Body Language and Natural Family Planning

Written by Dr. Lester Ruppersberger D.O., FACOOG 

I first became introduced to Pope St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body back in the 1990’s and the text totally grabbed my attention as a newly converted NFP-only Ob/Gyn. The language ‘spoke’ to me and, as an English major in college, words DO mean something. As it turns out, Theology of the Body was Pope St. John Paul II’s 129 Wednesday discussions begun at the very beginning of his papacy in 1979 and speaks more about human sexuality than ALL other Popes preceding him, and, as Dr. Christopher West has stated, is a ‘theological timebomb’ set to go off in the 21st century. So, why is TOB so important? And what is its relationship to NFP?

In all ages, men and women – even sometimes only secretly – have been fascinated with sex. The issue of sex is no footnote in human life. God could have created new life in any manner He wished, but He created man and woman so that the ‘two become one’ and they become ‘co-creators’ of new life. Sexual attitudes and behaviors have power to orient individuals, nations, and societies toward respect for life, or its disregard. As sex goes, so go marriage and family. As marriage and family go, so goes the world. The old approach was often seen to be repressive, a group of ‘noes’ to sexual behavior. This new Theology of the Body approach required a new language, a language which reveals God’s plan for sex, marriage and family, and the joys of living such a lifestyle.

Theology of the Body is a big ‘YES’ to life and love and babies and bonding. ‘By charting a path to an authentic sexual redemption, the Theology of the Body serves as the antidote to the culture of death and the foundation of the culture of life. The Theology of the Body envisions a world filled with men and women who freely embrace their dignity created in the image and likeness of God (Imago Dei). Only from this foundation can an authentic culture of life and a civilization of love take root and flourish.’

Is it not wonderous that our gracious and loving God, in His perfect and infinite desire to show His amazing love for us, gave us physical bodies that were complimentary and able, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, to co-create new life to fulfill His plan for our salvation? As Theology of the Body notes, marriage for us is a ‘signpost’ and ‘example’ of the love that is intended for us all as we are the ‘bride’ and Christ is the ‘bridegroom’ and it is not coincidence that the ‘bookends’ of the Bible are marriage accounts. We are called to communion, and we use that term in referring to the Eucharist that we can receive where the ‘two become one’ in that Sacrament and we all get a foretaste of the heavenly Trinitarian union that we will experience if we achieve our heavenly destination. The call to communion is inscribed in our sexuality and is “the fundamental element of human existence in the world,” “the foundation of life” and hence, “the deepest substratum {foundation} of human ethics and culture.” “It is an illusion to think we can build a true culture of human life if we do not accept and experience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and their close interconnection.” (Evangelium Vitae).

Ultimately, the very meaning of the body, the very meaning of our sexuality and the very purpose of marriage is written in our created image and likeness of God. Our current generation has the ‘roadmap’ in Theology of the Body to follow what was originally intended for us. An important part of that roadmap are the biological signs placed into our created bodies that allows married couples to know their fertile and infertile times, and even discern problems with their fertility through the teachings of fertility awareness- based methods. These methods are constructed to assist married couples in their discernment of responsible parenthood with their primary obligations being first to God, then to each other, then to their families and finally to society. It’s important to keep it in that order.

What a wonderful plan and what a wonderful gift Pope St. John Paul II has given to our current and future generations to further promote a culture of life and overcome the culture of death! What a wonderful opportunity we have to learn fertility awareness-based methods, so as to live out God’s plan more fully.

Those who seek the accomplishment of their own human and Christian vocation in marriage are called to make this theology of the body the content of their behavior. How indispensable is a thorough knowledge of the meaning of the body, in its masculinity and femininity, along the way of this vocation!

St John Paul The Great

Lester Ruppersberger is a retired Ob/Gyn and has been an NFP instructor in Philadelphia for nearly 20 years. Dr. Ruppersberger, an NFP-only physician, has been the past president of the Catholic Medical Association, works with Philadelphia-area crisis pregnancy centers, and has extensive experience on boards and in collaborating with national groups. He is the Vice Chair of the CCL Board of Directors.