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Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

By Maggie Maslak
 
(CNA/EWTN News)--For some, it was a health-conscious decision. For others, it was environmental. For still others, it was faith-based.
 
But no matter the reason, more and more women are ditching the pill and opting for fertility awareness methods as a natural way to achieve or delay pregnancy.
 
“In the U.S., there does seem to be an increase in the interest in fertility tracking and understanding the signs and symptoms of our bodies to plan and prevent pregnancy,” said Dr. Victoria Jennings, director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.
 
“Our work has shown that simple fertility awareness messages are extremely attractive to a wide range of women and can address their family planning needs,” Jennings told CNA.
 
July 23-29 is national Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, coinciding with the 48th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, which laid out the Church’s long-understood teachings on the sanctity of human sexuality. 
 
The Catholic Church has always taught that contraception is immoral, because it divorces procreation from the sexual act. However, the Church approves of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, which allow couples to remain open to life.
 
Through Natural Family Planning, a woman learns to understand her body’s natural monthly cycle. By tracking the signs of her own fertility each day, she is able to determine when she is fertile and infertile. Decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity can then be made, based upon this knowledge, and the couple’s desire to achieve or postpone a pregnancy.
 
While NFP is sometimes mistaken for the primitive “calendar method” of generations past, it is actually an umbrella term for a collection of modern fertility awareness methods. Carefully evaluating each woman’s individual body and cycle, modern methods are rooted in science and are 99.6 percent effective when used correctly – a number that competes with the pill, according to the Couple to Couple League, a group that promotes Natural Family Planning.
 
Additionally, these methods are free from the host of side effects and health risks accompanying hormonal contraception. They don’t pollute the environment. And they can even help women identify underlying health problems that may otherwise go undiagnosed.
 
And Catholics are not alone in their use of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM). Increasingly, they are being joined by women of various faiths and no faiths at all, as the benefits of natural methods draw new awareness.
 
In recent years, many Evangelicals and other Protestants have started to find fault with artificial birth control and are turning to natural fertility-based methods instead.
 
“All women – Protestant, Catholic, atheists, and nones – can appreciate this hormone-free (and conscience-free) alternative to chemical contraception,” said Chelsen Vicari, the Evangelical program director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an article last year.
 
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the University of Utah found that more women, religious or not, are seeking alternatives to hormonal birth control without turning to surgery. And a 2015 study from the University of Iowa found that more than 1 in 5 women would be open to using fertility monitoring instead of the pill if they knew how it worked.
 
Methods for understanding fertility are also on the rise, and thanks to the help of modern technology and research, women are able to re-think the long list of side effects that can accompany hormonal contraception, such as depression, increased risk for stroke, and reported lower quality of life.
 
“Specifically in the app world, the use of fertility apps to track cycles or plan/prevent pregnancy is increasing exponentially,” Jennings said, noting that there are more than 1,000 fertility apps available on Apple and Google Play stores.
 
However, Jennings did warn that some of the apps have been proven to be inaccurate or “make claims that are either unsubstantiated or misleading, making it difficult for women to know which apps are most likely to meet their needs.”
 
Among the most well-respected fertility apps is Kindara. Launched in 2012, the iOS app offers charting tools to help women track when they are fertile by highlighting the ovulation period of a woman’s monthly cycle.
 
“Over the past couple of decades, fertility awareness has been studied a lot. We know scientifically, based on evidence now, that it does work, and it works very well if you use it correctly,” says Lauren Risberg, the Content Lead for Kindara.
 
Another fertility app, Natural Cycles, was started by a nuclear physicist in Sweden and was recently approved by the European Union as a certified method of birth control.
 
The growing interest in fertility awareness also comes at a time of concern over false expectations of reliability with artificial birth control.
 
New statistics released this month indicate that more than half (51%) of the abortions performed in the UK last year were due to failed contraception from the pill, implants or patches.
 
In an interview with the Telegraph, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi said that by encouraging women to use contraception, “you give them the sense that they can control their fertility.”
 
“Our data shows that women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone,” Furedi stressed.
 
In contrast, Church teaching surrounding Natural Family Planning emphasizes an openness to life, steering away from the notion that women control their fertility and instead empowering them with the knowledge to understand their bodies and cooperate with them to the fullest possible extent.
 
Emphasizing the gift of fertility and the ability to be co-creators with God to bring about a new human life, the Church teaches that couples should only avoid pregnancy through NFP when they have a just reason to do so.
 
With fertility awareness continuing to grow in popularity, the medical community would do well to pay attention, Jennings told CNA.
 
“Significant numbers of women worldwide don’t use birth control due to fears of side effects, negative beliefs about contraception, and because they don’t think they need it at the time,” she said.
 
“We believe the reproductive health community must take women's concerns seriously – and also take seriously evidence-based methods that rely on people knowing their own fertility.”
 
  • Published in Nation

Free email ‘Message of The Day’

“The Message of The Day,” a new, professionally produced free video featuring a daily message from Pope Francis, is now available worldwide. 
 
The one-to-two-minute videos are created from the pope’s daily homilies. His messages, delivered to subscribers’ mailbox each morning, are inspirational and uplifting with positive content, designed to enrich and inform the Catholic and non-Catholic faithful in their everyday busy lives. 
 
Jesuit Father Edward J. Dougherty, CEO and Chairman of Kyrios Inc., said, “The Catholic Church needs to enchant its members, to be relevant to the lives of people today. We developed this project to promote our leader, to spread his positive messages and good news. Our beautifully produced videos are the perfect conduit for his messages. We want this to be accessible to millions of the faithful around the world bringing hope and inspiration.  Nothing else exists like this today.”
 
John S. Bolus, president and co-founder said, “We looked at the market and our audience and realized that people are getting their content in ways that are different from just a few years ago. The Smart Phone has eclipsed all forms of media. We built The Message of The Day service expressly for this, using the phones high-resolution multi-media browser to deliver an enriching, video experience.”
 
Kyrios Inc., a private U.S.-based communications company based in Reston, Va., developed the project in collaboration with and input from, Catholic communications authorities in Rome.
 
“The Message of The Day” is delivered on demand via a large sophisticated network, allowing media content to be delivered to a worldwide Church audience. This project is the first of its kind.
 
“The Message of The Day” is available at themessageoftheday.com.
 
 
  • Published in World

The single life

By Mary Rezac

(CNA/EWTN News).- From a young age, Catholics are taught to pray about and discern their vocations – whether they're called to marriage, to the religious life, to the priesthood or consecrated single life. 
 
This can leave the lay single person feeling that they are in a vocational limbo of sorts, and it's become a topic of much heated and emotional debate in the Catholic blogosphere: have these people missed their vocation? Is the lay single state, chosen or by default, a vocation?
 
But actually, at the end of the day – does it matter?
 
Father Ben Hasse is a vocations director for the Diocese of Marquette, Mich. He said addressing the topic of singleness in the Church can be difficult because of the emotions surrounding the issue.
 
“I have quite a few friends who would like to be married, so there's a much more emotional investment in the question because there’s more people who find themselves single” rather than having specifically chosen it, he said.
 
Recognizing the emotional weight of the topic,Father Hasse noted that there are many aspects to addressing the question of vocation and singleness that need to be taken into account, and that it can be difficult – and dangerous – to make generalizations about a population in the Church that is actually very diverse.
 
Being specific about singleness
 
Father Hasse said that he has found it’s helpful as a pastor to approach singleness very specifically – whether it's a college student who hopes to marry someday, or a widow who lost her husband last month, being single encompasses a wide variety of people and circumstances.
 
“Everybody will be single for at least part of their life. Nobody is born as a priest or married to someone or a consecrated religious, so everyone will pass through being single,” he said.
 
“It's important to distinguish between people who are single because that's kind of where you're at when you're 16, versus someone who has really felt God calling them to give their life in service to the Church as a single person,” or various other circumstances.
 
For example, a single 19-year-old college student is probably not necessarily living a vocation of singleness in any settled way, Father Hasse said, but a person in their 40s who finds joy in serving Christ in their everyday circumstances of work and life “is not someone I would say lacks a vocation.”
 
“It would be different from the way we usually use the word because it wouldn't be defined, and made concrete by vows or promises,” he said.
 
“But the single accountant or school teacher could certainly live their life and see the work of their hands as something they're offering to God, and live that in a very spiritually fruitful way, and I wouldn't say – now here's a person without a vocation.”
 
Your vocation is given at baptism
 
Jason Coito, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told CNA that most of the debates surrounding singleness and vocation rely “on a very narrow definition of vocation, or confuses the term with what we refer to as 'states in life.'”
 
He said when we become fixated on discerning our state in life, referred to in the Church as the primary vocation, “...we become so focused on the ranking of them, rather than looking at each day or the bigger picture and saying, here are all of these components of my life, now how am I called to live the promise of my baptism and of my life, and how do these things work together?”
 
It can be helpful instead to refocus these debates and conversations on the universal vocation to holiness that each Christian receives at their baptism, Coito said.
 
“I think this helpfully reframes the conversation and then asks us, 'How is God calling me to make a response to Him and to my brothers and sisters from within the state in life in which I find myself?'”
 
This respects every vocation, because it's a question anyone can answer on any given day in their life, regardless of their state in life, he said. 
 
“You do have a vocation. All baptized Catholics are called to live their lives as disciples of Jesus. This is the foundational call of our lives as Catholics,” he said.
 
“If you feel deeply called to get married, and you have prayerfully discerned and confirmed this call, then until you meet the person you feel called to get married to, you continue to live out your baptismal call, open to the people and circumstances that God puts in front of you each day. For those who are married, we do pretty much the same thing, except that we do this out of the sacramental relationship we have with our spouse,” he said.
 
In “Lumen Gentium,” one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI wrote about the universal call to holiness each Christian has:
 
“Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”
 
Father Hasse reiterated the importance of the baptismal call to holiness, and said that this call is not something to “settle for,” but rather should be the primary focus of our lives as Christians.
 
“The call to holiness is not some second-string operation,” he said.
 
“It's not like – wow I really wish I had something important to work towards, but since I don't, sanctity will have to tide me over until the beatific vision.”
 
“So I think a reappropriation of the universal call to holiness, which is deeply, profoundly significant, it’s the one that matters in a sense, and we're all called to that,” he said.
 
The big lie: You are incomplete until you've made vows
 
Coito noted that one of the worst patterns of thinking that a Catholic can fall into when thinking about vocation is to believe that they are somehow less-than or incomplete until they are married, or are a priest or in a religious order.
 
When he taught high school religion, Coito said he would ask his students to recall the famous line from Jerry Macquire, when he tells his love interest (played by Renee Zellweger): “You complete me.”
 
“I would always tell them that from a Catholic perspective, that's ridiculous. It wasn't as though before marriage you were incomplete, or that a priest before his ordination is incomplete. God already made us whole and entire,” he said.
 
“We've been given everything as human beings that God intends us to have, so to begin to think of ourselves as somehow unfinished...we can joyfully be living out our vocation already right now.”
 
Part of this mentality has seeped in from the culture, he said, which tends to romanticize love and to view marriage as another achievement or milestone in life, rather than as a sacrament.
 
“I think it's important to address the mentality that if I'm not married or in a community or ordained that I’m this sort of 'Catholic arrested development' or 'suspended animation,'” he said.
 
The belief that marriage or religious life will also magically make us completely fulfilled is also a mentality that can set people up for disappointment, he noted.
 
“It ends up being a Disney sort of (mentality) of happily ever after, but it's much more Paschal mystery than happily ever after,” he said.  
 
Finding fulfillment: It's about self-gift
 
The reasons that there are more single people in the Church now than in other times in recent history are many and varied – an emphasis on education, a culture that values individualism, higher rates of divorce and economic factors are just some of the many reasons there are more singles in the pews.
 
But this doesn't mean that human nature has changed – we are still made for love, self-gift and service, Father Ben Hasse said.
 
“Trying to schedule events in our lives that will make us happy at some point that doesn't really work,” he said. “Happiness is richest and fullest kind of as a by-product of gifts of love and of service.”
 
“There's almost a way where you can attend to the basic dynamics of seeking to live a life of holiness, and that's the actually the path that’s going to leave you more and more disposed to receive his call,” he said.
 
In particular, acts of service can be a key way to find fulfillment regardless of one's state in life, he said.
 
 
“Look for opportunities to give of yourself,” he said. “It's also a good way to meet other people who have a similar disposition...doing that has very real potential to fill one's heart, and leaves you more and more receptive to (God's) call.”
 
Soley utilizing acts of service as a way to find a spouse would be unhealthy, Father Hasse added, but serving alongside like-minded people, and finding others who share your values is a good way to find authentic community, in whatever form that may take.
 
What the Church has to say about single people
 
Pope John Paul II, who wanted to be known as ‘the Pope of the family’, wrote in his familial document “Familiaris Consortio” that those without a family must be able to find their family within the Church. In fact, the entire final section of this document is dedicated to single people.
 
This is a subject with which John Paul II would have been intimately familiar – by the age of 20, all of his immediate family on earth had passed away, and he surrounded himself with good friends that essentially became his family.
 
In the document, he wrote: “For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church - the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate - must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'”
 
The Catechism of the Catholic also recognizes “the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors.” (CCC 1658).
 
Practical advice from single Catholics
 
Still, it can sometimes be difficult for single people to know where they fit in the Church. Parishes are often structured around family life, which can make it challenging for single people to find community.
 
Judy Keane is a 40-something single Catholic and author of “Single and Catholic,” a book in which she interviewed numerous single Catholics of a wide variety of ages, circumstances and backgrounds about their experiences in the Church.
 
“Mother Teresa once said that the greatest poverty is loneliness, and feeling discounted by society,” Keane said.
 
“So I would say (to married people in the parish): approach single people, connect with them, take that initiative to introduce yourself, not make them feel like because they don't have a spouse and children in the pew with them that they’re no less a member of the parish community,” she said.
 
MaryBeth Bonacci is a Catholic author and speaker who has often written on the topic of being a single Catholic. She said she loves it when people in her parish help her feel included in their families and lives. 
 
“Some people would say, 'Oh well she wouldn’t want to go to a 1-year-old's birthday party.' Yeah I would!” she said. “We don't have our exciting singles lives that you think we have, I'm at home eating cottage cheese and watching Simpsons reruns, it’s not that exciting.”
 
Bonacci said she's also had a friend at her parish who told her she was invited to her family's dinner any time. And she didn't wait to make good on the invitation – she followed up with Bonacci every day.
 
“She would call me every day at 3:00 and say, am I setting a place for you? And I didn't go every night...but she actually called every day, and said if you want to come, we'll set a place for you, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that.”
 
She added that she appreciates when parishes make an effort to create a cohesive community, rather than always segregating people into groups according to their states in life.
 
Both Bonacci and Keane said that they especially have noticed that there are many single elderly Catholics who are alone, whether they’ve never been married or have since lost their spouse.
 
“If you're having a family Sunday dinner, why not try to befriend an elderly single person who may have lost their spouse and say we’re having our family dinner, would you like to join us?” Keane said. 
 
It's also important to remember that God acts in unexpected says, and oftentimes frustration with one's state in life stems from a place of thinking about vocation or God’s will too rigidly, Father Hasse noted.
 
“If I'm talking to someone who says well most of my friends seem to have found their vocation and I haven’t, what do I do? I usually say man, the saints are people that God caught in all kinds of unexpected situations and places,” Father Hasse said.
 
“So there's lots of precedent for thinking God has passed me by or hasn't answered my prayers” but then he shows up in unexpected ways, he said.
 

2017 Bishop deGoesbriand grants

Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. has awarded 27 grants through The Bishop deGoesbriand Appeal for Human Advancement.
 
The non-profit organizations that received the grants make meaningful differences in the daily lives of Vermont individuals and families.
 
Each November, Vermont parishes take a second collection to support this grant program. One hundred percent of the money collected is distributed throughout the statewide Diocese of Burlington in the form of grants to local non-profit organizations who seek to create a higher quality of life in their communities at, for example, homeless shelters, right-to-life programs and food programs for children and families.
 
“As a Catholics, our mission is to help the vulnerable and underserved populations,” said Mary Beth Pinard, executive director of Vermont Catholic Charities.
“By supporting the Bishop deGoesbriand Appeal, donors are enriching the lives of individuals and families in all corners of the state. Vermont Catholic Charities is grateful for the tremendous support from Catholics.”
 
Since this grant program began in 2011, Vermont Catholic Charities has awarded more than $377,000.
 
“The grant positively impacts the hungry people who are able to receive a hot healthy meal four days a week, as well as take-out meals when needed,” said someone associated with St. Brigid’s Kitchen in Brattleboro.
 
“Living on a college campus can seem like living in a bubble at times, with practically
everything you need at your fingertips, but going into Burlington and serving at the
Salvation Army can really pop that bubble,” commented a University of Vermont student who helps with meals there. “It is a great way to take a step back and think about what we really are here for.”
 
This year the following organizations received grants totaling $58,139:
 
* Addison County Community Action (HOPE) ($3,000) Middlebury
Funding will support the organization’s Essential Services Program, which provides vital assistance to those unable to meet their own basic needs for food, shelter, heat, and medical care.
 
* Aunt Dot’s Place ($500) Essex Junction
Aunt Dot’s Place is a new organization with the mission “to organize volunteers who will provide a safe and welcoming place where the less fortunate can obtain help with basic needs such as food, clothing and community resources.” Funding will support this start up.
 
* Branches Pregnancy Resource Center ($600) Brattleboro
Funding will be used to help begin a new Fatherhood Program which is a mentoring and teaching program for expecting/new fathers taught by men.
 
* Aspire Together ($1,000) St. Albans and Burlington
Funding will be used to train new client service advocates to meet the demand of the two offices.
 
* Cathedral Parish Food Shelf Ministry ($3,000) Burlington
Funding will be used to purchase non-perishable food items for families/individuals in need in the Burlington area.
 
* Catholic Center at The University of Vermont -- Feed The Hungry  ($2,130) Burlington
Students at the University of Vermont will use funding to shop, cook and prepare
dinners for the poor in Burlington and take the food to the Salvation Army to serve the meal.
 
* Champlain Valley Birthright ($3,000) Burlington
Funding will be used for advertising to increase community awareness of Birthright’s services and to making themselves known to any woman who is ambivalent about her pregnancy.
 
* Committee on Temporary Shelter ($1,500) Burlington
Funding is to support the COTS Daystation program, which serves as refuge from the streets for men and women experiencing homelessness and helps people stabilize their lives in times of crisis.
 
* Community Emergency Relief Volunteers ($4,000) Northfield Falls
Funding will be used to support the summer lunch program, increase the volume of food needed to accommodate a larger number of clients and support families with emergency funds as needed.
 
* Dismas of Vermont ($2,500) Winooski/Rutland/Burlington
Funding will be used to support camping trips that reconnect former prisoners with their children.
 
* Ecumenical Lunch Bunch Program ($500) Essex Junction
Funding will be used to provide nutritious lunches to needy children during their summer vacation.
 
* Faith in Action Northern Communities ($4,000) Cabot
Funding will support this agency’s work of trying to meet the needs of people who “fall through the cracks” by helping with transportation to medical appointments, providing respite care, assisting with food and helping with yard work and constructions projects.
 
* Good Beginnings of Central Vermont ($2,500) Montpelier
Funding will support the Post-Partum Angel Family Support Program and the Loving Arms Program that provide postpartum support and resources to the most vulnerable families in Central Vermont, with particular focus on families that are geographically isolated or that are affected by drug addiction.
 
* Good Samaritan Haven ($4,500) Barre
Funding will support the Emergency Shelter Program. This agency is the only homeless shelter in Central Vermont providing housing and support services for homeless people in the community.
 
* Grateful Hearts ($1,000) East Dorset
Funding will help provide healthy prepared meals to families in need by utilizing surplus food resources made available by local farms.
 
* Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity ($2,000) Williston
Funding will help build homes for low-income working families.
 
* Martha’s Kitchen ($4,000) St. Albans
Funding will help sustain expanded hours of operation to include weekends.
 
* Meals &Wheels of Greater Springfield ($1,800) Springfield
Funding will assist in meeting the rising cost of food and supply costs so the agency can continue to meet the demand of providing hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors who cannot prepare or are unable to purchase food.
 
* Neighborhood Connections ($2,500) Londonderry
Funding will support the agency’s Community Health Initiative for Families and Seniors.
 
* North Central Vermont Recovery Center ($2,000) Morrisville
Funding will help sustain the Recovery Coach Program, which trains individuals to help guide and aid people in their recovery from drugs and/or alcohol.
 
* Northeast Kingdom Human Services Zero Suicide Initiative ($2,000) Newport
Funding will be used to support a new initiative to provide and implement training in the Zero Suicide approach for staff members.
 
* Spectrum Youth & Family Services ($3,000) Burlington
Funding will support the agency’s Basic Needs & A Stable Home programs, which provide an essential safety net for youth who are living on the streets, in cars, couch surfing, camping or otherwise unable to sustain stable, permanent housing.
 
* St. Ambrose and St. Peter parishes ($2,360) Bristol and Vergennes (a grant to each parish)
Funding will support free monthly community meals at the parishes for those who are struggling with finances.
 
* St. Brigid’s Kitchen ($1,250) Brattleboro
Funding will be used to continue to offer meals to those in need in the Brattleboro community.
 
* St. Brigid’s Pantry ($1,500) Brattleboro
Funding will support the Take-A- Bag Program and the holiday food program, which serve the less fortunate in the parish and in the Brattleboro area.
 
* Vergennes Rotary Club ($2,000) Vergennes
Funding will help provide needed afternoon snacks to children of the Boys and Girls Club of the greater Vergennes area.

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
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