Natural Family Planning as Marital 'Spice'

The Missing Cornerstone

by S. Joseph Tham, M.D.

Circle Press, 2003

144 pages, $11.95

To order: (888) 881-0729

History is a study not only of time but also of timing. Think of 1968 — a time of campus unrest, anti-war protests and the sexual revolution. In that sweltering summer of pronounced social upheaval, Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). The encyclical entered a world that, for the most part, was not ready to hear the Church's traditional teaching on marriage and contraception.

But the prophetic document has stood the test of time. After more than three decades of broken marriages and crippled lives, a plague of sexually transmitted diseases, some 40 million abortions in the United States alone and population-control agendas worldwide, the wisdom of the Church's teaching is getting a second hearing.

Part of the reason is that, increasingly, the teaching is being phrased in the idioms of our time — the personal and the progressive. Pope John Paul II has led the way; his personalist philosophy appeals to our “Me Age” by translating traditional concepts into modern, person-centered language.

The Missing Cornerstone, a compendium of personal accounts of couples who have switched from contraception to Church-approved natural family planning, follows the Holy Father's communications model. It doesn't preach. It persuades. Written by a physician who once prescribed contraceptives, the book — subtitled Reasons Why Couples Choose Natural Family Planning in Their Marriage — tells the story of the author's own switch and that of his patients, backing it up with solid medical and scientific facts.

The author calls natural family planning the missing cornerstone upon which a healthy and peaceful society must be built. “When I began to work with couples who were using natural family planning,” he writes, “I saw how the theory of this message — when put into practice — yields marvelous results.”

“That tiny pill,” says one wife of oral contraceptives, “takes the love out of the loving. Essentially, it contradicts God's natural law by separating the procreative from the unitive.” Adverting to the pill's abortifacient properties, she adds: “What is most tragic is that it can actually prevent a healthy fertilized egg, a conceived human being, from attaching to the uterus.”

Highlighting the positive elements of natural family planning, Tham calls it a “precious jewel” that adds spice to marriage. “S-P-I-C-E is a clever acronym for the Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Communicative and Emotional aspects of NFP,” he says.

The best parts of the book are an explanation of the difference between contraception and using natural family planning to postpone pregnancy, a reprint of a pastoral letter by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and an interview with Drs. John and Lyn Billings, who developed a method of natural family planning.

The book's only drawback: some rather glaring typos. It compensates for its lack of polish with the story of Tham's compelling conversion. Born in Hong Kong, he emigrated to Canada at age 15. After earning a medical degree, he practiced family medicine and encountered many patients, including teen-agers with their mothers, who asked for various forms of contraception. Though Catholic, he was unsure about the Church's teaching.

He explains, “I knew of no Catholic doctors who did not prescribe the pill. I had my training in two Catholic hospitals in a city and they did not differ much in practice from the rest in this regard except they did not offer abortions. … I approached several priests and they all I gave different and sometimes contradictory answers. Most said that it was alright; others said no.

Troubled by his ‘ conscience, he eventually stopped prescribing contraceptives and learned natural family planning. His conversion led him to deeper prayer and faithfulness, which in turn led him to give up his medical practice and join the Legionaries of Christ, the order that publishes the Register. He is studying for the priesthood with the Legionaries, with whom he will be effective — judging by this effort, anyway — in joyfully spreading the truth of the Church's teachings.

Stephen Vincent is based in Wallingford, Connecticut.