“St. Anne, St. Anne find me a man” is a popular piety that has been repeated by many single Catholic ladies on the eve of her feast day. The history of the connection between St. Anne and single ladies finding a man is difficult to find. But who is this St. Anne?
Long ago, in a Podunk country near the center of trade between East and West, a couple named Joachim and Anne were practicing their Jewish faith. Like all Israelites, they were anticipating the long awaited Messiah, the Word of God, the same Logos that Greek philosophers before them spoke. They would undoubtedly travel to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover. I wonder if they would realize that the sacrificial bloody lamb that they would consume would be replaced by another Lamb, that would also be sacrificed and consumed. I wonder if they would realize that the recalling of the Passover and its release of bondage from the slavery in Egypt would be fulfilled with another Pasch and a release from the slavery of a deadlier master, sin.
As tradition has passed down, a barren Anne and childless Joachim from Nazareth were given the great grace of conceiving Miriam, or as she is known today, Mary. Mary, or Full of Grace, as the angel called her, was chosen to give birth to the Son, God made Flesh, God with us, the fulfillment of the New Covenant.
Tomorrow, my beautiful daughter will celebrate her feast day saint. We will recall the life of Saint Anne, her raising of Mary and her relationship with her grandson, Jesus. Like this family of 2000 years ago, we will probably celebrate with food and drink. The food and drink will also be a symbol of another celebration that reminds us of yet another meal that was broken and shared.
“For by the chaste and holy life you led together, you have fashioned a jewel of virginity: she who remained a virgin before, during, and after giving birth. She along for all time would maintain her virginity in mind and soul as well as in body. Joachim and Anne, how chaste a couple! While leading a devout and holy life in your human nature, you gave birth to a daughter nobler than the angels, whose queen she now is.” –excerpt from a sermon by Bishop Saint John Damascene
There is yet another wonderful connection to this week. As Catholics in the USA, we celebrate with the couple Joachim and Anne, the Natural Family. Like this couple of tradition, we approach each other according to our nature of masculine and feminine. Without abusing our natures and keeping in mind and heart responsible parenthood, the science of the human body is presented to us in the form of Natural Family Planning. We celebrate that making love naturally is great. The mystery of life is ever present without any such barriers to giving ourselves fully to each other; we don’t hold anything back including our fertility. This method calls us to struggle against the generic sex that unnatural sex offers. In our favor, evangelizing our culture is quite easy. NFP makes it even easier because we actually have scientific and biological knowledge of fertility and its beautiful design written in us.
There is little doubt that couples are struggling. I can see why if a man and woman enter a marriage thinking “I will do whatever makes me happy.” This curse is broken with the good news that marriage is supposed to a gift of yourself to another person. How can you give yourself fully to another if you hold something back for yourself? Our culture is thirsting for fulfillment in marriage and relationships. Just go buy some groceries and look at the magazine rack. Look at the stats on men and women that rot their brain on porn. There is a wonderful antidote to this zombie existence of unrecreational sex. That truth serum is simply being open to creational sex. It is not easy; we are a fallen and bent race. However, not seeking creational conjugation is like cowering in failure or accepting a dreadful disease as the way life is supposed to be. If you have fallen, get back up and try again and again and again. In a culture racked by broken homes and divorce, we bear a message of hope that marriage can be life-lasting, through self-donation and as nature intended, when we give ourselves we also receive our own fulfillment. It shouldn’t take Tolkien’s character Gollum to tell us that living solely for pleasure-of-self will warp us.
Natural Family Planning is not all sunshine and daisies. It is gritty and plucky. Babies are cute and cuddly. But they also stink a room, barf on your shoulder, and poop raisins whole. NFP is similar. It has its glories and its difficulties. Marriages stay together, couples copulate conscientiously according to their blueprint but the couple also struggles to discern, to be chaste, and to live for the other person. Also, like babies, it takes education, personal development, and proper feeding, which all take work and cooperation between couples. But isn’t that one of the reasons marriage is so incredible?
NFP is real sex, real masculinity and femininity. It doesn’t throw out the most powerful characteristic we possess.
What are some of your struggles in practicing Natural Family Planning? What are of the benefits you have found? What gave you the confidence to start? What were you concerned with before trying it?