My Sunday Best

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Two link ups in three days! Great to join you, Rosie and all!

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I wish we would have taken this picture before Mass, when it was sunny and fewer blooms were fully blown out. Oh well. My mind was a little scattered, as I’d just spent the fifteen minutes before heading out freaking out that a bug I smushed on my phone was a tick (there was blood on the tissue) and if a red mark on Aslan was a bite or the itchy spot on my thigh was not in fact a mole, but a head. I’m now much calmer. 😛

On me: Dress is from H&M about 3 years ago now. Shrug from Macy’s Everyday Value collection. The belt is ancient, so I no longer remember what outfit it originally went with. Shoes are from one of those outlet shoe stores; though pretty, sometimes awkwardly fitting.

On Aslan: Cat and Jack dress up outfit, sans the bowtie, which I lost before getting home from Target. When he wore this for Easter, I got a great matching (but huge!) one from Crazy 8’s.

Spiritual thoughts: I found it really interesting that the morning after watching the movie Silence we had a reading on sacrifice from 1 Peter and a homily on the shepherd sacrificing for the good of his sheep (meaning us and our flock).

Fr. Barron and Catholic film critic Steven Greydanus have thoughtful things to say about the movie, but in light of the reading and homily today, I’m reflecting on it even more.

Going by 1 Peter, we should follow Christ, and to do so, have no “deceit found in [our] mouths”–no “korobu,” the Japanese word for the apostasy Fr. Rodrigues and brother priest Fr. Garupe contemplates committing. Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross so that we might live in righteousness, much as the Japanese martyrs did in the film.

BUT the key conflict in the film is the wretched moral choices offered to the priests: continue to proclaim the One True Faith and refuse to commit apostasy, but let innocents be tortured to death OR speak his “korobu” and save the lives of five people. It’s like the prisoner’s dilemma of Christian witness: 1. Do you trample on a holy image and allow the authorities to call the Christian faith dead (consequently hindering the spread of the Good News for a long, long time) for the price of your soul and saved lives of a few? OR  2. Do you refuse as a witness to the strength of your faith (“the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church) for the price of the authorities tarnishing the Christian faith (“See how cruel it is–you must let others die because you won’t take one ‘meaningless’ step or say one ‘simple’ word) and the price of the lives of innocents?

In our good and holy priest’s homily, he said that in our journey to become Christlike, we should be like shepherds to our flock (our family, our neighbors, etc.), and that means putting their welfare above all else. Silence begins with Fr. Rodgriues and Fr. Garupe traveling to Japan to see if it is true that their mentor has committed apostasy, which they learn was an action insidiously designed to trap priests. Was their beloved Fr. Ferreira being a good shepherd in renouncing Christ so that others may live? When another character makes a similar choice, what is in his heart after–does he truly believe that his lifelong work for the state is for the “good” of the people (they get to stay alive!). And what is the true good, anyway?

Silence is rather silent on these questions, unfortunately (but given it was fiction, the filmmakers totally had license to actually say something and make a point). And our priest was cornered for the entire donut social, so I couldn’t ask him about it. Maybe next time, when the drama from the pastoral planning announcement has died down. But that’s a whole other post for another time….

NFP Awareness Week 2016- Media Meditation Monday

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Hat tip/credit to the USCCB.

Let’s get this week really underway! (If you’d like a primer on NFP, explore the links provided by the USCCB.)

A couple of years ago I decided to recognize NFP Awareness Week with some regular posts. I’ll try to tag them so you can look them up (and honestly, I need to review what I’ve already said!).

Today I wanted to bring back one of my personal favorite categories, Modern Media Meditation. Considering myself musically Ignatian, I most often and profoundly experience God in music. And believe it or not, some of the principles of NFP are preached in music. That you hear on the radio! No need to wade through the one generic Christian rock station or break out Matt Maher CDs, unless you’d like to.

“All of Me” by John Legend. For our first dance, PJ and I swayed and twirled to young singer Jasmine Thompson’s cover.

Many posts ago, I analyzed the lyrics to the song, with maybe just a hint of an idea that perhaps it could be used for my very own marriage! If someone knows of a version with male and female voices, please let me know, so it can be my new favorite thing. To further connect the words to NFP, especially the lovely theme devised by the USCCB:

  • Love: Not just the passionate, romantic kind (eros) the singer feels for the beloved, but the sacrificial (caritas/agape) kind: “Even when I lose, I’m winning.” Something I could only superficially understand before marriage and living the practice out–“NFP entails loving sacrifice”–I am now experiencing more deeply. Think of any hard part of NFP and that you were losing–the idea is to have the grace to see you’re actually winning, because what you have given up was out of love for the other. And that is “winning.”

 

  • Mercy: This virtue is showing compassion, to “feel with.” Despite  the beloved’s “imperfections,” or the “world beating you down,” the singer loves the person totally and completely. To me, the latter lyric could signify our sinful nature in this fallen world. And NFP in practice does still offer a channel for evil to enter in. What couples have to do (and what PJ and I are striving to live out) is be merciful to one another when he/she struggles, and like God, love anyway–and use that love to “show us still a better way.”

 

  • Life: Okay, this is a little bit of a stretch, because nothing in the song talks about creating a life together. HOWEVER, the singer repeatedly mentions giving his/her “all” to the other, as does the beloved reciprocate. In NFP, you are giving all of yourself, including your potential fertility. When you’re both “showing hearts” (just what shape do you think some NFP charts use to indicate intercourse?), you’re showing openness to each other, but also a child.

And just because there has to be some humor, some choice lyrics are “You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind.” Relying on (a very effective) method of spacing or achieving pregnancy that relies on discernment is a very radical act in today’s culture, and given some of the practice’s idiosynchrosies, a little intimidating. Also, “Risking it all, though it’s hard.” I will always be honest. Before marriage, I could point to forums, articles, “experts” and say, “Let’s not be naive. This is hard.” Now I can say, “Yup! I was right.” Sometimes it is a challenge, and you’re feeling like you are taking a risk. But the point is you do it anyway. Not because you’re lazy. Not because some old man in a funny hat told you you had to or else hell. But because you want to. Because you see it as an act of love.

Some other examples:

  • “Take Me the Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson. The sentiment of accepting a person the way she is–you know, a person with the gift of potential fertility (or with challenges)–is clear. The line about Rogaine is unfrotunate, BUT the rest of the singer’s reciprocity is about small acts of care, especially the physical. NFP is all about honoring and caring for your beloved’s body.
  • “Stand by You” by Rachel Platten. While not an obvious choice, this song captures the commitment, even in the most difficult times, a beloved feels for the other. I hear elements of sacrifice and mercy (“I’ll walk through hell with you”) and charity (“Take my [wings] so yours can open to”). NFP involves a deep commitment for spouses, and depending on your discernment, can have its “heavens” you can’t find, and its hells that maybe you find yourselves in. Not to mention that the teaching of why NFP is an approved practice is based on Truth, and living it out requires faith.

What songs have you heard lately that might apply? Which lyrics will see you through your journey?

Oh, and I want to shout out to the blogger and author who really “sold” me on NFP. Simcha Fisher is running a contest for SIX ClearBlue fertility monitors all week. You can use this trusty device as part of a sympto-hormonal method of NFP to achieve or postpone pregnancy.

7QTF: Excellent Quotes about “Giving Up” for Lent

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Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum!

4 p.m. Pancake/Fat/Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday. I’ve just finished a homemade nutella “pocket” and still have no idea what I’m giving up for Lent. My head is full of retorts for why I didn’t give up sweets, how the “offering up” of something while good spiritual discipline, is purely voluntary, and why must Catholics spend the drudges of the year (February and March) pressuring each other to have The Best Lent Ever!!! (TM). Look, it’s not going to be TBLE!!! if it’s something forced. For some inspiration other than a vague “Maybe I might try to do daily Mass again this year,” or “what if what God is asking for me to do is get back to my writing for His glory?”, I went to the blogs. It was very easy.

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Here are some truly excellent quotes about the personal sacrifices we make. And at the end, I’ll reveal what I finally decided on.

[1]

“A hard-core Lent that is full of penance is not necessarily a good Lent. Lent isn’t a survivor experiment. It’s a preparation for Easter. If you lose sight of Easter, your Lent is pointless.” (Taylor Marshall). So it’s okay to continue having coffee.

[2]

“For the past decade or so, I’ve followed one simple rule when discerning my Lenten penances: Don’t take on any commitments that will lead me to commit mortal sin. It works. I drink my coffee in the morning, my “medicinal” beverages at night, and  Lent in my house today is far more peaceful, sane, and spiritually fruitful than it was 10 years ago. Which I happen to think is just dandy.” (Emily Stimpson). She gets it! And has her coffee, too.

[3]

“I’d always heard that you should give up something good, but I didn’t really get why, so I just went with giving up cursing for Lent…Then I pictured myself rising on Easter morn’, taking a deep breath, and shouting the f-word. Umm, yeah. That’s why giving up something that’s bad anyway doesn’t quite have the same effect. So no sugar in my tea for Lent.” (Jennifer Fulwiler). Even she didn’t give up her caffeine.

[4]

“There is no Lenten practice that will bring you closer to God unless you ask God to help it happen. If you get someone a present, you have to put the right name on the tag, or it’s wasted effort.” (Simcha Fisher) I imagine God sitting up in Heaven wondering aloud to Jesus and Mary how not having coffee is helping our relationship. Coffee brings people together!

[5]

“Unless you’re a hermit, your decision will affect other people. The rule of thumb is that you get to choose your suffering. Not everyone else’s.” (Simcha Fisher) And for the sake of everyone, it’s really okay for me to continue having coffee.

[6]

“Regular sacrifices can give us constant reminders of what we are supposed to be doing, but they can also become a substitute for what we’re supposed to be doing. If God is calling you to repair your marriage, going forty days without Snickers bars is probably not going to help.” (Simcha Fisher) So I’m going to have my coffee, because that will actually help with what I feel I do need to do.

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[7]

“The traditional custom of giving up something for Lent is voluntary. Consequently, if you give something up, you set the parameters. If you choose to allow yourself to have it on Sundays as to promote joy on this holy day, that is up to you.” (Jimmy Akin) So my parameters are going to be the following, with coffee allowed:

– Give up indulging laziness. No more claiming “writer’s block” and tuning into a repeat of Grey’s Anatomy or some other mindless daytime television. I will try to do anything else, and yes, maybe even writing.

– Give up not doing anything “spiritual” because it seems like I already do enough. I have Rediscover Catholicism to read, a plot bunny involving The Interior Castle to explore, and at least one hour every day (seriously) for Mass or adoration of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, or failing that, simply sitting quietly in a pew.

– Give up not writing. I can’t be honest and say that I will stick to a proscription of a certain amount of time per day or what constitutes as Lenten writing, but I can say that I can get over myself and at some point get back to what God asked me to do.

How is doing what I should be doing penitential? Well, I hate not having mind distractions, so an hour of something spiritual and quiet will be “better” reparation than skimming Simcha’s “older posts”.  How is writing, which can be very enjoyable, and maybe even profitable (if I sell the fruits of this Lenten labor), repentance? Well, think about some of the more creative penances you received in the confessional: yelled at a significant other, do a nice thing for them; missed Mass, go to more Masses. The past few months I haven’t been writing or doing anything particularly holy, so to make up for where I’ve failed, I’m going to literally make them up.

The truth is I’ve been in a spiritual funk, and I’m going to try to use this Lent to get out of it. It’s not going to be as cut and dry as 40 days of 952 words each and then total slackdom for the rest of Easter or agonize over whether my Lent is holy enough (or worse, holier than thou’s), but just the current season I have to grow in holiness. God bless you in your Lent!

[1]

NFP Week: Saturday Saints–Anne and Joachim

*Disclaimer: I am away on a cruise and may not have access to update/edit this post or moderate comments. Please be charitable!*

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Saint Anne and Saint Joachim

 

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The Holy Family Generations statue at the Saint Anne Shrine in Sturbridge, MA.

Saint Anne and Saint Joachim are the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception. Today is their feast day! I never learned much about this couple growing up, but now I have an increased interest in these two, they who brought up the world’s most perfect woman. Now, we don’t have much to go on except tradition–we’re not even sure Anne and Joachim are their real names. But the story of their lives has much to tell us. Here’s a neat little legend from the USCCB:

An ancient story dating to the first centuries of the Church’s life recalls how Saints Anne & Joachim, like Abraham and Sarah, were scorned by their neighbors because they had no children. Years of longing did not weaken their trust in God, but grief eventually drove Saint Joachim into the wilderness to fast and pray. Saint Anne, remaining at home, dressed in mourning clothes and wept because she had no child of her own. Seeing her mistress distressed, a servant girl reminded Anne to put her trust in God. Saint Anne washed her face, put on her bridal clothes and went to a garden to plead with God for a child. Angels appeared to Saint Anne in her garden and Saint Joachim in the desert, promising that, despite their old age, they would give birth to a child who would be known throughout the world. The new parents ran to meet one another at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate, and with a kiss rejoiced in the new life which God had promised would be theirs. Saints Anne and Joachim are powerful intercessors for all married couples, expectant mothers and married couples who are having difficulty conceiving, as well as all who have grown old.

Though Scripture does not mention Saints Anne and Joachim, and tradition does not even hold how long they might have lived, it’s nice to think about Jesus and his grandma and grandpa. 🙂

I’m not sure why (but if someone knows, please do tell me!) Saints Anne and Joachim are honored during NFP Week, but it does make sense. Take these words from Catholic Online: “It was their teaching that led her to respond to God’s request with faith, “Let it be done to me as you will.” It was their example of parenting that Mary must have followed as she brought up her own son, Jesus. It was their faith that laid the foundation of courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross as her son was crucified and still believe. ” First, the core of NFP is saying to God, “Your will, not mine, be done.” And NFP requires a strong faith, courage, and fortitude to live out God’s plan for love. Finally, as Simcha Fisher points out in her book, NFP can be a cross. It is sacrifice. And couples making this sacrifice can look to the holy parents for perseverance of faith.

7QTF: Communion Season!

7_quick_takes_sm1Head to Jen‘s for more!

Headed home for a very special weekend! Niece C. is receiving the Eucharist for the first time and Mr. Sweet is meeting my siblings!

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Prayer request: For my youngest niece and her class and all the kiddoes making the sacrament of their First Holy Communion. May they always have their hearts beat for the living God, and like little C., readily pronounce Jesus as better than Santa.*

[2]

*True story. About four years ago, one Thanksgiving, her eldest brother (9 at the time), announces to the table the discussion question for the evening: “Who’s better—Santa or Jesus?” C. is the first to answer, and chirps, “Jesus!”

[3]

Another true story. Her older sister, M., who was just months shy of making her First Communion, comes back to the pew with her mama after she goes and gets her Celiac-friendly Eucharist before we can even leave for the line, tells me, “Britt…I saw GOD.”*

[4]

*I choose to believe it was solid catechesis about the True Presence, and not you know, a 7-year-old’s conflating priest with God. Well, actually…that counts too. But I’m sure she wasn’t taught that. 😛

[5]

Mr. Sweet and I were at a church that celebrated its’ second-graders’ First Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday Mass*, and before it all started, I was waiting in line for the ladies’ with a Mom and her daughter in her white dress and another woman behind me. So naturally we talk. (“Don’t let her go to the bathroom with her. Secrets come out in there.”)

Woman tells me about this one little girl she knew who wore an $800 gown from Vera Wang for her sacrament. Um. Even the fact that this was a second wear after donning it to be the flower girl in a rich friend/family member’s wedding doesn’t make it less nutty. $800. For a little girl’s dress!

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Is it just me, or wouldn’t this be lovely as a wedding dress? Probably costs as much.

I should have told her my story. Prior to the Mass, us girls were in a holding room (classroom), looking at each other’s shoes. (Starts young, I tell ya.). “Where’d you get yours?” “Ooh, those are cute.” “Yours are so pretty!” About five of us: “Payless.” “Payless!” “Payless.” 🙂

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*I really like that the reception of this sacrament is done in the context of Sunday Mass, as it cuts down on the abuses listed below. I get that Catholic schools have different considerations–50+ kids in a class with all their immediate families—but really, these pseudo-wedding-day, secular pomp and circumstance celebrations can take away the sacramental reality for the child.

Abuses. All true stories from a Catholic school AP and a parish DRE.

–         Spending more than $500 on a dress.

–         Talking with all the other moms about how much you spent.

–         Spending money on professional hair styling.

–         Blatantly defying the no-make-up rule.

–         Arriving to church in a limo.

Yes, I do realize I am not even 30 and childless and shouldn’t be complaining about this issue. But I don’t care Now get off my lawn. 😛

[7]

Book: It’s May! That means it’s National Celiac Awareness Month! Part of Gloria Jean’s story is to reconcile the notion of the theology of the body—that she can learn about God from her body—when her body can’t even receive God (in the form of bread). Aside from a couple nonfiction picture books, this reality of a gluten-free-life for kids and teens isn’t really dealt with in fiction. Further, there’s very few resources that take into account how this affects Catholics (Eucharist in the form of bread must contain a certain percentage of wheat in order to be valid matter). So here are some links:

Catholic Celiac Society

A Word from the USCCB

A Blog Chronicle

Low-Gluten Hosts

 

 

Modern Media Meditation Monday: Marriage Songs

Happy Easter!

This week on the Not Alone series, we’re talking about marriage. And since Lent is over, and hence my sacrifice of wedding/marriage-related reading/thinking is also over, I thought I’d finally put out this post that’s been on my heart. Many of the songs on the radio today are sad love songs—and not sad because they’re about loves lost, but sad because the type of love expressed and desired isn’t real love at all, but an at-times grotesque imitation. Happily, though, a few songs are getting national play and popularity that do express the essence of love—particularly the wondrous kind found in marriage:

Sara Bareilles “I Choose You”

– “I will become yours and you will become mine/I choose you”: Love binds us. We become one flesh. Love is not just a feeling, but a choice, a commitment.

– “My whole heart/Will be yours forever/This is a beautiful start/To a lifelong love letter”: Love is meant to be a lifetime. Unlike romantic comedies where the marriage is the end of the love story, marriage is the beginning.

– “I am under-prepared, but I am willing/And even better/I get to be the other half of you”: Love is between two people, fallen as we are. And no one is 100% prepared, but love is an act of the will. And loving another person is sanctifying.

John Legend “All of Me”

– “Love your curves and all your edges/all your perfect imperfections”: Love is not just accepting all the bits of a person, but loving them.

– “Give your all to me/I’ll give my all to you”: Love is the gift of self—the whole self; it does not hold back. Love is reciprocal.

– “Even when I lose, I’m winning”: Love is sacrifice, but from that sacrifice comes authentic joy.

– “Cards on the table/we’re both showing hearts/risking it all/though it’s hard”: Love can be hard, but if both come with open hearts, it is worth it.

Goo Goo Dolls “Come to Me”

– “Come to me my sweetest friend”: Love isn’t just romance, but friendship—a person you choose for your life, bound not by familial affection or the hormones of desire, but an act of the will to share things with the person.

– “Fortune teller said I’d be free/And that’s the day you came to me”: Love isn’t freedom from, it’s freedom to. So often people associate relationship with constraint (ball and chain), but authentic love is freeing–his freedom is when his relationship begins.

– “Today’s the day I’ll make you mine/So get me to the church on time”: Love is sacramental. And what’s more: the beloved isn’t really the other’s until the sacrament that binds them.

The Not Safe for Work Post, Part 3

In this final post, I’ll tackle the words the commentator used: “dirty” and “shame”

So often we start to culturally change the meaning of words as they fit to our understanding at the time and years later hold on to outdated senses of the word…or at least perceive that other people are. When actually…

“Dirty”

One of the commentator’s questions had to do along the lines of why does the Church teaching (or other Catholics) make people feel “dirty” or tell them [check on this] for doing such things as in Post 1 and 2.

Note that in the previous 2 posts, I never used the word “dirty” or used names, but presented the teaching and my understanding of the human person, which, hey, seems like it could be a pretty fair generalization acceptable to everyone, and asked questions. I don’t go for calling people “dirty.” And the world’s come a long way from the Leviticus times of being “unclean.”

In fact, when it comes to this issue, I’ve heard very little use of the word “dirty.” Rather, what I see coming from the Catholic Church is a very pastoral approach—a recognition that these are problems hurting people not just on a spiritual level, but emotional, physical, and relational. So the language is more of healing. Unlike in the past, there is more of an understanding of how addressing the human inclination to sexual sin through a sense of healing and imaging of the beauty of the whole human person is better than just saying “it’s wrong,” “it’s dirty,” or anything else greatly pejorative.

So no, I won’t tell a teen who hasn’t been formed in the principles I have or who is struggling to control impulses or detach from the neurochemical high that s/he is “dirty.” Personally, I’d save that word for someone who deliberately bilks money from the elderly or rapes or murders.

But I will still say both are doing wrong (that which is not right). Part 1 and Part 2 started to unpack why these actions are not right; now let’s unpack why it is right to feel shame.

“Shame”

Is shame a bad feeling? Yes. Should we avoid it? Yes. Can we avoid it by saying that some actions that were considered “not right” are now “okay”? No.

No one likes to feel shame. It means that we recognize we’ve done wrong, have hurt someone or ourselves, and usually wish we hadn’t done it. The awesome thing about us being humans with reason, is that if we feel shame, we have a choice of whether we do it again or not. We’re not animals following a base instinct or urge and can’t help it.

And shame is not without its positives. One of my favorite writers wrote a great blog post about the distinction between embarrassment and shame. Se writes, shame “always leaves room for justice, mercy, and repentance.” http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/embarrassment-vs.-shame#ixzz2uWibZx27

Why should actions like those in Parts 1 and 2 merit shame? Well, hopefully I started to explain how it is not really very just to one’s self to use the body or use a person . If you think about all the uses of your time and capacity as a human being made for higher purposes and authentic love, why not “feel bad” that you used it in such a way that was unproductive and entirely self-serving. If one wants to argue that you can be a good person and because you don’t do something all the time, you are making it subjective. But I believe—and many others, and not just for religious reasons—look it up—that such actions are objectively wrong (“not right”), which means you can’t excuse it or avoid shame by saying you only do the wrong thing some of the time.

I know when we think of shame, we think of the parent who says “You ought to be ashamed of yourself” and feel bad about getting caught, about what we’ve done, or about how we’re now feeling bad because we’re disappointed that someone has called something we thought was okay “wrong.” Are people open to trying to see how the person doing the “shaming” could have a point?  I do think it takes some growth to move from shame just about feeling “bad” or down on one’s self, to it being a call—a call to seek repentance or make amends if you can.

These words can make the Church seem one of condemnation, when actually it is pure, authentic love and mercy. We care about your souls, your dignity, and believe in your capacity as human beings. I personally agree that is not merciful to call someone “dirty,” and not even the act, because too often people associate the act with them as persons (not the case, but that is a larger philosophical point harder to unpack). But I do personally wish shame was seen more as a an understanding and then a call to seek what is right.

The Not Safe For Work Post, Part 2

In the previous post, I looked at reasons why it would be wrong (meaning “not right”) for a person to m*sturbate. Quite often—so I read and hear—a big factor in self-gratification is p*rnography. It does this by stimulating the mind to think sexually, so the brain will want release, and how to achieve it, but…

And again, a lot of society sees nothing wrong with this, so long as it involves consenting adults with protection against disease and unwanted pregnancies among the willing participants. Here’s the thing—I believe there’s a heck of a lot more people who see its use as wrong than okay.

Did you know:

– In some ridiculously high percentage of divorce cases, use of p*rn is one of the primary complaints? Not “it helps us grow stronger as a couple,” not “its fun,” not “it improves our sex lives.” No. It’s “I hate that s/he does this so much that I cannot live with or be legally united to this person any more because it makes me feel like such crap and s/he can’t even give it up.”  For all those who would call me a prude, just think about it. You’re trying to justify that it is okay to be away from your spouse, pleasing just yourself, by watching complete strangers get it on? That this is healthy; normal? It’s that important to you that you wouldn’t give it up for a person you purportedly love?

– There’s harm to the participants. By buying into this industry, you are financing the spread of STIs, possible human and child trafficking, prostitution, and emotional turmoil. Former “p*rn stars” have written and spoken about their experiences and what it does to them as people. it’s not pretty.

– There’s a very popular and well-trafficked and secular Reddit forum devoted to people both hoping to remove addiction to p*rn and/or “f*pping”? Not for religious reasons or they feel dirty or ashamed (see part 3 for more on that)? But for many, many others?

– There’s a TED talk—also not religious—that delves into what happens to your brain on p*rn. It gets addicted. It can make you want more and want weirder things to keep chasing that high, which gets harder to achieve.

– Many, many books and studies, many of which are by secular people, cite the above problems, demonstrating that it is a harm to yourself—your own brain, that beautiful seat of intellect.

Just like in Part 1, use of p*rn goes against the dignity of who we are and what we’re designed for, reducing our amazing selves to sacks of hormones with just an itch to scratch. Why do that to ourselves?

In the final post, Part 3, I’ll get into the words the commentator used: “dirty” and “shame” and how they relate to this issue.

7 in 7–The Not Safe For Work Post, Part 1

*Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, pastoral counselor, or medical doctor. I am however a person with knowledge trying to witness to my faith. If any of the below is in error, please let me know!

A little while ago I received a comment from a new reader with a question—a question about a subject not much talked about (at least publicly) in Catholic circles. To be honest, I almost wanted to delete it and apologetically reply that such comments couldn’t appear, lest the blog get blocked; that I wanted to make sure young women and maybe even (older) teen girls, could still find and access the rest of the site. And you know what? Because I believe they need this information, I’m letting the comment stand AND I’m going to address this topic and other “controversial” ones because I think there are things we don’t talk about but should. However, I will likely use asterisk in certain words just in case.

So. M*sturbation. Self-pleasure. Why is it not allowed? Many people view it as a victimless sin; some doctors call it healthy; it relieves the urge without getting anyone pregnant or infected or emotionally hurt; right?

Wrong.

Now, let me say that I do acknowledge the neuroscience behind the physiological response: do an action to stimulate nerves, nerves send response to brain, brain makes you feel either pleasure or pain. But m*sturbation’s end game is what…I don’t know…a matter of seconds? There’s a flood of endorphins, true…but you can get endorphins from: exercise, cuddling with clothes on, petting a cat or dog, heck sometimes even eating delicious chocolate.

But more importantly, the Church teaches what she teaches because there are some universal capital-t Truths about humanity, which help explain the morality of actions or not. Self gratification is not victimless…there’s you and your soul. But I know some people have difficulty with the concept of a soul or allowing for religious explanations in defense of an argument, so I’ll try to use other reasoning. M*sturbation and p*rn (Part 2) are wrong—meaning “not right.” Why?

The Individual (Married or Not)

You are a person—not just a body. You have to admit that people, human beings, whatever you call us intelligent mammals doing our thing—we’re pretty cool. We have brains, emotions, and most importantly reason. I don’t care what descendants we have in common genetically—we are distinct from animals. Animals have instinct and urges and their actions satisfy them. We as people have the ability to control our impulses. So why not the impulse to reach org*sm?

Because it is using our body (or parts) as an object. It is seen as only a means to an end, not a wonderful creation with a distinct purpose. Think about other habits people have that are considered not good, but are done because they satisfy something about the person: nose picking, nail biting, picking at a scab, knuckle cracking, itch-scratching. All those actions use a part of the body for momentary release, but a lot of society has a problem with those habits and we teach children not to do them. Why is m*sturbation different? Oh, because of pleasure?

Is the purpose of our bodies pleasure? Is that really the end game? Twenty seconds awash in endorphins? Anyone reading see Sex and the City? In an early episode, Charlotte gets a vibr*tor and enjoys it so much she starts canceling plans with her friends, other human beings, so she can stay in with a  device. Is that healthy? Even those libertine women didn’t think so, staging a mini-intervention. So do it moderation, some might say—like with junk food or alcohol. But those actions are to fulfill the real needs of eating and drinking—just done in a not-good way. But what need is self-gratification fulfilling?

None.

There is no actual biological need for org*sm. It is a want; and it is a want that has become so hyped and so accepted that society is pretty much going to allow justifying anything to get it. Sorry, but I believe we are mad for more than that; that our bodies have a higher purpose; that there are better uses of our time and mind. It is not the right purpose.

Married Individuals

It may surprise non-religious readers to know that there are actually some liberal interpretations of married love and its bounds that while neither officially “sanctioned” are also not officially discounted so long as the husband finishes inside the wife. This means that it might be okay to start a lovemaking session with the wife stimulating her husband and vice versa.[UPDATE: Edited to Add After Comment] As I understand it, this is not official Church teaching, but the interpretation of some ToB scholars. if you think about the act, its purpose, and what it communicates and put it through a moral test, it may not pass muster. Questions to ask: is it self-seeking? Is it to “get away” with as much as you can either because you dislike something else too much or like it too much? Does it fulfill the two purposes: bonding and babies?

Stimulating yourself in front of the other…well…why? It aids the other person in getting excited? The only way or the best way? Why would that be the case? Because you saw it in p*rn and liked it? See Part 2. A medical issue preventing sex? See a doctor. [UPDATE #2]: A helpful commentator points out below that none other than Blessed-soon-to-be-awesome Saint John Paul II wrote in Love and Responsibility (as Karol Wojtyla) that mutual stimulation is licit in the context of the entire marital act, which is to be unitive. The concern is with the notions that stimulation with no intention of turning the act into a unitive one being not as licit.

Sex is a union. If you think about the design of the human body, the male form doesn’t really make sense without the female; they were made to go together. The “end game” for both the man and woman is possible babies and, I think discussions of marital love forget to emphasize this, bonding.

So hopefully all of the above have tried to communicate why it is wrong (meaning “not right”) to m*sturbate. Stay tuned for Part 2, which goes into a companion problem of self-gratification, posting later today.

Soulmates: Part 2

Yesterday (link) I wrote about the three main problems I have with the “soul mate theory” and peppered vague references to today’s post, which tries to illuminate how Catholic teaching has helped me form the idea that romantic soul mates don’t exist. (Sorry. But it will be okay, I promise!)

The Beauty of Free Will 

Another one of those mysteries I think a lot of us will be excited to understand in Heaven is the gift of free will. If God is the Author of our lives and is outside of time, then how does it work if we have free will to ignore Him? Well…I think it is that He knows when we will ignore Him, when we will listen to Him, and the results of those choices. And this is just pure speculation: maybe if He sees us doing one thing at age 22, He’ll send the Holy Spirit when we need Him at age 37…only we won’t perceive it as such.

There’s also the issue of other people’s free will. What if you meet Antiochus on CatholicMatch, and he gives good email, seems like he’d be a “soul mate,” but he is far from you, and you can’t afford long distance and can’t mentally handle a never-meet-till-engaged type of relationship—and the hiring manager at a firm in your town uses her free will to reject his job application and you never meet? It is horrible to think about “right now, someone could be married to your husband” (When Harry Met Sally…it turned out to be true. :P). But that’s only if soul mates exist.

No, we were given the gift (love that it is that word) of free will to either cooperate with God’s grace or not, and God will cooperate with us however we choose to act. So if I freely choose to enter into marriage with Innocent and ask for God’s grace, He’ll give it to me. Simeon could use his free will to ditch me at the altar, and God will help heal my wounds. If we ever applied the “soul mate” test to those relationships, we’d be ignoring our free will.

The Beauty of Marriage

When we think of “soul mates” (particularly Catholics), we think of the men who are supposed to be our husbands and we will be married to them. Catholic Church teaching on marriage actually lends itself more to an image of man and woman coming together for God, not man and woman coming together because of God. This idea can be extrapolated in the way the Church thinks about marriage, and even in the wedding.

According to the “How to Have a Catholic Wedding Mass/Rite” things I read for work, there are some elements that really illustrate how marriage to a person is for God, and that making this sacrament doesn’t mean you are soul mates (I acknowledge you might feel like you become soul mates after the sacrament), or that if the groom is your “true” soul mate, this marriage will be happy and last until death.

  • Tiny, but important detail: For the entrance, the actual proscription is for the bride and groom to process down the aisle together. The escorting of the bride by the father is permissible (as is, of course another male family member or both the parents*, etc. And grooms can get a special walk, too). This idea symbolizes that the man and woman are entering the marriage together, freely.
  • The bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament! Think of that! It’s the only one! It reinforces the teaching that a man and woman give the gift of self to one another freely and consent to the sacrament. They are quite literally making the marriage. In a sense, because we are body+soul, when a marriage is consummated, the two do become one, but the souls are not inextricably linked by supernatural forces before.
  • Also, referenced yesterday (link), one of the ideas behind marriage is that, as a vocation, it is a way in which to enter union with God, get to Heaven, what have you. Your choice of husband can help or hinder your own progress or your husband’s progress on the way to God if you let it; but ultimately, you are responsible for the care and keeping of your own soul and together, the raising of little souls.  The sense I get from the concept of “soul mate” would mean that I ethereally “belonged” to someone, and if I decided on my own that a man was a “soul mate” and he was wrong for me in a marriage, I am not free.

The Beauty of Existence

In the opening pages of most Catholic catechisms, we are taught that we are “created by God, for God, to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.” Our bodies and souls were always designed to end up in union with Him. Our husbands may be the “vehicle” through which we finally encounter Him, but this other human being is not who we were created for, and union with lowercase-h him, is not our ultimate calling.  Each one of us is called to relationship and authentic Love, and it is ours for the taking. God is our actual soul mate.

Right now, I feel content sitting with the notion that my “one-and-only,” “one true love,” “soul mate” is not out there, does not exist. That attitude might belie a lack of hope in the future, but rather it is more comforting (to me, anyway) to know that with the help of God’s grace, I can find someone, anyone, who might make a good marriage with me, and not have to ever wonder if a good man measures up to the yardstick of “soul mate.” In a way, it is freeing to not have to worry if Cyril is my “soul mate” and potentially not marry him because I do not feel he is; or if I do, never worry that I will never meet him or that he will never grow up and get a job that can support a wife and children. And if I’m 43 and still single, it will just be another birthday to chat with God about why I’m at where I’m at right now. Is it me? Is it You? Is it Methodius, who is ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit to just propose already?

Whatever it is, I know that I am loved and have the opportunity to love my soul mate back, because He will always be right there with me.

*I could get all “feminist” on this issue, which is why I love the Church’s way and the meaning behind it, all the much more.