In the wake of the contraception mandate that is part of Barack Obama's health care reform package, more people have become aware that the Church teaches it's wrong to use artificial contraception to prevent pregnancy.
But even within the Church, it's widely recognized that the reasons for that teaching are little understood.
One reason for that lack of knowledge is a lack of preaching on the topic of contraception and the natural regulation of pregnancy through Natural Family Planning.
Staff at the USA headquarters of the Billings Ovulation Method Association (BOMA-USA) are trying to reverse that trend and inspire and encourage priests to talk about contraception and NFP from the pulpit.
A second edition of their book "A Preachable Message" was released this year.
Sue Ek, the executive director of BOMA-USA, spoke to ZENIT about the book and helping priests to take a leading role in making Church teaching better known and understood.
Ek: First a little history, years ago I spent a summer helping Father Daniel McCaffrey, STD run NFP Outreach in Oklahoma City. Fr. McCaffrey is a retired military chaplain who is spending his retirement traveling around the country giving parish missions with an emphasis on Humanae Vitae/NFP. When I worked for him we would have long and interesting conversations. He is 100 % Irish and a native New Yorker so you can just about hear his passion when he would pound his fist on the table saying, "Sue! This-is-a-preachable-message!" I wonder if he invented [the word] "preachable" because the computer doesn't even recognize it!
Prior to that summer and after that, I worked for about 20 years for the Diocese of Saint Cloud's Office of Natural Family Planning. During that time we produced a couple of audio tapes (now CDs). One of them featured candid interviews with several clergy (including some well known) talking about how they preached on Humanae Vitae and/or NFP. One particular CD is called "NFP: A Preachable Message".
A bishop from the East Coast called the office one day and said, "What we really need is some homilies!" From that conversation a book was born. We had the tape transcribed and we recruited a dozen homilies that had actually been given. Some bishops ordered one book for each priest, deacon and seminarian in their dioceses. The book sold out and now this second edition includes all of that plus some new homilies, prayers of the faithful and a section called "Scriptural Opportunities" which give scriptural "excuses" to bring up this sensitive subject.
ZENIT: The title of the book, "A Preachable Message," already implies that there is a real or perceived prejudice among priests when it comes to preaching NFP. So what is the message of "A Preachable Message"?
Ek: I like to call the book "a tool of courage". We expect priests to speak the truth about what the Church teaches whetherit's from the pulpit or in person, but some have a very difficult time discussing why the Catholic Church teaches thatcontraception is wrong. In some ways, this book takes the excuses away because it gives real life examples of howpriests have overcome the obstacles and have received positive feedback.
There are some success stories in the book. One priest discovered there was an obstetrician/gynecologist in the congregation on the day he decided to give a homily about HumanaeVitae and the doctor ended up changing his practice to no longer prescribe contraceptives.
ZENIT: Some of the contributors are among the most well known names of the Church in the USA today: Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Chaput, etc. So, in fact, there are Church leaders preaching this message. Is this a new trend? Or something that is simply not well known?
Ek: Yes, you are absolutely right that we have some real gems in our book! The positive trend is with the younger priests, the JPII priests. They are exceptionally courageous regarding this teaching. They believe in it so much that they probably don't even realize it takes courage to talk about it. They speak with ease and authenticity.
The older priests are a bit of a mixed bag. Many are very convinced of this teaching and are unwavering. Others can be hostile toward NFP, just like the culture. But I'm very hopeful that our new generation of priests will make great strides toward building beautiful marriages by encouraging and often requiring NFP.
There's an interesting story behind how we ended up with Cardinal Dolan. We had printed the second edition and one of the new priests who had contributed a homily discovered that six paragraphs were missing from it. We scrambled to figure out how that happened. I confirmed that the document emailed to the pre-press people was correct but they would not take the blame for the missing paragraphs. The priest pretty much demanded that we halt distribution of the book and reprint another one. He very generously contributed $2,000 toward the reprint, the printer put in $2,000 and we had to add another $2,000. Before we went to press, that same priest sent a letter to Cardinal Dolan with a copy of the book and asked him if he would write a foreword for the reprint. Cardinal Dolan was so impressed with the book that he wrote an amazing foreword.
Bishops in English-speaking countries really ought to consider giving a copy of "A Preachable Message" to the priests, deacons and seminarians. It would a tangible way to help their brother priests overcome any hesitation in discussing this teaching. When it's really understood, it is beautiful. Priests will have happier couples and families in their parishes because they will be more fully living a sacramental marriage. And, they will likely be more generous with their time and money.
While we represent the United States office of the Billings Ovulation Method, our book is not [an NFP] method-specific and, as Cardinal Dolan wrote in his foreword, it is written by clergy for clergy.
ZENIT: In your opinion, do priests and bishops themselves believe in the Church's teaching on NFP and contraception?
Ek: We are in a culture that is very hostile to this teaching so it's difficult to even get a hearing. But whena bishop or priest sees the light and really appreciates what NFP is all about and how it can save souls and healmarriages, they never turn back and they become great advocates. Priests and bishops want very much to beable to present the full teaching of the Church. But it can be difficult finding the right words that will open the heartsof those listening. We want to make delivering the message as easy as possible for them.
ZENIT: What have you found to be the main objections priests have in considering a homily about NFP?
Ek: Some will say they don't feel qualified to talk about NFP because they are not married. But they are living agenerous life of chastity so they are qualified. They just need to come up with the right words.
ZENIT: How, if at all, have things changed under Pope Francis?
Ek: Pope Francis says things differently than other Popes so I think he's tweaking the ears of those who otherwisemight not be listening. As he himself has said, he is a faithful son of the Church. What I hope will change is theChurch's power in proclaiming the teaching on marriage, family and human sexuality. This is a very difficultsubject and we are happy to do what we can to help. In fact, we hope to be able to have the book translated into Spanish so we can reach more clergy throughout the world.
For more information on BOMA-USA and how to get the book: http://www.boma-usa.org/index.php