I love the liturgical seasons! Right now we are celebrating Advent, the days leading up to Christmas. Beginning Christmas Day, we celebrate the Christmas season for almost two weeks (this year it is eleven days, leading up to the Feast of the Epiphany). For now, daily Mass readings and liturgical observances allow us to slow down, enjoy each day, not live tomorrow before it comes, while also building anticipation and thus a more joyous celebration when Christmas begins.
I have appreciated the daily Advent reflections by Fr. Robert Barron (if you haven’t heard about or receive them, you can check them out here). Reflecting on the idea of waiting, I have been thinking about the concept of abstinence, and how it is misunderstood today. (I feel compelled to clarify that Fr. Barron does not mention sexual abstinence in his Advent reflections.) It seems that some people see NFP as some sort of non-sex program. (Yet, others equate NFP with large families…?) These misconceptions are often are based on assumptions, hype, and inadequate information.
Couples using Natural Family Planning plan intercourse around the naturally occurring times of fertility and infertility they see on their personal charts. If they desire children, they use the fertile times to have intercourse. If they desire to postpone pregnancy, they use the infertile times. The counter-cultural idea here is that a couple would have to wait before satisfying a sexual desire. What many, many people miss is that intercourse that is truly loving is not a matter of merely satisfying sexual desire: it is becoming one with your spouse through an act of self-giving. When the desire to become united with your spouse comes at a time that would not best serve the other, couple or family, couples practice self-discipline and find other ways to show love for each other, and they often find that these practices strengthen their marriage as well.
Abstinence is self-discipline. We discipline ourselves through exercise, by refraining from eating sweets while on a diet, and establishing routines and schedules in our lives, all to achieve goals. Discipline can be difficult, but when we value the goal it is worth the sacrifice, and it makes the goal more worthy, while making us healthier persons.
Abstinence means practicing self-discipline and waiting, as in Advent, to celebrate the gift of each other at the right time. And then! When the time of waiting has passed, the celebration is that much richer.
May God bless us with all the graces needed during our times of waiting, and may we give thanks for them.