Wednesday, January 30, 2008
But how, in a way that really counts? Before I became Catholic, I considered being a missionary and made some steps towards that end goal. Then I married my husband and he decided to become Catholic, and I followed suit, which changed that picture a bit. There aren't endless opportunities for married laity to be missionaries, and we have said 'absolutely not' to using contraception, so now we are in a phase of accepting children instead of limiting them in order to do 'God's work' as we probably would have had we gone overseas.
Catholics refer to one's life calling as your "vocation", and what I have come up with as my vocation is entirely unglamorous. I would never, ever have come up with it 3 or 4 years ago, which I know is a trite thing to say about vocation, but it's true. What I'm mentally calling my vocation is a 'life advocate'. There are three main areas I see to this right now. First, I want to be an advocate for life with my own body by being open to more children, and to being an at-home mom to those children. Second, I want to become more involved in the pro-life movement. Third, I want to spread the message of Natural Family Planning in marriage.
I am only at the beginning of understanding my vocation, so other layers might be added on over time, changing the components of my vocation picture. But for this phase of life I'm in now, which, using a conservative estimate will probably last 10 -15 years, I think my vocation will include these three components, or include things that closely resemble them. I've heard people say that you spend your 20's figuring out what you want to do with your life, and your 30's actually starting to do it. I'll be turning 30 this year, so I guess my narrowing of focus is partly biological (well, a lot of it is biological, considering having a child is what got me started on this path). I guess what has happened is that I don't feel overwhelmed by all the choices available to me; I don't need to throw myself at whatever good cause comes my way because I know what I want to be about...and now maybe I can get something done.
I don't want to become a task-master in this, I just want to be deliberate about trying to bring about some good in the world. I think of it as a way of praying with my feet, praying with my actions. I'm asking God to bring change through my little contributions, and I hope my contributions will work towards building his kingdom.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
I often think of abortion as an insult to women and for a few months now I've wanted to stop and write down all the ways abortion disrespects women that I could think of-- here is my anything and everything list so far:
- It doesn't let a woman be a woman
- It treats a woman as though she would be better off as a man
- It tells a woman her ability to give life is conditionally valuable
- It demands a woman's sexual availability at all costs
- It denies women lasting love through relationships with their soon to be born child and, for unmarried women, their should-be husband
- It tells a woman she should want sex, but not expect commitment
- It promotes the misuse of women as sexual objects
- It leaves women alone and abandoned when they are obviously not solely responsible for a pregnancy
- It leaves women abandoned at a time when they most need support and compassion
- It tells a woman she should be sexy, or financially well-off, or well-rounded, or well-traveled, or successful, or unhindered, rather than be pregnant
- It insults the dignity of all persons: if you believe abortion should be available to all, then you must concede that it would have been perfectly fine-and perhaps even better- for your own mother to have chosen to kill you with an abortion
- The abortion industry refuses to tell the stories of women heartbroken over past abortions, thereby refusing to offer woman a so-called 'educated choice'
- The abortion industry refuses to tell a woman the potential catastrophic affects an abortion may have on her in the future
- The abortion industry closes women's eyes to outside assistance that is available for pregnant women
- The abortion industry mistreats women, as evidenced by the many, many women who walk away from an abortion feeling they were treated inhumanely by the staff
- It denies a woman objectivity; no woman makes the decision to have an abortion without feeling or receiving pressure from at least one of the following; family members, friends, coworkers, bosses, circumstances, the father of her child, or from societal expectations
- It treats unborn women--and men--as potential garbage
- It treats women as incapable of accepting hardship
- It treats women as incapable of thriving amidst hardship
- "My body, my choice" is a lie: a person distinct from its mother dies in an abortion
- It lies by saying death is often better than life
- It lies by saying death is better than hardship
- It lies by saying that well-being can come out of killing your unborn child
- It lies by calling evil good
- It ignores the all-too real consequences of sin in a woman's life
- It encourages women to give in to fear
- It refuses to encourage the honorable option, adoption
- It treats any mother's worst nightmare--living through the death of her child--as inconsequential
Friday, January 25, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
As a Protestant, I felt very much that I was on my own in my relationship with God. True, I had the privilege of being actively discipled by several women well up to the task, and lived in community with other Christians, but, overall I was on my own. I always came up with my own words to pray, I came up with my own style of personal devotion (rather than deciding to daily follow something like the Liturgy of the Hours), and, most importantly, I felt responsible to 'conjure' up God, if you will-- if I couldn't "feel" him, I started to worry that my spirituality needed a patch-up. It was up to me to seek God, to try to feel emotionally connected to him. I don't mean I credited myself if I felt the spirit of God moving, I just mean that there was no particular vehicle in which I had full confidence God would show up every time. Because of this, I believed that I had to always or usually sense somehow that God was present, because, otherwise, how could I know?
What was even worse were those experiences when I'd go to church or some group meeting and, while it seemed like everyone else was being moved by God, I felt nothing. Sometimes I could chalk it up to a mismatch of worship styles, but sometimes, I couldn't, and I would go away feeling empty. Not staggeringly empty, but disappointed. I have to say that overall, God was very real to me back then, and faithful. But there was a very predictable pattern of spiritual drought that would occur in my life; when I couldn't go to Bible studies anymore, or a church service that I loved, or I didn't have close friends to pray with, I felt extremely far from God.
The Catholic expression of faith has been entirely different for me, and I believe this to be the effect of regularly partaking of the sacraments. The difference wasn't instant, because I started being Catholic with Protestant eyes, and it took awhile for my Catholic eyes to develop-- they are still developing. But the sacraments had become available to me. As a Protestant, they were not, and I have wondered--did I miss a lot of God's grace over the years by not partaking of them? The fact is, God could not be with me or communicate to me through the sacraments then like he does now. It had to be done in other ways. When I think of it now, it's sort of like being a non-Christian, although to a much lesser extent. God can certainly get a hold of a non-Christian's attention, but if that person never goes to church, or never picks up a Bible, and ignores the big questions of life, it's not very likely that they will hear God. God can work around these issues if he wants to, but when one lives a lifestyle closed to God, one limits the chances of hearing God.
How did God speak to me, how did he actively give me grace, how did I spend time with him when the sacraments were closed to me? I had my routines which had proved faithful to me; spending time alone reading scripture and praying, grabbing a friend to pray with, going to an energetic church service, doing a Bible study. But, as I recall, sometimes I felt like I was looking in corners--Will I find God here? There? Will he show up tonight? Tomorrow instead? Maybe I should try this, or that, to find him. As I said earlier, my faithfulness to God, and to private devotions, (which were often tied to my judgement on how faithful he was being to me), went downhill as soon as group structures were removed from my life; Bible study, group prayer, etc. The funny thing is that currently, I am not in any group structures save Mass, but yet I am in a really good place spiritually. I'm not going to Bible study, or praying with other Christians outside of Mass, and the two friends I have made since we moved here are both atheists, so I'm not bouncing many 'God ideas' off of them.
I have to chalk this up to the sacraments, really, I do. I am receiving the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance regularly right now, and I fully believe I am being infused regularly with grace because of them. I cannot put into words how wonderful it is to go to Mass and have full confidence that I will receive God there physically every time in the Eucharist. Or to go to confession and hear God answer back to my sins in the voice of the priest I confess to, and to walk away knowing I have done all I need to do for that day, I am forgiven. Literally, I am feeding off Jesus every week at Mass, and literally, I am forgiven right there in the confessional. I love this predictability--while I don't have God down to a science, in some way, I have figured out how he works, and how to get at him when I need to be with him. I haven't now decided that being with God is limited to the sacraments, I just so appreciate the certainty and consistency of having them, because this was an element lacking in my life as a non-Catholic.
I would like to be in a small faith-forming group again someday, they have been valuable tools for me in growing closer to God in the past. But these types of activities feel like an add-on to what I have found to be essential in my relationship with God as a Catholic: the sacraments. It's odd how we decide what is important in knowing God, and I think leaving it up to myself previously was rather misguided. In college, Bible study felt very equivalent to going to church, and I would often substitute attending church with a Bible study. I can't do this as a Catholic and still be in a good place with God, because Bible study is not at all similar to receiving the Eucharist. I appreciate knowing the formula of the sacraments...I finally feel like an adult in my faith.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
If we end up with more than 4 children, to many of my fellow Catholics I'll be one of those archaic tad-over-the-top Catholics. They'll snicker "boy, they really milked those fertile years" (snicker, snicker). Protestants might wonder how a person who seemed to have a strong relationship with Jesus could get sucked into such flawed theology, and to the non-religious, oh boy. I'll be one of those closed-minded people whose idea of fun is to sit through boring, pointless ritual every Sunday, a person who sticks her nose where it doesn't belong while swaying in the imaginary gospel breeze outside an abortion clinic. I might start babbling about the blood of the lamb at any moment.
Oh, and did I mention that we're leaning towards home-schooling? So my progeny are going to be even worse than I. They won't just be ultra-conservative Catholic Christians, they'll be socially awkward ultra-conservative Catholic Christians. Yes!
Monday, January 14, 2008
Saturday, January 12, 2008
"Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which "is on the side of life" teaches that "it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of life." This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act," (CCC, 2366)
This inseparable connection between unity and procreation so simply guides us as to what is right and wrong in the realm of sex and procreation. Go ahead, apply it to any situation you can think of. Is birth control valid? No, because it removes the procreative nature of sex. Is homosexual sex valid? No, because there is no possibility for procreation (this is entirely different from being infertile). Is artificial insemination valid? No, because procreation is separated from physical union. And so on. I love this rule because it is so practical and because it is one that I can use to educate my children on God's purpose in sex.
A common fallacy that most people seem to believe, especially in secular society, is that sex is for pleasure. Wrong. Certainly pleasure is involved, but sex was not created so we could have a good time. I've heard Peter Kreeft, one of my favorite Catholic thinkers, point out that all things necessary for human survival involve pleasure. For example, eating and sleeping are certainly pleasurable, but to say that they exist for pleasure is ridiculous. Serious, unhealthy consequences result from treating food and sleep as vehicles of pleasure rather than things that sustain us , and abusing sex by treating it as simply something that makes a marriage more fun is no different. Though the unhealthy consequences of using contraception are not always as easily recognizable as an extra 50 pounds is, it is foolish to think that we can escape the consequences of cheating natural law.
I'd like to examine whether or not Catholic teaching on birth control is trustworthy. First of all, this teaching is as ancient as the early church fathers...back when if you were Christian, you were Catholic. Contraception and abortion have been around for a long, long time. In fact, until the 1930's, Catholics and Protestants alike officially taught that contraception was a grave sin. All the great Protestant theologians (including Luther, Calvin, Wesley) ardently condemned birth control. The first official break with this teaching common to Catholics and Protestants alike came at the Anglican Church's Lambeth conference of 1930, when it was declared that the Anglican church would allow birth control in special circumstances. From there, it was a downward spiral to the point where contraception amongst Christians became normal, and in fact was condoned by Protestants. This downward spiral towards rampant use of contraception was not fostered by great theological arguments supporting artificial marital relations, but was fostered by pressure from secular society. Basically, God's people caved in to the lure of small, controllable families and the freedoms that would surely ensue. I've been looking for a seemingly creditable theological position that promotes birth control and have found none.
Today, many people cannot imagine their lives without birth control, and in fact think that their lives would not work without birth control. Thus, the temptation to never consider birth control's moral validity, or to deny its sinfulness once it has been revealed for what it is, is strong. Especially to women, Catholic teaching may at first be enraging--women today do not want to be told that if they are to be Godly, they need to be 'baby machines'. However, this is not what is being said--God does not unconditionally ask us to have as many children as is biologically possible, although we should be prepared to accept that way of life. Instead, there is 'God's alternative' to artificial contraception: Natural Family Planning, referred to in the following from the Catechism as periodic continence:
CCC 2368 & 2370
"For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. Is is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood....Periodic continence, that is, methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom."
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a scientifically based method of avoiding pregnancy in which spouses agree to abstain during a woman's fertile phase, which is surprisingly simple and effective once you learn the method, not to mention really great for marriage if you have good reason to practice it. NFP is not a loophole in moral law because it does not interfere with moral law. Abstaining from marital relations for a time cannot be sinful, unless, as the Catechism states, the desire to avoid sex and children is 'motivated by selfishness'. In my experience, the hardest part of NFP has been discerning whether or not we have a valid reason to avoid pregnancy. Most of the time, we have decided to err on the side of life, and that is why we have our beautiful son today. Our second pregnancy sadly ended in miscarriage, but we are expecting another baby in July, Lord willing.
Accepting Catholic teaching on birth control and the purpose of marriage has changed me. Although my husband and I both wanted to use NFP from the very beginning of our marriage, it has been a slow struggle for me to become fully invested in the idea of accepting children as they come, because it has meant giving up on a lot of the things I had planned would bring me joy...otherwise known as Elissa's personal salvation plan against the drudgery of life. This hardness of my heart is maddening, because as an adult Christian, I have been passionate about 'finding my life's purpose' and 'serving God' instead of being about worldly success and prosperity, and going after happiness as my life's end goal. But for me, truly, I think actual, physical meltdown of my human tendencies towards the latter began the day I said no to contraception and yes to life. As I have said before, I don't think there are many opportunities in life to go about breaking down selfishness that are as dramatic as having a child. And even outside of having children, conforming to God's standards in marriage brings us so much closer to him.
For a fabulous, engaging, and sense-making talk on contraception, please! listen to Dr. Janet Smith's talk Contraception: Why Not on One More Soul's homepage
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Maybe this is coming totally from left field, but I've been wondering for some time if our society, including faithful Christians who are pro-life, is numb to the horror of abortion because of the practice in their own life of using contraception.The phrase "Planned Parenthood" should be an affront to Catholics, who are blessed to belong to a church that has failed to 'modernize' and still condemns contraception, although most Catholics sadly ignore this. The vast majority of Catholics and Protestants are using artificial contraception, and thus are full believers in 'planned parenthood' as a way of life.
It's almost a knee-jerk reaction amongst Christians: when you get married, you get on birth control. Then you wait a few years until-um, I don't know what exactly is supposed to happen during those years, but they seem pretty mandatory, and then you have a child. Then you go back on birth control until you are ready to have your next child, and then after that you are probably done. Maybe you get sterilized, because you are just really, positively done with gifts from God. Getting back to normal life as soon as possible is priority number one.
The sad thing about birth control, okay, one of the sad things about birth control, is that you cannot deny its link to abortion. How did we as a society get to the point where we abort one out of every four live births? We got here by becoming a contracepting society-- contraception has created the mentality that pregnancies should be 100% planned. What enabled the free-wheeling "love" lives of young people in the 60's? The newly available birth control pill. The premier early promoter of birth control, Margaret Sanger, created the organization that has become Planned Parenthood. If birth control did not exist, the numbers of people having sex before marriage, having affairs, and the number of women getting burned by men who only want sex, and the number of children getting burned by their daddies who only wanted sex, would be hugely reduced. That's just a no-brainer. Today we have a society full of people who believe themselves to not be prepared for parenthood who are having sex. Nearly half of US pregnancies are unplanned. Half! Sex has become disassociated with babies, and when an 'unplanned' baby happens, often it is aborted (42% of unplanned pregnancies in the US are aborted). It's just taking the next step in the contraception mentality. Buying fully into the idea that parenthood should be planned. (Stats from the Guttmacher Institute)
So, are Christians, or people who wait until marriage to have sex, the people who know the "right" way to use birth control? Is this thing that has been so detrimental to society as a whole a good thing for married couples? A lot of people think birth control is a 'grace' for married couples, and would argue that the sin of society is not using birth control, it's having sex outside of marriage. So, how to fix this problem? Propose a ban on unmarried persons obtaining birth control? The problem that happens when we embrace contraception is that we remove the stumbling block to unmarried sex. Society is confused about sex, and often rightly so. If sex doesn't equal babies, then what is the reason to wait until marriage? Sexually transmitted diseases are also a clue, but they are not such a deterrent as babies are. And isn't it ironic that the most popular solution to STD's is contraception, rather than abstinence.
Um, aren't Christians called to be counter-cultural in the ways that culture is evil? Why do we buy into the contraception mentality hook, line and sinker? Some words from Jesus come to mind: "And he said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin." Luke 17:1-2.
I've come to the conclusion recently that I would not be able to stand outside the abortion clinic like I do with a completely clear conscious if I myself were artificially contracepting. How could I beg these women to have their babies if my own personal attitude was 'but certainly none for me, thank you very much'. I could not, I think I would be a hypocrite. Consenting to the death of your child is not the same as preventing one in the first place, but the mentality of being completely closed to children is very often one and the same.
And to use a phrase of an old friend, Whoa Nelly, do I have more to say on this one, so please sit tight for my next post on birth control. I realize that if you are not Catholic, this may be confusing or offensive material, so I will further explain the strong reasons against using contraception.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
It makes sense that Catholic parishes would, at least historically, take care to build beautiful churches because they are sacred places in a manner that non-Catholic churches cannot quite share. In my thinking, the church building is a sacred place because of the divine activity happening continuously there in the sacraments. The sacrament of the Eucharist happens daily at Mass, the sacrament of penance happens weekly, there are baptisms and weddings, etc. As well, we know Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist, which is usually displayed throughout the week for adoration. It would seem wrong not to have an aesthetically pleasing sanctuary in honor of God's presence there. Growing up Protestant, I played many a game of freeze-tag in the church sanctuary while attending youth activities. I know I would be mortified if my children ever did this anywhere in sight of the Eucharist because it would be so disrespectful of God's presence.
My husband has hardly a drop of aesthetic sense. His favorite outfit on me is jeans and one of my thrift-store workout t-shirts. I'm not a sensitive woman, but his own fashion sense has almost brought me to tears--there was a certain instance in particular involving a metallic blue imitation shark skin shirt paired with orange-accented cargo pants and running shoes. As well, he couldn't care less about things like the color of a couch or the number of weeds in the front yard. But what is the one thing that gets him going? Religious art. Since we became Catholic, he has actually taken it upon himself to hang up Catholic art in our house, and he is still commenting on how ugly some of the churches we've visited and attended were, when I thought they were mostly just sparse.
When I get to spend time in a beautiful church, it reminds me of the majesty and richness of God and our faith. I think my husband has been even more affected by Catholic art and architecture than I have, which is interesting since I think of myself as the more artistic one. But the fact is, no matter who you are, humans needs beauty. The world we live in is a dark place where the unthinkable happens every second, and a church, out of all places, should be a place where both our hearts and our senses get to experience beauty. I think it says something good about a society if its most beautiful buildings are churches. It's a demarcation-- here is something different, here is what is important, here is something befitted by lavishness.
Monday, January 7, 2008
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
I don't know anything about the effort to change the name of confession, but reconciliation is a perfect re-naming of confession (the sacrament of penance), because that is exactly what happens with this sacrament: reconciliation with God. It's taken me a bit to realize this. I remember my first confession--everyone who becomes Catholic has to make one before first communion (you know, since God and sin don't mix). Anyway, I had no idea what I was getting myself into that day in terms of how the sacrament would affect my life. My first confession felt mostly like a formality. I had my sins lined up to confess, but there weren't any that I was deeply ashamed of...they seemed pretty common place, and while I was trying my best to not be complacent, I was pretty sure I would commit the sins again (go, me).
Over time, as I continued to go to reconciliation, I started to really want to go, to need to go. I would be attending to life, not necessarily trying to dredge up my sins, but one would come to me, either by memory or by actually sinning, and I would think "and I have to wait until Saturday to go to confession!". Through Catholicism, I've come to the belief that Jesus has set up the main channel of forgiveness to happen through the sacrament of penance. Oh yes, I'm waiting for some flack from Protestants on that one, but something happens in the sacrament of penance that I have not experienced to the same degree as a Protestant who only confessed to Jesus in prayer and on occasion, to close friends.
It seems that two things have happened in me since I started going to confession regularly: my eyes are more open to sin in my life, and confessing sin to a priest actually seems to be keeping the sins I confess at bay. These have been HUGE graces to me. By now, I have come up with a lot of sins that have been deeply shameful to admit to, and these sins are the nasty nasty ones that wreck havoc on my life, as well as the people around me. So to be freed from them so simply and so miraculously is an enormous joy.
I'm marveling over how effective the sacrament of penance is. I'm a novice, so maybe eventually I will float down from my reconciliation cloud 9--I kind of doubt it, but I'll let you know. I shouldn't be surprised about reconciliation, though, because it's a sacrament. A sacrament is not just a nice little symbol, a sacrament actually imparts grace. From the Catechism; “Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies.” (1127). That's exactly what I'm trying to say-- sacraments works! What a waste of time practicing rituals that are only symbols would be. But that is not what God has given us. I love this line found here,"Penance is the removal of the one obstacle that keeps the soul away from God". Thank you, Lord.