Book Review: The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning

nfp-coverSimcha Fisher’s new The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning is the most refreshing and honest work on NFP I’ve ever read. In easy prose that’s at times laugh-out-loud funny, Fisher has the courage to face the true ups and down of using NFP as a Catholic couple — both the joys that come from marital chastity and the fact that sometimes, when you want to have sex and need to abstain, it kinda sucks.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, “NFP and the Spiritual Life,” Fisher outlines important spiritual considerations of the Church’s teachings on marital love. In the second, “NFP and the Rest of the World,” she deals with the counter-cultural implications of NFP. But the final and longest section, “NFP in the Trenches,” is the real meat of the book, where Fisher takes a brutally honest look at what it means to put the Church’s teachings into practice. Fisher is not afraid to tackle difficult and rarely-discussed aspects of martial sexuality and should be commended for finding safe ground between frankness and explicitness.

As a husband I can also say that the book is “guy-friendly”; while much of the advice is clearly directed towards wives, it never turns flowery or overly emotional in a way that might turn of committed Catholic men, and I recommend that husbands and wives read the book together.

The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning is an outstanding contribution to the Catholic conversation on marital sexuality and I heartily recommend it.

In Praise of Religious Chastity (by a Lay Man)

A few months ago I read  The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by Fr. James Martin, SJ. (A book I heartily recommend, BTW.) Fr. Martin has a gift for talking about the faith in a way that even non-Catholics can understand and appreciate.

I was especially taken with his discussion of the evangelical counsels, and this passage on chastity in particular:

One of the main goals of chastity is to love as many people as possible as deeply as possible. That may seem strange to those used to defining chastity negatively ”that is, as not having sex. But this has long been the tradition of the church. Chastity is another way to love and, as such, has a great deal to teach everyone, not just members of religious orders.

Chastity also frees you to serve people more readily. We’re not attached to one person or to a family, so it’s easier for us to move to another assignment. As the Jesuit Constitutions says, chastity is “essentially apostolic.” It is supposed to help us become better “apostles.” Like all the vows, chastity helps Jesuits to be “available,” as Ignatius would say.

So chastity is about both love and freedom.

As a lay man working in the Church, this resonates deeply with me, even though  God did not call me to this kind of love. Instead he called me to love a particular woman and particular children in a way above and beyond anyone else. Of all my earthly concerns they come first. Period. Finite.

And that means having to say no to things that, if I had the freedom to love as a religious, I could say yes to; indeed, there have been times in my catechetical work that I wished I had taken a vow of chastity! Whenever an invitation to speak comes along or the notice of another interesting workshop to attend, part of me wishes I had the freedom to go without thought of my wife and kids. But that would be trying to live a different vocation — indeed, it would be a betrayal of my vows.

So I have a great appreciation for religious chastity and those who practice it, even though I was not called by God to be one of them. They live God’s love in a way I do not, with much more freedom to exercise that love. Without them, love would be diminished in the world. So thank God for chastity!