Tag Archives: NFP

Catholicism is Impossible

“Baby Jesus” by Jennifer Hickey

Earlier this week a friend of mine shared an article on Facebook, written by Melinda Selmys of Catholic Authenticity on Patheos. In the blog she describes some of the challenges surrounding the use of NFP, particularly the issues that arise when the risk of an unintended pregnancy are so high as to be unacceptable, but abstaining from sexual intercourse is not conducive to mental and emotional health. A priest told her in essence to try her best, and if she failed to know that she really was trying and to leave it in God’s hands. She describes the mind games encouraged by this situation, saying:

“What it meant was that I was in a position where I couldn’t have a realistic discussion about what I actually wanted in my sex life… but provided I was responding to seduction, swept away by my passions, or just doing it because I felt pressure it wasn’t really my fault.”

I recognize this mind game in my own life. To pick one example, let’s say I have composed a particularly biting and sarcastic email, deliberately not giving myself time to think, stifling that nagging feeling that maybe I should reconsider or at least wait a few hours, and pushed the send button before I could come to my senses. Later on in the throes of regret I told myself it was “in the heat of anger.” It wasn’t. I wanted to be cruel, and I encouraged and hid behind a feeling of anger to make that cruelty possible, and now I allow myself enough regret to make me feel I am not so uncharitable after all.

She goes on to say:

“–the attitude that I generally find in Catholic chastity culture… external circumstances are always the Cross that God is calling you to bear. Internal weakness, on the other hand, is natural. Everybody stumbles. It’s a dirty little secret that almost nobody actually practices the teaching. It’s understood that you are going to succumb to passion, that “frequent recourse to the confessional” will be necessary. That if you’re actually rigid enough to follow the teaching as you profess it, well,  probably that would be harmful. But nobody actually does that.”
I do not know if the author actually believes this statement of the “dirty little secret” of NFP, i.e. that no one actually practices it strictly. The comment boxes, both on the particular Facebook thread I read, and on the article itself, contained both rebuttals and affirmations of it. In any event, I don’t want to turn this into an NFP blog. For what its worth, my wife and I practice NFP, it doesn’t seem to cause us too much stress (Deo Gratias), and I don’t think I have ever come across this “Catholic chastity culture” she references, so my two cents on the topic would likely be neither here nor there.

Rather, I want to address the unspoken assumption at the heart of some of the comments, and of much of the debate around (insert hot button topic of sexual ethics in the Church today). NFP is one such arena, but I have personally heard this argument used more frequently in regards to debates around homosexual behaviors and lifestyles, and reception of sacraments by divorced and cohabitating couples. Very few are even talking about what I consider to be the real epidemic, that of pornography within the Church. The argument goes something like this:

“Sure the Church teaches X, Y and Z. But that is not what people actually do. Lots of great Catholics do exactly the opposite and they are still good people, and it’s just a shame that they can’t be more open about it until the oppressive, backwards Church changes her teaching to reflect how people actually practice.”
The problem is that this thinking is 100% wrong-headed. It is exactly backwards.

Whenever I hear this argument used, i.e. that the Church should adjust her teaching to practice, because her ethic is just too hard for people to live up to, I can’t help but think they have understated their case. God’s commandments are not too hard.

They are impossible.

Of course NFP is hard (for a lot of people, not for everyone). Chastity in general is hard. And, as Dorothy Sayers would remind us, lust is not the only deadly sin. There are, in fact, six more, though we often tend to ignore them. Temperance is hard, industry and frugality are hard, generosity is hard, honesty and patience are hard, mercy and justice are hard, and of course, don’t even get me started about humility and charity.

Let me repeat the title of this blog: “Catholicism is impossible.” We get hung up on pelvic issues, (NFP, contraception, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, but always on the one that other people are committing) possibly because these are so noticeable, possibly because we are just obsessed with sex as a race. We talk about everyone else’s sleeping arrangements and never notice our own sins of gossip and slander. We neglect to mention the extortion, usury, greed and envy that are the backbone of our nation’s economy. We don’t bat an eye over the gluttony and sloth wreaking havoc on our health and happiness.

Have you read the Sermon on the Mount recently?
Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Or to pick another example:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:22-27
Since when has ease or convenience ever been one of the Gospel’s selling points? This is the standard we are called to live up to.

Everyone has a secret failing. For some, NFP is hard. Probably for most. Those for whom it is easy do others a disservice when they act or speak as if it should therefore be easy for everyone, or as if it was easy because of their own merits or strength. Continence, which means perfect control over the appetites, is a gift of God, given to all eventually if they struggle long enough (everyone is continent in Heaven) but very few seem to receive it right away.

Likewise, those for whom patience comes naturally should no go around telling everyone else that patience is easy. The same for every other virtue/vice.
But those who think that the Church should change her teaching to reflect practice have mistaken what the Church’s teaching is. It is not an arbitrary decision that some actions are okay and others are not. When the CDC tells us not to smoke tobacco it is not because a bunch of old white men in D.C. decided that they hate tobacco and are choosing to punish those who like it with cancer. The Church makes statements about what she believes to be fact: e.g. homosexual activity is not in keeping with the best nature of man; usury is not in keeping with love of neighbor; contraception is harmful to marriages and societies; gossip is harmful to communities and souls, and so on and so forth. We may agree or disagree, but let us not have any muddled thinking that these teachings ought to be based upon what people actually do. If people actually were chaste, just, temperate, merciful, humble and charitable, we would not need teachings. We need these teaching because we are, in fact, unchaste, unjust, intemperate, vengeful, proud and selfish. We need to teachings to tell us when we have fallen short, and to warn us to try harder.
I will share with you my own discovery from that process of trying harder, that if you try to battle a besetting sin long enough you will find that two things are true:
  1. You are not really trying as hard as you think you are. You have not resisted to the point of shedding blood, you have not quit your job, moved towns, smashed your computer, engaged an accountability partner, changed your route to and from work, sold your car, cut off your hand or gouged out your eye. Until you have done those things, you aren’t really trying.
  2. Even when you do really try with every fiber of your being (that in itself is a gift) you will find it is impossible. Sure, you may rope yourself off from the sinful act itself but the desire is still there. Part of you still wants it. It is not a sin in itself, but it is not perfect continence either.
We must strive for perfection, not in the hopes that our striving will accomplish it, but so that our striving and failing may reveal our weakness and frailty to ourselves. Then we will pray as we ought, “Lord, I can do nothing on my own. Have Mercy on me, a Sinner, and save me by your power.”
 
When the humility, weakness and vulnerability of the Infant Jesus enters our souls and shapes them into His helpless image, (swaddled in a feeding trough, or nailed spread-eagled to a wooden beam, both show the same vulnerability) then His power will be made perfect in our weakness.
Merry Christmas! God Bless us All!

The Time I Didn’t Evangelize My Doctor

A couple of weeks ago, while traveling for a friend’s wedding, I suddenly developed what can only be described as a mini Mount Vesuvius on my knee. The random, swollen, fluid-filled monstrosity eventually became bad enough (because my “oh, it’ll go away….duh!” mentality didn’t work), that when we got home I went in to see my doctor.

Like a good expectant mom, I told the doctor’s office right away that I am pregnant. I also informed them that I’m taking supplemental progesterone, something I don’t think much about, since its use in NaPro Technology is fairly common. The nurse looked at me strangely when I mentioned progesterone and, after he left, I told my husband, “Ugh. Outside of NaPro Technology, use of progesterone in pregnancy is really rare. I bet they’ll ask me about that.” Since I was tired from traveling and my knee was causing pain I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy, I definitely didn’t feel like having the “NFP talk” with my doctor. I felt myself go on the defensive automatically.

When the doctor came in, sure enough, she asked me “you’re pregnant?”

“Yup.” I replied shortly.

“…But you’re taking progesterone?”

“Yup.” Another quick response on my part.

“…why?” she asked.

I sighed and replied “because I have low progesterone.”

The doctor let it go at that, and satisfied that I wouldn’t have to defend my use of the Creighton Model or NaPro, I settled in for the conquering on Mount Knee-suvius. Half way through the exam, it came up again.

“Who is your OB?” asked the doctor.

I told her. Understandably, her eyebrows rose when she heard I was traveling over an hour away to see my OB.

“Is there a reason you go all the way down there?” she inquired.

Irritated, I quipped “yes.” Again, why the inquisition? Can’t we fix my knee?

The doctor explained that someone traveling that far could indicate a high-risk pregnancy, which would change her course of treatment. No, I reassured her, I’m not high risk. The eyebrows went up again – “then why is this chick traveling so far?” I could see the question in her eyes.

After the exam, I hopped off the table and as I settled into my chair next to my husband the doctor said to me “I’m sorry, this is off topic, but, do you like your OB?”

I quickly responded that I love him, I couldn’t recommend him highly enough, and everyone should go to him. The doctor smiled and explained that she is getting married in 11 days and they want to start a family right away. Since she will be living near that area, she is looking for good OBs and wondered what I thought. Then she asked what had prompted me to drive down there.

The question hit me like a baseball bat on the head and the old expression “third time’s a charm” ran through my head. With a new sense of compassion, I told the doctor about NaPro Technology and the Creighton Model. I explained why it was important to me to have a NaPro trained OB and the basics of the system. She listened with rapt attention as I explained the tenants of NaPro and when I offered her my OB’s card she took it readily.

“This is really cool!” She said, “thank you!”

As we left the office a sense of shame came over me.

“That was a close call,” I told my husband as we got in the car.

“What exactly?” he probed.

Every single person we come into contact with has a right to the truth. Every single person we meet has a right to hear the Lord’s message of love, redemption, and an opportunity to come into contact with the faith. That doesn’t mean we ought to go stand on street corners thumping bibles, but it does mean that when the opportunity for evangelization presents itself we have an obligation and a duty to rise to the occasion and evangelize. It doesn’t matter how tired we are, or how much pain we are in. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve told people something or how many times doctors have told us that “that’s not going to work.” The fact is, that the Creighton Model and NFP in general have brought numerous people into contact with the faith. What if I was the only person who was ever going to tell her about it?

“Maybe she’ll go see our OB, maybe she won’t,” I told my husband. “But what if she does? What if she does and he introduces her to Creighton? What if his practice introduces her to Catholic theology and the faith? What if through seeing our OB, she comes into the Church and it all started because I gave her a business card? This visit could have potentially changed her entire life, and I almost blew it because I was too tired and grumpy to care that the Lord was presenting me with this opportunity.”

I was lucky that day that the doctor asked me one more time “why that?”

But… what if she hadn’t asked one more time?

What about those who don’t?

The new evangelization calls us to be radically aware of those around us and how we can bring them to the Lord. She thought she was healing my knee, and had our conversation been left at that, only one of us would have walked away better. However, because the Lord opened a door, maybe both of us walked away from that encounter better off. Hopefully, we’ll all be more aware than I was and recognize those unique opportunities to share the truth with everyone we meet!

I’m Single and I Use NFP

It was a few years ago when my interest in Natural Family Planning (NFP) was sparked. I was intrigued by the concept of truly understanding your body and its happenings while also being able to identify fertility markers.

But as much as I thought it all sounded interesting, I never imagined that I’d dive into that world until I was close to marriage.

After all, it seems like everyone learning NFP is over here like:

fertilitycarecentersofamerica - Edited

And I’m here all:

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That all changed when I attended the Vita Institute.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Vita Institute, it’s an intensive interdisciplinary training program for leaders in the national and international pro-life movement. A program of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, the Vita Institute was one of the most incredible weeks of my life. Not only was the educational material top-notch, but the community fostered between myself and the other participants is unmatched.

When I attended in June 2014, one of our lectures was given by Suzy Younger, MS, FCP of the St. Joseph FertilityCare Center. Suzy’s lecture was one of my favorites. The way in which she spoke of NFP as a key to understanding the mystery of the female body hooked me.

Following that lecture, I decided that I needed to learn how to chart via Creighton. I know a bit about most NFP models, but Creighton was the one that has come most highly recommended from friends and family.

And so, in February of 2015, I began to meet with a Fertility Care Practitioner (FCP) to learn the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. I’ve been charting for about 5 months now and wow. So cool.

My reasons for learning Creighton stemmed from past complications in my cycle and the desire to learn more about my fertility. When I was in college, my doctor decided to put me on the pill because my irregular cycles were due to a lack of ovulation. Yet, the pill suppresses ovulation. Hormonal birth control is often prescribed to “fix” a problem, when it actually just masks it without digging to the cause.

Additionally, I know many couples who had a quick engagement and between preparing for marriage, planning a wedding, etc., they also threw learning NFP into the mix. More often than not, I’ve seen friends either stressed by the pressure to learn NFP in a short amount of time, or neglect their instruction amidst the buzz of planning.

Basically, I don’t want to do that. I have no idea when marriage will become a reality in my life, and I also have no idea if my future husband and I will have grave reasons for avoiding pregnancy. Regardless, I intend to enter into marriage as prepared as possible. I desire to be equally spiritually, emotionally, and fertility-y prepared for marriage.

So, this is for any single lady who’s been thinking about learning an NFP method, or anyone who thought that NFP was only for married people. I’ve been in both camps and I want to make a few points.

1. Reading about NFP methods online and from friends is not sufficient for effective use.

I have friends, married and single alike, who haven’t been formally trained in any particular NFP method, but “get by” with borrowed materials from friends and/or online research. From my experience, you will never be able to fully learn any NFP method without formal instruction. I went into my first appointment with my FCP thinking that this would all be a piece of cake. But several follow-ups later, I am convinced that having a practitioner who gives me, my chart, and my questions individualized attention is much better than any Google search.

Do yourself a favor and seek out an instructor before teaching yourself a wonky version of NFP.

2. It IS NOT unethical for unmarried women to learn NFP.

This question was asked in a Facebook group for unmarried ladies who are interested in NFP. Considering that NFP is often misjudged as “natural birth control”, I can understand the worry that using NFP will only encourage promiscuity.

But truly, all NFP methods are focused on learning the unique rhythm of each woman’s body. While you are taught how to identify days of fertility and infertility, NFP is NOT natural birth control. Creighton, in particular, is taught in a way that is cognizant of the human person as mind, body, and soul. NFP sees fertility as a part of health, not a disease to be fixed. Learning NFP can also help to identify biomarkers of abnormalities, which are useful for any woman.

3. Learning NFP is worth the investment.

I’m not familiar with what cost is associated with learning NFP methods other than Creighton, but I’m sure there’s something. It’s my understanding that each instructor is responsible for setting their rates, but I could be wrong. Additionally, I’ve heard multiple instructors say that they never turn away someone because they can’t afford the session fees.

As a single lady trying to live my life off of one income, the price tag attached to learning Creighton was daunting at first. But ultimately, I know that whatever I need to pay to learn Creighton is an investment in knowledge for the rest of my life. After your first year of instruction, follow-ups are more spread out and the majority of the cost comes from materials (once every 6 months).

Additionally, depending on your health care plan, you may be able to get reimbursement for out-of-pocket charges through a flex-spending account or the like. Look into how you can make this work! Giving up Starbucks twice a week would cover my follow-up fees, and isn’t that worth a lifetime of knowledge?!

4. Why wait to learn something that you can implement today?

Sure, NFP is an awesome tool to be utilized within marriage for family planning. However, there is so much more to learning NFP than just knowing when you could make a baby.

Through the observation you’re taught, hormonal imbalances, issues like PCOS or endometriosis, and more is able to be detected. In this information-obsessed society, it seems natural that women would want to know as much as possible about their own bodies as possible. For me, I was interested in learning Creighton so that I can detect potential fertility issues now rather than down the road whenever marriage comes into play.

5. The human body is AWESOME.

How incredible is it that without any high-tech tools, I can monitor where I am in my cycle and my current fertility? Like, talk about being a crunchy hippie. I’m serious about my faith and chastity, but it’s still fascinating to know on certain days: “Huh, my body could maybe make a baby today.”

Just by learning how to make observations and evaluate them, you can take charge of your fertility. NFP gives patients the chance to have a hand in understanding and tracking their health, something that most modern medicine cannot say.

I encourage anyone who’s even remotely interested in learning more about NFP and how to begin learning to check out some of the resources below. And if I didn’t convince you to dig deeper, maybe Kelly can.

Creighton Model

Billings Ovulation Model

Sympto-Thermal Method

Marquette Model

Originally posted at Follow and Believe

Does Contraception have a place in Christian Relief Work?

I was recently invited to tour a new medical ship run by the international Christian relief organisation Youth With a Mission (YWAM). This particular ship, destined for work in Papua New Guinea (PNG), is larger and newer than their current vessel, and it will allow YWAM to increase their medical assistance by 500%, offering healthcare immunisations and training to 1.3 million people, a quarter of the nation’s population. The ship will offer basic but vital services which many of the poorest people of PNG would have little hope of accessing otherwise, such as optical and dental treatment, pregnancy assistance, as well as medications to fight malaria and tuberculosis. There was no doubt in the presentation and ensuing discussion that the work being undertaken was of immense value, truly taking up the most basic Christian tenant to offer help to those in need.

The ship is currently moving up and down the east coast of Australia raising awareness and seeking young people as medical and general volunteers. The reason I was invited aboard was to help them create an awareness of the work amongst young Catholics, especially those who might look to give a few months to volunteering. As the discussions developed I knew there was one question that needed to be asked, and that was their policy on abortion and contraception. While I was relieved to learn that as a Christian organisation they did not carry out abortions, they did distribute the contraceptive pill and the Depo-Provera injection which is designed to prevent pregnancy for three months at a time. Their reasoning for distributing contraceptives was because they operate within the medical policy of the nation in which they serve and contraceptives are part of the ‘health’ strategy of PNG. Their response was not a real surprise and they are certainly not the only Christian relief agency travelling this path (even World Vision is the same). Contraceptives now form a large part of the medical response in developing nations and that is often because it is tied to much needed relief dollars from wealthier nations such as Australia and the USA.

From a moral standpoint though, treating fertility as a disease to be stopped is never an authentically human or Christian response. The long standing Judeo/Christian theological tradition is that fertility is a gift allowing and calling couples to share in the life-giving power of God. And while that has never meant that all couples are obligated to have 10 children, it does not follow that we are able to sterilise the meaning of the sexual union as a complete sharing of two people.

It is a tragedy that natural and scientifically accurate methods of fertility awareness (such as the Billings Ovulation Method) are not taught to these poor women as opposed to injecting them with what is a dangerous drug every three months. After all, a women is only fertile for a small portion of every cycle; natural fertility awareness respects and helps a couple to understand this and plan their family accordingly. Contraception doesn’t care about a woman’s natural cycle, it simply kills fertility completely as if it were some sort of cancer. Even the communistic Chinese government has tested and authorised the national teaching of the Billings Method to help couples comply with their one child policy; of course they don’t care about the moral value of sexuality, but it shows that the method is understood to be highly effective. Teaching couples about fertility awareness helps them understand their bodies and appreciate the gift of their sexuality; handing out contraceptive pills and injections to women is unfortunately more akin to the way we de-sex animals and far below our dignity as beings created in a divine image.

And in addition, even though the YWAM medical ships may not carry out surgical abortions, it is part of the workings of the pill and depo injections that they act as chemical abortifacients, meaning that they stop the implantation of an embryo that has already been formed as a new life. Women are thus likely having very early abortions and being completely unaware of that fact. Anyway, once the theory of contraception has been accepted, the idea of abortion is never far behind. They are two sides of the one coin which says that fertility is a medical problem to be dealt with.

It is very unfortunate that over the past forty or so years a number of Christian (Protestant) welfare organisations have bought into the heavily funded agenda from groups like Planned Parenthood which says that the distribution of contraceptives and even surgical abortion is necessary in the developing world. It is something which the Catholic Church, for some of the reasons above, finds intolerable. And admittedly it makes work with Protestant welfare groups, which on the most part have good intentions, often impossible. The saddest aspect of it all though is that these groups, working under the Christian flag, are standing beside policies that are harmful to the people and families they seek to serve.

Catholic “Baby Machines”

We’ve all heard the comments. If you are the parents of more than 2.5 children or come from a family of more than 2.5 siblings, then you’ve heard something at some point in your life. It can be a nod and a wink with a sarcastic “You guys are busy”, as if having five children allows time for the spouses to spend all their time between the sheets. Or it can be a look of derision as the poor mother herds her brood into the local Walmart trying to pick up some groceries with an uncooperative toddler and three others milling about. My wife once got blamed for contributing to global warming when we were at three kids. Then there’s that wonderful comment of “Don’t you know what causes that?” Um…why yes, yes we do.

There are a whole bunch of reactions people have when they see a “large” family of over three kids, but there is one that is almost universal: they must be Catholic.

Catholics definitely have a reputation for producing larger amounts of offspring than the national average, but there is another side of the coin to the kiddie conundrum as well. My wife encountered it when she was at a Catholic conference full of different organizations hawking their wares.

She conversed with a woman who was one of those “arrows in the quiver” types, and was told that she and I are being selfish for only having four kids. Yep, forget the fact that we’ve had five miscarriages in a row, one nearly resulting in her death, after four healthy births. We’re selfish because we’re not trying hard enough to pump out kids like they’re being assembled in a factory, riding down the conveyor belt.

In this view of childbearing, some folks deem it necessary to have as many as possible, and look down on those who don’t share the same convictions. There’s got to be a happy medium in there somewhere, right? I mean, the Church teaches openness to life, but does that openness mean that we should be having as many children as we can before time runs out on the biological clock?

The Church officially teaches that pregnancy can be avoided only in extreme circumstances. The thing is, she doesn’t really clarify what those circumstances may be. Obviously we’re not supposed to avoid pregnancy by pumping ourselves full of cancer-causing hormones or by utilizing convenient forms of treated plastic, but the Church does teach that pregnancy may be avoided.

A lot of couples use Natural Family Planning (NFP), a way in which the woman’s fertility cycles can be charted and therefore pregnancy avoided by abstaining during fertile times. That sure sounds good on paper, and it is very effective, but it can be quite difficult.

When a woman is in the fertile part of her cycle, her entire body is ready to create that life. Her pheromones send out signals on all frequencies, her appearance becomes slightly different to be more attractive, and it drives us guys crazy. Just when nature is saying “Make a baby!,” that is the time when you have to abstain from relations if you discerned that it is not a good time to bring another life into the world. Not fun. (If you want to check out some realistic and funny views of NFP, just search for Simcha Fisher.)

Back to the matter at hand.

I think the important thing to remember is that God gave us the amazing gift of being co-creators of new life. That means that He gets to have a say and so do we. I hope we can all agree that God has a little more vision and wisdom on the subject, and so it is therefore our responsibility to be in communication with Him as we discern our family size. Not everyone is meant to have thirteen children, and not everyone is mean to have just two. Each person is different.

When we enter into marriage, we take a vow to be open to life as God may give to us. Sometimes that may not seem to be the most convenient timing, but the fact remains that we stay open to the possibility that God can decide that right now is a great time for a couple to conceive a child. We have the responsibility to wisely discern our part in the co-creation of life.

We are not all meant to be Catholic baby machines, having kids from the moment we say “I do” till it is no longer physically possible. We have to prayerfully discern what God’s will for our families is and recognize when we should try to avoid pregnancy, or when to try for one. The size of one’s family is not an indicator of their faithfulness or adherence to the teachings of the Church, and it is not our place to judge another family because they may have only one child. Let’s leave that part to God and remember that the gift of co-creation is inherent to a marriage and that we must all discern it for ourselves.

Resources

Love and Sexuality – Straight from the USCCB website.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2368,2370

John Paul II on family size and prudence.

An Interview with Simcha Fisher, Author of <em>The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning</em>

nfp-bookSimcha Fisher’s book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, is still sitting pretty in the Top 10 on Amazon’s list of Catholic books. The incredible interest in the book isn’t surprising since frank, balanced conversations about natural family planning –- the only method of spacing children approved by the Catholic Church –- are desperately sought after and needed. Add to that Fisher’s place as one of the most popular Catholic writers in the blogosphere and it makes sense that the Sinner’s Guide is selling so well.

As a person with a love/hate relationship with natural family planning (NFP) I was thrilled to hear that Fisher was tackling the subject in a book. Many of the articles she has written on the topic have been poignant, often alternating between making me tear up, laugh out loud, and feel convicted. My read of The Sinner’s Guide did the same thing and a little bit more: it brought about a couple of good conversations with my husband and made me feel… well, normal.

Recently I was able to ask Fisher a few questions regarding her book and NFP.

 

You talk a lot about how you and Damien have grown and overcome a lot of the struggles you had early on in your marriage. Was here a specific turning point for you? A moment where you said, “Aha! So this is what God wants me to do/say/understand!” If so, when was that moment, and what precipitated it?

No one specific moment, no.  There were several “believe so that you may understand” moments, though — when we just decided we were going to grit our teeth and do our best to live with impossible situations . . .  and then they cleared up in unexpected ways.  It was a lot easier to see God’s gentleness and mercy after we had decided to bow to His law.

We also constantly work on making the shift from “my needs vs. your needs” to “what’s best for our marriage and family?”

I think that even when people do have startling, revolutionary epiphanies in their lives, they usually still have to follow up with a long, gradual process of putting that epiphany into practice.

 

Some NFP users feel like they were duped, that the truth was twisted and they were lied to during their NFP classes. How do we heal that wound in them and how do we present NFP so that it’s balanced?

It’s vital that we present marriage in general — not just NFP — as a call to love.  As long as we try to entice people into using NFP by going on and on about how it’s just as effective as artificial birth control, or how it’s the one sure path to marital bliss, then we are going to, as you say, wound people.
Couples who love each other want to know HOW to love each other.  They need to hear that self-sacrifice is necessary, and is something they can reasonably expect from each other.  They need to hear that sacrifice is beautiful.  They need to hear that most worthwhile things in life don’t come easy, and that marriage, and the joy it can bring, is worth the fight.

 

Some of your own personal growth as a Christian is documented in the book. Who helped you down that road and what guides did you use then and in the writing of the book to insure your thinking was always in line with the Church’s.

The one thing that made a difference was belonging to an online message board of other faithful Catholics who used NFP.  They did help clarify Church teaching; but more importantly, they totally understood what we were going through.  Nothing can replace talking to other people who can say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been through that — we’re doing much better now!” or “I struggled with such-and-such, but now I think of it this way . . . ”  This is the experience I hoped to capture in my book:  a conversation with an honest, helpful friend who knows the ropes.

As far as the theology in the book itself, I asked two priests and a theologian to make sure it was on the up-and-up.  I rely heavily on the Catechism of the Catholic Church — it is such a rich, dense, beautiful work.  As I wrote, I discovered that the Church’s teaching on sexuality is far, far more generous and compassionate than I used to believe.

 

Many of the people for whom NFP is a very real cross feel your book finally brought out into the open many of the frustrations they’ve been able to talk about with only their closest friends. Was that an intention of yours? Were you hoping to speak up for those who really struggle with NFP? 

Yes, that’s exactly why I wrote it.

As I say in the introduction, I understand why people paint NFP in rosy tints:  because if you go, “Hey, everybody!  Who’s up for some redemptive suffering?” then nobody is going to beat down the door of your marriage prep class.  But it’s a big mistake to act as if the benefits of NFP are overwhelming and automatic, or to pretend that it’s always easy and super fun.  People who are struggling and suffering look at the cheery NFP couple in the brochure, compare it to their own lives, and think, “Well, obviously I’m a loser, a sinner, a pervert, a mess.  Why even bother?”

My book has two purposes:  to reassure people that they’re not alone, and to give them some tools for making things better.

 

Will a print version be ready for Christmas?

I wish!  I will be able to share the name of the print publisher very soon, and we will make the book available for pre-order as soon as possible.
The audiobook from Audible.com should be ready before Christmas, though.  As soon as I have information, I will share it on my blog.

 

How do you feel about being a sex and NFP expert?

Ha! I feel like people still expect me to do the laundry and dishes around here.  But seriously, I’m definitely not an expert.  That was kind of the point of the book:  to remind people that you don’t need to be an expert — you don’t have to be super holy, or have a degree in theology or psychology — to have insight into your own marriage.  What you need is patience, persistence in prayer, hope, and an open heart.  Learning to make NFP work in your marriage means learning how to be a gift to your spouse.  Anyone can do that.

 

I am so grateful for Fisher’s time, wisdom, and sense of humor. The Sinner’s Guide for Natural Family Planning was a good read. Real, funny, smart, and much needed. Now what are you waiting for? !

 

You can find more of Simcha Fisher’s writing at the National Catholic Register and on her personal blog, I Have to Sit Down.

The Great Divide

onlynotlonelyBecause I’m known for blogging about the mishaps and joys inherent in raising a large family, it may surprise some of you to know that I have no siblings myself. I am an only child. I know, right? We onlies are a rare breed to begin with, but onlies who go on to have a slew of kids?  Probably even rarer.  (Pretty sure it might just be me, and Joe and Jen Fulwiler.  At least I’m in good company!)

People occasionally ask me if the reason I’ve had so many children is because I was dreadfully lonely growing up and am therefore attempting to compensate in some weird Freudian way. But the answer to that is no. The honest and far less interesting truth is that I was not lonely as a child, not even close.  I didn’t mind not having siblings, I never pined for a brother or sister, and quite frankly, I just didn’t think about it much.  When you’re a kid, your reality is your reality.  And I think I gained a lot by learning how to keep myself occupied and spend time with me, myself and I.  I had a lot of great friends.  And my parents and I were very close–they gave me a great childhood and an excellent foundation in the faith, and now I get to see them showering love upon my own kids.  They were great parents and might just be even greater grandparents.  The end.

So I’m really very familiar with small families, even though I’m raising a huge one.  And this probably explains my fascination with the strange tension between women when it comes to family size.  I remember attending a bridal shower of a friend back when we only had three kids, where I met a woman who had just one grown child herself.  When it came out that I had three, this poor woman fell all over herself explaining why she had “only” had one (infertility struggles as I recall), and how they had decided to just really appreciate what God had given them.  By the time she finished I sensed that I should maybe go talk to someone else.  I’d obviously tapped into something deeper by admitting I had three children, and it was uncomfortable.  I was frustrated not only by the defensiveness and slight edge in her tone (should I have lied and pretended I didn’t have three kids?), but also by the implication that I would have been sitting there thinking she was somehow less of a mother or a Christian for having one child.  For goodness’ sake, I’m an only child!  And a happy one at that!  And at the time of the bridal shower I was in the midst of what would be eighteen long months of not conceiving after a devastating miscarriage.  I was wondering if I’d ever be pregnant again.

I felt as if this woman had erected an unnecessary divide between us.  It made me kind of sad that we’d been getting along swimmingly, but once she found out about my three kids the conversation screeched to a halt.  Of course in hindsight I can see she was just feeling insecure (and possibly sad), and in hindsight I also know that it was to be the first of many conversations like it over the years.  People (generally women) find out I have enough kids for a mid-sized sports team and all of a sudden it’s impossible to have a natural, normal conversation.  Instead they will list reasons they don’t have more than one or two children, occasionally they’ll ask incredulous questions about whether or not my poor, neglected children have to share bedrooms, and sometimes they’ll say things that make me feel awkward even though I’m sure they are intending to be nice.  Like, “Oh you’re UH-MA-ZING!” in that Oprah’s-giving-something-away voice.  To which I never have any clue what to say.  I don’t accept compliments well.  I yell at my kids sometimes.  I’m just a regular mom. I really wish these people knew that I’m really not sitting around speculating about who has small or big families and why.  Some of my favoritest people in fact have no children.

And it’s commonly believed that Catholics are supposed to have lots of kids, but the truth is that married Catholics are called to be open to life–which is not the same thing.  At all.  Because openness to life as defined by the historic Christian position on marriage is not technically about numbers, but about the proper end of sexuality in marriage.  As designed by God and reflected in natural law.  So while I’m happy to tell people things like don’t take hormonal birth control because it’s an abortifacient and because the Church has always believed it to be a grave evil and because it’s not good for you, I would never tell someone they should have ten children.  (Unless you’re my friend and I think you’re awesome.  Then I might tell you that.)  People (Catholics and non-Catholics alike) are way too focused on numbers and charts and spacing as it is, and in my humble opinion would do well to spend less time computing and more time cultivating generous hearts and minds that are in line with the Church.  And want to know something else?  Having a bunch of kids does not automatically make those kids holier, less selfish, or more well-adjusted than their sibling-less counterparts.  I have eight kids but I worry regularly about their hearts, their futures, and their attitudes, and there are times when they are just as selfish as the next person.  And I know plenty of kids without lots of brothers and sisters who are positively charming.  Like me!  (Kidding.)

The family is certainly the crucible for faith formation and the building of virtue, and I do see some really beautiful things unique to big families that seem to happen organically, but they can also happen in families of any size.  And there are some things unique to fewer children that can’t as easily happen with my vanload of children. Basically I think everyone (myself included) would do well to relax, and realize that the world is not typically focused on what you are doing.  Most of us are far too busy with our own problems and challenges to notice anybody else.  I would really encourage women with fewer kids to resist the urge to feel insecure around big families (we’re just regular people, I promise!), and I would encourage moms like me to resist even the slightest impulse to question someone because they may have a smaller family.  For one thing it’s highly uncharitable, but for another, you simply don’t know.  Maybe they tried to have more and couldn’t.  Maybe they struggle with health issues, be they emotional, physical or mental.  Maybe they have regrets about not having more kids.  Maybe it just shouldn’t matter to you.

So.  My name is Brianna.  I am an only child.  I have me a crazy bunch of kids, but if you don’t?  No problemo.  I was an “only” and I turned out just fine, and I’m sure as heck hoping my own kids do too.  And you’re probably hoping the very same thing, so there’s no reason for either of us to feel insecure. And at this point it seems like maybe we should hug it out and sing Kumbaya, but as you can probably imagine I’m really pretty hugged-out–so I’d much prefer instead to meet you and your kiddos with me and mine at IKEA for free breakfast Monday or fifty-cent food court hotdogs.  I can’t guarantee there won’t be crying, shouting, arguing or even pooping, but hey, if nothing else it’ll be an interesting peek into the life of a mom to eight kids, who likes to shop and feed them on the cheap at IKEA.

I even have room in my huge van if you want a ride. Join me?

Marriage: Getting There

How interesting it is to be a young, newly married, Catholic in light of the quickly changing moral code of our country. The Supreme Court’s decision left me unsurprised but filled with dread. How can our country stand in the midst of moral and financial collapse and what can we do about it? Perhaps we should start where we should have never stopped, and that is Marriage Prep. Wouldn’t it be nice if all couples in marriage prep had this information presented to them:

Nominal Catholics have 5% less chances to divorce than the average population.
Sunday Mass Practicing Catholics: 31% less chances to divorce.
Seriously Practicing Catholics, couples praying together and using NFP have a 95% less chances to divorce.

As I speak to other newly married couples about their experiences, I find that we are all on the same page – we would have loved more preparation time from our church/pastor/diocese. It seems to be common knowledge that our system isn’t so great, and serious young Catholics will encounter avoidable moments of panic as they prepare for their marriage. Drawing on our experience I have outlined a few points that I hope will encourage marriage prep leaders.

1. Be the guidance: Schedule the couple for a follow-up appointment with Father after the wedding day – preferably within the first month. We found that we had a bunch of questions pop up within the first week of marriage and quickly found that solid Catholic resources in this area are sorely lacking. I am sure in a parish there is a sense of relief once the wedding ceremony is over, but for the young couple the life-long journey has just begun. We young people tend to think we know it all until we actually are in the middle of something. That is when we wake up and admit we really could use some advice and guidance.

2. Require NFP classes: Perhaps this is required in most dioceses, but to our surprise we found out that it is actually not required in ours. Our pastor made it clear where the church stood on NFP, and we were already committed to the church teaching, but we still wanted the knowledge! The lack of information in this area is pretty astounding. It should be the other way around – we should be drowning in it. Not because we want couples to limit their children, but because we want them to embrace the whole person and gain the understanding that comes from Theology of the Body and NFP. Children are a key part of marriage, shouldn’t we help couples understand this? We have to admit that our society that doesn’t care how many millions of children are murdered by abortion, is not going to care about their well-being growing up… The idea that babies have rights, has long been trumped by our ego-centered culture – and we need to change that.

3. Make wedding information available: This is something that really needs worked on in our church. Sad to admit that most young couples probably aren’t enthusiastic about getting married in the church in the first place. Since Catholic parishes just don’t do websites well, you would think they could routinely say: “hey” “if you are planning to get married this year, here is A, B, and C, of what the first steps are in our parish are”. Provide an email address in the bulletin with info on who to contact for the first steps. Be sure to update the church guidelines on marriage frequently, and give them out to young couples on the first meeting.

Jennifer Fulwiler, a well-known blogger and author discussed how we have paved the way for same-sex “marriage” on her blog a few years ago. In it she states: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the demand for gay marriage has followed closely on the heels of our culture’s widespread acceptance of contraception, and the radical re-thinking of the purpose of marriage and human sexuality that came with it. I bet the average same-sex-attracted person living in 1711 wouldn’t have even understood the terms of our modern gay marriage debate: He would have strongly associated marriage with having babies, raising kids, supporting a family, and all the struggle and self-sacrifice that went with it. The idea of two guys living together wouldn’t even seem to be in the same universe of activities.”wedding-kids-on-beach

Where does this leave us? We should be doing everything in our power to assist engaged couples in their understanding of marriage. We should ask ourselves these questions: Are we doing anything to help improve the overall parish outreach to engaged couples? Do we reach out to newly engaged couples to assist them in the initial stumbling steps? Do we really teach them what the church teaches about marriage? Now is the time to start putting our words into action.

Note: I would like to thank our pastor, Father Patrick, and all of our friends who have encouraged us in our married vocation! I would also love to hear you thoughts and experiences in this matter – feel free to post them below!

The NFP Generation

I’m 24 years old and two years out of college, which puts me at that age when nearly all my friends are getting married. It seems to me very common that young married couples of the “good Catholic” variety are beginning their marriage with a year or two (or a few) of NFP. Our generation has produced 1Flesh and Iusenfp, and we’ve loudly touted NFP’s benefits: periodic abstinence forces us to love our spouses for more than just sex, we learn to work as a team, we women find some semblance of order in our chaotic body chemistry. That’s all good, as far as it goes, but shouldn’t we lament the fact that we have to start our marriages this way? It’s great that young couples are starting their marriages with NFP instead of contraception, but it’s a shame that it’s so hard to be prepared for children at the beginning of our marriages.

We do not live in a family-friendly or kid-friendly society, and I that there’s sex on TV. The modern trend toward globalization results in long-distance dating, then long-distance engagement, and one party or the other must be uprooted if the spouses are to share an apartment. (I left my full-time job.) It also means that mothers, mothers-in-law, friends-that-go-way-back, and others who can help with a new baby are far away. (Our mothers are 500 and 700 miles from us.) Education is inflated, and many in our generation are pushing 30 before they’re financially (and geographically, if that ever happens) settled. (My husband will finish undergrad in May and is looking at grad school.) Cost of living within societal norms (two cars, two smart phones, your own apartment, eating out with friends frequently, medical costs) almost requires two incomes. The trend toward individualism pits career against family, material success against familial love.

Several people have asked my husband and me why we didn’t wait a year to get married – after he graduates, he’ll be more employable, and without geographic ties, more opportunities will be open. But in the words of a long-distance-engaged friend of mine, “Have those people ever been in a relationship?!” Relationships directed toward discerning marriage have a natural progression, either toward marriage or away from each other. It’s hard to postpone any “next step” in the relationship, and I think it’s often a bad idea to try. Many in our generation are left in a situation where we’re spiritually, emotionally, and physically ready for marriage and children, but financially, geographically, or otherwise logistically, not.

Many couples have legitimate reasons for postponing their first pregnancy, and that decision should be left to the couple’s prayerful discernment and pastoral counsel: I suspect Humanae Vitae’s “grave motives” was left unclarified on purpose. But to all those young couples beginning your marriages with NFP, don’t forget that children are an integral part of your vocation. Cultivate your desire for children. Be generous. Talk about children as part of your long-term plans and try to put yourselves in a position that’s more amenable to starting a family.

My mom says that with contraception, pregnancies are called “mistakes,” and with NFP, pregnancies are called “children.” Guard against a contraceptive attitude. In some way, you already are “ready for children” – you’re two mature, responsible adults willing to make sacrifices if push comes to shove. In the light of eternity, that’s more important than financial stability. If God gives you a child sooner than you plan, you will be able to handle it.

Over Christmas dinner last week, my brother said that when his friends see his baby, they ask him when is the best time to have one. He tells them it’s never a good time to have a baby; no matter what your circumstances are, you’ll have to make sacrifices.

Our grandma piped in, chuckling: “For a long time!”

The Catholic Church is No Enemy of Science or the Infertile

Because of her opposition to third party reproduction, the Catholic Church is often accused of being anti-science and insensitive to those who suffer the pain of infertility.  Last year’s CNN Belief Blog op-ed from  Sean Savage calling on the Catholic Church to reverse her opposition to IVF is a good example of the anger that is generally directed towards the Church on this issue.

Sean and his wife Carolyn, who consider themselves to be faithful Catholics, made headlines when the fertility clinic they were working with accidentally implanted her with another couple’s embryo. Sean wrote:

“Instead of support, the church branded us in a very public way with the apparently shameful letters IVF. Why couldn’t the church recognize our journey for what it was – an affirmation of the sanctity of life?

Carolyn and I would have been happy to save thousands of dollars and a decade of emotional ups and downs by conceiving the “old-fashioned way,” but that wasn’t possible. We turn to medicine for a litany of medical maladies and impairments, but infertile Catholics are supposed to avoid treating a medical condition which prevents them from building or expanding their family?”

In his article he pulled several passages form Domun Vitae, the 1987 document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation, including this one, which he called “ironic”:

“Scientists are to be encouraged to continue their research with the aim of preventing causes of sterility and of being able to remedy them so that sterile couples will be able to procreate in full respect for their own personal dignity and that of the child to be born.”

What he and much of the rest of the world do not understand is that the Church’s rejection of IVF is not a rejection of the use of science to treat infertility.  In fact, because she so desperately wants to support those who suffer from infertility, the Catholic Church has helped develop very effective reproductive medicine that also respects the rights of every human being.

Prompted by the challenges in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 letter Humanae Vitae, Dr. Thomas Hilgers, a devout Catholic, began scientific research in the applications of natural fertility regulation and opened the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in 1985 to answer the call for reproductive health care that fully respects life. The Institute has since networked a natural system of fertility regulation—the Creighton Model FertilityCare System (CrMS) — with a women’s health science –NaProTechnology — that can and has helped women successfully achieve and maintain pregnancy without having to resort to manufacturing their children in petri dishes or inject themselves with a stranger’s sperm.

Using this technology, couples respect and cooperate with His divine plan for the creation of human life rather than taking the matters of life in their own hands and forcing God to cooperate with them. Unlike third party reproduction, this approach actually identifies and treats the underlying causes of (both male and female) infertility as well as the problem of recurrent miscarriage.

On Saturday, February 25, Pope Benedict addressed members of the Pontifical Academy for Life who were meeting in Rome to discuss the diagnosis, treatment and impact of infertility.  There, the Pope reaffirmed the Churches commitment to caring for couples facing the pain of infertility and encouraged even more research into the causes of infertility and how best to treat them. “The Church pays great attention to the suffering of couples with infertility, she cares for them and, precisely because of this, encourages medical research,” he said. “The human and Christian dignity of procreation, consists not in a “product”, but in its connection with the conjugal act, an expression of love of the spouses, their union which is not only biological but also spiritual”.

Searching for a diagnosis and therapy is “scientifically the correct approach to the issue of infertility,” he said, but added, “the union of man and woman in that community of love and life that is marriage, is the only “place” worthy for the call into existence of a new human being, which is always a gift”.  He specifically warned against the “lure of artificial insemination” where “scientism and the logic of profit seem to dominate the field of infertility and human procreation, to the point of limiting many other areas of research”.

Dr. Hilgers was also at the infertility meeting in Rome and gave a half hour presentation outlining the success of NaProTechnology. Success that he, too, says is largely eclipsed by the IVF industry, especially in the United States. Were it not for the race to create children artificially, said Hilgers, “we probably would have had a cure for infertility by now.” Such a shame.

To those who struggle with infertility: the Catholic Church is not your enemy. She wants what is best for both you and the children you so desire. The truth about IVF is that, besides immorally separating procreation from the marital act, it is a serious health risk to both the woman and her future child — if she is lucky enough to give birth, that is. Most women will go through multiple IVF cycles before an embryo will even attach itself in the womb, let alone survive until birth – and those suckers aren’t cheap. Not only do they cost each couple tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they come at the expense multiple human lives. When it comes to IVF, the number of lives lost, destroyed or ‘frozen in time’ significantly outweighs the number of human beings actually living outside the womb as a result of this technology. According to recent numbers more than thirty embryos are created for every successful birth by IVF. And even if you intend, as the Savages did, to give every embryo you create a chance at life, you don’t exactly have control over that, as a reader at the Practicing Catholic painfully reminded us recently.

Instead of manufacturing your children in petri-dishes, I encourage you to consider looking into NaProTechnology. Not only is it an ethical alternative that respects the dignity of your future child and your marriage, but it doesn’t come with the health risks or the burden on your bank account. It also, as I said, actually attempts to diagnose  and treat the underlying causes for your infertility. If you’re skeptical of this kind of women’s health science, peer-reviewed and academic literature that supports NaProTECHNOLOGY and the scientific foundations of the CrMS System are available as well as the personal testimonies of “Women Healed“.

Finally, never forget that no prayers go unanswered and all suffering, given over to the Lord bears fruit in some form.  I know that you are hurting, but, I pray the following words of your Holy Father last Saturday can give you at least some small comfort in your pain:

“So I would like to remind the couples who are experiencing the condition of infertility, that their vocation to marriage is no less because of this. Spouses, for their own baptismal and marriage vocation, are called to cooperate with God in the creation of a new humanity. The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation to the gift of self and this is a possibility that no organic condition can prevent. There, where science has not yet found an answer, the answer that gives light comes from Christ”.

Whether you seek to welcome a new member to your family through (ethical) fertility treatment or even the always loving option of adoption,  remember that children are a gift, not a right. Keep the focus of your marriage on you and your spouse giving and receiving the total gift self while loving God and trusting Him for the timing of children – if they should ever come.

Resources:
Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction
Creighton Model FertilityCare System
NaProTechnology
FertilityCare™ Centers of America (with directory of FertilityCare affiliates)

When the Rubber Hits the Road

Subtitle:

How NFP is really hard.

Let us return to the title of this post, and do not push aside the double entendre. Go there. For nothing says qu

ite what I am trying to say in this post like the title. It is a good feeling because rarely does a title in the blogosphere ever truly hit the nail on the proverbial head.

Before your mind goes totally in the gutter, let me help you back onto the way. For starters, proponents of NFP do a really bad job of shooting straight. The crookedness of the rhetoric is not so much a deception, but many times a naiveté born in the fires of the sales meeting. The salesman with the ketchup popsicle just cannot wait to tell the woman in the white gloves how much she will love the way the red accents her shoes. So too, the college freshman or couple who have never had to actually practice NFP will boast of its blissful benefits. I hear it is even under 500 calories.

I know. I”ve talked like that before.

Poetry is a problem as well. There is nothing wrong with the poetic quality of the Theology of the Body, but there is a problem with people thinking that life is always like poetry. Life is not like poetry, and we know that for the very reason we like poetry and that really great musical score behind Downton Abbey. No. Life is 5 degrees flat most of the time — an aching back, a sick child, a glass that is half empty no matter what you say. Look, dangit! That glass clearly has only 3 ounces in it. That is real life — and it is why poetry is an escape that points us the Place that is in tune.

Let me be clear. NFP is better than its alternative. The rubber really must hit the road, because nothing could more counterintuitive to the sexual embrace than wrapping yourself in cellophane or jamming chemicals down your throat. There is of course that really medieval thing-a-ma-jigger that places itself at the impasse between life and death — thwarting the possibility of children with the precision of an American gladiator with one of those . Seriously folks, there is nothing like finding out over an episode of your favorite sitcom that your contraception has been recalled and that you or someone you love is in danger of having “serious heart or health problems“.

Sheesh.

Going natural might be what is best for you, but it does not mean that it is what is easiest for you. That, of course, is the illusion of modernity. Ease is the measurement of morality, thus all manner of malady and mental discord go by the wayside in a quid pro quo movement that leaves society with — to steal a phrase from NBC — a really “new normal”, and the rest of us holding the crazy bag. Like the man with three ounces in his glass, modern man chooses a three ounce glass to make him feel his glass is all right. Self control and self restraint are difficult, even painful. But who needs that when my therapist tells me that both are a social construct.

Bye bye sin. Welcome to wacky land.

But you and I know there is sin. God — a Word beyond poetic capture — became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory and beat him, spit upon him, and crucified Him.

Not Easy

And kind of like that go around, NFP is difficult. It is hard. It is a Cross. The world is selling easy, and the Church — empowered by the Spirit that hovered over the void, bringing forth an almost infinitude of matter over the course of a long travail — is selling reality. The real. It is just beyond the grasp of psychoanalysis, just too difficult for the physicist to conceptualize. It is lying in a manger, and we are too busy trying to TiVo the last season of Madmen. Even technology doesn”t make it easy enough.

We can never get enough, and while the insatiable desire can point us to an infinite otherness, it can also speak to our stupidity. We are like men gathered around a newly formed pool after a summer rain, hoping that it will irrigate the cracked soil enough for a new crop. Yet just like the pool quickly evaporates, so too does everything that this world promises. We are not gnostics, I admit, but that does not mean we are hedonists. And if modern man struggles between two extremes it is those two — to be a bodiless ghost or a spiritless body.

I am a married father of five. We will have been married ten years this December. Our kids range from 6 years to 2 months. At this moment in our lives, trying to balance homeschooling, paying the bills, raising our kids in the faith, et. al., we feel God calling us to take a respite. We believe God wants us to steward what He has given us. That, of course, does not mean we are cutting ourselves off from life, but rather embracing that which we have been given. Either road is suffering, but only the road of obedience leads to salvation. That, salvation, is what God is selling, or rather offering — as a gift.

The point of this little quasi-essay is to encourage those who might read it to “be of good cheer”. The Servant who was rejected understands the burden of the Cross. You are not alone on this path. He asked you to take it up. That said, He promises that you will not receive more than you can handle. His grace is sufficient.

There are blogs out there dedicated to the way-cool-awesomeness of NFP. There are poems that have been written about the complementarity of the husband-wife union. There are songs and sonnets that could be produced lauding the transcendent beauty of jargon otherwise not known to those outside of certain cliques. That is not this blog post. This blog post is to remind all of us that God is calling us to a Cross — and for some it is marriage. The joy we are to have, the peace, is not because of the circumstances of the moment to which we are called — for it is truly a Moment.

What I mean is that all of us, young and old, single and married, come to a place in our lives where the proverbial rubber hits the proverbial road. Some less proverbial than others (cough, cough). The point, nevertheless, is that faith without works is dead — and that the Moment provides for us an opportunity to live that which we profess in the Creed. If God did come, if He is the Maker, and is planning on returning and all the rest, we might want to live like it. That is a sobering message, but it is the truth.

I know that I may have just rained on someone”s NFP-is-the-best-thing-since-pre-sliced-bagels parade, but never mind that. It rains on the just and unjust, so we should not be surprised. Rain is only terrible if you get caught in it unprepared. I hope this post helps some of you either in marriage or preparing for marriage to have an umbrella — because the rain is coming. That is reality.

Peace to you on your journey

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Subtitle:
How NFP is really hard.
Let us return to the title of this post, and do not push aside the double entendre. Go there. For nothing says quite what I am trying to say in this post like the title. It is a good feeling because rarely does a title in the blogosphere ever truly hit the nail on the proverbial head.
Before your mind goes totally in the gutter, let me help you back onto the way. For starters, proponents of NFP do a really bad job of shooting straight. The crookedness of the rhetoric is not so much a deception, but many times a naiveté born in the fires of the sales meeting. The salesman with the ketchup popsicle just cannot wait to tell the woman in the white gloves how much she will love the way the red accents her shoes. So too, the college freshman or couple who have never had to actually practice NFP will boast of its blissful benefits. I hear it is even under 500 calories.
I know. I”ve talked like that before.
Poetry is a problem as well. There is nothing wrong with the poetic quality of the Theology of the Body, but there is a problem with people thinking that life is always like poetry. Life is not like poetry, and we know that for the very reason we like poetry and that really great musical score behind Downton Abbey. No. Life is 5 degrees flat most of the time — an aching back, a sick child, a glass that is half empty no matter what you say. Look, dangit! That glass clearly has only 3 ounces in it. That is real life — and it is why poetry is an escape that points us the Place that is in tune.
Let me be clear. NFP is better than its alternative. The rubber really must hit the road, because nothing could more counterintuitive to the sexual embrace than wrapping yourself in cellophane or jamming chemicals down your throat. There is of course that really medieval thing-a-ma-jigger that places itself at the impasse between life and death — thwarting the possibility of children with the precision of an American gladiator with one of those cue tip things. Seriously folks, there is nothing like finding out over an episode of your favorite sitcom that your contraception has been recalled and that you or someone you love is in danger of having “serious heart or health problems”.
Sheesh.
Going natural might be what is best for you, but it does not mean that it is what is easiest for you. That, of course, is the illusion of modernity. Ease is the measurement of morality, thus all manner of malady and mental discord go by the wayside in a quid pro quo movement that leaves society with — to steal a phrase from NBC — a really “new normal”, and the rest of us holding the crazy bag. Like the man with three ounces in his glass, modern man chooses a three ounce glass to make him feel his glass is all right. Self control and self restraint are difficult, even painful. But who needs that when my therapist tells me that both are a social construct.
Bye bye sin. Welcome to wacky land.
But you and I know there is sin. God — a Word beyond poetic capture — became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory and beat him, spit upon him, and crucified Him.

Not EasyAnd kind of like that go around, NFP is difficult. It is hard. It is a Cross. The world is selling easy, and the Church — empowered by the Spirit that hovered over the void, bringing forth an almost infinitude of matter over the course of a long travail — is selling reality. The real. It is just beyond the grasp of psychoanalysis, just too difficult for the physicist to conceptualize. It is lying in a manger, and we are too busy trying to TiVo the last season of Madmen. Even technology doesn”t make it easy enough.
We can never get enough, and while the insatiable desire can point us to an infinite otherness, it can also speak to our stupidity. We are like men gathered around a newly formed pool after a summer rain, hoping that it will irrigate the cracked soil enough for a new crop. Yet just like the pool quickly evaporates, so too does everything that this world promises. We are not gnostics, I admit, but that does not mean we are hedonists. And if modern man struggles between two extremes it is those two — to be a bodiless ghost or a spiritless body.
I am a married father of five. We will have been married ten years this December. Our kids range from 6 years to 2 months. At this moment in our lives, trying to balance homeschooling, paying the bills, raising our kids in the faith, et. al., we feel God calling us to take a respite. We believe God wants us to steward what He has given us. That, of course, does not mean we are cutting ourselves off from life, but rather embracing that which we have been given. Either road is suffering, but only the road of obedience leads to salvation. That, salvation, is what God is selling, or rather offering — as a gift.
The point of this little quasi-essay is to encourage those who might read it to “be of good cheer”. The Servant who was rejected understands the burden of the Cross. You are not alone on this path. He asked you to take it up. That said, He promises that you will not receive more than you can handle. His grace is sufficient.
There are blogs out there dedicated to the way-cool-awesomeness of NFP. There are poems that have been written about the complementarity of the husband-wife union. There are songs and sonnets that could be produced lauding the transcendent beauty of jargon otherwise not known to those outside of certain cliques. That is not this blog post. This blog post is to remind all of us that God is calling us to a Cross — and for some it is marriage. The joy we are to have, the peace, is not because of the circumstances of the moment to which we are called — for it is truly a Moment.
What I mean is that all of us, young and old, single and married, come to a place in our lives where the proverbial rubber hits the proverbial road. Some less proverbial than others (cough, cough). The point, nevertheless, is that faith without works is dead — and that the Moment provides for us an opportunity to live that which we profess in the Creed. If God did come, if He is the Maker, and is planning on returning and all the rest, we might want to live like it. That is a sobering message, but it is the truth.
I know that I may have just rained on someone”s NFP-is-the-best-thing-since-pre-sliced-bagels parade, but never mind that. It rains on the just and unjust, so we should not be surprised. Rain is only terrible if you get caught in it unprepared. I hope this post helps some of you either in marriage or preparing for marriage to have an umbrella — because the rain is coming. That is reality.
Peace to you on your journey

Path:

What the Church Needs to Know

Every so often a study comes out and inspires one to think “Why hasn’t this been done before now?”. Recently, Mary Rice Hasson, J.D. along with Michele M. Hill, have published their preliminary report “What Catholic Women Think about Faith, Conscience, and Contraception”, in which they seek the answers to questions which many have assumed to be simpler than they are.

Hasson and Hill sought to find out:

  • What it is that *Catholic women  know about actual Church teaching on contraception.
  • How many of those women would accept or reject  those teachings once they were accurately presented.
  • Why Catholic women reject Church teaching on these issues.
  • For those who reject Church teaching, would they be willing to learn more about those teachings and if so, how.

824 women ages 18-54 voluntarily answered an online survey conducted by the polling company, inc./WomanTrend, Washington, D.C. The answers these women gave indicate that the issue at hand, whether Catholic women accept Church teaching on contraception or not, is more complex and nuanced than one might suppose. It’s easy to think that Catholic women fall into two categories – those who accept the Church’s teachings and those who do not. Hasson and Hill’s findings suggest that this is not the case.

“Instead, three groups emerge: “the faithful” (who fully accept the Church’s teaching), “the dissenters” (who completely reject the Church’s teaching), and the “soft middle” (who accept “parts” but “not all” of the teaching). ” (Hasson, 2)

It should not be surprising that the survey found a correlation between frequent sacramental practice and a higher likelihood of accepting Church teaching. What is important to note though is that of the 824 women surveyed, 72% of those women indicated that the weekly homily was the main source of their knowledge about Church teaching, yet 1/3 of women cannot accurately identify Church teaching on contraception and of that 1/3, half attend Mass at least once a week. Surprisingly and hearteningly, it is the 18-34 year old crowd (both frequent church-goers and infrequent) who are “more likely to have an accurate understanding of Church teaching”. (14) Overall, only 13% of Catholic women completely accept the Church’s teachings on contraception and 6% are unsure if they accept or reject the teachings.

Those women who reject (either wholly or in part) the Church’s teachings on contraception were asked to identify their reasons. Those reasons highlight a “broad confusion about the relationship between authoritative Catholic teaching, conscience formation, and moral autonomy.” (16) The other top two reasons were that couples have the right to enjoy sexual pleasure without worrying about pregnancy and the sad misperception that NFP (natural family planning) does not work.

The good news is that 44% of Catholic women are in what the researchers call “the soft middle”, meaning that they do not completely accept or reject Church teaching on contraception. Why is this a good thing? Because of that 44%, 39% indicate an interest in learning more about Church teaching and only 18% say that they do not accept all of the Church’s teaching on contraception because they do not accept the Church’s moral authority on contraception. This shows that Catholic women are receptive to Church teachings if they are presented clearly and accurately.

How would these women like to learn more? They are happy to tell you. 23% would like to hear couple testimonies about health and relationship benefits of NFP, another 23% want to see studies regarding NFP’s effectiveness and 22% would like to see a doctor’s recommendation of NFP and its effectiveness. Overall women were able to choose from 9 specific ways they would like to learn more about Church teaching on contraception. They could also indicate that they were not interested in learning more about Church teaching (56% chose this option).

I would like to have that 56% broken down a bit more – are they the ones that completely reject church teaching and simply refuse to even listen? Does that number also include the women who already accept all of the Church’s teaching on contraception and have heard all they need to know? Since the age-range of women surveyed was 18-54 years of age, does state in life have anything to do with openness to learning more? Thankfully, this was just the preliminary report and I look forward to reading the full report when it is released later this year.

This study is important to the Church for what it reveals: Catholic women are not being reached effectively.  Teachers of the faith, both priests and laity must present Church teaching “frequently, positively, and without apology, from the pulpit and through Church ministries. But it also needs to be presented persuasively— something the Church has struggled to do effectively—and through new communications strategies including new media, social communications, peer ministries, and other new approaches. (20)

This study is so important for the Church. It’s important to know where the Church’s strengths as well as weaknesses are, so that the Good News may be taught even more effectively. Won’t you please share this study with your priest/bishop/apostolate coordinator? 

Next week, we will take a good look at what the researchers suggest should be the next steps, as well as highlight some useful resources for priests and laity to utilize as they spread the beautiful teachings of the Church.

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* “Catholic woman” is defined in this study as a church-going woman who either attends church frequently (once a week), or infrequently (less than weekly, but at least a few times a year)