples make up a very large majority of learners. This is a good trend …

 How does the Church persuade couples to take NFP courses and practice NFP?
DeVet: Full instruction in NFP is a requirement at about 12 of our parishes. The Archdiocese requires all couples of child-bearing age to attend at least an information meeting, but preferably the full instruction on NFP.
We expose engaged couples as best we can to the many benefits of NFP, that exist, besides the main reason why people should use it – because contraception, as such, is sinful. The benefits of NFP are that it is safe, health-promoting, effective, cheap, "reversible," good for the marital relationship, morally-acceptable in the context of responsible parenthood as stressed in the papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and good for children. (By "reversible," I mean that it does not interfere with fertility, as many popular contraceptives do, and can be helpful for couples with low fertility.)

 Do you find it difficult to find an audience for the NFP message?
DeVet: The Church does not have NFP as a "doctrine," but a teaching about marriage itself and what it takes for a valid marriage, the sort of self-giving love that constitutes a marriage, how that love is "enacted" in the marital act, and how contraception defiles the very essence of that act. We offer NFP as the best way we know for a couple to practice responsible parenthood while being able to plan confidently.
That being said, yes – it is very difficult to overcome the resistance to the message about NFP. The resistance is a constant, but the good news is that NFP is gradually gaining more acceptance. 

 Do you encounter couples who decided years into their marriage to start practicing NFP?
DeVet: Whether people are married, engaged, or even just pondering the call to matrimony, the very best time to learn NFP is now! Many people who have been married several years come to NFP class. Often, the triggering motive is that they just learned that the pill (and all hormonal contraceptives as well as IUD's) works part of the time by causing an early abortion. They are appalled that they may have caused the abortion of their own children by using the pill. We also have younger married couples who heard about NFP in marriage prep and for any number of reasons didn't follow through at the time. They realize there's something more their marriage needs to be rightly ordered. †