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In a world where artificial birth control is the status quo, the Diocese of Little Rock is showing couples preparing for marriage that natural family planning is the only option approved by the Church.
"We have a very rich teaching about family life in our Church. To bring that to full fruition means we have to be counter-cultural to what's happening in our world right now. Contraception is a common thing. We're bombarded by it," said Elizabeth Reha, diocesan family life director. "That is not what the Church teaches. We want to offer something that the Church teaches, and is healthy for couples spiritually and physically."
Beginning Jan. 1, engaged couples of child-bearing age will be required to attend natural family planning classes as part of their marriage preparation before they can get married in the Diocese of Little Rock, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor said.
"Placing this into the process of getting married gives couples a gift and opportunity to learn about the Church's teaching, to learn about what their bodies are doing fertility-wise and to make a healthy choice for their family spiritually for a lifetime," she said.
"NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife," the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in its "Standards for Diocesan Natural Family Planning Ministry."
Some couples, Reha said, will investigate more than one method and attend instruction for more than one. It helps the couples find what method best suits them.
The challenge for the diocese is to ensure that all couples of child-bearing age have access to natural family planning classes.
"It's a challenge to cover the entire diocese and make sure that everyone has a class available at the time that they need it. Although there is a six-month marriage preparation time, depending on wedding dates, couples will need class opportunities throughout the year," Reha said.
Other innovative ways to help couples attend classes are in the works, Reha said, including virtual classes that include video conferencing with teachers. This also helps make sure enough instruction is available in both English and Spanish.
"We're excited about that being one of our tools to use around the state," she said, "because we're going to have places around the state where we don't have instructors readily available."
Cost ranges from approximately $30-$135, depending on the method. Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford classes.
Once they learn a method, it is an investment in the future of their marriage and family, Reha said.
"NFP strengthens a couple's communication. They find alternate ways to express their love for each other. It also strengthens their faith life because they have to trust in God," said Kathy Nauman of North Little Rock, who has taught the Sympto-Thermal Method for 30 years with her husband Tom. "It is a hard teaching in today's society, but once they embrace NFP it makes it easier for them. To be able to start a marriage with this tool is starting these couples off with their best foot forward."
A natural family planning class near you
Classes in Hot Springs
Classes in English and Spanish
Classes in English at West Memphis and Jonesboro
Classes in Spanish at Jonesboro
Classes in English at Atkins, Cherokee Village, Conway, Fayetteville, Little Rock, Mountain Home, North Little Rock, Ratcliff and Rogers
Classes in Spanish at Conway, Fort Smith and Texarkana
Bishop Taylor's video and audio recordings in English and Spanish, and many other resources: www.dolr.org/bishop/openhearts.php.
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