Proposal for Marital Sexuality and Responsible Parenthod (MSRP) in the Archdiocese of Mobile
Proposal for Marital Sexuality and Responsible Parenthood (MSRP) in the Archdiocese of Mobile
MSRP and NFP in the Context of the Mission of Evangelization
Communicating the truth about the human person is part of the task of evangelization. Evangelization, in fact, constitutes the essential mission of the Church.
The Church is the expert in humanity – not because she claims to be the arbiter of the truth about the human person (she does not), but because she has received this truth from Jesus Christ in whom it is fully revealed and manifested. As the Second Vatican Council teaches: “Christ… fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”
Within this task of evangelization is the duty to communicate the truth of marital sexuality and responsible parenthood (MSRP). The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) 2009 letter Married Love and the Gift of Life lays this out well.
The Church’s teaching on marital sexuality is an invitation for men and women – an invitation to let God be God, to receive the gift of God’s love and care, and to let this gift inform and transform us, so we may share this love with each other and with the world.
This necessarily involves education in natural family planning (NFP), not because it is natural as opposed to artificial; rather, it is because NFP is in accord with the whole truth of the human person who is created male and female in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). What is at stake is more than presenting a reasonable methodology for regulating birth. It is the difference between a true and false conception of the human person as such.
Therefore, the task of communicating this truth within the task of evangelization is an urgent one, incumbent upon the Church. Here we can refer to the words of St. Paul: “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16)!”
The Place of MSRP in the Archdiocese of Mobile
MSRP is the name given to the program that introduces engaged couples to what the Church means by “responsible parenthood” in the context of the truth of human sexuality. This truth is presented from the perspective of a total vision of the human person revealed in Jesus Christ. This entails an introduction to natural family planning (NFP), the method by which spouses live according to the truth of their marital (“one flesh”) union. It is an integral part of the marriage preparation policy for the Archdiocese of Mobile.
MSRP also adheres to the USCCB standards for diocesan NFP ministry, which is meant to provide competent “education within the context of Catholic moral and sacramental teaching on human sexuality, marriage and family life.”
MSRP is distinct from receiving actual training in a method of NFP. MSRP introduces engaged couples to the truth of marital sexuality which necessarily involves an introduction to NFP as it is in accord with what the Church means by “responsible parenthood”. Training in an actual method of NFP integrates what engaged couples receive in MSRP.
The Current State of MSRP in the Archdiocese of Mobile
While MSRP has been an integral part of the marriage preparation policy for the Archdiocese of Mobile for some years now, it has not been fully implemented as a formal structure. Volunteers have given their time to provide MSRP training on an as-needed basis, but as such it does not exist as a structure that is in place.
Engaged couples, pastors and deacons have asked about MSRP as they journey together through the process of marriage preparation, only to be deferred to receiving this education elsewhere (i.e. Engaged Encounter, volunteer sponsor couples, programs offered by surrounding dioceses).
The Purpose for Creating an MSRP Program in the Archdiocese of Mobile
The purpose for an MSRP program is twofold: 1) to introduce couples to the truth about human sexuality from within the total vision of man as created male and female in the image and likeness of God; 2) to instill conviction for living the vocation of parenthood in a truly responsible way.
1) Introducing couples to the truth about human sexuality
Sexuality “is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such.” These words of St. John Paul II refer to the personal dimension of human sexuality. Because the human person is created male and female in the image and likeness of the God who is Love (1 John 4:7-8), each person exists as an order of love. As such, human sexuality likewise can only be understood in terms of love, which corresponds to the personal dignity of each.
This is the premise for introducing human sexuality to engaged couples. Human sexuality has its origin in God who created us male and female (Genesis 1:26-27). Its fullest meaning is revealed in Jesus Christ, in whom all things were created and in whom all things hold together (1 Colossians 1:15-17).
The Sacrament of Marriage is a gift of the Lord, which enables spouses to live their sexuality in a truly responsible way as they experience the grace of Christ. As such, the Sacrament of Marriage is the basis for the establishment of a family, the domestic Church, whereby the world is evangelized and encounters the Gospel.
2) Instilling conviction for living the vocation to parenthood in a responsible way
The value of NFP does not solely rest on its reasonableness for regulating births; it also fully corresponds to the truth of the human person and of married love. In fact recourse to artificial means of regulating births completely ceases to be an act of love.
This is the premise for instilling conviction for living the vocation to parenthood responsibly. It means living in accord with the truth of the human person, within the truth of the “one flesh” union of spouses (Genesis 2:24), within the Sacrament of Marriage. It means, in other words, living the truth about the love engaged couples desire.
The basis of this presentation is not first a moral exhortation to engaged couples, as it is a presentation of the truth of the human person and to which NFP corresponds, the truth about love, which upholds the dignity of the human person within the order of creation. This presentation is meant to instill conviction, inviting couples to embrace this truth within their own lives and within their marriage.
Once this has been laid out, various pastoral issues will be explored within the context of instilling conviction and giving impetus to conversion to the truth. Finally, a cursory overview of the various methods of NFP will be presented. “It is providential,” St. John Paul II said, that “diverse methods of NFP exist.” As such, the USCCB call for the availability of all methods within dioceses.
The Proposal for an MSRP Program in the Archdiocese of Mobile
A day of education, guidance and training for those couples called to participate in the ministry of MSRP
This is a proposal for training couples that feel called to participate in the ministry of marriage preparation through teaching MSRP in their parish and/or surrounding area. This would pertain to the Mobile-Baldwin area on the one hand, and the Montgomery-Dothan area on the other.
Suggestions for this daylong event
- A daylong event, preferably a Saturday (early/mid morning until early evening).
- The event would cover a host of important topics and issues pertinent for this ministry, divided into several sessions spread throughout the day. Sessions and/or topics/issues can include:
i. Theological and anthropological foundation of marital sexuality and its connection to the domestic Church.
ii. Pastoral challenges: cohabitation and premarital sexual activity.
iii. The “contraceptive revolution”.
iv. The reasonableness of NFP involves more than an option as a method for regulating births: it is in accord with the truth of the human person as such.
v. Have couples/spouses who are involved in NFP ministries present on their methodology (Creighton Model, Sympto-thermal, Billings, etc.) Have them share their experience with presenting NFP methodology to engaged couples.
- Clergy should be invited to participate, through giving presentations, and offering Mass (see below).
- In Mobile, hosting at St. Ignatius or the Visitation Monastery or Corpus Christi. In Montgomery and Dothan, hosting in a parish hall.
- A prayerful, retreat-like atmosphere with prayer and sufficient time for discussion and fellowship (possibly concluding with a Mass).
- Provide meals, other food (snacks), drinks, etc.
- Provide recommended resource materials (i.e. NFP DVD, and/or books [Called to Love], etc.); (possibly asking for a suggested donation – one donation that covers both food and resources, misc. expenses).
- Provide certificates of completion for participating couples.
Finally, I suggest we offer continual catechetical formation and fellowship on a monthly basis for those couples that are invested in this ministry. We could also require a series of follow up meetings that would go more in depth in the topics covered during the daylong event.
Proposed layout of the actual MSRP course for engaged couples; to be proposed and discussed at the daylong event
1. Begin with an introduction to a theological anthropology of love (theology of the body).
- Drawing from the resources of the Called to Love Initiative from the Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research (http://www.centerforculturalandpastoralresearch.org/).
i. Discussion questions from the guidebook that correspond to Called to Love:
- What lies behind our doubt that lifelong commitment is possible and our fear that we will not be free? How can this be healed?
- How is the bond of fidelity of natural marriage strengthened in Christian marriage?
- What is the difference between a product and a fruit (182)? How does this affect our understanding of the child today?
- How does contraception “obscure the truth of human love” (190)? Where do we see the consequences of this and what are those consequences?
- How is NFP different from contraception (193-196)? What are its consequences?
- How are spouses a path to holiness for each other (197)?
- Supplemented with the Theology of the Family project, highlighting the mission of the domestic Church (http://www.theologyofthefamily.com).
i. “The greatest need in the modern world is to recover the biblical vision of marriage and family.”
- Next, discuss issues that hinder one’s full reception of the gift of marriage within the context of a call to conversion and instilling conviction:
- How the phenomenon of cohabitation is altering the face of marriage and the family.
i. This will include a catechesis that addresses (future) parents as they play a critical role in preventing cohabitation and premarital sex in the lives of their children.
- The closely related problem of cohabitation and premarital sexual activity, even among those couples that are not cohabiting.
- How the “contraception revolution” amounts to no less than the abandonment of Christianity, of Christian teaching and living.
- After setting the theological-anthropological foundation, the integral relation of marriage and the family rooted in Christ’s union with the Church, and after discussing the above-mentioned issues that hinder reception of this foundation in Christ, a two-part introduction to NFP in its practice and various methodologies will be presented.
- This introduction will first of all include the witness of a couple who live the truth through their faithful practice of NFP.
i. This witness could include a testimony of conversion of heart and mentality about regulating births within marriage.
- Second, a spouse or couple would present an overview of the various methods of NFP, sanctioned by the Church. This would conclude with providing resources for couples.
i. Resources for more information regarding NFP in general (books, DVDs, etc.).
ii. Resources that provide information for specific NFP methodologies as provided by the various NFP ministries throughout the Archdiocese of Mobile.
Home-based MSRP catechesis given by a sponsor couple
Besides having an MSRP course with the structure above, engaged couples should also have the option of having a sponsor couple present MSRP to them. This could take place in the home of the sponsor couple. Also, based on the needs of the engaged couple, the sponsor couple may adapt the format accordingly.
Resources should be made available for sponsor couples according to this option. It has been suggested that an actual course in MSRP, as outlined above, should be filmed and packaged as a DVD; this could be used for home-based MSRP catechesis given by a sponsor couple. Another resource is the book, Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’ Theology of Body, which can be discussed with the study guide. Finally, resources for receiving training in an actual method should also be presented.
MSRP and NFP: The Importance of Witnessing to the Truth
Experience attest that we cannot instill in others hearts what is not instilled in our own: faith in the Good News of all that the Catholic Church teaches about marriage.
Those couples that feel called to participate in the ministry of marriage preparation must themselves be convicted of the truth. As Christian spouses, they have been called to reveal and share in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ for his bride the Church.
“A key to fostering an authentic, incisive pastoral program for the family seems ultimately to rest on a couple’s witness of life, a witness which is consistent with not only Christian teaching on the family but also the beauty and joy which permits the Gospel message to be embraced in marriage and lived as a family.”
 Cf. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14.
 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 22.
 Married Love and the Gift of Life, USCCB (2009), 9.
 Cf. St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (=FC), 32: the difference between contraception and NFP “is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.”
 Here we take our cues from Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, 7 for an understanding of “the total vision of the human person”: “The problem of birth, like every other problem regarding human life, is to be considered beyond partial perspectives – whether of the biological or psychological, demographic or sociological orders – in the light of an integral vision of man and of his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his supernatural and eternal vocation.”
 Standards for Diocesan Natural Family Planning Ministry (= Standards), USCCB, 2.
 See FC, 35.
 FC, 11.
 See the Second Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 11; Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:7.
 The words of St. John Paul II are prophetic in this regard: “In the future, evangelization will depend largely on the domestic Church” (Discourse at the Third General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops, January 28, 1979).
 Cf. St. John Paul II, General Audience, August 22, 1984: “Therefore, in such a case the conjugal act deprived of its interior truth, because artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be an act of love.”
 Discourse given on July 3, 1982.
 See Standards, 2.
 NOTE: It has been suggested that this should be filmed and packaged as a DVD to be given to pastors who can provide it as a viable option for engaged couples who are not able to attend such a course in person.
 I should mention the inspiration of the Diocese of Phoenix for their conviction in this regard, which has been well articulated in their marriage preparation policy (page 20).
 Cf. FC, 17: “Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.”
 III Extraordinary General Assembly of Bishops, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, Instrumentum Laboris, 59.
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