In this Gospel passage, Jesus talks about Divorce.
Growing up I never thought much about the sacredness of married life. My family was pretty much dysfunctional (this MIGHT be an understatement) and I never thought much about the importance of family — in fact I detested it.
I (shamefully) remember asking my mom one birthday — it was my 7th — for her to divorce my dad as my birthday gift. I did not think it would be a problem — after all, when someone is aggressive to you daily, you leave him… right?
To that she gave a response I’ll never forget for the rest of my life: “This is a cross I must carry.”
Honestly, I thought she was mad for wanting to endure this hardship.
On hindsight, that was her living out her vows of marriage and that planted in me a seed of perseverance and faithfulness to God. It was the wisest thing anyone ever said to me.
The Pharisees quoted the mosaic law and questioned why Moses allowed for divorce. But Jesus explained that God’s intention for our state in life — whether married or single — was to be saints.
Being a saint entails that we rely on the power of God to overcome hardship before we rely on the power of man.
Moses had only permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts.
Male and female are indissolubly united in one flesh in marriage — a sacred and binding union — until death.
Marriage vows are so sacred, and such exemplars of what it means to love truly — you vow to love unconditionally every single moment of every single day, you vow to give yourself totally for the good of the other person. THAT is true love.
After all, from a Theology of the Body (TOB) lens, our entire faith is based on the idea of God wanting to marry us! He — in the person of Jesus Christ — is the groom and we the Church are His bride; the cross the “nuptial bed”. Just like how Jesus was humble to death on the cross, couples must learn to adjust in humility for the marriage to grow and experience success. Many failures in marriages are due to:
– lack of humility
– lack of prayer life
Back to my mom: she may not be educated in theology or the doctrines of the Church. But she is (sure as sure can be) in possession of the Truth and I believe that she is the epitome of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus.
Prayers for all my married friends, that you realize that God has called you to be saints in your vocation as married people, and may God grant you the graces to be faithful to the end.
The Gospel on 24 May teaches a Hard Truth about Divorce. I’m going to spell it out because I won’t distort the Church’s teaching: Divorce, understood as the dissolution of a marriage, is NOT possible between two baptized persons.
Guess who said this? Jesus Christ Himself (c.f. Mt 19:6, Mk 10:8-9), echoed by Paul (c.f. 1 Cor 7:10-11). The Church has always been clear that “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (CCC 2382).
The Catholic Church has tons to say about divorce, but I will not write them all down here. However I will reflect on two points.
1) Useful Litmus Test: If your Church leaders teach that divorce is permissible, wake up and see the Truth! No True Church of Christ will twist the words of Jesus to suit secular norms.
2) What if there is abuse involved in the marriage? The Code of Canon Law states:
“A spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of the local ordinary [e.g., bishop] or, if there is danger in delay, even on his or her own authority.” (CIC 1153)
This inherently means that the Church values life above all. Cases of abuse are complex and usually endangers the life of the abused party. In such situations, the Church considers civil divorce to be the EQUIVALENT of a LEGAL SEPARATION and tolerates it for JUST CAUSE (such as to ensure personal safety and/or the safety of children).
Under the eyes of the Church however, the ‘civilly divorced’ person is still considered validly MARRIED and may NOT remarry in the Church unless an annulment is granted.
The issue of divorce is a very clear example on why the Church needs all three aspects to function prudently: Liturgy, Law and Revelation. Taking out any one of these will result in the fall of the Church because each has a necessary role to play. Much more to say on this, but I’ll end my reflection here.
Torch begins by describing his attitude to dating right after his conversion – it was legalistic, rule-bound, and ultimately illogical and stifling. While trying his best to live by the words of Scripture, Torch applied Holy Writ and friendly advice to his relationship in a strict, over-literal manner, and this caused him and his girlfriend no end of grief.
He writes: “Too often, things are over-complicated and made unnecessarily difficult, with the guise of being godly… [there is] the danger of putting a weight on your relationship that God never meant for it to bear.”
Torch begins with the story of redemption, going right back to Adam and Eve. He points out that Scripture presents marriage as a ministry of redemption (Ephesians 5:32), mirroring God’s love for us. Torch emphasizes the covenants of the Old Testament, culminating in the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ.
I would have liked Torch to have mentioned the ancient definition of a covenant, being an exchange of persons, so that the other is received permanently into one’s family. Torch refers to the contractual understanding of an agreement, which does not capture the depth of a covenant, and lends itself more to the acceptance of divorce. Happily, Torch points out that the New Covenant demonstrates God’s unconditional love for us, and that divorce is not an option.
Torch then goes through three myths about dating, regarding soulmates, God’s will, and holding the other to a mental checklist of Biblical perfection. He emphasizes the need to look at the other through the eyes of grace, lest we crush them under the weight of our expectations.
He then address the question of compatibility in faith, the importance of true friendship with the other, the purpose of dating, and each person’s vision of the future and “what [their] relationship can offer the world”. He makes it easy to grasp each issue by outlining various hypothetical situations and posing relevant questions to ponder over.
Finally, Torch stresses the need for a supportive community to help your relationship develop into a fruitful, life-bearing witness to Christ.
As someone who has struggled through incompatible, unhealthy and Puritanical relationships, and has recently embarked on a delightful new one with a fresh convert who is doing his best to live a holy life and demonstrate his love in virtuous ways, Torch’s book really resonates with me. I recommend it for anyone who feels overwhelmed by conflicting advice about dating and relationships, and would like a simple, reassuring and frank analysis of how to date in a loving manner.
It is a gift to grow up in a happy, healthy marriage. By the time I truly started to pay attention to how my parents interacted with each other, they were closing in on twenty years of marriage. By the time I married, my parents were wrapping up their thirtieth year of marriage. It can be a challenge, beginning marriage, when your reference point is a couple who has three decades worth of growth under their belt. You see the end result, without recognizing the years of work, growth, and maturity that produces the soothing comfort of a happily married couple.
Needless to say, my first year of marriage was not smooth. It was the start of that growth and maturity, dying to self, and learning to accept my spouse. It wasn’t unpleasant, but over a decade in, it is significantly easier. Just learning to live with your spouse, learning to make a life together, and that’s the trick, making it together, not forcing your vision on your spouse, all of it takes time and learning.
And there are growing pains. Looking back at the younger me, I realized how polluted my vision was by Hollywood’s romantic movies. As enjoyable and amusing as these movies are, they often fail to portray men as, well . . . men. Men aren’t always prone to making grand gestures to express their love. Many men, my husband included, consider the act of making you his wife to be grand enough. How do you top that?
My husband settled into married life quickly. He worked hard and wanted to come home, put his feet up and enjoy a quiet evening with his wife. I, on the other hand, had been home for a while, school got out in the early afternoon and I walked back and forth to work. I was home, alone, in a very small town. I had left a big family and college dorm life, and I was not accustomed to the peace and quiet that my husband enjoyed.
I don’t know if God wasn’t interested in altering the man He created to suit my whims, or He just said no to my requests. At least, it appeared so. But in truth, God was working His plan, His vision, and it involved softening my heart. He opened my eyes. He showed me the truth.
It wasn’t about me – well it was – but it wasn’t about ME. It was about how to best pursue my vocation. To become the person I was created to be. To stop trying to make my husband into my image, but rather to make myself into God’s image. To love completely, not for reward, but because love is complete.
And so my prayers changed. I ceased asking that God meld my husband into the man I wanted him to be. I began to ask for the grace to be the wife I was created to be.
By focusing on what I needed to do, instead of what I thought I needed, my attitude changed. I, slowly, stopped thinking about how my husband wasn’t meeting my needs, rather I began to wonder, “Am I being what he needs? Am I the wife he deserves?” I didn’t see the failures, I wasn’t as concerned with what I was missing.
It’s amazing how your life can change when you start thinking about how to give of yourself rather than how someone can help you.
I learned to hear my husband’s love language. Recognized his efforts for what they were, his grand expressions of love. He didn’t say it in poetic toasts, in romantic declarations under the stars, he said it by going to work at three am, the first of two jobs. He said it by celebrating our pregnancies and seeing my maternal body as beautiful. He slayed the dragons as best he knew how. And I had to see it for what it was. Striving to be the wife I was created to be, meant accepting love as my husband knows to give it. Letting him be the husband he was created to be. He was placed in my life for a reason, the man God created, not the man I envisioned.
The life I knew, the life I thought was coming. Gone.
You may be thinking… gosh, what kind of awful tragedy happened to this girl? Abuse? Tragic accident? Death of a loved one? Abandonment? Terrible medical diagnosis?
None of those.
My parents separated. And divorced. Their marriage ended. A whole new life began.
I just want to make a quick disclaimer – this is my story. This is one perspective of a now-adult child of divorced parents. I am in no way intending to offend, shame, judge or cause a raucous with anyone who is divorced or other adult children of divorce. I am only sharing my story because, more often than not, the children are not allowed to speak. If the parents have moved on and are good, then the children are, too?! Not necessarily. Please keep all of that in mind as you continue to read and/or comment.
I was playing with my friends in the cul-de-sac, and my mom called me over – she was sobbing. She and my dad were standing in the doorway and told be me they were getting divorced.
Let’s remember, I am 7 years old. I have no idea what this means. I’m sure they tried to explain it to me the best they could, but let’s be honest, I just wanted to get back to playing with my friends. Much to their embarrassment, I ran off to my friends yelling, “We’re having a divorce! We’re having a divorce!”
The next thing I knew, my dad was sleeping in the guest room for a while. At 7, time is a bit deceiving, so he could have been there for a week or a few months. For all I knew, that’s what divorce was. Dad sleeping in another room. Eventually, my dad moved out and moved in with his girlfriend. My mom and I moved up the street to a new home. Oh. This is divorce.
A short time after, I took my first trip to Dad’s house. He picked me up, and I left my mom behind. As exciting as it was to finally be with my dad, I remember feeling so sad that my mom couldn’t come with me.
My parents’ divorce was one of the “good” ones, so I was told and witnessed – and believed – my entire life. Compared to the horror stories that I heard from other family members and friends, I suppose it’s true. There was minimal fighting (I can count on one hand the number of times I remember intense blow-ups), straight forward custody arrangements, child support paid on time, memories made with both parents, relationships built, life went on.
My parents worked really hard (thank the Lord) to put me at the center. I lived with my mom, and saw my dad every other weekend and alternate holidays. They communicated about school. Dad showed up to almost all of my swim meets, even on the weekends I wasn’t with him. Mom encouraged me to talk to my dad about the “tough” things that I would have rather ignored. Truly, I am so grateful for all of that. Because, it could have been a lot worse.
Eventually, I went to college, had a beautiful conversion to the Catholic faith, graduated from nursing school, landed a great job at one of the top pediatric facilities in the country, did mission work, lived overseas, bought a home, and so many other wonderful things. From the outside, my parents’ divorce looks as if it had no impact on my life.
Yet, when I was living overseas, doing some long-term mission work, I was stripped away from all that I knew, all that was familiar, all that was keeping me comfortable. I was so overwhelmed with life (thinking that I was just not able to handle the mission work), that I had to leave. I had to figure out what was going on. Eventually, I sought therapy and realized I was depressed and struggled with a bit of anxiety. I had some deep, deep wounds that needed some healing, and that stripping away of all that I knew exposed them in a way that I couldn’t ignore anymore.
It didn’t take long to realize that those wounds had everything to do with my parents’ divorce. It affected me deeply. More than I ever thought was even possible.
And I was furious. I was so proud that I had a good and successful life that wasn’t damaged by divorce! It was “easy” and not messy, little drama. My parents were healed! I had good relationships with both of them! Things were good and fine. I was good and fine.
But, I wasn’t. And, really… it wasn’t. Things weren’t “good” or “fine.”
The divorce affected me, even though it wasn’t supposed to, according to… everyone.
I couldn’t stop it from hurting me. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t good enough. I carried that shame for a long time.
I had no idea until recent years (decades after the divorce) that I was even allowed to not like it. That I was allowed to be upset. That I was allowed to feel pain from it. That I didn’t have to like going back and forth to my dad’s (of course I liked seeing/being with my dad). Or that it was appropriate to feel confused about my parents getting along so well, yet they couldn’t stay married and be together.
Since both of my parents had moved on and were fine, I suppose I realized early on that I had to be “fine” with it, too. Plus, there was nothing I could do about it, anyway. So, I just had to deal, which I did, for 20 years.
At almost 8 years old, I started providing incentives for my mom to not cry for a whole day. This only happened a few times right after the divorce, but it is amazing what will affect kids and what won’t. In a way, it was when I became “responsible” for how my mom reacted and felt. I never wanted to do anything to upset her. I didn’t want to add to her stress. This has affected aspects of our relationship throughout the years.
I never wanted to upset my dad. If he could stop loving mom and leave, then he surely could stop loving me.
I struggle with handling my own emotions, as I didn’t really learn how to handle them correctly since I was so worried about upsetting my mom and dad, and that’s all I was ever concerned about. I was a people pleaser. I was the nurturer, taking care of others. I got detention one time in all of my schooling. I worked hard to get good grades. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t. I never wanted to rock the boat.
Big decisions were agonizing for me and I carried that into adulthood. I was afraid of making the wrong decision, which could then upset or disappoint my parents. My 7 year old self would fear that they would be upset and/or leave. Now as an adult, I desire to be married and have a family, yet putting myself out there is a challenge. The fear of loving someone, being vulnerable and then having them leave is very real.
This is my reality. This is the reality of many, so I have learned very recently.
Divorce is a loss. It’s death of a marriage. Death of family. Death of what life was. Death of what life could have been. And with most deaths, you grieve. You feel the pain. You take time to grieve that loss. But, divorce? No way! These things don’t affect children, right? How many children right now are not being allowed to grieve the separation and death of their parents’ marriage? How many adults are out there who never knew they were allowed to grieve?
There is no life that is without suffering. There is no life that is without pain. My life is no different. Your life is no different. It’s what we do with these sufferings and pain that matters. Will we take time to heal? What can we learn? How can we grow? What beauty do we see?
The very fact that I can even put all of this into words is an amazing thing. It really shows me how much I have healed, how much I have learned, how much grace the Lord has truly provided me.
I haven’t figured it all out. I don’t have perfect relationships with my parents. I am still healing. I am still learning. But, mostly, I am still hoping. I am living a beautiful life. The Lord has wonderful and amazing plans for me, and I am loved and adored by Him. I am confident in His love and His grace to continue transforming my heart.
Anonymous is a single Catholic woman in her 30s, striving daily to seek God and all things orange.
I wonder what you are doing at this moment. Are you studying for finals? Maybe you’re chatting with friends, or are laughingly lost in a field of dandelions. Are you sitting in Adoration? Or are you thinking of me? I have thought of you often over the years, and not a day goes by that I don’t pray for you. Sometimes this makes you feel so close, even though I don’t know you yet.
I wonder what you’re like. Are you a sugar-and-cream person, or do you like your coffee tall, dark, and black like I do? Or would you prefer tea? Do you enjoy long car rides with the windows down and the wind in your face? Are you sci-fi or action, a comedy or a musical? Do you make cloud-pictures, and have you ever caught fireflies in a mason jar? Do you like to dance in the rain or watch a lightening storm? What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Are you sweet or savory? I can hardly wait to discover all the little things that are part of who you are.
Dear sir, I hope you are the man who would help his children build a treehouse wear a baby-pack to keep track of the toddler on daytrips. I hope that you will find a bouquet of sunflowers as beautiful and romantic as I do… or almost as much. I’d find it wonderful if you enjoy all sorts of literature and the writings of St. Augustine, but have a special spot in your heart for Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. I hope that you will understand that sometimes I need to step away from everyone and relish the silence. I hope that our children will have many memories of your voice singing loudly around a campfire or softly as they drift to sleep. Please remember to remember that the value of a dollar isn’t as much as a single Hail Mary or the laugh of a child.
I pray that someday I will see in your eyes the same love that I’ve always seen shining from my parents’ from across the room. But most of all, I pray that you are a man of God who puts Him as his first criteria in choosing a career or buying a house. In our life together, let’s always put the spiritual well-being of the souls entrusted to our care as our highest priority in making decisions.
I know that all of this is years in the future, but I can’t help thinking about it and I can’t stop praying for you. Dearest, I pray that you are not waiting for me. I pray that you are not watching the clock tick away and the calendar roll past the years. Please, don’t wait for me. Rather, actively prepare for me. Use the time you have now to make yourself the man God created you to be. Learn, grow, and deepen your relationship with Christ. Don’t wait. Prepare in joyful expectation for the advent of our love. Prepare for the family we will have together.
Dear one, I have a song in my heart. Now and then I catch an echo of it, but it has never been played loudly enough for me to hear. Or maybe I haven’t been quiet enough to hear it. Dearest, one day- maybe when we meet in the Confession line, or in some small café, or when you ask me to dance the next slow song- maybe our song will be played. The melody of the deepest echoes of our hearts will begin our score. And we will know it is right. We will know it is time. Until then, please- don’t wait. Begin your life. Prepare for me; for us; for God. Run to him as fast as you can. I will run, too. And there we will meet.
I cannot yet say that I love you, as I do not yet know you. But I will be here praying for you and preparing to see your face for the first time. Because the time will be right.
We need the voice of St. John Paul II in this day of superficiality, where we seem to care about how things look more than how they actually are, we experience the breakdown of the human person to the point of public approval of the objectification of men and women as a form of entertainment, and sex is used to sell hamburgers. We are witnessing the death of the innocence of children at a younger and younger age, as improper lewd sexual behavior is taught in schools, and much confusion is spread about human nature itself. Furthermore, it seems that we as humans have forgotten the higher call that we are given to lead through self control and virtue, the tasks that truly manifest our noble nature.
St. John Paul II’s teaching is the medicine given to us to help restore us to this greater call, to be human. This teaching can assist us in our escape from the misery and harm that come from a life lived steeped in utilitarianism and moral permissiveness. To do this, St. John Paul II was able to put into words the true longing and purpose of the human person, body and soul, a truth that still needs to be spread throughout modernity to instruct not merely on how to live, but how to be.
In much of his works, he was able to clearly lay out the interior and exterior complexities of humanity instructing us in areas of true freedom, true love, and true happiness. Even though his teachings were given in the 70’s and 80’s in a period following the decades of the mistreatment of human beings found in the movements of Fascism, Communism, and the sexual revolution, he was able to see through the consequential carnage to the issues at root. Humanity is still reeling from the effects of these ideologies and the words of John Paul II are still needed today. Maybe now that we have had time to better understand and reflect on them, John Paul II’s teaching can help more souls escape the terror that utilitarianism and moral permissiveness bring.
To assist others in connecting with his work, here are some of my favorite thoughts from St. John Paul II found in his various writings:
“True Freedom is liberation not from external ‘constraint’ that calls me to good, but from the internal constraint that hinders my choice of the good.”
This counters the lie that states that we are only free when nothing keeps us from doing what we like. However, the opposite is true as many people who choose to do drugs, eat too much, or other modes of immoderation and poor choices find themselves chained to addiction, poor health, or further consequences that restrict their freedom. John Paul II points out that we can only be free from these interior restraints by refraining from the bad choices presented to us and choosing the good. In this case, external ‘constraints’ such as just laws or rules placed upon us to lead us to the good, instead of refraining us from happiness, assist us in remaining free, which makes us more happy.
“Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband & wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love.” (Familiaris Consortia, 32)
Pointing to the profound unity of the body and soul of the human person, St. John Paul II acknowledges the truth that for the husband and wife to withhold from one another the fruitfulness of their bodies — namely their ability to create life — through contraception, they do great injury to what conjugal love is meant to be. Far from a cheap thrill, it is suppose to be a total gift with nothing held back from one’s spouse. Contraception alters what is meant to be communicated as well as closes the door of the heart to the proper end of conjugal love and many times the proper end is itself stifled. This makes the act only about the body, which in turn dehumanizes both partners, as humans are much more than bodies.
“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”
He once again points to the dual dynamic existence of the human person. More than Cartesian separation, we cannot forget the dignity that both the body and personal soul provide. We must never forget that humans are more than a body, something that is easy to forget in the allure of pornography. The viewing of pornography, in fact, is the continual practice of only keeping in mind the person’s body. We can imagine then, that this training would easily be continued in one’s view of all people even without the presence of nudity.
“Utilitarianism, based on an individualistic understanding of freedom — a freedom without responsibilities — is the opposite of love…” (1994 Letter to Families)
Remembering that to love is to seek the good of another and an individualistic understanding of freedom through the lens of utilitarianism means for one to do whatever one likes in one’s search of pleasure and escape from responsibility, we can see that love and utilitarianism are true at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first seeks what is best for others, the second, only what is best for one’s self.
“A person must not be merely the means to an end for another person”. (Love & Responsibility, 26)
Another articulation of the profound meaning and dignity of the human person. A person is not an object of use, a way through which one can acquire pleasure or material gains. This treatment is far beneath the dignity of a human. Furthermore, one who uses others for gain is viewing others as less than human, a treatment that will bring only isolation from others causing misery. We cannot have true relationships with people we view and treat as objects, and without relationship is the human person not doomed to despair?
In the world today, we can easily discover the many negative consequences that have arisen from those who fall into the temptations that St. John Paul II hoped we could avoid. However, it is not too late. We can still find the peace and joy that we are given through the proper treatment of others and following the guidance of one of the greatest teachers of the 20th century.
There is much more of the vast treasury of St. John Paul II’s teaching. In fact, many others have composed similar lists or have written much to echo and explain his writing. In service of his mission to spread a correct understanding of human persons and the proper treatment of them, we must continue to promulgate his words. Therefore, I recommend to all to visit and revisit his works, both to shape ourselves and the world.
I came across an idea over at Art of Manliness that I took for granted as a kid:
In his farewell address to the nation, President Ronald Reagan declared, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So tomorrow night in the kitchen, I hope the talking begins.”
Reagan was a great champion of the power of family dinners, but a commitment to this tradition crosses partisan lines.
President Obama has made family dinner an almost inviolable part of his daily schedule. No matter what is going on, at 6:30 he takes a break from work to sit down and eat with Michelle and their daughters. He’s made it a strict rule not to miss more than two dinners a week. This dedication is unusual, even among past family-oriented presidents, and sometimes gets in the way of diplomatic outreach and political back-slapping.
Now that’s a wonderful and heroic commitment. Think about it: the President of the United States – if anyone has a valid reason to miss family dinners, it’s him – has a rule that he will not miss more than two dinners a week.
Reading this, I am reminded of my own family meals growing up. I remember something similar – although perhaps not as conscious because I doubt that my parents knew all the ‘theory’ that you’ll see in the Art of Manliness article. Looking back I am grateful for my parents’ commitment to family time and conversation. My father, thankfully, worked a very short drive away from our home. So he had lunch with mother almost every day. And if he got stuck at some meeting mum would be on tenterhooks until he got back, and wouldn’t have her lunch until he did. Dad also almost always had dinner with us. On the rare occasions when he’d go out for dinner with clients or for some company dinner, it was obvious to us that he’d prefer to skip it. And he’d try to leave early so mum wouldn’t be waiting for him too long. Dinner on those days seemed a bit weird and we’d be listening for the sound of dad’s car. And on the occasions when mum had to go out, she’d rush back home to be in time for dad to get back.
I never thought of mum and dad as romantic in the usual sense of the word. My sister and I still keep prodding them to go out for a meal together on their anniversaries and other special occasion (we’re usually unsuccessful in persuading them to do so). But I’ve come to realise that romance can be hidden in the most unassuming places.
The circumstances in Singapore today are very different from those in Oman, where I grew up. However, I have met friends in Singapore who guard their family time jealously. They make it a habit to leave office, hospital or school on time (I marvel at how they manage this when so many people around us are stuck at work until late at night) and often rush home, sometimes travelling long distances, just to make it in time for dinner. They turn down activities and engagements if these clash with dinner time too often. And it’s obvious that this isn’t a burden or a curtailment of their freedom and effectiveness: it’s a sweet duty, something that they cherish.
Do drop by Art of Manliness and read their article on family dinners. I have a feeling it might convince you to start your own family dinnertime ritual.
Dominic Cooray lives in Singapore with his wife Krizia. He’s a political junkie, and enjoys reading, gardening, cooking and taking photos of ordinary objects and places. He can’t make it through the day without coffee.
During Advent and Christmas, I often think of the Holy Family. I look at the poor and homeless in my community in relation to Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter in Bethlehem. Glancing at manger scenes, I contemplate the poverty of the Holy Family, and the impoverished in my community. I ponder their flight into Egypt, and think about refugees, fleeing from persecution. This year, however, I have frequently found myself thinking of someone else.
“John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” ~Mt 3:1-2
This passage from Scripture was proclaimed on the Second Sunday of Advent, and we heard John the Baptist urge people to prepare themselves for Christ. Each year, this same message of repentance and preparation from John the Baptist is spoken during Advent. Yet, how often do we really think about this saint and his words?
I often push away thoughts of John the Baptist during Advent, and instead choose to focus on the Holy Family. The image of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a lot cozier than that of an outspoken, blunt prophet who wore clothing made from camel hair and ate locusts! John the Baptist makes us uncomfortable. Yes, his appearance—from a modern standpoint—is rather strange. Even more than that, his message is unsettling to us. John the Baptist reminds us that we actually need to change our lives and hearts as we prepare for Christ. His words cause us to recall that in the mist of our warm and happy preparations for Christmas, our internal, spiritual preparations are most important.
As I look to John the Baptist’s words of wisdom in preparing for Christ, I also have begun to think about how I would react to his words if I lived at the time of Christ. Would I listen to the outspoken, passionate John the Baptist as he called for repentance and later stood up for the sanctity of marriage? Would I listen to John the Baptist as he directed people to Christ?
Of course, I’m not living two thousand years ago, when John the Baptist walked the Earth, so it’s hard to say what my reaction to him would be. However, in our modern world, there are people who—like John the Baptist—call for repentance. People who stand up for the sanctity of marriage. People who proclaim God’s Truth, even when it is unpopular. People who direct others to Christ. Will I hear what they–especially the pope, the Vicar of Christ–have to say? Furthermore, will I listen to John the Baptist’s message, and change my life so I may accept Christ fully?
One of the highlights of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that I was on recently, was witnessing married couples renew their marriage vows in Cana of Galilee, the site where Jesus turned water into wine during a wedding feast to which He and Mary were invited.
A church now stands at the site. It is simply but beautifully decorated, with clay jars as prominent decorations for the altar.
Twenty couples in all renewed their marriage vows. Some had been married for almost 40 years; the youngest couple had been married to each other for two years already. All of them were excited about the renewal. They spoke about the event as if they were actually getting married again. A lot of the wives would have wanted to wear gowns, were it not impractical given our packed itinerary that day which involved a lot of walking (the renewal was scheduled in the morning); for the occasion, some wives wore something a little dressy and packed a set of more comfortable clothing they could change into after the ceremony.
The renewal of marriage vows took place within a Mass. After the Mass, the couples had their photos taken in front of the altar, as usually done after weddings. Then the group had a final photo taken in front of the church.
For the rest of the day, we proceeded with the rest of our planned itinerary, visiting other important sites from the life of Christ. In the evening, there was a special wedding dinner – with wine – for the couples who had just renewed their marriage vows. The couples were so happy and obviously in love with each other as they liberally dispensed dating and marriage advice to us younger folk, and reminisced about how they met each other, fell in love, and got married.
As a young, single person witnessing the renewal of marriage vows, I wondered: what made these married couples as giddy as newlyweds, even if they were not literally getting married again?
Surely it was not just the wine. From observing and listening to the couples, I realized that the answer was in what the event meant to them: a commemoration of that day in their lives when they first invited Christ and Mary into their common life together as husband and wife. These couples were teaching a very important lesson with their example: invite Christ and Mary not just to your wedding but to your entire married life, and happiness ensues – definitely not without trials, but without the warmth of the first love dying.
I feel sad when I see couples pay a disproportionate amount of attention to non-essentials when planning their weddings. Unfortunately, wedding planning these days has become a competition to make each wedding more Hollywood-like or quirkier than the last.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the celebration part of weddings. My point is not that all couples should imitate the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who scheduled their wedding at midnight in the church so as to be alone together with God. Christ would not have changed water into first-class wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee if He disapproved of the celebration part of weddings. But the following words of St. Francis de Sales are all too true:
“Would that our Blessed Savior were always invited to all marriage-feasts, as to that of Cana. Then the wine of consolation and benediction would never be lacking. For the reason this is so scarce is that Adonis is invited instead of Jesus Christ, and Venus instead of His Blessed Mother.”
We younger folk would do well to learn from those 20 married couples the secret of a great wedding and a happy, fulfilled marriage life ahead. I am grateful to those 20 married couples, and I wish them more years of happiness to come.
It’s the end of NFP Awareness Week, so I’m going to throw in a few cents as a mama with three kids under three.
Natural Family Planning is getting to know the woman’s fertility through various means (mucus, hormone monitor, basal thermometer, etc.) and then, making a decision about when to have sex in order to avoid, conceive or whatever. This is called TTA (trying to avoid), TTC (trying to conceive) and TTW (trying to whatever).
My husband Will and I have a child from each of these. G. was a TTW – we were open to having a baby, and based on where I was in my cycle, we had a 5 percent chance of conceiving. L. was TTC – we wanted to have another baby close to G. S. was TTA – the postpartum method we were using was not successful, and his conception was considered a method failure. This does not mean that NFP = children even when you are avoiding. Plenty of people successfully avoid using the same method. To me, this means that God wanted Stephen in our lives. I cannot imagine life without this chunky monkey. Practically, I also changed how I track my fertility postpartum!
This time around, I started charting with my teacher before my 56 days were up. After a lady has a baby, she is definitely infertile for the first 56 days. After that, even if you are breastfeeding, your fertility can come back (as we learned) before the usual six months. It is unusual, but it does happen.
We are currently using the Marquette method and working closely with a wonderful teacher as we navigate the postpartum period. Since I do not have any health problems we have to work around, this is the easiest method for us. Every morning, I pee on a stick (we buy withAmazon’s subscribe and save – a steal! Especially with five or more items, you get a 15 percent discount) and my ClearBlue monitor (Also on sale with Prime currently) tells me if my fertility is low, high, or peak.
The Marquette Model (MM) system of NFP brings 21st century technology to NFP by using the ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor, a device used at home which measures hormone levels in urine to estimate the beginning and end of the time of fertility in a women’s menstrual cycle. The information from the monitor can be used in conjunction with observations of cervical mucus, basal body temperature, or other biological indicators of fertility. The MM was developed by professional nurses and physicians at Marquette University in the late 1990s. A recent (2007) study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing demonstrated a 97-98% efficacy of the MM in avoiding pregnancy when taught by a qualified teacher and correctly applied.
There is more protocol in terms of how many days one should avoid post-peak, and postpartum pre-peak vs. postpartum post-peak, but that is not what this post is about. This post is about why Will and I choose NFP over other methods.
The easiest place to start is our faith. We’re Roman Catholic, and as part of our Christian faith, we practice total fidelity. We do not use artificial contraception. The Church does not require us to use NFP, but it does advocate responsible parenthood. “Be fruitful and multiple” does not mean have more children than your sanity, bank account and body can handle. The Church’s teaching must be seen through the eyes of total love; it is for communion of body and soul, not a separation.
That being said, NFP is not a Catholic-only method. I know many non-Catholics who use it. Leah Libresco, a Catholic convert from atheism, recently wrote on learning NFP while engaged. She recommends Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which teaches FAM – Fertility Awareness Method, or NFP + barrier methods during avoiding times. TCOYF is the definitive text for learning about one’s fertility, reproductive health and charting. This is not only for married folk – charting is the best way to understand how your body is working, and learning to recognize and interpret changes.
Next, is science. Unlike the popular myth that all NFP methods are the same (or the rhythm method), a woman’s fertility is unique and scientists like those at Marquette University, or Dr. Hilgers with his Creighton method, are actively studying women’s fertility and have proven, peer-reviewed methods of helping women avoid and achieve pregnancy when practiced correctly. I say “correctly” because this is the danger of NFP – a woman can get pregnant. But this happens to people using birth control methods as well, so I’m nonplussed about this part. I truly think that NFP is as valid a method to avoid and achieve, with the bonus of *knowing* one’s fertility (no more guesswork!) and creating an incredible bond with your spouse.
We use the Kindara app to chart – so well organized and a beautiful design. I love that I can add-in more information than what is provided already too.
Finally: love. There is nothing more trust-building than two spouses on board with fertility planning. The husband is equally as involved as his wife; he carries responsibility as she does. This is not always easy. Will and I did not pick NFP because we enjoy this challenge; but is it worth it? Absolutely. We practice fidelity to one another; open communication; incredible vulnerability; respect and acceptance of the total person; value and honor for God’s design; true self-sacrifice. The benefits, for us, outweigh the fear.
True love must know sacrifice. This is why our wedding vows speak of leaving our mother and father and joining to our spouse. The current statistics on divorce is about 50 percent, which is terrifying. NFP users have a lower rate – hovering around 9.5 percent. Having sex is not just for creating a child. It’s also for bonding! But the accountability and responsibility is still there, and we take that seriously.
It’s hard to be pregnant. It might not seem that way, especially coming from someone who has had three successful pregnancies in three years. We were open to that. We were open to that challenge. I would not recommend this path to most people, but we feel very blessed to have our three children and be in a position to care for them. It should not, however, and is not to be taken for granted. People love asking if we’re done now that we’ve had our boy. Hopefully not! Will and I are still discerning, as is part of our marriage.
I love strolling down memory lane. I love thinking about all the walks we went on while dating and engaged; hiking and talking about Big, Philosophical questions and telling stories and discussing what we wanted in life. Will and I decided that we wanted to spend our lives together – eating and grocery shopping; chores and cleaning up after little people; in good times and in bad; in morning sickness and in health. I thought I loved Will when we got engaged, and even more when we got married. And I did. I love him even more now. Be assured that marriage is hard for us too, and NFP is harder. There is a lot of dying to self. NFP strips away the pretension and the pride, and leaves us to face our own reality. Each NFP experience is unique, and I like knowing that it is part of our love story. It’s anecdotal evidence, but in the search for fullness of the human experience, what else is there?
When Pope Francis issued his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, the mainstream media and major Catholic websites were all over it, highlighting the broad structure of the document and, mostly, focusing on the tricky issue of just what exactly Chapter 8 of the text means. If that’s the type of article you’re looking for, look elsewhere. Instead, I want to highlight some of the other features of the document. There are a number of issues I could focus on, and I would encourage everybody to read the entire document, carefully and patiently, or to read the particular sections that might be most applicable to your situation (AL #7).
While this is a rich document, I will limit myself to reflecting on just two issues today: (1) Chapter Four, #90-119 because it contains one of the most beautiful reflections on 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient, love is kind”) that I’ve ever read in my life, and (2) Chapter Five, which focuses on “Love Made Fruitful” and extols the great beauty as well as the challenges of having children.
Love is Patient, Love is Kind
Whereas many in our contemporary world associate “religion” and “marriage” with oppressive notions of male dominance and female subjugation, Pope Francis brings to the forefront a beautiful reading and exegesis, as well as personal reflection, on the nature of love as described by St. Paul in his memorable poem from 1 Cor. 13, often read at weddings. By breaking down each of the metaphors that Paul uses, Pope Francis shows us how the true meaning of love, in marriage and elsewhere, is about serving others, being humble, and meeting the needs of the weakest among us. Love therefore is never about the self, about pridefully displaying one’s own importance. Indeed, Francis notes that “the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love” (AL #98). Rather, the true heart of love is the desire, above all, to love, with no expectation of a return on the investment. This is to love the way God loves us and we see that example most profoundly in mothers “who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved.”
Another beautiful note in this section is Francis’ words on forgiveness. Given that this is a Jubilee Year of Mercy, his thoughts on mercy here are of critical importance. He holds up family life as an inherently challenging vocation, one where we all know the reality of sin and shortcomings. But it is therefore the kind of place where we can learn to forgive and learn to be forgiven. This is why the Catechism calls the family a “school of Christian life.” (CCC #1657). Francis says that “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.” (AL #108)
Love Made Fruitful
In Chapter Five of Amoris, Francis devotes his attention to the concept of fruitful love. His reflections in this chapter focus, naturally, on children, but also on the wider implications of family life. For instance, he considers the way families impact culture and also the role of the elderly in families. First, Francis looks to the importance of children. He notes that women, by the miracle of pregnancy, get to share in “the mystery of creation, which is renewed with each birth.” He then says that children, while coming into being in a specific moment of time, have always resided in God’s heart, and thus, in a certain sense, the beauty of birth is not only that it renews creation, but that it in a way fulfills a dream of God’s. Finally, women are able to even participate in this “co-dreaming” with God during pregnancy, as they await their new child: “For nine months every mother and father dreams about their child…You can’t have a family without dreams. Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies” (AL #168-169).
Naturally, the Pope doesn’t limit himself to beautiful reflections on just motherhood or the woman’s role in fruitful love. He also has some moving and important words for fathers. Noting that a child has a right to both a mother and a father, he goes on to exhort fathers to “help the child to perceive the limits of live, to be open to the challenges of the wider world, and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort. A father possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity who demonstrates affection and concern for his wife is just as necessary as a caring mother.” (AL #175)
That quote really grabbed my attention, as it on the one hand validated my somewhat natural inclinations in parenting but also to call all fathers to a more intimate relationship with their children. Do children need clear boundaries and limits, rules and expectations? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that only the mother can be affectionate or that only the father bears the responsibility for discipline. Instead, Pope Francis notes “there can be a certain flexibility of roles and responsibilities, depending on the concrete circumstances of each particular family. But the clear and well-defined presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of a child.” (AL #175).
But Papa Francesco wasn’t done with fathers yet! He goes on to deplore the “society without fathers” which is so common in the West and also to call men to a sincere masculinity which, while not being overbearing, doesn’t then slide into a permissive relationship absent of any discipline or authority. Then he really hits into something I think far too many fathers (myself included) need to deal with: balancing their lives between work and family obligations: “Fathers are often so caught up in themselves and their work, and at times in their own self-fulfillment, that they neglect their families. They leave the little ones and the young to themselves. The presence of the father, and hence his authority, is also impacted by the amount of time given over to communications and entertainment media” (AL #176).
There’s no real way to capture the beauty and richness of this apostolic exhortation short of reading it in its entirety. But I do hope that even with these few items, which are developed in a couple of chapters, you have a sense of some of the great beauty to be found within the pages of Amoris Laetitia. Don’t let yourself get too caught up in all the controversy; read it for yourself and follow the Pope’s advice: focus on the parts of the document that matter the most for you.
Last thing: as a pro-tip, if you download the PDF from the Vatican, the index is, for some reason, at the very end of the document. So head to the last few pages to get the chapter-by-chapter break down in case you want to look into only specific issues.
The Social Network of the New Evangelization Generations