Friday, October 31, 2014

Catholics, sex, and marriage: the elevator pitch

Man, has it been a month or what? 

I told you guys when I started writing this series that I had some serious resistance going on, but I had no way to prepare for the all out spiritual warfare that this venture would trigger. I'm not actually even being facetious. 


Which has me even more convinced that these conversations, virtual though they may be, are so deeply necessary. 

And the point is not that they remain virtual, you know? I'm fully aware of the limitations of the internet as means for evangelization. I get it. Things don't always translate, and layers of complexity and nuance are all too often lost amidst the keystrokes and the fiery rage of the combox.

But the internet is a great place for sharing information. Which, in turn, is good for facilitating communication. It's up to us to do the actual communicating on a one-to-one level though, got it?

So, to wrap things up, here's a tidy 2 minute overview of what Catholics believe about sex and marriage, and why.

Sex is good. It isn't dirty or naughty or some kind of half-hearted concession to our fallen animalistic is good, just as it was good in the beginning. Be fruitful and multiply, He said. And so we are, and we do. 

And we absolutely have to teach our kids that. Early and often. There's no such thing as "the talk" in good Christian parenting; rather, it must be a series of talks, spanning childhood into early adulthood, continually drawing children into the beauty and the truth of human sexuality. If you're waiting until your little snowflake starts middle school to say anything positive or informative about sex and the human person, well, I'm sorry to say it, but you're about 3 years too late.

We live in a sexually saturated culture, and our children's eyes and brains are bathed in provocative, violent, and sadistic images of a sexual nature at every turn. It's our job to combat that with beauty, and goodness, and above all, the truth of who and why they were "created, male and female." 

Marriage is also good. For the majority of people, it's not only good, but it's the means of our salvation. If you are called to the Sacrament of Marriage, it is through those graces (and crosses) that you'll make your way to heaven, leading and alternately being led by the spouse you choose. 

Marriage and sex go together. You might even say that attempting to separate them is at the root of almost every problem facing our society. We reserve sex for marriage not out of prudishness or repression, but for the same reason you wouldn't build a nuclear bomb in the garage: that kind of power demands respect. Mishandle plutonium and you're going to have a disaster, because you are violating the stuff's nature. You can't change nature. You can ignore it, or deny it, or repackage it as something of your own creation, but the stuff is still radioactive.

That's the reason the Church will never change her position on marriage: she doesn't have the power to. Marriage is the union between one man and one woman, designed by the Creator of plutonium, etc. to produce brand spanking new humans. We can tinker with the definition and broaden and rewrite all we want...but we can't alter nature. Even if the State does. Even if every country on earth proclaims marriage to be "an open ended living arrangement featuring a rotating cast of 4 or more adults featuring occasional collaborations with domesticated animals." Or something. Even then, the Church will not alter her stance on what marriage is, because it isn't hers to alter.

The Catholic Church's teachings on sex and marriage are profoundly freeing, which is a shocking claim to make on a libertine, pleasure-worshiping culture. But it's true! There is such freedom in chastity and fidelity and wild abandonment and trust. And while there's never a guarantee for happiness, it sure makes sense to stack the deck in your favor when it comes to matters of the heart.

If you think you know what the Catholic Church teaches about sex and marriage, make sure you've actually read and learned what the Catholic Church teaches about sex and marriage.

Sex is good. Marriage is good. Life is very, very good. Now let's go live it like we believe it.

As a guy I really like was fond of saying,

Click to read the rest of the month-long series on the Catholic Church's teachings on sex and marriage.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What does the Catholic Church say about IVF?

Mouthful of a title, right? Let's just say I'm doing it for Google's sake.

So, painfully obvious disclaimer: I am neither a bioethicist nor a theologian. Well, not officially, anyway. I've got 2 semesters of grad theology under my belt, but the only letters associated with my name are Mrs. So read on, knowing that I'm just a girl with an internet connection and a voracious appetite for moral theology and science. (In other words, these here are layman's - or laywoman's, as it were - words.)

I have been blessed with 3 beautiful, exasperating children in just under 5 years of marriage. In other words, I am in no position to talk to anyone about the heartache of infertility, or about the devastating sorrow of losing a baby to miscarriage. But here's the thing: I have friends. And I've watched their pain and I've seen the ache of longing in their eyes. And I see the messages the culture is sending out to women (and men) who suffer from the desolating poverty of infertility, and they are being fed a steady diet of bullshit that only adds to their suffering.

I want to offer the truth. Anything less than the truth is an affront to their dignity, and to the dignity of the children who they long to conceive.

The Catholic Church has that truth. She holds it in sacred trust, the inalienable belief that every human life is sacred, from conception until natural death, and that the creation of human life itself is holy. Hallowed ground.

So that's where I'm speaking from.

There's one more thing I want to say before we dive in. And it's about authentic reproductive technology: NAPRO.

I have a dear friend who was pregnant when we first met, back when I was a full time office gal. I was only months away from my wedding and couldn't get enough of her pregnancy stories and baby kicks. As our friendship grew and her belly expanded, she shared more details. This was actually her fourth pregnancy, she explained, and she'd had three previous miscarriages. But she couldn't get a referral to a high risk OB until after that third loss.

And then, do you know what the solution was for her body to carry that fourth precious baby safely to term? Progesterone. One pill by mouth daily, for the first trimester. Cheap, simple, readily available... and an option she didn't even realize she had, because she wasn't yet "high risk" enough to be referred to a doctor who knew what the hell he was doing.

That kind of dismissive, laissez faire medicine, practiced all too often in ob/gyn groups around the country, is the worst kind of insult to women.

So do yourself a favor and google around for a NAPRO doc near you.

Because you deserve to be served by a doctor who understands how your body works, and why, and who isn't content to write you an annual scrip for birth control to try to shut your reproductive system down.

(And then happily write you another scrip for fertility drugs when you change your mind 3 years down the road but it turns out, your body didn't like being messed with. So now rather than worrying about getting pregnant, you're having to worry about getting pregnant. Because it seems like now you can't.)

But what if it's more serious than that? What about couples who have no other means of recourse than IVF or even surrogacy? How can the Church tell them no, when all she speaks of is the goodness of children and the sanctity of life?

For those very same reasons. Because children are good, and because life is sacred.

Children are good. And they are gifts. We vow to accept them lovingly from God, but the converse does not hold. We cannot demand them angrily, desperately, when they do not come. No matter how great the longing. His ways are not our ways, and oh how easy it is for me to write this while my 3 little gifts lie snug in their beds down the hall.

I haven't felt the pain of infertility. It is a pain I will never know, intimately. But I do that the Church, as our mother, never asks of us that which would harm another person, and certainly not that which takes another person's life.

Many of our current reproductive technologies are harmful, and some - IVF in particular - depend specifically on creating a number - sometimes a large number - of "backup" embryos, both to ensure the success of the couple's efforts to conceive initially and for future use, should they desire more children.

From the get go, IVF is problematic because it violates the dignity of those children created in a laboratory setting. A child has the fundamental right to be conceived in the dignity and privacy of her mother's womb, the fruit of the love between two parents who are committed to each other and to her.

Anything less is poverty for that child, no matter how well reasoned or rationalized the motives of the adults involved. Does that sound crazy? If it does, it's only because our technology has so rapidly outpaced our morality that we accept just about anything at face value, simply because it is possible.

In most cases of IVF, multiple embryos are created and introduced into the mother's uterus, with the hopes that a few good ones will implant. The remainder who survive remain in limbo, kept frozen in a lab until their parents decide whether to implant, destroy, or donate.

Once inside mom, if too many "successful" embryos implant, the joyous event of a longed-for pregnancy is now marred by the dark shadow of "selective reduction," aka abortion. The parents and doctors must now choose which of the baby(s) have the best chance at making it to term, and abort the remainders.

Do you see a common thread running through it all? It's all about the adults. None of this is done for the sake of the children, or with consideration for the dignity - or the suffering - of the children.

Conceived in a petri dish, selected from an unlucky crop of frozen siblings, perhaps the survivor of an early abortion on other siblings...and finally, against all odds and many thousands of dollars and hours of pain later, brought into this world, on demand.

Loved, yes. But demanded, first.

Openness to life, we talked about earlier in this series, means openness to loss. But it can never mean intentionally causing the loss. It doesn't mean going to any extremes to obtain life, to demand it and wrench it from God's hands and fit it into our own script.

Is it fair?

Hell no it's not fair. It's not fair that I have children while some couples who don't, can't.

But life isn't fair. And there are all kinds of sufferings and different-shaped crosses we're asked to bear. It sounds so crazy but it really boils down to this: just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should.

Just because we can harvest sperm and egg from willing and desperate would-be parents, willing to shell out thousands for a baby of their own, doesn't mean we should.

Just because we can create new human life in a petri dish, coaxing the requisite genetic material together and then discarding the chromosomal losers, doesn't mean we should.

Just because we can implant a half dozen viable embryos into a woman's uterus with the selective reduction of as many of 5 of them as the failsafe backup plan, does't mean we should.

There are all kinds of things human beings are capable of. But not all of them are good. And in this case, as in so many others, the ends do not justify the means.

For couples who are suffering this incredible pain, the Church has a message of love and of mercy, and more than anything, of being a safe harbor where you can rest and not be further harmed, or cause harm yourselves.

IVF is a terrible poverty to the children involved, first and foremost. But it exacts a terrible price from their parents, too. No parent wants to willingly participate in the harm, destruction, or death of their child. It's unfathomable. And yet we have this billion dollar industry, rushing grieving couples through their office doors and helping them to do exactly that.

There's so much more that could be said, and much more eloquently, but this is long enough. 

There is no judgement here. Only truth, and sorrow, and a genuine desire to bring clarity to a deeply problematic and painful suffering that is rampant in our culture. 

The world promises relief from suffering through denial, manipulation, and force. But Christ says something different. 
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Easier said than done, right?
Click here for the rest of the series.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The modesty wars

I've been rolling this one around in my skull today in between bouts of toddler WWF-style throw downs. I don't know why they have to bite each other, but I guess if it's important to them, I want to be supportive.


So I have this pretty, funny, sort of insecure little college girl in mind when I write this. And she is smart and beautiful, and she seems to kind of know it, but she also seems to want to trade almost exclusively on her looks. So that makes me think maybe she's not as sure as she'd like to seem. Does that make sense?

So I want to talk to her. But not directly, because I'm not sure how she'd receive it. Even from someone who loves her.

I have to be 100% honest that one million blog years ago I'm pretty sure I wrote a post called Modest is Hottest. And I'm almost positive it was farcical. But just in case, I'm still hanging my head in virtual shame.

Here are two things to keep in mind when discussing modesty:

1. Modest is not hottest. I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

2. Girls are not responsible for how guys perceive them. But we are responsible for putting on pants before leaving the house/appearing on Facebook.

So those seem to be the two hottest (har har) points of contention in the matter. Firstly, that practicing modesty is in some way competitive with dressing provocatively and therefore, cap sleeves are bringing sexy back; and second, that women are emphatically not responsible for Creepy McCreeperton leering at them in the checkout line but we are allowed to wear underpants outside of the locker room.

It's a tad confusing to navigate, as a woman. As a human.

What if being modest has more to do with how one perceives (and values, and presents) herself (or himself) than about trying to repackage turtlenecks as provocative?

And what if girls (I'm speaking mostly to girls not because it's a feminine issue per se, but because I've got the chromosomes to go there. And so I go.) were absolved from striving to compete on a sexual level, every waking moment of the day.

I think our culture sends a confusing, schizophrenic message to women, inviting us to be simultaneously powerful and provocative and simpering and slutty and empowered and utterly on display. Because equal rights!

So a lot of girls buy into this idea, believing that they've got some serious capital to trade in, namely, their boobs, etc., and that it is their natural born right to flaunt it because they've got it, and nobody can tell them otherwise. Because sexism!

It's kind of ironic that female empowerment has to synch up with public nudity, though. Because you know who is really not coming out on top in that equation?

Yeah, the naked person.

Even the most confidant, empowered, enlightened, thresholded, whatever-ed woman of the 21st century doesn't deserve to be put on public display and openly ogled. Even if she is the one doing the displaying.

Does that sound crazy? To say that just because you can do something with your body doesn't mean that you ought to?

Even if a woman is a willing, eager participant in presenting herself as a sexual object to be consumed (and pornography is the ultimate example of this), she is still participating in the degradation and depersonalization of a human being. And that always gravely wrong. Even when it takes the form of self harm.

But maybe there's a better way, where we as women decide that looking decently beautiful and approachable shouldn't require a compromise with our dignity, nor should it involved ankle-length demin? And that maybe situations or people that demand otherwise aren't worth our time?

It's not empowering to shake your sexy kitten bottom at a costume party. Even if you are 22 and your butt is at its pinnacle of perfection (which, I can assure you, it is).

You are not empowered by being naked in public. In fact, nobody is empowered by that.

You are being exploited, even if it is self exploitation. And your sisters, and your friends, and your mom, and your future daughters are all the poorer for it.

Conversely, you do not have to drape thyself in a denim hijab hybrid. There's a middle ground out there, and it's waiting for you at J Crew. Or, you know, somewhere else that carries clothing which is equally attractive and more reasonably priced.

I just want you to know, if you're reading this and feeling judged, feel, instead, looked after.


Feel the weight of your dignity as a human person, and as a beautiful and powerful woman. Feel the immense responsibility you have to demand the same level of respect of yourself that you would ask from anyone else. You are worth it. You are worth more than kitty ears and a push up bra in public. And it sounds so trite. But it's true.

But you have to believe it for yourself, too. And believe that other people deserve to see more of you than is possible when they're seeing all of you.

And seriously, no cap sleeves.

Linking up anyway because it's MY party and I'll tangent if I want to.
Click here for the rest of the series.

An Evie Update

Sweet little Genevieve has led us on a bit of a goose chase during her brief 10.5 months ex utero. The past 6 weeks in particular have been ... confusing. Not bad, definitely. But not filled with relief and answers, either. Here is what we do know, after dozens of chiropractic, physical therapy, pediatric and nutritionist appointments:

She is not failure to thrive (praise God!). She's still very, very tiny, but all her labs came back normal, and she is growing, albeit very, very slowly. She's in the 3% for weight, the 25% for head circumference, and the -20% for length. In other words? Very, very short. But (as her nutritionist keeps cheerfully reassuring me) proportionate. That's why she looks, quite literally, like a living baby doll. She has doll-like proportions.

We've also been seeing a really excellent chiropractor who is trained in a specific form of care known as NUCCA. I won't bore you with the details but you can google it. We've seen really encouraging results in terms of her hitting motor milestones and increased range of motion. For example, a month ago she was not tolerating much tummy time at all (at 9 months old) and wasn't rolling consistently from front to back or back to front. She was also extremely rigid and doing lots of head banging and dramatic, angry baby planks, especially during diaper changes and when we got her dressed. And, most disturbingly, (at least to mama) she wasn't bearing any weight on her legs. She would collapse them if we ever tried to stand her up. All of that has improved in the past 5 weeks.

We've been seeing the chiro weekly, sometimes biweekly, and seeing the PT biweekly. Every day we do exercises with her at home to build up her leg strength and spend lots and lots of time on her tummy, encouraging rolling and coaxing her to crawl. No dice on the crawling yet, but that's totally in keeping with our other kids' timelines.

Here's where I'm scratching my head though: she still isn't really moving around, not in any real sense. She occasionally scoots herself backwards by accident, but no forward momentum. She also doesn't pull up on anything, or even attempt to. Her crib is still set at the newborn level, because she has never pulled up or gotten herself from prone to sitting. When sitting, she doesn't go down to tummy or all fours unless she falls over.

She gets stuck when trying to roll, shooting an arm out at a 90 degree angle to her body and effectively trapping herself on either her back or her stomach. And she resists every attempt to bring her knees up underneath her, screaming when we force her into crawling position.

She crosses her ankles whenever she is lifted and keeps her legs very tightly pinned together. Diaper changes have always been challenging because she will not spread her legs voluntarily, we have to pry them apart.

Her physical therapist sees hyper mobility in her right hip joint, and overall stiffness in her lower body. We do lots of bicycling exercises trying to loosen her up, and spend a fair amount of time down on the floor trying to build up tolerance for weight bearing.

She was 10 days early, so she's not a preemie by any stretch of the word, or even pre-term, technically. She did get me sent for all kinds of 3rd trimester ultrasounds because her femurs were measuring so short for gestational age. And now she's a 10.5 month old who wears 0-3 bottoms with ease. Her Apgars were rock solid, her birth was easy (if such a thing can be said), and she has never been majorly ill or injured, thank God. So all the risk factors are...missing.

All this to say, it could be nothing. Or it could be something. The most frustrating part about it is that, as a mom, I see something. But I can't diagnose it. And even if I could, I don't see what more we could possibly be doing in terms of helping her to learn to use her body and work her little muscles.

The "issues" I'm seeing, as mommy, are:

- not crawling or initiating movement to get from point A to B
- not pulling up
- not going from sitting to floor or from floor to sitting, independently
- not bearing weight on legs unless manipulated into position
- resisting having her knees brought up underneath her in "crawling pose"
- occasionally head banging in frustration
- rigid, tightly locked legs and hips, making diaper changes and getting dressed fairly difficult
- crossing ankles tightly when picked up
- extreme rigidity during most tummy time, essentially crazy baby planks
- not a tooth in sight (probably nothing, but why not add it to the laundry list)
- not trying to recover lost toys, or moving to get a dropped bottle. She just screams and we deliver. So maybe we're just really well trained...

I feel more than a little crazy, especially when talking to family members, as I sheepishly reveal that we've been to yet another doctor's appointment and everything came back...inconclusive. The refrain from almost everyone who has evaluated her has been, "we're not really sure what's going on, there's no one thing I can put my finger on, let's wait and see."

Waiting is tough. It's tough on mama who wants to know what, if anything, is wrong, and I'm sure it's tough on my friends and sisters who have to listen to yet another thing I googled at 10 o'clock and night and maybe sort of somehow applies to her.

But, that's in the job description, right? Work, pray, and worry obsessively...oh, wait, nope. Still not quite hitting that last metric.

So here's Evie. She's 10.5 months old, she can't crawl or scoot, but she has a handful of words, she makes her wants and needs very apparent to anyone in a 15 foot radius, and she's utterly charming. She can't pull up, she can't stand unassisted, and she doesn't like spending too much time on her tummy, but she is becoming increasingly fond of rolling.

So I guess we'll wait and see. Thanks for letting me talk at you. Wink emoji.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I'm Catholic, can I get a vasectomy/tubal ligation?

There have been a number of questions about permanent sterilization during this month-long series, and while I wrote a post on it a while back, I think it deserves a fuller treatment, and a more nuanced explanation.

I know this is a question that many, many couples wrestle with. Even couples who have zero moral qualms whatsoever about shutting down their reproductive functions struggle with the permanence of surgical sterilization, because, well, it's permanent. And that makes you feel something on a deep emotional and, dare I say, spiritual level.

We know this part of our bodies is sacred. Walk into any delivery room or birthing center and watch the miracle of life unfold and just try to remain unmoved.

There is something profound and powerful at work in our fertility.

The short answer for why Catholics don't practice permanent sterilization is the same one you'll get for why Catholics don't use any other form of contraception: it isn't broken. 

For those of us who are called to marriage and to parenthood, the invitation to participate directly in God's creative process by bringing forth new human life is a staggering, gut-wrenching responsibility.

Vasectomies and tubal ligations take the "I will not serve" of contraception and carry it a step further, beyond the moment to moment "not this time" of hormonal contraceptives and barrier methods. They allow us to say with our bodies, in effect, I will not act in accordance with my nature, not now, and not at any point in the future.

In other words, God, you screwed up. I'm not supposed to work this way.

The Church isn't anti contraception because it's science. Or because it's artificial. Or because she has million dollar stock options in thermometers. The Catholic Church (and, up until about 100 years ago, all of Christianity) opposes contraception because it is in direct defiance of the very first thing that He commanded us to do, once He created us, man and woman.

Do you remember?

Be fruitful, and multiply.

(Not: have so many children your uterus falls out and you go bald/die of starvation because you have more children than can fit in your doublewide. But be fruitful, and multiply.)

Children, in Scripture, are only and always a blessing. For couples who have many of them, and for couples who wait in longing for a single one. (Ahem, Abraham.)

There is never a point at which God says, okay, I think we're good here, plus, you guys, college is so expensive right now, you probably need to go ahead and shut things down and start maxing out that 529 because otherwise you are going to be SO screwed.

If He sends them, we accept them.

And if we can't accept them? If we are simply not in a place where it would be prudent/loving/responsible/safe/possible to accept a(nother) child?

We don't. Have. Sex.

If you cannot welcome a child into your family you should not be doing the thing which invites children into your family. It's that simple. And it's that difficult.

For couples who have grave, serious reasons why having a child would be absolutely disastrous, how could anything else but abstaining be loving?

Because what if it happens anyway? We all know that couple who still got pregnant, in spite of their best efforts to prevent it. And then what? Hopefully not abortion...but what if the reason for not getting pregnant was a grave medical complication for the mother? How is that fair or loving to her?

It's not just that, though. It's not just the "you might still get pregnant even though you're fixed" argument. It's also because it's sexually bulimic. It's doing one thing with your body, but meaning another. When we do that with our words, it's called lying. So when we do that with our's still lying. And denying the truth has consequences. Real, tangible, physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences.

Marriage is hard enough when everything is on the up and up. But when a couple chooses to consciously and systematically say one thing with their bodies but mean the opposite, there is going to be tension. There is going to be strife. There is going to be a breakdown in communication and mutual respect. And God knows we don't need anything more stacked against us, not when it's already an impossibly tall order. (Matt 19:10)

This is not a condemnation of couples who have made this decision and who regret it. This is, hopefully, a wake up call to couples who have never considered the real spiritual and emotional ramifications of physically severing the connection between sex and reproduction.

While there is no guarantee that either tubal libations or vasectomies can be reversed, there are doctors out there who are willing to try. Depending on the individual circumstances of the procedure, it can sometimes be done. And even if it doesn't work, what a huge opportunity for grace and for reconciliation to make that sacrifice, bodily, to attempt to restore what has been damaged.

For couples who are older, it might look a little different. While there is no way to return to one's childbearing years and make different choices, there is a huge opportunity for older couples to minister to younger couples in the trenches who are considering making this decision for their own marriages.

It's a message that younger couples desperately need to hear, and there are far too few voices speaking this truth: your bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, sex was created for marriage, and marriage is designed to be fruitful and life-giving. 

Don't separate your love! Don't try to undo what God has intentionally and lovingly written into your bodies. It is good that you are together, and it is good that you love each other enough to participate in bringing forth new life out of that love.

And God knows this world could use a little more love.

Click here for the rest of the series.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When NFP is hard to swallow

The funny thing about talking shop about NFP (Natural Family Planning) with other users is that the conversation, either online or in person, usually goes one of two ways.

Exhibit A: NFP blows. Meet my fourth daughter, Maria Faustina, miraculously conceived 13 days post peak. She's our 5th child in 6 years. Still, be it done unto me according to my chart...

or else

Exhibit B: NFP is so magical. It will change your life, divorce-proof your marriage, and guarantee smoldering, ecstatic sex almost every day of the month (except for a teeny tiny window, if you're seeking to avoid pregnancy.) You're an idiot if you find it challenging. Because science.

I guess I fall somewhere in between there. And I'd guess that many of us do.

I had the opportunity to speak to a group of beautiful mamas at my own parish yesterday (talk about humbling) and it was just so refreshing to be able to speak openly and honestly about the beauty AND the struggle of NFP. Because, like so much else about love and marriage, it's not always easy and it's not always clear. Because sometimes it's cloudy. Or cloudy-clear.

Aaaaaanyway, the thing is we aren't doing ourselves any favors as a Church or as couples in desperate need of support, fellowship, and wisdom from other families in the trenches if we don't speak openly about this thing that we're all expected to do (wink, wink) but that few of us are actually doing. And those of us who are doing it? Well, we're idiots. And sometimes we believe that to be true.

It's not easy being open to life in a culture so utterly opposed to it.

Our neighbors think we're weirdos. Our parents think we're irresponsible. Our bosses think we don't know what causes that. And our cashiers at the grocery store wonder if we know where the condoms are stocked.

Here's the thing though; Jesus doesn't promise convenience, lack of suffering, or predictability. There was something about a cross and lifting it upright and, you know the rest.

We live in a time and a place where convenience is the highest good. I think some of us actually worship it. I think of this most often when I'm doing the microwave dance, reheating my morning coffee, wondering how 28 seconds can pass so slowly and if I stare intently at this glowing box, will it heat any faster?

But Christianity is not convenient. 

Forgoing contraception and having difficult, meaningful, frustrating conversations about love and eternity with your spouse month after month after not convenient. Having a baby 11 months after the last one was delivered, or facing down months and maybe even years of abstinence due to a medical diagnosis is not convenient. Learning to practice temperance, self control, and chastity within - yes, within marriage - is not convenient.

But convenience doesn't guarantee happiness. Or rather, it doesn't guarantee joy.

Using NFP will not make you happy. It will not earn you a free ticket to heaven or a front-row seat at a papal audience. It's not a panacea for marital woes, and it's definitely not some baptized, back-assward Church-approved method of contraception.

It's more than that. But also less.

NFP is, first and foremost, a tool. It's something the Church, backed by scientific research, offers to her children as a means to understanding the mysterious and often confounding gift of human fertility.

Contraception, on the other hand, is the deliberate dismantling of fertility. Rather than seeking to understand, it shuts down, short circuits, or disables it.

NFP and contraception have something in common in that both can be used to avoid pregnancy. But only so much as both an umbrella and a nuclear bomb can shelter you from the rain. One works within reality, the other creates an alternate reality. And it's not pretty, though it might be very effective at keeping you dry.

NFP isn't Catholic contraception. But as long as those of us who bow our heads and bend our knees to the teachings of Christ and His Church on the matter try to compare it as such, whether in our mirrors or in conversions with each other, we're going to come up short. 

Contraception offers apparent freedom and happiness to couples longing for love. But it doesn't deliver. It can't. It cuts off love at the root, making small what could grow into something grand and majestic. 

NFP isn't a failsafe, foolproof guarantee against marital unhappiness. But it isn't self destructive, either. It's actually morally neutral; we inform the morality by our own use of it, and the choices we make.

So let's have this conversation, shall we? Let's admit that yes, living the Church's teachings on sex and marriage is difficult, insanely difficult in some circumstances. Especially in this culture, in this moment in history, in this climate of me-ness and mine-ness and all the nesses. But let's go further. Let's let people in for a glimpse at the messy, the chaotic, the honest, and the beautiful. Because for everything this culture lays claim to, beauty is not a credible option. We are starved for beauty, searching for meaning, and desperate to find - and to be - love.

And marriages that are truly open to life have a depth and a sincerity to them, even in the difficult moments, that is wildly attractive. That's the real reason people can't stop talking about it. Sure, some people are legitimately disgusted by the sight of more than a couple children trailing a simliar-looking adult in a crowded shopping center. But they're the minority. 

People are naturally drawn to what is true, good, and beautiful - so let's draw them in. And let's not be afraid to look them square in the eye and say, yes, you're right, my hands are full, and somebody just pissed on my foot in the Chipotle bathroom a few minutes ago...but I'm still going to keep them.

Click here for the rest of the series.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

JPII, we still need you

A couple of decades ago the world was introduced to a new kind of pope when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s, arms held high in greeting to a massive crowd who could not pronounce his name.
Cardinal who?
It was a tumultuous season in the life of the Church, and in the world. Communism held eastern Europe and Russia in a death grip. The West was in the throes of the fallout from the sexual revolution. War was everywhere. The family was under siege, both in the media and in the news. The Church was struggling to communicate the fullness and freshness of the Gospel to a world grown cold and indifferent to the message of Christ.
In short, it wasn’t a whole lot different from where we stand today.
Pope John Paul II was exactly the man for the job. Born into a loving Polish family, Karol would lose everyone who mattered most to him by his 21st birthday. With each subsequent heartache, each desolating loss, young Karol found himself drawn further and further into the mystery of the heart of the Father. Rather than running from God in his grief, he allowed his suffering to transform him, and his heart was enkindled with an unquenchable love for human love.
This man who lost mother, father, brother, and friend to all manner of hideous diseases and atrocities at the hands of the Nazis was transformed, by God’s grace, into one of the greatest lovers the world has ever known.
Maybe it’s strange to think of a celibate man as a great lover. Or maybe it’s just an unfamiliar application of the word. Our modern concept of sexual love is very narrow, and it’s very limiting. Sexuality has been reduced to mere animal lust, its scope and grandeur stunted by the pornographic times we live in.
But it’s true, JPII was a great lover. He was able to see into the depths of the human heart and, through his work with countless hundreds of young people and married couples, he had a unique perspective on human love. You might say he was an expert on matters of the human heart.
He saw the divinity in our humanity, and he stretched our minds to the breaking point trying to communicate it through his years-long series of Wednesday addresses, which we know today by another name: Theology of the Body.
George Weigel, the late pope’s official biographer, made a sort of prophesy about Theology of the Body more than 20 years ago, calling it:
“A theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences sometime in the third millennium of the Church… It has barely begun to shape the way the Church understands herself and thinks about herself, barely begun to shape the Church’s preaching and education, but when it does it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the creed.”
A theological time bomb? Sounds like we could use one of those right about now.
Set to change the way the Church thinks about herself and virtually every major theme in the Creed?
Sounds kind of like a big deal.
Now, you could say that Weigel was overstating his case or that his prediction was mere conjecture, but you cannot deny the dire need for the Church to re-propose the Gospel and the meaning of life and love to a world such as ours, in a time such as this.
We are at war. We have always been at war in this fallen world, it is true. But today we are warring in a particular way for the very soul of human love.
Everything that we know to be true is open for debate: Marriage. The dignity of the human person. The meaning and purpose of sexuality. The fundamental right to life itself. Every bit of it is being reexamined and reconfigured by a world in crisis.
And we have all the answers. Literally at our fingertips. Because the internet. Because massive literacy levels across broad sections of society in many cultures. Never before has information been so easy to disseminate in all of human history.
And yet we sit idly by as our civilization self-destructs, one marriage and one family at a time.
Listen, fellow Christians…this is on us.
We were each of us hand-selected for a time such as this, and we’ve been entrusted with a powerful message from the Creator to the rest of creation in this Theology of the Body.
This stuff is visionary. It’s powerful. And it isn’t going to transform a single heart or convert a single soul so long as it remains untaught, unread, and inaccessible to the average person in the pew or on the street.
St. John Paul II, we need you. More today than when you were here with us on earth.
Pray that we may find the same kind of courage that faced down communism, defied tyrants and dictators, and saw in the face of every person an unrepeatable icon of Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Suffer the children: the highest cost of divorce

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with a fabulously talented writer and speaker who was in town to give a lecture on motherhood. Since the event was in the evening, she had some time to kill and I figured what more relaxing thing could I offer her than brunch at my favorite restaurant surrounded by 3 mewling, jam-covered children? What mother of 8 who, having flown across the country to escape her own brood, wouldn't relish the opportunity?

Anyway, that's how I ended up eating eggs benedict with Lisa Lickona, who was gracious and funny and entertaining and didn't bat an eyelash when I stripped Evie from the waist down on the patio lawn in plain view of all the other diners because I didn't feel like heading to the restroom for the 15th time for something as simple as a diaper change.

We circled around all kinds of fascinating topics, but there was one thing she shared in particular that really stuck with me. Her own parents, she explained, divorced when she was in grad school, sending shock waves through her universe.

Throughout the tumult and pain of the years following, she recounted that it was her mother's difficulty with the Church's teachings on divorce and remarriage that kept her in relationship with Christ through it all. 

Her mom, she explained, was so mad that she couldn't receive Communion. She was so hurt that her new "marriage" wasn't recognized by the Church as such. And she wanted her children to take sides. Hers, particularly, not the Church's.

Then she told me something wild. She said that in a very real way, the Church's response to her parent's divorce provided a tremendous source of comfort to her and her siblings.

You read that right. She was comforted by the Catholic response to divorce and remarriage, which says, essentially, not ideal to the former and not possible of the latter. 

In other words, divorce is never the solution, and remarriage is actually not possible. 

There is a common misunderstanding that instead of divorces, we Catholics have annulments which are basically just religious divorces. Or something.

But that's not the case. The Catholic Church teaches - has always taught - that what God has joined, no man must separate. And in fact the Church does not have the power to dissolve a licitly contracted marriage. Plain English: if two people contract a valid, sacramental marriage...there's no getting out. Well, there's one way, and it's through the morgue.

Catholics cannot get divorced because marriage is a lifelong covenant. As long as both spouses are living, the marriage is, too. 

Annulment, which I'll cover in greater detail another day, is the process by which the Church determines the validity of the marriage itself, in other words, was a marriage actually contracted? Was something missing from the get-go (free consent, openness to life, exclusivity, to name a few...) that prevented a sacramental marriage in the first place?

When Lisa's parents called it quits on their marriage, they weren't just walking away from their covenant with each other; they were also walking away from the covenant they'd made with God. And God doesn't walk out on covenants.

What was incredibly painful for her mother was actually immensely comforting to the children left in the ruins, because the Church recognized, as they did, that something had gone wrong. 

That there was a real wound, a real suffering, and a real loss when mom and dad walked away from one another. And that it would be fair to no one to permit things to continue on, business as usual, when in fact their family had suffered a terrible rupture. 

That's why remarriage isn't an option for Catholics. Because as long as both spouses are alive, they're still each other. Even in the most unimaginably difficult circumstances. Even if one, or both, get "remarried" to somebody else.

Do you see the complications that ensue?

But more importantly, do you see where the greatest suffering lies?

It's in the lives of their children.

Children are the real victims of divorce, and they're the reason that marriages must be preserved at all cost. Sometimes at unimaginably great costs. 

But what's the alternative? 

Look around. Look at our society, so full of insecure and wounded people whose parents thought first of themselves and only later of the innocent little lives torn apart by adult decisions. Look at all the young people unwilling or unable to commit to relationships of their own, so scarred and gun-shy from the experiences of their youth. 

We spend a lot of time talking about the need to support and minister to divorced couples, but very little time addressing the needs of their children, for whom the fabric of the very universe has just ruptured.

The Church's firm and loving response to divorced and "remarried" Catholics is actually the most sane, compassionate, and logical response possible: "you have made a mistake, come, let us try to make it right, and let us not further your destruction by refusing to acknowledge the mistake."

And, perhaps most importantly, she says to the children, your suffering is real, and you have lost something irreplaceable. We cannot look the other way and pretend otherwise.

It's a small comfort in a crisis of epidemic proportions, but it's something. 

Click here for the rest of the series.
p.s. For a better, smarter, and far more in depth treatment on the topic, you really ought to click over and read Lisa's piece on Children of Divorce

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sprinkle with Sparkle

I don't do reviews or product placements. I just don't. I've had a handful of requests the past month or so and I always say no because I'm just not that kind of blog (and I'm emphatically NOT judging your fabulous blog which is able to feature incredible brands), and because, honestly, I don't get that many requests.

But I do have a soft spot for mamas running small businesses. And for people who offer freebies to my daughter. So when Amanda contacted me offering to make a sweet little lovey blanket for Evie doll ... well, I was basically powerless.

Her Etsy shop is adorable, and she's able to offer custom colors and combinations to make something for your little person, too. (And, from now through October 25th, she has generously decided to offer 20% off when you use the promo code "Coffee" at checkout.)

I have to say that while Genevieve mostly chews on toy trains and the stray matchbox car, she has been quite taken with her darling little blankie, which I purposely ordered in atypical girly colors, just to throw some contrast into her pink and cream-colored universe.

Check out Amanda's darling goods for yourself, and feast your eyes on Evie's first sponsored photo shoot:

(Thanks Amanda!)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Let's talk about "openness to life"

In a Catholic wedding, just before the exchange of vows, the priest or deacon receiving the couple's promises to one another and to God asks a series of three questions. I thought they were part of the vows themselves, but they're actually preliminary questions which allow the vows to proceed, if that makes sense. 
They're conditional, in a way. A sort of final litmus to test the sincerity of the couple entering into Holy Matrimony, making certain the conditions necessary for a valid marriage are in place.
"(Name) and (name), have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?" 
"Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?" 
"Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?"
That last line always gets me. I said those words with such sincerity, and without the faintest idea what I was actually getting myself into.

How hard can it be, right? 

Dave and I were well prepared for marriage and kids, both by the examples we had in our own families and in our varies jobs. We were professional oldest siblings, bossy as hell (well, one of us) and super mature.

We were so set.

Then went and like, had a child of our own and we were all, oooooooohkay, this is a little different then what I was expecting.

With each additional kid we've added to our ranks, I've observed an odd mixture of increasing love and parental competence accompanied by stark, raving terror. Because more kids are more work, yes, but also because with each new baby bump my anxiety level ratchets up another thousand points because love invites loss.

There's a very real point at which openness to life intersects with openness to loss.

There are the more obvious examples; infertility, miscarriage, still birth, infant death, loss of a child, major illness...and then there are the less apparent losses. Loss of autonomy. Loss of control. Loss of income. Loss of (perceived) ability to know the future.

I get why a culture such as ours, hell bent on control and predictability, has such a hard time accepting children. And actually, I don't think it's unique to our time. What is unique is the accessibility and widespread acceptance of contraception.

We still pledge to accept children lovingly from God, but we do so with fingers crossed behind our backs, knowing that at the end of the day, we don't really have to rely on God in that arena in this day and age. I mean maybe we think He'll send a couple our when we're good and ready, hopefully healthy models that tick all the right boxes...but we don't honestly plan on throwing caution to the wind and sailing bravely into the unknown, opening wide to the adventure of marriage and parenthood.

But what if we did?

What if agreeing to accept children lovingly from God was more than just an archaic line in an ancient religious ceremony? What if we actually lived that promise, (and I'm not talking about going quiver full or moving to Arkansas, though we do love a good Duggar episode in this house) giving our future over to God and asking for His plans, not our own, for our families. And what if His answer looked completely different from what we'd hoped?

What if there were no children at all, or only a precious one? What if there were 6, and we felt stretched past our breaking point and ready to drop dead? And what if, no matter what story He wanted to write with our fertility, we bowed our heads and whispered, not my while, but Yours, be done.

Maybe we'd be happier. Maybe our marriages would be richer. Maybe our houses would be destroyed and maybe our hearts would be broken open by disappointment and difficulty and sorrow ... and maybe they would be so much larger for it.

I know this is a crazy thought, but what if God knows better than we do the plans He has for us ... plans for our welfare and not for our woe? Plans to give us a future, and hope?

I struggle every single day with relinquishing control. From my first cup of coffee until my eyes close at night. I have three beautiful children. I've got it made. And I'm so lucky. Why rock the boat? Why be open to more difficulty? Why risk the chance that things might get messy(er)/painful/uncertain?

Well, this is why. Faith like this woman's. That's the kind of boldness I want to practice. That's the stuff saints are made of. Radical openness, wild trust, and abandon to divine providence.

Now, to find the courage. Because quite frankly, it's still a terrifying prospect.

Click here for the rest of the series.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A little porn never hurt anybody

I escaped from momdom for a couple hours this afternoon and found myself with a hour left on the baby-sitter-meter and nary an errand or appointment to occupy my remaining 60 minutes of freedom.

I have a deep seated weakness for the pedicure chair. Maybe it's because I went into labor for the first time while seated in one. Or maybe I just like polished toes. But whichever the case may be, I found myself cozied up with a stack of Good Housekeeping magazines and a truly hideous shade of mauve that I swore up and down to myself was stone-cold Autumn in a bottle, but looks fairly corpse-like on my feet. C'est la pedi.

As I flipped through my extremely age-appropriate choice of magazines and relaxed into the pummeling of a massage chair set to "drunken kidney punches" I came upon a strange interview with Jennifer Garner, aka Mrs. Ben Affleck.

She had the weirdest reaction to one of the interviewer's questions about pornography.

Just for reference, she has a new movie coming out about the internet, and her A-list husband reportedly flashed some serious skin in his latest blockbuster, so I was curious to see her answer.

It was ... odd.

Basically she started by saying that she was afraid for the day her daughters might find something scary online, and that she really needed to be mindful, as a parent, of what they were exposed to. Okay, so far, so good.

But then...then she said that pornography between two adults was probably fine, and that there was "probably a time and a place for porn" if two people are on the same page and mature. Or something. But still, not for her daughters. Not now, anyway.

I can understand a mother's heart wanting to protect her children from harm. What I can't understand is ever not wanting that.

The truth is, there's no such, this as "a little bit of porn between two consenting adults," because first of all, the camera man makes three. And even with selfie-style contemporary amateur porn, the inevitable internet makes three...million.

Part of what makes porn so destructive is the intrusive nature of making something so intensely private as sex, public, and not only public, but actually intended and designed to be consumed by an other, an outsider, an observer.

Porn degrades sex into a transactional exchange, into an open invitation to use a human person as a tool, to consume them as a product. 

Everyone involved, from the "actors" on the set to the producers behind the product to the consumer on the other side of the computer screen is participating in the use and abuse of a human person.

There's no such thing as just a little bit of porn. And there's no acceptable age at which it becomes "healthy" or "normal" to consume porn, or more accurately, to be consumed by it.

Because even if two consenting adults were to sit down with a completely digitally-acted movie and use it as a means to introduce a level of erotic excitement into their own sex life, it's still an utterly self-centered means to arousal. When you're watching porn with your partner, you're not experiencing any kind of intimacy with them as you both get excited by the person on the screen in front of you.

It might be titilating and it might lead to sex in real life, but at what cost? You just used another person's body (either actual or CGI, it really doesn't matter) to bring yourself to sexual arousal so that you can, essentially, dump your feelings (and then some) into an available receptacle in the form of your partner.

Self, self, self.

But that's not what sex was made for. Sex was designed to draw us to the other, to invite our small and selfish little hearts to open wide enough to let another person inside, and to pursue their happiness above our own, seeking to outdo one another in love.

That's part of why St. John Paul II was so (and scandalously so, for his time) insistent that mutual climax be the goal of sexual union between spouses, so that husband and wife were continually seeking the good of the other, constantly trying to outdo each other in love.

Porn seeks the opposite. It wants immediate self gratification.

Forget delayed gratification, porn says 'give me what I'm owed, and if you can't deliver it, I'll just click over to the next option.'

And even if it's used alone, in the privacy of one's own bedroom, with nary another flesh and blood participant to be found, it's still deeply damaging. To the person consuming it, to the person performing it, to the spouse or boyfriend or daughter on the other side of the closed door, perhaps unaware but not unharmed by the transaction taking place on your screen.

There's never a time or a place for it, and there's no relationship on the planet that's better off because of it.

The reason that a little porn never hurt anyone, is that there's no such thing as a little porn. It's a dark, insidious, addictive,  and destructive force that feeds on human love. And God knows we've got too little of that to go around these days, anyway.

Click here for the rest of the series.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why does the Catholic Church care about what I do in my bedroom?

This is a valid question, and it's one that gets asked frequently, especially in our sexually schizophrenic culture. On the one hand, we're super freaked out by the idea of anybody, for any reason, asking anything about our sex lives...let alone having opinions or making judgements on what goes on behind closed doors.

Then again, reality tv. And pornography. And sexual deviance the likes of which the world has probably not seen since the days of ancient Rome.

So we're both consumed by the idea of sex as something private all while simultaneously flaunting our sexuality in an intensely public manner, making sure the whole world, starting with the stranger on the subway or the unsuspecting fellow parent on the playground, knows precisely how things are going in that department.

Then we've got this Church. This 2,000 year old, preposterously behind-the times, headed-up-by-a-celibate-male-hierarchy Church, trying to tell people who are having sex all the ways they shouldn't be having it.


First off, the whole "celibate male hierarchy argument." Let's just put that one to rest, shall we?

Catholic priests are called to a life of celibacy and chastity in imitation of the life of Christ. They give up the great good of sexual expression within the context of a human marriage for the greater good of a spiritual union with Christ, and a fruitful life given in service to the larger Church. So sex is good, and priests surrender this very good thing as a gift to the rest of the Church. A life devoted entirely to Christ, to His Church, and to the proclamation of the gospel.

Some of my closest friends are priests. One of my girlfriends left her job, her friends and family, and her life this past summer to enter a religious order. Their lives are beautiful, fruitful, and deeply meaningful. And they're never, ever going to have sex! In the year 2014...can you even fathom it?

It's no small sacrifice, but it yields some beautiful fruit, and as Catholics, we believe that it offers a glimpse of eternal life as "in heaven people are neither married nor given in marriage." Not because marriage isn't incredibly good, but because marriage itself is just a preview of eternal life with God who is love.

So, just to recap, sex and marriage = good.

Good enough to have a few rules around it for its - and our - protection.

Catholics are expected to behave a certain way in the bedroom. Namely, to practice faithful, chaste, sacrificial love for our spouse within the exclusive and permanent commitment of marriage.

We're also expected to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to refrain from committing murder, along with a handful of other commandments.

In other words, there are rules for everything. Not because God hates us, or because sex is shameful, or because we're hysterically guilty about everything...but because we live in a fallen world that has been redeemed by a loving God.

All relationships have rules. Otherwise they're just hook ups. And God doesn't want to hook up with us. He wants to wed Himself to us for eternity.

So the next time someone questions you about the Church's stance on sex, be sure you're prepared to explain that actually, there's no other place on earth where human love is held in such high esteem.

Click here to read the rest of the series.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The link between contraception and homosexuality (and it's not what you'd think)

Sometimes God just throws you a big 'ol softball and you can't help but take a swing at it.

I had the unexpected privilege today to interview Fr. Paul Check, executive director of Courage International, for a forthcoming episode of Heroic Media (it's slated to air Nov. 1st on EWTN) and he said something profound. Actually he said about a dozen things that were profound, but one sentence stuck with me, because I've been reflecting on it for years. It was, loosely paraphrased,
"50 years ago as a culture, we severed the connection between sex and babies, and ever since, we've distanced ourselves further and further from the reality of sex."
Basically, with the advent of commercially available birth control, once it became permissible for some couples to engage in sterile sex, it was only a matter of time before other couples came clamoring for their own perceived "rights" in the sexual arena.

If you think about it it makes a lot of sense. If married couples can have sex without babies, and indeed, if sex has nothing to do with babies (until and unless we tell it to) then who's to say what constitutes "sex," anyway?

Maybe sex is just mutual masturbation. Maybe sex is any genital contact in any configuration, as determined by the participating parties. Maybe there can be more than 2 parties involved. Maybe there are no rules at all, because we've remade sex in our own image and to our own liking, forgetting that we were made in His image and likeness.

When society accepted contraception as commonplace and replaced the expectation that children might reasonably result from sexual activity with the promise that sex could be "freed" from any consequence, we got more than we bargained for.

What we've got, in short, is a civilization in sexual free fall, and a society that is struggling to piece together some kind of new normal. And meanwhile there are victims everywhere, the walking wounded who've bought the lie and who've been burned by the reality that sex is much, much more powerful than we give it credit for.

Homosexual couples, within this modern sexual construct, have every right to the same kind of sterile, self-centered sex that heterosexual couples are practicing. 

Because if sex doesn't lead to babies, and if marriage isn't ordered towards procreation and the mutual good of the spouses (laymen terms: getting each other to heaven), then we can pretty much reinterpret marriage through whatever lens suits our particular world view. And really, we ought to, from an egalitarian perspective. Fair's fair.

But it's not really possibly to separate sex from its life-giving potential.

Deny it, yes. Suppress it, sure. But the reality of sex is that it was meant to do this thing, to bond two people together in such a profound and lasting way that, in the words of my favorite professor, "9 months later you might have to give it a name."

Homosexual sex can never do that.

Even a surgically sterilized, contracepting, post-menopausal married couple was, at one point, fundamentally capable of bringing forth new life by the very nature of their creations as male and female.

We are intentionally designed, and in the design we see the potential for participation in the creative heart of God, in His own divine life. Life which begets love, from love.

This is in no way an attack on the dignity of the human person who struggles with same sex attraction. And it's not a judgement on people who engage in a homosexual relationships.

The Church has always taught, and will always teach, that although contraception and homosexual activity are immoral and gravely disordered activities, those persons practicing them are worthy of the same love and respect of every other person on this planet.

I hope you know that. The Church does not condemn you. She is mother. She is the place where you are unconditionally loved and accepted.

But like any good mother, the Church desires what is best for her children, and what will serve their ultimate happiness.

There is freedom here.

For further reading on what the Church teaches on homosexuality check out Courage's website.

And you know I'm going to end this post by telling you to read Humanae Vitae again.

Click here to read the rest of the series.

Monday, October 13, 2014

We interrupt this series for a PSA {and an apology}

Okay, it's October 13th (what????) and I've got nearly 2 ambitious weeks of blogging my way through the Catholic Church's teaching's on sex and marriage under my belt, and that feels awesome.

What does not feel awesome, however, is how over extended I am. This week's calendar is peppered with dr.'s appointment, editing and writing deadlines, interviews, meetings, and, oh yes, child rearing. So, SO...I have to make some choices.

I'm not going to stop writing this series, because you guys, the response has been phenomenal. Like 3-4 thousand hits per post, easy. Clearly you want to read this. Or at least debate this.

So here's my promise to you:

I promise to keep going, to write almost every day (I've missed 2 out of 13 so I'm trying to be realistic) and to write to the specific and challenging topics you've asked about: (IVF, fertility treatments, vasectomies and condoms, etc.)

In return, if you guys could pretty please help me out in the combox by engaging people who are asking meaningful, genuine questions (and ignoring the bat shit crazies) that would be so great. I love getting comments, and I love reading them, but I have been so inundated with comments and emails and Facebook messages this month that literally I will be dead before I respond to them all. Not because there are that many (though there are hundreds) but because my soul with crumple up into a little ball of exhausted effort and simply keel over. I simply don't have the emotional currency to do it all.

Digital evangelization is hard because it's pretty one-sided. And even if you engage in what feels like a meaningful dialogue, it's simply no replacement for a face-to-face. It doesn't work the same way on a relational level, you know?

Anyway, if you left me a lovely or challenging or provocative (but reasonably so) comment or email and I haven't responded yet, it's not because I don't care or don't have an answer, it's just because I threw my back out, one child is vomiting, and my house is crumbling into ruins around me while I miss deadline after deadline in my calendar. Just kidding. A tiny bit.

Though, if you are batshit crazy, it's probably safe to say I don't care, and you can probably stop holding your breath.

Thank you for your attentiveness, internet, and THANK YOU for reading. Please keep praying for the Synod and for families and couples you know (ahem, maybe in your own home) who are struggling heroically to live this stuff in a culture that opposes the very essence of Christianity: hope.

We are not without hope, thank you Jesus.

But my inbox is.

Over and out.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hey Pope Francis, it's the 21st century, what's up with contraception?

One of the most difficult Catholic teachings to accept - for believers and non believers alike - is the Church's position on contraception.

I imagine (actually no, it's not imagined. I get these questions all the time) that people are confused primarily about the motives behind the teaching, all while simultaneously reeling in disbelief that anyone could - or would - live without birth control in the modern world.

First, let's start with a couple reasons why the Church doesn't forbid contraception.

It's not because:

- The Pope is attempting to raise a standing army of believers to vanquish the Islamic state

- Catholic women are being imprisoned by the productivity of their own uteruses and prevented by perpetual morning sickness from running for office or owning small businesses

- The Church doesn't want sex to be enjoyable

- Screw the environment, let's have a crusade

Whether or not you agree with the Church's teaching on this matter, know that it has NOTHING to do with the above reasons, promise. And you're not being particularly funny or original when you insist otherwise at a cocktail party or in the com box. 

Now how about some of the reasons why Catholics are forbidden from using contraception?

- Most forms of hormonal contraception are abortifacient (capable of causing abortion) in addition to being contraceptive

- The introduction of contraception into the marital relationship opens a pathway for mutual use of the other and makes truly selfless love really, really hard ... and unlikely.

- Contraception is fundamentally anti-woman and anti-child. It says, in effect, that the female body is broken/in need of suppressing/better off poisoned than functional, and that the child is disposable.

- It makes a woman "on" 24/7. And if you're available for sex 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you better be ready to perform ladies, or else he's gonna look elsewhere to have his "needs" met.

This last point is worth expanding on, because in the oft-maligned and eerily prescient bombshell encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned about 3 very specific things which would result from the introduction of widespread contraception:

1. A decline in the moral standards of the young leading to greater marital infidelity in entire generations (more premarital sex, more promiscuity, more teen pregnancy, more divorce.)

2. A lowering of respect for women as men see them more and more as tools to to use to serve their own desires. (more spousal abuse, more domestic violence, rise in sex trafficking and sex slavery)

3. Contraception will become a tool in the hands of amoral or immoral states seeking to control populations and repress entire classes. (Aid dollars tied to contraception and sterilization campaigns, "benevolent" foreign governments seeking to sterilize poor, indigenous populations "for their own good,"Western-style contraceptive campaigns undermining traditional values in non-Western countries)

So basically, check, check, check.

Every single thing the Church warned about has happened. 

And every single time the culture tries to fix the above issues by calling for "better access to women's healthcare (aka suppressing or mutilating the female body), better access to condoms and birth control for poor, indigenous populations who just don't know any better and who there really should be fewer of, anyway (aka eugenics), and younger and more aggressive introductions to the Pill for adolescent girls, the problems get worse.

You can't fix all the things contraception has helped to bring about with more contraception. 

But there's good news, too. Really good news, I promise.

But you're going to have to come back later this week because I'm not even joking, a certain 2-year-old just projectile vomited all over the couch. Biological/spiritual warfare or hilarious irony? You be the judge. 

Click here to read the rest of the series.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I've made a mistake. Now what?

One thing I'm realizing in writing my way through the month of October, unpacking the Catholic Church's teachings on sex and marriage, is how many people out there have found themselves in the oh-so-familiar position of begin on the wrong side of those teachings.

In other words, having sinned.

First off the good news: YOU AND EVERYBODY ELSE WHO EVER INHABITED THE PLANET, the Blessed Mother excluded.

Including me.

Oh, how very much I belong in this camp. The camp of regret and heartache and anger and remorse and resentment toward God and a Church that would ask me to not do the thing which I had just done, because it would hurt me. And then it did hurt me. And so I was doubly mad.

So where does that leave someone who has sinned?

Well, hopefully, in line for confession.

Honestly, it's that simple. And it's that difficult.

The practice of reconciliation is essential for the health and wellbeing of any successful relationship. How much more essential is it to our relationship with God? And how much more effective?

Catholics go to confession to repair the relationship between the Creator and the creature. We go to admit (and this takes humility) "I screwed up. I did the thing you warned me against. And I'm sorry. I'll try not to do it again. But You have to help me."

And you know what God says, every time?

I forgive you.

Read the account of the prodigal son in Luke's gospel and you'll get a perfect, simple and profound explanation of the Sacrament of Confession.

But, but, you might be sin is too great. God can't handle the magnitude of my screw up.

Yes, He can. The same way He's handled it for every other sinner and saint (often one and the same) who've roamed this earth. There's nothing He can't handle.

God can handle abortion.

God can handle a sexual homosexual relationship.

God can handle an extramarital affair.

God can handle prostitution.

God can handle vasectomies and tubal ligations.

God can handle an IUD.

God can handle the Morning After pill.

God can handle sex trafficking.

God can handle a pornography addiction.

God can handle abuse.

God can handle divorce.

God can handle murder.

And God can handle you.

There's nothing you've done He can't (and won't) forgive, if you are willing to come to Him and ask for it. And that's the entire premise of the Gospel right there, isn't it.

He died for you. And He rose again for you. And He founded His Church to help carry you to Him. And He entrusted the Church with His laws, with His best plan for your life. And every time you stray from that plan, He's ready to welcome you back.

Every time.

So if you've had an abortion, do not despair.

If you've cheated on your spouse, do not give up and walk away.

If you're addicted to pornography and want so badly to believe the cultural lie that it's harmless and healthy and completely normal...listen to the small, still voice in the back of your mind that's telling you differently. And come to Jesus. He longs to rescue us from our sins.

The reason the Church teaches anything about anything at all is out of love. That includes in a particularly powerful way Her teachings about sex and marriage.

The "rules" and the "restrictions" are all there to protect us, and to call us back into relationship with God when we fall short.

And we all do.

That doesn't mean the Church is wrong.

Pornography reaching epidemic proportions doesn't mean the Church is wrong.

Birth control being practiced both in the pews and by the culture at large doesn't mean the Church is wrong.

Abortion on demand available in most places and for any reason doesn't mean the Church is wrong.

Homosexual relationships being recognized as marriages in 31 out of 50 states in the US doesn't mean the Church is wrong.

And the idea that you did x or y or z or even all three together and you might as well just accept yourself as "that kind of person" and walk away from Jesus because He doesn't want you and He doesn't accept you and His Church sure as hell doesn't want you around...

That's dead wrong.

The Church is your home. Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is your savior.

And if you've screwed up a hundred times, He is all the more your savior.

Sometimes the more a soul has suffered, the more a soul is capable of loving. And the more profound the conversion to holiness. Think of St. Paul. Think of St. Augustine.

It's never too late.

I hope you'll read everything I've written so far this month with that in mind, and everything else I'm going to write for the remainder of the month.

"Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground." -G.K. Chesterton

Click here to read the rest of the series.